Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bicycle Finance


Bicycle Finance
       Dad and Mom bought each of the twin girls, Marlene and Darlene, a new Schwinn bicycle for Christmas. They would be in their teens on their next birthday in March. I knew it was a real stretch for our parents to buy gifts as expensive as new bicycles, but they did it by saving up for a year. The bikes were a beautiful light blue color and even had battery-powered headlights on the front fender.
As for me, I already had a new Monarch bike that I had purchased with money I made from my paper route. I used my bike to get back and forth to school and to deliver my newspaper route.
       Although I made pretty good money delivering the newspaper, I figured I could always use a little extra money to buy neat things I might want. So I started using Marlene's and Darlene's bikes to rent out for short rides to other kids in our neighborhood. I tried to do it when the two girls weren't using them, but there were a few times I had to take them away from the girls when I had clients to whom I had promised rides. I told the girls that my bike had problems and I needed to use their bike for a short time. I always kept my bike chained up with a lock so they couldn't know whether I was being truthful or not. This did not make the girls happy, so they told Mom on me. Of course she scolded me, but I told her the same story about my bike having troubles. She seemed to buy the story, although I feel sure she noticed that my bike was always good for delivering my newspapers at four o'clock in the afternoon.
       My method was to ride the bikes to the renter's house away from our house, so the girls always thought I was actually using the bike myself. I tried to be careful and only use one of their bikes at a time, but there were times I had both of them rented out at the same time. That was when I had to come up with tall tales in order to confiscate both bikes at nearly the same time. My fee for renting their bikes was ten cents each half hour or fifteen cents for an entire hour. Weekends were my busiest rental times, especially Saturdays.
       One day one of my twin sisters (I forget which one) saw one of my clients on a bike exactly like theirs. They told the kid they had a bike just like the one he was riding. My side business started to seriously unravel at that point because that kid told my sister that he didn't own the bike, he was just renting it from their brother, which was me.
       I don't recall all the details now, but suddenly my lucrative side business hit the skids. Mom went down to talk to the boy who had the rental bike and he told her he was renting it from me.
That pretty much ended my extra income potential. Of course Mom was very angry with me and told Dad what I had been doing with the girls' two rental bikes. Dad was really upset with me too, but for whatever reason he did not beat me. Maybe it was because he thought I was too old to get the kind of whippings I had gotten before. Whatever the reason, I was extremely thankful.
The End
Paul R. Meredith
Circa 1984
















Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Grandma Meredith Dies

Grandma Meredith Dies

It was the summer of 1944. I had just turned nine years old a few months earlier. I heard the phone ring while I was in bed. Dad answered it quickly, attempting to keep from disturbing everyone who was sleeping. The call was from Dad’s father, my Grandpa Meredith. I only remember hushed voices between Dad and Mom after he put the phone down. “It’s Mom, she’s pretty bad off. Dad thinks I need to come,” Dad told Mom.
            “Is she going to make it?” I heard Mom ask.
            “Doesn’t sound like it,” Dad replied. I heard our old Chevrolet fire up and indicate Dad was leaving the house.
            A couple of hours later the phone rang again. By this time it was early morning and I jumped out of bed. Mom told me Grandma Meredith had just died. I broke down and cried my eyes out.
            Nobody would ever understand the relationship I had with my dear Grandma Meredith. I never loved anyone more than I loved her. Let me tell you why. During the summers when school was out, it was common for me to spend a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa at their Grand Avenue home in Decatur. For whatever reason, Grandma Meredith wanted me to come and stay with them for days on end, often for two or three weeks. While there, Grandpa worked at the Grand Avenue Cleaners establishment, so Grandma and I would do some cooking, go downtown to shop, and generally just hang out together. I learned a whole lot about life from that wonderful woman. She was a peach in every way.
            Every Saturday that I stayed with her would be an adventure for me. We went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church a couple of blocks from her house, and after church we would ride the bus downtown. Grandma just never ever wanted to miss church, although I do remember a few times she was too ill to go. The bus stopped for us at the bus stop on the corner of Edward and Grand, less than a half-block from her house at 419 West Grand. We generally got off at Main and North Streets and walked the one block up to North Main Street. For whatever reason, Grandma loved the Walgreens store just a block north of Central Park on Water Street, so that is where we would have a light lunch. Grandma always bought me a big old chocolate milkshake before we left. Other than lunch and a milkshake, I no longer remember what else we shopped for, but she always had some little thing she had to get.
            I remember helping Grandma make bread and noodles with homemade dumplings. She always let me roll out the dough and cut the biscuits out, plus she always allowed me to do the dropping of the dumplings into the noodle broth. It made me feel like I was a really big help to her. I will never forget once when she made me a sandwich for lunch. It was the most delicious thing I ever ate. I loved the meat and I always asked her to put mustard on it for me. Well, that sandwich was so good I asked if I could have a second one. She marched right into the kitchen and pulled out a platter from the old icebox (she didn’t own a refrigerator at that time) and set it on the table. She uncovered it and started to slice me some meat for a sandwich. It nearly made me gag. “Grandma, what is that?” I asked.
            “It’s beef tongue,” she replied.
            “Yuck, I can’t eat any of that,” I told her.
            “Well now, Sonny, you’ve already been eating it most of your life, as well as just a few minutes ago. You told me then that you loved it.”
            I ran into the bathroom and almost threw up (maybe I did throw up, although I have long since forgotten). Grandma followed me to make sure I was not going to be too sick. I guess I got past the horrible image of that big old cow tongue on that platter, although there are times when I still remember that horrible day when I discovered what I had been eating.
            It was much later when I discovered that not only had I eaten that cow tongue, but also chitterlings. I never knew what they were either, but once when I saw her cooking them while burning a brown paper grocery bag on top of the stove, I asked. I know for certain I threw up when she told me about those horrible things I had eaten at her house many times. Every single time I ate there after learning about chitterlings and cow tongue, I always asked for identification of what I was about to eat.
            Grandma had a window box where she kept her butter and milk in the winter. She could only get ice for the icebox delivered in the summer months, so Grandpa Meredith had built her a way to open the kitchen window and store her spoilable food items outside. I know Mom also had one that Dad had built for her. She also kept all her leftover meat in the window box when it was cold outside. Most of the time Grandma purchased her food things daily. Scanlon’s Super Market was less than a hundred feet from her front door.

Grandma always wore a head covering wrapped around her head that she fashioned from a scarf. I never saw her without it. One day I asked her, “Grandma, why do you always have that thing on your head?”
            She told it was to keep her head warm, even in the summer. Being a stupid young kid, I bought her answer without question. It wasn’t until after she died that I learned she had suffered from cancer of the head for several years. She wore the scarf head covering to hide the cancer from sight of those around her.

The day of Grandma Meredith’s funeral, I wanted to go to it. Until then I had never experienced seeing anyone dead. Mom and Dad thought I was too young to go to the services, so they left us with one of my aunts, maybe it was Aunt Vade, although I forget who for sure. I had heard Mom and Dad talking and I learned Grandma was to be buried in Fairlawn Cemetery, a cemetery I was very familiar with due to making so many trips through it to get to the Duck Pond at Fairview Park where many of the neighborhood boys went to fish. I told Aunt Vade I was going down to play with one of my friends, but in secret I was going to go to the cemetery to see if I could find out where Grandma was to be buried.
            I scurried down Taylor Street, over to Dennis Street all the way to the cemetery. I climbed over the fence and walked just a short distance over the train tracks to where I saw a tent canopy erected and many cars pulling into the area. Almost immediately I saw Uncle Harley’s big old green Studebaker pull in. He had taken Mom and Dad to the services. I sneaked my way to within about half a block or so, where I hid behind some evergreen trees and some bushes. From there I could hear the preacher from Grandma’s church say some words of prayer in a loud voice, and then everybody started crying. I waited there until the service was over and all the people left. Two men came and lowered Grandma’s box down to the bottom of the hole and they started throwing shovels of dirt on top of her box.
            I cried all the way home and for several hours afterward. I had not only lost my dear Grandma Meredith, but also my very best friend. I had bad dreams about her funeral for a number of years after that. Even today, I still think how those two guys threw dirt on her grave, as well as a few cigarette butts they smoked. I remember them laughing as they worked, while I sat on the hillside crying.

Years later at the age of eighteen, I learned I was adopted. It came to light that my dad wasn’t really my real dad at all, which also meant that Grandma Meredith wasn’t my real grandma at all. For many years I wondered why she would treat me so much better than any of the other Meredith kids. None of them ever stayed with her like I did. She had always treated me special, and she had to know I wasn’t really her grandson, not by blood anyway.
            I guess it must have been that she never saw me as a substitute grandson, or maybe she wanted to show me special love because I had this big problem looming ahead of me that I would someday discover. I don’t know why she showed me so much attention, so much more than the other kids. But I do know I had such a special love for her that even today I can’t adequately describe it. I can still cry when I recall the times I spent with her. I just never let anyone see me doing it.

If ever an angel walked the earth, Gertrude Lance Meredith was that angel. The special memory of her will live with me to my grave.

Paul R. Meredith
Date: Unknown

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Broken Window

The Broken Window


When I was still young I had a BB gun like all the boys my age had. It was a Red Ryder lever-cock model, the most popular of the day. My buddy, who lived next door, Gene Carr, also had one, so he and I would often go back in the “New Roads” area and shoot birds and whatever else we could find to shoot at. We both hated it when my brother Danny, Delmar Rucker, and Donnie Burcham and other friends of theirs would sneak and follow us, because we wanted to do “secret stuff” back there, stuff that we didn’t want known. After they followed us several times, we soon learned to hide in waiting on them. When they got real close, we’d jump out and scare the hell out of them, and then as they ran, we’d shoot them in the butt with our BB guns. I got in more trouble doing that, but it was the only thing that worked. Dad peppered my butt big-time every time I did that, but two or three days later, I’d be right back doing it again. I finally stopped one day after I embedded a BB in Delmar Rucker’s butt from close range, and his dad had to dig it out with his pocketknife. Delmar’s dad threatened to shoot me with my own BB gun, and to also beat my dad’s butt if I didn’t quit immediately, so I finally stopped, but not until the boys promised me they would stop following me all the time. Actually, the main reason I stopped was so that I could continue living. Dad promised me instant death if it ever happened again, and I knew beyond any doubt that he was deadly serious.

            Sometimes as a different sort of entertainment, Gene and I would get Danny, Donnie (Frog), Delmar, and other friends of theirs down in Gene’s basement, and have them put the boxing gloves on. We’d stage our own Olympics, in a manner of speaking. We did this several times until Dad got wind of it, and then it was red-butt day all over again for me.

            I know there have been times in Danny’s life when he felt like he owed me a lot in the way of paybacks, and actually when I reflected on it myself, I had to agree that maybe he did. There were times when we got a little older that I slept with one eye open, not sure what he might attempt to do to me in the middle of the night. I knew the building of hate when I saw it, so I decided I had to do something nice for him so he’d forget any hostile actions he might be contemplating against my physical being. One day the chance arrived when I could do something to make him feel better about his big brother.

            Several of us boys were playing football in our empty lot next to the house. Danny accidentally kicked the football right through Mom’s double-kitchen window on the north side of the house. Danny was scared to death that Dad would kill him when he got home from work, but I thought Dad would surely understand a simple accident had happened, so I told Danny not to worry. I would claim that I did it and take the blame for him. He dropped to his knees in pure gratitude, willing to kiss my feet or do anything else I wanted him to do. I became Danny’s instant hero.

            I approached Mom and took complete responsibility for the broken window, and I helped her cover the opening with cardboard. She told me Dad would be mad, but she’d try to keep him under control. Late that night when Dad came home from work, Mom told him of the accident I had with the football, but she told him I did the right thing and voluntarily confessed to it.

            I played like I was asleep, but Dad came over to my bed. “Would you please step out to the back porch area for a minute?” he said in a very soft voice. There was no anger in the tone of his voice at all, so I bravely went to the porch. This next part of the story is really very ugly, so I will just say that I had a very red, extremely sore butt for the next several days. The neighbors heard a lot of screaming.

            Today, the police would arrest a father for doing what he did to me in the way of discipline, but all the kids in our area pretty much got the same treatment from their dads.  My Grandfather Meredith gave my dad a leather razor strap years before to sharpen his straight razor on. It was a quarter of an inch thick, and Dad used this on me on those rare occasions when he felt I deserved it, but never any harder than on that occasion when I got it for something I never did. I nearly folded and told the truth on Danny, but I felt he couldn’t survive what I was getting, so I bit my tongue and endured. I’ve had a lot of bad whippings, beatings, or whatever the proper name is for them, but never a worse one than that one. I will never forget it as long as I live, but you know what? I never blamed Dad for it. He had told us several times not to play football or baseball in the lot because we’d break a window.

            I think Dad did the only thing that was possible to make me a better person at the time, because even I realized I was bordering on being out of control at certain times. That beating made me wake up to the fact that I would never in my life ever take the blame again for somebody else, and possibly I might not ever even confess to something I actually did. It was a pretty severe lesson. It was the worst beating I ever had to endure, but it also was the last one.


Paul R. Meredith