Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmastime in Manassas

I took a little walk last night around Old Town Manassas. Being just a few days before Christmas, the plethora of white lights glistened boldly, lighting up the buildings and sidewalks. The people who are responsible for such things do a great job here at Christmastime, making our town warm and inviting. My senses were stirred.

I sat down briefly on one of the benches near the skating rink, watching the youngsters circle counter-clockwise on the ice. Some skated smoothly, others flailed their arms trying to keep their balance as their skates glided along the ice.

Then I heard a train whistle and the clank of the gates coming down at the tracks. I left my spot on the bench and meandered toward the train station. A frieght train had stopped, its engines purring, while, I suspected, workers down the line were switching cars at the junction where the spur breaks off and heads toward the Shenandoah Valley.

I love trains.

I noticed a few folks under the station's canopy, their bags stacked nearby. I surmised that the AMTRAK Crescent had not yet arrived. The Crescent makes one trip daily from New York to New Orleans, stopping at Manassas to take on and release passengers as needed.

The town clock read 8:35. Sure enough, these folks were waiting for the train.

I took a seat on a bench at the station, observing the little kids milling around while their parents kept a watchful eye. One young fellow, sporting a huge backpack, paced back and forth methodically along the full length of the yellow strip at the edge of the platform as if in a trance, his eyes fixed downward on his careful steps. A father held his little girl tightly as if to protect her from an unseen train suddenly barreling into the station.

I spoke briefly with the man holding the child. He and his family hailed from Atlanta, and were on their way home after visiting his brother in Fairfax. He commented on what a nice town we had, and I told him about the Manassas Center for the Arts, where just minutes before, a bevy of young people had exited the building following some sort of community event.

The air was crisp, and puffs of steam vacated our mouths at every breath.

Then the train pulled in, one of the longest in my memory. Perhaps extra cars had been added for the Christmas holiday season.

As the train rolled to a stop, I looked in to each section. First came the Sleepers, with their tiny suites where passengers would try to get a few hours of "shuteye" before the morning broke again. Next came the Diner cars, where smiling faces across from one another spoke to me of family and friendship. Perhaps new friendships were even being cast this very night, as strangers traveling together engaged themselves in conversation. Finally, as the train pressed to a halt, the Coach cars came into view. I wondered what the folks inside the car might be thinking as they looked out, while I looked in.

I wished him a Merry Christmas, and the man from Atlanta, along with his family, spoke with the conductor, then boarded and headed for home.

Then I noticed a man standing next to me—a graying, late-fiftyish, early-sixtyish looking fellow. He did not board the train. Nor was he there to greet any family or friends disembarking. Apparently, he had the same idea as me. Yes, as we began to chat, I learned that he too was a lover of trains.

The whistle blew again, and the wheels began to turn. As quickly as it had come, the Crescent was now gone. Together, we watched the red tail lights disappear into the blackness of the southern sky.

Henry Kok had only been living in this area for nine months. He had moved here from Tampa, Florida to take on employment with the Raytheon Corporation, working in their Purchasing Department.

We talked. He commented on the sad state of the whole train situation here in America. He had traveled extensively in Europe, he said, where train travel was much more common. We discussed the propensity of Americans to prefer their cars to train travel. Cars bring us more freedom, we concluded.

Henry admired the station's architecture, the 100-year-old craftsmanship of the fine woodwork holding up the canopy. He commented on the "Federal Style" of the old Candy Factory, now Arts Center. And then he spoke of his love of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, claiming that he had personally seen 57 of Wright's structures. He loved architecture, he said.

He commented how disappointed he was that Manassas did not have a coffee shop. He blamed this on town the planners. I'm not sure that they are responsible, but he does have a point. There is no longer any place in Old Town Manassas where one can sit down and just drink a cup of coffee. We once had the Lazy Bean, and then Java Jack's. But both are now closed down.

His remarks made me think of the Frost Diner in Culpeper. Occupying the corner of Main and Davis, the Frost Diner is a throwback to the good old days—a place where you can get a cup of coffee, or a burger and a shake, or a salad, or a reuben sandwich, and a piece of pie. They serve their drinks, and their shakes, in those old fashioned Coca Cola glasses, the kind that sort of "bell out" at the top. Yeah.

Foster's Grill is nice, but its menu is limited. City Tavern is nice also, but it's more of a restaurant/bar kind of a deal. And the City Square Cafe is nice, too, but again, it's not a coffee shop.

Henry's observations made me pause, just momentarily ... what if ... nah ... what am I thinking ... great idea but I don't have the resources to open a restaurant. Although, with the commuter train coming through every morning, I have often wondered about the viability of a coffee/pastry shop/newstand, someplace for commuters to stop, get some quick refreshment for the train ride, and something to read.

Money. It all takes so much money.

Anyway, Henry is Dutch. Born in Holland in 1945 as the war in Europe was winding down, he and his family migrated to New York in 1954, landing first, actually, in Hoboken, New Jersey. Their boat docked in Hoboken on the Fourth of July, that summer.

We continued to talk about trains and architecture, and Henry's thoughts turned to history. He seemed to light up when I told him the story of how Manassas got its name.

Apparently, an old Jewish man named Manasseh once lived up in the mountains near Front Royal. When, in the early 1850's, railroad men decided to build a spur linking the old Orange and Alexandria line to the Shenandoah Valley, they laid their track through the gap between the mountains where the old Jewish fellow lived. Because of its nearest resident, the gap between the mountains came to be known as Manasseh's gap, and the railroad line was named The Manassas Gap Railroad. The junction point where the spur broke off, heading west toward the Valley, came to be known as Manassas Junction. That spot is located along Wellington Road, not far from where it intersects with Prince William Street.

And that is how Manassas got its name.

Henry and I also talked about the Civil War battles nearby. I told him the story of old Wilmer McLean, the one-time owner of the Yorkshire Plantation, just up the road behind what is now the Yorkshire Restaurant.

The Yorkshire Plantation is long gone, but it would seem that not long after Mr. McLean purchased his home, the war was about to break out—the War Between the States that is. McLean was entertaining a few Confederate officers in his home one evening, just before the battle of First Manassas. During their dinner, a Union cannonball landed and exploded in his fireplace, spraying a pot of stew all over the walls of his house.

Frightened, soon afterwards McLean picked up his family and moved—to a little town in south-central Virginia named Appomattox. It was in his home that General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant to end the bloody conflict between North and South.

So, it is said that the Civil War began and ended in the home of Wilmer McLean.

Henry loved that story. I also recommended that he find and read Landmarks of Old Prince William, a chronicle of local history beginning with Captain John Smith, trolling the waters of the Potomac, up into the "freshes" of the creeks of Occoquan, Aquia, Neabsco—in 1608—nearly 400 years ago. The freshes are the places where the saltwater meets the fresh water—sometimes called the "fall line."

Yes, our local history is rich.

Henry and I concluded our brief visit with his story of a family reunion that took place this past Fourth of July at his brother's home on Long Island, NY. Together with family and friends, Henry celebrated his 5oth year in America.

It was a very friendly visit, one we both seemed to enjoy.

We traded "Merry Christmases" and I headed back to my car. Amongst the many beautiful Christmas lights and decorations, I found the town clock. It was now 9:15.

With a joyful heart, I thanked God for giving me such a wonderful place to live.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


I love baseball.

As a young man, much of my life focused on the game once considered America’s pastime. Growing up in Cincinnati didn’t hurt either—the Cincinnati Redlegs being the first professional baseball team, and, in my youth, often a contender.

Yes, I said Redlegs, not Reds. You see, “back in the day” that was the team name. In fact even when I was a young man growing up in the Queen City, our team was often referred to that way. Here is their 1958 logo.

Founded just after the Civil War in 1869, the team—first called the Cincinnati Red Stockings—took the field for the very first time on May 4th of that year. They won that first game, beginning a streak of victories. And they won another 129 games without a loss, until falling in extra innings to the Brooklyn Atlantics on June 14th of 1870 by a score of 8-7—130 straight victories!

In 1876, Cincinnati became a charter member of the newly formed National League.

Crosley Field opened in 1912 and served as the home of the Reds for 58 years until 1970, when the team relocated itself to Riverfront Stadium. Crosley Field featured a double-deck grandstand, and was the first field where a night game was played under the lights on May 24, 1935. The stadium accomodated about 30,000 fans—small by today's standards.

As a young man, Dad took me to see the Reds play at Crosley Field more than once. We went to several games between 1958 and 1960.

At the most memorable outing, one of Dad’s good friends from work joined us at the game. We sat in the upper deck on the third base side, about halfway between third base and the left-field wall. I brought my huge first baseman’s glove, hoping to shag a foul ball. And believe it or not, one came our way—quickly rising down the left field line and into the upper deck. We scarce had a moment to react. And guess what? My Dad’s friend snagged it—barehanded. Then he turned and put the ball in my glove—a gift from my Dad’s kind-hearted friend! What a thrill! I held on to that ball for years but have since lost it. Sad.

Another memory, oddly, was the foul smelling men’s bathroom. Today, men’s rooms have private urinals, often separated by a panel. But at Crosley Field all the men lined up facing the wall and did their business in a wall-length, common urinal. And that place stunk to high heaven. It’s an odd memory indeed, but one that has never left me.

Something else I remember quite clearly was the overwhelming number of black men at the games—not on the field, but in the stands. Back in those days, we did not use the term “black,” but rather referred to our dark-skinned countrymen as Negroes. I had of course seen Negroes before, in fact my school was integrated, and one of my best friends, Donald Mitchell, was black. But I had never seen so many blacks in one place at one time and the experience awakened me for the first time to that whole realm. It is one thing to live in a predominantly white neighborhood peppered with a few black families. But to be in an environment where you are basically in the minority—that’s another matter altogether.

Crosley Field sat at the intersection of Western Avenue and Findley Street, not exactly the upscale section of town. An alley ran right behind the center field wall, and kids would hang out there during games, hoping to grab a home run ball. From our seats in the upper deck, we could just barely see into that alley. And I remember clearly a couple of home run balls going over that wall and the mad scramble of the kids, most on foot, some on their bikes, rushing toward a treasured prize.

After one game we somehow got down to the gate where the players exited the field to go home. And I was able to secure the autograph of a lesser-known pitcher named Jay Hook. I have since lost track of that prize as well.

For a young, wide-eyed boy, the whole experience of going to a professional ball game is an irreplaceable episode in one’s life, a memory to cherish forever. I will never forget sitting in the stands, next to Dad, glove on my hand, with the man on the PA system announcing my favorite players coming to the plate—Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, Gordy Coleman, Joe Nuxhall, Elio Cardenas, Jerry Lynch—the roar of the crowd, the lights, the scoreboard, the smells, the cry of the vendor—“Hey, get your cold beer! Cold beer!”

Of course, part of the ambience is the way the beer man says beer. The two words “cold beer”—two syllables really—rise in crescendo. The “R” in beer is never uttered. And oh, those hot dogs—those incredible ballpark hot dogs. Big, juicy, smothered in mustard, doused with onions and relish, and wrapped in tin foil. What a treat. Yes, it was a marvelous experience, one which I will always treasure.

I especially liked Gordy Coleman, the Reds' first baseman. When I played organized ball (see below) I wore a No. 9 jersey, just like Gordy, played first base, just like Gordy, batted left and threw right, just like Gordy. He was my hero.

And the games we did not attend, which were most of them, we would sometimes watch on television. I remember Saturday afternoons at my Grandma Weaver’s house, sitting in front of her little black and white television, watching the game with my grandpa, my dad and my uncles—Uncle Bill, Uncle Bob, Uncle Cecil, Uncle Willy, and sometimes Uncle Gerald or Uncle Jack. They set up kitchen chairs a semi-circle on the linoleum floor in Grandma’s living room. They gathered around the little T.V., beers in hand, laughing, joking, and making cracks about a play or a player. Sometimes they smoked cigars. Meanwhile, we kids—my cousins and I—wandered in and out of the house through Grandma's front, screen door.

And when the game was not being broadcast on television, we’d often listen to it on our radio. I remember tuning in regularly to hear Waite Hoyt and Jack Moran give their play-by-play and analysis on the air.

“I’ll give you a Whitey Ford and a Warren Spahn for a Mickey Mantle.”

Such were the day-to-day summer dealings of us young boys on the block. We anxiously awaited the daily visit of our “ice cream man.” He drove an orange van-like truck with decals pasted all over. As he turned the corner and began to head up our street, he rang his bell so we kids could hear him coming, beg some change from our moms or dads, and run out to meet him. He sold not only popsicles and dreamsicles and ice cream bars, he sold the most important commodity of all—Topps baseball cards.

Now the baseball cards came in five-card packs, with a flat, pink slab of bubble gum inside the wrapper. And yeah, we liked the gum. But our real pursuit was those precious cards inside the pack.

We traded them, we flipped them, and we even clothespinned them to the frames of our bicycles so they fluttered in the spokes of the wheels when we rode our bikes up and down the street. We thought our bikes sounded like motorcycles.

We used to store them in cardboard shoeboxes, often bound together by rubber bands and categorized by team, or by year. Today, collectors keep them in sealed plastic, and handle them with tweezers. Times have changed.

Sometimes the card of a lesser known player—say a Bob Purkey—could become just as valuable as a Mantle or a Willy Mays. A 1959 Purkey card might be the only card needed to compete a set of that team for that year.

Like a dummy, when I became an adult, I gave my baseball card collection away to a young boy, thinking that my collection was useless to me. If I had those cards today, I’ll bet they’d be worth at least $1,000. Regrets.

Going to professional games was fun. Watching them, and listening on the radio was fun, too. And I of course enjoyed collecting and trading those baseball cards. But the real joys of baseball came in actually playing the games.

At about the age of eight, Dad got me involved in the local Cincinnati Knothole League. The word “knothole” in the title came from the little holes sometimes found in wooden fences from where a knot in the board had popped out. The classic image is that of a young boy, sneaking a peak at a professional ball game from outside the fence, looking through a knothole.

Due to my above average height, the coach selected me to play first base. And Dad, though not officially a part of the coaching staff gave me all kinds of tips and pointers about the game. He taught me how to straddle the corner of the bag as I was waiting for a throw. That way I would be prepared to stretch either way should the throw from shortstop or the second baseman be a little off. And after my first summer of play, Dad bought me a huge first baseman’s glove. Hands at my side, the tip of that sucker reached to my knee.

Dad taught me how to hold the bat, how to plant my feet, how to swing. He even taught me how to place the ball. We often played catch in the backyard. And sometimes he would hit pop flies to me.

By the time I first began playing organized ball I had already learned much about the game. I knew about the infield fly rule, tagging up, sacrifice bunts, strike zones, and balks.

Aside from being a test of athletic skill, baseball requires thinking on your feet. As a fielder you need to know at every moment what to do if the ball comes to you. Where do I throw it, and why? If you’re the batter, and you get a hit, you need to run smartly, not taking an unnecessary chance of getting thrown out. And if you’re the coach or manager, you need to know how to play the right group of players against your opponent, and how to adjust your fielders to their best location for each batter.

When we moved to Texas, I played the summer of ’62 on the Kiwanis Club team. Dad joined the coaching staff and coached the runners from first. As before, when our team was in the field, I played first base.

The highlight of my baseball career came that summer when I hit a grand slam home run in the championship game and our team won the championship. I still have the trophy.

I did not play organized ball again until our church, New Life Community, formed a softball team in the late 1970’s. Once again, I played first base.

Now that D.C. has finally gotten a professional baseball team—the Nationals—I am looking forward to following them throughout the season. I even hope to get to a game or two. It will be fun. Maybe I can even catch the Reds when they come to town.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Buckeyes, Tadpoles, and Vines for Swinging

I once lived in a small brick house that sat near a rise in the road and backed up to a great big woods. We moved there in the summer of 1958, between my 1st and 2nd grade years. In fact, when we took occupancy of that house, I had not yet even turned seven years old. But the boyhood pleasures that encompassed me for the three years that we lived there, still resonate deep in my heart.

Our house sat in the curve on the road, on the north side—or the right—as one ascends the hill. The ranch style home on Joliet Avenue had three bedrooms and one bath. It rested on a poured concrete basement foundation, and looked like every other house on the street—except for the number posted on the little wooden sign to the right of our front door—244.

Our new home was not that far from my grandma’s house. She lived in Edgemont, just across the Cincinnati Corporation line, and prior to our move, I too had lived there with Mom, Dad, and Ellen, in grandma’s second floor apartment. In fact, I had lived at Grandma’s ever since the day my mom brought me home from Good Samaritan Hospital, where I had been born.

To get from Grandma’s to our new house, we crossed the Mill Creek Expressway, made a right, and headed north, up the Springfield Pike (Ohio Route 747). We drove past the tall neon Indian who pointed at the used cars, crossed the singing bridge, passed through Hartwell and Wyoming (not the state—the town), entered our little burg of Woodlawn, and made a left onto Riddle Road. Just past Woodlawn School and up the hill, we entered our little subdivision, turning right onto Roberta Drive, and then left onto Joliet. The trip normally took about fifteen minutes.

The spring before we moved in, we often made that trek on Saturdays to watch and measure the progress of construction. We had even made acquaintance with the man operating the bulldozer, grading the lot prior to the excavation for the basement pour. That’s why my very first “When I grow up, I wanna be a _____,” was populated with “bulldozer driver.”

Those were my halcyon days. Summers especially found me filled with happiness as my friends and I ventured ever so carefully down the steep hill that finished off my backyard, and into the woods behind my house, where so many wonders awaited us city-grown boys.

It is a common lament that children today grow up too fast, that society is conspiring to deprive them of the halcyon childhood they deserve.
Keith Bradsher, “Fear of Crime Trumps the Fear of Lost Youth,” New York Times, November 21, 1999

They call Ohio the Buckeye State. And down that hill, into those woods, we found many.

The Buckeye tree (scientific name Aesculus Glabra Wildenow) grows throughout Ohio. In Latin, the name means "oak and smooth." The tree is short, only reaching a height of about fifty feet. The buckeye nut is round and brown, with one little tan-colored spot. Buckeyes look like the eyes of a male deer, thus the name “buck-eye.”

Even as a seven-year-old kid, I had an understanding that the buckeye was unique to my area of the country. But don’t ask me how I knew that. Perhaps Dad told me. I only knew that buckeyes were legendary, special, something few kids had seen.

And they were great for throwing too, like a small stone. You could zing those suckers far and fast with a pitch of the arm and a snap of the wrist, and send them buzzing through the woods like a bullet. Almost every time Dennis and Tommy and I entered that woods, we would pick out a distant tree, and test our aim and accuracy. It wasn’t quite a “ping,” and it wasn’t quite a “thwack,” but when that buckeye made contact with that tree, you knew it. Oh the joys of boyhood!

Upon entering our lush, green forest, we never failed to go down to our creek. In fact, our creek was but a few yards from the bottom of the hill.

We loved that creek and it became our playground. It meandered through those woods with such grace. Heavy storms had carved out great, gaping holes under some of the huge trees that hung alongside the edge of the creek bed, especially where the water’s course made a sharp bend to the left or the right. Webs of roots shot out of the earth like elephant snouts, twisting and turning beneath their tree’s trunks, exposed to the open air. Some of the voids amidst those twinings were so large that we could climb inside, and sit under the trees that perched themselves precariously above our heads.

"The path of least resistance makes [both] men and rivers crooked."
Charles Simpson

Creeks are living. They teem with all kinds of critters. We caught tadpoles and frogs, and every variation in between. We snatched up crawdads with our fingers and put them in buckets to bring home to our moms, who immediately sent us back down the hill to return them to their homes in the mud. We grabbed up salamanders and snails. I even tried to catch a snake once, by picking it up right behind the head. But the snake snapped around, biting me on the finger. I still have the scar.

One summer we dammed up that creek. We dragged big rocks from all around, laid a good foundation, and created the basic outline of the dam. Then we shoveled mud and dirt over those rocks and built it up, while directing the flow of water to one side. Finally we found an old galvanized pipe about 2” in diameter, stuck it in the dam wall, and covered it over. Then we closed off our little channel and watched the water’s elevation slowly rise. Soon the water reached the mouth of our pipe and began the flow through it.

We had created a lake! Right there in our own, private woods—our woods—we had engineered and constructed a magnificent, colossal, structure. Our chests puffed out. Our pride swelled. You would have thought that we had just finished building Hoover Dam.

Stones are great for skipping across the water. And we had them—plenty of them. Smooth, flat, rounded stones, weighted just right, perfect to the touch. Eons of creek water rushing over these rocks had honed them to perfection—made them just right for skipping. Knees bent, eyes sharpened, a sidearm sling, a flick of the wrist, and whoosh, there it went, gliding, skipping, floating in the air. One, two three, four, five … how many times did that stone touch the water and rise again? Oh the joys of triumph, watching that stone slip again and again from the grasp of gravity’s pull!

Not far from our creek, on the other side from where we entered our woods, stood a stand of trees from which a plethora of vines hung, suspended. These were the kinds of vines found in the Tarzan movies—the movies where Johnny Weissmuller swung from tree to tree with Cheetah in tow. Our vines measured two to three inches in diameter, and had, over time, wrapped themselves tightly around the trees’ upper branches. When we first found these hanging vines, it was almost impossible to get to them. Undergrowth made passage in and out of that area very difficult. But over time we cleared it out.

Once accessible, we grabbed those vines and swung for our lives. Anybody can swing on a rope tied to a tree branch, but this was the real thing. Tarzan swung on real vines. And now we did, too!

Ours was an old growth forest. Everything was original. And our woods boasted some of the biggest trees around. Besides the buckeye, we found hickory, ash, oak, sycamore, and walnut along with others. Some of those trees made for great climbing. With low-slung branches, we could easily grab on and pull ourselves up. But the best climbing trees were the ones that didn’t grow straight up, but instead shot out of the ground at odd angles. Those trees made the best climbing trees. A good climber could get way up into the limbs and appendages of those gargantuan monsters.

Trees are ponderous. Like humans, each one owns unique elements. The lowest branches of some are unreachable to the eight-year-old boy. But others invite climbing and exploring. Some are straight, others gnarly. Some are nearly symmetrical. Others are twisted, irregular, and lopsided—kind of like people.

Our little trio of woods-loving pals often scoured the ground for unique looking rocks. We collected them. Like trees, they came in all shapes and sizes. And colors too. My favorites were the quartz stones we often found, with their translucence and near transparency. We also dug up flint and sometimes limestone.

But our most wonderful finds transported us back to ancient history, to the time when great creatures roamed the wild. For in that uncharted, previously unexplored wilderness we called our woods, buried in the soil, we unearthed countless fossils—petrifications of plants, trees, and once-living creatures that peppered that Buckeye-State soil. And we happened upon them often.

We also found arrowheads—Indian arrowheads. The Shawnee had been the most recent occupants of this land, before we white men came. They had once hunted in these woods—now our woods. The Shawnee—some of the bravest, fiercest warriors of Indian lore had roamed this ground. Blue Jacket, Cornstalk, and the mightiest of them all, Tecumseh, had hunted here—at least in our fertile imaginations. And now we—we the brave—held their weapons of war in our fingertips.

I can almost hear their battle cry now, rising up from deep within the bowels of their terrifying manhood. It feels almost like the low, guttural groan of Tim, “the Tool Man” Taylor, expressing a virile, primeval masculinity.

Such are the undomesticated fancies of a young boy—and a middle-aged man.

One day my pals and I decided to leave our comfortable little paradise and go exploring. Just behind our creek rose a hill that sort of curved along with the creek’s contours. We had never been to the top of that hill, nor beyond, but often wondered what we might find on the other side.

We struck out one morning and ascended that hill. We walked along the top of the thickety ridge for quite some ways. In our minds, that hill became a mountain. And then, suddenly, through a clearing in the trees, we saw something that stopped us in our tracks. Below us, spread out for acres and acres at our feet, we beheld a lush pasture carpeted in green. And beyond that pasture, more woods, more trees, more unexplored, virgin forest. It seemed to go on forever.

Now I understood how those first pioneers must have felt. They crested ridge after unexplored ridge, standing again and again in awe and wonderment at the endless American forest and its hidden mysteries.

Add to our great pleasure, that the pasture was populated with what must have been a hundred head of cattle. Now I had seen cattle before, from the window of our Chevy Nomad, driving through the country with Mom and Dad. But this—this wonderful, strange moment came so unexpectedly, so unpredictably, I had not been prepared. None of us had. Not a thing stood between those cows and three young wide-eyed city boys. Not a car window, not a fence, not a parent holding our hand, nothing.

And the wonder of it all was this. Mark and Dennis and Tommy had found that place—that magical, enchanted place—all by ourselves. We, the great explorers of our virgin, pristine woods had stumbled upon this great discovery alone, by our own wits, our own cunning, our own forest-honed skills. We, the hunters and capturers of wild, exotic sea creatures—we, the builders of magnificent dams and creators of lakes—we, the clearers of great forests and the Tarzan-like swingers of vines—we, the climbers of huge, knotted trees—we, the wise archeologists, the conquerors who tread the same ground where Shawnee bowmen had once hunted for game—we the buckeye-wielding warriors, had now laid open the mysteries beyond that mountain.

We never returned to that wild, distant place again. Time passed quickly, and we retreated back into our ticky-tack homes, our black and white television screens, our homework for school, and our manicured baseball diamonds.

Those had been my halcyon days—my youthful days of joy and boyhood wonderment. Not long after that monumental discovery from the mountaintop, our family moved away—far, far away, to Texas, where a whole new set of adventures awaited this soon-to-be ten-year-old boy.