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Honorable mention: My son

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GUS MCCONNELL

“Trapped in Paradise” by Gus McConnell

by Chuck Meyer

We had been told in early November 1966 that Mark would be our Christmas present. I ordered from St. Louis’s finest department store Styx Bar and Fuller their top brand, electric train. But Mark wasn’t ready to be with us that Christmas. It wasn’t until 1:30 a.m. on January 25, 1967 that our 9 lbs. 3 oz. son announced his first day. Throughout our small farm community I declared January 25 as my personal holiday. I gave out cigars with blue cellophane wrappers announcing in bold letters “It’s A Boy!” He was just grown enough the following Christmas to enjoy the signal lights, whistle, metallic noises, and lighted passenger car interiors pulled by twin streamline-shaped locomotives. This electric train became the instrument of our father and son relationship, reminding us forever of our first Christmas together.

Mark was always fascinated by ice, which our severe winters manufactured in abundance. We’d go to our frozen pond and I’d cut sections of thick ice into triangles. After generously coating these stained glass-like panels with food coloring, I’d use snow as mortar to lock them onto the tree limbs. The sunlight reflected through the brilliant colors across winter’s rotating snow-covered earth, initiating the same ethereal effects of the stained glass windows throughout the centuries in old European cathedrals.

Each autumn, we built an exceptionally high reaching swing. We’d swing so high it would seem that we were about to orbit the fulcrum. Then we’d catapult ourselves into the 6-foot high pile of leaves that we had collected from the woods. Leaves from the hickory trees, from the willows, and from a variety of other trees all with different smells.

The divorce was surreal, like an evil virus from autumn with a devastating chill. All that was important was that my son promised one day he’d come out to Hermosa and live with me.

It was 1984. The year was passing into late summer. As I waited for his arrival on the 4:30 p.m. Grey Hound at the Torrance bus depot, my mind was focused on how I could make the best first impression on my 15-year old son. I noticed that next to the bus depot was a Frosty Freeze. I remembered that there was one back in his hometown. For two days Mark had called me from every bus stop, expressing his excitement. He was among the first passengers to exit the bus. But he did not want a Frosty Freeze. He wanted to go salt water fishing.

Dolphin off of Palos Verdes by Beverly Gates

Dolphin off of Palos Verdes by Beverly Gates

Into my woody, we loaded his three duffel bags, his small Snap-on-tool box, his bowling bag packed with jeweler’s tools, and his homemade, fresh water tackle box. Off we drove to the Redondo Pier. The late afternoon sun softy danced out to sea. It was like the times ever so long ago, back in Illinois, driving along the country roads.

Mark was an avid sport fisherman. Being mechanically adept, he built an ingenious apparatus for transporting bulky fishing gear on his motorcycle.

A young man’s first vehicle defines his passage into manhood. This was my dad’s opinion. My dad’s first vehicle was a Reo 2 ton truck, able to haul tons of farm equipment.

My first vehicle was a 1947 Cadillac convertible. Though it was 10 years old ‘the Iron’ was in mint condition. I bought it from the estate of a moonshiner. Being an artist I recognized the convertible’s beautiful design. I called my Cadi ‘the Iron’ because there seemed to be no country road, no matter how rough, that ‘the Iron’ couldn’t iron out.

Mark’s first auto  was a 1952 Nash Hearst from a Pomona estate sale. The deceased had been a movie star in major horror films. We refitted the sleek bathtub-shaped body with pine panels and metal flaked flames over the hood and fenders. Mark called it his Saigon Dragon wagon.

Mark was not much for talking. He’d carefully listen and after much thought he would grant a quick claim deed to a useable solution. One time after helping someone, they asked him in a joking manner, who did he think he was, a Christian? Mark explained that we weren’t religious, but a voice always told him right from wrong. Mark claimed that God created the map of time and ‘easy-street’ was only a fictitious address.

Mark was 9 lb. 3 oz. late birth baby with a not so perfect spine. He loved surfing though he wasn’t skilled at it. He gave it up after an accident at Torrance Beach.

It was the first rain of the new year. The roads were extra slippery. He was on his motorcycle rolling on Gaffey Street, heading for a round-up at Walker’s café with his biker friends. Passing the Korean Bell, his bike slipped from under him. From that time on he was in severe pain as his spine rapidly deteriorated.

Not all of the sand from the beach would be enough to fill an hourglass measuring the great adventures we had. B