Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Thirteen)

I had assumed that, in spite of the move, David Lynch and I would remain steadfast friends forever.

The nature of childhood is such that we rarely see where the future will lead. It never occurred to me that, only a few months after our move to the Marchmont Drive house, David Lynch's father would get a new job. Not a new job in Rome, either--a job out of town and out of state.

When David told me that his family was moving to Birmingham, I was stunned. Birmingham was 150 miles away--a town so distant that my family had never once visited it during the time that I was alive.

Within a matter of weeks, my comic book friend had moved out of town, and I was adjusting to life in a new neighborhood with new friends and no one to share my love for comics. Even worse, as the school year came to an end, I realized that my third grade year at Garden Lakes Elementary would be my last at that school. Garden Lakes was a Floyd County school, and our new home was in the Rome city limits, which meant that I'd have to go a Rome city school when I began the fourth grade (my dad got permission for me to finish up my last two months at Garden Lakes, and thankfully they didn't tell me until a week or two before the third grade ended that I'd be giong somewhere else in the fall... there are some things a young boy doesn't need to know ahead of time, and this was one of them. I had felt very comfortable in my old school with my old friends, and my parents saw no reason to take that security away too soon.)

When the summer began, I got a call (long distance, mind you--and this was at a time when long distance cost big money! Today, we take free long distance for granted, thanks to the wonders of cellular telephones... but back than, a half dollar or more per minute for a long distance call was a standard rate, and that would adjust out to fifteen times in today's dollars, once inflation is factored in) from David Lynch; it turned out that he had an aunt and an uncle who lived on the Georgia/Alabama line, and he was going to stay there for a week in the summer. His aunt and uncle and his parents had told him he could invite me to join him, so he wanted to see if I could go.

I was thrilled. A chance to see my relocated comic book friend, a chance to spend some time in a new place--and David said the house was on a large lake, which made it even more inviting. My parents agreed that it would be okay, and my summer '62 adventure began.

David's parents came back to Rome to pick me up, and they took us both to his aunt and uncle's house. Once we got there, we spent the first day talking about comics, showing what we had read, trying to find things that the other had not seen, and catching up on old favorites.

There was a problem, though: David's aunt and uncle didn't really think that comics were a worthwhile interest for two young boys, and they actively discouraged us from reading them or talking about them. Instead, they wanted us to go out and play, to go to the lake, the enjoy the rural environment.

We did some of that, of course. One thing that amused us both was the house's location right on the state line; less than a quarter mile away was the sign that marked the Georgia-Alabama border, and it inexplicably tickled the heck out of us to stand on one side and say "I'm in Georgia!" then jump to the other and say "I'm in Alabama!" We would change the time on our watch as we walked across the line to the nearest store (the house was in Alabama, the store in Georgia) in order to (bet you can guess what comes next...) check out the comic book rack.

David's aunt and uncle encouraged us to go outdoors--and after a while, they pretty much banned us from the house during the day. "Go down to the dock and go swimming!" they'd tell us. So we went down to the dock... but of course, we took some of our comics with us, and we'd swim for a little while, then dry in the sun as we talked comics and (once we were dry enough that we wouldn't damage the books) read and re-read the books we had brought to the dock with us.

I was not a confident swimmer, however, and I was apprehensive about venturing out into the lake because David's aunt and uncle kept telling us how deep the lake was. I have no idea what lake it was, nor do I know if they were telling the truth about the depth, but I believed them; in my imagination, the lake was dark and bottomless, and I was reluctant to swim far from the dock. David didn't particularly enjoy deep water either, as I recall, so we both sat on the dock a lot, swimming out a little ways and then swimming back.

Somehow, that didn't suit David's uncle, though; he felt that boys should enjoy the whole lake, not merely its periphery. In his mind, the best way to get us used to the idea was to throw us in the deep end--literally. Naturally, he didn't discuss that idea with either of us; instead, he merely came up to the dock one afternoon when we were sitting there with our feet in the water, reading comics, and he picked me up, swung me a time or two, and tossed me in.

I suspect his toss probably threw me five or six feet out from the dock--but in my mind, I had been propelled forcefully to the middle of an immeasurably deep body of water, and I panicked. I don't think I swam so much as I flailed. Even worse, I saw the comic book I was reading--an issue of Strange Adventures--beginning to sink in the water next to me, because I had not let go of it when I was suddenly thrown in the water. I tried to grab for the comic, but my splashing pushed it away. I was probably yelling and spluttering, although I have no clear recollection... I know that I was upset and confused and angry, however. I gradually got my bearings and made my way back to the dock, and the closer I got, the more upset I got. I just knew that I wasn't going to make it back before I sank like my comic book--and, as it turned out, like the shirt that I had taken off on that sunny afternoon and had tucked into the back of my shorts.

Of course, I was only a few feet away, and I made the swim back... but both comic book and shirt were gone, and I was disconsolate. I wanted the comic, and I didn't know how I'd ever convince Mom that losing the shirt wasn't the result of my own irresponsiblity. I was upset knowing that she's be upset with me, and I began to cry, saying "I lost my shirt!" By this time, David's uncle realized that his little joke hadn't played out as he had envisioned, and I got the feeling he was upset with me for not sharing his sense of fun. In retrospect, I know that he thought I was overreacting, but it's hard to explain overreaction to an eight-year-old.

From that point on, I didn't feel comfortable at David's aunt and uncle's house, and the next three days passed inexorably as I counted the hours until his parents would pick us up and take us back home. I remember lying in the house at night looking at the ceiling, afraid to go to sleep because I had an irrational fear that his uncle would snatch me up and throw me in the lake again. To this day, I have a feeling of discomfort when I'm near deep water, and I am convinced it stems from this moment.

Of course, no such dire event ever occurred. The only thing memorable thing that did happen was that David's uncle took us to another store the next day and bought me a shirt--a light blue shirt with navy stripes that, as it turned out, became one of my favorites. I wore that shirt until it no longer fit, and even then it hung in my closet for a year or so before I finally let Mom get rid of it.

Somehow, this weekend became a sort of barrier between David and me. We never spoke of it, but I know that David could tell that I was no longer comfortable or happy at the lake house. David and I remained friends, and I would later visit him in Birmingham and he would visit me in Rome... but the friendship wasn't as close from that point on.

And it took me a long time to find another copy of that issue of Strange Adventures...


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Great installment, Cliff. I'm glad you've returned to chronicling your adventures in comics. I always enjoy them.

Melinda Holder said...

Cliff, don't know if you remember me....Melinda Holder nee Hyde. I went to school with you for YEARS at Elm Street and West Rome. I just registered last week on the WR Alumni website. I received the first "Drumbeat" newsletter today and I found your blog site and for the last hour I have been reading and enjoying it immensely. Some of the memories you have are so close to my own.

I had open-heart surgery on 06/15/00...they had to replace the aortic valve....congenital. I also have peripheral vascular disease and cardiovascular disease...all hereditary. I look pretty much the same.....big-boned (I prefer fluffy) and my hair is still dark and almost to my waist. I still look like an indian, in other words. Matter of fact, just had my 55th birthday yesterday. BTW....HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!

All my immediate family is gone now. I lost my Mother in '75 at the age of 46, my older brother in '80 at the age of 30, my baby brother in '94 at the age of 37. Daddy was my last and he died in 1995. It's just me and my husband. We have been married for 21 years this May.

I worked in finance for 20 years and finally wound up working at Berry College in Hermann Hall in the Advancement Office. I was the Records Specialist and maintained the database for the college. I worked there for 6 1/2 years and had to "retire" in '05 (actually, disabled) I never got to go to college, Cliff, so this was like my dream job and I hated to have to give it up!

I spend most of my time now at home on the computer (I like message boards), but I still try to get out and visit my friends and co-workers at Berry. I see you like to, too. Only I don't do the comics :) I love Stephen King....I feel like he's a friend of mine. (Is that strange?) Anyway, I also like books written by GRITS (Girls Raised in the South). They are quite a bit more lighthearted than Mr. King's.

The music is another thing we have in common....thank God for "our" generation. What I found interesting is I also like Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Mannheim and I'll even throw in "BIG BAND" music.

Gee....I hope you remember me.

Anyway, I plan to read more of your blog and will comment now and then, if you don't mind. Didn't mean to run on so long!

Take care, Cliff.

cliff said...

Of course I remember you, Melinda! We were in school together for many years, and in many classes together during that time! When I hear your name, I always see that dark, lovely hair that you mentioned in your response... it's funny how particular qualities stick in our minds forever, isn't it?

Sorry to hear abou the many losses that you've had to deal with over the years; I'm lucky enough to still have my sister, and luckier still that I get to talk with her for a minute or two almost every day of the week.

I know, also, what you mean about finding a career that you love; I'm sorry that you weren't able to enjoy it even longer, but I'm glad that your experience at Berry was so positive. I enjoyed my four years as a student at Berry, and it seems like it would be a great place to work.

Stephen King... music... it's amazing how many things we share in common!

Thanks for dropping by--I hope I hear from you often!

(I'd write you directly, but Blog postings don't supply me with your e-mail addreess, alas!)