As a youth I lived in many of the small towns that dot the map of southern Illinois and in one of those small towns our next door neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Rolley. I was about seven years of age when we first moved in next door to them. Mr. and Mrs. Rolley didn’t have any children of their own, but they loved children very much. I would spend almost as much time at their house during the warm summer days as I would at our home. Mrs. Rolley loved to bake and she did so quite frequently. I was a little blond haired, brown eyed, rascal of a boy, but Mrs. Rolley loved me dearly and on ‘baking day’ I could smell the sweet aroma of her freshly baked pies gently wafting throughout the neighborhood on the light breeze that were a breath of fresh air on those lazy summer days. She would sit all of her baked goods on the window sill to cool, and a short time later, I would hear her calling my name to come over. When Mrs. Rolley baked pies she always baked a little cinnamon pie crust coated with sugar just for me. I loved those cinnamon and sugar pie crust and still do today. As I sit here writing this short story – in the deep recesses of my mind, I can still hear Mrs. Rolley sweet voice calling me to come over to her house on baking day and the aroma of her freshly baked pies and that little cinnamon and sugar pie crust made with loving hands for a little blond haired rascal infiltrate my memory senses.
It was while living next door to Mr. and Mrs. Rolley that I first learned to ride a bicycle. It was also there that I lost my two front teeth to a big tree in our front yard because I didn’t know how to stop the bicycle using the brakes and slammed into the tree to stop it before I ran through the fence that surrounded Mr. and Mrs. Rolley’s pig pen. It was also there that I learned pigs will eat coal. This didn’t set too well with my father when he learned I was throwing the coal he used to heat our home with in the winter time over into the pig pen for Mr. Rolley’s pigs to eat. It was also there that my older brother and I scared the crap out of my little brother by imitating bull sounds and thrashing noises in the woods, that he, two and one half years younger than I, took off at a dead run for home to escape the bull that wasn’t there and dove head first between two strands of a barbed wire gate without touching either strand of wire. My brother and I laughed so hard we could have cried, but crying wouldn’t have been manly, even to us boys. It was also there that I learned just how strong and hard my daddy’s hand of correction was when he found out what my older brother and I did to the younger one.
It was there next door to the Rolley’s that I learned how to make a sling shot and shoot a bow and arrow, make our own kites to fly, bait my own hook, and hog fish down in the creek just below their house. It was also there that I learned you could catch a black snake by the tail and twirl it around your head in bull whip fashion – snap it sharply – and the snake’s head would fly off. It was there that I learned you cannot catch a pitch before the batter hits the ball. I still have a scar on the crown of my head from the piece of wood we were using for a bat to prove it. I also learned I bleed pretty easy and my mother didn’t appreciate having to take me to the doctor to be stitched up and leave the other children at home while doing so. It was there I experienced a death in the family when my brother eight years older than I, lost his wife and baby in childbirth. She was diabetic and knew she could possibly die if she got pregnant, but she chose to try and bring a baby into the world anyway. I don’t think my brother ever completely got over losing her and the baby at such a young age. He joined the Army a short time thereafter “to help him focus on other things”, he said. But I really think he joined the Army to get away from the memories and the home they shared together.
The three years we lived beside Mr. and Mrs. Rolley were filled with many wonderful experiences and I wouldn’t change any of them even for a million dollars. I don’t have to tell you I was greatly saddened the day mom and dad told us we were moving to yet another small town. But, I have since learned that kids are resilient and rebound quickly from bad news. After the move, I didn’t get to see Mr. and Mrs. Rolley much, but my world was expanding even though I didn’t realize it at the time, and a whole new group of people and experiences were waiting for me – just three miles down the road. DThrash