Chapter Two

The Big Rock Tale

On leaving the hotel door he glances forward. The sky is overcast and the last throes of daylight don’t reveal any surface features. He can smell the ocean and hear the distant sound of the surf. He slides the garrison cap out from under his belt and puts it on as Mayme makes an immediate left. She walks a couple steps, pauses and turns to await Eli who is now approaching on her right. We are walking on wooden boards that have a sheen from moisture. She places her hand on the inside of his left arm at the elbow. Eli realizes that he has never had a woman take is arm. He instinctively bends his elbow to make a place for her to rest her hand.

Mayme states, “I am glad the wind is not blowing. It is so chilly out.”

“Yes, but at least it is above freezing now so what little snow we had this morning has melted.”

“I’m also glad this is a very warm coat but I am going to need my mittens too,” admits Mayme as she takes her hand from Eli’s arm and pulls out a knitted mitten from each pocket and puts them on her hands. She places her hand on Eli’s arm again and directs our bearing with a slight pull on Eli’s elbow as we turn left again when we reach

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the corner of the hotel. Mayme asks, “What did you mean by ‘strange rapport’ with your friend, Eli?”

“Well…that’s just Parker…” Eli stammers as he tries to come up with a way to say what he means without offending Mayme. “It’s just the way we talk to each other. I don’t even know how it started but we always cuss at each other. It may not sound like it but it’s done in a friendly way. I don’t do it with anyone else but I do enjoy the banter with him. It’s actually mentally stimulating to come up with new ways to insult each other. We don’t say anything without verbally abusing the other in some way. I guess I don’t understand it myself so I can’t explain it any better than that, Mayme.”

“I have seen that between my uncle and a friend he has so I think I know what you are talking about. Well, anyway, you can thank Parker for sending you over to me. Without cusswords however,” she laughingly teases. They walk quietly for a few steps then she continues, “Most people go to the ballroom on the Steel Pier. How did you end up at the Knickerbocker?”

“Well, the main reason is that we are quartered there. But I did go to the Steel Pier the last time we had a pass and it was just too hectic. It is too big and there are way too many people there. Why did you come here?”

“I agree with you about the Steel Pier. The ballroom is just too big. They do have big name entertainers come there so sometimes we go there to see them. Geraldine and I like to go to the USO but sometimes there just isn’t enough room to dance without colliding with other couples. We were excited when they announced they were going to have dancing at the Knickerbocker again.”

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Eli thinks back to Mayme’s singing while they danced and was amazed how she knew the lyrics by heart. “I was surprised you were able to sing along with that song like you did. You never missed a word. Did they just happen to play the one song you knew or do you know many song lyrics?”

“Oh, yes. I have a copious repertoire. When I get home from work there is a New York station that plays all the popular music until seven pm when the network programming starts. I love listening to that music. Geraldine and I practice our dancing then. But anyway I enjoy learning the lyrics to my favorite songs so I buy the sheet music to songs that I like. I Had the Craziest Dream hasn’t been out very long but it zoomed right to the top of my list.”

“I had heard that song somewhere before. Come to think of it, I heard it at the Steel Pier. I liked the melody but didn’t listen to the words closely. When you sang the words I really paid attention.” He wanted to say he wished the words were from her heart to him. He is always thinking he is going to say the wrong thing so he thought he had better bite his tongue. After all she barely knows him so instead of saying what’s on his mind he continues with, “It was a beautiful description of an enjoyable dream.”

“It was in a movie that just came out a couple months ago. It was Springtime in the Rockies. Did you see it?”

“I haven’t been to a movie since I left home,”

“Oh, of course, I should have known that. Did you enjoy going to the cinema when you were in Iowa?”

“Yes, I do enjoy movies, but don’t go real often. The last one I saw was at the Avalon in West Union. It was a Boston Blackie film. It probably wasn’t the greatest movie to the critics but I thought it wasn’t

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bad. It doesn’t matter to me though. I just want to be entertained and it did that.”

Mayme agrees, “I am the same way. I love going to the cinema, although if I get a choice I choose dancing first, then the movies. Is West Union the city you come from?”

“No, I am from an even smaller town by the name of Fayette. Well, it’s not real small like Maynard. We have a university there, Upper Iowa University. My father is a grounds keeper and does building maintenance there. My parents have a small home just a few feet from the Volga River.”

“Oh! That must have been great. I would have loved to live next to a river.”

“It was fun, but it’s probably not what you are thinking of for a river. It’s small, but it provided plenty of entertainment for me. I like looking for rocks along the river. I have found some pretty interesting ones, obsidian and calcite. My grandfather and I enjoy fishing in it. It isn’t great for fishing but I catch catfish sometimes, once in a while a bass. It was infrequent enough that when I did catch something I would go crazy then Grampa would laugh at me. The time I spend fishing is relaxing even when I don’t catch anything. I also enjoy my time with my grandfather and I know it means a lot to him.”

“Do you go swimming in the river?”

“Usually it’s not deep enough to swim, at least not by my house. When we wanted to swim we would take the hike to Big Rock.”

“Is that the next town from Fayette?”

To Eli it seems absurd to think of Big Rock as a town so he laughs as he says, “No, it’s just what the name implies. It’s a big rock in the Volga River and there is a deep hole there. I don’t know how deep it is

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but it we could jump off the rock and not hit bottom. It’s not dangerously deep though because we could swim to the bottom and still not be very far down. From my house it is only about a mile as the crow flies to Big Rock. And when it’s Jerry and me we will always make as straight a path as we can. We were just kids so it was a treacherous trek though. There was no path that we went on.”

“So you were young when you would go there. Did your mom know you were going there?”

“Well, the first time we went there we were about ten. Jerry and I followed this older neighbor boy. We went every summer since but my mom always knew. And we still went a couple times this last summer. Why do you ask?”

Mayme responds, “Well, you said it was treacherous and I was wondering if you were young enough that your mom would approve of you taking that path.”

“As a matter of fact, she did get mad at me but it wasn’t for the treacherous path. Like I said the Big Rock is hard to get to so consequently girls never went there. At least we never saw any there and I figured that was the reason. That first time we just went. I mean we weren’t prepared to go, we had no trunks. Since it was only boys there we just skinny dipped. When I got home after that first time my mom asked me where I was. I told her that neighbor kid had taken us to Big Rock for swimming. She asked me what I wore to swim in and I told her everyone went with no clothes. She gave me a licking with her hair brush and told me that my body was not to be flaunted around in public no matter what.” Eli laughs as he recalls how his mother reacted. “I think she loved swatting my butt with that hair brush. It seemed to come out of nowhere and always caught me by surprise

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even when I should have known it was coming. The lickings were always followed with a lecture. So this time when she got done with her speech she took an old pair of my britches, cut them off and handed them to me. She told me when I saw Jerry to have him bring her some old trousers and she would make him a pair too. If he didn’t comply I wouldn’t be allowed to go. I never disobeyed my mom so that’s what we did. After we went swimming the next time I told her that the front pockets caught the water and pulled my pants down when I would dive,” Eli says with a laugh then continues, “So she sewed the pockets up for me.”

We have walked about a quarter mile since we left the Knickerbocker. We came upon our first intersection. Eli glances at the street sign. It is getting dark but it’s still readable. We are at the junction of Tennessee and Pacific. We cross the street then Mayme steers us to make a right onto Pacific. There are some stores on this street but all appear to be closed as the windows are all dark. The street however is busy with auto traffic. Unlike Tennessee Avenue, Pacific Avenue intersections are much closer together and the street is lined with two and three story buildings with an occasional taller building. There are businesses with big windows and in between some of the buildings are small doorways with two or three mailboxes. Obviously there are apartments and owner residences atop each store.

“Your mom sounds like a master of improvisation.”

“She is. She could always come up with a solution to any problem I had.” Eli replies. “Oh, the pockets remind me of a story you might enjoy.”

“Oh, good, I am a little chilled and that will take my mind off being cold. Bring me in closer Eli. You have to give me your heat.” Eli

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removes Mayme’s hand from the crook of his arm and turns her toward him. He closes Mayme’s collar at the top and buttons that last button. He steps back to her right side, brings her close and puts his arm around her. They continue walking as Mayme acknowledges, “Thank you, Eli. Please continue your story.”

“Jerry and I were about fifteen and we had an early warm stretch in the spring. He came over to my house and wanted to go swimming since it was so warm. Of course he’s wearing cutoff trousers with open pockets and I have mine with sewed up pockets. There is a bridge right at the end of Water Street to cross the Volga but that meant there would be a slight deviation from what we thought was the straightest line to Big Rock so Jerry wanted to wade through the river right by my house. Now in the summer we do that all the time but this being spring the water was much higher and the current much stronger. The sudden warm spell had melted the snow much faster than usual. Undaunted we started across and I started yelling how cold it was. I told him ‘The water was still snow a couple days ago.’ but Jerry said ‘Oh, you’ll get used to it, don’t be such a sissy’ and insisted we go on. When we got chest deep we started to get too buoyant to get any footing and off we went with the current. Jerry yelled, ‘Hey, let’s just swim there. This current will have us there in no time.’ I agreed at first but after about a minute I told him I was quitting because I couldn’t handle the ice water. Now he agreed and we both started swimming for shore. By the time we got back to dry land again we were a few blocks downstream. Because the water was so cold I suggested we walk back home and abandon all the swimming plans. Jerry agreed again so we started to make our way up Water Street.”

“Was it cold walking being all wet like that?”

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“No, it was so warm so it felt good, especially after that ice cold dunking. So, anyway, when we got in front of Mrs. Gowanlock’s house she was sitting on her stoop with her cat at her feet so I waved at her. This got the cat up and she started to come toward me. That is what she would normally do whenever I would pass by. I would usually stop and, although I never knew the cat’s name, I would let the cat rub around my ankles as cats always do. So this time when I stopped I looked at Jerry and noticed his pocket was bulging. I said to him ‘Hey, look at your pocket. That’s strange looking. It must be full of water.’ Jerry stopped and pulled the top of his pocket open and this big bullfrog poked his head out. We both laughed as we watched the frog squirming around trying to get the footing to jump out. We weren’t the only ones watching because right then Mrs. Gowanlock’s cat took a flying leap at that frog. So the frog ducked back into Jerry’s pocket and Mrs. Gowanlock’s cat went crazy. She was hissing and clawing at the pocket. She had her claws dug right into Jerry’s britches and I am sure his leg too because he started yelling and jumping around trying to get the cat off by beating on her. I was yelling for Jerry to stand still so I could help him but he was moving around too fast. Mrs. Gowanlock must have seen Jerry thrashing the cat so she came running from the stoop carrying her broom yelling something at the top of her lungs. She caught up to Jerry and started beating him on the head with her broom yelling something in Gaelic over and over with enough Fluffs thrown in that I figured out that was the cat’s name.” Mayme starts to laugh as Eli continues his story. “So now Jerry had both his arms up to protect his head. The beating he was getting from Mrs. Gowanlock had at least made him stand in one place long enough for me to get into the fray. I knew the root of all this evil was the frog so I was trying to get past the

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flailing broom and the cat to get the frog out of Jerry’s pocket. Now Mrs. Gowanlock had started beating me too. After a few seconds all the straw was off the broom and we are getting beaten by a bare broom handle with wire on the end. I remember thinking, if Mrs. Gowanlock and Jerry would just stand still for a second I could end this fracas but neither one would let up. Fluff’s hind claws had a firm grip on his trousers leg while her front legs were shredding the pocket. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity I got past the front claws and into the frog’s lair. I grabbed the frog, yanked him out and showed him quickly to Fluff. Then without looking which direction I flung him as far as I could. Off went Fluff after the frog. Immediately Mrs. Gowanlock forgot all about us and was in a high-speed waddle flailing both hands in the air with the broom handle in one. All the while yelling at Fluff over and over. Relishing in our moment of ultimate relief, Jerry and I watched the frog sail through the air and glide into the open window of an approaching milk delivery truck. It struck the driver on his chest then dropped out of sight. He immediately slammed on his brakes which brought the truck to a jerking halt as the engine tried it best to continue running with the brake down and the clutch up. I’m sure you could have heard the clanking bottles throughout all of Fayette. The truck driver was looking down at his lap in bewilderment unaware of what was in store as the cat was about to make the leap into that cab followed by who knows what Mrs. Gowanlock was going to do. I turned and looked at Jerry who was looking at me with a look of horror on his face. With mouths agape we silently acknowledged the impending doom awaiting the unsuspecting milk man. Without saying a word we took off running as fast as we could for my house.”

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Eli joins in with the already laughing Mayme as they continue walking. Then as her laughter subsided Mayme asks, “Did Mrs. Gowanlock hit the driver with the broom handle.”

“I don’t know, we were running and never looked back.”

“That was very funny, Eli. Did you get in trouble for the frog disaster?”

“Surprisingly I never heard anything about it,” Eli confesses while still chuckling. “My mom’s best friend is Mrs. Gowanlock’s daughter and she would often bring her along for a visit which she did a few days later. This event was never mentioned. I think she was so upset she didn’t even pay any attention to the identity of Fluff’s attackers. I have often wondered what went through the milk truck driver’s mind. Having a bullfrog land on you while you were driving must have been bizarre enough but then to have a wild cat and a broomstick wielding woman follow…” Eli chortles as he let the sentence trail off without finishing.

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