We’ve never changed into a costume in a phone booth. But, we did transform into mutants in a garage many times during our Christmas vacations…
Our family lived in rural Missouri for many years. Our parents’ families mostly lived in small-town Ohio back then. In most of our pre-adolescent years, the four of us packed our bags every December to drive North to spend Christmas with the families.
Mom’s parents had a detached garage off their modest but cozy 3 bedroom house. It held the typical backyard stuff: trees, a bench swing, a small garden, a clothesline. To get to the garage, you’d walk along square concrete tiles with black pebbles in the spaces between. A waist-high chain link fence separated your small path from the driveway. A door opened into the darkness of the garage, which at that time of year was always cold. When the moon was up or the back porch light was on, you could see your breath in the darkness.
The garage possessed a unique scent. Grampa smoke his cigarettes in there and framed pictures at his work bench. Dust, sawdust, stale cigarette smoke, and mold. Dampness, but frozen. It’s not the bouquet you might associate with happiness, 25 years later – unless you were also there with us to turn on the dim light, squeeze between the cars, and approach the ramshackle shelves on the far wall. Those shelves held every comic book our grandparents had purchased for their four children from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, and some that Gramma still liked to follow in the 1980s. She always called them “funny books.”
Every year we would dig out a new section of the stacks – hundreds, maybe thousands of books. Some years, we would excavate completely unknown buried treasures. Some years, we would find an issue we’d read before: a copy of World’s Finest #147 featuring Superman and Batman, or Tales of Suspense featuring Thor, Iron Man, or the Human Torch. With a year between visits to Ohio, it was like meeting an old friend. Early issues of the X-men and Spider-man sat under so much dust and time and disuse that we sometimes got sick. We had pretty bad allergies to dust and mold at that age but had no qualms about risking our health to read those books. We would take an armful back inside the warm house, find a comfy spot to curl up, and be absorbed for hours. If the adults wanted to stay up late and play Rook at the kitchen table, we might even make two trips to the garage!
To read some of those magical old books now might be a disappointment. The stories that appeal to you as a young boy often seem childish after a time. But, we do regret not going there and getting, oh, just a few hundred of them before the collection was sold some time in the 1990s. They didn’t sell for much, considering how many decades they had been exposed to the elements. But the connection to those feelings and those fantastic adventures your mind could take as a child… There is no dollar figure you can put on fuel for your imagination. And heck, if the nostalgia becomes too acute, we can find most of them at My Comic Shop in better shape than when we first read them!