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Laughing through Life
By Larry Moran
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Larry Moran
All rights reserved.
GROWING UP IN INDIANA IN A FAMILY OF TEN CHILDREN
I grew up in Indiana — at least that's where I spent my youth. My wife claims I still haven't grown up. She's probably right, and I'm proud of it. I have a really old body and face, but my mind, heart, and soul are young.
Several things played important parts in my life. Let me begin by saying that sex, crime, vast family riches, political power and corruption, and international intrigue — that is espionage — played no part in my life whatsoever. Well, sex did, once. Not mine, but that of my parents when they conceived me. Actually, they didn't conceive of me, or they might not have had sex that time.
Carmel, Indiana, where I spent much of my youth, could have been the setting for the movie A Christmas Story. One freezing winter day, I licked a metal pole — don't ask me why, because I don't know — and my tongue stuck to it. It hurt a lot. No one said I was a smart kid. My father had one of those lamps shaped like a woman's leg. Actually, that was my lamp when I was seventeen years old, and I still have it.
Small towns are great because the gossip keeps you up on all the mischief involving everyone in town. Unfortunately, because we were the largest family in Carmel, much of the gossip was about us.
Growing up in a family with ten children was like being in a large litter of puppies around feeding time. There was great chaos and a good deal of pushing and shoving trying to get food, but when dinner was over, there was plenty of loving playfulness and happiness.
I am the second oldest in a family of ten children, six boys and four girls: Carole, me, Howard, Kenny, Gail, Peggy, Kathy, Shawn, Danny, and Jimmy. The fact that there are ten children in our family should tell you that my mother and father weren't entirely sane. And we didn't have a large family because my parents were Catholic. Our large family was the result of my mother's poor hearing. Every night when they went to bed, my father leaned over and whispered in my mother's ear, "Do you want to go to sleep or what?" Not hearing well, she frequently answered, "What?"
We were as normal as a family of twelve could be. Mom and Dad played games with us — like Uncle Wiggily, Sorry, and canasta — and helped us assemble jigsaw puzzles on our dining room table. Once Dad bought Howard, Kenny, and me a Lionel electric train set but insisted that he be with us when we used it. He said he didn't want us to electrocute ourselves or set the house on fire, but we suspected he enjoyed playing with the train set as much as we did.
Our first house in Carmel was quite small for a family our size. It had three floors — a basement; the first floor with a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms; and an attic, where Howard, Kenny, and I slept. Mom and Dad had one of the first-floor bedrooms, and Carole and Gail shared the other when we first moved there. Before we moved from the house, Carole shared the bedroom with Gail, Peggy, and Kathy, and infant Shawn's crib was in Mom and Dad's bedroom. We clearly had a full house.
In 1955, we moved diagonally across the street to our second Carmel home. This house, one of the oldest in town, had been built in the late nineteenth century. Much larger than our first home, it had four levels — a basement; a first floor with a living room, dining room, TV room, kitchen, a bathroom (of sorts), and only one bedroom where our parents slept; a four-bedroom second floor where all us kids slept; and an attic. The attic was used primarily for storage, but it also was the home of the family ghost, Mr. Fisher. I'll talk more about Mr. Fisher later. The house's exterior was made of cut stone, and its interior walls were made of plaster. The backyard was smaller than that of our first home, but it too had a swing set, and we played baseball and football in the backyard. Because the house was much larger than the previous one, it better accommodated our large and growing family.
Like other families, we had pets, dogs mostly. Our first pet and my favorite was a mutt named Ginger, with a lot of golden retriever in her. She was sweet, gentle, and as good a friend as a six-year-old boy ever had. Another family favorite was Foxy. Foxy was also a mutt, but he had fox terrier blood.
A family pet we didn't like was King, a large, fearsome, and at times vicious dog that Dad had bought from a man for ten dollars. Perhaps Dad thought King would provide protection for our family. If so, things didn't work out as he expected. King frightened the man who delivered fuel oil to our house, so the man sprayed him with oil and refused to deliver oil to our house unless King was tied up or penned. King also frightened our postmen, milkmen, bread men, and other people who weren't members of our family. Even we kids were afraid of the dog. We tried keeping King in the basement, but that wasn't a long-term workable solution. Nor was it fair for a dog of King's size to be cooped up like that. Finally, Dad returned King to the man who had sold him. The man wasn't thrilled to get the dog back, so Dad had to pay him to take King off our hands. Dad, who didn't like spending money, was pretty unhappy that he had to put out money to get and then to get rid of King.
That wasn't the only time Dad had trouble with a dog. Once his father — our grandfather — went on a trip and asked Dad to watch his old hound dog. Dad brought the dog home along with a bag of dog food he had found in the shop area of our family's electrical-contracting business. The hound didn't like the dog food, but he ate it. There's little wonder that the dog didn't like the "food." It turned out to be cement mix. Fortunately, the dog didn't die.
While he didn't always deal well with dogs, Dad knew how to handle the demands of ten children. On many summer Sunday afternoons, we all piled into our car — a sizable, copper-colored Plymouth station wagon — and took drives just for the fun of it. Motoring down country roads, Dad accelerated as we zoomed over hills, giving us kids a thrill. "Do it again!" we'd holler, and he would. Most of those drives ended in Noblesville, the Hamilton County seat, located some fifteen miles northeast of Carmel, at a Blue Ribbon Ice Cream Shop, where we all got an ice cream cone. Dad had learned early on the problem he would face if he asked each of us kids what flavor of ice cream we wanted, so as he stepped from the car to order our treats, he would simply ask, "What flavor of orange-pineapple ice cream does everyone want?" Without waiting for answers, he'd go to the window and order cones with two scoops of orange-pineapple ice cream for everyone in the family. No one complained, because we all liked orange-pineapple ice cream and enjoyed the family outing.
A drive over bumpy country roads was the setting for another family story. Late in 1943, when Mom was very pregnant, Dad wanted to ensure he got a tax exemption for the coming baby. So Dad took Mom for a ride in the country, where he made sure to "fly" over every hill in the road. His ploy worked. I was born on December 28 of that year.
When we moved to Carmel in 1951, the town had a population of five hundred people. For a few years, the population never changed. Whenever a baby was born, some man had to leave the town.
Carmel was a quiet little town. On most nights, there wasn't a person on the streets. You might wonder if Carmel had a town curfew. Well, at one time it did, but most people in town complained that the nine o'clock curfew whistle woke them, so the curfew was suspended for a couple of years.
Surrounded by farmland, Carmel had a grain elevator on its western border, where locally produced grain was loaded onto trains. The town had only one traffic light, and its business district — or downtown, as we called it — consisted of a bank, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a dime store, and a barber shop. McMahan's Market was one of those old-fashioned types, where you presented a list to the grocer behind a counter and waited while he gathered and bagged or boxed the requested items. Actually, Carmel wasn't that quiet on days when Mom sent my older sister, Carole, and me downtown to the grocery store, because we pulled behind us our little red Radio Flyer wagon, which was sorely in need of oiling. We squeaked and rattled four blocks to the store and back, all the while neighbors were saying to other neighbors, "There go the Moran kids downtown to the grocery store."
Downtown Carmel also had a pool hall — a shabby, dark, and mysterious place that stood across the street from the grocery store. We kids were told that only bad people went in there, and we were forbidden from even looking in or walking on the sidewalk in front of the pool hall. If it was necessary to pass the pool hall, we were to cross the street before doing so to avoid being corrupted by close proximity. These exhortations scared us, and we gave the pool hall a wide berth.
Two churches — a Methodist and a Friends, or Quaker — were located within a couple of blocks of the downtown area. Both were social as well as religious centers of the town, and families didn't segregate themselves along religious lines.
Although peace and quiet mostly reigned in Carmel, there were times when chaos broke out. One summer afternoon, someone tied one end of a rope to a metal kitchen chair and the other end of the rope to a donkey named Pookoo and then set him loose. The sound of the chair clanging loudly behind him frightened Pookoo, so he ran wildly through the streets of town. We Moran children knew the donkey was running out of control and thought he had gone mad, perhaps with rabies. We also knew Pookoo had a chair tied to him but thought that was an accident or that someone had tied the chair to Pookoo in hopes that the donkey would pull him or her but had then fallen off the chair and fled when Pookoo had run wild. We kids ran inside our home to hide from the "mad" donkey, until finally someone caught Pookoo and freed him of his burden. So the incident of the crazed donkey ended without anyone getting hurt, and Carmel returned to its state of sleepy little town.
With the charm of Mayberry, Carmel would have made Opie, Aunt Bea, Andy, and Barney feel at home. Its streets were lined with maples, oaks, elms, and willows, and though narrow, the streets were well maintained, as were the yards that surrounded mostly modest homes in the town. In the spring and summer, Carmel was mostly green, but in the fall it was on fire with yellow, orange, and red.
Floyd's Barber Shop (in Mayberry) could have been modeled after Buck's Barber Shop, which eventually expanded to three chairs, in Carmel. In our teen years Howard, Kenny, and I got our hair cut there, and it was where the town's men gathered to gossip, a bit about local happenings and politics but mostly about Carmel High School's basketball and football teams.
When we first moved to Carmel, we rarely used Buck's Barber Shop. Our dad didn't like to spend money, and one way to avoid it was by cutting his sons' hair. That he did. But when he was done, we looked as if he had put a cereal bowl over our heads and snipped around its edges with a pair of scissors. It looked like that because that's what he did. At some point, Mom took over the haircutting task. By that time, Howard and I were old enough to complain about how our hair looked and how the hair down our backs itched. Mom tried to modernize her haircutting methods by buying a device that was part comb and part razor blade. The concept was that as Mom combed our hair, the razor blade cut it, and the comb made the cutting even. With the new implement, our heads didn't look like we'd gotten the cereal bowl treatment, but our haircuts were still far from professional, and as the razor blade dulled, it pulled our hair out as much as it cut it. Ouch! I started spending some of my newspaper-route money at Buck's Barber Shop, but Howard was less willing to spend his money on a haircut. Like Dad, Howard didn't like spending money, so Mom continued to cut his hair. Once she attempted to give Howard a Hollywood burr haircut — short all over the head with a little bit of bangs in the front that he hoped to comb into a curl at the top of the forehead. Mom did her best, but the next day when Howard was on his Indianapolis News paper route and stopped at Buck's Barber Shop to deliver a newspaper, Buck gave Howard a hat to wear when he left, saying, "We can't have you leaving here and people thinking you got that haircut from us." Howard was embarrassed, but Mom laughed and told the story for more than fifty years.
The Carmel First National Bank sat prominently in front of Carmel's only traffic light at the intersection of the town's two main streets, Range Line Road and Main Street. Next door to the bank was another of Carmel's important institutions, Brown's Pharmacy. This was where residents bought medication, magazines, bobby pins, Band-Aids, and hundreds of other items not available at the grocery store. Brown's also had a soda fountain counter and several booths where folks could refresh themselves with sodas or ice cream desserts on a hot summer day. Teenagers occasionally populated the counter or booths, but Brown's was not a hangout for them.
Our neighborhood was quiet at night but teemed with kids during the day. In addition to our ten, there was a full complement of neighbor children, including Fred Doerr, Carol and Steve Hinshaw, Brian and Brent Peak, Joe Wodock, and Dave and Glenn McManama. They were our best friends and the ones with which we most often played, but there were others. Dave Cooper, who lived near the McManamas, was only a year older than me, but he didn't spend much time with us, because he didn't think it was cool to hang around with younger kids. He did play in some of our basketball and baseball games, though. He was a good baseball player and later played on Carmel High School's baseball team. But what we most remembered about him was a different talent. Dave was revered by neighborhood kids for his belching. He could belch on command, hold a belch for a long time, and even talk and belch at the same time. My brother Jimmy developed a comparable talent in his adult life.
Not all kids in the neighborhood were our friends, and one in particular was disliked by all the other neighborhood kids: Charlie. Joe Wodock was Howard's age, and he had a brother who was Kenny's age. Joe and Howard were friends and played games in which they pretended to be Davy Crockett, Superman, cowboys, and other heroes. Charlie, who lived behind the Wodocks in an upstairs apartment that was above a dentist's office on Range Line Road, was an obese bully. Because of the proximity of his home, he targeted the Wodock boys more often than the Moran boys, but we weren't excluded from his abuse. All the neighborhood kids wanted to stop Charlie's bullying, but he was so large and mean that none of us could take him on alone. So late one afternoon, several of us — Joe Wodock, his brother, David McManama, Fred Doerr, Howard, and I — concocted a plan that we felt would do the trick. If Charlie started bullying Joe or his brother that afternoon, we would join together to give Charlie a beating that would discourage him from future aggression. Just before Charlie was expected to show up, David, Fred, Howard, and I hid in the window wells around the Wodock house. According to our plan, if Charlie started bullying one of the Wodock boys, those of us hiding would jump from the window wells and lay into Charlie. As expected, while Joe played in his backyard, Charlie arrived and started harassing him. Joe was about to give the signal to attack when my sister Carole arrived in the Wodocks' yard and yelled, "Larry and Howard, you have to come home for dinner, now." Charlie was stunned when David, Fred, Howard, and I magically appeared from the window wells. He didn't get a beating that day, but he did get the message. He went home and didn't bother the Wodock brothers or any other neighborhood boys quite as often as before. So the Moran gang in Carmel worked for good without using violence, while the Moran gang in Chicago worked for evil. Eat your heart out, Bugsy.
Excerpted from Laughing through Life by Larry Moran. Copyright © 2015 Larry Moran. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Growing Up in Indiana in a Family of Ten Children, 1,
Chapter 2 Mom Saves a Tree, 17,
Chapter 3 Howard Sees an Alien from Outer Space, 31,
Chapter 4 Keeping Carole out of Poverty, 53,
Chapter 5 My Life of Crime, 63,
Chapter 6 Building Kenny's Temper, 89,
Chapter 7 No Lawyers in the Family, Please, 97,
Chapter 8 Hoosier Hysteria, 135,
Chapter 9 Love Is a Many-Spooky Thing, 151,
Chapter 10 Don McDonald Declares His Love, 167,
Chapter 11 The Magic of Christmas, 187,
Chapter 12 Wings, 203,
Chapter 13 David Appleby and the English Crumpet, 213,
Chapter 14 Media Star, 229,
Chapter 15 Brother Danny Makes a Speech, 237,
Chapter 16 Avoiding Disaster, 247,
Chapter 17 Wilderness Adventures, 253,
Chapter 18 The Dead Zone, 265,
Chapter 19 Back to Journalism, 271,
Chapter 20 Do You Have Information on the Economy and Pigeons?, 285,
Chapter 21 My Work Junkets, 293,
Chapter 22 Sitcoms for the Gods, 305,
Chapter 23 Defending America, 319,
Chapter 24 Fix-it-Yourself Fever, 331,
Chapter 25 The Golf Trip, 337,