All of the following stories are true and from actual events that happened in my life, while growing up in the small Vermont town of Peacham. I realize that time has a way of changing minor details but it does not change the overall picture. I have written all of these stories as I remember them happening or in some instances as they were told to me. There will be no order in which the stories will appear; I will write them as they return to my memory. So in any given story you may read about something that happened when I was very young and the next story may be about a time when I was a teenager. Also, in some of the stories, names have been changed to protect the guilty…………I hope you enjoy reading about life in the 50’s & 60’s as much as I enjoyed living them…………..
And now a few words about the Scrap Book. One of my grandmothers died back in 1980. When we cleaned out her place we found three old scrap books, which have recently landed in my hands. I thought it might be fun to post a page or two from these books, on occasion. After thumbing through these books I can only assume my grandmother cut articles out of our local newspaper for many years, then when she had the time she pasted them in a book in random order. On any given page you may read about something that happened in the 1940’s and the next article might be about the 1960’s. There is also a chance that you might find yourself reading the same article in a couple of different places. I was thinking about editing these out but decided to post them just as my grandmother pasted them in her books. If you want to enlarge any picture or the print to make it easier to read all you have to do is click on it………….I would also like to take a moment to give The Caledonian-Record, our local newspaper located in St. Johnsbury, Vt., a special thank you for giving me permission to share these news articles with all of you.
I wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that I have not given up on posting short stories about growing up during the 60’s. Since my shoulder surgery getting life back to normal seems to have taken up all of my free time. I am hopeful that things are slowly returning to normal because memories from the past have started to return to me. Just the other day I found myself basking in the memory of Senior Skip Day. Senior Skip Day was the brain child of my class and to my knowledge it is still an annual event at my old high school. Although I understand that the class treasurer is not allowed to use the class money to buy, well lets call it the choice of beverage, the seniors still take a day for themselves.
Please bear with me while I do my best to get life back under control and I find the time to write. Until that day arrives I will share little pieces of memories that I plan to write about……………..Gary
The other day, when I walked into my office, the corner of an old rusty fishing tackle box sticking out from under my desk caught my eye. Years earlier I had hidden this old box under my desk hoping my wife wouldn’t find it. My wife, someone I affectionately call Woman when she irritates me, has a nasty habit of throwing away stuff she thinks there is no longer a need to keep. The thing I find strange about this system of hers is everything that gets thrown away is my stuff. Another thing I find strange is that she can always find a reason to keep her stuff, like a dozen or so boxes of old knitting patterns that went out of style sometime during the last century or the twenty odd boxes of partly used faded skeins of old yarn that I am sure she will never find a use for. In fact I am sure she throws out much of my stuff just so she will have more room for her stuff.
I, on the other hand, keep really cool and useful things like an old six pack of Budweiser beer with the plastic strap still wrapped around the tops of the cans and an old jeans jacket that I had yet to wear, both of which fell victim to my wife. The old six pack of Budweiser was a memory from my senior year of high school, in fact a six pack that returned to me some fifteen or sixteen years after I graduated. During the fall of my senior year my best friend, Deak, and I went out one Saturday night and like most Saturday nights we found someone that would buy beer for us. The one thing that was different about this Saturday night than all the others was when the night was over we had a whole six pack of beer left over and we had no idea what we should do with it. We didn’t dare to keep it in our cars out of fear that our parents might find it, you see we were underage at the time. And there was also the chance that some of our friends at school would hear that we had a six pack and assume we kept it in our car. We definitely had a problem. Finally Deak dropped me off at my house and said he would figure something out.
Monday morning, on the way to school I asked Deak what he did with the six pack. To be honest with you I was afraid he would drink it without me, so I was relieved when he told me that he hid it behind a maple tree in the woods. As soon as the bell rang Friday afternoon, Deak and I ran to his car and raced the eight or nine miles to the clump of woods that he hid the six pack in. As we drove along this long stretch of dirt road all Deak could say was ” Wow, it sure does look different here during the day. Several times Deak blurted out “I think this is the spot.” We would jump out of the car run into the woods and start looking behind every tree in sight. Finally I said “Do you know how many thousands of trees there are here?”
As time went on finding this six pack became an obsession of ours and soon everyone at school knew about our personal quest to find this six pack. Many times friends of ours would ask if anyone had seen either Deak or Gary and they would be told that we were out looking. Instantly this friend would know that we had skipped school again to comb the woods for the elusive six pack of beer. Most often it was one of the two friends that rode the seven miles to school with us that was asking.
Deak and I got so desperate that we even accused Jimmy, a classmate of ours that lived on that stretch of road, of finding and drinking our beer, but he denied it. Finally Deak and I had to come to the realization that the six pack was gone forever and move on with life. Fifteen or sixteen years later I was working with a young man by the name of Wayne, a person that went to the same school that I did, although he was several years younger. He had just bought a wood lot and was spending his weekends clearing it so he could build a house. One Monday morning he came to work carrying a brown paper bag, handed it to me and said “Here this belongs to you and Deak.” I looked inside of the bag and there was an old six pack of Budweiser looking back at me with the plastic strap still on it.
When Deak and I first got our hands on this beer it was soon after the beer manufacturers had started to package their beer in aluminum cans which were very flimsy and easy to squeeze. I never did dare to open any of these cans because each can was harder than a rock and some were even bulging a bit.
One night we had company and before the evening was over I told them the story about the lost beer. I then went to the furnace room to grab that six pack off a storage shelf, a shelf that I built myself, only to find it was once again missing. I went back upstairs and said “Hey Woman, have you seen my old six pack?” It took a while but finally she came clean and told me that she had thrown it out. Well anyway my point is, I keep important things and that is what this old rusty tackle box is filled with.
I found this box in the trash a few days after my father’s birthday, the birthday that he got a new tackle box. I grabbed it, evicted the old dried worms and several bent fishing lures, took it to my room and immediately started to fill it with mementos. Now all that was left for me to do was pull the old box out from underneath my desk and see what old forgotten treasures it held. I placed the box on top of my desk unsnapped the latch and slowly lifted the top. My office was soon filled with a creaking noise coming from the old dried out rusty hinges as it tried to keep the lid closed and that noise was followed by the smell of old dead mud worms, that and an odor I can not describe. At the last moment I decided to close my eyes and pull out the memories that my hand first touched. I then placed what was in my hand on the desk and slowly opened my eyes.
Laying in a pile in front of me was a zippo lighter, a package of old firecrackers with a torn wrapper, an old square hand made nail and a broken off tab from a beer can. I no longer remember why the square nail was in this box but I am sure I had a good reason when I put it in there. Either that or Greg put it in there to mess with me.
The old beer tab, though, I remember well. It was during the middle of the winter that our cousin Bill, who was in the navy, had just been reassigned to a naval base in the state of Maine. To Greg and me this was good news because that meant Bill, who was of drinking age, would be able to come home at least one weekend a month.
One Friday afternoon Bill arrived early so a bunch of us decided to go to the movie theater in the neighboring town of St. Johnsbury. This was a fairly large theater with a couple hundred seats bolted down on a long sloping concrete floor. The floor had a steep slope to it so patrons could see over the heads of the people sitting in front of them.
Before we got to the theater Bill made a stop at a store along the way and bought a case of beer. We each grabbed a six pack, pulled the cans from the plastic strap holding them together and filled the pockets of out trench coat type jackets. Once in the theater we all bought a soda from the soda machine. This was one of the old type soda machines that would drop a paper cup and then fill it with the soda you had chosen. We then immediately dumped the soda and found four adjoining seats near the back of the theater. The other movie goers must have thought that we were all fighting colds because each time we opened one of the beers, which we would then pour into our paper cups, we would sneeze to cover the sound beer cans make.
We hadn’t really thought this all the way through because we were soon faced with the problem of empty cans and what to do with them. So we just passed them down the line and as it turned out Stevie (aka Duffer), the one on the end, was left with the problem. Well Duffer decided to just stand them upright between the seats. After Duffer drank his six pack of beer he thought it would be fun to make a pyramid out of the empty cans and there was a pile of them by then. Not more than five minutes later Stevie had forgotten all about the pyramid of cans, that is until he stretched out one of his legs to get more comfortable, and kicked one of the bottom cans. I can not begin to tell you the racket twenty plus empty beer cans can make rattling down the long concrete sloping floor banging into the metal chair legs along the way. The laughter got so loud, mostly Duffers, that they stopped the movie until things quieted down.
The cigarette lighter and the package of firecrackers are closely related but each has a different story to tell about the same weekend back in July of 1969.
Once again Bill was home for the weekend but this happened to be 4th of July weekend which gave Bill a few extra days off. It was Friday night and the 4th was just a few days away and you could feel the excitement of the up coming holiday building. We were on our way back from some dance somewhere and the topic we were discussing was a favorite one of ours. It was how we could make a bunch of money real fast that didn’t involve much, if any, work. Back then the only fireworks that were legal to have in Vermont were sparklers and some small pea sized round balls that would burst when you threw them hard against the ground. In, Canada, on the other hand which was only 60 miles away, it was legal to buy just about anything that would blow up, either in the air, on the ground or if you were not fast enough in your hand.
As we were driving home on that dark Friday night finalizing our Canada plans Bill and I, who were riding in the front seat, heard the sound of a lighter. That noise was followed by a high pitched sound and then almost instantly by a really bright blue flash. Bill and I immediately started to roll down our windows as fast as we could. Greg’s life and every one’s life around him changed right after he found out methane gas was flammable .
About mid morning Bill pulled into our dooryard driving his blue 64 Impala with the white convertible top which was down. A few minutes later we were on our way to Canada carrying as much money as we could all scrape together. This had all the makings of a great day that promised to make us all rich. You see firecrackers that just cost pennies a package in Canada would bring more than a dollar in Vermont and even more than that the closer you got to the night of the fourth.
This was the first time any of us had been to Canada so we were a bit surprised when we were asked at the border what our business was in Canada. Thank god Bill was real fast at thinking when put on the spot. He told them that he was in the Navy and was going to be shipped out and we were visiting Aunt Maude and Uncle Buck.
It didn’t take long to find stands set up along the highway that sold just about any kind of explosive you could think of. And it took less time for us to fill the back seat and floor of the old Impala with all kinds of explosives. That was about the time we realized the nice guys at customs probably wouldn’t allow us to take the fireworks across the border.
We started to search the car trying to find a place to hide the bags of fireworks we had. In the trunk we found three tires all on rims and the one on the bottom had a two inch slice in it. We hauled the tire out, Greg and I handed package after package of firecrackers to Bill who slid them through the whole in the sidewall. When we were done filling the tire the only thing left were a dozen or so packs of firecrackers, which we put under our hats, and the three roman candles I had bought. The roman candles we hid up behind the dash.
We pulled into customs confident that we would get across without any trouble. Well as it turned out the men at customs were just as confident that three young guys riding in a blue impala convertible all wearing hats on the 3rd of July probably were up to something. So after Bill hit them with the Aunt Maude and Uncle Buck story one of the custom officers pointed to a parking lot and told us to wait for him over there.
The first things they found were the roman candles. So we tried to convince them that was all we had but evidently they didn’t believe us because they kept looking. Finally they got to the trunk and began throwing out tires. When they got to the tire on the bottom it took two of them to lift it out. This must have made them a little suspicious because then they wanted to know what was in it. Bill had to reach in and pull out every package of firecrackers. In the beginning one of the officers held out his hands to give Bill a place to pile the firecrackers. Before long one of the officers came out of the customs office carrying some shopping bags which Bill filled three of.
About an hour later we found ourselves standing inside the custom office paying a fine, which took almost all of the rest of our money. After we put the seats back in the car we headed out of the parking lot. Greg took a firecracker from under his hat, lit it and threw it out as Bill sped off.
The first town we came to in Vermont we took the rest of our money, stopped at a soft ice cream stand and each bought the largest ice cream cone they had. Bill took a big mouth full, immediately yelled ouch and spit out a small stone.