As Chance Would Have It

As Chance Would Have It
The Adventitious Life

Here are the first two chapters of As Chance Would Have It, titled 1934 and 1937, though the story line extends beyond these dates. I’ve included the prefacing quotes as well.


“…I was careless in loving and I looked upon nature without patience. 

Thus the time passed which was given me on earth.”


“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”

Ecclisiastes 9:10

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.




I was born, I am told, in the Oak Hill hospital at 4:30 a.m on the eighteenth of July. At the time, my father and mother lived in Red Star, not far from Hinton where my grandfather worked for the B&O railroad.

He also was the pastor of the church.  As an itinerant preacher, he founded several churches in Mt. Hope and other parts of West Virginia.  He built a ready-made choir with 10 children, and his wife played the guitar and portable harmonium.


Later we lived in a duplex next to the Oak Hill Dry Cleaners off Central Avenue, half a block from my mother’s family on Central Avenue.

The first thing I know: the kitchen, a white enamel work counter, with a crank for sifting flour.  At the back of the counter, paper cutouts of dwarfs and elves from cereal boxes.  Outside the white lace curtains, white clouds, the intermittent hiss of steam from the tubes of the dry cleaning plant.  In the bedroom off the kitchen, Mother humming My Little Buckaroo to mewling Jack, newly arrived from heaven.  He did not, as promised, arrive with a harmonica – a “femsharp” in my private language. He must have forgot, and I was twelve when I bought one myself from the Sears catalog.

Every time the pressing mangle was in use, steam hissed toward our kitchen window, a mechanical dragon breathing smoke, but not fire.  I was three years old.  My brother had just arrived, taking my place in Mother’s bed.

In compensation for losing my place in the bed, or so it seems to me now, I got cozy with little Anita behind the door to the adjoining apartment   The next thing I know: at the end of the hall, sunlight pours through bubbled glass, makes a pool of yellow on the varnished wood.  ‘Nita stands nekkid behind the door.  She watches me remove my clothes to see what she is missing. We stand holding hands and marveling at the difference between us. She giggled at what I had, and I laughed at what she hadn’t.

We hugged each other and to my surprise she put her arms around my neck began bumping my belly with hers. It was unexpected, but not unpleasant.

That’s when her mother stuck her head round the door frame, took one look and yanked ‘Nita off her feet.

“Gin!” she screamed. “Look what that boy of yours is up to.”

Mothers appear slapping bottoms.  The door is locked between the flats.

If you discount Mom, then, ‘Nita was my first girlfriend.  It was quite a while before I had another.

When I was five years old, we moved to a bigger house on Bunker Hill.

Girls from the bottom collect dandelions for supper. There was a polio scare that summer. We were not allowed to leave the porch of our house on Bunker Hill.

I had a pistol that shot a metal dart with a suction cup.  If you moistened the cup it would stick to the wall.  But I missed the porch railing and it went into the yard. The temptation was just too strong, and while I was at it, I could not resist running across the street to get a couple of suckers, those lollipops with wooden sticks that could also serve as darts, though more dangerous.  I promised myself I would be extra careful.  They were two for a penny and I had two cents in the pocket which I had dug out of the cracks under the cushions of the sofa.  Almost always you could find a coin or two there if you looked hard enough.

Right away I found the dart and carried it with me. I was distracted before getting to the store. In the overgrown vacant lot next door, somebody had hung a dog by the neck and left it there in the heat.

In the two story house next door to ours there was an upright piano.  If you pushed the keys down on the left end of the row of keys there was a deep, rumbling, kind of scary sound, which I liked.

The combination of the piano next door and the hanging dog was too much to resist.

I could see the piano through the oval glass door in the parlor, but it was locked, so  I moved closer to look at the dead dog, his tongue hanging out, starting to stink. Flies were all over its mouth and ears and under its tail.  I wondered why anybody would want to do such a thing. Fascinated and repulsed, I stayed just a little too long with my fingers hooked to the wire fence.  I ran back across the street. Mom had put a gate on the porch to keep Jack from crawling off and falling down the steps. I  was just stepping over the gate when she came out of the door carrying a cherry branch she used as a switch.

“I thought I told you not to leave this porch,” she said, lashing out at my bare legs. Another reason I hated my short pants. It stung, but seeing the dog was worth it.

The worst thing was I forgot to get the suckers.  At least I still had the two cents.

In September I started in the first grade.  You have to be careful walking to school, watch for the train, they always talk about boys who lost their legs.  At first Mom walked with me till we crossed the C&O railroad tracks at the foot of the hill, but after a while she sent me off alone, figuring I had learned how to watch out for the trains.  In any case the cars passed very slowly through town.  That first day alone, she gave me a glass bottle of milk and a sandwich in a paper bag.  The bottom of the bag must have been wet because before I even started down Bunker Hill the bottle dropped onto the sidewalk and broke. I stuffed the sandwich in my pocket and hid the glass in the weeds. At lunch I learned I could charge the milk, and started running up a bill, four cents a day.

About that time Uncle Brownie left his hip boots with us, I suppose on loan to Dad to go fishing.  I put them on over my galoshes, a big mistake, because they had to cut them down the side to get them off me.

Come October, on the little farm in the valley between Bunker Hill One and Bunker Hill Two, all the mothers and grandmothers of the neighborhood got together.  They built a fire under a great black cauldron set on a tripod. Everybody brought apples from all around the nearby countryside.  The deep brown stew thickened over the whole of Saturday, bubbles bursting, sending the most appetizing aroma all over the neighborhood – cinnamon, cloves, allspice.  They made enough apple butter to keep everybody supplied for the winter.

In the back yard we had a teepee that summer.  Dad used it in the winter to wrap plumbing under the house, but I figured it would still be good to set up the next summer. By this time we had moved again.

The next section of As Chance Would Have It was called East End, but it appears to be different from the East End story posted here. Patrick referenced both the B&O and C&O railroads in this story, but I’m not sure which is correct, maybe both. They both served parts of West Virginia. Perhaps Uncle Jack knows the answer.