A Significant Event
The teacher gave us an assignment: “Write about a significant event” so that’s what I aim to do. Trouble is I don’t know what is significant about the event I’m telling about and it is going to take a lot of writing to tell it. That’s the trouble with writing. It takes a lot of discipline. Anyway, this involves a significant event in my younger life which took place about 1935 when me and Felix were going to the Wilson Grammar School on Bourne Avenue in Rumford, Rhode Island.
First off, let me tell you that Felix was a natural born liar and I knew that from first hand knowledge. He would do or say anything just so as he could be the winner at whatever was being measured. He could always swim the farthest under water and dive from the highest point into the least amount of water. His bicycle was the fastest and he could run the farthest and his father could beat up Joe Louis.
When we were promoted from the fourth grade of Miss Cute’s Union Primary School to Miss Brush’s fifth grade at the Wilson Grammar School, we had to make a new route to the new school. No more Union Primary School woods and no more Pawtucket Avenue Cemetery. Now our path would be past the Meeting House Pond, “Uncle Ray’s” gravestone, the Rumford Baking Powder Company, the Rumford Post Office and then over the Greenwood Avenue railroad bridge.
Exploration of our new route to and from the new school got serious one time when we had to stay after school for some minor infraction of school rules. One of us got caught red handed passing notes to the other about one of the girls in our class. Felix blamed me for the note which was not unexpected by me. Felix told Miss Brush that maybe John Agren had forged his (Fee’s) name on the document in question. Miss Brush knew Felix. He couldn’t fool her!
Well, that night on the way home we discovered that the bridge over the railroad tracks at Greenwood Avenue had a bunch of iron beams and girders running east and west and up and down underneath the road. A kid could, if he was careful, climb over these iron beams and girders and position himself directly over the train tracks when a train passed over the tracks and under the bridge. A red light went off in our heads when we were shaken up by the roar of a steam engine with a line of passenger cars headed north for the Narragansett Race Track. It was “The Gansett Special” going north to Narragansett with a train full of betting people. Narragansett was a major horse racing track then and every passenger train headed for the track from Providence had to pass under the Greenwood Avenue Bridge.
Anyway, getting back to “A Significant Event”, Felix and I were going to have a contest at the expense of the next train. When a train passed under the bridge, we were going to see which one of us could “get” the most cars. We took our places among the girders and waited for a target.
We saw and heard a train as it rounded the corner of Roger Williams Avenue south of our girder perch. The signal to get ready was to be given by me when our train passed Burlingame’s Hay and Grain Store a little south and west of the bridge on North Broadway. The big black engine had a super bright headlight that made it look like some big monster crawling insect from outer space. The engine sounded like thunder and was belching flames and smoke and fire like a dragon as we got ready for the contest to start.
When the train had passed Burlingame’s, I hollered over, “Get ready Fee. Here she comes!”
We had big trouble holding our place on the girders. We had to hold on to the girder with our left hand and aim with our right hand. The train shook the bridge and sent up so much smoke and steam and so many sparks that I expected to be impaled on the huge smoke stack and be seen going towards the race track with the smoke stack passing through my stomach and my feet sticking away out in the air. After the train had passed, I hollered over, “Hey Fee, I got ten, how many did you get?” (I didn’t “get” ten. I only got five, but I knew that if I had said “I got five”, he would have said “I got eight” but I thought that if I said “I got ten” Felix would never have the gaul to claim a higher number. How could he? There was only ten cars in the train!
But sure as shooting and without blinking an eye, Fee said, ‘”I got twelve.” I hollered back, “You’re a big liar. You couldn’t have gotten twelve because there was only ten cars in that train.” He said, “Yea, but I counted the engine and the coal tender as cars, so I really got twelve.” “Fee”, I said, “You’re a big liar. I saw your stream and you didn’t even get started till the engine and coal tender was past.” He said, “Yea, but I was still going after the last car went by and I COULD have gotten twelve if it wasn’t such a short train.”
Note: The other kid’s name was not Felix! I had to use an alias for him because if his father found out it was him he would give him a licking. This is a true story. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Felix.