Conk was nine; I was eight; Paul six and a half. Dad was talking about us. Pete was only two - he obviously was not ready for whatever was coming which required a certain amount of, but not too much, seniority. Ned, Bill, John and Anne were equally excluded on the basis of age.
"We're headin' on a safari. I'll round up the provisions and meet at the new car at 0900. We gotta' explore for the Company."
The Company was Corning Glass where Dad worked and from which he smuggled clear glass marbles to us and a bomb site which looked like, and became, a giant magnifying punch bowl to Ellen. The car -a black 1953 Ford Custom. Dad admired "old" Henry but wasn't ready for a two-toned, colored car which "the new guys at Ford must be pushing." This new car, though, had a white roof - "so you'd find it in a parking lot."
It was the word SAFARI that excited us.
We scrambled. A safari - I thought of Grandpa Cummiskey's tales of cooking elephant burgers for T.R. and ride'n rough in Africa. Dad liked T.R. When he'd remember, he'd always say "Bullie!" when anything about cattle, riding, Africa, the West, or national parks came up.
We rushed onto the huge, covered porch. Each headed for the car on his own course. Paul down the portside, me to the mirroring starboard stairs, Conk up and over the front rail.
The front yard was terraced, three levels to the car. Two symmetric walkways led down over short gradual, and then long steep, flights of concrete steps. The first terrace ran out to a line of red-berried pricker bushes. Conk had to return to Paul's way to make it to the car. At the second terrace the sidewalk buckled up to make way for the roots of four large chestnut trees.
The Browns, Gary and Mark, were collecting horse chestnuts at the street's edge near the car. Gary, at times, was our leader. He organized Peter Pan, Green Arrow, Couchice, Sgt. Preston, Robin Hood. Mark would be one of the bear-club-lost-boys, Friar Tuck, or Mr. Smee. Mark couldn't listen to Dragnet. The Ten Most Wanted List frightened him.
The buckeyes came encased in shells still green with harmless needles sticking out. You peeled those outsides off. Gary Brown was the expert there. Mark, his younger brother (about Paul's age), kept charge of the count and of the round Quaker Oats boxes in which the nuts were stored until summer's end. The chestnut casings turn in those Quaker boxes from light chestnut soft-shells to dark brown hard-shells. Only their eyes staying light.
At the end of the summer the Browns would have a bonfire near the alley behind their gray house on the corner. A house surrounded by a porch. Mr. Brown had a moustache and a picture of Gandhi on the wall; Mrs. Brown was an archer. On July 4, we threw the dried chestnuts in the Brown's bonfire and watched them explode like fireworks.
We waited at the curb, my brothers and I, busily helping Gary and Mark gather in guttered chestnuts.
Dad came down the steps two-at-a-time carrying a small, shining wooden box. Chin forward, he barked out "Holy-Ka-Moly! Let's hit the road, toads!"
We all piled in.
"Where we headed Dad? Will we need equipment?" Conk asked. We all remembered Our Property inspection trip. Conk found a crumpled deed to some Painted Post property in the "cellar cave" - a large hole in a concrete basement wall. Dad organized a surveying trip to inspect Our Property. We crossed the Chemung River to a lot with railway tracks running across it and a few splintered picnic tables. When we got there, Dad confessed that he'd forgotten to pick up surveying equipment. We lined-up sticks with string, paced-off and staked-out our claim. The Ford mired into the mud of Our Property. We worked it out but voted to put in a parking lot as our first improvement. We also decided to write to the New York Central Railroad about those tracks across our lot. Later, Conk wrote up our claim and mailed it to the U.S. Government Land Office, Washington, D.C.
Where would we go now and what would the safari bring? A search for the mouth of Monkey Run Creek before they finished paving it over; a ghost hunt at the deserted Palace Theater which "closed-for-the-season" two years before, a deserted castle-like building tattered with posters from horror movies.
The Palace would be gone soon. They were building a row of new stores. Paul and I yearned for completion of a W.T. Grants five-and-dime. It would be our liberation. A couple of months earlier we had been nabbed when we tried to rob Woolworth's of play money, dice, and a roulette wheel. We were told never to set foot in the store again. Miraculously, Dad and Ellen were not called in. We never returned to the street.
"No, we won't need any real equipment this trip, except map making essentials. Reach down there, Mike, to the glove box. There's a wooden case."
I found a small box. It was marked "Map-making." Inside was a small pad of graph paper, a six-inch ruler, and red and green pencils.
"Draw out Third Street and Pine up to the Hill."
He glanced at my Map. "Good job, Stanley!" He said that like Hardy of Laurel and Hardy but meant Stanley as in Dr. Livingston. "I'll have to jot-off a note to Admiral Perry. I hear he needs a geographer for his next expedition to the Antarctic. Do you like cold ants?" His laughter roared.
"That reminds me," he went on, "of my Uncle John down in Honesdale. He used to call me with a whistle after my mom thought I was asleep in my room. I'd slip out like Tom Sawyer over the roof and down the back tree to Uncle John. He was my age but still my uncle. We used to explore and map Eastern Pennsylvania by moonlight."
"Once we found a cave and in it geodes - round rocks with cavities lined inside with crystal. When I got to college I studied ceramics at Penn State; now I work at the Glass Works making the best crystal in the world. Maybe Uncle John whistled me out to that. You guys think so?" He'd go silent for awhile.
Then -"We had a rabbit dog, Magellan. Uncle John would let him loose and we'd watch from a hill while he'd chase rabbits. A jack rabbit came running down a hill, quick, then back-tracked a ways to some rocks and off he went. Soon, Magellan came along, his nose to the ground. Getting to the jack's turning point he stopped, waited and then howled. He turned back and then forward again a few times. His howl became a cry. I worried he'd wake your Grandma."
"I always liked that rabbit. By the way, don't let Grandma know about the route out over the roof." He talked, we drove. "Dad," Conk would say, "we're coming up on a turn." Paul, "Hey, Dad, there's the blackberry patch, the road narrows." I'd mimic an echo, "Reduce speed, this is your conscience, signing off!" We'd all yell, "Look, Dad, the Knoll's coming up." The Knoll was the Houghton's mansion. The Houghton's owned and ran the Glass Works. But more importantly, the Knoll marked the turning point of our hikes up the Hil1. Even with Anne along we didn't go further. Dad passed the Knoll and wound up the Hil1. "Where we going Dad?" "We're Map Making. Mike's got it started with the area we know. Now we start the real job. Paul, you keep track of the turns. Conk make sure to remember the route.