Robt. Emmett [not his real name of course] has, after retiring from a large international, manufacturing company as a machine design engineer, [he had no engineering degree]. His imagination and the continuing need to create urged him to write over half a million or so words about his early life in the mid-1950s.
He’s published nothing because his short stories are about his high school years [when the world was young, the music was great, the cars were unique, and the young ladies were just that - ladies], and who wants to read stories of what was?
Stoney Point Lighthouse
Dad often sent me to the corner store for a pack of smokes. Tony, the owner, knew I was too young to buy cigarettes, but he sold them to me anyway. Chester Creek trickled down the hillside for nearly two miles and then it went underground on the north side of 4th street. Tony’s Market was on the south side. Tony’s place was no man's land; not on the ‘Better’ side of the creek, nor was it on the ‘Other’ side. It straddled the creek.
I noticed her leaning on the railing, looking down into the creek, so I stopped in the middle of the street to look at her. She was one of the school’s cheerleaders; Elena DuBois was French, had pale blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. A car tooted at me to get out of the way. She turned and caught me staring at her. She smiled. We were in the same grade and the same school but had never spoken. She lived on the ‘Better’ side of Chester Creek. I did not. Her friends called her Ely and pronounced it E-lee, but I called her Elena. I commented on her small gold heart-shaped locket. We chatted as we watched the water rush into the culvert in the concrete wall below us. We talked the morning into the afternoon. She asked me to call her Ely. I had crossed the divide and asked her out on a date.
We went to a movie in the West End section of town. I knew she would not want her friends to see us together. After the bus ride home, I walked her to her door and we nearly kissed. I had almost reached Chester Creek when three of them caught me, some guys from the ‘Better’ side. At my house, in the mirror, I saw my souvenir of the evening for crossing the divide … a black eye.
We never dated again. After graduation, I left town and became a clerk. I’d spend my night’s writing. I was luckless at first and then, slowly, I started to make a little money with my words. It was not enough to quit working, but I was encouraged to continue.
The day arrived when my publisher offered me the deal of a lifetime. I resigned from my day job, signed on the dotted line, went back to my hometown, and purchased my first new car. My agent hosted a small party to celebrate. Financially, I was set for life. I had crossed a huge divide.
I left the party the day was ending. Twilight insisted on lingering a few more moments. As I drove around, I noticed the children in their trick or treat costumes roaming the streets.
On a whim, I drove to Stoney Point. Dad had taken me to see the Stoney Point Lighthouse many times as a kid. I had a fascination with the place. The first time, Dad insisted I come with him to the very edge of the escarpment to view the waves crashing against the rocks a hundred-thirty foot below. I was scared and squeezed his hand as we walked to the wrought iron fence. Once there, I held on to it so tight my knuckles turned white. Soon enough, I loved the place and wasn’t afraid.
Driving past it, curiosity overcame me and I stopped. As I got out of my car, the old oak front door opened. I blinked in surprise. We recognized each other and she invited me in.
We sat, talked, and reminisced about old times. In high school, she’d wear the latest fashions that she’d made herself. Later on, she worked as a seamstress. On the side, she collected and repaired old style clothes. She rented a small storefront on the lower side of Michigan Street and sold vintage clothing. Her business grew. She bought a building on Superior Street and opened the Vintage Boutique. Her sewing and entrepreneurial skills brought her fame; she became known from coast to coast. Television and movie companies sought her out. She sold out, retired, and with the money from the sale of her business, she purchased the lighthouse and a few acres of land.
We talked late into the evening. She fixed a light supper. We had a little wine.
I awoke as brilliant sunlight streamed into the room. My back was stiff from sleeping on the leather couch in the living room. I threw off the wool three-point trade blanket. Suddenly, I realized it was All Saints day. I’d nearly over-slept and missed an important early morning appointment with my agent. I had one last, very significant, document to sign. I couldn’t afford to miss the appointment.
She wasn’t in the house. I assumed she was outside, but I didn’t have the time to search for her. I left a note explaining I would be back in a week or ten days at the most. Yes, I would be back and together we would cross another divide.
As I drove to the meeting, I knew in my soul that I wanted her. Not for a few moments, but rather we would have a lifetime together. Ely was what I had been longing for all these years. I would make up for all that lost time. She would make me the complete person I longed to be. We would be together for eternity.
My attempt to complete my business had rapidly turned into an utter failure. My agent and my publisher nearly came to blows. The delay was frustrating. I wanted to get back to Ely. I missed her. Finally, late in the afternoon of November 10, they started talking and a new deal concerning my novel was hashed out. We all signed and I beat feet out the door.
The rain slashed against my car’s windows as I drove. At the lighthouse, the wind nearly ripped the door out of my hand as got out of the car. The waves crashing into the rocks sounded as if they were climbing up and over the hundred-foot wall of rock. Lightening lit the night into day as I reached the old oak door. I stopped. Her small gold heart-shaped locket lay on the threshold. Thunder reverberated off the brick wall of the lighthouse as I picked it up. Another brilliant flash; It was the light from the second-order Fresnel lens as it strobbed the darkness and reflected off the wisps of scruddy clouds hurrying into the night. I reached to press the doorbell. The door opened; the person wasn’t Ely.
The Ranger asked what I wanted.
I asked him what he was doing here.
“The lighthouse is a designated National Historic Landmark.” He said.
“So,” I said, “That doesn’t explain you being at my friend’s home.”
“The Park Service lights the light every November 10 in memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank on this date in 1975.” His hands on his hips, “Again, what do you want?”
“I want to see the lady of the house.”
“Do you mean the woman who used to own this place, Miss DuBois?”
I nodded my head.
“Miss DuBois died … three years ago.”
Rich’s Auction Barn
I’d stop in Rich’s Auction Barn every Tuesday evening. It wasn’t a barn; it was a defunct single story furniture store. If Rich, the auctioneer, had something of interest, I’d come back the following evening and try to outbid the antique dealers. Most nights, I used the Barn as a social event. My half-hearted bids usually bought me nothing. I’d spend my time talking to Kathy. I’d known her years ago, in high school. She was the captain of the cheering squad. I found out about her accident when I returned to town. Back then, she said to stop calling her Kathy and to call her Styx.
“Sticks, why,” I asked, “cuz you’re on crutches?”
“Not that kinda sticks, Styx, with YX.”
“You mean S-T-Y-X?”
“Yes.” She never explained.
Her job was to take phone-in bids from people who had deep pockets and wanted to remain anonymous. Their bids usually won because they had the bucks.
The crowd hanging out at Rich’s Auction Barn was a family bunch. We were, for the most part, friendly, fun loving, sometimes boisterous, and respectful. The one thing we didn’t do – run up someone else’s bid. We could have. It would have made Rich more money, but he didn’t like it and on more than one occasion had told us so. The real reason for respect – we’d be seeing each other again in a week. Another quirk Rich had was the size of bids. Under a hundred bucks, any bid was good. Over a hundred dollars, bids were to be in twenty-five dollar or more increments. Over five-hundred bids are in the fifty-dollar or more increments.
Tonight, as most nights, found me leaning against a wall and drinking free coffee. We’d talk, except when she’d make an anonymous bid for someone. When she won the bid, she’d marked the price on the bid card and put it back into the pocket of her Home Depot nail apron she used to hold the bid cards and her cigarettes.
Rich held up an item. “Hold on, I need to go to work.” She pulled her stack of bid cards from her apron pocket, sorted through them until she found the one she wanted. The bidders around the hall voiced their price. She flashed the card at Rich. He nodded in recognition. The price was jumping up fast. Rich started to ask, “Do I have …?”
The black-hair woman in the leopard-skin elastic pants nodded her head.
“Do I have …?” Styx bid a little more than Rich asked. The bidding froze. Styx bid had shocked spastic-elastic and the rest of the crowd. Rich pointed in our direction, then looked at leopard pants and shrugged. “Better luck next time, Jan.”
“Deep pockets will win every time.”
Styx nudged me, “Just gonna drink free coffee or are you gonna buy something?”
I smiled and held up a finger.
The auctioneer put his hand on a large cardboard box and asked for an opening bid of twenty dollars. There were no takers. He asked for a ten-dollar bid and still, no one raised a hand. The big box sat there, contents unknown, just waiting for a buyer.
“One buck,” I hollered.
Then Rich looked at me, shook his head, and stage-whispered, “Thanks, Rob. You’re the last of the big spenders.” The crowd knew me and enjoyed the humor at my expense. “Do-I-heara-two-dolla bid? Who’lla-givea-two? Anybody? Somebody? Two-dollas, two-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” He paused again. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at me, “Sold to Cheap-ass for a buck.”
The auctioneer and the crowd moved on to the next item as Styx side-glanced me.
“What?” I asked her. “I got this big box for a buck. Who knows what great treasures it holds?”
“You came here tonight to buy a box of junk you don’t need?”
“It only cost me a buck.”
She laughed, “Big deal. That stuff’ll be lying around your shop a year from now.”
She rolled her eyes, “Will too!”
I spent the week sorting my box of treasures into smaller boxes to take around to other collectors and antique dealers. By the weekend, I had unloaded it all and after gas money, I’d made a few bucks.
Wednesday evening before the auction, I had a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke.
Leaning against the wall, drinking coffee, I waited. After stopping to talk to another bidder, she came over, leaned her crutches against the wall, and sat in the chair next to me. “See anything interesting?”
“Yeah,” I didn’t elaborate. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to play the crowd. It was larger than usual. Red stood near the center of the table that held the tools. He idly sorted through a box of rusty bits I knew he wasn’t interested in and be wouldn’t bid on. Half a dozen tool dealers I knew were milling around and eyeing each other. There were three guys I knew to be private collectors. The two men in suits looked out of place. We weren’t the bib overalls kind of auction-goers, but none of the Auction Barn regulars ever wore a suit and tie. I saw Fat Jim whisper to Bill and glanced at the locked showcase. It was the reason for the large crowd and me being at the Barn.
In the ten years I’d been looking, I’d only laid eyes on four of them that were for sale. Two were counterfeits, another had a small nick, and the other wasn’t worth half the money the owner wanted. I would get this one. I had too. There were only eighteen in the set. I had seventeen. The locked showcase held my eighteenth.
“You want it, don’t ya Rob?”
“I do. What do you think I’ll go for?”
“It’s in great shape. On a scale of 10, it’s a 9 or better.” I said.
“My guess, it’ll be as low as seven-hundred, and as high as nine, nine-fifty.”
“Yeah, and if it breaks a grand, it’ll see fifteen-hundred.”
“How much are you willing to spend?” She asked.
Rich had held off until the end of the tool table sales. He unlocked the showcase. “Here we go folks, who’lla gimme a two-grand, two-grand, two-grand where.” It was the crowd’s turn to get even. No one bid. “Folks, this is a pristine Stanley number one bench plane. Damn open the bid somewhere.”
“One dolla,” I said. The crowd laughed, even Rich. That was the start, bids exploded from every corner of the room. In seconds, the price was at four-seventy. The bidding paused. If someone said fifty, the bid would be over five-hundred and I wouldn’t be in a position to get a bid in at seven-fifty. “Six even,” I said.
Styx flashed a card, and said, “Seven-fifty.”
The bidding stop and she’d stolen my bid.
“Do-I-hear-eight-hundred-dolla-bid? Who’lla-givea-eight-hundred-dolla-bill? Anybody? Somebody? Eight-hundred-dolla bid-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” A long pause. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at Styx, “Sold.”
“Rob, would you get it for me?” I did. As I handed her the plane, she said, “Stop in tomorrow, pay me, and it’s yours.”
“Tell me, why the name Styx with YX?”
Smiling, “Google it.”
— ℜ --
I was at Silk’s Billiard Parlor. Johnny and Bob charged up the stairs sounding like a herd of elephants. At the top of the stairs, Bob leaned on the newel post and tried to speak, but couldn’t.
“Bob,” I said, “you winded?”
He gave me both fingers and croaked, “And the horse you rode in on!”
“Bill, if you’re still interested in this Fitz chick, buy us a Coke,” Johnny whizzed, “and I’ll tell ya what I learned.” It had to be something important, cuz he’s hittin’ me up for drinks. I bought three Cokes. Bob and I sat on the windowsill overlooking Superior Street. Johnny, too wound up to sit, paced the floor.
Johnny wiped the bottle top with his plaid shirtsleeve and chugged a couple times. “This Jerry character is a junior at Morgan Park High. On Saturday nights, he and his two buddies hang out at Richies Drive-inn. You know, it’s the place on the west side of Morgan Park.” I nodded. “He’s going steady with a chick named Terri, she’s a sophomore at Denfeld. I’ll get her last name from a guy I know. Then on Monday nights, he and his buds hang out at the A & W in Cloquet. Guess what?” I shrugged. “He’s got a steady there, Mary Sue Hendrickson. According to a carhop, I know there.” He winked. “They park in a dark corner and neck after they have their burgers and strawberry malts.” He chugged his Coke again.
“Wow, a three-timer,” I said. Three-timer shot over Bob’s head. “He’s going steady with Fitz, Terri somebody, and this Mary Sue,” I said. FLASH, the light over Bob’s head lit.
Johnny held up four fingers. “Four. A chick in Proctor, Carla Demming, is going steady with him as well. He sees her on Friday evenings. They are regulars at the High School hop, dancing up a storm.” Johnny points the top of his bottle at his ear. “So I hear.”
“Busy lad,” I said. “How’d you find all this out in such a short time?”
“The hard part was finding out what kinda wheels he rolls. Then it was a piece of cake.”
Bob tilted his head, “Piece of cake, how?”
“He drives a Twilight Blue and Caspian Cream 1955 Olds Holiday 98 ragtop. How many of those have you seen prowling the Duluth streets?”
I shook my head, “None.”
“Exatimundo! I have relatives all over the Northland. With the car’s description, I asked and family answered.” He chugged the last of his Coke and cut loose a tonsil-wrecking belch.
“So, what’s our plan?” Bob asked. Then he tilted his Coke to drink. Nothing, but he kept tilting until the bottle was vertical. “Who drank my soda?”
I looked at him and asked, “Plan, plan for what?”
“You’re going to whoop his ass, right, Billy?”
“Ah, no,” I said.
Johnny slammed his empty bottle on the windowsill. “Hell we ain’t! Damn after I’ve done all this investigatin’, some bad shit better go down. I mean it, Bill. This BMOC at Morgan Park needs to come down a peg or three. ”
Bob’s eyes crossed. “BMOC?”
“Big Man On Campus,” Johnny said.
Bob nodded and looked down his bottle, hoping there was some left.
Johnny got in my face. “If you ain’t gonna kick his ass I will. Damn straight I will.”
“Not your fight, Johnny.” I drained my drink, grabbed the empty bottles, and walked them to the rear of the pool hall. I needed time to think. Johnny, as usual, wanted a fistfight. Bob, not the fighting type, would play cheerleader. I wasn’t afraid to fight. I just didn’t relish it as much as Johnny did. Also, there were Jerry’s two buddies to think about. I knew Johnny and I could do a two on three. We’d win, but at what cost? I needed a way to keep the casualty list as small as possible. I dropped the bottles in the wooden case. As I walked back to the window, I thought about Jerry and his four girlfriends and about what I’d just said to Johnny. BAM, it hit me.
Bob elbowed Johnny. “Look, Bill’s got a plan. I can tell by his silly assed grin.”
Johnny stepped outta the phone booth outside of the Curling Club, a thumbs up. Bob, at the phone booth in front of Walgreens, four blocks away called to say that Jerry and his distinctive Oldsmobile had stopped at the light. His buddies were riding shotgun. I drove my car to the far end of the parking lot to leave him the parking place next to the lighted entrance of the Curling Club.
Jerry took his time grooming his ducktail to perfection. He checked the pack of smokes rolled in the left sleeve of his grungy white T-shirt. Finished, he started toward the entrance and his Wednesday skate date with Fitz.
She stepped into the light of the entrance. He stopped. She should have been upstairs skating. The cuffs of her jeans rolled to the prescribed height of three inches and the sleeves of her bright white blouse exactly one inch. She’d read the memo. He started to say something to her but stopped when Terri, Mary Sue, and Carla joined Fitz. They’d read the memo. He looked at eight clenched fists and stopped. His two buddies started to step forward.
Johnny said. “Not your fight.” They turn and saw Bob, Johnny, and a couple of his cousins. At least, he said they were his cousins. Personally, I think they’re two gorillas on a day pass from the Duluth Zoo. “Just relax and watch.”
It wasn’t pretty. Johnny winced a coupla times when the girls pulled Jerry’s hair or scratched at his face. Bob crossed his legs and moaned in sympathy when Mary Sue planted a shoe that lifted him a foot off the ground. That ended the scuffle. We’d drawn a small crowd. Thanks to two of Johnny’s cousins, there was someone from every school in Duluth and they knew what the deal was. My goal was to ruin his reputation. I had.
He was in no condition to drive. As I leaned him against the car door, I suggested he stay away from Fitz. He readily agreed.
Johnny pushed one of the buddies behind the wheel of the baby blue Olds. “You drive.” He stepped back. “If I see anyone of you three guys east of Mesabi Avenue, I’ll rip off your head and piss down your neck! You got that?” They believed him and slowly drove off.
Fitz and I walked around the parking lot and picking up Jerry’s Lucky Strike cigarettes. We didn’t want the little tikes to get any bad habits.
The six of us headed toward the Curling Club to skate to celebrate the fall of Morgan Park’s BMOC. Johnny asked Terri to be his skate-date. Carla called it an evening and grabbed the bus to Proctor. Mary Sue sweet-talked Bob into paying her way. The grin on his face said he didn’t mind at all.
I stopped, and she looked up at me. “What Bill?”
“Fitz, I’ve had enough fun for one evening.”
“But you promised.”
“Sorry, not tonight.”
— ℜ --
After the 1953 Christmas break, the Safety Patrol schedule changed. Now I shepherd the little kids across 11th Avenue East, the corner crossing adjacent to the school. Also, I had a new partner, Sheryl Quinn. She was new to the parish, having moved in sometime during late summer. At first, I took little notice of her. She lived at the top of the hill on 12th Avenue East, above 11th Street. It was the last house below Skyline Drive, so she wasn’t part of my normal neighborhood group.
Gradually, we began to chat as we waited for the children to come to the corner of 11th Avenue East and 8th Street. As the weeks went by, we tarried longer before returning to first-hour class, religion. Sheryl was nearly about my size. Tall, not skinny, but not fat. Mom, on more than one occasion, commented about my newfound eagerness to get to school early. I was eager, but not because I enjoyed school.
The mid-February morning was extremely bitter, cold, and windy. She was acting odd. Between students, she’d put her stop sign on the ground between feet and her hands in her pockets. She’d never done that before. I wondered why. I held up my sign so a brother and sister could cross the Avenue and waited for Sheryl to stop the traffic on 8th Street. She gripped the metal handle of her sign with her coat sleeve.
She had no gloves, I thought. Checking traffic, I walked across the intersection, pulled the wool liners from my leather choppers, and offered them to her. She gave me a grateful smile. Walking into the school after the last student, I held the door for her. She returned my liners and softly thanked me.
She noticed me as I entered the lunchroom and slid over to make room. I walked to the next table and sat with my usual group, TJ, Dan, John. As we ate, we decided to go ice-skating after supper.
In the boy’s warming house at Central High School practice field on 8th Avenue East and 11th Street, we helped lace each other’s skates. I was the last one out of the warming house and hurried to catch up with my friends. The door of the girl’s warming house opened, and I nearly bumped into her. I apologized. She turned and walked toward the ice rink and ignored me. It took me a complete lap of the quarter-mile-long oval, to catch up with her. I was a little short of breath and couldn’t speak. When I did, she turned away and snubbed me. I got in front of her and I blocked her path.
She tried to skate around me, “Get out of my way.”
I didn’t, and she stopped.
“Why are you ignoring me?” I asked.
“Me, you snubbed at lunch.”
“I didn’t. I always sit with my group.”
“Fine!” Pushing away from me, “Go sit with them now.”
“Sheryl, wait.” It could have been my tone or her curiosity. She stopped. I explained. She dropped the uppity attitude. We skated together until she started to shiver. “Let’s go to the warming house,” I suggested. We did. “See ya in about fifteen?”
She smiled and nodded.
Inside the boy’s warming house, Dan amused himself by dropping small hunks of snow onto the top of the large, wood-burning potbellied stove. “Why does the snow dance on the hot top?”
John, the brains of our group, glanced at the potbellied stove, “It’s the Leidenfrost effect.”
TJ, sarcastically, “Of course,” throwing his hands in the air, “‘it’s the Leidenfrost effect.’ What the hell is that, anyway?”
John copped his know-it-all attitude. “When water hits a very hot surface some of it will boil off rapidly, forming a sort of cushion of steam which insulates the droplet from the hot surface and it appears as if the droplet is floating above the hot surface.” John shrugged, “Simple physics.”
Dan dropped another bit of snow on the stove lid, “Whoppie-twing!”
On the ice, we made a couple of laps before the rink lights dimmed. It was eight o’clock, time for the little tikes to leave and let us older kids skate in peace. Hand in hand, we skated by the light of the full moon.
She asked if I could skate backward. I couldn’t admit I never tried.
She didn’t laugh as she helped me stand up. “Think of it as dancing.”
She turned and skated backward. We alternated skating backward until the lights brighten then dimmed again, twice. Skating was over for the evening.
Sheryl left the rink with her girlfriend. I headed home with my buddies. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw her looking over hers. I haven’t the foggiest idea why I enjoyed being near her, but I did. I had developed a feeling, an itch. Being with her meant, I didn’t have to scratch. We would meet at the rink a couple of nights a week. Sometimes we’d skate. Other times, we’d sit on the bench outside of the girl’s warming house and talk. I started walking her home from the rink. At first, my buddies needled me it, but it got old, they stopped.
I’d cover my textbooks with brown grocery bag papers. For decorations, I’d draw airplanes or cars on them. Sheryl sat across the aisle from me. Late one afternoon, the sun glinting off her ponytail, I sketched it. I did it on the inside back cover of my Math book. The next day, I sketched her face with her strawberry blond hair down on her shoulders. She normally wore it that way. At home, I used my good set of coloring pencils to add color to my doodlings of her. Almost every day I added another sketch to the inside covers of my Math book, an ear, her nose, or an eye with its arch brow, something simple.
On Holy Thursday, I’d walked her home after skating and we sat on the top step of her front porch. She rested her head on my shoulder, looking up at me. I sensed the questioning look on her face. Did she want me to kiss her? If I kissed her, would it ruin our friendship? If I didn’t kiss her, would it ruin our friendship? Suddenly the porch light came on solving my dilemma. I stood, said good night, and left.
The next day, Good Friday morning, she forgot her Math book at home and asked to use mine. Without thinking, I handed it to her. Near the end of the hour, she handed it back to me. As I took it, Sheryl thumbed open the back cover to reveal she saw my artwork. Our fingers touched, and she silently blew me a kiss. I blushed.
Spring arrived and over the Easter weekend, she’d transferred out of Saint Anthony Parish. Our paths never again crossed. But I’ve often wondered, was she the reason I only dated strawberry blonds?
— ℜ --