As I was reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which is a history of the early years of science fiction and a biography of some of its foremost writers, I was reminded of Wayne Busbea. Let me explain.
Our family moved to Richland, PA, in June of 1957, and for the first few months we lived in the apartment that Lynn and Isobel Klopp kept on the second floor of their house on East Main Street. That summer, as most summers thereafter, I spent a lot of time at the Richland Playground, and one day I heard someone on the shuffleboard court speaking with a distinctive Texas twang. I soon found out his name was Wayne Busbea (BUZZ-bee), and he had recently moved to town with his mother from Texas.
A few months later we moved to a house on West Main Street, and Wayne lived with his mother and stepfather in an apartment just a few doors up the street. Wayne was about two years older than I was, but we’d occasionally hang out together. I was fascinated by his accent, so I tended to hang on his every word, and like practically everyone from Texas that I’ve ever met, he had a tendency to compare everything to what it was like back in Texas. Everything was bigger and better in Texas, of course. Although after a few years that tendency faded, as did his accent.
I only recall a few specific incidents. One time, I’m guessing this was the winter of 1960 when I was in 5th grade, I came across him as he was throwing snowballs at the snowman in the Gass’s yard. This would be the yard of Polly and George Gass who had two sons, Frank (a year younger than I was) and Michael (two years younger than I was). So this was the snowman that Frank and Mike had built a couple days earlier, and Wayne was tossing snowballs at it in an effort to knock it down, the Gass boys not being home at the time.
I joined him. I don’t think I tossed any snowballs, but even if I did, I doubt they caused any damage. On the other hand, I didn’t do anything to prevent Wayne from destroying the Gass boys’ snowman either.
A few days later as I was walking home from school, Dale Sadler and Mike Gass confronted me. Dale was in my class and fancied himself something of a tough guy. In the one conversation that I recall having with him he said that he planned to join the Marines because that was the toughest thing you could get. Anyway Dale was a good friend of Wayne’s, but this day he was acting as a protector of sorts for Mike.
They confronted me on a sidewalk with snow piled up on either side. As Dale blocked my escape, Mike demanded to know why I had destroyed his snowman. (How had he found out? Probably neighborhood busybody Olive Geiss, who made the most divine cookies. But that’s another story.) I don’t know what my reply was, but before I knew it, Mike was attacking me. Fortunately, Mike had never learned to fight or punch. His idea of fighting was to just flail his arms wildly, and since he was two years younger, even I could defend myself against that. Happily, Dale didn’t actively participate or I might not have been so fortunate.
A few months later, some money was stolen from the Gass’s house. Stupidly, I blurted out in front of my mother that Wayne knew that the Gass’s kept their garage door unlocked so that Frank and Mike could get in if their parents weren’t at home. So my mother alerted Richland’s sole police officer, Donald Foreman. (In later years my mother couldn’t understand why I tended not to tell her anything.) I don’t think she realized that this information incriminated me as much as it did Wayne. Hell, I suspect half the town knew that the Gass’s kept their garage unlocked.
Anyway, the next school day I found myself hauled out of class to go down to the basement to repeat this supposedly incriminating piece of information to Officer Foreman directly. Then he brought Wayne down. While I was still sitting there! I thought I was supposed to be an anonymous tipster.
Well, Wayne denied that he stole the money. I believed him. I never thought he stole it in the first place. There being no real evidence against him, there was nothing to be done. We were each sent back to our classrooms.
Surprisingly, Wayne wasn’t angry with me. We walked home from school together that day, and he never held that against me.
So who stole the money? It was never solved, but really the most likely suspects were right under Polly and George’s noses. Not that I’m accusing anyone.
In 1962 when I turned 13 my birthday present was a membership in the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the books in the introductory offer was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. In those days my mother had a beauty shop in the rear of our house, and one of her customers was Wayne’s mother, whose name I no longer recall, but I do recall that she was a beautiful woman with thick red hair, and she still had her Texas accent. When my mother casually told her about my book club present, Wayne’s mother exclaimed:
“Science fiction? Why that’s the only thing I ever read. I have piles of books that’re just lying about gathering dust. You have your boy come round and I’ll fix him up with a heap of books.”
And so I did. She gave me a big box filled with a treasury of science fiction books and magazines. They kept me reading for a long time. Among the treasures were a bunch of issues of Amazing Stories magazine which had a series of biographies of science fiction authors like Campbell, Asimov, and Heinlein.
And that, Gentle Reader, is why reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction reminded me of Wayne Busbea.
I guess I shouldn’t end this without providing yet another example of my mother sending me on an embarrassing mission. She kept insisting that I should return the books to Wayne’s mother once I had read them. I tried to point out that they were a gift, but she wouldn’t have it. So one Saturday morning I went back with a few of the books in hand to see if Wayne’s mother would take them back. As I had known all along, she had wanted to get rid of them and didn’t want them back.
About a year or so later I noticed that I hadn’t seen Wayne for some time. When I asked about him, I found out that his mother had sent him back to live with his grandmother in Texas. Apparently, Wayne’s stepfather was not treating him very well, and she wanted to get him out of that environment. Wayne had never mentioned anything about his stepfather to me, but I had noticed that he did try to avoid him. It wasn’t long after that that Wayne’s mother left as well, and the stepfather continued to live in that apartment by himself.
The Klopps eventually stopped renting out their second floor and expanded their living quarters to embrace the whole house, where they raised three boys, Randy (in my class), Dwight (in my sister’s), and Ross. They lived in that house for at least 60 years, and the last time I was in Richland in 2013 there was a For Sale sign in their yard.
Dale Sadler left Richland sometime after 5th grade, and I’ve never heard from him again, so I don’t know if he ever did join the Marines.
The Gass boys and I had our ups and downs, particularly after the Dieffenbachs moved in next door to us. Sometimes Frank and Mike and I formed a coalition against the Diefenbachs, sometimes the Gass boys and the Diefenbach boys ganged up against me. I don’t recall ever siding with the Dieffenbach boys.
George and Polly Gass bought the apartment building across from the railroad tracks and moved into one of the apartments themselves. They converted the basement into a laundromat, and the Richland Laundry was born.
Olive Geiss moved to Reading, but not before giving my mother the recipe to her cookies. Thereafter my mother always baked up a batch of Olive’s cookies around Christmastime.
The last I heard of Officer Donald Foreman, he had developed a urinary infection of some sort. I hope he recovered.
Eventually my parents bought the apartment building and laundromat from the Gass’s, but that’s another story.