By: Rich Tarrant
Tommy Dale Boone was my first best friend when I was about eight. He lived across the street from us (i.e. the Tarrant family) on Perry Street back in the 1950s and 60s. When the accompanying snapshot was taken we were outside the newsstand (currently the Olive Scene) on Liberty. I can almost feel the day it was taken. It was a warm summer day and we had the rest of our lives before us.
Back in those days my sis (Ginny Wilkes) worked at the newsstand. Among the many cool things about the newsstand – aside from the comic books – was the big root beer barrel aside a little soda counter toward the back of the store. On a hot summer day there was nothing like an icy mug of root beer and a penny pretzel.
Anyway, after we left the store with our little planes we walked back up the street tentatively heading for home. The destination was always tentative because you never knew what you might see or whom you might run into along the way that would lead you in another direction. And, of course, our family dog, Mister Chips, was usually with us somewhere. He usually led the way. He’d often stop and look back to make sure we were following him. In fact, because of his habit to always be the head of our proverbial parade we developed a little game we called “Ditch-em”.
Ditch-em was a game where we’d start walking with Chips ahead of us. We’d let him get about a half a block ahead, and after he turned to see if we were following we’d start walking backwards. When he stopped to look back we’d start walking forward. And when he got about a block ahead we’d take off running in another direction and look for a place to hide from him. He was an amazing pooch because he’d always find us. We could never really ditch him. As a consequence it often took us a good deal of time to get home.
When we got home we usually went to our fort in the railroad lot next to Tom’s house. Back then the grass and weeds in the railroad lots were allowed to grow pretty high before they were cut. The great thing was that after the weeds were cut and dried there was a good deal of straw left behind. And in the middle of this particular lot there was a little indentation. One of our friends had gone to the “Pickle Works” (i.e. South Shore Packing on the corner of South Street and West River Road) and got a big empty pickle barrel that we placed in this indentation. We covered it with piles of dead grass, and therein was our fort – albeit a vinegar-tainted stronghold – established.
One fine summer day somebody; I don’t remember who exactly, was playing with matches and set some of the dried straw on fire. Of course we were alarmed. And as Tom lived right there, close to the barrel fort, I told him to hurry and get some water to extinguish the fire. I thought he’d come back with a bucket of water. He came back with a glass. I could not believe my eyes. But just before the entire field exploded Tom’s dad pulled in the driveway, saw the fire and got the hose. And that was the end of our fort.
There were also the hours and days we spent along the lake skipping stones and exploring the lakeshore. During those years, believe it or not, when it was actually possible to walk from (Wakefield’s) Main Street Beach to what we now know as Sherod Park and beyond. The only problems one might encounter in doing that would be fording Edson or Darby Creeks – especially if you weren’t dressed for swimming. And there was also another problem. Mister Chips who, of course, was always with us had a habit of rolling in dead fish. It was a habit that not only Tom and I cared little for, but also one my mother, and everyone in his immediate proximity, never seemed to appreciate. It didn’t bother him in the least. In fact, he seemed quite proud.
There were times we would loll in the grass along the river by the waterworks watching boats: the fish tugs, luxurious cabin cruisers, and the smaller speed and fishing boats. For whatever reason there were very few canoes and rowboats in that part of the river during those years. Every once in a while some rich person would sail a gigantic boat into the harbor and park it near the Vermilion Yacht Club. I seem to recall that a very successful car dealer owned one of the boats. He and his crew had sailed to Vermilion from Florida. It was something for small town boys to wonder about and dream on.
Eventually we’d wander back home: two kids and a dog. Night would fall. The crickets would chirp; the lightening bugs would light; and we’d sit on the front porch of our home; watch the passenger trains speed by through the night; talk about everything – anything; laugh, sing and pause to watch the heat lightening flicker in the evening sky. Later it would rain and the world would be washed down – renewed – readying the world for another nice day. And we were happy.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org