Summer, 1941. Germany invaded Russia and Pearl Harbor loomed a season away. Citizen Kane played in theaters and the first batches of M & M’s and Cheerios cropped up in market places.
My father was an eight years old.
Most of the year, Dad lived as an only child, but over the summers, his half-sister Ruby came to stay. Older by ten years, Ruby usually resided in a comfortable Tennessee mansion with her maternal grandmother (pneumonia took Grandpa’s first wife).
Ruby vacationed for weeks at a time with Dad’s family. Their home was nestled in the countryside, surrounded by lush vine-wrapped forests, winding streams, and numerous bat-filled caves. It was a welcome change from the dusty streets and crowded parks of Knoxville.
The age difference made my father a special creature to Ruby. Rivalry never existed. She knew my Dad, a dictionary-reading, fact-spewing prodigy, was an oddity his tiny Tennessee community. Ruby must have been a curiosity herself. She was articulate, highly intelligent and well-read in a time when little more was expected of a woman than sewing and child-rearing.
Dad and Ruby’s uniqueness forged a gentle camaraderie during their vacations together.
Once a week, Ruby and Dad strolled to the local five and dime for treats. Usually, this consisted of penny candies from a thick glass jar and fizzy fountain sodas. One Friday, Ruby splurged and bought Dad a copy of Weird Tales magazine.
Weird Tales, a pulp magazine, featured short curious stories about the supernatural and unknown. Dad read his prize with wide, excited eyes. Then he re-read it. After dinner, he shared it with his mother, who in turn shared it with his father. Ruby read it last the next day.
Family discussions revolved around the possibilities suggested by the weird fiction. Colorful worlds, with brave heroes and fascinating alien races evoked wonder and speculation over the future. Spooky moody tales stirred up pleasant chills and shudders.
I imagine Ruby sitting on a faded chintz couch smiling, proud to have infused her summer family with such excitement.
Weird Tales captivated my father. That summer day in 1941, dad became a lifelong collector of science fiction, fantasy, and strange stories. Ruby’s fifteen- cent purchase ignited an enthusiasm that spanned two generations.
Dad transmuted his love for weird fiction and comic books to me via immersion. I grew up amidst a vast sea of pulp magazines and comic books. Hermetically sealed lockers of taped and bagged treasures lined the periphery of our garage.
Volumes from the book pantry—a wall of storage lockers filled with perhaps a thousand anthologies and comics—served as my first library. I submerged myself in obscure and classic short stories for weeks at a time.
Looking back, I can visualize few toys from my childhood, but I can recall countless comic book covers and book sleeves.
Over the years, my father has gifted me with hundreds of my favorite titles from his colossal collection. I still re-read them, re-organize them and scrutinize their snug-fitting book bags with gusto.
Before Tyoma’s birth, Dad gave me his most precious gift–his Weird Tales collection. Forty-eight mostly mint magazines. I was overcome. Dad’s original Weird Tales were mythic to me. Just to look at them was magical.
Dad said, “It’s a shamed for them to sit there, sealed away. They need to beseen and enjoyed.”
Six years later, right before Father’s Day, his words revisited me. I pulled the pulps from their dark, safe place and scanned my favorite covers.
These scans are for my Dad and any soul who likes the art, history, or stories from bygone decades.
Remember, what you give to the world will resonate. Like Ruby, you might not hear the peals, but history will hear the echoes of your effort and be grateful.
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