I was still 4 when we were transferred to Beckley, WV. Daddy worked in an office with two other FBI agents. His territory covered 4 counties and he often was gone for several days at a time, often to the home office in Pittsburg. As I would come to learn, a lot of the work that Special Agents for the FBI did was investigative. If a woman from one of his counties applied for a Federal job in Washington, for example, Daddy often would be called on to check her out. If a young man found that the Army life was not what he thought when he enlisted and went AWOL, it was Daddy’s job to track him down and bring him in.
Daddy told me that one time a young man who was AWOL went running out the back door when Daddy knocked on the front door. Daddy chased him at length through the woods until he finally shouted out, “Son, if you don’t stop running, I’ll have to shoot you.”
That worked. The boy stopped. He didn’t have to be told twice.
On one occasion, however, he went to a house and the mother of the AWOL soldier said she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her son.
“Do you mind if I look around,” Daddy asked. Daddy went upstairs, then came down and asked the mother to call his son down so he wouldn’t get hurt.
“How did you know he was up there?” she asked.
“I could smell him,” Daddy said. “He had been eating ramps.”
The boy came down when his mother called.
We found a house on Grandview Avenue, near the Beckley Hospital. It was much larger than the apartments we had in Seattle and Pittsburg. It even had a concrete swimming pool in the back, but we never used it.
To my delight, there was a boy across the street named Billy Richmond. Billy was 5 and a man of the world in my eyes. He was always the leader in our imaginary games. We played war games often, and sometimes Superman. We saw every Superman serial made, playing in the movie theater every Saturday morning.
Billy’s dad was a doctor and fairly well to do. And while an FBI agent made a decent salary, we were not in the same financial league as an MD. Billy got a train set, a nice Lionel layout, the first Christmas we spent in Beckley. We played together often in his basement and I begged and begged for a train set the following Christmas and got one. My favorite part was putting a small pill in the engine’s smokestack and watching it puff away around the track.
Beckley was an interesting city. With a population of 20,000, we had three movie theaters downtown and lots of nice stores. It was a hilly city and got it’s share of snow in the winter months.
I remember that first winter, it snowed at least three feet and the wind blew a snowdrift against our house that went all the way to the roof line – really.
Snow, however, meant sleigh riding and there were some splendid hills for our slaloms. We would fairly zoom down the hills and dodge any cars foolish enough to try to come up the slopes. It was great fun.
The first summer in Beckley, I discovered bikes. Billy, naturally, had one and quickly learned to ride. Again, I begged and pleaded and one Saturday morning, Daddy took me to the local hardware store, we picked out a 21-inch J.C Higgins bike and brought it home. I vividly remember Daddy trotting along beside me, keeping me upright as I pedaled down the street and then he let go and I was as free as a bird. I was actually riding a bicycle by myself. It was a monumental point in my life.
A few days after I got my bike, we were riding down the street in a group, each reaching up to swat at a hanging tree limb. The others were taller and had no problem, but I had to stretch, lost my balance, and then skidded along the pavement, losing a good bit of skin.
The medicine of that day was iodine and Daddy applied it liberally to my wounds while Mom held me down.
But I was on my bike again as soon as the stinging stopped.
After all, I had more of this place called Beckley to explore. And new friends to make.