Hi, Eli here. After finishing my shift at Silver Lake, I changed into street clothes and hopped into my ‘61 candy-apple red Corvette convertible—the one with the white scoops on the side that all my friends covet. Gunning the 315 horsepower fuel-injected engine a few times, I peeled out, spewing gravel everywhere, the back end fishtailing twice before the Michelin tires grabbed hold. With the radio blasting Paperback Writer, I headed home to grab some supper before going to my second summer job at radio station WBLY-FM.
My parent’s house is located on SR571, a mile past New Carlisle’s westernmost welcome/come again sign. My hometown, a typical Ohio village, features a city manager, two gas stations, four churches, and a few locally-owned stores, like Strome’s barbershop. On the state map, it barely earns a small dot with an official population figure of less than 5,000. Most of the dads who live here drive to nearby Dayton or Springfield for work while the moms stay home to keep house and raise the kids. We only have one elementary school, junior high, and senior high in town, and yet the school board still has to bus students in from ten miles away in every direction to fill up the classrooms.
There aren’t a lot of things in the summertime for a young man to do in New Carlisle, besides Silver Lake. Although we do have the Frostop, a local drive-in restaurant serving the best foot-long hot dogs in a four-county area, especially when smothered with mustard, relish, and onions, and accompanied by a foam-topped root beer in a frosty mug. Guys like to hang out there to watch the female carhops, in their short red skirts, roller-skating back and forth to the rock and roll beat of top 40 radio station WING blasting from the large Frostop mounted speakers.
There are no nightclubs in New Carlisle because the town is “dry.” The closest drinking establishment, the “Boom-Boom Room,” is located in the Midway Bowling Lanes, about five miles south of town. This tiny watering hole became famous in November of 1965, when a local high school English teacher, Miss French, became very intoxicated one evening, and then atop one of the lounge tables proceeded to do a provocative striptease to the loud applause of the Thursday night men’s league.
Nothing in a small town remains a secret long, so when the students found out about Miss French’s impromptu performance, they nicknamed her Boom-Boom. Needless to say, once the teasing starts, kids never let up, so Miss French left town soon after the incident and moved to Las Vegas. (We found out later she kept Boom-Boom as her professional name and had a very successful career there).
Every fall New Carlisle has a big affair called the “Potato Festival” to celebrate the town’s largest local crop. There’s a parade lead by the high school band, a few small floats pulled by tractors, and the Shriners march in funny hats. The town also elects a queen and her court, although I’m not sure if being voted “Miss Spud” is an honor or not.
They close down three blocks of Main Street for the festival so vendors can erect their canvas and wood-framed booths to sell curly, deep-fried potatoes, or amazing kitchen tools that slice and dice, or offer games of chance to win a whistle, yo-yo, or stuffed animal. Personally, I like the Jaycees’ dunk booth best. There’s no prize, but if you hit the big red bullseye with one of the three-for-a-dollar softballs, then your favorite cheerleader, teacher or coach gets dropped into a big tub of cold water.
Main Street, by the way, is also State Route 69. The Ohio Highway Department doesn’t realize the significant secondary market value of the large signs they place every two to three miles along this famous road. After a little midnight requisition with a flashlight and a pair of pliers, I can sell these signs at $25 each to my fellow OSU students for their dorm and fraternity walls. And the best thing about this moneymaking endeavor is…no matter how many signs I acquire, the state keeps replacing them. Technically, this could be considered stealing, but I try not to dwell on it.
I stay at home in the summer because of the free room, board, and laundry service, plus it’s close to my job at Silver Lake. The downside is sharing a bedroom with my pesky kid brother, and trying to sleep without air conditioning, because Ohio can get really hot and humid, especially in August.
Pulling into the driveway, I grab the mail and leap up the steps to our white, one-story ranch house that sits on a big corner lot just down the highway from Charlie’s Carryout. Our door is never locked because there’s no real crime in New Carlisle—just the occasional youth mischief, as Policeman Sam likes to call it.
“I’m home.” I hollered to no one in particular and tossed the mail on the kitchen table. Mom appeared in the hallway arch. “You’re just in time for supper. I made your favorite—homemade chicken and noodles.”
I sat down, and like magic, my brother and sister appeared, drawn no doubt by the good kitchen smells. In unison, they say, “Let’s eat.” Mother replied, “Not until your father gets home.” We didn’t have long to wait before dad pulled into the driveway at exactly 5:30 p.m.—the same time he got home from work every day. He was so consistent; you could set your watch by his arrival time.
My mother is five-foot-one with dark hair, a round face, and a constant smile. You can tell from her profile that she enjoys her own cooking. My father, on the other hand, is just the opposite, skinny and well over six-feet tall. Mother says he looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, but I can’t see it.
My brother and sister are younger than me. We were born exactly seven years apart, so we often teased mother about having the seven-year itch—you know, like the movie with Marilyn Monroe? She always gets embarrassed and then scurries into the kitchen to bake some cookies.
Sitting down around our large old-fashioned wooden kitchen table (it could seat twelve guests at Thanksgiving), we started stuffing our faces with thick slabs of noodles, in heavy brown gravy, overflowing with big chunks of white chicken. Mom made all of the noodles by hand, usually, the day before, rolling out the dough and cutting it into twelve-inch long, quarter-inch wide strips that she hung on a rack to dry until ready to cook.
Deep into our second helping, dad picked up the mail I had brought in earlier and started sorting through it. “Bill, bill, advertisement, bill…wait, Eli, there’s something here for you.” He paused, and then handed me the letter, “It’s from the U.S. Selective Service.”
“Probably just a confirmation of my student status for fall…I hope.” My voice cracked and I let slip a nervous laugh. Palms sweaty, I fumbled with the envelope, finally giving up neatness and ripping off the end. I pulled out the letter and read, “Greetings from Uncle Sam.” My heart stopped. Never very good at poker, mom saw my concern and asked. “What is it?”
Dropping the letter into my plate of homemade chicken and noodles, I announced, “I’ve been drafted.”