Saturday, April 20, 2013

Robert Culp

Robert Culp, movie and television star, is too young to have been in my class at McKinley Elementary School in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, but there was a Robert Culp.

He was a little dark-haired boy and that's where memory leaves me.  He must have suffered through the Palmer Method writing drills, spelling bees and times tables along with the rest of the second graders and I know he lived up around the mountain on Independence Street.  It is his father I remember, even though I never met him.

It is late June of 1935.  I have not yet had my eighth birthday.  We have been in Shamokin almost two years.  I know all of the kids on my block and we girls have been playing Red Light and Statues out front.  I don't much like Kick-the-can or Run-Sheep-Run very much because they are too rough and besides, the big boys play those and they are better at them.

We have been having fun, Lorraine and Rita Klick, Connie Knovich and Mary Ellen Williams and some of the younger children and I.  But at 7:30, I am called inside.

Immediately resentful, I start in, stomping up on the porch: "It's not even dark yet.  Why do I have to go in first.  Everybody else is still out!  Lorraine is still playing and she’s only seven."  No use.  My mother gently but firmly ushers me in and up to the bathroom where I am still grumbling.  I peel off play clothes, underwear and socks and shoes and get into the tub. 

The bath is warm and soothing.  I am now in better humor in spite of myself.  I dry off and put on a summer nightgown.  I have a glass of water and my mother will read to me.  Maybe some of my Raggedy Ann or a chapter of Uncle Wiggley.

Even with the windows open my room is warm.  I have had my story, said my prayers and now lie on top of the sheet trying to stay cool.

It is suddenly dark.  I hear the night noises, the sounds of the big boys still trying to play by the street lights, tree frogs singing with a gentle, monotonous rhythm and the far-off call of a whip-poor-will.  I can see stars.

I'm glad I'm not scared of anything tonight.  When something menacing is in the room -- I'm never sure what it is -- I have to pull the sheet over my head and lie perfectly still so that it won't find me.  Tonight is safe.

I have fallen asleep.  Suddenly my mother is gently shaking me.  "Sally, wake up.  Come and look out of my window.  There is a fire up on the hill." 

I paddle, barefoot and sleepy, down the hall and go to the double window in the front of the house.  I see flames shooting up into the sky way up on Independence Street.  There is smoke and an occasional sound like an explosion.  A fire truck is trying to get through the milling people who are in the way.  It passes.  Cars follow it.  Everyone is fascinated with the fire.  I can see people walking in groups up around the corner towards the flames.

It is like a page in a scary book...maybe something about dragons.  I finally go back to bed when the flames die down.  I am sleepy anyway.

The next day I am told it was Mr. Culp's dynamite shack that blew up.  No one knew how or why it happened.  Mr. Culp stored explosives used by the colliery for blasting shafts and such.  Luckily no one was hurt.  The house was removed from the shack.

When school started that year, we children had all forgotten about it, but every once in awhile we were reminded of the night Mr. Culp's dynamite shack blew up.

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