All stories on this Blog should be considered FICTION, whether true or not.
Death itself is a strange subject at best. Most people are afraid of death at some level, or at least some point in their life. A lot a people worry about how the end might come, and will they have to suffer with pain. They worry about their loved ones that they will be leaving behind. There are hundreds of thousands of books about murder. There have been millions of sermons in our churches about death and the afterlife. And we all have heard about the atrocities of war. Some people claim to remember previous lives, and thousands around the world practice a belief in reincarnation. Death can come quickly; death can come after a long illnesses. Death can be gruesome or death can come peacefully during one’s sleep. Having said all this, in reality no one knows anything for sure about death except that the current body no longer lives.
These concepts are difficult enough for adults to understand and deal with, but they are especially difficult for young people and children. When exposed to death in even the least little way, so many people seem to fall apart, have mental breakdowns, and develop phobias or become psychotic, while others are only capable to dealing with a little exposure under just the right circumstances and still others can function, pretty much, perfectly well.
There is a young man named Royce Frazier that I am proud to know, and proud to call a friend. He has always had an astounding resiliency toward the catastrophes that he has had to endure and experiences he has had to deal with. I find it hard to believe that he has dealt with what he has had to deal with and still function in what most people would consider to be a normal level. This is a true recounting about this remarkable young man.
May 6th 1955 was a day of extreme excitement for Royce Frazier. Today is his seventh birthday. He woke to the smell of a fresh spring morning and chirping birds outside his bedroom window. He bounded out of bed and ran down stairs full of excitement and ready to start his special day. His expectation was for the traditional Frazier birthday day. Everyone will be excited for him, there would be a special birthday breakfast of all his favorite breakfast foods, there would be lots and hugs and kisses, he’ll be recognized at school, and there will be his birthday dinner with all the foods he selected, his cake and then a few select presents. The day will be all about him.
Royce jumped to the bottom landing of the stairway and ran into the living room. But instead of the celebratory atmosphere that he expected; the smells of cooking bacon and Cinnamon French Toast, he found his mother sitting on the floor crying uncontrollably, heaving and sobbing like he had never known. His mother had just received a phone call that her mother had died a few minutes ago.
For the remainder of the day and night mom and dad were absorbed with funeral arrangements, selecting clothing, selecting pall bearers, notifying family members, obtaining a loan to cover funeral expenses and grieving. Royce’s seventh birthday was lost to all, not even one happy birthday from anyone. Three days after Royce’s birthday was grandma’s funeral. After the funeral his dad had taken Royce aside and explained to him that his birthday would be celebrated, but not for a few more days. It never really happened.
As the following year proceeded life got back to normal. Birthdays had come and gone for Dad, Mom and Royce’s brother Kenny. The families’ celebratory festivities went on as normal. As the time approached for his birthday, Royce is now looking forward to what will be his eighth birthday. Once again Royce had selected his special birthday breakfast, dinner and cake. He was especially looking forward to this birthday because he was going to be old enough to become a Cub Scout like this older brother and all the other boys in the neighborhood that were just slightly older than himself. Royce could hardly wait to be eight and join Cub Scouts.
Two days before Royce’s eight birthday his paternal grandfather died. Not only did this dampen his father’s attitude, but this grandfather had a brother with a birthday the day before Royce’s and a sister with a birthday the day after Royce’s. Because of this is it was decided that the funeral would be held on Royce’s birthday rather than either one of grandpa’s brothers or sisters.
The following year was uneventful and once again life got back on a normal keel. Birthdays went as planned for the rest of the family and Royce is now looking forward to his ninth birthday. Because the previous two birthdays were so catastrophic Royce’s mom and dad decide Royce should have this one as a really special event. A party was in order; or so they thought.
Royce’s maternal grandfather had died many years ago when his mother was only three, so he had never known but three of his grandparents and two of them had died in the previous two birthdays. The only grandparent left was his maternal grandmother. Mom had asked Royce’s maternal grandmother to bake Royce’s favorite cake for his birthday. She had risen early the day of his birthday to make his cake. She wanted it to be fresh and delicious for tonight’s party. One of Royce’s aunts went to see if her mom needed any help with decorating the cake. When Marilyn walked into the kitchen she found her mom laying face down on the floor. Grandma had died of an apparent heart attack; she lay dead on the floor covered in cake batter and broken glass. May 6th, Royce’s ninth birthday, and the death of his last grandparent.
Even at the tender age of nine it was not lost on Royce that he had experienced three birthdays and three dead grandparents. Royce appeared to adjust okay, but about nine months later Royce’s parents, family friends, and teachers became aware of Royce’s erratic and uncustomary behavior. He was becoming uncharacteristically belligerent, testy, emotional and eating poorly. His teachers reported behavioral problems at school. His grades were dropping and he was not turning in assignments or doing homework. He was fighting with other children, and he had actually been caught trying to skip school on two occasions. Pretty radical behavior for a 3rd grader.
Practically everyone attempted to find out what was going on with Royce, but when they tried to talk to Royce about it, all he would do was clam up and then start crying. Even his brother Kenny who was two years older couldn’t get Royce to open up. Mom telephoned her brother, Uncle David, who was Royce’s favorite uncle. She told her brother about the conflicts Royce was experiencing and he decided to see if he could help Royce.
“Hello”, said Royce
“Hey little buddy, it’s Uncle Dave.”
“Hi, Uncle Dave.”
“How about I come by and pick you up? I thought we’d go to the park over by the Liberty Memorial and play catch. Maybe hit a few too. After that we can go to Velvet Freeze and get a couple of triple dipper orange Sherbet cones. What do you say?”
“I’ll have to check with mom, but it sounds great.”
Uncle Dave was there is about fifteen minutes and he and Royce headed off to the Liberty Memorial. They had been there about 30 minutes before piling in the car and heading to Velvet Freeze just off Linden Boulevard, not too far from the Liberty Memorial. They got their cones and headed back down to Gillam Park to eat them. About half way through the cones Uncle David put his left arm around Royce’s shoulder and said,
“We need to have a serious conversation buddy.”
“About what?” asked Royce?
“About the fact that lots of folks are really worried about you. Your mom and dad, your Boy Scout Master, the preacher, your teacher and principal, and me; we’re all very worried.”
Royce looked down with a sheepish look on his face, and told his uncle that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Royce. We’ve always been best friends. We have never lied to one another. You know how much I love you. So please, tell me what is eating on you. For your own good if not for mine”.
The floodgates opened up. Royce cried non-stop for the next five to ten minutes. Sobbing and boohooing uncontrollably. Finally Royce looked at his uncle with tear filled eyes, and with a quivering voice said,
“My birthday is in three months, and I don’t want mom, dad or you to die.”
“What are you talking about Royce?”
“Every birthday someone dies; grandma, grandpa and then grandma. You mom and dad are next. I can’t stop my birthday from coming. If I could I would.”
Then Royce broke down in tears again. Uncle David did all he could to console Royce. They got back in the car and drove home. Mom, dad and Uncle David had a very long; heart wrenching conversation with Royce. They explained to Royce that his grandparents were old. Their deaths had nothing to do with him or his birthdays. It was just a horrible coincidence. It was just their time. They promised him that none of them were going to die. Royce felt much better, but he was not 100% convinced yet. Royce’s tenth birthday was perfect. No deaths, a fantastic party with friends and relatives, and great meals. His life was back on track and he was happy.
After a great summer September brought back to school excitement. New shoes, a new outfit or two, new school supplies and back to school with his new fourth grade teacher Miss Hastings. At Columbian grade school it seemed like the teacher continued to teach there for a long time. Every kid knew who his teacher was going to be for each of his successive years, and Miss Hastings was an especially well liked teacher by all the kids. Royce just knew that 1958 was going to be a great year. Royce, his brother and all the neighborhood kids loaded up their new school supplies and started their one plus mile walk to school. The group was at the crossing just outside the school entrance where the School Patrol Boy had stopped them. (Being on School Boy Patrol was always a big deal. Only a select few 6th graders were every chosen for this important position of authority. ) While standing at the crossing Royce saw Miss Hastings pulling up in her 57 Chevy convertible. When she and Royce saw each other they both waved wildly.
Oh no! Royce screamed a blood curdling scream as loud as he could and Miss Hastings slammed on her breaks. It was too late. A little kindergartner girl stepped off the curb against the School Patrol Boy’s attempts to stop her, while she was waving at her mother. Even with Miss Hastings slamming on the breaks the kindergartner was hit with tremendous force. Royce saw her head explode with such violence that several nearby children were splattered with blood. The five year old was drug under the car while the majority of her clothing was ripped from her little body. Unbelievable mayhem and chaos, and the streets filled with screaming, crying people of all ages. Someone had gotten to a telephone and called the police. The police and the fire department arrived with incredible speed. It seemed like they were there instantly because Royce’s world seemed to be running in slow motion. The corpse of the small body and the shattered Miss Hastings were loaded up and taken to K.U. Medical Center about a half mile away.
Miss Hastings never returned to teaching and Miss Breckenridge took over her class. A few days passed and the school children were still numb from what had happened when the principal announced a Special Assembly for everyone to attend immediately. The auditorium consisted of all the children sitting on the very wide stairway leading to the second floor, and chairs for the principal and teachers down on the main entry way. The children were confused to see the majority of the parents were also there. The principal, Miss Overman, stood before a podium. Miss Overman, was visibly upset and had great difficulty addressing the children and teachers.
“It is my unpleasant duty to report to everyone that our beloved Miss Hastings has passed away. She was discovered dead in her apartment this morning. School is dismissed and school will be closed until future notice.”
None of the students suspected anything or could read between the lines, but all the teachers and parents knew that Miss Overman had just announced that Miss Hastings had committed suicide.
Very few of the students were upset, or impacted, by the announcement, mostly they were just excited about getting out of school, even though the school year had barely started, but not so with Royce. Another death of someone he cared a great deal about. He was barely over the trauma of seeing the small child’s head explode before his eyes, and now his beloved teacher and friend is dead too. Royce’s mother thought it was time for another life discussion with Royce. Yes, Royce was impacted by these two deaths, but he was handling it better than his mom had expected. During their talk Royce even made the comment,
“Things happen mom, I’ll be okay.”
By the following summer Royce has become good friends with the Evans family. There were three girls and two boys of varying ages. Vicky was 12 and at this time Royce was 11. Vicky and Royce became great friends and Royce is thrilled that they have moved into the neighborhood. No one living in this poor neighborhood is wealthy by any means, but one great thing about the Evans family is that they own lots of bicycles. They have plenty of both boys and girls bikes. This was a real treasure in this neighborhood. Royce does not have a bicycle of his own. He and his brother share an older used bike, and most of the time his older brother dominates it. Vicky had an older brother named Jackie. Jackie was a good looking kid, and quite the athlete. At 15 Jack is too old to spend much time with the eleven year old Royce, but he does like Royce, and Royce likes Jackie too.
One day Jackie was riding home on his bicycle from visiting his girl friend. He was a little late getting home so he was going faster than the road allowed him to travel for making one of the curves. Jackie came upon a turn that he needed to make, but he couldn’t make it. He went off of a small retaining wall and fell about five or six feet. Jackie hit something with his face and knocked his two front teeth loose. No one except Jackie saw any significance to this but Jackie became very morose and obsessed over it. It seems that Jackie had recently read something about a little know ailment to the general public called “Cancer”. Jackie grew more and more convinced that he was going to die of cancer from this injury to his mouth. Jackie believed that there was no cure and that he was going to die a painful death. This was going to be a costly death that would put his family in the “Poor House”, and he couldn’t stand the thought of being such a burden on his family. No one could convince Jackie otherwise.
One Saturday morning Royce went down to the Evans house to see if he could borrow a bike and go riding with Vicky. Mrs. Evans told Royce that it was okay, but he would have to go to the rear entrance to the basement and get one of the bikes to ride. Royce entered the basement and froze in his tracks. There was Jackie with a rope around his throat and hanging from the natural gas pipe. His tongue was sticking out and bleeding from where he had bitten it. Jackie had kicked off one of his shoes and had release his bowls into his pants. The chair he had been standing on lay on its back below Jackie’s feet, and a suicide letter rested on a nearby wooden table. Royce vomited, and then began to cry. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he was shaken to his senses by the screaming of Mrs. Evans who was standing behind him.
In the suicide letter Jackie had explained that he knew he was going to die of cancer. He did not want a painful death, and he did not want to burden his family with his care. Jackie explained that he knew he was committing the unforgivably since and would not be allowed a Catholic funeral or be able to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, but that was a price he was willing to pay. An autopsy was done and revealed no sign of any cancer, and that his teeth had substantially healed. This was a tragic loss of a human life with great potential. The workings of the adolescent mind can never be fully explained.
Ever since Royce was five years old he had been good friends with an adult neighbor named Bo Carol. Bo was a disabled former Kansas City Missouri police officer; or so he claimed. Most of the kids bought into all of Bo’s stories, but that was not necessarily true of the adults. Royce overheard his dad and Mr. Chapman talking about Bo one day. They didn’t believe he’d ever been a cop because he never got visits from the cops he had worked with or any firemen and they had always heard how close knit these people were. The adults did believe that Bo was disabled and they knew that he had money, even though he lived in a very poor neighborhood, because he bought a new custom made Cadillac every other year. Bo also could afford lots of custom made furniture like his easy chair that he slept in at night. You see, Bo was a very large man. He was over six feet tall and weighed between 500 and 600 pounds. That’s where the police stories came from. Bo claimed that while working for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department he had been shot and damaged some type of gland causing him to gain massive amounts of weight. That is why so many things had to be custom made. His easy chair for example, had a steel reinforced back and special drop down support legs in the rear so Bo could sleep in it without going flat. According to Bo laying flat would put too much stress on his heart and would kill him.
Bo had a unique set up at his house. In the front yard was a custom made red and white checkered metal glider just for him, and on either side of it were wicker rockers for his guests to sit on. If the weather wasn’t conducive for sitting in the front yard, then he had a similar setup on the enclosed front porch, but with four rockers instead of two. All of the neighborhood kids liked talking to Bo and so did most of the adults. He told lots of interesting stories. Most of the stories related to his police experiences, but not all of them. Royce knew all of the stores by heart and could have told them too, but without as much vim and vigor as Bo did. Bo even claimed to have an electric chair in the basement that he had bought from a nearby prison. This was even a little far out for Royce to believe, but he never challenged Bo on it.
All the neighborhood, children, men and women, knew that Bo always loved company. Day or night was okay with Bo. Back in the 50s people sat out and visited each other a lot, and Royce’s neighborhood was no different. Bo’s only rule however, was that no one was allowed inside his house, especially boys and girls He said he wasn’t about to have people spreading vicious rumors and talking about him or anyone else. Royce didn’t understand what Bo meant by this. Bo was such a colorful character everyone was always talking about him. It just couldn’t be helped. Bo liked everyone, but Royce knew that he, Royce, was Bo’s favorite. Bo had told him this more than once. Royce was so proud because Bo had once told him that if he’d ever have a son he would want him to be just like Royce. Bo was an adult. He was probably about 40, and because of his size and status he was a celebrity of sorts, but to Royce, Bo was one of his closest and best friends, just someone to talk to and enjoy his company, a really great guy.
One spring Saturday morning Royce woke to the sweet smell of honeysuckle outside his open window, and the sound of chirping Robins and cooing Doves. Since everything was so perfect Royce had slept in, which was extremely rare for him, and he could hear other children outside playing and his brother down stairs watching Saturday morning cartoons. It sounded like Mighty Mouse was on. Royce got up and got dressed. He didn’t need a bath since he had taken one last night after getting all hot and sweaty playing hide and seek. Royce went down stairs and made his usual gigantic bowl of Cheerio’s (always Cheerio’s since that is what they showed on The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore), and watched cartoons with his brother while mom and dad slept in.
After devouring the remainder of the Cheerio’s in the box, Royce decided it would be a great morning for visiting Bo. When he got to Bo’s the windows were open as usual but the door was shut. Bo’s door was always open by now. Royce knocked several times but Bo did not come to the door or holler out. Royce knocked two more times. Bo had to be home because his Cadillac was out front where he always kept it. Royce went to one of the windows and looked in through the curtains. He could see Bo lying in his chair. Royce knocked again, still nothing. Royce knew something wasn’t right. Royce opened the door and hollered in. (No one kept their doors locked in those days.) Royce ventured in even though he knew that Bo didn’t allow people inside his house, but Royce figured it was okay since it wasn’t just anyone, it was him. He did not like what he found.
The back and support legs on Bo’s chair had broken and Bo was laying flat on his back. His head was actually a little lower than his body and the blood had flowed to his head making it look like a giant purple plumb, disfigured and hideous. Royce ran home as quickly as he could. He was screaming at the top of his lungs for his dad. He told Dad what he had found and they walked back down to Bo’s house. Dad got on Bo’s phone and called the police to report that he had found a dead body and gave them the name and address. Bo must have really been a police officer at one time. Within 15 minutes there were about 50 cops, a fire truck and two ambulances at his house.
Bo was so large they couldn’t get him out on a stretcher, so dad went back to the house and returned with a sheet of plywood so Bo could be carried out to one of the ambulances. The men had great difficulty getting Bo and the plywood through the door. There were at least ten adult men trying to get Bo through the door and to the ambulance. It was a pathetic sight. They dropped Bo’s body twice and had to struggle to get him back on the plywood, and then they had difficulty even getting him into the ambulance. They had covered his body with one of Bo’s bed sheets and it looked like they were carrying a baby whale on the plywood. Royce was mortified for Bo. Royce loved Bo, but even so, he could barely cry. He’d already had too much exposure to death at the ripe old age of 12.
Royce lived in a neighborhood referred to as “The Hill”. Cambridge Street was the only street that ran through The Hill. It ran North and South. Up the hill there were no houses, then there was one block of houses, and then back down The Hill there were no houses. Both sides being very steep grades. To give an idea of how steep the grades were one needs to understand that most of the boys were usually anywhere from 14 to 16 before they were big enough and strong enough to ride their bikes up The Hill without having to get off and push. And keep in mind these were boys that rode bikes every day and were conditioned for bike riding.
Cambridge was a unique street. First of all there was the name Cambridge itself. Stateline road ran down to the base of The Hill, and then the name suddenly changed from Stateline to Cambridge. The numbering of the houses on Cambridge was also very strange. The last house on Stateline was 3300, yet the houses on the one block of Cambridge were in the 300s instead of carrying on in the expected sequence. Royce’s address was 338 Cambridge instead of something more like3038 or 2938, or something more in sequence with Stateline. No one was ever able to explain to Royce why the addresses were so strange. Cambridge went up the hill, somewhat leveled off for one block, and then went back down the hill. On the rise and descent the East side was sheer cliff about 20 feet high, then there was the street, then an elongated set of cement stairs with each tread being between four and six feet long going up the hill, then there was large metal piping for railing, and on the far West another drop off. The same was true of the North side going down the hill, except this side was actually a little steeper and ended in a dead end. The North side was what all the kids used for sledding in the winter. The West side had another really cool aspect to hit. As the grade dropped off severely the grade level of the ground from the railings was extreme within just a few feet of the rails. Not exactly a cliff, but close. There were vines that grew on the trees and the kids had lots of fun swinging off the rails and out over the open air. The Hill was actually a very fun place to grow up in many regards.
Royce had a friend named Gary Riley. Gary did not live on “The Hill”, but lived about two blocks away. To get to Gary’s house Royce had to walk down the South side of Cambridge, turn right on Douglas Street and walk the one block past the Clifford’s, the Reynolds’s, the Brisendine’s, and two other houses, then past Gregg’s neighborhood store. Then up Francis street past the Havilin’s, the Simowitzes, the McAllister’s and a few other houses before he got to Gary Riley’s house. The first house on Douglas was the Clifford’s house. The Clifford’s house was a large old, decrepit two story house. The Clifford’s had eight children, and at least four of them were simple minded; the worst being Sharon who was actually retarded. None of the children appeared to be violent and everyone considered them harmless.
Royce had gone to Gary’s house so they could take their .22 caliber rifles and go the dump to shoot rats. The nearby Kate Railroad tracks were a loading area for grain and there were always lots of spills on the ground when the box cars were loaded from the grain elevators. This spillage was frequently scooped up by the railroaders and taken to the nearby dumping area that the railroad owned. Rats thrived on this. Shooting the rats was great sport and Royce and many of the other children started shooting them at young ages, many as young as eight. If the kids hadn’t done this to control the rat population, the neighborhoods would have been overrun with rats and disease.
Royce and Gary were leaving for the dump when Mrs. Riley told Gary that she wanted him and Royce to go the shed and bring up all her gardening tools before they left. Gary and Royce went to the shed. They opened the door and there stood Mr. Riley with a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun in his mouth. Just as the boys opened the door the gun erupted with a thunderous explosion. Blood, and brains, and bone, and flesh, and hair splattered what remained of the sheds wall behind Mr. Riley. Mrs. Riley came running. She grabbed Gary and hugged him to her bosom while he crumbled into a heap of hysterical humanity. Royce numbly walked home without consolation.
Never Even Knew This Kids Name
A few blocks East of Cambridge was a strange commercial area. I’m not really sure what it was or what it would even be called. There was some type of commercial building that did something with wood. It’s not clear if they milled wood, made furniture, built cabinets, or what, but they had a conveyor of some sort off the back of the building and it would dump piles of sawdust that would stack up 15 or 20 feet tall before they hauled it off. For some unknown reason they also had five or six piles of gravel mounded up probably 25 or 30 feet high. The mounds just sat there. They never seemed to be used for anything.
Back in the 50s and 60s Kansas City had what was called “Blue Laws”. For all practical purposes Blue Laws prohibited anyone but police, firemen and medical personnel from working on Sundays. (I never did figure out how this applied to preachers.) Since no one ever worked at this facility on Sundays the boys frequently went there to play after church. Don’t ask me why, but the boys would jump from one pile of gravel to another. They’d hit the gravel and slide down the sides. It didn’t hurt, but it was very hard on the shoes and the clothing. On the Sunday in question there was an exceptionally large crowd of boys that went to the gravel piles as they called them. One kid from the neighborhood had about six of his cousins visiting him and they too went to the piles.
A boy named Skeeter was getting bored with the usual jumping into the gravel and wanted to show off to the new kids, so he climbed the escalator so he could jump into the sawdust pile. Mr. Daredevil leaped from the escalator and landed in an area about ten feet up from the bottom of the pile. After landing he leaped up in celebration and screamed to everyone what a thrill it was.
“Like landing on a feather bed,” he said.
Royce could not be outdone by Skeeter so he too climbed the escalator and jumped out into the sawdust. After this all the boys are lining up to climb the escalator and make their leaps. This went on for half an hour or more. It was great fun for everyone. Skeeter was right it was like landing on a feather bed.
One of the cousins was ready to make another leap. By this time the initial landing area was beginning to get patted down pretty good, so he aimed his jump for a different spot and leaped into the sawdust pile. All the boys looked on in horror as the boy stood two thirds covered in sawdust with what looked like a large wooden spike protruding through the top of his head. It seems there was a large sliver of wood in the pile. When he landed in the pile the sliver must have been pointing up. The sliver went up through his anus, all the way through his body, and out through his head. The boys had to walk to the nearest house (probably a quarter of a mile away) to have someone telephone the police and the boy’s parents at his cousin’s house. After this the company enclosed the entire area with a very high chain link fencing, and none of the boys ever tried to return to The Pile to play.
GREAT UNCLE CLAY
Royce was a teenager by now, but not old enough to drive yet (somewhere around 1962) when his dad received a phone call from a neighbor of his 82 year old uncle Clay who lived in rural Clinton, Missouri. Clinton was about 80 miles South of Kansas City. This was in July and the weather had been exceptionally hot for several days. These were days of 95 to 105 degree heat and nobody had air conditioning. (Except maybe the very wealthy.) The neighbor told Royce’s dad that there was an awful stink coming from Uncle Clay’s house.
The trip from Kansas City to Clinton was 80 miles of winding Ozark hills on a two lane road full of slow moving tractor trailers, farm equipment and people pulling boats while heading to the lakes. The car did not have air conditioning either, of course. To cool the car the family would hang damp rags over the outside air vents and let the air blow over the rags. It was a long, hot trip, so they constantly had to keep re-wetting the rags.
When they got to Clinton Royce’s dad stopped at Great Grandma Anders house. Great grandma was 97 years old. She was Uncle Clay’s mom and only lived about one half block away from Clay. She too had been smelling something recently, but figured that some critter had died and was smelling up the neighborhood. She did not have a telephone or she would have called Clay to see if her eldest son could figure out what the smell was, and she didn’t feel like walking to his house. It was obvious to the entire Frazier family that there was a strong smell of stench.
Royce and his father walked to Uncle Clay’s from Grandma’s. As they got closer the smell got increasingly stronger, and they had to cover their noses and mouths with their shirts so they could breathe. The door to Uncle Clay’s house was open and it could be seen that his belongings and money were on the table, but no one would enter the house to steal anything because of the stink. Royce’s dad had already told Royce that he was certain Uncle Clay was dead and the cause of the smell, but that they had to be 100% sure. Royce and his dad found Uncle Clay lying on this stomach on the kitchen floor. He was swarmed by flies. Uncle Clay was wearing nothing but his boxers. When Uncle Clay was turned over all of his entrails, blood and fluids poured out onto the floor and fly larvae was strewn throughout. Royce and his dad left and his dad went to a neighbor to call the funeral home since Great Grandma didn’t have a phone. After the corpse was removed Royce’s dad called the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department to burn the house down. This was the only way to rid the neighborhood of the stench.
Great Grandma Anders was never told the specifics of what had happened to her last remaining child. She had outlived all ten of her children and it would have been just too much for her to bear. None the less, she died within two days of Uncle Clay and there was a joint funeral for them.
Just like with Mr. Riley’s shotgun suicide, Royce had nightmare about the condition of Uncle Clay or several weeks, but all in all he handled it pretty well. He did not let it affect his school work, or his day to day life. Some loss of appetite occurred, but it could have been much worse on this teen.
Old Man Lying in the Road
Royce was still in High School, but old enough to be driving. He had taken a part-time job as a sacker and a stocker at Sav-On grocery store. He was earning a whopping fifty cents an hour. This was the going rate for kids in 1964. Not exactly a fortune, but to put it in perspective gasoline was selling from anywhere between 12 cents (with gas wars) and 19 cents per gallon, milk was three half gallons for a dollar and cigarettes were 24 cents per pack. Most working class adult Americans (including Royce’s dad) were making between four and six thousand dollars a year (that’s $2-$3 per hour) and a new Chevrolet was selling for about two thousand dollars. Royce had bought a 1958 Pontiac Star Chief with a big V8 engine that looked and handled like new for three hundred dollars, with car payments of $6.00 a week. This was a little more than half of what Royce was making, but he didn’t mind it.
Royce was driving to work one day. He had been driving down a beautiful tree lined subdivision when he saw an unexpected sight. Laying in the gutter on the side of the road was an elderly man. Royce stopped to check on him and quickly realized the old man was dead. Royce walked to the nearest house and rang the doorbell. A lady in her 60s came to the door.
“By any chance do you have an elderly father living with you” Royce asked.
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“Would you please come with me? I have found an old man lying on the side of the road.”
The woman roan out in hysterics and began screaming before she had even gotten to where the elderly gentleman was laying. The lady called the police and they told her to tell Royce not to leave because they wanted to get his statement. A statement was not what the police wanted. Royce was arrested, handcuffed and taken to police headquarters. His car was towed and impounded. The police believed that Royce had run the old man down with his car. Royce was only sixteen, but he was not allowed to call his parents, or to call his employers to let them know why he was late for work. The police kept him in custody and continued to interrogate him for over four hours. Finally the Medical Examiner contacted the police and told them that the old man had died of an apparent heart attack. The police still held Royce until detectives finished their evaluation of his car to make sure he hadn’t ran over the old man, even though there was no sign of damage to Royce’s car. For Royce his treatment by the police was more traumatic than finding the old man. The police actions went a long way to undermine Royce’s sense of well being in his own neighborhood, and his belief in the police as “A Friend of the Community”. It was an eye opening encounter.
After these events Royce’s life calmed down where death ad corpses were concerned. But just imagine, between the ages of seven and sixteen, a span of only nine years, he had experienced the horrifying deaths of nine people. These were nine very formative years. Years that will mold and shape a young person. He barely had time to recover from one death until he had to deal with the next one that would impact his life forever.\
Royce lived in difficult era. This was an era of different times, different beliefs, and different social and psychological awareness’s. An era of harder and harsher beliefs. There was very little discussion of what he had experienced with his parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, preachers, or anyone else. There was no such thing as grief counselors, psychologist or psychiatrist for the masses. Psychiatrists were only for the rich and raving lunatics. Royce was left to his own demise to work these devastating events out in his own young mind.
Thankfully for Royce not all people are mentally fragile, some, like Royce, are actually very tough. It is amazing what young people can be exposed to and still develop into well adjust, strong, and good natured people, they can actually live happy lives no matter what they have to endure. I have great admiration and respect for Royce Frazier, people that lived through the holocaust and other horrifying life experiences . People that persevere no matter what, and I can only hope that I and others can also have this strength when needed.
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