The boy who never grew up

Originally published in the January 22, 2022 issue of Boomers & Beyond

By Terry Carroll

In late November, Frank McClarty, as slim and pale as his childhood siblings, arrived in a dream to solve some problem that didn’t exist in daylight. In sleep-land, he appeared as a young adult. In real life, he never had that opportunity. He was ploughing on a small farm in what is now West Elgin when he was struck by lightning. Neighbouring farmers said it was a shame the plough was in the ground when the bolt hurtled down from the darkened heavens. The implication was that if Frank had raised the plough, the tractor’s rubber tires would have saved him from certain death.

At that time, it was taken for granted that lightning was attracted to metal objects, trees and water. A small industry had grown up around the assembly and sale of lightning rods for rural buildings including barns. When concrete silos were built, several were topped with lightning rods; braided metal cords trailed earthward, where a lightning strike could theoretically be grounded out.

It’s hard to understand why so many people believed that something traveling at the speed of lightning could be attracted to a metal object the size of a lightning rod. At the same time, you’ll never go wrong overestimating what we humans will believe based on commonly accepted information. Before the 1995 to 2001 tech bubble burst, wiping out some $5 trillion in value, it was amazing how many ordinary people in St. Thomas would say, “I’ve got my money out there working for me.”

Back in the day, Kaleidoscope, the West Elgin District High School yearbook, carried a commemoration of Frank McLarty, 1949 – 1963. “Sadly missed by his classmates of 9A of which he was an honours graduate.”

He and his family lived a couple of miles from our farm. Frank was fourteen, and I was twelve the summer he died. While many things about agriculture at that time were as pastoral and charming as the term “farming” suggests, kids from mixed farms also lived in the valley of the shadow of death. Young hands could be soaked in the blood of beheaded chickens. Occasionally, slaughter came to a steer which ended up on the dining room table on Sunday. Runty pigs or sick livestock were euthanized while preschoolers looked on. Certain members from previous generations of farmers gained mythological status after dying early in farm accidents or war. Even people who lived to ripe old ages passed away, subjecting children to boring visitations at funeral homes. It was all just natural.

And none of it prepared my twelve-year-old brain for the death of a fourteen-year-old whom I had seen with his family at the Presbyterian Church the previous Sunday.

I don’t recall a “Why does God do bad things to good people?” moment. But I do remember thinking about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from his deathbed. I prayed to God, in a bargaining way, for a 1963 resurrection for Frank: “God, if only you will raise Frank from the dead, I will never again let my attention wander during the long prayer at church.” Alas, I was also worried that Frank’s death would end that week’s regular ball game in McLarty’s pasture. As it turned out, God wasn’t in a mood to negotiate as He had with people like Abraham and Moses and Job in the Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible. Frank did not arise from his coffin at Padfield Funeral Home in West Lorne, and the weekly ballgame was cancelled. The miracle turned out to be lodging Frank McLarty in my unconscious mind and resurrecting him almost 60 years later in a dream.