Due to his well-earned reputation as a troublemaker, Arthur has become a persona non grata in his neighborhood. As a result, he often faced the task of entertaining himself when not in school.
Five houses sat on Lowell Place, including the Berndt residence. The road was subject to virtually no through traffic. One weekday afternoon in late June, 1955 Arthur was outside sitting in the middle of the road in front of his house, sorting baseball cards. Arthur called to his German shepherd Rex, who was lying comfortably on the front lawn and reluctant to respond. Not taking his dog’s rebuff personally, Arthur continued arranging his cards into two piles—those he’d keep in his room and those that would be relegated to serving as noisemakers on his bicycle. Like other children his age, Arthur loved to attach baseball cards to his bike, utilizing clothespins, so that they flapped against the tire’s spokes when pedaling the bike. Arthur was the judge and jury charged with selecting the cards that would be doomed to die a slow death on his bicycle, while sparing others such a dark fate. Brooklyn Dodger players were protected merchandise. Lesser known players on other teams and, of course, any hated Yankees were to be ridden to death. Arthur was so engrossed in his work, he was taken by surprise when a speeding car approached and came to a screeching halt just a few feet behind him. Arthur turned around and saw the front end of a huge Cadillac staring him in the face.
The driver stuck his head out of the window and threatened, “Get the hell out of the road, German boy!” Arthur remained seated, not certain what was happening or what to do. Mr. Baldwin, a resident of Suassa Park that Arthur recognized but didn’t know by name, revved his car’s engine. “I told you—get the hell out of the road!”
Arthur, leaving his baseball cards behind, walked to the side of the road, turned around and stood looking at the car’s driver. Mr. Baldwin slammed his car in reverse, turned the steering wheel counter-clockwise and gunned his car forward, again heading directly towards Arthur. At the last minute, he yanked the wheel clockwise and stopped his car alongside the youngster.
Mr. Baldwin draped his arm on the outside of the driver’s door, leaned his head out the car window, and said, “Listen, you piece-of-shit Kraut. I killed a few of your kind in the war. One more wouldn’t matter, especially a troublemaker like you.”
Arthur grabbed the first rock he found and hurled it at the car. “Go away!” The rock hit Mr. Baldwin on his elbow. “Why, you little punk!”
Rex was now taking an interest in the activities and trotted over to his young master. Before things could escalate further, the unfriendly neighbor drove away, purposely running over the youngster’s baseball cards.
Marguerite, Arthur’s mother, came to the front screen door and yelled, “What’s going on, Art?”
“Some bad man said bad stuff.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“Why would he pick on you?” Spotting the baseball cards scattered on the road, Marguerite continued. “I’ve told you not to play in the road. How many times is it now?” Without waiting for her son to respond she added, “Pick all those cards up and come inside.”
Under the watchful eye of his mother, Arthur dutifully did as he was told. Some of the cards had been scuffed and bent by Mr. Baldwin’s car.
“Ma, look at what he did to my cards!”
“I’m sure he didn’t run over them on purpose. That’s what happens when you have your valuables on the street like that. Finish up out there. I want you to wash the dishes. I have a surprise for you. I’m making a pineapple upside down cake. Your favorite!”
Picturing a huge slice of his favorite cake, the youngster quickly shoved aside any thoughts of his most recent near-death experience…at least for the time being.
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