Copyright 2005 Buddy French
For the last several years Ive dreamed of going back to Gary and reliving some of my childhood memories. In reality I had pretty much concluded that would probably never happen. So I thought of writing the Good Times story, enabling me to visit there through my writings. Then my son Tim and daughter Teresa were in for a visit during Christmas and read about my adventures of growing up there during the good times. At their insistence we made that trip back to my memories in Gary and I'm sure glad we did. They seemed intrigued at the thought of standing on the same spot where their dad played when he was a little boy.
We arrived in Gary at ten oclock on Tuesday morning just two days after Christmas 2005. We were warmly dressed for a trip to the mountains and I had brought along a sharp machete. Although it has now been condemned and barricaded, we first visited the Iron Bridge. Oh, what memories of playing on that bridge and waiting for the train to come. I remembered how we would stand on the top beams that were only about ten inches wide and walk the length of the bridge.
I noticed that the old Sycamore tree that once stood at the end of the bridge was gone. Only the rotting main trunk, standing about ten feet high remains today. It was a very large tree, perhaps 80 feet tall. When I was about ten we would wait for a really windy day to climb it. As we neared the top, the main trunk was no more than six inches in diameter and you could experience a great ride. It seemed like it would sway five or six feet back and forth when the wind blew hard. I sometimes wonder how I ever survived childhood.
Next, we climbed the hill to where the Nativity scene was erected at Christmas. Of course there's nothing left there today and it's all grown up. I did find the telephone pole with the large light box mounted on top that represented the star that the wise men followed. We were able to take some great pictures of Gary at this location.
We then climbed up to the water tank and discovered it's no longer in use today. I was surprised how it seemed so much smaller than what I remembered. Then we began following the ridge behind the tank until we came to Big Rock. I was really flabbergasted when I realized Big Rock had shrunk from the size of a dump trunk to that of a Volkswagen Beetle. It's amazing how large things seem to an eight or ten year old kid. I still remember how we would crawl up under the sides of it and pretend it was a cave.
As we continued up the ridge you could see where a bulldozer had been through several years earlier and changed the lay of the land along the ridge. It was obvious my mountain playground had been timbered and the only evidence of the large oak trees I remembered were now rotting stumps. For the most part the forest was now thinly populated with young poplar trees. When we had climbed about half way up the mountain we encountered an inch or so of snow on the ground that made climbing a little more difficult. It's quite a long ways to the summit and my kids began to question if I was sure I could still find Camp Randy. Of course there was never a doubt in my mind, but it did seem twice as far as when I was a kid. I remembered there were times when we kids would decide to go camping as late as eleven o'clock at night. On one occasion the flashlight batteries went dead about halfway up the mountain and we managed to find the campsite by only the light of the moon. After that I always used a kerosene lantern. My dad is now 88 years old and he had that old lantern when he was a kid and we still have it today.
After a lot of huffing, puffing and sweating we arrived at Camp Randy. My son and daughter really seemed thrilled that we had found it. Tim even suggested that we go over the hillside and look for that quart beer bottle that I had thrown as far as I could after getting sick that night, but I wasn't about to do that :-)
There's nothing left at Camp Randy now. The lean-to and table we had built were long gone, but in my minds eye I could still see me, Gail Jasper, Tommy Herlovich and many others sitting around a roaring campfire and listening to the night sounds of the forest back in 1957. I will forever be grateful for my kids insisting that they bring their dad back to the carefree place of his childhood. Places may change and never appear the same again, but my memories of those places will always be with me.