(Edited version of original 2019 post)
Other than many friendships that evolved on the playground during first grade — I loved recess from the very first day I learned what it was — I do not recall any boys my own age who lived on my block or across the street, so my unsupervised playtime was solitary except for those times when I watched older boys play ball.
The lack of kids my own age with whom to play continued when we moved to York, Pennsylvania, where I completed the Second Grade at Madison Avenue Elementary school, but living in a world void of nearby boys like me all changed when we moved to Glen Rock in 1955.
The town of about 1500 inhabitants was a destination for our family because my father, Jerry, worked for a company, AMP Incorporated, which had a practice of establishing small manufacturing plants in Central Pennsylvania towns. Doing so was part of a corporate strategy of keeping plants small enough to ensure management sensitivity and employee loyalty, the purpose of which was to ensure that it would be impossible for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to win certification votes. A few such plants were located in and near Glen Rock, and Jerry was transferred there to oversee quality control operations. Many Boomers will affirm that the frequent transfer of fathers — who worked for companies that had plants dispersed across the country — to towns far from where we Boomer kids were trying to put down roots was a not infrequent experience for us.
Being small and relatively isolated among the hills of southern York County, Glen Rock had a distinctly rural, Heartland feel about it. Nearly everyone we encountered was friendly and chatty, which caused Jerry no end of aggravation at what he believed were intrusions into our family life that such neighborly intimacies fostered.
There is one interesting tradition the town had and still has: late on Christmas Eve, dozens of men dressed up in high hats, greatcoats, and colorful scarves walk the town singing 19th Century Christmas Carols until the wee hours of Christmas morning. It is my understanding that hundreds of people still gather for a Christmas Eve concert that is presented before the carolers set off on their tour of the town. It was there, in a town with a Victorian Christmas tradition begun in 1848, a town that time seemed to have forgotten, where I discovered an incarnation of Neverland, and within a few days of my arrival, I became a member of The Lost Boys.
The hills on which the town had been built, and therefore the town’s streets, were so steep that bikes were impractical, which meant we walked and ran everywhere. I became a Cub Scout, a weirdly regimented and uniformed group I joined because the other Lost Boys had done so, and I quickly came to think nothing about wearing the regulation Cub Scout blue uniform, yellow scarf, and blue beanie to school on the days when “Den Meetings” were scheduled.
We Lost Boys had secret hideaways in a woods that bordered a lane, which separated the houses on Hanover Street from undeveloped woods and cornfields that climbed up from the lane on and over a broad hill. In those sanctuaries, we experimented with cussing, with the best of the cusses passed down from the older Lost Boys to third graders like me, cusses every bit as strong as and not unlike those I still resort to in moments of frustration, of which there have been many in 2020. I remember relishing the freedom from and rebellion against adult expectations that I felt when I cussed like a sailor in the intimacy of a lair shared with a like-minded boy or three.
In our hideaways, we would discuss whatever professional sport was in season based upon what we might have overheard from older boys on our street or from men at the barbershop we frequented every two weeks to maintain our crewcuts. There would also be talk about school and neighborhood gossip, and we joked and wondered aloud about the strange creatures called girls who were beginning to become of interest to us despite our professed but disingenuous disinterest, which was merely a cover for our growing fascination with them.
Every day was an adventure. On the way home from school along the lane that paralleled Hanover Street, a walk of a bit more than half a mile, we’d explore the bordering woods to look for and find skeletons of small birds and mammals, with skulls being extra special treasures. We cached them in a depression in the earth beneath some brambles that we were certain no one would ever find, but already a devotee of National Geographic Magazine, I hoped some future archaeologist would find them and be stymied about what the collection signified.
Football was the sport of choice for pre-high-school boys in Glen Rock, and third-graders like me were allowed to participate, although we seldom touched the ball. At the top of the hill up which Hanover Street ran, was a cemetery that had a large and level grassy area perfect for a playing field. The tackle football games were organized by a young man and “all-time quarterback” we all called Racer, who said little more to us than the passing routes we were to employ.
Racer lived in a fairly large home directly opposite our tiny, rented bungalow at 238 Hanover Street, and my memory is that he was always available to “come out and play,” whenever a gang of older boys asked him. I rarely saw Racer’s parents. There may have been a sister, but my memory seems clear in recalling that the family was not “neighborly.”
I often wondered about what Racer did all day inside the house, and I wondered about his age. He looked young enough to be an upperclassman in high school, but he also looked old enough to be on his own with a full-time job, which he did not seem to have. No one ever talked about Racer — not my parents nor any of The Lost Boys — and I never saw him anywhere else in town.
In the spring of my third-grade year in Glen Rock, when the weather warmed and the ground dried enough to think about playing football without getting wet and muddy, Racer was nowhere to be found, at least not by The Lost Boys. By then, I had re-read Treasure Island and King Arthur for Boys, which did much to heighten my imagination, and I began to wonder about Racer in a macabre way that, consistent with previous practice, I did not discuss with my parents or with any of my friends.
Looking back with an adult’s perspective, I think of Racer as the only model for a Southern Gothic character that I have encountered personally. I do not recall that Glen Rock had characters and social foibles similar to those found in Harper Lee’s fictional Maycomb, Alabama, but Racer remains my very own and only, true-to-life, “Boo” Radley.
More joyful memories and freedoms were packed into my twelve months in Glen Rock than at any other time of those years when I was growing up Boomer, so it was with a heavy heart that I left at the end of the 1955-56 school year to move into a brand new split-level in the nearly-as-new subdivision of Cedar Cliff Manor on Harrisburg’s West Shore. In the nine years that followed, I met many of the good people who are now reading this blog, some of whom have already discovered they have been anonymous participants in it.
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