Lucius Herbert Valentine was born on Oct. 21, 1913 in Brown County, Illinois in a little town you won’t find on any map. He wasn’t a man of great importance to the world around him, but to his family he was the world. I wish I could say I knew him well, but the only memories I have of my grandfather are that he was a quiet man with an active mind and a gentle soul. I was 7 years-old on March 2, 1993 when I returned home from school to find my mother and grandmother locked in an embrace crying in our living room. I had no idea what was going on, but I remember being happy that I got out of school early. That was until my mother wiped the tears from her eyes to tell me my grandpa Valentine had passed away. The following weeks were a roller coaster of emotions as aunts and uncles to distant relatives recanted stories and shared memories of a man I didn’t really know. I was too young to really know what was going on. All I knew was that grandma was coming to live with us and there were no more visits to grandpa’s house.
Life went on and it wasn’t until later in life that I was going through some old books and found, “Tales from Two Rivers.” My mother told me they contained short stories that my grandfather had written late in life.
(“Tales from Two Rivers,” was a set of four volumes containing stories from manuscripts submitted by Illinois authors, over sixty years of age to the annual Tales from Two Rivers Writing Contests which was published by the Two Rivers Arts Council at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.)
I combed over the volumes of books hoping to find some sense of my grandfathers life – who he was, what he did and where he came from. One of my favorite stories my grandfather ever wrote was “Footsteps in the Dark.” Here is that story:
Footsteps In The Dark
Lucius Herbert Valentine
President Reagan and I both graduated in 1932, he from Eureka College and I from the Rushville High School. After he was elected President of the U.S., he remarked to the public that he may not have lived on the other side of the tracks but he had lived so close to them that he could hear the whistle blow. Well, Mr. Reagan, I would like to say that I lived so far on the other side of the tracks that I could not even hear the whistle blow. In those days you had to have two years of foreign language to enter a college, so I had struggled through two years of French in preparation for college, but the depression was in high gear at this time.
I finally got a job five miles from Eureka, but it was on a dairy farm, and the hours of work were from 3:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. I soon saw there would be no college for me here, so I quit and found work in Peoria in the hope that I could go to Bradley Polytechnical Institute, but money was too scarce. I tried every job I could get.
While in Peoria, I tried salesmanship. I got a job selling Watkins’ Products all over Peoria, and rode the street cars any where I wanted to go. I was rooming with Mr. and Mrs. William Tweedel in Peoria Heights on West Moneta Street when one evening I had a death defying experience which I will never forget.
One night when I arrived at my room on West Moneta Street, I found a note that said for me to come over to the Bartons, who lived six or seven blocks away, as they were having a fish supper. The Bartons were friends of the Tweedels, and I had been over there with Bill Tweedel once or twice to the back yard where the Bartons kept two police dogs chained at their back porch.
It was very dark when I came to the street on which the Bartons lived. This street had houses on the right side only and a weed field on my left. As I proceeded down this street, I heard footsteps in the yards going the same direction that I was; and when I stopped to listen, the footsteps stopped too. They sounded so close to me, and I decided they must be a horse and someone was trying to scare me. So I walked slowly and when this creature got in front of a window with a bright light shining, I saw that it was a lion about thirty feet from me. It appeared that he was stalking me. My hair was pulling up as I started running. Each step I took I visualized would be my last, and the lion would drag me off into the weed field for his supper. I had been fairly fast in track at Rushville High, winning several ribbons and a track letter, but never had I run this fast. Fearing the police dogs at the back door, I got to the front porch door and, thank God, it was unlocked. I must have made a lot of noise as I slammed the door shut and hung on to the door knob trying to get my breath. Mrs. Barton and Mrs. Tweedel came from another room and turned the light on. Both asked, “What’s the matter with you?” I couldn’t talk for a while, and when I told them I had just seen a lion, they both laughed and thought I was drunk. They told me to tell the men who were dressing fish in the back room. They made fun of me too, and I guess I gave up trying to convince any of them.
A few days later the Bartons walked over to where I stayed on West Moneta for supper and after supper the four of them played cards. I sat and watched for a while and then excused myself and went to bed.
I was asleep when the Tweedels came into my room and shook me awake. They were as excited as I had been. They had driven the Bartons home in their Model A sedan and when they turned the corner onto the Barton’s street, that lion crossed the street in front of their car and all of them saw it. They said Mrs. Barton screamed loud enough to wake everyone in the Heights. She had walked up and down that street many times after dark. They all apologized to me, and they watched the newspapers expecting to see where the lion came from. To my knowledge, they never did see anything in the papers, but I assure you I never did walk that street again!
After reading his story it was then that I realized how important writing is, not because everyone has something particularly interesting to write about, but because all we have in this world are the memories we keep and what we leave behind. I’m just glad he left me these.