Adventures growing up in Fountain City: The Marine Pirate legend

Larry Van GuilderFeature, Fountain City

Previously, I’ve written about my misadventures with Danny growing up. Danny was my best friend as well as the friend most likely to bring me to grief.

I became friends with Matt through his friendship with Danny. Matt and I grew close enough over the course of a school year to occasionally spend a night at the other’s house.

Matt’s mother was a nurse who nearly always worked the graveyard shift. With his mom out of the house, we could create all the havoc we could dream up as long as the house was still standing when she came in from work. Without my little brother Shut-up-Harold to annoy us it was heaven.

When we weren’t pummeling one another with Matt’s 16-ounce boxing gloves we were playing marathon games of Monopoly. Even then I was quick with numbers and handled the bank. It was great training for a career as an embezzler.

One summer night Matt talked his mom into allowing me and Danny to spend the night. Now, standing before her was the nucleus of the crew whose wayward engineering skills created a lake in Fountain City Park, buzzed the high school graduation ceremony on baseball card “motorcycle” bicycles and plunged ingloriously through the frozen surface of the duck pond just a few months earlier. What could go wrong?

That night, Danny posed a question: Who’s tougher, a Marine or a pirate?

That was a puzzler. We all knew how tough Marines were – just look at John Wayne! But pirates were tough hombres too.

An argument flared up. Just when it appeared it would only be settled by resorting to Matt’s boxing gloves Danny’s next question stopped the discussion cold.

“How about a Marine Pirate?”

That required thought, but not much.

“No such thing as a Marine Pirate,” Matt said.

“Oh, yeah? Well, Ted Finchum says there is,” Danny said.

Ted Finchum? Ted was a couple of years older than we were and widely known as the worst liar who ever drew breath. If tall tales were dollars, Ted would have been a gazillionaire.

Once Ted told a group of us that his family came to the states on the Mayflower. Not his ancestral family, but the family that lived down the block from us now, making Ted about 300 years old.

But Danny’s fascination with the mythical Marine Pirate was contagious, and before long he had proposed a “test” to see if we were brave enough to become Marine Pirates ourselves one day. All we had to do was run to a big oak tree in the middle of Fountain City Park, tag it, and make it back without being seen.

Piece of cake, right? But (there’s always a but) we had to do it clad in just a T-shirt and our skivvies.

By now it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. When Danny’s double dares rose to triple dares Matt and I were trapped. No self-respecting kid could refuse a triple dare.

Danny’s triple dares had us so riled up we didn’t question him when he begged off going himself, said his “trick knee” was bothering him.

We set off to make Marine Pirate history! Matt lived about a block behind Central Baptist Church on Broadway, so we had plenty of cover before we reached the main road. Traffic was light, and we made it the big oak and back across Broadway in record time.

We were almost to Matt’s front door when a car pulled in the driveway behind us. Matt’s mom!

It turned out that not long after we left, Danny got on the phone and called her at the hospital. In his best imitation of an elderly neighbor woman we all knew he told her “half-nekkid boys” were seen running from her house in the middle of the night.

It would be a while before any of his friends slept over at Matt’s house again.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday. Reach him at

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