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Bless Pete, Saturday was finally here. After a tough week, I was ready for a trip to the picture show.
These weekend adventures had become a big deal for me. I had finally reached the “age of trust.”
That meant I was now old enough to walk uptown by myself and go to the Saturday morning show without an adult chaperon.
However, Mama’s general definition of trust was somewhat different.
“That means you’re old enough to have good sense about some things,” she said.
When I awoke that morning, I looked out the window to find a cold, pelting rain.
It wasn’t the start I was hoping for. On top of that, I would be on my own most of the day. Mama and Aunt Bess were going to Charlotte.
Mama’s parting orders were specific.
“Don’t you dare let anybody in this house while we’re gone,” she said. “And make sure you clean off those muddy shoes when you get home from the picture show.”
My answer was a short, “Yes, ma’am.”
Despite the weather, everything was going according to plan.
The cowboy show was particularly good. Larry, Moe and Shemp had us rolling in the aisles from laughter. After watching the main attraction and the G-Man serial twice, I figured it was time to head home.
But first, I decided to walk over to the new show (Parr) to look over the coming attractions. Boy, I thought, it looks like some good pictures will be coming.
Suddenly, I saw several school buddies standing around. Making conversation, we started discussing the picture at the old show (Imperial), while trying to stay out of the falling rain.
Now, instead of one, there were four of us with nothing to do on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon.
“Shazam,” I shouted (that’s what Billy Batson said whenever he wanted to turn into Captain Marvel).
I had everyone’s full attention. They were all wondering what kind of brilliant plan I was about to hatch.
Shucks, the Dodge was gone to Charlotte for the day and the garage was empty. Suddenly, Mama’s instructions fell by the wayside.
“Let’s go to my house,” I said. “Y’all can’t come in, but we can sit around the garage and talk out of the rain.”
It was a good plan, but trouble was, it was colder than an igloo.
That’s when I uttered my second “Shazam.”
There was a old trash burner in the plunder house and some stove pipe we could use to heat up the garage.
With all the makings of a cowboy bunkhouse in our thoughts, we made it to my house in record time, set up the stove in the garage and ran sections of stove pipe out a window.
I borrowed a stack of old newspapers from the weekly paper drive and in no time flat, the chill was gone from the garage. The belly of that little trash burner was fire red.
For a while, everything was going fine. But it didn’t take very long to understand why the trash burner was in the plunder house. There was hole in the backside of it we didn’t notice. Suddenly, fire was belching out of it and spilling onto the wooden garage floor.
Of course, the outside spigot was covered in old rags to keep it from freezing. The hose pipes were coiled up somewhere out of sight.
Our neighbor, Mr. Ned Gregory, saw the smoke and fire coming out of the stove pipe and called the fire department.
In no time flat, Lancaster Fire Chief Crawford Billings had the old red Chevrolet fire truck coming down our driveway toward the garage.
Thank goodness, Mr. Billings knew me from my frequent visits to his Western Auto store on Main Street.
In no time flat, the fire was out. What was left of that old trash burner was placed outside.
For now, everything seemed to be fine. But I has a sinking queasiness in my gut. I knew as soon as Mama and Aunt Bess got home, I was going to be in big trouble.
It didn’t take Mr. Billings, a U.S. Marine and World War I veteran, to realize I was scared to death.
He quickly got us boys organized and the mess was gone in no time. I went next door to see Mr. Ned and pleaded with him not to let Mama and Daddy know what I had done.
Things were OK for about a week, until Mrs. Ben Williams, who lived across the street, asked Mama about the firetruck parked in our driveway.
The cat was out of the bag, in fact, everything was out.
I was in a heap of trouble. The trust Mama had in me went up in smoke.
From that day on, I had to wait on Billy Whitesell before I could go to the Saturday morning picture show.
When Mama and Aunt Bess went shopping out of town, I had to go with them.
It stayed that way for years. I ended up spending more time in womens wear and housewares than I did at the Imperial.
It took a long time before I regained the trust I had so foolishly set on fire.
On the bright side, I made a new friend in Mr. Ned. He never gave away our little secret.
From that day on, every time Mr. Ned saw me, even when I was an adult, he gave me a knowing wink as a signal that my secret from a cold rainy Saturday afternoon so long ago remained safe with him.
Mama was wary of trusting me for a long time, but I sure could trust Mr. Ned.
That wink also served as another reminder. Mama does know best.