My guest today is the energetic, entertaining and all around neat guy--Larry Enright. I asked Larry to stop by on his book launch tour and share a few things you won't find in his author bio. I'm still grinning over that photo. And I love the gang. Thanks for stopping by, Larry, and sharing a cup of coffee with me, as well as some fantastic samples for the readers out there.
Thank you for having a cup of coffee with me, Linda! I try to drink 5 cups a day. Well, I don't have to try very hard, but you get the idea.
The sample and cover shot I've brought is from my new book, A King in a Court of Fools.
I've also brought a photo of the Enright kids taken for Christmas 1957 and made by my parents into a Christmas card. Apparently my folks were way more high tech than I ever gave them credit. The photo has a great story behind it.
I had a wonderful aunt named Grace, who saved everything, and I mean everything, including a bag with photos from our childhood - years worth of photos. I only vaguely remember things from way back then, so it's been a load of fun going through this bag and scanning the old photos. The cover for A King in a Court of Fools was one of those discovered photos - how cool is that! I had originally intended to use a different photo but when I saw this one... How could I resist a kid on a horse? That kid on the cover is me, by the way.
Aunt Grace was the neatest person I know. Not one thing was ever out of place in her apartment and God help you if you picked something up and didn't put it back where it belonged. I think she also had a secret desire to live in Florida. She kept the heat up so high we used to joke about wearing our swim suits when we went to visit her. We could walk to her place, and I remember that we did a lot. Grace worked in a bank as a teller for many years and I remember visiting her there, too. She liked to play cards - Euchre was her favorite game. I remember many things about her, but mostly I remember that she was a wonderful person. As I look back on my growing up, I know I've been blessed and am thankful for it every day.
By the way, I'm the nerdy, Sir Nigel-looking one with the glasses in the photo. As if you couldn't guess.
Well, gotta go, but I hope you have a few minutes to read the sample. I had so much fun writing it that I may just write another.
A King in a Court of Fools
© 2011 All rights reserved
Stop reading! This is my journal. It’s classified information — top secret. This is your last warning. Stop now or I’ll pound you. I mean it.
King Thomas of Ryan
1 – Introduction
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but that’s how I remember the chicken scratch from the cover of Tom’s journal. Tom Ryan — he’s my big brother. He was in sixth grade at the time he started keeping it. He was ten and I was five. Sister Jeanne Lorette made him do it, he said. Tom thought it was punishment for constantly misbehaving in her class. He would say that. That’s how he was. I think she was just trying to help him express himself in ways more productive than his usual tough guy act.
Speaking of tough guy acts, I’ve always imagined that if Tom had the room on that composition book cover, he would have added:
You’re still reading, aren’t you? I warned you, but you couldn’t stop, could you, you nosey-baloney? Well, it’s too late now. And don’t bother wiping your prints off the book. I have my ways. And don’t try to hide either. I’ll find you.
Go ahead, keep reading, but once you know the secrets, it will be the last thing you ever read.
Tom was big on threats. That was his modus operandi. He was under the impression that it was the only way to get anyone to do what he wanted. So he picked on us a lot, but we all knew he was a softy deep down — all talk, no action. You know the type. I honestly don’t remember him doing anything really nasty to anyone, except kids who were picking on us. And I’m sure he felt totally justified in those cases because he was doing it for a good cause.
Of course, I can’t speak to his behavior once he moved on to high school. I saw less and less of him and the gang had, by then, disbanded. But before that, we were all part of his gang and under his protection, whether we wanted to be or not.
Tom’s journal is long gone. It’s unfortunate in a way. It would be much better hearing his story in his own words rather than from my memory of the events that took place that year. It seems like so many years ago. But I imagine like all the other evidence he wanted “lost,” he covered it with Testors cement and burned it when he moved on to the seventh grade. Or maybe he buried it in the side yard. We’ll probably never know. I’m sure he’ll never tell, and I doubt Mom and Dad will be digging up the yard any time soon to find it.
That leaves you with me to piece this together. You have to keep in mind that I was only in first grade at the time, so my reading skills were limited. Simple chapter books were easy, but not sixth grade Tom-ese. He used words I’d never heard of, words I found out later I was better off not knowing.
How did we get our hands on Tom’s secret journal? My other brother, Sam and I found it. We used to sneak into Tom’s bedroom despite the threat of the “Keep Out or Die” sign on his headquarters door. Or maybe it was because of that sign and the inherent danger involved in tempting fate. In any case, we’d play with the toys he never let us touch, we’d look out his window at the Ioli’s house across the street just like he did when he was preparing for a mission, and we’d rifle through his drawers looking for his secret stuff. That’s how we found it. He kept it hidden under a pile of shoes in his closet. It smelled like old shoes, too. That was cool, but the coolest thing? The journal was about us.
Tom was chronicling the adventures of his gang for Sister Jeanne Lorette. Every chance we got, we would sneak in, and Sam would read it to me or I would try reading to him. We had a blast with it. The way Tom described his adventure we couldn’t believe it was about us at first, but there was no doubt after several pages that this story was our adventure as seen through his imagination. And did he ever have an imagination.
So, if you’re willing to accept it on that basis and for what’s it worth, I invite you to enjoy the story of A King in a Court of Fools.
2 - The Caswell Gang
I should first introduce the Caswell gang to you. That’s what Tom called us. Tom was the oldest of the Ryan kids. He was our leader, a position he said could only be held by him since he was the one who’d started the gang. There was no argument on this point. Or, as he put it, “If you don’t like it, lump it.” Tom was born right after World War II. Mom and Dad had married during that awful time and when it finally ended and everyone went home, Dad got a job as a truck driver; they bought a house and started their family by bringing Tom into the world. Tom always said that they should have stopped there. The rest of us are happy he didn’t have the only vote in that.
Next was Mary. She was a year younger than Tom and probably the most responsible one of us. Just ask her. She was always an expert at details and organization, so Tom appointed her secretary to take minutes and collect the dues. Yes, that’s right — dues. Everyone had to chip in twenty-five cents of their weekly allowance. For those of us who got no allowance, we went without our nickel milk for lunch and drank water from the fountain instead. Believe it or not, the dues were Mary’s idea, not Tom’s. She argued quite logically that without them there would be no parties at Isaly’s, no root beer floats, no cherry Cokes at Meade Drug, and definitely no official Caswell Gang hats. I think you can see where she was coming from, but she was right as usual, and thanks to her and additional funds supplied by Mom, we each had an official Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap to call our very own.
Then came Sam. Sam started off life very short and didn’t get much bigger for a long, long time. He was barely four feet tall in fourth grade. At first, Tom didn’t have much hope for him as a gang member. But if nothing else, Tom was clever, and he quickly found a good use for Sam. Sam became the mole, the one Tom sent into the tight spots —the storm drains, basement windows, the newly discovered caves; you know the kind of places I’m talking about. Sam was pretty good at it, too. Of course, once he got to high school, Sam shot up like a bean sprout and was never able to do that kind of thing again, but by then, the gang had long since disbanded.
Kate — Katherine that is — was the next in line. She was the family talker and, as Tom said, was so bubbly she could fizz up a flat, day-old Coke. She was also the baby in the family, even after I was born. And for some reason, no one, and I mean no one, not even Tom, dared hurt her. Tom said she was born with a built-in punch-proof, torture-proof, Colgate Gardol shield. But it was just something about her, I guess. Tom appointed her chief negotiator. Anytime another gang invaded our territory, Kate did the talking for us. She always won, or should I say, we never lost. She was our mouthpiece.
Lastly, came me — Harry. I was the youngest. Even Tom couldn’t figure out a use for me right away. I was the tag along of the gang. I was in first grade when he was in sixth, so I was more an in-the-way nuisance than an asset. “Mom made me bring him” was Tom’s patented response to anyone who asked what the little squirt was doing there. But eventually even I assumed a role. I became the official decoy, the one sent to flush out the enemy, the one to take their fire while the rest outflanked them. The others thought I was crazy for doing it, but you’d be surprised just how bad a kid’s aim can be when he’s trying to hit a little pip-squeak like me with a snowball.
The rest of the gang was other sixth graders from the neighborhood. They were Tom’s soldiers. Wayne Brubacher was one. He lived a few streets over from us. I don’t remember him much outside of the gang. Funny how that is. Bobby Fey was another. He was a nice kid, great sense of humor — I liked him — but Tom picked on him more than anyone else. Tom thought he and his jokes were stupid. Then there was Tom Braithwaite, who lived down Caswell Drive from us. There wasn’t anything special about him that I could tell except that Tom liked his sister, and that was enough to get Braithwaite into the gang. We all had to call him “Braithwaite” so he wouldn’t be confused with our fearless leader. Finally, there was Bob Cassidy. He was big, but not just big; he was really, really big. Whatever it was that Sam missed out on, Big Bob got a double dose of it. He was the Friar Tuck of the gang — always smiling and happy, and so big he’d scare the heck out of anyone, even some high school kids. That’s why we called him “Big Bob.”
Our secret hideout was in the woods next to our house. Deep in that woods was a cherry tree, but not just any old cherry tree, the Cherry Tree. That’s all you had to say, “the Cherry Tree,” and we all knew what you meant. It was the tallest tree around and if you climbed to the top, which was a good forty feet up, everything you saw belonged to the Caswell gang. And our claim saying just that was staked by a sign tacked to the base of the tree, warning off any interlopers who happened by. We defended it with our lives. Those were the rules. Our parents never knew we climbed that tree. Otherwise, I’m sure they would have banished us from the woods. But climb it we did, every day. Tom went first and sat on the King’s limb — the highest spot.
Naturally. Next was Mary, then Sam, Kate, Wayne, Bobby Fey, Braithwaite, Big Bob, and lastly, me. I couldn’t even get to the lowest limb, so Big Bob always pulled me up that far before heading higher up himself. I was happy there. Anywhere off the ground made me part of the Caswells.
Everyone in the gang went to Saint Catherine’s. That was a rule, too. No publics were allowed. Tom had a book in which he kept all the rules, but he never let anyone see it. It was one of those little black books guys kept girls’ phone numbers in. He called it the Book of Tom. Sam and I never found it when we were rummaging through his room. It never left his sight.
We assembled at 7:30 every morning on the corner, wearing our school uniforms — dark blue pants, blue shirt, and tie for the boys, and blue plaid skirt and blue blouse for the girls. The boys all wore white socks because it was cool, and the girls wore dark blue knee-highs. Black dress shoes all around. The uniforms each bore the Saint Catherine’s emblem. That got us past the patrol boys and hall monitors — at least that’s what Tom claimed. Everyone carried a lunchbox — the design was optional according to gang rules. Mine was Mickey Mouse. And everyone had a book bag. I didn’t have many books in mine — papers and composition notebooks mostly — but what I did have stashed inside it, and what we all had, was the official gang Pirates cap. Once we were out of sight of our house, Tom put his hand up just like General Custer did for his cavalry to stop, and we all put on our caps. That was a special moment for us every day; that was the moment we became the Caswell Gang.
Hope you enjoyed your visit. Stop in again soon for another treat from some truly unique authors with unique books. Hey, who knows--one of these days I'm actually going to share those hippie pictures of me. Looking for an entertaining way to spend the evening?