The Prodigal Son



Larry's Insignia

1st U.S. Army Cavalry


My brother Larry was a colorful chap, who led a relatively short but adventurous life. He died in 1971 at the very young age of 58, primarily as a result of his lifestyle. Larry's early years were typical of the Theobald boys. He contributed his share of problems to Lil and Cookie, but for the most part they were routine in our household. However he was held with a tighter rein than that felt by his brothers and sisters, and received more punishment as well.

Let me digress for a moment, to talk about discipline in the Theobald family. As I mentioned before, Cookie had short powerful arms, and he was well aware of his strength. Although he would occasionally don the boxing gloves to perform a minor "attitude adjustment" on a cocky young adult male family member, he absolutely never struck any of his children outside of one of these brief contests. That duty was relegated to Lil, and mum was no slouch in that department.

Cookie's methods although more gentle, were nevertheless more effective over all. His stearn and lengthy lectures about one's contribution to the family and to society in general, would make you wilt with humiliation. Add to that the skillful use of his right index finger to poke emphasis into the hollow of your shoulder, the point was never lost. In fact, a lingering ache and blue spot assured a weeklong reminder.

Lil on the other hand, took a more traditional approach for that day and age. A few swats with any weapon nearby, made her point quickly and painfully. I remember so well when I would run from her anger, she would count very loudly. The number of swats equated to the number of steps I had taken. In more controlled situations when old enough, we had to cut a "switch" from our cherry tree, skin off the bark and bring it to mum for our punishment. If the switch wasn't an acceptable size and rigidity, another had to prepared. Mum would often cry in private, after such an episode. Despite their different approaches to the necessary discipline, we all loved both our parents equally.

When he was 15, Larry began to feel the growing unrest which would stay with him his whole life. One day he left a note and ran away from home. Hitch-hiking and freight trains took him all the way to Oklahoma, where he was befriended by a boy near his own age and taken in by the boy's father, a wealthy oil man. Some in our family tried to convince Cookie to let Larry grow up for awhile with his new friends, but Lil obtained a free pass from dad's railroad employer, and retrieved him by train in about a week.

When I was exactly 4 months old on May 5, 1932. Larry then 19 was arrested in our house by the notorious Pittsburgh Police. They accused him of a gas station robbery, which took place while he was at work far from the station. It was mistaken identity, but the cops dragged him to the paddy wagon and beat him severely before things got straightened out at the precinct. The times were much different in 1932, and there was no disciplinary action or compensation. Ironically, not long after that incident one of the offending policemen died suddenly as a result of a heart attack.


Larry Is Exonerated!

Hilltop Record Courtesy Rich Cummings


Before his 20th birthday, Larry joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) instituted by President Roosevelt to provide employment after the depression. Among other things, the CCC planted many millions of acres in trees, and built highways and bridges. They also fought forest fires and provided valuable assistance in major floods. My brother matured a great deal with this experience, and the CCC time was added to his service career toward retirement.

In 1936, Larry enlisted in the U.S. Army Cavalry, and was stationed at Indiantown Gap near Pittsburgh. I was so proud of my brother, handsome in his jodhpurs, high boots and cavalry hat, with all the shiny brass and leather. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of him in his "Class A" uniform.

My brother Larry, Center

Somewhere at camp

He was always pleasant and respectful, but one lingering memory I have of him would play a significant part in predicting his future. During his frequent weekend passes, it would not be unusual for me to wake up in the morning with Larry and one of his buddies in my bed. Often while I was still in the room, he would open his overnight bag and remove one of the two fifths of P.M. whiskey he had in there along with his one clean shirt. He would break the seal, and in several swallows drink about half the bottle. This was his breakfast. Mum did make sure that he had a good dinner every day but beer, whiskey and ladies filled most of his days and nights, and emptied his bank account in Pittsburgh. He never really appeared drunk to me, but his liver was paying the price.

Larry spent the bulk of WW2 in the South Pacific, and said little about what occurred there. He rose and fell through the ranks on several occasions, but managed to hold on to his career until 1964. The Army provided some stability and meaning to his life. When he lost that, everything went steadily downhill and he inevitably died of liver failure and other complications. Despite being an alcoholic, Larry was a good and honest man to a fault. Following his death, his notebook revealed meticulous records of every cent he ever borrowed, and when it was repaid. His many friends including Andy the local barber, would carry him to his next retirement check.
My memories of this brother are mostly pleasant, and it's sad that we lost him so soon.

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