Su Lum: Slumming
July 19, 2011
I just found a website selling reprints of vintage Little Lulu comic books and bought four big editions (more than 700 pages) for less than $30 each. I’ve been quietly amassing a small number of the original comics over the years, at hideous expense, and suddenly the whole works were dropped in my lap – comics that started out in 1945 and petered out in quality by the 50s. The website is http://www.tfaw.com
As a kid, I loved Little Lulu comics, but I could never afford them. They cost, after all, a dime, and my allowance in those days was a quarter a week. Given the choice between candy, a movie or comic books, I usually went for the penny candy.
My friend Lynne always had money and she had a huge stack of Little Lulu comics in a cabinet next to her kitchen. Lynne was a born entrepreneur. She had a small newspaper route and went about town with a wagon, collecting paper products, metal, rubber and other items the neighbors had saved for the war effort (this was World War II) and sold them to junk yards for small profits that seemed to me to be a fortune.
When we were in third grade, Lynne began to lend me her Little Lulu comics to read. The deal was, I could borrow one comic book and, when I returned it, I could borrow another. This arrangement was fine with me, as well as an education in responsibility, and if it accounted for my future Little Lulu addiction, I have to say that the old Little Lulus are every bit as funny as I remembered them.
The Little Lulu windfall made me think of Lynne and the years we spent together as best friends until time, distance, marriages and babies separated us. We would run through the woods behind her house pretending to be horses, slapping our thighs to imitate a galloping sound, one day pulling up short (WHOA!) at the sight of an old man fondling himself on the other side of the river.
When we were growing up, everything was war, war, war. We didn’t know a world without war. Lynne’s aunt, who lived right in our town, lost her husband in the war and had a little baby. Poor widowed aunt, poor baby.
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We were probably 8 or 9 when we were walking from school to Lynne’s house, right in town – not two miles away like mine, out in the boonies where there wasn’t any opportunity to make extra money – scuffing through the sweet-scented autumn East Coast leaves on the sidewalk, when an old woman opened her front door and hailed us in a foreign language.
I say old woman, meaning she maybe she was in her 40s – all those old people looked the same to us, just as everyone younger than 60 looks 11 or 12 to me now.
Many of our classmates’ parents were first-generation Polish and Italians (each with their own side of town), and this was an Italian woman gibbering loudly at us, gesturing for us to come into her house.
With trepidation, but not daring to refuse, we approached her door. She was waving what looked like a telegram, and clearly wanted us to tell her what it said. In the war days, parents whose children had been killed in the war had stickers on their windows with stars representing the number dead. I don’t remember how many stars were on this woman’s sticker, but she had a sticker and was afraid that the message, whatever it said, might add another star.
I hate to be imprecise, but I also don’t remember what the message DID say – suffice to say that it was not the announcement of another son’s death, and I remember well the old woman’s cries of relief, smothering us with hugs when, despite the language barriers, we were able to reassure her that her endangered son was OK. Not dead. OK.
She tried to press some kind of reward upon us, but we were having none of that. We were just relieved to get out of there, double-relieved that we hadn’t had to confirm her worst fears.
A leap from Little Lulu to the delighted old Italian woman, but that’s what happens when you recall old friends out of the blue – galloping through the woods, a dirty old man masturbating by the river, long deliberations over penny candy, borrowing comic books and what could have been the harrowing moment of having to tell the old lady that her son had, as she expected, been killed.
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