It takes two people to get one of us through life, we’re fond of saying. What one of us forgets, the other may remember.
Taking meds on time or missing a well-known turn in the road or catching a favorite TV show, we share the memory banks. But memories from childhood or youth – if one has only one’s own cache and those of fading siblings – there’s no hope for that, so Dave is the official keeper of the family memories and, of course, his own.
We were relaxing at the dock in Lake Eufaula last week when Dave started reminiscing. Since we had shore power to run my laptop, I started taking notes as he talked. Some of what follows is paraphrase, some is the umpteenth time I’ve heard it. Some, I believe, is pure fiction, but who is going to prove that?
He’ll be 79 this summer. He was the middle child of parents who today would be cited for child endangerment. He loved cars and airplanes, but most of all he loved the water. He always had a boat, even if it was really only a board, and was well acquainted with Tampa Bay. From 5 or 6 years of age his only restriction was that he be home for dinner at 6 o’clock.
My mother says when I was 2 or 3 years old (I don’t recall this myself) Dad put me on his shoulders in the ocean, and walked out on a sandbar. The tide came in, and even though Dad was an excellent swimmer, he discovered that his own head was barely above the water and he couldn’t think what to do with me holding on.
Obviously he thought of something, because here I am.
I think my own earliest memory is of living in Alden, a suburb west of Philadelphia. I must have been about 4 years old when an enormous Zeppelin went over, very low. I looked up over the house and it seemed to take at least 10 minutes to fly over – right straight over my head. I was just astounded, but had no fear whatever.
Next thing I remember, we were down at Ocean City [N.J.] for the summers. Except for his two weeks vacation, Dad would come to Ocean City by train every day just as he went to work when we were home at Alden.
Mom found out there was a Ford Tri-Motor giving rides at Atlantic City Municipal Airport. Linn [Dave’s younger brother] was scared to go, so Dad had to wait on the ground with him. The pilot took me and Gloria [Dave’s sister] and Mom back and forth over the beach.
It was too late to take up the Ford Tri-Motor, so Dad took a ride in a bi-plane. It was his first air ride. I think it cost two or three dollars.
We kids played in the street. There was no traffic – there was a war on, you know – and it was safe for kids to ride bikes anywhere.
We moved from Alden to St. Petersburg in 1938. The day after we got there I came out of the house to look around, and I asked a guy on the street which was closer, Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. He thought it was real funny because we could see the bay from where we stood (were it not for foliage), whereas the gulf was seven miles away.
There was a big banyan tree across the street from where we lived. A banyan, especially an old one, sends out heavy perpendicular branches on which kids can easily walk from the trunk out over the street. The boys would drop mangoes on passing cars where they would splat spectacularly.
The driver heard the thump and jumped out of the car looking for a dent, but we never got caught because nobody ever thought to look up in the tree.
Linn and I and three other youngsters were on our bikes the day a formation of five P-40s flew over. Two of the planes collided and fell nearby. It was hard to see because of the trees.
We rode all over trying to find it. It crashed on South 9th Street in Roser Park, and we helped find the pilot, who had bailed out in time to land unharmed. The pilot hailed a cab, said he needed to get his log books out of the plane. By the time we found the wreckage and after the pieces were collected by the Air Corps officials the little boys in the neighborhood scavenged everything we could and enjoyed trying to decide what they meant, like pieces of a puzzle.
The second plane crashed two blocks away, killing the pilot, in the backyard of a girl who went to school with us. That was a big disappointment because the boys would have loved to have it fall in their yard – but a girl?
What a waste.