My Comic Books
Memories from long ago
Writer Julia Nunnally Duncan fondly recalls a youthful pastime: “On warm days I would climb into the bed of the [Studebaker pickup] truck and surround myself with model horses and my comic books.” She notes stories and favorites among those classic comics, her companions for years.
One Friday evening in 1968 when I was 12 years old, my father couldn’t find me. He walked around our block asking all our neighbors if they’d seen me. My mother was working second shift at a hosiery mill, and my teenage brother, Steve, was at his job at a hamburger grill, so my father and I were on our own that summer evening.
After searching our neighborhood and all around the house, my father finally discovered me upstairs on a bed asleep. Earlier in the evening he and I had eaten supper at a local fish camp, and afterwards I had come to this upstairs bedroom to relax and read my comic books. Though this wasn’t my regular bedroom – one located downstairs – this upstairs room with its old iron bed was a sanctuary. Here I could stretch out on the soft cotton mattress and immerse myself in my reading.
“I didn’t know you were up here all the time!” my father exclaimed when he came through the door. His voice startled me awake. I had never seen my father scared before, but the tone of his voice told me he had been scared this evening. He was not angry and didn’t reproach me, but was utterly relieved to find me safe.
In those days, I often secluded myself in a quiet place to read. A couple of years earlier, my father had owned a Studebaker pickup. On warm days I would climb into the bed of the truck and surround myself with model horses and comic books. Some of my favorite comic books were Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Dennis the Menace, and Archie. In the Archie Series I could relate more to Betty, the girl next door, than the privileged Veronica. But I loved all the Archie gang.
There was a comfort in losing myself in the colorful, friendly world of comic books. On a recent television news program, one anchor asked another, “Were you ever a comic book collector?” I thought about the question. I hadn’t exactly been a collector, as I was with Monkees bubble gum cards, but I surely enjoyed reading my comic books.
Saturdays were fun days for my mother and me. We called a cab to take us to downtown Marion, as my father usually slept late or sometimes worked on Saturday mornings, and my mother didn’t drive. We spent the day in town, shopping at the Belk department store and Rose’s five-and-dime. After a meal at the Rose’s lunch counter, my mother and I would head down Main Street to Tainter’s Drug Store, where I would linger at the magazine racks to find a new comic book. She never rushed me. Once, when she took a bus trip out of town to visit a relative, she brought back comic books that she’d bought for me at a Raleigh bus station.
I continued reading my comic books until I was around 20, and in recent years I assumed all those old comic books had been discarded. But a couple of years ago while my brother and I were going through our mother’s things, I came across a storage box upstairs that held a few surprises. Inside I found copies of Black Fury (a horse adventure series), Laugh (Archie Series), and Sad Sack Laugh Special. I was so glad my mother had saved these comic books.
Today at my house I keep these mementoes from my past in a bookcase that once stood in my childhood home. I treasure these worn magazines, as I do the memories of a father who was distraught when he thought I was lost on a summer evening and a mother who took time to buy comic books for me at a bus station.
Julia Nunnally Duncan lives in her hometown Marion, North Carolina, where most of her personal essays and poems are set. Her 10 books of prose and poetry include an essay collection, A Place That Was Home (eLectio Publishing), and her essays often appear in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine. Julia is retired now from her profession as an English instructor, but she stays busy writing, gardening, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie.
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