Submitted by John L. Lincicome.
“Come on” he said with a purpose I’d never seen in him.
He was 6-ish, I was 5-ish. We was foolin’ about in the common area of the military housing we both lived in at the time. The area was known as Parkway, and it was on Fort Lewis grounds. I lived in 1816-B, no idea where Larry lived. Somewhere close comes to mind. It was late afternoon/early evening on a spring or summer day in 1959 or so.
The common area I referred to was an area of ground that was essentially corralled by several two story, red-brick buildings that were built in a sort of circumference. The two-story brick buildings were built to house the families of US Army troops. Like apartment buildings, eh? Yes. The way they were built, I mean, the way they occupied the site was communal in a sense. Protective in another. Consider a wagon train of the cowboy days that comes to rest in such a fashion as the aggregate of the wagons form a faceted circle of sort to create a border to keep the bad guys “out”. That sort of thing. The area in the middle was the common, safe ground, an empty playground.
That common ground was mostly grass with lots-o-clover. It was like a vast, grassy plains area to a kid, and it was some kind of heaven, too. Bumble Bees and Honey Bees and Yellow Jackets, too, would land on the clover flowers in the spring & summer and do their bee do. We kids would catch them with a glass jar that our mom’s gave us, or we swiped from the cupboard. The jars all had metal lids, and we’d poke holes in the lids, or mom’s would, to let air in so the bees wouldn’t suffocate. Anyway, the common area was the place to meet up, and where Larry met up with me that particular day.
“Where?” I asked
“I’m runnin’ away…” said Larry.
I spose the inference was that I was goin’ to runaway with him. But I didn’t want to run away. We did the talk thing as we stood nervous and ancy-kid like upon the vast plain of grass, but he was inconsolable. At some point he started walkin’ off so I took to followin’ him, tryin’ to talk him out of the runnin’ away thing. I had little success. Now…
I can’t recall what his story was, I want to remember that he told me the why of it, the how come of it and all that stuff, but I just can’t recall. What I remember is that as we walked, he talked & I listened and we made our way out of Parkway. Passed the little army fort thing where cars had to check in when they came on Post, and then along the road that went under the I-5 overpass thing. Many years later I came to know that…
That road led to the SS Beach, and the Rod and gun Club, and if you went down that road far enough it led all the way to Lake City and/or Steilacoom through North Fort Lewis. We didn’t go that far, we veered off that road towards what was then, though I didn’t know it at the time, The Rod & Gun Club.
It was a woodsy area we’d wandered into. The sun was settin’ and the branches of all them conifers in the woodsy thing made for some kind of spooky dark. The kind of dark that tends to scare a kid when he’s aware of it. But neither of us were aware of it. Not yet. Not really. We just kept talkin’ and walkin’ and doin’ dumb kid do until…
Came the time the dark thing entered our “now”.
“Wholly crap, Larry! Where we goin’?”
He didn’t know and I sure as heck didn’t know either. We kept a walkin’ and talkin’ and fuelin’ our fears until we came to the edge of a large body of water. Though I didn’t know it then, I know now that that body of water was American Lake. It looked like an ocean to we two kids in the dark and crummy of the lost in the dark thing.
I remember seein’ something in the lake a long stone’s throw from the shore.
“It’s a boat! Lets get on it and go!” one of us said. Lookin’ back on it all these years later I figure it must have been a floating dock or somethin’,eh? Yes.
At this point is as good a time as any to tell the reader that Larry was a large kid. Fat comes to mind. Larry Mondello from Leave it to Beaver kind of fat, eh? Fat is a crummy word and I don’t mean to offend anyone, but that’s how he was. Ain’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing, eh? Then too, Larry wasn’t a swimmer at the age of 6-ish, nor was I at the age of 5-ish.
“Go get it, John!” he said.
Well, he was older and bigger and I didn’t want to end up the recipient of his fatso wrath, so I waded out in the water until it came up over my belt and I soon got the heebie jeebies. I turned back to face Larry and tell him my true, that I was a coward and didn’t know how to swim and wasn’t gonna go no further, eh? Well, in so many words, eh? A kid don’t never admit to bein’ scared or a coward and stuff like that. Anyway…
Larry wasn’t pleased, but there weren’t a nothin’ he could do to convince me to go out over my head in that water. Besides, it was dark and all, eh? And this whole this was his idea, not mine.
“I ain’t a goin’ I said again…” After some fussin’…
Larry said “I’m hungry”.
I schlep back to gravelly shore feelin’ some sort of relief. Cold and wet, too. Then Larry added, “I wanna go home…”
We took to walkin’ and talkin’ again, but by this time it was really dark. And, I was wet and hungry, and Larry was dry and fat and hungry. We both had the hungry kid thing in common as we clawed aimlessly through the underbrush.
“How do we get home?” he said outloud.
Neither of us knew so we just followed our instincts that dark, evening. Up ahead and through the trees and underbrush we saw lights. Car lights, and that led us to a fence. A chain link fence. Turned out it was the fence that bordered I-5 Southbound.
The fence was at least 6’ tall and made of chain link. We both knew we had to get over that fence, and that home and food and warm and dry and all that happy stuff was somewhere over that fence.
“Come on Larry!” I said as I scrambled up and over the fence. When I got to the other side Larry was still on the “other” side.
“Come on, man!”
“I can’t” he said with mad and sad and all that stuff. “I’m too fat…”
We talked for a spell, like a visitor and hostage might, eh? Through the fence comes to mind. I don’t know what we talked about, probably how to get back home. All I really remember is that after some shootin’ the poo thing I was hoofin’ it to the side of I-5, to the shoulder, as Larry waited patiently behind the fence. I stood there t the side of the busy road wavin’ my arms like a wet spazz as the cars whizzed quick and fast like. Came a time when a car pulled over and then stopped.
Two fella’s stepped out of that car, from opposing sides and approached me. They were dressed all important and stuff in dark suits with skinny ties. We did the Q & A thing. They and me. There came a time we had to go fetch Larry.
“Over there” I said and pointed.
The two suited fellas and I walked towards the fence, to Larry. One of the suited fella’s climbed the fence over to Larry’s side, then lifted Larry up so that the other suited fella on my side of the fence could grab him and pull him over the top…
When it was all over Larry & were sittin’ in hard, wooden chairs in the Provost Marhsall’s office of Fort Lewis. Neither one of us dared to speak outloud. We just sat there doin’ the do of dumb kid do as we waited, I in the wet, Larry in the dry. Someone had called our folks, impending doom comes to mind.
Came a time my old man showed up. He spoke nice with a suited fella in the place, but gave me the stink eye. I knew what was comin’ when he & I were alone. Anyway…
I wasn’t there when Larry’s old man picked him up. Don’t know what happened to Larry that night. Don’t recall any other instance from that then, that included Larry. Don’t know what became of him neither. Mysteries of kid life comes to mind.
Doin’ right in kid life sometimes, somehow turns into doin’ wrong. And doin’ wrong has consequences for most kids. Kid life is easy, till it ain’t.
John L. Lincicome lives in Tacoma and you can read more Kid Life stories on the You Know Your From Lakewood, WA If… Facebook Page.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.