Because of damage to his bones from tuberculosis, Mervin Chantland spent nearly eight years of his childhood in a full-body cast. Mervin’s father, a farmer, arranged for a couple in Gilmore City to take care of the young patient as long as he was in the cast. This is the second part of Chapter 2 in Mervin’s book. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Mervin Chantland
When I was young, I had a great friend named Tom. He worked for a grocery store and used their van to deliver orders. Tom was only fourteen years old at that time, but they let him drive because they knew his family needed the money.
When he was delivering groceries to farmers, he would come to get me and help me up into his delivery van. I think he may have gotten into trouble from his boss for doing that, but it gave me a wonderful chance to get out of house and make his rounds with him. Tom would also pick me up and take me to his house, where his mom would play canasta with us. We did that a lot.
My friends and I would go to all of Tom's basketball games. When he was practicing, we would keep bugging him to throw us the ball so we could shoot, too. Tom says he didn't get in much warm-up time that way. One time Tom was playing baseball, and he hit a home run. He says he could see me going on my crutches as fast as I could to his house across the street from the baseball field to tell his mom the good news.
Well, after Tom graduated he got a 1938 Chevy; and there were times on Saturday nights that he would stop up town before picking up someone special for a movie. Many times, upon returning to his car, he would find me waiting there. And he generally took me along for the night's fun. The only thing Tom worried about was whether I had told the Knolls that I was going.
Tom says I was the most courageous person that he ever knew. As he put it, my handicap should have left me with a bad attitude but it built inner strength and determination instead. Tom says there wasn't anything I wouldn't try to do. Later in life, Tom became a farmers' mailman. Tom, you were a great friend when I needed one the most. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
After some time had passed, my left shoulder started hurting; and I was diagnosed with TB in the bone there, too. That resulted in my having to have that arm in a cast for about a year. Perhaps because of the medication I was taking, my shoulder turned out all right. My left arm just ended up being a little shorter than the other one.
While I was having the cast taken off my arm in the hospital, all the hospital staff suddenly started dancing around. Shouts could be heard from out in the hall. No, it was not in my honor. It was 1945, and news had just come in that "World War II has ended!" Wow, that made a great impression on me!
Now that I was able to walk, I would sometimes help Prof while he was custodian at the Gilmore City School. I really enjoyed that. On one occasion, I ended up with a life-long souvenir of those times we spent together.
I was helping as Prof assembled lockers in the hall way. He would pry up the lockers and I would put pads under the legs. On one locker, the pry bar slipped and the leg came down on my finger, cutting out a good-sized flap of skin. Just by having a bandage tied tightly around my finger, the wound healed up just fine, but that horseshoe-shaped scar is still visible today. Prof felt awfully bad, but I told him it was okay. It was the kind of accident that could happen to anyone.
Eventually, I was able to get around well enough that I could go to school full time. But it wasn't "all fun and games." One day, it was raining and we had to stay in for recess. I remember taking a ruler to hit a ball, but I missed and hit the teacher right on her backside. Wow! There I was, having just started attending school and already in trouble!
It was also this first year in a real school that something very unexpected happened. On December 14, 1943, I stayed home because I wasn't feeling very good; and Gilmore City High School burned down! A teacher who went back in to make sure all the children had gotten out perished in fire. What a loss for us all!
Well, now that I was walking and making friends, I was ready to do some of the crazy things young kids do. One day two friends were talking about hunting "snipes" in the cemetery and I asked what they were.
My friends laughed as they told me how they would hide behind tombstones and have another friend go and get some kids to help hunt the snipes, hairy little creatures that lived in the cemetery. My friends took me along with them, and soon the other kids arrived with flashlights and gunny sacks.
Of course, there were no such thing as snipes, so we would just wait until the others got close to us before we started making all kinds of weird noises. Those kids ran like heck to get out of there, and we had a good laugh.
Once, as I was walking up a street in town, the wind started blowing really hard and I heard this loud banging sound coming toward me. I turned to look and there came what had been a round grain bin, about thirty feet in diameter. Having been torn up off its foundation, it seemed to be trying to roll but was so out of shape that it just bounced along. I ducked behind a tree as it went crashing by. That was really scary!
Mostly, with my new freedom came a lot of fun. Gilmore City doesn't have a theater now, but back then we kids would go to the movies up town. Horror movies were our favorite. One movie I remember watching was Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff. After a movie, we would walk home in the dark. More than once, one of the kids would run up ahead of us and hide in the trees so he could jump out and make weird noises to scare us.
Another source of fun came from a car Prof had that was high off the ground. My friend and I took it to a field one night to chase jackrabbits. While we were flipping the headlights from low to high, the rabbits would run under the car and out the back. It never hurt them, and it provided us with a lot of fun.
Since I would get so lonesome for my family, my Dad would sometimes send my brother Bill to stay with me at the Knolls' house. In the summers Bill would come up and spend a whole two weeks with me. That was so important to me. It was great to be able to maintain the family connection.
After the war, I was sometimes given toy cars that had been made in Japan. When I looked inside the toys I could see words like Coke, 7 Up, and other names of soft drinks. The people in Japan didn't have a lot of metal after the war, but our troops had left plenty of soda cans behind, and they made good use of them.
(This excerpt is from Chapter 2 in the book, “Can’t: No Such Word,” by Mervin Chantland, available on Amazon.com)