Comics have an addictive quality. After a couple of years of reading comics, I had fallen in love with the art form--and that meant that not only did I search out fellow comics readers for my friends, but I also found ways to work the quest for comic books into almost every aspect of my life.
Mom and Dad were both born in Cedartown, which is about eighteen miles south-by-southwest of Rome. While my parents moved to Rome in the late 1950s, there was still a lot of family in Cedartown--and that meant frequent Sunday trips to visit relatives, as well as occasional weeks spent with my grandmother or with Aunt 'Dessa and Uncle Edward (they lived in Cedartown--my grandmother in the more developed part of Cedartown and my aunt and uncle in the rural parts of Cedartown, off East Avenue).
Part of the fun of visiting a town where your parents grew up is hearing the stories about your parents' childhood. Once they were around family, Mom and Dad were pretty loquacious about their childhoods--and the relatives always loved to reminisce.
The other part of the fun of an out-of-town visit, of course, was finding places where comic books could be had. Cedartown was a small town, and there weren't too many places that carried comic books. There was a drug store or two, a grocery story... and there was Croker's.
Located on East Avenue, Croker's was an old country store in every sense of the word. It had sawdust floors. The merchandise mix was unique--everything from groceries to fishing supplies to toys to handmade wooden decorative items to knives to guns to horse tack to... oh, you know what comes next, don't you?
Croker's was a comic book mecca in the country, replete with hundreds... maybe even thousands... of used comic books. Not new comic books... used comic books. Comic books from recent months and from the past, all tossed randomly in boxes and priced at a nickel each, or you could trade two for one.
Since Croker's was the nearest store to Aunt 'Dessa's house, we stopped there to pick up something on the way to see her and Uncle Edward. I went in with my parents, figuring I'd look around to pass the time. Within minutes of walking into the store, though, I glimpsed those comic books in the back corner of the store, and I didn't want to leave. I wanted to burrow thorugh those boxes of comics and take in all the books that I had never seen before.
"You only have fifty cents," Dad told me. He was right... I had spent the rest of my money on comics earlier in the week, and had accumulated only four bits since then.
"Can I have two more cents?" I asked. That would give me enough to buy ten comic books, since Georgia was a 3% tax state back then, so there were only two cents tax on fifty cents. Dad agreed, and I went to work winnowing an enormous stack of books to ten comics.
And that's when I saw it... a Flash comic I'd never seen before, featuring one of the most outrageously-clad villains I'd ever encountered. And I knew that, whatever else I bought, that Flash had to go home with me.
I'd always liked the Flash because he was just a guy who could run fast. Okay, he could run impossibly fast... but when you're seven years old, you presume that if you practice long enough, you might be able to run pretty fast, too! And I could run pretty fast, so I had something in common with Barry Allen's costumed alter-ego.
The Trickster? never heard of him... but I knew I wanted that book! I picked out nine other comics that are long since forgotten... but I'll always remember the excitement of that cover, featuring a garishly costumed villain running through the air. Who was he? What was his power? How could he hope to get away from the Flash? I could hardly wait to pay for the books and get into the car to find out!
Of course, my parents told me that I needed to be polite and visit with my relatives first, so I didn't get to finish that comic until later that afternoon, when we began the forty minute drive back home (two-lane highways aren't known for speed, unfortunately).
That was the longest afternoon of my life... but as far as I was concerned, the drive back could last forever! I had turned two quarters into ten comic books... and suddenly the prospect of weekend visits to Cedartown seemed incredibly appealing!