More Reflections by Ralph Slatton
After several visits to Larry's house, I became acquainted with his family, his sister, Bonnie; his younger brother, Gene; and his father, William. I wasn't too acquainted with Franklin, his older brother, or the step mother and her children. I didn't have a good impression of her, because she was often harsh and loud, especially to Larry. Of all the family members, I would guess that Bonnie and Larry had the closest relationship.
It appeared that the family made a living doing odd jobs, mostly in farming. Bonnie worked at the Singer Co. and had her own apartment in downtown Trumann. Franklin didn't live in Trumann; I vaguely remember references that he had an apartment in Jonesboro. Larry's dad was devout and held strict expectations for his family. As a result, Larry was discouraged from movie theatres, and also from reading some horror books. But luckily, he was allowed to collect comic books and pursue his drawing interests. I got the impression that T.V. was tolerated to an extent, but his dad generally diapproved of it. I remember a conversation I had with his dad. He believed that he could tell if someone was devil possessed by looking into their eyes. He claimed that the movie star, Bette Davis, was possessed.
Larry and I had common religious beliefs. He was a member of the Church of God and I attended the Trumann Revival Center. Both these churches were Pentecostal, practicing the act of speaking in tongues. We went to several tent revivals, one in Jonesboro, AR. On one occasion, I spent the night at Larry's house. I'm a little unclear as to whether Steve was with us then. The exact details are difficult to recall, but Larry and I probably read comic books and talked about the stories and artists. However, sometimes during the night, Larry became gravely ill, no doubt from earlier exposure to walking through muddy fields. He had fever and nausea. After Larry went to bed, his dad entered his room to pray for him. The prayer was loud and was mostly done in "unknown tongues," with "laying on of hands," common practices of the Pentecostal religion.
Eventually, Bonnie and my sister, Sakae, became good friends. Bonnie was very likeable and simplistic in her wants. She spoke with a southern accent and slightly stuttered when she became agitated. She liked to talk about dating and marriage, voicing her own needs in these areas. Once, we were all gathered at her apartment. Larry was engrossed with a Star Trek episode, The Mark of Gideon. Bonnie chastised Larry that he should get out more and commented he shouldn't be watching a show depicting women with such skimpy clothing. She finally talked him into going with us to Indian Mall in Jonesboro. I only remember a few instances Larry mentioned lady friends. However, he tended to be a little shy, and being poor probably didn't help matters.
All of us enjoyed going for drives in Bonnie's new green Chevy, which always held the strong scent of her hairspray. We sometimes drove to Craighead Forest and around the back roads off Hwy 69. I remember one time we cruised by Pine Hill Cemetery at night. I bragged that I would love to see a ghost. Larry challenged back that we should stop the car immediately and let Ralph out.
Early one afternoon, Larry and I hiked down the railroad, through some muddy fields, eventually reaching our destination, the city dump. We looked through the mounds of discarded furniture, appliances, piles of cans and general garbage. Larry enjoyed lifting large rocks and slinging them into other heaps of trash. These would make crashing sounds, smashing into glass bottles and tin cans. Larry was pretending to be a superhero, exaggerating the motions of lifting and hurling, as though the rocks were massive. The caretaker of the dump must have heard us. He yelled across the landfill and told us to leave. Larry had found something in the trash earlier and was leaving with the object. The caretaker told him to throw that down.
As we were crossing the fields on our journey back home, Larry seemed troubled by the incident. He said something profound. He could not believe there were people in this world who would fight over things other people threw away. There was a kind of sadness to this incident. It reminded me of the mild nature of Larry, compared to the loud people of the world. For this reason, he often became emotionally distraught by those in authority, people like teachers, employers, family members, and those in religion.
One such example was a memory shared by Steve and me. We occasionally mentioned it over the years, only in passing, whenever our conversation drifted to the topic of Larry. Maybe, in some way, we were trying to reclaim some sense of fairness that the passage of time would no longer allow. I remember that this particular incident happened in Larry's English class. This occurred after class, while Larry was standing at the teacher's desk. The teacher was chewing him out for some poor effort on his part. He started swaying and she realized he was about to pass out and had him sit down, or maybe even lay down. I don't recall if they took him to the office or the school nurse (if there was one). I also can't recall what his attitude was when he was telling us, if he was amused or still concerned or what. Larry was trusting and wanted to do what was right. He did his best, but this was not always recognized by those over him. I sensed that this affected his performance at school. It should also be noted that the time he devoted to his artwork and church left very little toward his school work.
Without a doubt the most memorable outing with Larry was when he invited us to spend the
weekend at his grandparents' farm in Haynes, Arkansas. We left in Bonnie's car on November 10, 1967, on a Friday, just after school. Her passengers were Larry and his father, Gene, Sakae, and me. For some reason, Steve was not with us for this trip. Also missing were Larry's comic books and his drawing supplies. One could speculate that he wanted to avoid the possible criticisms from his stricter grandparents.
At the time, rural Haynes seemed like a distant place, maybe like the fantasy landscapes found in The Wizard of Oz or Twilight Zone. It had a charming look, with the old country store, and open areas to explore, people riding on horses, hidden churches, burnt-out homesteads, fragrance of hay, and sounds of cows. I'm sure much of my memory is idealized, as more recent visits have proven Haynes to be flat and ordinary.
The person who greeted us was Larry's grandfather, Jessie B. Danehower, a minister in the Church of God. He was a stout, tall man, with ruddy complexion. He appeared to have a lump or swell on one side of his face. His hair was thinning or light. He wore bibbed jean overalls and a white shirt. I don't remember too much about the grandmother, other than she seemed quiet most of the time. The house was two stories, appearing pretty typical of an old farmhouse. It was probably built by Larry's great-grandfather, which would make it about a hundred years old today The entrance of the house was a screened back porch. Sakae recalls a large player piano there. The house had a formal dining room, and also a smaller eating area. There was one bathroom downstairs; its door locked using a hooked latch, like those found on screen doors. The house had two or more bedrooms upstairs, with three gabled windows on one side of the house. I'm sure there were bedrooms downstairs, but we didn't have occasion to see those.
The house sat at the intersections of Hwy 131 and Lee Rd. Across the road, was a general store, which had a full front porch. The front posts were further supported with cross rails. Because of the the numerous horse riders we saw, I got the impression they were there to tie off the horse reins. The appearance of the store reminded me of a tack store, where one might also purchase clothes and leather goods. After so many years, I can't say for sure if this was the case.
That night, we drove about 10 minutes down a gravel road to visit Larry's cousins. One of the girl cousins was playing with a chemistry set when we first entered the house. We watched a new Star Trek episode, The Immunity Syndrome, about a giant amoeba creature in space. I remember how I was impressed by the bright colors on the screen. To see the rainbow-like colors of the amoeba was like going to a movie theatre. The fact that my family had never owned a color TV made this occasion even more special. On the drive back, we talked about a phantom lady dressed in white, known to cross this particular stretch of road in front of travelers. I'm sure we were trying to stretch out the night's entertainment, taking full advantage of the dark lonely road and the need for further adventure.
We spent most of Saturday hiking the gravel road that looped seven or eight miles around the farm. The route was lined with hedge rows and trees, with a variety of cow pastures and forests on either side. It's funny how the mind plays tricks. I now know Haynes to be flat country, but at the time of our hike, the landscape felt rolling and mysterious. Had we stayed with the road, it would have eventually looped back to the farmhouse. Instead, we became tired so we decided to take a shortcut across the pasture land. Larry was concerned that we might encounter a bull in one of the fenced areas. We proceeded cautiously, traversing many fence rows; we came across a burned out farmhouse. All that was left was the brick chimney and charred framework. We also saw a church in the forests along the way. I had the impression that it could be abandoned. We finally got back to the main road and were not too far from the Grandparents' house. A guy on horseback came up behind us. He made a comment, referring to Bonnie, "That one there doesn't look like she's going to make it."
After the walk, Larry gave me a tour of the farm around the house. Judging from the farm implements parked around the house, this appeared to still be a working farm. Larry showed me the electric pump house and the flywheel that mangled one of his fingers when he was younger. Larry and I spent the remainder of the afternoon sword fighting with dried corn stalks, pulled from the garden. About that time the sun was beginning to set and we were called in to eat. We had Sloppy Joes.
We went to bed early, maybe about 9:30. Sakae and Bonnie were in one of the upstairs bed rooms and Larry, Gene, and I in the other. Before sleeping, we spent some time cleaning mud off our shoes. We didn't have shoe polish, so I suggested that we use machine oil to polish them. Larry's Dad said that it would only kill the shine, but would keep them from drying out. Gene used some of the oil to lubricate the bed frames, as they squeaked much when we sat on them. Even though it was cool, I think we kept the windows open, because I remember hearing the cows that night.
Although Steve and I tried to visit the farm at a later date, the Grandparents were upset about something, so that never came to pass. However, Sakae and Bonnie did make a future trip.
A good ending to my remembrance of Larry, would be to list some of the things he enjoyed. I've already established the fact that he obsessed over art, comic books, monster magazines, and science fiction. I have no doubt that he would have become a well-known comic book illustrator today, had he lived to be my age.
The church was very important to him and he was active in services and teachings. As part of this, he enjoyed singing religious music. He performed several times in front of his congregation. His favorite song was He Looked Beyond My Faults, by Dottie Rambo. This song has the same tune as the more famous ballad, Danny Boy. Because the song's high ending, it required Larry to use an unnatural falsetta voice. Larry was much better with, Swing Down Sweet Chariot, and sung it in its characteristic low spiritual style. Sometimes when he visited my house, he would record his voice on my Concord reel-to-reel, with stereo tracks. He liked mimicking different character voices. One summer afternoon, Steve and several other friends joined Larry at the mike. We spent hours reading dialogue from comic books and attempting to ad-lib some humorous skits.
One of Larry's favorite paperbacks was Strange Creatures from Time and Space, by John Keel. This was a book about unknown creatures like big foot, men in black, and extraterrestials. I think Larry liked it especially because Frank Frazetta illustrated its cover. Another favorite was a 75 cent Dell paperback, How to Draw the Human Figure, by John Grabach. It was a basic drawing book which contained step by step instruction, using the blocking techniques made popular by George Bridgman. Larry referenced it when drawing his comic book figures.
Larry was very acrobatic. He used to say that he would never let himself get like his Dad, referring to his Dad's portly physique. One of Larry's favorite physical activities was swinging from a tree limb in my backyard. He would treat the limb like a gymnast's high bar, doing backward and forward rolls with his body. In another activity, he would swing from a rope and release it, and with one arm, catch the branch of a neighboring tree. I've also seen Larry run straight towards a tree, continuing his momentum, as he climbed its trunk using only his feet. It would not be much of a stretch to think that Larry was mimicking some of the super heroes, who were so much a part of his life.
Although its been over 40 years, I will always remember Larry for his mild personality and artistic exuberance. We all shared a special time, each being on the cusp of our independence. Despite having known Larry a very short time, his memories seem to fill many summers of countryside jaunts, comic book art, and convoluted tent revivals.