On Friday February 19, 1965, General William Westmoreland was on the cover of Time Magazine. Closer to home, Ken and Joan Gillespie were in the process of welcoming their second son, Bradley Kent Gillespie into the world. That would be me. From what I am told, I was not the easiest baby. I seemed to get into most everything, and I disliked women. As the story has been told, I did not like to be held by the ladies and I shunned their kisses. This is likely superfluous. About all of the background needed to tell this story is the understanding that unbeknownst to Ken and Jo, I leaped out ready to party, except for that one pesky strand of DNA. This faulty wiring would end up greatly determining the roles that I might play moving forward.
Skip along a few years….
Of course, I had always been the clumsiest kid. I don’t expect that it often stopped me from trying, but it certainly slowed me down. My very earliest recollection must go back to kindergarten or thereabouts. Growing up in Western New York State, so far as kids go, we had it made. In front of the house was the big hill. There was no better sledding spot in the world. Behind us was an endless field. The front part of the field, just adjacent to our yard, was like our prairie- grassy and pasture-like. I think that there were cows there from time to time, maybe horses, too. Imagine how cool it was as a kid to have cows grazing or chewing their cud within eyeshot of the swing set? All there was separating us from them, was a single wire electric fence (of course I tested that out). There were great climbing trees here and there. If you went back far enough, way past the old blue car, the forest began. Once you got here it was like another world for a kid. As best we could tell it went on and on. Endless places to play and hide.
But most importantly, the side yard: once you got through the Richenberg’s and crossed the hay field (was it really hay, or just long grass, who knew?) you came upon the “little railroad,” also known as the Erie Lackawana. It was little because that is what we called it. Besides it was single-tracked, rusty from non-use, and pretty small in our eyes. Beyond this, was the prized “big railroad.” You see, we knew that the Lehigh Valley was plenty worthy of this designation because not only was it double-tracked, it was newer looking, had a lot more traffic (nice shiny rails) and most importantly, it had a trestle (crossing over the little railroad). Critical to note, the double-track narrowed to a single track crossing the trestle. This trestle was the best, in a pretty bad way, actually. If you were brave enough to walk on it, there was no place to put your feet other than on the rails or ties. So. you see it was the ultimate stupid kid dare, walk as fast as you could across the trestle without meeting certain death by an oncoming train. And you could not run, because you had to make sure that you hit each tie just right. The ties were probably a foot and a half apart, which was plenty of room to fit through, facilitating an alternate demise, splattering yourselves below, on the little railroad. Big enough for a well-placed shoe, and not much more. I suppose if you were really good, you might just keep up on the rail. Pick your poison, though, a misplaced foot would be a bad thing either way around. Pretty dumb, mainly.
Anyway, when not doing the dare, or chopping up cherry bombs and lighting the powdered contents on the rail or smashing pennies, we’d be walking the rails. We were pretty poor and likely had no idea what a balance beam was, but we always loved to see who was the best rail walker. How far could you take it, and how fast? Never seemed to be me. Even when the little kids came out. Why?