Sir Walter P. Holcomb

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Lately I’ve been told that I live in my own little world. That the way I view stuff is totally different than the way most people do.

For instance, some see the glass of water and say it’s half full; others see the glass of water and say it’s half empty. I see the glass of water and wonder why it’s not chocolate milk. Strange, I know, but then again so am I.

Some would argue the world I write about growing up in never existed. That maybe over the years the line between fiction and non-fiction has been blurred, if not totally erased. Others say our life on Flamingo Street and all the kids who lived there are simply figments of an overly active imagination. I got news for ya – I ain’t that good.

Where we lived — 110 Flamingo Street — was real. Is real. The stories about what happened during the seven years we spent there are real. The swamp in back of our house, the haunted forest, Cripple Creek, the Arctic Plunge swimming hole, the giant tractor tire ride, the great 3-year dig we called Cliff Condos, and all the people with the funny nicknames were real.

But I must admit there’s one person who lived on Flamingo Street that even The Wife doesn’t believe was real. Sir Walter P. Holcomb — the “P” standing for Prescott, of course.

Mr. Holcomb – the school bus driver for Mt. Olive Elementary — was a retired train conductor who they said came from England. He wore with pride a salt and pepper handlebar mustache that curled so far up on the ends it almost touched his bushy gray eyebrows. He lived by himself in a quaint little three-bedroom, two-bath, white clapboard house a couple of houses down and across the street from us.

He was the first resident of Flamingo Street; he built his house when the street was still dirt. Retiring after 30 years as a conductor, Mr. Holcomb moved to town to be closer to his daughter, who, he said, “Moved across the pond.”

At the time I didn’t known what that meant; I just thought it was funny. I’ve looked and the only thing across the pond in our neighborhood was the haunted forest. And no one lived over there.

Mr. Holcomb’s love of his only daughter brought him to our town, but the sound of trains brought him to our street. He loved the sound of the passing train so much that he bought the lot closest to the tracks. Train tracks which would eventually, years later, separate Flamingo Street from the Duke of Gloucester.

We all have fond memories of growing up, and one of mine is the sound of the train blowing its whistle as it came around Knobs Corner. During the summer when we heard it, the kids on Flamingo Street would run down and sit on Mr. Holcomb’s back porch to watch the train as it chugged by, not 50 feet from his back door.

The train was always on schedule, Noon, 3, and 6. We’d lay pennies across the rails so when the train ran over them it bent the soft copper almost in half. Everyone knew if you found a bent penny, it would bring you good luck all year long. After two years I finally found one, but as it turned out it wasn’t very lucky. It was the only penny that flipped off the tracks, crashed through Mr. Holcomb’s kitchen window, and broke some old train lantern.

We didn’t like Mr. Holcomb just because he was our bus driver and had a train running through his backyard. Nope. There were other reasons — like he had the largest magnolia tree in the entire world in his front yard, and back then the whole world to us was Flamingo Street.

The giant tree was great for climbing, with big strong branches starting low to the ground just about anybody could scamper up — especially if they were being chased by a bully. And thanks to Bradley Macalister, being chased by a bully was a regular occurrence on Flamingo Street.

The magnolia also had a never-ending supply of ammunition. Bully ammunition. Early each spring the tree was always covered with dark green seed pods that could fend off even the meanest of bullies. The seed pods were about the size of WWII hand grenades.

I know they were about the same size because Colonel Baker brought one into chemistry class and showed everybody. A hand grenade, not a dark green seed pod. But Col. Baker, his tenth-grade chemistry class, the hand grenade and the giant gray chemical blob that caused the evacuation of half of Briarwood High School is a story for next week. This story’s about Sir Walter P. Holcomb, our elementary school bus driver.

When the doors to Mr. Holcomb’s yellow school bus whooshed open, he’d yell to all waiting out on the curb, “All aboard!”

After we climbed in and took our seats, he’d choose one of us to come up and give two quick pulls on a wooden handle attached to a gold chain which led to the old train whistle bolted to the ceiling. With a couple of loud toots, we were off to the next stop.

Riding the school bus train and the great battles of fending off Bully Brad and his gang with seed pods from Mr. Holcomb’s magnolia tree are just two of the many stories still left to tell.

And for those of you who still believe I’m a bit strange, let’s just say I really do live in a world of my own, but it’s okay. They know me there, and we all get along just fine.

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