A Cultural Awakening in Japan

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Every school day at 7:00 AM, Chip and I walked a mile to a small electric train that took us to the city’s main station. We caught a larger train to a city called Sushi passing a huge statue of Buddha’s mother, Maya, in Ofuna, the site of one of the most hideous concentration camps. Enormous crowds of Japanese workers, professionals, and students shoved the person in front until each car was stuffed. From there we walked to a square and boarded a grey Navy bus to Yokohama High School (YoHi) in time to arrive for our first class at 8:15 AM. The one-hour commute covered thirty miles.

 

On my first trip, I looked around and, for the first time, realized what a member of a racial minority felt like when surrounded by people with backgrounds alien to mine, whose skin and hair color, eyes, foreheads, differed significantly from my features. I studied the faces of the people called “Japs,” in war movies, often depicted as inferior vicious buck-toothed warriors, a “yellow menace,” the allied forces had fought in World War II. Fanatic fascists who would never surrender, President Truman felt compelled to drop two atomic bombs, decimating them like so many insects.

Upon careful inspection, however, each face had a wide variety of unique characteristics. They had long or short noses, relaxed or tightened mouths, and different hair styles. Many wore hats and long, or short dresses, or silk kimonos of all colors, and black school uniforms with white shirts. Others sported three-piece suits with brief cases and wore glasses of every kind imaginable. The males had their hair slicked straight back, wavy, crew cut, or bald. Their skin pigment varied from dark to light, and every shade in between, some were clean-shaven; others had beards or a mustache.

They did not move like the automatons, or simplistic people portrayed in newsreels I had watched. The Japanese stereotypes portrayed in the movies had propagandized and prejudiced me. These people appeared from what was presented to me, as inferior. The Japanese were actually far more complex and distinctive.

When I attempted to communicate in my broken Japanese, they were responsive in either good or broken English, courteous, and welcoming. They seemed delighted when an American boy showed enough interest in their culture to ask a question in elementary Japanese and were as intelligent, industrious, and, often, as athletic as any American. This awareness helped me understand one of life’s greatest lessons: we are all part of one race-the human race. No race, because of any attribute, over which they have no control, stands inferior, or superior, to any other.

   A Cultural Awakening in Japan

Nearby the bronze statue of the Great Buddha majestically rose above stone steps encircled by natural vegetation. A Japanese garden rested behind the immense meditating figure that induced a sense of tranquility from his facial expression, folded hands on his knees, his seated posture, and the ambience of the surroundings. The adjacent Hatchiman Shrine held the Shinto god of war and archery, in an old reddish-orange wood building with a sloping roof.

Located at the top of stone steps on the other side of a park, a long approach formed a tunnel ending at a large vermillion stone entrance with a black lintel known as Torii. For those who follow Shinto, this structure divides the spiritual area within from the profane region beyond. Shaped like two T’s, their trunks straddled the cherry trees, whose white blossoms spread like dancers on branches.  Petal blizzards covered the ground like pink dotted snowflakes mixed with shiny green leaves while gangs of squirrels romped, darted, and danced.

 

Thousands of bystanders watched a traditional spectacle featuring mounted equestrian archers in black shaggy wigs, adorned in hunting costumes of feudal samurai warriors from the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The horsemen shot arrows from quivers slung across their backs as they raced at three targets set up along a straight riding ground eight hundred feet long. The turnip-head arrows made a whistling sound as they flew through the air. The large crowd loudly applauded each time an archer scored a direct hit. They shot, quickly reloaded, pulled out, and launched arrows in a swift coordinated motion. A few hit all three targets that caused a thunderous roar.

  

I shared first trumpet with a senior for the YoHi orchestra and became first trumpet my sophomore year performing solos that made me contribute my individual ability, as well as meld with the orchestra like a teammate. My instrument was a Martin that had gold plating and fancy carvings and Dad played at MPMA while in high school. Chip and I were in the Jazz band that met weekly during lunch playing Glenn Miller’s “Little Brown Jug, “In the Mood,”  “Moonlight Serenade,” and other popular tunes.

Our six feet six inch director, Paul Mayerson arranged for us to collaborate with a Japanese high school’s orchestra on music from both our cultures. We practiced for two weeks in anticipation of the performance. Paul required the males to dress in dark suits, white shirts, and ties. The females wore formal dresses. We all put on our best shoes and made sure they shined. He led us into an auditorium for the performance that buzzed with two languages mixing in a mumbled chatter. We entered in single file down one aisle while our Japanese counterparts marched in an adjacent one in their black school uniforms with white collars. We took every other seat to make room for the Japanese musicians.

I welcomed the Japanese trumpet players on both sides, “Konichi Wa” and they responded, “Good Afternoon.” To my left sat another first trumpeter with a music stand we shared. It seemed to me none of us could converse beyond the simple words we spoke with our language barrier. How could they expect us to read the music, as I hadn’t learned to decipher Japanese calligraphy consisting of Kanji, and Kana? However, our sheet music contained no written language, but only international symbols for notes, emphasis, rhythm, beat, and volume, so a musician from any background could play. Paul had prepared us for another moment of cultural enlightenment.

Gigantic Paul and the diminutive Japanese director, barely five feet in stature, stood before us with raised white batons. My juvenile sense of humor kicked in as I thought they resembled a Great Dane and a Chihuahua at a formal dog show trying to corral a herd of puppies. Total silence ended the idle talk and my smile as our leaders led us for our first piece.

They moved their bodies about with arms changing positions in rhythmic patterns like synchronized dancers. From our first notes to the last, we spoke an international musical language with our instruments that erased our cultural differences while we entertained the audience and ourselves. We played Japanese and American popular and traditional songs to appeal to our multicultural listeners. When we finished, we stood, bowed to the audience, and shook hands with our new friends.

  

Upon leaving I noticed murals depicting the traditional Japanese tea ceremony in the large hall outside the auditorium. One had Buddha seated in a field of flowers with a serene expression on his face. Others had bamboo shoots randomly rising to the blue sky, and a tranquil sunset behind Mt. Fuji. A female host explained, “The Japanese tea ceremony originated in Zen Buddhism. Its guiding philosophy rests on Wa, which means Harmony. Kei - Respect, Sei - Purity, and Jaku - Serenity.” How germane that the images of the display echoed our music? My desire to experience this land’s images and ideals were enhanced by a new harmony within me. My previous prejudice melted into appreciation.

         
                                                                                                         

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Annapolis Jubilation Followed by Pitiless Revenge

   

The final scrimmage for the plebe football team provided the opportunity to make one of the teams that suited up for games at the Navy Stadium. The coaches pitted one made-up plebe team against another. They shuffled the players around until the coaches decided what players made the first three teams to represent Navy out of eight who practiced. This long practice began around 10:00 AM on a Saturday.

My uncle Lewis Groebe, who established himself as a track star, a World War II Army veteran, and a Chicago lawyer, came to watch me play that day. He arrived in Washington, D.C. to visit my father, who could not attend.

I ran out to the field and started a passing drill with a number of players before the coaches had arrived that warmed up my arm passing to about twenty plebes running standard patterns. My spiral passes reached their intended target with few exceptions giving me confidence. After a half an hour the majority of players had gathered in the center of the field where the coach made up teams for a scrimmage. We quickly left the area and scrambled to join the main group.

Since they already had made up some teams, the coaches asked me to quarterback the eighth team. Eventually they called out for the eighth team to take on another team. I led our team to a series of drives both on the ground and with simple passes. At about forty yards from the goal on fourth down, I decided to call a trick play coach Bux taught me at Yokohama High school, which resulted in the winning touchdown in the Japan Championship game. The same play at Duke as a freshman worked for me when I threw a touchdown pass against South Carolina.

Luckily Johnny Sai was my halfback, who ran faster than any back on the plebe team. He stood only 5’ 8,” making him perfect for “The Play.” I told the ends, “Go ten yards straight ahead and then cut to the sidelines, turn toward me, and yell for the ball to get the attention of the defensive backs. Johnny, take a position as a flanker two yards outside our left end and back a few Yards. After the snap run at the left defensive end and block him, roll off, and fall to the ground. Get up and scoot to the right, and up the middle. You should be free from defenders for a pass. On three. Break.”

When the center snapped the ball to me, I ran back to pass and faked a pass to the left end. Both defensive backs raced to the sidelines to cover my decoys who pretended they would receive a pass. Johnny was alone racing up the middle and reached out and snagged my bullet spiral just ahead of him without losing a step and waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown. A cheer rang out from those watching, as that was the first touchdown pass during the game.  An electrifying glow of excitement filled me. That play worked perfectly. The coaches yelled, “Great play! Way to go Johnny. Good pass…” They didn’t know who threw the pass but praised the play. I had not yet registered on their radar.

They gathered us together and chose Johnny and me to join the third team against the second team. We made a series of first downs when I ran the ball on a few end runs, and Johnny ran up the middle and off tackle. We stood about thirty yards from the goal when I described to the new team “the play” briefly in the huddle and put Johnny on the right flank this time and faked to the left end. Both ends carried out their patterns screaming for the ball as required. Johnny blocked the right defensive end, fell to the ground, got up and sped to the middle. Both defenders ran to guard our faking ends leaving Johnny wide open. He grabbed my second spiral bullet pass over his left shoulder and raced into the end zone leaving the deceived defenders behind. Cheers erupted from the crowd applauding the second touchdown pass Johnny had caught from me in fifteen minutes.

Uncle Lewis congratulated me a few feet away from the sidelines after the game. “Danny, you looked great today. Your Dad will be proud when I tell him.”

“I‘m glad you had a chance to see me. They hardly knew my name before today.”

“Not after today, Danny. I’ll bet you make the first team.”Just then, the coaches blew a whistle for us to gather. I raced to join my teammates to listen to the coaches’ instructions. While standing there with the team, coaches, and Uncle Lewis on the sidelines, I felt my decision to come to the Academy, despite the drudgery of plebe year, was right for me. A few players congratulated me making me feel a valued part of the team.

The head coach said, “We’ve filmed the scrimmage game and will study it to select the first three teams next week and pass out uniforms.” That message really excited me since I had played the best fifteen minutes of football in my life—and it was on film!

After the coaches reviewed the film the next Monday, the quarterback coach, Joe Tranchini, a former Navy quarterback a few years back, called me aside, “Lavery, you’ll be our first team quarterback if you memorize these plays this week.” He handed me a two inch stack of plays. “Thanks coach. I’ll get right at it.” My smile beamed from ear to ear.

Headed for Bancroft Hall elated with my good fortune, I entered jogging on the green centerline reserved for plebes carrying my package of plays under my arm. A second classman with stars on his lapel indicating he had a high academic record, appeared abruptly and stared at my name, LAVERY, D. C., stenciled on my white sailor jumper. “Lavery, halt,” he screamed with eyes opened wide. “Did your brother attend the Academy from the class of 1960?”

“Yes, sir,” I said and proudly stood at attention.

“I own you, Lavery,” he yelled in my face. “Come around to my room ready for inspection every time a bell rings in Bancroft Hall. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

He had blonde hair, blue eyes, about my height but slender and appeared extremely dangerous, like a sleek white shark. Thinking of my ability to memorize and follow orders I vowed to show him I could take anything he dished out.  After telling me his room number he said, “Listen to my instructions. Memorize three days menus in exact order, front page of the newspaper, fight songs of every team Navy faces this weekend, and scores of last weekend for every Navy sport. Arrive at my room ready for inspection to recite tomorrow morning and every time a bell sounds.” He darted away and disappeared like a barracuda.

The intense face-off stunned me because I could not believe someone of his status at Annapolis would make me pay for a grudge, especially against my brother. Only a few minutes before this horrific clash, I had experienced one of my highest athletic performances. He placed my status as plebe quarterback in jeopardy unless I could persuade the petty tyrant to leave me alone by showing him I could memorize anything. How could I also memorize the playbook?

Racing back to my room I told my roommates about my game and disaster. Having dodged many of their troubles as a football player until this fortuitous confrontation ripped me apart, I spent all night with a flashlight memorizing each meal on the ten-course menu in order. The senseless task had the minimal value of demonstrating one can memorize trivia, but no one had use for a menu three days old. This was pitiless revenge harassment.

My roommates also memorized meaningless information for upper classmen so I tried to consider it another part of plebe year. My Dad and brother survived the Academy.  So could I. The next day with no sleep, I reported to his room before the morning meal as the bell rang. “Midshipman Lavery fourth class reporting as ordered, sir,” I said at attention prepared to recite everything he requested. He ignored me and prepared for the morning formation shaving and brushing his navy blue uniform. Other plebes reported to his room who stood at attention until he left without saying a word. I double-timed to our formation on the other side of Bancroft Hall and made it as the late bell rang.

The next night staying up in the shower with a flashlight memorizing the required information left me again with no sleep.  At his room ready to respond with all the information he requested before the next meal, once more he paid no attention to me. His method prevented me from showing him my memory was excellent and from pleasing my tormentor.

Monday at football practice I barely had the energy to put on my uniform and run the calisthenics and drills. Of course I had not memorized the plays and disappointed coach Tranchini who must have thought I had lost interest. Plebes weren’t supposed to explain that an upper-classman had detained me for an intensive come-around because we had to say, “No excuse, sir,” when we failed to do as told. My ordeal seemed senseless and surreal. Whatever obstacles others placed before me—even his grossly unfair orders, I had to rise above.

Had I accumulated more experience in problem solving and been wiser about handling traumatic assaults from incorrigible personalities, a simple solution for this dilemma was within my reach. The Academy assigned a first classman to each plebe to assist with any problems during the year. The varsity first string quarterback, Hal Spooner, was my first classman. He roomed with first team All-American Joe Bellino, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy for the most outstanding college football player of the year. Hal and Joe knew of my interest in quarterbacking the plebe team and wanted me to succeed. They would have assisted me had I mentioned any unconscionable interference and would have ended this despicable dispute. My tormenter would not be allowed to disrupt football at Annapolis. However, my stubborn will demanded I must solve my plebe problems without resorting to help from others. Viewing the dilemma as a challenge to my manhood, I didn’t want anyone running interference for me. Determined to make him realize I could do anything he ordered with a flourish, my performance would lead him to respect me once I completed his impossible tasks and won the contest of wills it seemed to me.

After a few more days of driving my body into the ground my health felt awful. I had a fever, sore throat, and reported to sickbay. They did a few tests, concluded I had contracted mononucleosis, and sent me to the hospital for the next five weeks. Plebe football came to a screeching halt and the hospital allowed me ten or more hours of needed sleep, but I was too exhausted to read the first week on heavy medication.

Annapolis Jubilation Followed by Pitiless Revenge

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Val and Chip Join us in Miami

   

My first memory of my brother, Chip, and my sister, Val, occurred when they arrived in Miami by train from Chicago when I was four. They stayed with Dad’s parents during the war when Mom needed a break and had only me to deal with while she recuperated from a serious bout of depression. Mom and I went to meet them to bring them to our home in her blue 1945 Ford coupe. As they walked up to Mom’s car I sat in the back seat playing with a toy car. Val wore a pink ribbon in her neatly kept brown hair and blue dress. At nine years old, she towered over both Chip and me. She took the front seat next to Mom. At nearly six, Chip was taller than me, had a husky build and wore a brown short-sleeved shirt with blue trousers. He jumped into the back seat,  grabbed my toy car, and ran its wheels back and forth over the carpet. No one had ever taken a toy from me before.

“Give my car back.”He ignored me and kept playing. “Chip took my toy car.”

“Give him back his toy and get along while I’m driving,” Mom said.

“Here’s your car, baby,” he said.

Moving far away from him I continued to play with my car aware of a new threat. His size, strength, and attitude intimidated me, and intruded into my peaceful world. Soon we arrived at our home with a large front yard leading to a two story green and white house we called the cottage. Our black Cocker Spaniel, Sheba, licked both of them on the face as they smiled and bent down to greet her. Val hugged her while Chip stroked her back. Both Val and Chip loved animals, so I felt better about them.

Mom bought us a library full of books that we read, or she would read to us. Chip and I decided to rent some of the books to our friends in the neighborhood for a nickel a piece but later learned that one family of friends called us hustlers for doing this.

Val attended an elementary school in a different part of Miami a long distance away from our house. After Mom put Chip on a bus for his school, she took Val to her school and I rode with them. Val’s elementary class chose her to act the part of Peter Pan in their play after a competition. She and Mom picked out the material for her costume and then Mom made it on her sewing machine. Val tried on her green Peter Pan costume and then waltzed around the house preparing for her role. We loved her performance dancing and pretending to fly in Neverland with the fairies and pirates a few weeks later.

After school let out for the summer, Val went back to Chicago to stay with Dad and his parents. Mom had her hands full with all of us, and Val had spent more time with Dad’s parents than any of us so it relieved Mom of the extra pressure and did something Val wanted.

Mom bought me a cardboard castle for my birthday for use to play with my many toy soldiers. She and Chip put the pieces together like a puzzle setting it up. The large grey castle had spires, a stairway up to a second floor, and looked like it was made of many big rocks painted on the cardboard. On the second floor, I set my toy soldiers with guns ready at many turrets and spent hours playing adventures, battles, and plots.

Chip started a fight when I objected to his incessant teasing after my birthday and somehow convinced Mom it was my fault since she saw me swing at him. She had not seen his hard blow to my arm and restricted me to the house while they went out for awhile. In a fit of frustration and anger, I ripped a part of the spire to the castle. Realizing how foolish that was, I continued to play with my soldiers in it until they returned. When Mom she saw the rip in the castle she said, “Danny what have you done to your castle we spent so much time building for you?

“Mom, I made a big mistake and I’m sorry,” I said failing to explain how the fight began with Chip’s punch.

She became so outraged for my temper tantrum, she picked up the castle and threw it in the trashcan, “I hope you learn your lesson not to destroy something others worked so long on for you.”

“Mom please let me play with my castle. I’m very sorry,” I cried out as she took away my favorite plaything. Because I had played with it despite the damage, I pleaded with her to let me retrieve it. Her final decision made me miserable. Mom had limits my tantrum had violated. I vowed never to do such a foolish thing again.

Often I played near a swing Mom had made tied to a tree through a six-foot high hedge that ran south to the street about one hundred feet away. The hedge separated our front yard from busy Biscayne Boulevard another twenty-five feet to the west. As I moved back and forth on the swing, I felt an awful burning sting on my left ear. I felt another on my face and another on my neck. Three wasps stung me at the same time! I screamed as I ran toward home. “Ouch! Oww Ouch! Mom, Mom, wasps stung me!”

   

Mom came to my rescue, “Here, I have just the thing for those nasty wasps.” She knew how to treat the stings with a mixture from the medicine cabinet and placed it on each one, “Now lie down and rest, dear.”I had never experienced anything more painful. I must have disrupted the wasps’ home. “Stay away from the swing until I use a strong spray on the hedge.”

One night right after Mom read a story to Chip and me and tucked us into bed a few weeks later, an excruciating pain struck my left foot as bad as a wasp sting. “OUCH! OOOHWW!” I screamed loudly and started crying.

“What’s wrong?” said Mom as she turned on the light and pulled back the covers. A large dark brown scorpion with a curled tail and two claws scurried away. Mom took me to the bathroom medicine cabinet and treated my pain with the medicine she used on the wasp stings. It calmed me down, but the experience frightened, upset, and hurt me. We searched everywhere for that scorpion pulling all the covers off and using a flashlight under the bed. Eventually Mom said, “It must have run away. Go to bed Danny, and we all need to get some sleep. You’ll feel much better in the morning.”

“OK Mom, I’ll try.” Finally after awhile I drifted off. About a half an hour later, another bite worse than the first one pierced me on the inside of my right arm. “OOOWCH OWOW! It got me again!” Mom and I went through the same drill as before. We began a diligent search for the culprit and found the scorpion tucked in the bed between the sheets and mattress. Mom took a broom to it and after a strong swipe, ended it with a stomp of her shoe.

In a few weeks, I contracted scarlet fever that knocked me out for a couple of weeks in bed. Dr. Lowe came for a house visit and gave Mom the instructions on how to handle this situation. “Danny’s fever has risen to 104. I’m forced to place the house under quarantine. Danny must stay inside until we lift the quarantine.” With the medications, ice packs, lots of iced lemonade, water, and good soups, I slowly got better and the fever broke.

Mom said, “What can I get for you to eat at the store now that Dr. Lowe says you can have something you really want?”

After considering the matter and remembering Thanksgiving dinner as one of the best meals Mom ever fixed, I said, “A turkey sandwich with cranberries and mayonnaise.” In an hour, Mom came back from the store with a scrumptious turkey sandwich, French fries, and a glass of seven up. That meal tasted wonderful, as I had not eaten a full meal for two weeks.

Mom smiled after I finished my fabulous meal, “Danny, you can go outside and play tomorrow. You look like you’ve fully recovered. Go to sleep and tomorrow you’ll be playing with Chip again. The quarantine is over.”

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A Kidnapping in San Diego

In the summer of 1948 Dad moved us to a Navy base twenty miles from San Diego. Val, Chip, and I lived with him, Gammie, Poppy, and Dad’s sister, Aunt Jane in a three-bedroom olive-drab Quonset hut of wood siding, 20 feet by 48 with tongue-and-groove wood floor. The infrequent rain echoed on the curved tin roof. Dad had ignored the Florida order requiring him to send us to Mom for the summer. She came to visit us in Vallejo and found no one at home. She learned where the Navy moved Dad and arrived at the hut in her rented car after Dad had left for work in his khaki Navy Uniform.

Mom knocked on the door. Chip swung it open with me behind. Mom’s blue eyes, a wide smile, and her mellow voice welcomed us and filled me with joy, “Would you like to come to Miami?”

“Yes,” I exclaimed.

“Me too,” Chip added. We ran to her waiting arms, hugged, and kissed her, and got into her rental car.

Aunt Jane heard the commotion and came outside flustered by the turn of events. “Your father will be angry when he comes home this afternoon,” she yelled.

So glad to see Mom and go to Miami, we ignored Aunt Jane’s plea. “Get down out of sight,” Mom said, fearing Dad would have police searching for us. Such a change of custody would be kidnapping except Mom’s right of visitation allowed self-help before courts honored sister-state’s divorce decrees avoiding the expense of another court order.

She drove us to San Diego and returned the car to a rental agency.

She hailed a taxi to the train station where we scrambled onto a train headed for Miami.

A Kidnapping in San Diego   

Chip and I played cards with Mom in the lounge car, eating sandwiches, drinking root beer or coke, and watching the open spaces, hills, and valleys across California and Arizona until we were tired and went to sleep in the sleeper car. We climbed into bunk beds, Mom kissed us goodnight and we closed the curtains. Soon we drifted asleep to the rocking and rolling of the train.

   

Three days later we transferred to the Orange Blossom Special for Miami. Grampa and Ruthie met us at the  station, hugged and kissed us, and drove us to our home on N.E. 34th street. My prayers had finally been answered: I would live with Mom, Chip, and Sheba at “the cottage.” Ruthie and Grampa were close by. It did not take Chip much time to interrupt this heavenly atmosphere by verbally teasing and physically bulling me. Name calling was his favorite. I was a “puner” or a “weakling.” If I ignored him, he would pound his fist into one of my shoulders to annoy me, but unknowingly he was making me tougher.

One day when we both were visiting Ruthie and Grampa, I complained about Chip’s verbal harassment. Ruthie suggested a way of dealing with hurtful words: “When Chip teases you, think of the words ‘duck’s back.’ Nature provides oil on duck feathers to prevent water from making it cold. They preen their feathers to spread the oil on. Water rolls off their backs when they waddle onto land or when they come to the surface. When Chip calls you a hurtful name, remember the duck’s back and let the words roll off like water rolls off a duck.”

   

Ruthie’s wisdom helped me realize Chip’s words could no longer hurt me. I was in control of my emotions with a simple strategy, which improved my relationship with Chip because when he could not provoke me. He either ignored me, or found a way to include me in a game or other activity.

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Train on a Trestle Races at Dan

  

Behind our Chevy Chase house when I was nine was a natural playground to explore with my friends that became a forest as we wandered deeper into our make-believe fantasy land. It contained American Holly, Pin Oak, American Chestnut Trees and many shrubs that provided a natural landscape to explore. We pretended we were soldiers, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood, or anyone our imagination desired. After about one half mile, Rock Creek crossed through our woods that eventually became Rock Creek Park. An elevated railroad track twenty feet above the neighboring backyards stood behind our house that kept slowly rising as the land sloped to the creek. A train trestle allowed the trains to travel over the creek with a drop of about two hundred feet. Large rocks and boulders rested in, and around, the small river that ran all the way to Washington D.C.

   

One day when Chip and I played cowboys and Indians with five friends, we decided to walk over the trestle. I trailed behind the group to throw rocks into the creek, and use a stick to hit the rocks pretending they were baseballs. They had walked nearly to the other side of the trestle when a train whistle wailed. A large locomotive with a plume of puffy smoke trailing behind was chugging right at me.

           

The noise quickly increased by the second as the train rushed toward me fifty yards away clickity-clacking and caused the trestle to rattle, shake, and creak. I could never reach the other side where Chip and the others approached before the train would be on me. They started running. Chip yelled, “Hurry, the train is at the trestle!” I decided to run to the nearest safety ramp attached to the trestle in the direction of the train that was barreling at me and raced on the wood planks between the tracks at the on-coming train. The conductor frantically waved a red flag and sounded a loud whistle. The ramp provided my only chance. If I failed, the train would throw me into the creek below to certain death on the rocks.

   

As the train approached the dangerous choice I had made shot an enormous fear through me. The train was only ten feet away. Just then, I jumped off my right foot, flew and twisted to the left onto the ramp, and landed on my side, slamming my elbow and knee on the wooden planks like a flat baseball bat smacking my limber body. The steel mass rumbled past with its whistle screeching and smoke puffing like a monster lunging at me. Chip told me later that he screamed, “Move your foot” because it looked from his view like it was still on the track.

Due to the booming blast of the train I never heard Chip’s warning but luckily moved my foot as the train zoomed past. With a bloody elbow and knee, I smiled for my survival.The conductor shook his head in dismay and wore a scowl on his face for my foolishness. My heart thumped wildly from the narrow escape that cheated death. Years later I took my family for a visit to Chevy Chase and showed them the spot. Although they originally thought I had embellished the “story” when I first told it to them, they were astonished at the dangerous and long drop.

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