When I was growing up, I stayed with my grandparents on the weekends and during my summer vacations from school. Not because I was sent there, but because I loved being with my grandparents. And, when I was 7 or 8, there were no other kids in the neighborhood my age, so my grandfather spent a great deal of time with me. He was my best friend. But on weekdays, he was working and so much of the time I had to find things to do by myself.
One of my favorite things to do was ride my blue Schwinn bicycle all around the neighborhood. This was at a better time in America, where kids could explore and expand their neighborhoods free from fears of predators and criminals. I rode my bike around down the street and around the blocks surrounding my grandparent’s home.
I used to pretend I was the captain of the Cedar Paint ferry boat – at that time, believe it or not, a double-ended steamer named the “G. A.Boeckling”,
I made many trips back and forth as the imaginary captain of what we called “The Cedar Point” boat. Safely transporting passengers from The Cedar Point Dock at the foot of Jackson Street in Sandusky to the Cedar Point amusement park built on a peninsula that jutted out like a long finger into Lake Erie.
I fought rough seas, storms, and onboard emergencies, always making sure my passengers arrived safely going to and coming from Cedar Paint. My imagination as a child was unbounded and my memories of those halcyon days were vivid and sometimes painfully nostalgic,
Many times, though, I would just ride my bike around the neighborhood, not a great ferry boat captain, but just a little boy, alone in the summer, looking for something to do.
It was during these rides around the neighborhood that I meant a man that I knew as Sam. Sam looked shriveled and old to me then. Skinny as a skeleton, skin mottled and bumpy with age. But then, everyone over 30 looked old to me. So I don’t know how old Sam was, but he looked very old to me. I knew he was retired because he was always on his front porch when I rode passed his house.
He would wave as I rode by his house and sometimes he would flast a crooked smile. One day, he was standing in his driveway, near the sidewalk where I rode my bike, and as I rode back, he said what’s your name boy? “I’m Sam!”, he bellowed. I meekly introduced myself and then he motioned to the porch and asked me if I wanted to rest. Maybe we could be friends he said.
In those days there was nothing creepy about that – like there would be today.
So, I sat down on a beat-up old chair on his front porch and listened to him tell me stories and his views on everything. I can remember him telling me not to judge him or anyone by their appearance. He asked me to ignore his unkempt hair and filthy clothes because people don’t need fancy haircuts or clothes in heaven. His shoes had soles that were starting to peel away from the leather, “but you don’t need shoes in heaven” he reminded me when he caught me staring at his shoes.
“In heaven we have everything we need and nothing we don’t need”, he said with a crooked little smile that exposed crooked yellow and a few teeth missing. “You don’t need no doctors or dentists or lawyers in heaven”, he ranted, pointing his finger at me. “In heaven you have everything you need and nothing you don’t need”, he repeated.
One time, as he was philosophizing, we heard the ice cream truck coming down the street. The jingle-jangle of the ice cream man coming was one of the best memories of my childhood. Every kid looked forward to the ice cream man. As the ice cream truck’s jingle-jangle-music grew closer, Sam gave me a whole dollar and told me to buy whatever I wanted from the ice cream man. His treat he said.
I rushed down to the street, dollar bill in hand, and met the ice cream truck as it came around the corner. I bought a Torpedo… a paper cylinder filled with ice cream. You ate it by pushing the ice cream up through the tube using a stick that was stuck into the bottom. It was a great way to eat ice cream – a real novelty. I think they still sell something like them today.
Anyway, my Torpedo cost 15 cents. I got 85 cents change and rushed back up to the porch to give Sam his change. He said, “No, you keep it boy, you don’t need no money in heaven.” I ate my torpedo and then I told him I needed to get back to my grandparent’s house or they would start to worry. He said, “Go on boy, get back to your home, but remember, there ain’t no worries in heaven”. I looked at him blankly, not really understanding why he was telling me this, and thanked him again for the ice cream and for letting me keep the change. Eighty-five cents was a lot of money in the days when you could buy a Coke from the Coke machine for a nickel.
I watched him wave and flash a crooked smile at me as I rode away.
I don’t think it was even a whole week later that I heard my grandparents talking about a man name Mischler, who had committed suicide by hanging himself from the rafters in his garage. I didn’t know Sam’s last name but I had a terrible feeling that the man named “Mischler” was the man I knew as Sam.
I got on my bike and rode to Sam’s house, but Sam was not on the porch as he always was. The front door was shut, and I had never seen it shut before. The door was always open in the summer- you could see into his house through the screen door.
When the newspaper came that night, there was a picture of Sam and a story about the suicide. It said his name was Samuel K. Mischner, aged 67, born June 7, 1890 – Died July 28, 1957. He was preceded in death by his wife Maggie, and his only son, Matthew, who died from a childhood illness at age 10.
I was only a little boy then, but I always wondered what was going through his mind that led him to climb up that ladder and hang himself. It was a lot for a little boy to process and something I would never forget.
And I have never forgotten Sam though I had only talked to him a few times. I will never forget the dark feeling that came over me when I imagined Sam’s last moments in the garage. The rope, the ladder, the thoughts that must have been racing through his mind – the thoughts that had driven him to such a terrible thing. That was over 60 years ago and yet I will never forget my thoughts and feelings then – thoughts and feelings no little boy should ever have
And I still remember his last words to me after I told him I had to get home because Grandma and Grandpa would worry about me…
“There ain’t no worries in heaven…”
Rest in peace, Sam.