A Lifetime Ago in a Neighborhood Now Far Away- Pt. 1

[So last night I got caught up in a bit of Star Wars nostalgia.  I read a lengthy article about the new movie and and the original trilogy then listened to a podcast by a pair of nerds like myself who were getting all goofy about the new movie and they showed the latest trailer and the next thing I know I’m getting all verklempt about it.  With less than three weeks before The Force Awakens opens I decided to take a timeout from the Two Tales story and add this story that I wrote a few years ago.  I might eventually add the Geek Tales from several years back.  I promise to get back Two Tales soon.]

borgwarnerOf all the times that I watched the movie Star Wars during my youth, the most unusual and most daring time happened just a short walk away from my home.

The old neighborhood I grew up in, the Beverly Heights Addition, was bounded by Nebo Road on the east and the White River on the north.  Nebo Road was a simple, two-lane county road (Delaware County Road 400 W to be exact) before Beverly Heights came into being. When my family moved into Beverly Heights in 1968, Nebo Road had a one-lane, iron frame bridge over the White River. Traffic on Nebo was often backed up in the afternoon, especially when the men and women from the Borg Warner factory down Highway 32 headed home from work. Mom would point out the line of cars and instruct me to never approach that road.

The leaders of Delaware County somehow took notice of the problems with the bottleneck and decided to remedy the situation. Within a couple years of my family moving in, Nebo Road was expanded to four lanes from Highway 32 to River Road just across the White River. The old bridge was torn down and a beautiful, new four-lane bridge was erected, allowing traffic on Nebo Road to run as smooth as a Swiss watch. It didn’t matter how smooth it ran to my mom though. She still told me to stay away from that road.

Each summer as I got older, a little braver, and a little more willing to disobey my mom, I would venture further away from our front yard. When I was given a new Schwinn Stingray I was given my first real set of wheels and a sense of freedom hitherto unknown. I would ride my bike a few houses down Sarasota to the Nudists’ house, which was two houses away from Nebo, and far enough in the opposite direction that I couldn’t see my house around the bend. I met a whole bunch of new kids up the hill from our house and became friends with a few of them.

The next summer I ventured even further away, making it all the way to Highway 32. Mom didn’t know I had done this, but I was smart enough to realize then that she didn’t need to tell me to stay away from the highway. After a couple of trips up Sarasota Drive I screwed up the courage to take a ride down Sunset Drive. I finally saw the houses that some of my new friends lived in, friends who were allowed to roam the entire neighborhood long before I was and would sometimes come down to my house to play.

I was perfectly content with having free rein of the neighborhood for another year or two. Nebo Road was still off limits to me, but I didn’t mind. Some of my friends were allowed to cross Nebo by this time. It didn’t bother me at all that they could cross Nebo until one day when a couple of my buddies came back from the other side and told me there was a family of Studebakers with a girl a year or two older than us over there. I couldn’t believe it. How was such a thing a possible?

I ran home and asked my folks about this mysterious family with the girl close to my age. Though they weren’t aware of any Studebakers living on the other side of Nebo they did know that Dad’s cousin Diane lived over there. I begged them to let me cross Nebo and find out if this family was any relation to us. The only cousins I had that were my age either lived on the West Coast or were family that I only saw during Christmas. The possibility that a cousin lived so close to us was too tantalizing to ignore.

cousinsMom and Dad agreed to let me cross Nebo as long as I looked both ways before crossing and was home in time for supper. I grabbed my Stingray and peddled faster than I ever had before. My friends took me to where they met this other family. I was both scared and excited as we rode into the driveway. Cindy, the girl they had met, greeted us with a wave. My friends introduced Cindy and me to one another. I didn’t recognize her but instantly took a liking to her. She was a couple years older than me and seemed like a really neat person. She had never been to my grandparents’ house during the holidays so I figured she probably wasn’t family.

She introduced me to some of her older brothers who were much older than we were and then took me to meet her mom. She was very nice to me and asked me who my dad was. I told her Dad’s name and she told me that Cindy’s dad and my dad were cousins. This didn’t mean anything to me until Cindy explained the whole second cousin thing to me. She said this meant we were kin after all. I was elated!

After a while Cindy took me next door to meet some more of the family. The last name on their mailbox was Reed so I figured they weren’t any relation to me.  Cindy knocked on the door then gave me a friendly grin as we waited for some to answer.  I went straight into shy mode and looked at my sneakers as the door opened.

“Well hi, Cindy.  What brings you over?”  It was a voice that was, for some reason, vaguely familiar.

“Hey, Aunt Diane,” Cindy answered.  “I’ve got a cousin here for you to meet.”

Diane?, I thought.  Dad’s cousin Diane?  The pieces of the puzzle started coming together before I looked up from my shoes.

I instantly recognized Cindy’s Aunt Diane as the lady who came to my grandparents’ house for Christmas but whom I had always assumed was just a friend of the family.  I gave her a quizzical look as the pieces continued coming together: If she and Dad are cousins, is she Dave, Drew, and Debbie’s sister? 

Diane recognized me right away.  “Oh my gosh!  Thad?” she said with a start.  “Cindy, this is Teddy’s son.”

Cindy reacted to the name Teddy with a jump and a smile that stretched from ear to ear.  She told me she had heard stories from her aunts and uncles about going out to the farm my dad and uncle grew up on when they were kids.  She confirmed when I asked her that she was talking about Dave, Drew, and Debbie.  Dad had told me several stories about the old farm and Dave and Drew as well so I was now convinced that these people were family after all.

Mom relaxed here rules about Nebo Road enough that I made a couple more trips to visit Cindy that summer. Before long though, there came a time when Cindy wasn’t around anymore. I didn’t know if her family had moved and I was too shy and scared to knock on Diane’s door to ask.

During my visits to Cindy’s neighborhood, which I later learned was named Bradford Park, I ran into a few guys I knew from JAA. They had a big open field where they played baseball and football. Occasionally, my friends and I would get tired of the scene in our neighborhood and would go to Bradford Park to scare up a game. The main thing to me was that Nebo Road was no longer off limits. The scope of my freedom doubled.

dognsudsIt wasn’t long before my friends and I were exploring the full extent of Bradford Park. Bradford Park was slightly larger than Beverly Heights with three streets running east and west and four running north and south. The neighborhood had more to offer than ours did. There was a very cool model railroad store on one of the streets that intersected with Highway 32. There was a Dog n’ Suds root beer stand and a motorcycle dealership along the highway and on the south edge of Bradford Park and across the highway was a convenience store with an old comic book spinner rack. We went to the root beer stand a couple times but favored going to the model railroad store. The salesmen at the motorcycle dealership made it clear they didn’t want us hanging around there.

The eastern end of Bradford Park was probably less than a mile from the Muncie city limits at the time. Located at that end of the neighborhood was the coolest thing a kid could ever want – a drive-in movie screen.

The Muncie Drive-in was located no more than a mile down the highway from our neighborhood. Mom drove past it several times when we would go into Muncie. It was always exciting to read the sign to see what movies were now playing. Sometimes there would be a movie that my sister or I wanted to see. We’d beg and plead to go to a show there, but if Mom took us to the drive-in it was typically the Sky-Hi Drive-in on the other side of Muncie. The only movie I remember going to at the Muncie Drive-in was “Rooster Cogburn and the Lady” when Johnny and Joey’s mom took us.

When my friends and I first discovered the drive-in all we could see of it from a distance was the fence. One of our new friends told us it was the drive-in. We rode our bikes down to the tall fence and found that the top third of the screen was visible over the fence. We thought this was pretty cool and asked our friends if they ever watched the movies from that vantage point. They told us they had a much better spot on the other side of the drive-in. It took almost no effort to get them to show us the spot they were talking about.

They showed us two routes, one behind the drive-in and one in front. Either way meant going through a trailer park on the far side of the drive-in. They showed us the spot where the fence between the drive-in and the trailer park had been torn down and replaced with a plain wire fence which had fallen into disrepair over the years. We walked through the fence and into the drive-in. They demonstrated how they pointed some of the car window speakers towards the fence so they could hear the movie. I expressed concern over whether this might lead to trouble. They assured me that they did it all the time and that there was always a crowd of people who lived in the trailer park.

My friends and I rode home, discussing plans for the day when we would sneak into a movie worth watching.

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