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James R. Stout

Maple Street Memories

            From May of 1963 through October of 1966 our family lived in Bryan, Texas. We moved there because my parents wanted to escape the big city of Houston and all that goes with living in a big city. Dad started his own piano tuning and repair business when we moved to Bryan. He had been working for two major piano companies for the previous 14 years, both located in Houston. He wanted to be his own boss and to do more piano refurbishments as opposed to being the shop foreman for the company he was at.

            Bryan, Texas is about 80 miles from my grandparent’s farm. So, we were actually closer to them by about 30 miles after we moved. We went to my grandparent’s and spent a weekend with them about every 4 or 5 weeks. It was always looked forward to by us all. Not only did we get to visit Grandma and Grandpa, we also got to be out in the country and experience some the simpler ways of life. Those trips from Bryan to the farm took about 2 hours to drive due to it was mostly two-lane highways, 65 mph speed limit (60 mph at night), and the last 5 miles was on dirt roads. We loved those drives. One of the highlights on those trips was my mother reading us short stories from assorted collections. Our favorite two books of short stories were “Alfred Hitchcock’s Collection of Short Stories” by various authors and “Twilight Zone Short Stories” that were the short story form of several of the old “Twilight Zone” television series episodes. Some were just good ole suspense stories and some were science fiction. I always had to sit in the middle of the back seat between my older sisters which they felt was only fair. Truth be told, I didn’t mind at all. Why? For one thing I could lean forward and rest my head on my arms on the back of the front seat. This allowed me to get the full effect of the under the dash A/C in our car. It was a dealer add on and a lifesaver in the hot and humid air of East Texas. The other reason I didn’t mind sitting in the middle was I could lean forward and listen all the better to my mother as she read to us.

            This may sound antiquated to you today. My granddaughters have some kind of iPad or Kindle thingamajig each and they wear headphones when my daughter’s family drives somewhere. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that and I certainly remember how nice it was to get some peace and quiet on road trips when my kids were young, but those things by design separate families in these situations. Having my mother read those stories to us was a family bonding time. There’s just no comparison.

            One of the stories that I remember best was called “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”. It was originally an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in 1959 and it was written by Rod Serling. It was all about a nice quiet small-town neighborhood that gets invaded by aliens with two heads. You read that right. It may sound silly, but you really should read the story. It is consistently voted as one of the Top 10 best episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and as everybody knows, reading a story is always better than the movie or TV version. That story had us on the edge of our seats. In my case, quite literally. I remember Mom reading it to us and she always made the stories come alive. Once in a while Dad would make a comment or two about something that happened in the story. When Mom finished reading the story it left us all with a great feeling. We would talk about the story, rehash it a bit, what-if it a bit, and generally relive the telling a bit. We barely noticed that an hour had gone by and we were that much closer to the farm.

            I guess my point to this blog entry is that families of today are missing out on wonderful times and memories to be made by not doing simple things like this. I know some retired people who purchase CD’s of books and listen to them on road trips. That’s a pretty good way to get close to what I’m talking about, but there’s something so very special when a loving parent reads aloud to their children. It’s even more special when it’s done on a road trip inside a car because there’s a camaraderie that is enjoyed.

            When my mother passed away a year ago, we had to go through all of her stuff and decide what to keep, what to give away, and in some cases who to donate some of it to. She had quite a library packed into two large built-in bookshelves in her house. When I went through those books two of the books that I found were those two short story collections. Well, you can probably guess who got to keep those! I’m thinking that perhaps there will be a time when I can read some of those stories to my granddaughters. I can only hope that I can read them as well as my mother did and make some wonderful memories for those girls. They both already have a love for reading and perhaps they will enjoy having their Paw-Paw read to them the same stories that my mother read to us. I urge all young parents to take time out of your busy lives and do things like this with their children. I know that it’s tempting to put a DVD on and let the kids watch that while you do something else. But I guarantee you that if you read to them and create that bond you will enrich not only your own life, but your children’s lives for the rest of their life.

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