Army Days and Cuban Nights

Army Days and Cuban Nights

Just south of the Salem Willows was the mass of earth that was Fort Lee.  In my dad’s day it was called Cannon Hill. Ever since the turn of a century (from 1799-1800, that is) it had been an important fortification guarding the town and harbor of Salem Massachusetts.
We liked to play “army” atop its heights. It wasn’t often, for Forest River Park was much closer to where we lived. My dad had a friend who had a home towards the back end of the fort, the end that probably had the entrance to the structure.
The family had a nice swing set and other outdoor toys available in their yard, but we preferred to set off on our own, ranging into the area that was the old fort. It was a veritable sea of grass and if you were dropped down on your belly you disappeared completely from sight. We had ample room to practice our “army crawl,” rising only to charge a short distance before taking cover again.
Word was, a huge subterranean structure lay buried underneath where we were crawling. My Dad told me that he and his friends used to try to dig their way into it, sometimes in the side and then from the top once they discovered a vent structure in the middle of the topside area.  We never located the latter, nor did we try to dig anywhere.  We only investigated how to get into the tops of the trees that grew beside the earthen berms.
Those were carefree days soon to be invaded by world politics.
Just as on the west coast, we liked to go on family drives on the weekend.  On one such trip we set out for Newport, Rhode Island to see the sights there – the mansions and villas of the rich and famous of the late 1800s. We stopped in Fall River Massachusetts on the way down.  Usually I loved the opportunity to visit a new place just to see if there were any comics stores on the chance I might find a Classics Illustrated title or two that I did not already have. I don’t believe Fall River was any huge metropolis, but I felt like I was in a canyon when we stopped downtown to check out a cigar store that sold comics. The very buildings seemed to close in, crowding and overawing me. Though I was glad to browse the racks for the elusive missing numbers, my mind wasn’t fully with my quest. Their covers seemed drained of all color, just black and white and gray. A reflection of my mood. Would there be a future?
You see, this was October 1962. And the cloud overhead was a nuclear armed Cuba, and a growing confrontation between our government and that of the Soviet Union. There was no talk between us; parent to child, or sibling to sibling. Nor did we overhear any discussion between our parents. We were all left to our own thoughts and fears. Perhaps with the superstition that if it wasn’t acknowledged, it would all go away.
And it did. Eventually. But not without that valley of depression – the shadow of death.
How different years later, when my 21 year old son came out from his bedroom with the news of the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center in NYC. We watched with horror as the second plane hit. And the next day, after parking his Caddy in the NW district of Portland and walking together into work, I admit being unsettled and having a sense of having crossed a line into a new future. But this time around, I knew the One who holds the future and the One who holds me.

Searching for E. T. – The Beginning

Civil War montage

I had first heard rumors about a relative who was a soldier in the American Civil War, when I was growing up in Salem Massachusetts in the sixties. However, I was more interested at the time in what my Classics Illustrated comics had to say about the conflict. Such titles as the Red Badge of Courage and The Crisis claimed my attention, and in particular the CI giant the War Between the States which became quite worn with use. And if it wasn’t the comics it was my Civil War News bubblegum/trading cards.  The ones with the often gory details.
Thirty years later and on the opposite coast, I remembered that rumor and decided to look into it. I had some books that were my grandfather’s and and as it turned out were his grandfather’s before him.  There was “Sword and Pen” about a cavalryman; another titled “Life in Rebel Prisons”; and a third called simply “A Daring Voyage” by Captain William Andrews.
In the last I found the following inscription:
Searching for ET
“To an intrepid comrade during the dark uncertain years of the Rebellion and ‘misty long ago.'”
(To) Serg’t Edward T Osgood
From Wm. Andrews,
  Boat “Nautilus”
And thus began my search for E. T.

The Corner Drugstore

CI Swiss Family

As I mentioned, there were businesses on the ground floor of our apartment building.  I dropped in on one religiously once a week.  The corner drugstore.  I spent my weekly allowance there – a whole quarter.
I don’t know if they filled any prescriptions there, all I was interested in were the comic books immediately on view as you opened the door; and the bubble-gum cards and candy in the display counters at the back.  (Sugar Daddy or Sugar Babies, the choice).
I rarely made it past the comic rack. Especially if a new Classics Illustrated was on display.  Sure, I knew about DC comics from my younger days in Spokane, and now came an acquaintance with Marvel, but I always, always, always looked through the CI titles to check if there might be a number that I did not have.
I used to have dreams about being somewhere new, some other city, and finding an exotic title missing from my collection. And strange to say, some of those dreams came true.
Comics montage