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James R. Stout

The Time The Flash and I Rode Out the Storm Together

            Recently I went to a “fair on the square” in a small town in East Texas. There were many booths with vendors selling their many wares. Arts and crafts of all kinds, homemade jewelry, photography and frames, tools all of all kinds, cookware, knick-knacks, antiques of all sizes, and then there was one booth that was filled with old books and old comic books. It was this latter booth that got my attention. I love old books. Heck, I love books no matter when they were printed. I also like many of the old comic books. Not this newer stuff of the past 20 or 30 years though. I mostly like the comic books from the era when I bought them and thought that they were the best 12 cents you could spend.

            The two main genres that I enjoyed were the DC comics featuring superheroes such as Superman, The Flash, The Green Lantern, The Green Arrow, Batman (in the days before he was the Dark Knight), The Legion of Super Heroes (my personal favorite along about 1967 and 1968), and then I liked what was in many ways the precursor to the graphic novels of today. These were known as “Illustrated Classics” and they were basically classic novels that were illustrated like a comic book. Books such as “Ivanhoe”, “The Time Machine”, and “The Last of the Mohicans”.

            So, there I was thumbing through the several boxes of comic books, most of which were too new for me to be interested in, when I came upon an issue of “The Flash” from 1966. I found myself looking at the cover and I remembered owning that comic book when it came out. In fact, I remembered buying it. I was staying with my grandparents for a week that summer and one day Grandma and I went to Huntsville for her to get some sewing supplies. Doggone if it wasn’t even the same square where I would stand looking at that comic book nearly 53 years later. There was a 5 & 10 cent store on the square then. It’s some kind of nail salon now and I cringe every time I drive by it. It just isn’t right being a nail salon. Grandma gave me a quarter and I walked over to that little store to see what I could buy. I had plenty of marbles (I hadn’t lost them yet!), there was no concrete to play with a spinning top and Grandma would never allow me to scar up her floor in the house, I never was a Yo-Yo fan, but there was a display of comic books and like a big ole piece of steel I was drawn to that display as though it was a powerful magnet. There was The Flash beseeching me to “Stop! Don’t pass up this issue. My life depends on it!” It was the August of 1966 issue. Well, The Flash needed my help and what was 12 cents anyway? I also managed to buy 2 packs of baseball cards.

            While I stood at that little booth recently holding that comic book in my hand, I suddenly smelled the strong odor of burning coal oil. They say that sometimes the sense of smell can trigger memories better than just about anything. But in this case the comic book did the triggering and I could smell coal oil burning. This took me back to that day in August of 1966 again.

On the way back to the farm I opened the baseball cards and started to pour over them. About the time we got to Trinity the sky had grown very dark outside. I could tell Grandma was worried. About the only thing that my grandparents feared was bad weather.

            When we got to the farmhouse, I saw the door to the storm shelter was open. That meant that Grandpa was getting ready for a bad blow. Grandma and I parked the truck inside the garage and made our way inside with our few purchases. The old saying about “taking one step forward and two steps back” was just about the way it was with the way the wind was blowing. We got in the house and Grandma hurriedly put her bags down in the dining room. She took off her “go to town” hat and then told me to go around and close the windows almost all the way. You had to leave them open a little to allow for the pressure not to build up and cause them to just shatter inwardly. Grandpa came inside the house from the back and said that he already had some food, a lamp, extra coal oil, and other odds and ends in the shelter. Grandma grabbed some extra blankets out of one of the chifforobes and told me to get three pillows. I stuffed my new comic book inside my pillowcase along with a change of clothes, and I headed for the shelter. Grandma shut the back door and followed me, bent nearly double-over by the wind.

            The storm shelter was a homemade kind of thing. Grandpa had a great big 6-foot diameter metal culvert delivered one day. He had a friend who owned a backhoe come over and they dug a big hole in the ground that was just big enough for that culvert to be rolled over into. It was about half in the ground and half above. Grandpa’s friend then scooped up all the dirt that he had excavated and heaped it on top of the culvert. Grandpa had also gotten a load of dirt from the “John Russell Flats”, a strip of land that just seemed to grow dirt no matter how much you took out of it. He climbed up on top of the culvert and drilled and sawed two openings for vents to allow fresh air to circulate. Then he covered the rest of the top with more dirt. He also built a big wooden frame that fit in the back opening of the culvert. He filled it in with heavy boards and then bricked in the gaps above, below, and on each side. They took that backhoe and packed in dirt on the backend making it pretty much impossible for anything to be blown into that opening.

            Grandpa built a door and door frame and put it in the middle of the front of the culvert. He bricked in around the door frame and also put brick barriers on either side of the door way. After it was built Grandma and Grandpa put a couple of cots, a small table between the cots, and Grandpa built a couple of shelves to stack supplies on.

            And so, it was that day in August of 1966 the three of us piled into that storm shelter. Grandma lit the lamp and set it on the table between the cots. It was positioned so that the fumes would go right up and out of those vents in the roof. Grandpa closed the door and put a wood bar across it. I sat down on one of the cots down by the lamp and took out that Flash comic book. It was a good thing I was young, and my eyesight was good. I don’t think I could read it today under the same conditions! About the time I finished that comic book and had me Three Musketeers candy bar, Grandpa opened up the door and peaked outside. The storm had blown over. Those storms usually didn’t last too long. Still, Grandpa told us to stay put and he went out and surveyed the sky. Then he went and checked to make sure the house was OK. A few minutes later he came back and said it was all clear. The adventure was over.

            Well, it was over until I stood there holding that issue of The Flash a few weeks ago. I could smell that coal oil burning, I could hear the wind howling through the vents in the roof, I could feel the tension that my grandparents were feeling that day, and I had the strangest sensation of the taste of a Three Musketeers bar. I liked to tell you that I bought that issue of The Flash. I was sorely tempted. But the guy in the booth wanted $40 for it. Granted, it was in mint condition, but $40 was just too rich for my blood. I might have paid him $25. Maybe. But I laid it back down in its protective wrapper and walked away. I didn’t find anything that day that I felt I just had to have. Check that. There was one thing that I had to have. I stopped at a little convenience store and got me a Three Musketeers bar. It was sure tasty.

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