The kid packed a lot of life into 12 years, 2 months and 17 days. I’m on the cusp of observing my 70th birthday, yet he was awarded a mere 12 birthday celebrations here on earth. Wasn’t fair. Even worse, I was 4-1/2 years younger than him so I got shortchanged. The rest of the family had him longer than me, his biggest fan. I missed so much of his tragically short life.
The house where I hatched (youngest of 3) was on the west edge of town. Not a lot of homes or kids, so many days I followed him from sun up until the lightening bugs did their ritual dance in our backyard at dusk. He didn’t complain about his bratty little sister stalking him. He was my protector, advocate, friend and the boy who stopped me from eating rabbit turds beneath their cage when I was not yet 2 because someone convinced me they were raisins.
Because he was older, after we moved near the heart of Rock Valley’s downtown area, he could go farther from home with his friends, be away longer and stay out later. Trips to the sandpit, shooting his BB gun at the dump, exploring the Rock River, bike rides out in the country to look for wildlife, find new places to catch pigeons while I was not yet in school. Still, he often had friends over to our house (backyard usually). Our long driveway was mostly hardened pea gravel, with a few blades of grass and weeds in the center where no tires tread. Which made a perfect spot for shooting a game of marbles. I never understood the game, but Larry was a great southpaw shooting marbles. I watched him and his friends from the living room window, teasing and arguing as coveted marbles moved from one player to another.
After he died Mom would periodically take out Larry’s marbles and other mementoes. I think it was one way of keeping his memory close to us. We’d hold the marbles, remembering ones that were his favorites. His marbles were in a large tin can with a lid. I don’t remember if it was an old coffee can but it was heavy. Shooters, cats eyes, agates, clearies, pearlies. I believe Mom gave away his marbles, comic books and baseball cards. I imagine the cards (and comic books) would fetch some serious cash now, sporting baseball players from the 1950’s. Wish I had some displayed in my antique bookcase where I keep the things that were important to him. When Mom passed away I brought Larry’s clothes, trinkets, billfold, (filled with classmates school pictures), his baseball glove and BB gun home with me.
Larry borrowed my bike on that beautiful fall Saturday morning, because it had a basket. As he was peddling away from our house, he turned and yelled, assuring me he would give me a dime (and a surprise) when he got back for letting him use my bike. (He never made it home).
He was hauling some stuff he bought from town to our grandparent’s house on highway 18. Highway 18 was a wicked stretch of road. Why someone would design highway roads with added curbs was puzzling. In this case, deadly. I’ve heard many renditions of Larry’s accident. The version always given to me by my parents was a car’s tire caught that curb, which made the car swerve up on the shoulder where Larry was riding, striking him and killing him instantly. Flung far from Larry’s lifeless body was my broken bike with a caramel apple near it (my surprise for him using my bike).
Though I was not yet 8, there are many things about Larry which remain crystal clear to this day. I remember how he talked. He always called mom Mother but couldn’t pronounce his r’s, so it come out like ‘mu-tha,’ or quarter rolled off his tongue like ‘quaw-ta.’ Larry picked out and brought our Christmas tree home after we moved. I believe there were fresh trees for sale near the Western Auto across from Koster’s grocery store. For Christmas one year he bought Mom (mu-tha) an 8 inch frying pan and lid from money he earned catching and selling pigeons. That pan was her pride and joy for years, even after the black composite handle fell off in chunks leaving bare metal, which got hotter than a pistol, so you had to use pot holders all the time. She always made our popcorn in that pan, shaking it back and forth over the gas burner, dividing it up in bowls, then melting real butter in the pan for our popcorn topping.
I can still picture him and dad in the backyard playing catch. Larry was the only lefty in our family and it looked odd to have him throw left handed and wear his glove on his right. He was crazy about our mutt, Spitzy and the feeling was mutual. Larry was the only one who slept downstairs, so Spitzy stayed with him at night.
He would take a couple of his baseball cards and attach them to the bicycle frame next to the spokes (with a clothes pin)? so it made this clicking noise. All the boys did it. (Hope it wasn’t a Mickey Mantle rookie). There were days we ‘went to town’ together after school, stopping at the dime store to buy candy, doled out by weight on a scale. We each got a good sized bag of Malt balls, chocolate covered peanuts or chocolate stars for a nickel.
But there are some things about Larry which I no longer remember either. For the life of me, I can’t picture him eating at our supper table. (Our family sat down for supper together every night). I want to see him eating left handed so bad, but it’s just not there. After I started school, I don’t remember walking to school with him ever. I only went for half days during kindergarten and I can remember walking with 2 neighbor boys, Arlyn and Gary but never Larry. I think he probably rode his bike.
So some memories of Larry remain fresh while others remain just out of my grasp. While he wasn’t a part of my life for very long, he left a lasting impression. I miss him still-even more on the day of his death-62 years later…