Dedicated to my bro.
".....someday, somewhere, somehow, I promise"
Note: This is based on a true story. Some of the names and locations have been changed.
Spring began its annual magic on the chestnut trees in this coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania. The Finn family resided in the last house on Kidder Street across from the mine entrance. After a harsh winter, the neighborhood children began to explore their backyards again. Two brothers, inseparable, played in their domain with their toy dump trucks pretending to be builders of cities and movers of earth. Billy was five, and Garrettt was seven in 1955.
They were the children of a coal miner father and factory working mother. Ed worked each day in the mines and came home, exhausted and drunk, to his wife, Cathy. He usually had dinner and then went to bed, thus leaving the children to his wife for storytelling, feeding and the general care that is required of mothers. They lived in an old wooden shack of a house without central heat or plumbing; the rent on the house was $18.00 per month. Heat was provided by a Franklin coal stove in the kitchen; next to the stove was the only sink in the house which, at best, trickled cold water. An outhouse was located in the backyard. Still, it was a happy household considering the squalor and circumstances of the times.
Ed came home from work one day, and announced to the family that he was able to get credit and bought a 21 inch RCA Victor television. The cost of the television set was $500.00, but at $5.00 per week, it was just affordable. This was big news on Kidder Street. The Finns were the first on the block in this shantytown section of the city to own a television.
The boys were thrilled and watched the snowy screen together. They became friends with Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody, and the whole rest of the gang that was on TV in the 1950's. After the news had spread, the house was filled with all the neighborhood kids, Kool-aid in hand, cluttering the Finn's livingroom, all eyes glued to this newfangled invention.
Billy and Garrett saw a preview of an upcoming television special, perhaps a week in advance. The screen showed a pair of windows, curtains fluttering, the shutters blew open, and they witnessed the magical entrance of Peter Pan flying through the air. It was Mary Martin as "Peter Pan and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook that captivated the two little boys.
Each day, they re-enacted the Peter Pan story. Cathy had read them the bedtime stories many times, but this was the first time that either one was to see Peter Pan in live action! They did not know it, but they were about to witness their first Broadway Musical.
All week, they played Peter Pan. One would be Hook, the other would be Peter, and then they would reverse roles. Sticks were nailed together in a cross to be used as swords to fight off the bloody pirates. Couch cushions were tossed aside, so one could jump from the back of the couch onto the springs and be propelled in mid-air to simulate flight sequences. Billy would jump and gleefully scream "I'm flying!" When Cathy would come into the room, Garrett would announce with alarm...."Indians!" The boys would run to their secret hiding places with the imaginary Tiger Lily in hot pursuit. Upon capture, Tiger Lily would tickle them til they screamed with glee.
During the week before Peter Pan was aired the boys staged countless re-enactments, and their mother just had to read the bedtime story of Peter, Michael, John and Wendy as she tucked them in for their nights of dreaming of their great hero, Peter Pan!
The night of the telecast came. The boys were glued to the screen, each on the floor, lying on their stomachs, chins on elbows, unconsciously memorizing every line and scene in the play for their future re-enactments. When Tinkerbell was dying, Mary Martin begged viewers to clap if they believed in fairies; the Finns clapped, including Ed Finn who had remained sober for the occasion, and they all helped bring Tink back to life. It was a fine time in the Finn household, and they all enjoyed a night on Broadway.
At breakfast the following morning, Garrett was in a frisky mood and appeared with a towel pinned around his shoulders. They all looked at him as he struck a Captain Hook pose and demanded, "A Tar-ran-tella!" All just screamed and hugged him.
The brothers play-acted Peter Pan for that entire summer until the school bells rang in the fall. The upwardly mobile Finn family waited patiently for the delivery truck to arrive with the newest contraption to hit the household, a washing machine. Billy and Garrett sat on the grass, leaning against the side wall of the outhouse. The truck arrived and they watched with keen interest as this round piece of steel was being hauled through the kitchen door. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, including Anna, the neighborhood lady. Anna babysat the boys while Cathy Finn was working at the rag factory, cutting large pieces of material into smaller ones. Cathy watched as the deliverymen showed her how to put the wringer into place and how to operate the machine. Billy eyed this and was fascinated to watch Cathy do her first batch of laundry.
First, she connected the hose, then filled the tub; she pressed a button and the agitator turned, back and forth, back and forth. Next, the tub was drained, and the wet clothes were fed through the wringer, and squeezed dry. When the wringer was running, Billy thought it looked like three rolling pins spinning. Billy and Garrett were forbidden to ever touch the machine. Cathy picked up her basket of laundry, and proceeded to the back yard to hang the wash to dry.
The sound of a train locomotive blasted in the distance. Billy and Garrett ran out the front door, and headed out across the street to the embankment along the railroad tracks. It was time for the daily ritual. All the neighborhood kids gathered on the embankment to watch the freight train roll on by. Billy would lay on the grass with a piece of long weed grass in his mouth and count the number of cars. Garrett would always taunt him, because Billy was not in school yet, and he didn't know how to read or write, or especially count. Garrett would admonish Billy that there was no such number as "elevendy-five!" The moment that they were all waiting for was coming. The Caboose! As the end car of the train passed them, they would yell to the man in the blue coveralls and funny baseball-type hat, "Blow the whistle! Blow the whistle!" The train conductor always did. Toot! Toot!, and the boys would jump up and down, rolling on the grass, laughing themselves silly over the thrill of the Toot! This same scene would be repeated tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that. It was a daily event for the Finn boys.
Afterward, they would go to Juris' candy store, and get a popsicle. Garrett was rich and he was treating. He had lost two front teeth, and the tooth fairy left him two shiny quarters. Billy never had any money. His mom said he was not old enough for an allowance, but when he was six and in school, he would get one. Garrett always shared, so Billy was never preoccupied with the financial affairs of the world except when he wanted something.
At the candy store, a handful of the neighborhood children each took their turn picking penny candy. Billy had a popsicle, and Garrett gave him a nickel for some candy. Billy always drove Mrs. Juris crazy with his candy selection. He stood in front of the glass case and pointed to what he wanted, and she would pick the selection and put it in a brown paper bag. But, Billy wanted everything! He would announce, "One Maryjane, one squirrel, one licorice, uh, put the Maryjane back, and give me a tootsie-pop." "Now Billy Finn, you stop that, ya better just pick what ya want, because I am not going to keep changing things in this bag. Now, you have one more, what will it be?" Mrs. Juris loved all the neighborhood kids.
Outside, a few of the neighborhood boys began taunting the Finns. "We're going to Rocky Gle-en", they sing-songed, " and you're not, nah, nah, nana, nah nah!" Rocky Glen was the area amusement park with roller coasters, and cotton candy, candy apples, a lake for swimming, all the stuff of dreams for the Finns. Billy announced, "Oh yeah, well, we're going to an amusement part tomorrow too! Ask Tommy and Freddy, they're comin' with us." As they walked home, Garrett said, "Billy, you fibbed, I'm tellin' mom!" Billy told the threesome to be ready tomorrow afternoon. "You're such a big liar, Billy Finn!" the trio accused him.
THE BILLY FINN AMUSEMENT PARK officially opened at 1 p.m. the next afternoon. Billy got a large piece of cardboard, a crayon, and walked over to Anna's house. Anna, on spying Billy with the cardboard said, "Uh-oh, another lemonade stand, Billy?" "Nope," he said, "make me a sign that says Musement Park." Anna laughed as she made the homemade sign, "And where is this big amusement park Billy?" "In the yard, out back," he said. "Billy Finn, you're always up to something" was the last he heard from Anna as he ran down the street to hang the sign on the gate that led to the back yard.
The first three customers were Garrett, Tommy and Freddy. For one cent, you got a ride in Billy's red wagon. Freddy was first to pay his penny, and jumped in the wagon. Billy put a paper bag over Freddy's head, and put the ride in motion. The ride consisted of three circles around the outhouse, and one try at the hill in the backyard, then curved a bit for the fast turn and ride back down the hill to the finish line. Billy did this for a half hour and netted three cents profit. "O.K., what's next Billy?" the boys chimed in unison. "For two cents, you can go on the Peter Pan Flying machine!" he announced. "And two can go at once," he added. Garrett eyed his brother suspiciously, as Tommy and Freddy dug in their pockets. Billy stood at the kitchen door, and like a barker he said, "step this way to the great Peter Pan flying machine!" The three entered the kitchen, and Garrett watched through the window. Billy pulled a metal chair across the floor, and loaded Tommy and Freddy into the Peter Pan Flying machine. He then plugged it in and pressed a button. Billy didn't hear the door open as Cathy Finn just got in from work.
"JESUS, MARY and JOSEPH! Billy Finn, I will kill you!" she screamed. Billy fled, ducking to miss the swat at his bottom. There, in the corner of the Finns kitchen, were Tommy and Freddy Jones inside the washing machine, hanging on to the center agitator for dear life. They were violently being turned to the right and then to the left, and were giggling themselves to convulsions!
The Billy Finn Amusement Park closed after one hour of operation with a net profit of seven cents. The Billy Finn Barber shop opened the next week.