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Death, an indentured servant, Ruby Lee, Bonnie and me . . .

From Wikipedia:

Indentured servant: A worker, typically a laborer or tradesman, under contract to an employer for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for their transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities.

In my sixteenth year I was subjected to the duties of an indentured servant. I lived and worked on an Alabama farm owned by a man that was married to my first cousin. My home was broken, just as it had been periodically for the previous nine years, ever since my mother took a second husband. I had just returned to Mississippi after a circuitous journey that took me from Mississippi to Midland, Texas and on to El Paso, Texas and from there to jail in Valley Park, Missouri then to New York City for several weeks and then back to Mississippi, all in a period of less than one year. Click here for a comprehensive rendition of that Jason-like search for the Golden Fleece!

I did not voluntarily enter into indentured service—I had no choice. My mother had once again severed ties with my stepfather and Ruby Lee, my first cousin, was the only relative that was willing to shoulder the burden of looking after me. I would be remiss if I did not reveal that one of my sisters agreed to take me in, but became incensed when my mother offered the princely sum of $5 to assist in buying school clothes for the coming semester. The offer offended my sister and she scolded my mother, saying that my place was with my mother, and she should not pass that responsibility on to others. I hasten to add that my mother’s request for my sister to accept the somewhat difficult task of taking me in, her offer of $5 to assist the process, and my sister’s refusal to accept either the offer of money or the request to take me in aroused no animosity in me—the request to take me in, the offer of money and the ultimate refusal of both did not matter to me then and are of no consequence to me now. Not only have I survived—I have actually thrived in spite of all the hurdles placed in my path. I soared over all of them and landed safely.

Ruby Lee and her husband, Bonnie, agreed to take me in and provide a home for me and continue my schooling, and in return I would assist her and her husband in working a small farm, doing all the things that any farmer does—mind you, this was in the days of two-mule farms—we’re not talking about diesel tractors and milking barns and mile-long rows of crops and a cadre of hired hands. We’re talking about a hard-scrabble existence with two mules, one wagon, one cow, some chickens, a few pigs, a house cat and a yard dog and virtually no future, aside from decades of living from hand to mouth dependent on fair weather and good crops. With my addition to the family, the farm now had a cadre of one hired hand. Yes, that’s me in the image above, trying to dig my way to China just to get away from the farm! No, I’m kidding—that’s a photo I found online and I used it just for fun—at my age I’ve learned that one cannot dig all the way to China!

I left the farm after several short months. Click here to see the relationship between parched peanuts and crawling skin, and how my dog and I became farmers. That posting will also detail the reasons why I left the farm.

Now to the crux of this posting—it’s about Ruby and her life in later years, and most of what I know about her is hearsay, information gleaned from various relatives during infrequent visits, several that were generated by deaths and the requisite attendance at funerals. I never saw or heard anything about her husband Bonnie or her two young sons after I left the farm, and in all the intervening years I saw Ruby only once—we were together at a brother-in-law’s funeral in Mississippi.

I was there with my wife, and Ruby was there with her domestic partner. That relationship was all the buzz among her relatives attending the funeral—not that the buzzing took place within her hearing, of course. Ruby seemed very happy and secure in her relationship and showed no indication of what her future held. Several years later, I learned from one of my sisters that Ruby had taken her own life, although nobody was certain of the method she used. The consensus was that she had died from a gunshot wound. There was lots of speculation about her suicide among relatives and friends, but nothing concrete was ever known.

An interesting point about conversation at the funeral between Ruby and her erstwhile indentured servant—neither of us touched, even lightly, about our time together on the farm. I was filled with curiosity but I refused to broach the subject. She volunteered nothing concerning her husband killing my dog in my absence, nothing about their failure to enroll me in school per their agreement with my mother, nothing about her husband’s whereabouts and life since their divorce, and nothing about her two sons that went with her husband when they divorced. The absence of her speaking of those details is telling—I firmly believe that she had buried the details of those events deeply in the recesses of her mind, either inadvertently or deliberately.

No matter—whatever her thoughts may have been of the details of those events, whether negative or positive, she took them to her grave, at least as far as I am concerned. She may have discussed them with others over the years but if so, the discussions never reached me.

Many years have passed since my employment as an indentured servant, and many of my memories of that time are pleasant. I feel no rancor, none for Ruby nor for her husband. They are fixed in my memory, and when my thoughts turn to those days I tend to remember the good times and push the bad times away. I discuss them now only in order to provide the information to my children, and of course to any others that may find the facts interesting, for whatever reason or reasons. Quite aside from the fact that I enjoy writing about various facets of my life, these postings to Word Press are in nature autobiographical, thoughts that I can leave for posterity—ooooh, I just had shivers run up and down my spine!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2010 in death, education, Family, farming, Humor, pets

 

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Analysis of a 17-year-old warrior . . .

Analysis of a 17-year-old warrior

As does virtually every family, mine has a shoebox filled with snapshots of family and friends spanning decades of living and loving and working, showing many of the places where we lived and worked and places where we went for recreational purposes. I recently found an old black-and-white photo of a certain 17-year old warrior, a young lad that somehow made his way to Japan somewhere between the ages of 17 and 18 years, an age at which he should have been at home in Columbus, Mississippi enrolled in the eleventh grade at Stephen D. Lee High School, working at various part-time jobs, chasing girls and striving mightily to maintain a C-average.

I was intrigued by the differences between that lad then and the same person now, some 60 years later. I was captivated by the photo, taken sixty years ago in 1950 in front of temporary quarters in the city of Fukuoka on the Japanese island of Kyushu—so captivated that I decided to share it with my viewers.

I refer to this lad as a warrior based on the knowledge that during the summer of 1950, shortly after North Korea invaded South Korea, he was en route to Korea from Japan to help in our war to keep South Korea free from communism, and would continue in that effort for the next 15 months. Some nineteen years later he would be in Vietnam for thirteen months with a similar purpose—to help South Vietnam in its struggle against a takeover of the country by the Viet Cong, aided by North Vietnam regulars with help from Russia and China.

In both instances—the war in Korea and the one in Vietnam—he was unsuccessful, and his contributions were for naught. The Korean War ended in a truce that exists to this day, and the Vietnam War ended, for better or worse, in a united Vietnam—the communists won and we lost.

Examine the photo closely—have you ever seen a cockier, more in-your-face, more arrogant and defiant stance? This is a youth of seventeen, some six or seven inches over five feet tall, weighing 115 pounds with a 28-inch waist, dressed in regulation one-piece fatigue coveralls with a fatigue cap on top and unshined GI brogans on the bottom. Either the cuffs of the coveralls are turned up or the coveralls are too short. The cap is pushed back rather than squared off, hands are in pockets, sleeves are partially rolled up, collar is turned up—a harbinger of the Elvis style to come, still some six years in the future. The first several buttons of the fatigues are unbuttoned revealing no undershirt and a really skinny unhairy chest. And most important, even at that tender age the lad is exhibiting a strong leaning to the right, a stance that incidentally exists to this day, and if gets much more pronounced I—oops, I mean he—will be unable to stand up without falling.

I am fairly certain that any reader of this posting has already guessed that the lad in the photo is the same person that is writing this posting for his blog on Word Press—yes, I refer to my mother’s youngest son, The King of Texasthat lad is yours truly at the wizened age of seventeen.

My mother’s youngest son bears little resemblance to that 1950s figure, although he still leans to the right in any political stance, and rather than one-piece fatigues he putters around in sweats and house slippers at home and wears jeans, a pullover shirt and sneakers for occasions such as weddings, funerals, jury duty and similar formal events.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Letter to Lorene—December 6, 1994 . . .

San Antonio Int’l Airport

December 6, 1993

Dear Rene,

Your phone call yesterday was really a pleasant surprise. I had just about decided that you were keeping a mad on with me, because you didn’t write, you didn’t call . . .

I got to work right at 9 o’clock, just in time to make the daily schedule. Actually they didn’t need me. If I hadn’t shown up the inspectors would have assigned themselves the different jobs and processed the arriving aircraft. Sure is nice to know you’re not needed, isn’t it?

Sundays and holidays are nothing days anyhow. I work from 9 till about 11, then go home and piddle all day and come back at 6 pm, work for about an hour then go home. I get paid for all the time in between because I can’t go anywhere. I’m on standby.

Effective in January our overtime system changes, and probably not for the better. I’m certain the amount of overtime we earn is going to drop significantly. The good part about the new system is that the overtime we earn will be used to compute our high-three earning years to determine our retirement pay. The system we use now does not take overtime into account in determining retirement. So it’s one of those every cloud has a silver lining deals.

I’m not sure it’s true that every cloud must have a silver lining. I’ve seen lots of clouds that didn’t have a lining, silver or otherwise. The only way a cloud can have a silver lining is if the sun is behind it. What about a cloud that doesn’t have the sun behind it? The saying should be changed to every cloud with the sun behind it must have a silver lining and then it would be true.

I’ve definitely seen clouds without silver linings, and I’ve seen situations and circumstances and events that were bad, 100 percent bad, nothing good about them, or nothing that I could see, anyway. Wow! Am I feeling pessimistic, or what?

Not really. I’m feeling good. Yesterday I had a phone call from one of my two favorite sisters (worded that one neatly, didn’t I!), I’m at work making good money and earning 10 percent extra wages just for being on the evening shift (and it goes to 15 percent January1), and they got my concrete poured today, and if all goes well I should have the new patio cover up in a week or so, and all my kids are well and we will all be together for Christmas, and I have no doubt that the rest of the universe is unfolding as it should, even without my help!

Did I ever tell you about my dog? I’ve had her for about four years now, and sometimes I really don’t like her. She is a barker and a sitter—I omitted the H—when people ask what breed of dog I have, I tell them that she is a Shitzalot, and some say, Oh, okay, I’ve heard of that breed. I can’t keep the patio clean because she tracks dirt and mud on it, and I can’t have a pretty back yard because she cuts trails all through the grass, and I have been threatening to give her away, sell her, shoot her, or donate her to the dog pound almost from the time we got her as a puppy. And I unfairly blame Alta, because she is the one that wanted a puppy four years ago.

Today one of the concrete workers said that she was a pretty dog and he really liked her, and I asked him if he wanted her. He said he really would like to have her, and guess what? I don’t want him to have her. She’s my dog, and I’m stuck with her. I must have figured that if someone else wanted her she must be an outstanding dog, and it would be foolish to get rid of such a fine animal.

I made Alta a promise, though. I had my chance to get rid of her—the dog, not Alta—and didn’t take it, so I promised never to cuss or punish or even complain about her again—the dog, not Alta. It isn’t going to be an easy promise to keep, but I’ll work hard at it.

The dog was supposed to be a Cockapoo, a mix of Cocker Spaniel and French Poodle, but somehow a Labrador Retriever got into the act and accomplished the act, so my Cockapoo weighs about 40 pounds and eats like a horse and dumps like a horse and cuts paths in my yard like a horse—but I’m not complaining!

Would you believe it? I have been sitting here looking at the screen for a long time, couldn’t think of anything to talk about. That’s not like me, is it? Usually I have something to chatter about. How about San Antonio and its drive-by shootings? We are right up there with the big boys in Los Angeles and Chicago and New York. The city is averaging some 3-4 drive-by shootings daily. They are mostly on the east side where most of the blacks live, and on the south and west side where most of the Hispanics live. However, youth gangs are beginning to spread to the north side where most of the white folks live.

I’m really not sure who to blame, whether it’s the parents’ fault, or television and the movies, or the government, or maybe that old a-tomic bomb they keep setting off. I imagine more effort will be put into the problem now that it is spreading to the side of town where all the power movers and the wealthy live—the people with the financial and political clout.

Since I live on the north side, you won’t have to worry about the gangs when you come to visit. I mention this only to allay your fears, not to imply that I am one of the wealthy or a power mover, or one of those with financial or political clout. I live on the north side just because it’s closer to the airport. We looked everywhere in the city before we finally settled on this house. I believe I could qualify as a taxi driver in virtually every section of San Antonio.

Valley High, the subdivision we lived in from 1964 till 1972, is now one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city. Our old house still looks good, except it is now a bright pink with blue trim—doesn’t look too bad, actually. The area has junk cars on the streets and in the front yards, and many of the homeowners have completely fenced their houses, front yard as well as the back. I guess the fence is intended to keep out people as well as dogs. We have some friends who still live in Valley High, but we don’t visit too often. Well, actually, we haven’t visited them in 6 years. I guess that’s not too often, isn’t it?

They’ve been to our house a couple of times since we returned to San Antonio, but that’s about it. Is this depressing you? It’s depressing me. I feel a deep resentment when I see how property values have gone down in various areas here because of the influx of lower income people. I don’t know who to blame for this, either. I suppose the people do the best they can with what they have to work with.

So whose fault is it that they don’t have much to work with? Is it theirs because they don’t try to improve, or is it ours because we fail to share with them, or is it government’s fault because it doesn’t provide adequately for them?

Boy, I’m waxing philosophical, ain’t I? Want to know how I really feel about all this? To heck with them—I have mine, let them get theirs! The only problem is that too often they want to get theirs from someone else instead of earning it.

I know you’re not supposed to listen to bad jokes, so skip this paragraph. Three young women, all pregnant, were at the clinic waiting to see the doctor. They were discussing the sex of their unborn children and one said, “I know I’m going to have a little boy because my husband was on top when our baby was conceived.” The second woman said, “Well, I’m sure mine is going to be a girl, because my husband was on the bottom when our baby was conceived.” The third woman burst into tears and said, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna have a puppy!

You can open your eyes now, but don’t look back. You remember what happened to Lott’s wife, don’t you? Are you aware that she was probably the first salt lick in history?

Are you getting tired? Would you like to take a break, maybe get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom or walk around for awhile or something? I don’t mind. I can wait. Go ahead.

Boy, you must have really had to go!

Did I ever tell you about the time we were traveling through North Carolina and Debbie, who was about four years old, started to ask me something then said, Oh, never mind, you’ll just tell me I’m going upstream. We finally figured out that she meant was that I would tell her she was going to extremes. She also brought me the phone book one time and asked me to show her an unlisted number. And the funny thing is, I started to hunt one. She was about 17 then. No, she was about seven, I guess.

Isn’t it funny the things we remember about the kids? I remember so clearly you telling about Larry, when he was just a little fellow, playing on the porch and saying Whew, tod dam, and he turned out to be saying what Elmer would say when he got home from working, Whew, tired down. You did tell me that, didn’t you? I do remember it right, don’t I? Or did I make it up? Well, if I did, it’s a good story. I’ve told it a lot over the years.

My girls come up with stories about when they were little, especially about things concerning me, that I know never happened. My only problem is that when one of them tells the story, the other two back her up. In fact, Alta usually jumps on the bandwagon and also claims it happened just like they said. Can you believe that?

Oops, got a plane to work. This is my last one tonight, from Mexico City. Shouldn’t take long, just 21 passengers. Maybe we’ll get out early tonight. So I’ll close for now.

Lots of love to you and yours, from us and ours,

Mike

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, pets

 

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Listen up, San Antonio! More road rage . . .

On July 27, just a few days ago, I posted a story about road rage and San Antonio drivers, and told my viewers of the time my daughter had a window shot out in her car while she was driving on North Loop 410 in San Antonio. Click here to read the full posting.

Our only daily newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, had two articles on road rage in today’s issue—a person died in each instance. As of this writing a 44-year-old man is in jail in San Antonio, charged with murder in the beating death of a 30-year-old man. On Sunday, the first day of August, 2010 the killer was forced to wait at a green light at an intersection when the victim stopped and exited his  vehicle to “pluck a flower.”

When he returned to his vehicle—we must assume that he plucked the flower—the killer followed him to a parking lot, confronted him and “punched him several times,” then slammed his head on the asphalt. The author of the article tells us that the killer’s “temper is alleged to have cost another man his life—and it could cost him his freedom.” Please note the word could, not would, and remember that this happened in San Antonio, Texas.

After the the Express-News “journalist” told us the murder could cost the killer his freedom, the victim was abandoned—we are not told whether the victim died instantly and was pronounced dead at the scene, or was dead on arrival at a hospital, or lingered between life and death in the intensive care unit and died at a certain time on a certain day. Instead the “journalist” continued with an in-depth discussion of the killer’s background, including his criminal record, his work record, his abusive treatment of his wife and numerous other sad facets of his life. The “journalist” quotes the killer’s wife as saying, “Maybe looking at the possibility of never coming home will give him time to really think about exactly what his temper and anger had caused.” Please note the words maybe and possibility, and remember that the incident happened in San Antonio, Texas.

We are told nothing about the man that died, whether married or unmarried, where or if he worked, absolutely nothing of his background, whether he had brothers or sisters or a father and a mother or perhaps a family of his own. The only things we know about him is that he was a man and was 30 years old and he stopped to pick a flower and is now dead.

My question to the “journalist” and to the editor is this: Why were we not not given any details about the dead man? The killer was given quite a bit of space in your paper—were the details of the victim not newsworthy?

The second article on road rage deals with the murder of a 23-year-old man, shot by a 62-year-old man following a minor accident, labeled a “fender bender” by the journalist. The jury could have given five years to life for the conviction—they chose to give him seven and one-half years and he will become eligible for parole after serving just one-half of his sentence. Other than a statement made by the mother of the dead man, we were told nothing of his background.

There are multiple morals to these stories, including the fact that should you fall prey to road rage and lose your life, the sentence given to the killer will probably be light, and few details of your death will be printed. The public will know your name and age and little else, and the facts of your demise will occupy far less newspace than the killer’s actions.

There are other morals, namely, whatever you do, do not block traffic by stopping to pick a flower—not even an exotic orchid is worth your life. Don’t ever tailgate a driver because you feel he dissed you, and don’t ever cut in front too sharply for the same reason. Don’t ever flip a bird at a driver or return one that he flipped you, and don’t blow your horn unless it is absolutely necessary—and in my opinion it is virtually never necessary. If I had my way, horns on privately owned vehicles would be outlawed. I challenge any reader to describe a circumstance that absolutely requires a driver to press the horn button.

Don’t use the one about a driver coming at you traveling against traffic—blowing the horn won’t help. That driver is either too drunk to hear or to care, or is intent on committing suicide by motor vehicles—his and yours. If the driver ahead of you is asleep at a green light, either wait for him to awaken or, very carefully, back up and go around him. If you blow the horn he may be startled into instant action, regardless of the traffic situation. And if you’re thinking it’s his bad luck, think again. Another driver may hit you in his attempts to avoid the sleeper from hitting him.

I know I’m tilting at windmills on this subject. I know that people will continue to flip birds, hold up clenched fists, shout at other drivers, race around an offender and cut in too closely, follow too closely and blow the horn incessantly, and I also know that there is little sense in enumerating the myriad stupid things we tend to do when frustrated by the actions of others.

I know that we will continue to do those stupid things, and guess what?

We will continue to die.

And in Texas, light sentences will be given to our killers.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A letter to Jessie (1915-1997) . . .

Dear Big Sister,

I hope you like this photo—I have several shots of you from over the years, and this is my favorite—just check out that glorious smile!

I believe this is where you were living just before you and Victor bought a farm near the air base and moved there. I remember it clearly, especially because when I was home on leave having completed Air Force basic training, I climbed a tree in the front yard to inspect a squirrel nest and had to holler for help from Victor, your husband and my brother-in-law—he brought a ladder and helped me down from my lofty perch!

This coming December will mark the thirteenth year since you left us. My family and I have passed the time peacefully—very little fuss or muss. We have health problems, of course, the young ‘uns as well as those of advanced ages. I know there are no health problems where you are, and no calendars or clocks—there would be no need for them.

I can capsule the major changes in my family rather quickly, changes that have come about since you left. Important changes for my girls include Kelley’s marriage in 1998 and the subsequent births of a boy and a girl. The boy is now eight and the girl is 6 years old. They live in a nice Dallas suburb and are doing well.

Debbie lives just one mile from us. She works at one of our local schools and loves her job. Landen, her son, was graduated from high school last year and is continuing his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA. Lauren, his older sister, was graduated by UTSA this year. Her degree is in Early Childhood Development—she is great with children and seems happy with her work with a local Child Care center.

Cindy and Michael are a properly married couple as of last October, still living, loving and working in Northern Virginia. As you will probably remember, they had been a committed couple for many years, a total of twenty years prior to their marriage—they finally put it on paper! They seem very happy—no children, but they have two cats on which they shower all the love and rights and benefits that would be accorded children.

I won’t be able to bring you up to date on your family—you are probably more up to date than I am. I can’t tell you much about your sons, Wayne and Lynn, but I believe that Lynn still lives in South Korea and Wayne still lives in Maryland. I know very little about the boys and their families, but I imagine that you are watching over them—I want to believe you are, and because of that it takes very little imagination! I also know very little about your daughters or their families. I haven’t seen them since we were all together at your funeral. I talk to Toni infrequently on the phone, and exchange e-mails with Vickie even more infrequently.

Jessie, I’m writing this letter for the purpose of recording some of our mutual history in response to my daughters’ request to learn more about their aunts and uncles and cousins. As I continue with my writing I realize that it makes me feel I am in some way connected with you—if you would like to respond to this letter in some fashion, please do so—trust me, I’m up for it, and as the television commercial says, I’ll leave the light on for you!

This is the third letter I have written. The first was to Hattie, our sister that lived only one day—you probably won’t remember her. She was our mother’s second child, born in 1917, so you would have been only two years old at the time. Had she lived she perhaps could have shared some of your responsibilities as the eldest of six children. Looking back on those years, I know that it was tough for you, but you willingly shouldered those tasks and thereby took some of the weight off our mother’s shoulders. My letter to Hattie is posted on my Word Press blog and can be found here.

It’s odd, but I rarely heard any of my siblings talk about our father—a bit from Larry, a bit from Lorene and nothing from you. Most of what I know about Willis I learned from our mother, and I never heard anything positive. There must have been something other than the negative things, given the fact that our mother birthed seven children for him.

I wish you had told me about the incident in the garden between our dad and you, his teenage daughter. Mama said that he gave you an order and you did not comply quickly enough, so he beat you with one of the wooden stakes, or poles, used for growing beans to climb on—unmercifully, I believe, was the word mama used.

I also wrote a letter to Larry, our brother. You may have been looking over my shoulder when I wrote it, just as you may be looking over my shoulder as I write this letter to you. You can read the letter to Larry here. I was recently contacted by Larry’s daughter Deanna, and we are now friends on a web site called Facebook, a place on the internet where people can find new friends and chat with old friends—not necessarily old, of course! I have mixed emotions about the process, and am considering opting out of it.

I often wonder about Larry’s first wife, Toni, and their two sons, Troy and Marty. If she is still in this life, Toni would be about 86 years old now—you might want to check around to see if she is there with you—one never knows, right? I’m sure you remember that I lived with Larry and Toni for a couple of years or so in Suitland, Maryland. That was a hectic time in their marriage and I was caught in the middle of it. That was not unusual for me—things were hectic from the time Mama married Papa John until I enlisted in the military at the age of sixteen, a period of some seven years. The military provided the stability I needed. I finished growing up in the military, and as you know I stayed with it and retired after 22 years. I can proudly say that I assisted Uncle Sam in fighting two wars during that period, wars waged in Korea and in Vietnam. We lost both wars, but I will always be proud of my contributions to them.

Hey, big sis, this letter seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s getting far too long for a single posting. Let me close this one out and get back to you later with more details. There is so much to talk about—perhaps we should consider putting the letters in book form when I run out of words—if I ever run out of words, that is!

Lots of love,

Mike

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Family, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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Cheap tomatoes—si, o no?

This posting is one of an e-mail I received recently from a family member. A quick check of http://www.snopes.com/politics/immigration/tomatoes.asp shows that the truth of the letter is undetermined. The Snopes article references a June 2006 e-mail, purported to be posted to the Internet by the husband of a woman that teaches at a large southern California high school.

That husband’s original e-mail has undergone various changes wrought by its sojourn over the Internet over the past four years, including the changes I have made prior to posting it on my blog. Please trust me—the changes I made dealt strictly with paragraphing, sentence construction, subject and verb agreement, spelling, punctuation and other rules of good grammar. I also deleted unnecessary capitalizations, exclamation points and other superfluous treatments that battered and bruised the message rather than helping viewers injest and digest its intended purpose.

I neither challenged nor changed anything that would either dilute or embellish the original e-mail I received. In addition to such necessary changes, the original e-mail had garnered the usual >>>s and other junk picked up by the original document on its trip through the vast regions of space and time.

This should drive everyone, not to drink but rather to think, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, and including the multitudes not politically oriented to any particular ideology.

From a California school teacher (ostensibly):

Tomatoes and Cheap Labor:

As you listen to the news about the student protests over illegal immigration, there are some things of which you should be aware:

I am responsible for the English as a second language department at a large southern California Title 1 high school. That title designates a school that peopled by students whose families that on the average are in lower levels of income and socioeconomic acceptability opportunities.

Most of the schools you are hearing about—South Gate High, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park and other Title 1 schools are schools where students are in the protest mode. Such schools are on the free breakfast and free lunch program. When I say free breakfast, I’m not talking about a glass of milk and a roll. I’m talking about a full breakfast and cereal bar with fruits and juices that would make a Marriott Inn proud. The waste of this food is monumental, with many trays being dumped in the trash uneaten. I estimate that more than 50 percent of these students are obese, or at least moderately overweight.

An estimated three of every four students have cell phones. The school provides day care centers for the unwed teenage pregnant girls—some as young as 13—so they can attend class without the inconvenience of having to arrange for babysitters or having family watch their kids.

I was ordered to spend $700,000 on my department or risk losing funding for the upcoming year, although there was little need for anything—my budget was already substantial. I ended up buying new computers for the computer learning center, half of which one month later had been decorated with graffiti by appreciative students that obviously feel humbled and grateful to have a free education in America.

I have had to intervene several times for substitute teachers whose classes consist of many illegal immigrant students, here in the country less then three months. Those students raised so much hell with the female teachers, calling them putas—whores—and throwing things that the teachers were reduced to tears.

Free medical benefits, free education, free food, free day care, ad nauseam—it’s no wonder that they feel entitled, not only to be in this country but free to demand additional rights, privileges and additional entitlements.

For those that like to point out how much these illegal immigrants contribute to our society because they like their gardener and their housekeeper—and because they like to pay less for tomatoes—let’s spend some time in the real world of illegal immigration and see the true costs of tomatoes. Higher insurance, medical facilities closing, higher medical costs, more crime, lower standards of education in our schools, overcrowding and new diseases—as for me, I’ll pay more for tomatoes.

Americans, we need to wake up!

The current flood of illegal immigrants has everything to do with culture. They constitute an American third-world culture that does not value education, that accepts children getting pregnant and dropping out of school by 15, a culture that refuses to assimilate, and our historic American culture has become so weak and worried about political correctness that we don’t have the will to do anything about it.

Cheap labor? Isn’t that what the whole immigration issue is about? Business doesn’t want to pay a decent wage, consumers don’t want expensive produce and government claims that we Americans don’t want the jobs.

The bottom line is cheap labor, but he phrase cheap labor is a myth and a farce. It’s a lie—there is no such thing as cheap labor.

Consider this: An illegal alien with a wife and five children takes a job for $5 or $6.00 an hour. With those earnings and six dependents he pays no income tax, yet at the end of the year if he files an income tax return he is entitled an earned income credit up to $3,200—free.

He qualifies for Section 8 housing and subsidized rent.

He qualifies for food stamps.

He qualifies for free—no deductible, no co-pay health care.

His children get free breakfasts and lunches at school.

He requires bilingual teachers and books.

He qualifies for relief from high energy bills.

If anyone in the family is or becomes aged, blind or disabled, they qualify for SSI. If qualified for SSI they can qualify for Medicaid. All this is paid for by legitimate American taxpayers.

He doesn’t worry about car insurance, life insurance, or homeowner’s insurance.

Taxpayers provide Spanish language signs, bulletins and printed material.

He and his family receive the equivalent of $20 to $30 per hour in benefits,entitlements provided by our benevolent government. Working Americans are lucky to have $5 or $6 per hour left after paying their bills and his.

Cheap labor?

Yeah, right!

Sure!

Not!

These are the facts and the questions we should be asking of the congressional members of both political parties, and when members of either party lie to us we should exercise our right to replace them via the ballot box. The outcome of upcoming congressional elections is critical for working Americans, for our economy and for American culture and heritage.

A special Pee Ess:

Hey, I didn’t write this article and I offer no mea culpas. Please do not excoriate or execute me—I’m just the messenger. Feel free to pass it on or trash it—it’s your choice. In fact, you don’t even need to read it, and I’ll understand.

That’s my story and my excuse, and I’m sticking to both.

 

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A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., and our mother felt that you could well afford that amount and would jump at the chance to support baby brother in his work.

I don’t say this in an effort to pass the buck, but that letter was not my idea. Mama suggested it, and at the same time she had me write to Willis, our dad, and ask him for money—no specific amount was requested, and I received no specific amount—none, zilch, zip, zero—and my letter was neither answered nor returned, much the same result as my letter to you. I wrote a letter to Willis, but the only thing I remember about it is the sign-off that Hester composed:

No mon, no fun, your son—Mikey

I was really having trouble balancing that heavy paperbag, especially on Sundays because of the increased weight of the papers. As one might expect, much of my paper route was on unpaved streets—it was mostly on the south side of Columbus, Mississippi, and the city’s southside was the last in line for upgrades such as converting graveled streets to asphalt paving. I have since learned that such niceties depend on the tax base, and relatively few dollars flowed into the city’s coffers from southside residents and businesses.

I found the cycle of my choice in a magazine advertisement—it was black, low-slung with a Harley Hog saddle seat and a kick-starter, and it was belt driven—it sported the requisites of headlight and tail light, and in those days tags and a driver’s license were not required.

Note that I said belt driven—the motorcycle belts advertised and used nowadays are steel, not rubber. The cycle of my dreams was driven by a rubber belt identical to the fan belt on an automobile—can you believe it! The name of the bike has faded from my memory, lost in the dim mists of the past, but I believe it was called a Service Cycle, or perhaps a Servi-cycle—anyway, something on that order.

Apparently your response was lost in the mail because I never received an answer, and in our contacts in later years the subject was never broached. It’s also possible, of course, that you never received the letter. No matter—that’s a moot point in view of the fact that I lost my exalted newspaper delivery boy status soon after that—I was fired by the son of a—no, not that kind of son—I was fired by the son of the owner of the Commercial Dispatch, a junior unless my memory fails me.

If they provide you with a computer where you are, you can Google my version of the incident here—the true version, regardless of what that son of a—well, regardless of other versions, whether of the home owner involved or the Circulation Manager of the Commercial Dispatch.

I’m sorry that I was not able to attend your funeral back in the fall of 1983. When our sister, Jessie, called my hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, I was preparing to leave for National Airport—now Ronald Reagan International—to board a plane for Miami. I was in Washington on a 90-day special detail, and the trip to Miami was very important to my assignment in Washington, an assignment that culminated in a promotion to a higher level in the U.S. Customs hierarchy, a significant increase in salary and a three-year stay at Customs’ national headquarters.

All things are possible, of course—I could have canceled my flight, but the cancellation and my failure to participate in the activities in Miami would have made a major difference in my burgeoning career. I know my apology is rather belated because  27 years have passed since that day, but at least I’m making the effort now to express my regrets.

Larry, I remember that you like jokes, and I intend to include some of yours in future letters to remind you of the jokes you told me and the songs I learned from you. Just as a sample, I’ll show one of those ditties—it is hilarious!

There was an old woman that lived in the grass,
And when she bent over you could see her . . .
Ruffles and tuffels and also her tucks,
She said she was learning a new way to . . . .
Bring up her daughters and teach them to knit
While the boys in the barnyard were shoveling up . . . .
Contents of the stables and also the sod
And if that isn’t poetry I’ll hang by my . . . .

I must tell you that I am using this letter-writing method on the premise of contacting you because of my daughters. I’m sure you remember them, but perhaps not their children. Debbie is the elder of the three, Cindy was born seven years later and Kelley just four years after that. All are well and loving life. Debbie is married and has a grown son and daughter, Cindy is married and has two cats and numerous species of aquarium fish, and Kelley is married and has a young son and daughter, both in grade school.

All three women would like to know more about our family, and my middle daughter, Cindy, has convinced me that the best way to inform them of their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is for me to convey the information in the form of a letter to each relative. This letter to you is the second letter I’ve written. The first was to our sister Hattie, the little girl that only lived one day after her birth in 1917, just two years before you were born. You can Google it here if you would like to read the letter. Neither of us knew her on earth, but perhaps you have met her in the hereafter—if so, please give her our love and best regards.

Here are a couple of off-beat poems I’ve carried around in my brain for many years. I realize that this letter is rather somber in nature, and perhaps this will lighten things up a bit:

An epitaph found on an old tombstone:

Know, my friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Some wag added this below the epitaph:

To follow you
I’m not content,
Until I know
Which way you went.

Larry, you and I were together for brief periods, widely spaced, and away from each other for years at a time. Those years covered more than a half-century—51 of them, from the year of my birth to the year of your death. Other than the two years or so that I lived with you and your family in Maryland and for a few weeks in El Paso, Texas we were together for very short periods of time. We may think we know each other, but I don’t believe that we know each other very well.

Much of what I know, or think I know, about you comes from you—you’ve told me many things about yourself and about incidents and people that I never knew, so my knowledge must be considered secondhand at its best—hearsay, if you will—because I wasn’t there. I intend to discuss those incidents and people based on your stories for the benefit of my children, to help them understand our relationship to each other and to other family members. By the time I finish, if in fact I ever finish, there should be a good-sized portfolio of letters such as this one.

And be forewarned—some of the things I will discuss are a bit far out and in certain instances bear the scent of braggadocio, but as the little boy accused of bragging said, If you done it, it ain’t bragging!

Larry, you should consider this letter a harbinger of things to come, the first of many. I’ll talk about locations and events and people, some that you knew and I didn’t, and some that I know and you didn’t. Throughout the process I will make every effort to document the source of my information. Those other than you that read the letters can either accept them as fact or dismiss them as fiction, and you of course have the same choice. Whichever you and they choose to do, I promise that everyone will be enlightened, and perhaps even entertained, in the process.

I’ll get back to you with more details. Please take care of yourself.

Lots of love,

Mike


 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Family, newspapers

 

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Ann Landers—The station . . .

This posting is a letter to Ann Landers and her response to the letter writer.  Robert J. Hastings’ The Station may be found on the internet with some variations, but the story and its message are always the same. The date it was published in Newsday is unknown, but I’ve had my typewritten copy (remember typewriters?) for twenty years or more—it’s pretty faded and smudged now, but its pertinence and its heartfelt pathos are still there, and it still tugs at my heartstrings when I read it. I’m posting it here for those that may have missed the publication at the time, and for the multitudes that have come along since it was published. There is a lesson to be learned here, if one will only take the time time to read it and digest its message—and then, perhaps, to apply the message to one’s own life.

The Newsday header for Ann Landers reply was:

Life must be lived one day at a time

Dear Ann Landers,

In July of 1985, my wife was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. Shortly afterward, your column on The Station by R. J. Hastings appeared in Newsday. For years, we had talked of some day going to Paris, a city I fell in love with as a GI. The day after I read the poem, I realized that it was time to pull into the station.

As soon as the doctor ok’d the trip, we went to Paris and had the most beautiful vacation of our 43 years. My lovely wife passed away a year and a half after the diagnosis.

I have since taken the liberty of passing copies of that column to friends. One purchased his some day car. Another went on a long-delayed trip. But the station also can mean visiting a sick friend, and that some day should be now. There is so much hurt in looking back and remembering those things we intended to do and didn’t.

Thank you, Ann Landers, for Paris.

Irv Gaiptman, Plainview, NY.

Dear Irv:

You were dear to let me know what The Station meant to your life. Here it is for all the others who haven’t as yet learned that lesson:

The Station

Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we bring in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering—waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

When we reach the station, that will be it, we cry. When I’m 18. When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz. When I put the last kid through college. When I have paid off the mortgage. When I get a promotion. When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

Relish the moment is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

By Robert J. Hastings

 

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Postcript to “Mayhem on Delaware campus”:

Postscript to “Mayhem on Delaware campus”  . . . 

A six-year old boy in a Delaware school was recently sentenced to a five-day suspension and 45 days in a reform school for bringing a Cub Scout camping knife to class. The item was given to him when he joined the Cub Scouts. It combines a fork, spoon and knife in one tool, a tool indispensable to every Cub Scout and Boy Scout—I’m uncertain whether such tool is given to Girl Scouts and/or Brownies, and if given, whether it would be indispensable to them.

Click here to view my original posting. It prompted the following response from a viewer:

“Significantly reduced the boy’s sentence—impressive. Schools have become such odd places. Being an older father of elementary students, I am shocked at how far schools go to assert their dominance over students. But then, I look at the parents of some of my children’s classmates and understand why.”

The viewer’s response was highly cogent—clear, logical and convincing, and obviously heartfelt. His comment about the dominance exerted on students by today’s schools was insightful and accurate. We daily abdicate our responsibilities and surrender our children to schools at every level—faculty members are in full charge of the students. In effect, the students become charges of the institution (note the definition of charge below).

I responded to the viewer’s comment as follows:

Thanks for the comment—I appreciate your interest. I realize that in your case the thoughts expressed below constitute “preaching to the choir,” but perhaps some wayward readers will be influenced by them, one way or another—we need all the help we can get!

This is the definition of CHARGE (from Wikipedia):

“During the European Middle Ages, a charge often meant an underage person placed under the supervision of a nobleman. Charges were the responsibility of the nobleman they were charged to, and they were usually expected to be treated as guests or as members of the household. Charges were at times more or less used openly as hostages, ensuring that the parents were kept in line.

The nuclear family is fast disappearing from the American scene. Our families have become splintered because of government intrusion by local, state and national authorities, intrusions that we appear to welcome.

I abhor the appellation of Chicken Little, but in this instance I embrace it—the sky is falling, and telling the king won’t stop its downward spiral because the king is, in many ways, responsible for the accelerated pace.

I fear that our slide down that slippery slope will continue.

 

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Re: On the question of gay marriage rights . . .

In May of 2007, early  in my blogging efforts, I posted a dissertation on the rights (or lack thereof) of homosexual couples—gays, if you will—to be married under the same rights granted to heterosexual couples—straights, if you will. The complete posting can be found here: http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/on-the-question-of-gay-marriage-rights/. I will say, in all humility, that a trip to that posting is well worth your time and effort.

In spite of the fact that the question of marriage rights for gays is one of the most divisive discussions in our society, my original posting has garnered only one response, a comment made by a heterosexual person. I am tempted to conclude that homosexuals do not frequent WordPress, or if they do, they never search for another person’s take on the problem. Or they find a discussion, one that I unblushingly believe to be an original approach to the problem, whether humorous or helpful, and they find it neither—otherwise I should think that they would comment on the posting.

Hey, people! This is an example of thinking outside the box, a technique that was developed and published many years ago, intended to stimulate discussion and perhaps arrive at solutions to problems, regardless of their nature.

I am therefore bringing the lone comment out of the closet of comments and into the bright sunlight of its own posting. The original comment, along with my initial response, the commenter’s reply and my final response to that reply follows. My purpose is to make our give-and-take discussion available to others. I spent a considerable amount of time formulating my out of the box solution to the problem, and I expected considerably more than one comment—if I’m being unreasonable, so be it!

This is the original comment:

Yours is a long-winded and overly simplified analysis based on a faulty starting premise. Other than that, it was entertaining to read but will change no one’s opinion.

My reply:

Viewer comments to a blog posting can be approved as submitted, approved and edited, deleted or ignored. My first reaction was to delete yours, but I reconsidered and decided to approve it, unedited, because I felt that your reaction to the posting would be of interest to other viewers.

Thanks for viewing this posting, and thanks for the comment. I regret that you found my analysis long-winded and overly simplified, and I was doubly disappointed that you felt my analysis was based on a faulty starting premise. However, it pleases me that you found it entertaining—such was my intent. I placed the posting in the humor category because it was intended to be humorous, satirical and entertaining. The fact that it entertained you means that, in the opinion of at least one viewer, I achieved my objective.

Commenter’s response:

Fair enough. I seldom mock anyone’s view in a blog and I hope I did not give that impression. The issue has caused hurt in my own family as my closest cousin has tried to get me to accept that she is married to her longtime companion (who I dearly love, as well). However, as you are the King of our great state, I think it is imperative that I continue to read you.

My final reply:

Please accept my sincerest thanks for your follow-up comment, and I also tender my heartfelt thanks for your sharing an issue that has caused hurt in your family.

My wife (the Queen) and my three daughters (the three Princesses) claim that I have an opinion on virtually everything, and they think that I believe I can effectively advise others on virtually everything. They are right, of course, but I try to avoid doing either because I am skeptical of other people’s opinions and have difficulty accepting any advice they may give. I expose these faults only to let you know that the thoughts below are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting.

My first thought on reading your response was a phrase that can be found somewhere in the Holy Bible, the King James version (a fellow king), a passage that says, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” or something to that effect. The phrase varies in construction and purpose, but is widely used in marriage ceremonies. Many people, perhaps most, believe that it refers to the sanctity of the marriage.

An immediate afterthought was that the phrase places no restrictions on the participants in any way regarding age, race, religion, political affiliation, physical attributes such as height, weight, or fairness of face (or lack thereof), or gender.

My second thought was one of a prayer known worldwide, probably published and spoken in every language imaginable—some who read this prayer feel that it embodies the wisdom of the ages. Others consider it trite and dismiss it. I believe that each of us should at least make a stab at living by this maxim, this fundamental rule of conduct. It should be easy, because it requires only three attributes: serenity, courage and wisdom, attributes inherent in everyone.

This is the prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. —Reinhold Niebuhr

At the risk of repeating myself I will repeat myself. These are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting, and should be regarded as such—unless, of course, you find them applicable in any way, and in that case you are on your own.

Good luck, and best regards.

 
 

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Royal reflections on a wedding . . .

The purpose of this posting is to formally offer my congratulations—somewhat belated—to my daughter Cindy and her husband Michael on their conversion, during my reign, of some 19 years of conjugal bliss to the status of a lawfully wedded couple under the auspices of the Great State of Texas, and to thank the many family members and friends that gathered for their wedding at a lakeside home in a rural province near San Antonio, Texas (the city of Seguin) in October of 2009. My expression of thanks is also somewhat belated—hey, being the King of Texas is not an easy job—I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression, Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown!

Check out my Royal Reflections here:

http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/about/

Beautiful photos and a cogent analysis of details—intelligent even—of the wedding may be found at:

http://cindyandmichael.wordpress.com/ (Come on, join the party—a trip to Seguin is well worth your while).

And you owe it to yourselves to view and enjoy some of the world’s finest photography here:

http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/

A letter to my daughter

Dear Cindy,

I have never seen, nor do I expect to see in the future, a more beautiful assemblage of people than those you brought together for your wedding, regardless of the venue. The beauty of that event—the families of the bride and groom, their guests and their families and the many unrelated friends that came from far and wide to honor the event—has no parallel, at least not for me, and not at this point in my lifetime of memories.

A parallel may appear at some time in the future, but I doubt it. In my learned opinion the assemblage of people at your wedding ranks right up there—nay, surpasses—that of Hollywood’s Academy Awards, the Cannes film festival, the Country Music Awards, People magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue, and any other ranking of beautiful people that may exist.

For the benefit of any doubters that may find their way to this posting, I hasten to add that beauty, as applied to people, begins internally—it comes from the inner being and appears to others as a mirrored reflection of one’s soul (dang, I love it when I talk like that!).

As for Photoshop’s contribution to the event, I give it a total of one percent with the remaining 99 percent attributed to the talents and superhuman work you and Michael and others expended to make your wedding a success. Had I worn a vest, I would probably take that one percent contribution away from Photoshop and give you the full one hundred percent.

Your wedding gathering was—and in memories and printed images still is—a wondrous assemblage of a royal family and others. It showcases the bride and groom, the king and queen, the royal minister and his wife, the royal family’s members including our princesses and princes and their families, the bride groom’s family, and other friends and families from near and far, both in time and distance.


The assemblage included court jesters and noble knights, lovely and loving couples, cruel temptresses and impossible loves. I won’t linger on the cruel temptresses and impossible loves, but you can be assured that such may have been present—they can be found in any significant gathering of people, beautiful and otherwise.

I used the term assemblage because its definition best describes your wedding. I only added the term event to a machine or object: Assemblage: a machine or object or event made of pieces fitted together, as in a vast assemblage of gears and cogs, a work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects—the action of gathering or fitting things together. The phrase a work of art says it all—that definition satisfies the most exacting critic of all—the King of Texas!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Florida find—lifeless legs in landfill . . .

http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/jarred-mitchell-harrell-charged-in-slaying-of-7-year-old-florida-girl-somer-thompson/19416157

The following item was taken from the above URL :

ORANGE PARK, Fla. (March 26) — A 24-year-old unemployed restaurant worker was charged Friday with murder in the slaying of a 7-year-old Florida girl whose body was found in a Georgia landfill after she disappeared walking home from school, authorities said. Jarred Mitchell Harrell was charged in the death of Somer Thompson, who went missing Oct. 19. Her lifeless legs were discovered two days later in a landfill about 50 miles from Orange Park.

Lifeless legs?

Is the word lifeless used for alliterative  reasons, or perhaps used as filler to complete a newspaper column? If legs are found, regardless of where, when, why, who or how, any reader with even the paltriest particle of perceptive power will know that the legs are necessarily lifeless. Please note the foregoing lined-out phrase—it includes a four-word alliteration (paltriest particle of perceptive power), but it is unnecessary, just as is the word lifeless, the adjective used to describe the legs found in a Florida landfill.

Something else is missing from the article—was the body dismembered? At first read, one may safely assume that the girl is dead based on the word murder and the term lifeless in reference to the legs, but must we also assume that the body was dismembered? The article states only that the lifeless legs were found. Was the dismemberment of the body omitted, perhaps, in deference to the emotions of the deceased’s family? In that case, the authors of the article should have refrained from using the term gruesome in this sentence: They sorted through more than 225 tons of garbage before the gruesome find.

Quality journalism does not require such assumptions to be made. To quote Detective Joe Friday’s signature statement from Dragnet, a long defunct television show: We just want the facts, ma’m—just the facts.

A corollary to the adjective lifeless, as used in the above article, is the use of the adjective dead as applied to a human body. We never read or hear that The live body of the missing man was found today. What we read or hear is that, The missing man was found alive and well today. Conversely, we read or hear that, The dead body of the missing man was found today. Note the lined-out word in that sentence—was it needed to let the reader know that the missing man was found dead—not alive, but dead? Of course not—the word body is sufficient information.

For some of the years (too many) that I toiled in the work force, one of my co-workers was a woman for whom English was a second language. She frequently accused me of neet peeking. Well, I am not a nit picker.

I am a fault finder, and I will energetically exercise that attractive attribute to the best of my ability. Please note the three alliterative phrases in that sentence—all are unnecessary but all are self–fulfilling and space–filling (writers are sometimes paid according to the number of words used).

Enough said!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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How to pull and shuck corn and earn $4.00 . . .

Everyone knows that corn grows on stalks. The stalks grow tall, often even taller than some of our NBA players, and with good growing conditions produce numerous ears of corn. I imagine that the term ears is used because each ear grows angled upward on the perpendicular stalk at about 45 degrees, somewhat similar to our ears. Ears of corn that are removed while still green are harvested for the purpose of roasting, and are therefore referred to as roasting ears. Country folks in my era called them rosnears, a useful contraction of roasting ears that allows more words in a sentence, whether written or spoken. Many country folks still use that contraction.

An ear of corn, as removed from the stalk, is completely covered with overlapping leaves. That covering is called a corn shuck, or simply a shuck. Rosnears are roasted in their shucks. When done, the shuck is removed, butter and salt if desired are added to the ear of cornand I do desire butter and saltand the corn is eaten directly from the cob. The cob is the cylindrical core of the ear of corn, the part to which the kernels of corn are attached. The eating process is referred to as eating corn on the cob—I’ve always felt that it would more properly be called eating corn off the cob. In either case the taste is heavenly and the process is devilishly messy—one should keep a napkin close at hand while eating corn on the cob—or off the cob, as the case may be.

And just in case anyone wonders about the origin of the term rough as a cob. When dried corn is shelled from the cob, the small depressions left by the kernels being removed leaves the cob rough to the touch. Way back in the dim mists of antiquity, in a time when folks had limited access to manufactured toilet tissue, various substitutes were used—magazine pages, Sears Roebuck catalog pages, old letters and envelopes, outdated calendars, straw, oak leaves or whatever could be found in a time of need. Dried corn cobs were in plentiful supply following the corn harvest, and I am witness to the fact that rough as a cob is as accurately definitive as a definition can get.

Ah, those were the days!

Allow me to digress for a moment: I have gone into considerable detail so far in this posting. The reason is because legions of people in our country, particularly younger generations, have no idea how corn is grown, harvested, prepared and cooked, nor do they know the terminology of the various uses of corn. Their knowledge is often restricted to the purchase and ingestion of popcorn in our movie theaters. In addition to the ridiculous cost of tickets to the movies, movie goers pay ridiculous prices for the popcorn, and the beat goes on.

And trust me—not even one in a thousand of today’s youngsters know the origin of rough as a cob. Perhaps this posting will spread the word, so to speak, and let younger generations know that old times were not romantic at all times.

For purposes other than roasting ears, corn is allowed to remain on the stalk until the green stalks and shucks turn brown, and then the corn is harvested by giant machines that harvest multiple rows at the same time. It hasn’t always been that way—before the invention and use of such harvesters, each ear of corn was pulled from the stalk by hand. A sharp pull downward at the correct angle would snap the ear off at the stalk.

I can speak with authority because I’ve done it—ear by ear, stalk by stalk, row by row, hour after hour and day after day until the field was stripped. The hand pulled ears were dropped on the ground between the rows and later loaded on a skid for movement to the barn for storage. Yes, Virginia, a skid—a primitive conveyance fitted with runners similar to those of a sled. A skid was a flat wooden platform mounted on wooden runners, with sides forming a box to contain such items as corn, or any other items that needed to be transported in bulk. The skid was powered by a mule, a tall long-eared beast of burden with a sour disposition and a proclivity to bite, depending on its mood and the task with which it was confronted.

Let’s see—I’ve covered pulling corn, so now on to shucking corn. This is easily done—one needs grasp the ear near the stem with one hand, then start peeling the leaves of the shuck downwards with the other hand, and when the leaves are all pulled away from the ear, simply snap the stem to separate the shuck from the ear of corn. Got it?

And finally, on to the tale of the four dollars I earned by shucking corn. Christmas was near, and I needed money to buy presents for my mother and my sister. One of my aunts that lived on a farm nearby asked me if I wanted to earn some money. I answered in the affirmative, but made a serious mistake by not inquiring into what my efforts would earn. The job turned out to be corn shucking—removing the shucks to prepare the corn to be milled—ground—into corn meal.

Picture this: Two farm wagons were loaded with corn to be shucked, rounded in the center to a level a bit higher than the sides of the wagon box. Each wagon box measured approximately four by ten by one foot deep. A quick computation of length x width x depth shows that each wagon had forty cubic feet of corn, a total of eighty cubic feet for both wagons. I was paid a whopping total of four dollars for a full two long days work. I worked without gloves, so by the time I finished I had blisters on top of my blisters. I did not question my pay or grumble about it, at least not out loud. I reasoned rightly that I now had four dollars where before I had no dollars—I took the four ones, gave thanks to my aunt and left to find some cool water for my hands.

That’s it—I’ve covered the three subjects in the title of How to pull and shuck corn and earn $4.oo, so I’ll close this posting.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Gardening, Humor, Travel

 

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The littlest one there . . .

An important note for anyone that visits this posting: This story is a matter of record. It is copyrighted, and any unapproved use of it may bring legal action against the user.

The Littlest One There

Rocky Raccoon and Roxanne Raccoon
live in a tree behind a big house.
The house has a back yard.
And the back yard has a fence.

One night Rocky Raccoon came down from the tree.
He climbed the fence.
He jumped from the fence into the back yard.


And Roxanne Raccoon came down from the tree.
She climbed the fence.
She jumped from the fence into the back yard.
Rocky and Roxanne were very hungry.

In that yard is a big house and a little house.
Two animals live in the little house.
A cat named Tee lives there.
She has big shiny eyes.
Rocky calls her Terrible Tee.
A dog named Heidi lives there.
She makes loud noises.
Rocky calls her Horrible Heidi.

Horrible Heidi and Terrible Tee have lots of food.
They sleep in their little house at night.
But when they hear a noise they come out of their little house.

Terrible Tee makes her eyes shine very bright.
And Horrible Heidi makes lots of noise.

Four people live in the big house.
Debbie is the mommy.
Bill is the daddy.
Lauren is the big sister.
And Landen is her little brother.

On that night Rocky and Roxanne were eating the food.
Horrible Heidi came out of the little house.
She made lots of noise.

Terrible Tee came out of the little house.
She made her eyes shine very bright.

Then all of the people in the big house came out.
They saw Rocky and Roxanne eating the food.

Mother danced around and shouted at Rocky and Roxanne.
Father began babbling about Rocky and Roxanne eating the food.
Big sister laughed and laughed at her mother and father.

Little brother just ran around being the littlest one there.


So Rocky called mommy Dancing Debbie.

He called daddy Babbling Bill.

He called big sister Laughing Lauren.

And he called Landen Littlest Landen.


On the first night Rocky and Roxanne did not eat enough.

And they were still hungry.

But on this night they ate all the food.

Because Terrible Tee did not come out of the little house.

She did not make her eyes shine.

And Horrible Heidi did not come out of the little house.

She did not make lots of noise.


And none of the people came out of the big house.

Dancing Debbie did not come out of the big house and dance.

Babbling Bill did not come out of the big house and babble.

Laughing Lauren did not come out of the big house and laugh.

And Littlest Landen did not come out of the big house and run around.

But he kept on being the littlest one there.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Books, Childhood, Family, Humor, pets, Writing

 

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A third-grade cutie and chocolate-covered cherries . . .

She was one year behind me in elementary school. I first became aware of her in my fourth year of elementary school and from that point on I stalked her, all the way through the sixth grade. A blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs, she was always smiling and skipping instead of walking—that may, perhaps, have accounted for the bowed legs. I did not consider her figure to be curvaceous at the time, did not in fact know the word. I just thought she was really, really, really cute, and the curvaceous thought came along in later years.

Her older sister was one of my classmates through elementary school. I pined for the older girl from the first grade to the fourth, then in that year I became aware of her blond sister in the third grade. I guess I liked younger girls, even at that early age, and I was hooked—my pining for the older sister ended abruptly.

Oddly enough, my fourth-grade class learned the song, “My darling Clementine” that year, right after I noticed the cute little blond in the third grade. That song relates the death of Clementine, a girl that lived “in a cavern, in a canyon” with her father, a “miner, forty-niner, excavating for a mine.”

According to the song, this is how Clementine perished:

Drove she ducklings to the water,

Every morning just at nine,

Struck her foot against a splinter,

Fell into the foaming brine.

Ruby lips above the water,

Blowing bubbles mighty fine,

But alas, she was no swimmer,

So I lost my Clementine.

How I missed her, how I missed her,

How I missed my Clementine,

But I kissed her little sister,

And forgot my Clementine.

When I heard the line that said “But I kissed her little sister,” I knew God had smiled down on me and cleared my path to a heaven on earth—all I needed now was to make my case to the little sister.

I never did. She never knew how I felt. I just hung around where she happened to be and stared at her. I never even sat beside her at the picture show—yes, we called it the picture show. The term movie was not in vogue in those days. But I did sit as close as I could without appearing conspicuous. I would actually take the seat directly behind her and stare lovingly at the back of her head, only occasionally leaning to the right or the left in order to see the screen. She was always cordial, always said “Hi!” when we met, but she never invited me to sit beside her and I was too scared to ask. Had I asked and been rejected, my life would have been over—I could never have recovered, and I was not willing to take that chance.

For a period of several months we lived in the same neighborhood. I lived in the house on one corner of the block, and her house was on the other corner on the same side of the street. She played with her friends and I played with mine, and except for school days we were rarely in the same area.

I believe that I have explained the third-grade cutie phrase in the title to this posting, so now I’ll get to the chocolate-covered cherries. I somehow acquired a whopping total of forty cents, cash, to be spent on anything my heart desired, and my heart desired a one-pound box of chocolate-covered cherries, a gift for Clementine’s sister, the “blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs” that lived at the end of my block.

I don’t remember whether there was any occasion involved—I suppose it could have been Christmas or someone’s birthday, or Valentine’s Day or some other significant day. I bought the cherries, took the box home and stared at it for a couple of days, then at high noon on a Saturday I took it to the house on the corner, placed it on the porch near the front door, rang the doorbell and ran like hell.

I never looked back. I never knew whether anyone was home at the time, whether the doorbell was answered, whether the door was opened, whether the box was picked up by her or by a family member, or by someone that just happened to stroll by, and seeing a perfectly good box of chocolate-covered cherries lying on the porch, purloined it and slithered away into some dark recess and glutton-like devoured all the candy. No one from either end of the street ever mentioned the chocolate-covered cherries incident, and life went on as before. It may perhaps be hard to believe, but I’ve wished, many times, that I had eaten them myself.

After elementary school I saw Clementine’s sister only one more time. I was home on leave from the military service and I took a nostalgic drive past the school where I attended junior high and high school. She walked across the street directly in front of me and I turned my head so far to watch her that I got a crick in my neck and damn near wrecked my car.

Now for an anti-climatic disclaimer: When I was twenty-years old I met, fell in love with and married a Georgia peach, a blue eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, but no pigtails and no bowed legs. We are well into our 58th year of marriage and are still in love—and the beat goes on.

I neither dwell nor dote on my memories—I had to do a lot of remembering to recall the specifics of the chocolate-covered cherries for this posting, and the walk down memory lane was interesting, but I neither regret nor wonder about what might have been.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor

 

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Parched peanuts and skin crawling . . .

In the fall of my sixteenth year I lived with a farm family in the rural western central area of Alabama. Their farm was one of the Reconstruction era land parcels that were passed out after the end of the Civil War. It originally consisted of 40 acres and a mule, and in 1948, having passed down through some four generations (not of the same family, of course), still boasted the same 40 acres and a mule—not the same mule but one that, without a doubt, remarkably resembled the original, with the same long ears and same surly disposition, but with the same desirable work traits.

The family was comprised of four souls—the wife (my first cousin), the husband (not related to me or to his wife, other than by marriage) and two sons, both under the age of five years. My mother had decided that it would be beneficial for me to live with them and help out around the house and the 40 acres, and in return for that help the family would house me, feed me, clothe me and educate me.

Such a deal!

I arrived on the farm with a small metal trunk, a pitifully small amount of clothing and a pedigreed  pit bulldog named Buster, a fine and faithful companion, registered with the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, the original owner, had named him Buster. I inherited Buster when my brother returned to active duty with the U. S. Army after an absence of several years. My trunk, my dog and I joined the family on the farm in September after the school term had begun.

No mention was made of my being enrolled in the eleventh grade, and I happily maintained my silence. The helping out, however, began immediately. A trip to the nearest town some five miles distant to a dry goods store outfitted me with two pairs of overalls—one pair to wear and one pair to spare, and a pair of sturdy work shoes known as brogans. Some folks referred to them as clodhoppers, and some applied the same term to the wearers of such shoes. Perhaps some of my readers are unfortunate enough to have never worn overalls and therefore may be unfamiliar with such garments. If that be the case, those readers can click here for a detailed description. That posting also tells a story featuring a blue-eyed snake.

And now to my original reason for this posting, namely the parching of peanuts and situations related thereto. The term parched in regard to peanuts may be unfamiliar to some—perhaps roasted would be a more familiar term. On many cool fall evenings and cold winter evenings, the family gathered around an open fireplace and ate parched peanuts. The peanuts, having dried since harvested, were placed on a shallow metal roasting pan and roasted in the shell in the kitchen stove oven, and afterward the pan was placed on the fireplace hearth to keep the peanuts warm and accessible. One needed only to scoop up a handful of peanuts, then sit back, shell and enjoy.

The lady of the house, my first cousin, had a habit of rustling among the peanuts searching for those with scorched shells, saying that they had more flavor. Her moving the peanuts around on metal, with her fingernails sometimes coming in contact with the metal, produced a really irritating sound, one that, as the saying goes, made one’s flesh crawl, a phenomenon that I communicated to my cousin.

I told her that I wished she wouldn’t do that, and she said, “Why not?’ And I took the bait she offered—nay, I took the bait and hook and line and sinker. I said, “Because it makes my flesh crawl.” Her immediate response was, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?”

Bummer!

Pretty funny, huh? I plotted and schemed for the next several weeks, doing anything and everything I could to produce a sound that would make her flesh crawl, and I finally hit on one. I was cleaning a mirror—voluntarily, and by briskly rubbing the clean glass I made a loud screeching sound and she reacted as I hoped she would. She told me to stop doing that, and I asked her the same question she had asked me. I said “Why?” and she predictably said that it made her flesh crawl.

Oh, boy, oh boy! I said, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?” She snapped back, “It smelled like it had been licked—how did it taste?”

Bummer again!

I left the family and the farm in late December and traveled some 35 miles by bus to visit my mother and sister in Mississippi. I returned early in January, and en route on my two-mile walk on the graveled road from the paved highway to the farm, I stopped to visit an aunt that lived in the house of my birth. She told me that my cousin’s husband had killed my dog soon after I left for Mississippi.

None of the family was home when I arrived. I packed my belongings and started dragging the trunk  back to the paved highway to wait for the next interstate bus. Luckily a neighboring farmer came along in his Model T Ford and gave me and my trunk a ride to the highway—had he not come by I would probably still be walking—that trunk was pretty heavy, what with the brogans and overalls.

There was a reason my cousin’s husband killed my dog—not a reasonable reason—but I’ll save it for a later posting of some of my exploits—and my exploitation—while playing the part of a farm boy. I have never been back to the house since that day, and I never saw the husband or the two boys again. I trust that they fared well and are still faring well—unless they grew up to be like their father.

I know he died many years ago, but I never knew how the boys may have fared in their lives. Many years later I saw my cousin briefly, just long enough to learn that she had divorced her husband  shortly after I left, and a few years later met and bonded closely—I mean, like really closely—with another woman and eventually became a suicide, taking her own life with a firearm. I don’t know how the other woman fared, nor am I curious about it.

There are many more titillating, interesting, educational, emotional, humorous and fascinating tales I will tell concerning my brief sojourn as an indentured servant on an Alabama farm, but I’ll save them for later postings.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Revisited: Crabby old man . . .

Click here to view the original posting of Crabby old man . . .

I’m revisiting the original posting in order to fulfill a promise I made concerning a comment that was posted to Crabby old man—I said I would recommend the commenter’s website to my visitors, and here it is: http//:diamond-informer.blogspot.com/ I’m serious in recommending a viewer to that site—you’ll probably learn more about diamonds than you wanted to learn—enjoy!

This is the comment made on the Crabby old man posting—please note that the errors in the writing were not made by me—this is the comment replicated exactly as sent by the commenter, Join Emphasize:

Great post. It is clear You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.

The way you write shows you have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself.

It seems to me that while While you have some personal weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them.

And this is my response to that comment:

Great comment! Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment. I apologize for not responding earlier. Word Press considered your comment to be spam, and therefore tossed it atop my spam garbage pile.

I just noticed the comment yesterday. I agree with Word Press that it is spam, intended to draw me to your commercial web site and perhaps add to your take of moola. I visited the site, and found it interesting and quite informative.

I am not, however, in the market for diamonds, neither for buying nor for selling them. I dragged your comment out of the garbage because I was fascinated with your analysis of my writing, and therefore approved the comment in order to respond to it.

As an aside, I made no effort to correct minor errors in your comment—errors such as improper capitals, unnecessary commas, repeated words—while/While. Since the errors did not materially divert from the comment’s purpose, I allowed them to stand.

I am in awe of your ability to analyze my writing with only a small sample available. I am particularly astounded by your ability to compliment and criticize one’s writing ability in the same brief sentence—you have both complimented and criticized my literary efforts in each of the three sentences in your comment.

I cheerfully accept your criticisms and compliments with equal fervor. I also accept the fact that you have effectively outed me as a modern-day Janus, an ancient Roman god believed to have two faces that faced in opposite directions, and thus enabled him to see into the past as well as the future.

Thanks again for the comment—it pleases me, so much that I plan to bring it and my response into the daylight as a separate posting, one in which I will recommend your website and highlight it for easy access by viewers to my blog. I may also expound on your astounding ability to analyze persons on a limited sample of their writing ability. You are apparently well-trained in the disciplines of psychology as well as psychiatry.

I can only imagine what personality traits you could identify if given a handwriting sample—by using the proven process of inductive reasoning, you might well be able, as was the god Janus, to peer into that person’s future!

And just one more thought, this one directed to the commenter on the off chance that he, or she, or they read it—you are right on in your analysis of my writing, both in your praise and your ridicule—I am thrilled to acknowledge both.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Family

 

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Final chapter in the parade of possums . . .

This posting was prompted by an e-mail from my son-in-law in Wylie, Texas extolling his success in removing a possum from his attic, one that had effectively kept the family awake for many nights. This was the first of two possums he removed from the attic—the first one he captured fared well—that worthy was benevolently released into the wild. The second one that succumbed to the lure of a baited trap would pay the ultimate price for its continued rambling at night in the upper reaches of the house at Seis Lagos in Wylie, Texas.

You can read his description of the penalty applied to the second rambling rodent here—well, possums are not really rodents, however much they may look like a giant rat. They are, in fact, marsupials—much maligned marsupials.

This is my response to his e-mail:

Reading this thrilling saga of the successful conclusion to your PETA (Possums Everywhere in The Attic) problem took me back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Yep, I was there, except for 1930,1931 and the first eight months of 1932—I began my sojourn on our planet on the nineteenth day of the ninth month of 1932, and so far it has been a great ride. Actually the ride began some nine months earlier. Should your interest be titillated (by my birth, not by my conception), that event and related personal information can be found here, titled “Unto you this day a child was born . . .

For three decades (the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s), the exploits of Frank “bring ‘em back alive” Buck dominated the American media. He was portrayed on radio and in newspapers, magazines, movies, newsreel shorts, comic strips, comic books and full-length novels as a great hunter and humanist that preferred to capture wild animals rather than slaughter them and mount their heads on walls.

He also purchased wild animals, probably far more than he captured, and sold them to zoos and any other organization in need of exotic animals, His humane treatment of them, however acquired, won him the sobriquet of “bring ‘em back alive.” The term was not conferred on Buck—it was coined by the great hunter himself in a media interview, but was quickly adopted by the media, the American public and the rest of the world.

There is a plethora of Frank Buck information on the internet – just Google “Frank Buck” and you’ll get answers to questions you would never think to ask.

JUST A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Born 1894, died 1950 (lung cancer).

Married at 17 (the bride was 41).

Divorced, later married his “soul mate,” used profits from a poker game to finance the wedding.

Was particularly fond (?) of a female orangutan named Gladys – could find no specifics on her age, personal appearance or attributes, but she was reputed to be ‘highly intelligent.” I did learn from “The Free Dictionary ” that, as an orangutan, she was “one of the large anthropoid apes of the family Pongidae,” and that she had “long arms and arboreal habits.” (Hey, no wonder he was fond of her!)

Was a world famous hunter, explorer, author, actor and film director.

Fell out of favor in the ’40s because of his apparent racism and the divergence of the American public regarding the practice of confining wild animals in zoos rather than allowing them to live out their lives naturally in their natural habitats.

Made lots of money supplying animals to zoos – in fact, was commissioned by the city of Dallas in 1922 to populate its entire zoo.

Congratulations on your capture of this magnificent animal, and kudos on your decision to return him (or her, as the case may be) to the wild, even though he (or she, as the case may be) is probably traumatized, confused and bewildered by the abrupt uprooting from familiar and comfortable surroundings.

He (or she, as the case may be) will be drawn towards his former sumptuous surroundings (or hers, as the case may be), and the odds are very high (odds in reverse proportion to winning the Texas Lotto) that he (or she, as the case may be) will be deliberately flattened near the end of that journey by a Seis Lagos teenager exceeding the speed limit in an SUV.

Not really – I just made that up – I don’t believe it for one minute. What I do firmly believe is that your catch was a teenage possum. He was sad and lonely, and that’s why he stayed up most of the night, roaming the attic, pining over the loss of his sweetheart and keeping Kelley awake. His one true love was trapped by your next-door neighbor (remember?) and transported to (are you ready for this?) the same wooded area in which you released your possum.

By this time they will have been reunited and, perhaps at this very moment, are doing everything they can to increase the present possum population in Wiley, Texas (that has a nice alliterative ring—present possum population). And had you released him in Plano it would have increased Plano’s present possum population.

You will hereafter be known world wide, but particularly by everyone in your family and related families in Plano, Austin, San Antonio and elsewhere as  “Bring ‘em back alive Brantley” (I’ll see to it by spreading the word). My heart swells with pride at your accomplishment and by your being a significant part of my family.

All seriousness aside, I’m glad you got the rascal–he loved pacing the attic floor above the Dyer Suite also.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2010 in actor and acting, Books, Family, Humor

 

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I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

Synopsis—A prequel to this posting:

In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.

This posting is intended to discuss other facets of that many-faceted trip. It is one of a series of discussions covering my travel to Botswana via New York City, England and South Africa, and my return therefrom via South Africa, Germany and New York City, and discussions on everything that occurred in between. For related postings, click on I married my barber, Sojourn to Botswana and Botswana’s urinals. My intentions are to narrate some of the details of my trip in the hope of entertaining visitors to my blogs, and perhaps even, to some small degree, educate visitors with those details. And now, on to the posting!

I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa I spent several hours in the company of two agents of that nation Secret Service unit, an organization similar to our Central Intelligence Agency. I surrendered my U.S. State Department passport to an immigration officer at Johannesburg’s municipal airport. It would be returned to me on my return to Johannesburg from Botswana. I did not ask why my passport was held, nor was any reason given.

I would learn later that it was held to ensure that I came back through Johannesburg, rather than leaving Botswana for a different country. The two agents questioned me on the purpose of the conference and which countries would be represented, and questioned me on my return. I answered all their questions freely to the best of my ability, although my knowledge was rather limited. They seemed satisfied with my answers in the prebriefing as well as the debriefing following my return to Johannesburg after the conference.

We stopped at their office and I was asked to wait while they reported my arrival to their superiors, a report that was made behind closed doors and obviously without my presence. Left to my own devices I toured the hallways of the building, taking in views of the city through the windows and views of offices through open doors. In my wanderings I found restroom doors and drinking water fountains marked Whites only and Coloreds only. I also noted that in the wide hallways of the building, colored maintenance and cleaning people stepped well to one side as I neared, and made no direct eye contact, looking away or down as we met and passed.

Those obvious signs of the apartheid rule that still existed in South Africa—a system that would endure until 1994—turned my thoughts back 24 years, back from 1985 to 1961, to a time when racial segregation—our nation’s apartheid—ruled the South. In 1961 I left my assignment at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-year tour at Bitburg Air Base in Bitburg, Germany, a small town in Germany’s Eifel mountains (a definite subject for future postings!).

My tour of duty at Craig had been pleasant in every respect, both for me and for my family. That tour had lasted more than five years, and I was extremely reluctant to end it. However, my transfer was not an object for negotiation, not even for discussion, so I grudgingly and unwillingly accepted the new assignment. Bummer!

My newfound friends from South Africa’s Secret Service treated me with a tour of Pretoria, the capital city of the nation. Our tour of the city included a marketplace, monuments and various civic buildings. The most impressive part of the tour was the Voortrekker Monument, a massive granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers, pioneers that left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854 to explore and establish settlements. Click here for a digital tour of the monument.

We returned to Johannesburg shortly before my flight was scheduled for departure, and a suggestion was made to have a beer before the flight. I declined because the cuisine at the Holiday Inn had not been kind to my digestive system, particularly to the elimination apparatus of that system. However, under duress inflicted by their urging me to have a beer, I accepted a cold beer, attractively packaged in a can. Oddly, however, neither of my friends ordered a beer, explaining that they could not drink while on duty.

I noticed that they watched me intently while I downed the beer, rather quickly because boarding time was near. When I finished the beer, they both smiled broadly and told me that on my return to the States I could truthfully claim that I downed a lion in Africa. A quick glance at the can’s label confirmed the fact that I had indeed accomplished such an unlikely feat—pictured on the can’s label was a male lion with a huge mane and an open mouth featuring large fangs, obviously a roaring lion.

I made it safely home with the empty Lion beer can, and it became the nucleus for a rather extensive collection of beer cans. Several years later  while converting our garage into a rec room, I bagged the cans into several black plastic trash bags, set them into a corner. The bags occupied that space for  a considerable length of time, right up to the time my wife tossed them out with the other trash. She apologized profusely and claims to this day that it was an accident, absolutely unintentional, but I have some doubts. The cans must have clanged and rattled a bit en route to the trash, a sign that the bags contained something other than routine trash. Oh, well, easy come, easy go, right? Bummer!

I downed a lion in South Africa—I no longer have the evidence to prove it but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!



 

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I married my barber . . .

The above title seemed appropriate at first, but on serious reflection I realized that the title involved certain conclusions that could possibility be drawn by viewers. I therefore hasten to add that my barber is a lady, a lady that I married in 1952 and one that has hung around and tolerated me for the past 57 years, and our union continues in its 58th year with no abatement of the passions that prompted the marriage (that simply means that we still love one another). I can understand my love for her, but I have never fully understood her love for me.

Que sera, sera—whatever will be, will be!

My wife became my barber in 1983, the year that we left the sanctity and security of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and relocated to the Washington, D.C. area following my unlikely promotion to a higher level in my duties as a law-enforcement officer in our federal Civil Service. I managed to endure those duties for three years before I bailed out and returned to Texas—to Houston, not to the Rio Grande Valley—and six months later to San Antonio for an additional ten years in service and retirement in 1997. Texas is our adoptive father and San Antonio is our adoptive mother—we love both, and we intend to remain in that family throughout this life and the next—see, I told you we love them!

The above two paragraphs comprise the foundation for this posting, one that could accurately be titled, “The time my wife cut my hair and my left ear prior to my travel from Arlington, Virginia to New York, NY and on to London, England and Johannesburg, South Africa and finally to Botswana, the capital city of the sovereign nation of Botswana, Africa.” That trip and its several stops, both outbound and return, are fodder for later posts and will be attended to in time. Just as a teaser, I will tell you that at that time, apartheid still ruled in South Africa—click here for details of that nation’s apartheid rule from 1948 until 1994.

I was running a bit behind for my flight out of National Airport (later renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport), but I was desperately in need of a trim. My barber gave me the trim but inadvertently removed a one-inch strip of skin from the outer portion of my left ear, a wound that bled very little but quickly became an unsightly scab—it ultimately healed with no discernible after effects, but that one-inch strip figured prominently in my trip to exotic foreign countries. It became a topic for conversation, and attracted stares from everyone I faced on the trip, including immigration and customs officers, taxi drivers, airline employees and fellow travelers. While few questioned the wound, their gaze invariably strayed from eye contact to ear contact, a really disconcerting situation. It made the viewer appear uninvolved, and somewhat cross-eyed. At first I felt obligated to explain the wound, so I assembled several canned responses to use when someone asked, “What happened to your ear?” I finally gave that up, and either ignored the question or steered the conversation in a different direction. Bummer!

Oh, I just remembered that my mother labeled eyes that seemed to be looking in different directions as “A and P eyes.” She explained that by saying that one looked toward the Atlantic and the other toward the Pacific. I make no apology for her little joke, nor do I feel compelled to apologize for recounting it here. My mother was a lovely lady with no hint of bias of any fashion toward any race, color,  or creed, nor was she biased toward noticeable physical or mental aberrations. And as the adage goes, the fruit never falls far from the tree—like mother, like son—seriously!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2010 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, marriage, Travel

 

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My brief stint as a cocktail waiter . . .

I returned to the United States in February of 1952 following a twenty-two month tour of the Far East. I enjoyed the first nine months in Japan—the other 13 months were spent, with far less enjoyment, in South Korea at the height of the Korean conflict. At the conclusion of a two-week boat ride on a US Navy troop transport ship that finally docked in San Francisco (click here for a description of that landing and numerous other fascinating vignettes), I traveled to Midland, Texas to visit my mother and my stepfather now residing in that city—my mother was employed as a nurse and my stepfather hawked commercial advertisement items such as matchbooks, calendars and other items imprinted with the names of various businesses. He did a very small amount of that, and a large amount of poker playing at a local establishment—he viewed himself as a high-roller, but I doubt that any others viewed him in that light.

Papa John, my stepfather, was a dues-paying member of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E). He was a rather committed poker player, and the F.O.E. made it possible for him to indulge in such activities regularly—nightly, and often till well past the witching hour. According to my mother, he spent almost as much time there as he spent at home. I did not linger in Midland long enough to either doubt or refute that, but I have reason to believe her.

I had just returned from a combat tour in Korea. My stepfather was inordinately proud of me for having contributed to our efforts in the war against communism and the invasion of South Korea by North Korean army regulars and elements of communist China’s enormous armies. He discussed my return with an F.O.E. personage, one that sported the title of Grand PooBah, or something on that order. They agreed, in my absence, mind you, that it would be beneficial to the organization and its members for me to bring them up to date on the progress of the Korean war.

I reluctantly accepted the invitation to speak, and Papa John insisted that I appear on stage in uniform. I appeared in uniform on stage and addressed a large banquet hall filled with comfortably seated people. I struggled through an impromptu no-notes speech, a speech that I will not attempt to recreate here. Suffice it to say that I received a warm welcome and a warmer round of applause. Texans, and Midlanders especially, possess and display many different characteristics, not the least of which is patriotism—it’s embedded in their characters and they give voice to it proudly and openly. I probably would have received the same applause had I stood and recited Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as . . . etc., etc.

Now on to my brief—very brief—stint as a cocktail waiter:

On the same evening shortly after I gave the club  members my version of the Korean War, Papa John retired to the back room to play poker. I went with him and stood around kibitzing—however, I did not attempt to give unwanted advice, something that kibitzers usually do—no, and not just no, but hell no—I knew better than to even contemplate it. As the game progressed, its seven players quickly drained their various bottles and glasses of various types of spirits, and the house called for another round of drinks for the players. Note: the house is the non-player that runs the game and takes a percentage of each pot for the organization—hey, they have to pay rent!

When the house started to send for a waiter, Papa John volunteered me for the job. The house said sure, and I silently said—well, what I said matched what the house said, but only in the number of letters—its pronunciation was different. I will try to finish this quickly because to linger will just bring up more unhappy memories of that evening.

I took the written list of drinks to the bar. The bartender obligingly filled the order, placed numerous containers on a very large tray and said There you go. The tray held more than seven containers, because some players had ordered such drinks as boiler-makers—that’s a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser—or is it a shot of beer with a whiskey chaser? I can never remember which.

As I threaded my way between tables and booths en route to the back room, with the tray held firmly in both hands at waist level, I noticed that other waiters held their trays well above their heads, with just one hand supporting the tray at that height with its expensive cargo.

Yep, you’re way ahead of me. That posed a challenge for me, one that my character could not resist—I splayed my right hand and placed it palm up beneath my tray and elevated it, just as the others were doing. I found it quite easy to do, and actually danced around and twitched my hips a bit while transiting the room full of diners and drinkers, and arrived at the poker table with out incident. However, at the exact moment I began to lower the tray, things went awry—something slipped and caused a complete dump of the trays’ load—I managed to hold on to the tray, but everything on it hit the floor with a combined sound of liquid sloshing and glass breaking. Bummer!

I was not allowed to pay for the lost lubricants, nor was I allowed to fill a second order. I rendered my I’m sorries, my thank yous and my good nights shortly after the incident and managed to exit the building without running into anything or tripping over something.

That’s it. That’s my version of The Night That a Teenage War Veteran Dropped the Drinks, a tale of tragedy comparable to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a notable work by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that also involved a tremendous amount of liquid. The main event of that night is a tale that is probably still being told to younger generations of Midlanders, especially those that may be groomed for employment as a waiter at the local Fraternal Order of Eagles. I can’t vouch for that, because I put Midland in my rear view mirror several days later and have never returned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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More on Midland + country bands + baseball . . .

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, when our family had accumulated a sufficient amount of capital, enough for our stepfather Papa John to live his life in the manner to which he had become accustomed, a life to which he longed to return, he would take the necessary action. When he deemed that capital to be sufficient, he would find an excuse to dissolve our family. He would then go his way and we would go ours. This posting will discuss the spark that led to another conflagration in our family.

I believe Papa John always knew his ultimate destination in these circumstances, but we never knew ours until shortly before or shortly following the dissolution of our family. I never knew for certain in this instance, but I have a strong suspicion that he remained in Midland.

He was a skilled poker player, or at least professed to be such, and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles—F.O.E—hosted such activities nightly, up to and sometimes beyond the witching hour. Gambling was illegal in the state, but the state apparently considered poker playing similar to the game of canasta, or perhaps bridge, but I was a witness to some of the games—they usually involved seven players, too many for either canasta or bridge.

Now that I think of it, Midland was in a dry county at that time, and whether in search of beer or other alcoholic beverages, Midland’s residents journeyed to the city of Odessa, some eighteen miles to the west and smuggled their purchases into the city of Midland.

The F.O.E, however, served up myriad alcoholic beverages on demand, with that demand met by a demand for remuneration. A supposition could be made—and I do suppose such—that bending of the liquor law was allowed because the F.O.E  is a fraternal social club for members only—ordinary non-member drunks, however thirsty, are not allowed.

I have a separate posting in mind pertaining to the F.O.E and will follow up shortly with that posting unless I forget—I’ll never forget the incident, but I may well forget to post it. If it doesn’t appear soon, perhaps a visitor to my blog will remind me of my promise to post it.

As with any gambler, Papa John’s luck ebbed and flowed with the tide. When his luck turned sour and the tide was at its lowest, he would make up with my mother and take the measures necessary to reassemble our family. My mother never volunteered to brief my sister and me on the actions of our fickle but predictable stepfather and we never asked—we became experts at testing the wind, and usually could see the breakup coming down the pike.

Now to the crux of this posting:

The four of us were crowded into a single motel room on the outskirts of Midland. Ours was termed a kitchenette, a room equipped with a stove, refrigerator and an area for dining. One corner was walled off from the rest of the room and equipped with a small combination tub and shower, a small commode and a small sink.

Yep, everything was scaled down to fit in a very small area. The walls of the bathroom consisted of sheet rock on both sides with no sound proofing in between. The room had only one bed—a sleeping area for me and my sister was provided by placing the top mattress on the floor, thus leaving the bottom unit on the bed for our mother and our stepfather.

Yep, my sister and I shared that mattress, but I hasten to say that even though we were products of the deep South we did not conform to the popular notion that siblings in that area share a mutual physical attraction. There are some from the northern climes, particularly those attracted to novels such as God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road and The Journeyman, that probably believe that such siblings are always physically attracted to one another and many, perhaps most, indulge in that mutual attractiveness.

Nope, not my sister and not I—we stayed on our respective sides of the mattress. My sister did not appeal to me and I can truthfully state that I did not appeal to her—for most of the limited time we were together during our teen years, we fostered and fed an intense dislike for each other.

The motel was adjacent to the city baseball park, and visiting baseball teams often housed players in the same motel. Also in proximity to the motel was a really swinging country music dance hall, one that attracted well known, little known and unknown country bands to perform there. As with the baseball players, the motel frequently hosted band members during their gig in Midland.

As the bard would say, “Ay, there’s the rub!” My sister was almost eighteen years old and apparently was considered quite comely, both by baseball players and country band members. I hasten to add that I was nowhere in agreement of their assessments of my sister’s comeliness, but I also confess that she and I shared only a modicum of respect and liking for each other—that mutual modicum figured prominently in my assessment of her comeliness.

Be that as it may, she was quite popular with the young men that called our motel home while in the city. On most evenings she could be found in a communal area directly in front of our room, an area that offered seating, umbrellas for shade in the daytime, a barbecue pit and lighting—very subdued lighting, subdued to the point that Papa John had to strain to effectively observe activities after nightfall. His observations frequently led to criticisms and warnings to my sister, prophecies that terrible things could come of her penchant for visiting with the visitors. He always ordered her in at an early hour, but my sister never came in at his first order—it always required repeated calls from our doorway, and often I was required to take the message to her.

My sister was a rebel, a modern day female Thoreau—she ultimately went her own way by going over, under, around or through any obstacles placed in her path. She responded to Papa John’s remonstrations with humor, none of which set well with our stepfather.

One evening when she came in just before midnight, considerably later than usual, Papa John told her that she should stay away from the baseball and band gangs, that  they were n’er-do-wells with nothing in their jeans. My sister responded laughingly that, “Oh, they sure do have something in their jeans.” Papa John was obviously thinking of money in their jeans, but my sister’s thoughts were elsewhere.

And that incident was, I believe, the catalyst that sparked the dissolution of our family. The tinder caught fire that night, a fire that would smolder for several days and then erupt into a full blown four alarm fire. The cataclysm that ensued was the result of a clever rejoinder my sister made to a cautionary remark made by our stepfather, a rejoinder that I considered hilarious—not that I laughed at the time, but I joined my sister in laughter later.

A few days later Midland and the summer we spent there was history—our kitchenette was vacant, Papa had disappeared and my mother, my sister and I were on a bus headed for El Paso, watching the motel, the ball park, the dance hall and the city of Midland recede through the back window of the bus. We were on our way to join my older brother and his family.

Our stay in El Paso would prove to be of short duration.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Redux—Chihuahuas, ham hocks & butter beans . . .

I originally posted this story on May 24, 2009. It has languished there ever since—only one vote has been cast, albeit a vote for excellence and albeit cast by my mother’s youngest son—me.

This redux is for the benefit of those that do not delve into the past in search of blog baubles. Not that this posting is a bauble—I unashamedly and with all humility consider it to be a jewel, a true story with no equal—oh, alright, I’ll concede that some tales may equal it, but none will surpass its innate humor and pathos.

Enjoy!

Chihuahuas, ham hocks & butter beans . . .

A recipe for disaster:

Assemble one medium-size ham hock, one pound of dry butter beans, a medium-size cooking pot, a reasonable amount of water, and one Chihuahua.

Place ham hock, butter beans and water in pot. Cook over medium heat until meal is done (beans should be soft, ham should strip easily from the bone). Have the Chihuahua stand by while meal is cooking (don’t worry—when he smells it cooking he won’t stray very far).

When meal is done, strip most of ham from the bone (leave a little for the Chihuahua) and serve with butter beans and such other vegetables, drinks and breads as desired. Place leftovers (minus the ham bone) in refrigerator.

When ham bone is properly cooled, give a few beans and the ham bone, with bits of meat still attached, to Chihuahua for his enjoyment. Allow him to gnaw on the bone to his heart’s content for the next two days

After his two days of enjoyment, patiently (and very carefully) separate the snarling Chihuahua from his ham bone and place him, full of butter beans and ham cooked with butter beans, into the car for the 800-mile return trip to San Antonio, Texas.

The end result? (pun intended)

DISASTER!

My mother used the above recipe with devastating effectiveness in the summer of 1966. My wife and I took a vacation with our three daughters and Bimbo, an adult Chihuahua with a voracious appetite. En route to South Georgia to visit my wife’s relatives, we made a brief stop in Alabama to visit my mother, my brother and his family.

Mama loved animals—she and Bimbo became instant friends, and she prevailed on us to let her look after Bimbo while we were in Georgia, pointing out that we could pick him up on our way back home. We readily obliged—Bimbo had a strong predilection for intestinal gas, with its accumulation and discharge not restricted to any particular type of food. In short, we were happy to leave him in Alabama.

On any automobile outing, seating for our family, including the Chihuahua, rarely varied—elder daughter in front seat, two younger daughters on opposite sides of the back seat and their mother in the center, strategically placed to keep the two girls separated, father behind the wheel and Bimbo standing, rear feet in father’s lap and front feet placed on the door’s cushioned armrest—the little dog loved watching the scenery pass by, and barked at most of it.

I feel that I have effectively laid the groundwork and prepared the reader for the rest of this narrative—I’m fairly certain that most readers by this point are far ahead of me, so I will try to be brief in my finishing remarks (good luck there!).

At numerous times during the long trip home, anyone who happened to be watching would have seen a black-and-white 4-door automobile swerve off the highway onto its shoulder and screech to a halt—then all four doors would fly open and all the car’s occupants would stumble out, coughing and retching with eyes streaming tears—all, that is, except the Chihuahua—obviously he wasn’t as bothered by the results wrought by Mama’s recipe for ham hock and butter beans.

We made it safely back home, and in retrospect we found that part of the trip to be hilarious, but it was definitely not funny at the time.

Bimbo had a good life and a fairly long life—born in 1964, he lived until 1972 and enjoyed good health throughout those years. The little fellow met his demise while fighting another male dog over the affections of a female dog—had he known that he was no match for the other dogs, neither for fighting the male nor for (insert 4-letter verb with gerund) the female, he may not have been as quick to vie for the female’s favors, but he had no way of knowing that the other dogs, both male and female, were full-grown German Shepherds. However, I believe that had he known, he would have still persisted—he was, above all, a Chihuahua and backing away from a fight or a (insert 4-letter word here) was not in his nature.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

Postscript (not in the original posting):

My youngest daughter and I took Bimbo to the vet immediately when we learned of the brutal attack, and we said our goodbyes after the doctor gave us the results of his examination—our little lover had suffered terrible damage to his heart and lungs, damage that could not possibly be repaired—relieving him of his pain was the most humane action to take, and we gave our consent.

My daughter and I drove around for awhile before returning home—we needed some fresh country air and time to collect our thoughts, and our tears flowed freely. Bimbo had been an honored member of our family for nine years, and we loved him in spite of—or perhaps because of—his many faults, frailties and freakish actions, performances such as standing at the patio door, shivering uncontrollably on the hottest summer day in Texas’ history, begging to be allowed to come into the house.

Bimbo also did all the things that dogs do when they have not been relieved of any of their internal or external body parts, acts that should need no clarification. Bimbo seemed to do such things more frequently and with more delight than other dogs we have known and loved. A prime example was his frequent abuse of a small brown Teddy Bear, a child’s toy that was stuffed and sewn into a prostrate position, a pose that readily lent itself to abuse by our diminutive canine Lothario.

Thirty-eight years have hurtled by since Bimbo left us—I still miss him.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


 
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Posted by on February 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, food, Humor, pets, Travel, Writing

 

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Sid, Looney and a Model T Ford . . .

In my posting of A shaggy dog storyclick here to read that story— I left the viewer in suspense, with me and my sister hiding in the woods early on a cold winter morning beside a gravelled country road after Papa John, our stepfather, shouted to us from our front porch, saying he was going to get his shotgun. At the time we were standing in the middle of the road in front of our house, driven by fear that stemmed from an incident that occurred in the kitchen a few minutes earlier. He called to us to come back in, that everything would be alright, that he was not going to hurt us.

We never knew whether he actually got the gun. Our mother later said he did not, but her testimony in such instances was not very reliable. In any event we took no chances. We fled into the woods and remained hidden while Papa John and our mother drove back and forth on the road calling to us, saying that everything would be alright, to come out and go back to the house with them.

Being sound of body and reasonably sane, we silently declined and remained hidden, prostrate among the trees and undergrowth, until the sound of the car faded towards home. We then came out on the road and started our long walk toward town, some twelve miles distant. Every time we heard an auto approaching—the road was graveled, remember—we took to the woods again and remained there until the vehicle passed. We followed that in and out strategy until we heard the distinct put-put-put sound of a Model T Ford, and we were reasonably sure of its occupants. As the auto neared we came out on the road and flagged it down. The Model T was owned by Sid and Looney and occupied by the same. The two men lived a few miles from us and passed our home daily on their way to work in the city.

In retrospect, I believe they constituted a domestic couple, joined by forces that were not suitable for discussion in the company of children, particularly in our part of the country in that era. Regardless of their various preferences, they obligingly took us aboard and carried us to the edge of town. They either knew our problems and were sympathetic, or perhaps simply had no interest in knowing why two kids were in the woods instead of being on a school bus. They asked no questions and we volunteered no explanations, and they dropped us off on the outskirts of town near the lumber yard where they worked. My sister and I then walked a short distance from there to the home of an older sister.

And now for an explanation of this episode. The reader will have to take my word that the story is true, because I am the only person extant. I am the last one standing of those involved in the proceedings. All are gone. I have my opinions of the direction each took, but I’ll keep those opinions to myself. Trust me—the story is true in every detail.

My early morning tasks while we lived on the farm included interior as well as exterior duties. The interior duties included emptying chamber pots—that’s an acceptable synonym for slop jars, items used at night by the family because we had no bathroom and the necessary was set well behind our house—an outhouse, so to speak. Other interior tasks were building fires in three places—one in the room I shared with my sister, one in our parent’s bedroom and one in the kitchen stove. This allowed my sister and my mother to arise to a warm room, and my mother to a hot stove, ready for our breakfast preparation. As for our stepfather, that worthy arose to a warm room, dressed and stepped into a warm kitchen and sat down to a hot breakfast—he remained abed until breakfast was on the table.

My outdoor tasks included feeding a mule, formerly one of a team but the other died. He leaned against the barn wall on a cold night and died, an event that warrants its own posting. To continue: I slopped the pigs (slopping means feeding, a term applicable only to pigs, an unpalatable nomenclature but one that was in general mode at the time), I carried in wood for the kitchen stove and coal for the fireplace, I hand-pumped water into a huge iron kettle for our livestock, and I cleared the barnyard of any offensive material—dung—that had accumulated so my mother could make her way to the milking stall without stepping in something. Yep, her husband—my stepfather—was really solicitous of her well-being, at least in that instance.

Picture this:

On my return to the house into the kitchen after finishing my outdoor chores, I asked my mother for some of her hand lotion—my hands were reddened and chapped from the cold. I posed the question just as Papa John entered the kitchen and he said—these are his exact words: What are you, a cream puff? My sister, aged 13, entered behind him and said, Well, you use a lot of talcum powder when you bathe, and he slapped her, a blow strong enough to slam her against the kitchen wall.

My sister bounced off the wall and attacked him—she applied the fingernails of her right hand to Papa John’s left cheek and plowed four red furrows from the corner of his eye down to the corner of his mouth—I tend to believe that his eyes were the target and she missed. He cursed, raised his fist and moved to strike her again just as my mother was moving toward the table with a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. She told him, Don’t hit her again, John, and in order to protect my sister she dropped the pan and stepped in front of him shouting, Run, kids, run outside.

And we ran—my last memory of that tableau was that of hot biscuits rolling everywhere on the kitchen floor. I ran out the front door and my sister ran out the back door. We met in front of the house in the middle of the road and waited for further developments. That’s when Papa John came out to the front porch and told us to come back in, that he would not hurt us, that everything would be alright. We refused to comply—that’s when he threatened to get his shotgun, and that’s when we headed for the woods at top speed.

Now you know the rest of that story.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Family, Humor, kitchen appliances

 

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Go west, young man, and grow up . . .

Go west, young man, and grow up with the country, a quote attributed, perhaps wrongly, to Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune. Regardless of the quote’s origin, my mother’s youngest son followed that advice—not voluntarily but certainly not reluctantly—the mere thought of going west was exciting. By the age of 12 I had read every Zane Grey western novel, and I fancied myself a fine candidate for the title of cowboy.

Click here for an interesting article dealing with Horace Greeley and the development of our country. Be forewarned—every time the author used an apostrophe or quotation marks—and they are numerous in the article—they printed out as a question mark on a black diamond background such as this:

Now on to my great adventure:

I made the trip from the deep South—Mississippi—to Midland, Texas, as a passenger in the rear seat of a 1939 Plymouth four-door sedan. The youngest of my three sisters, just eighteen months older than I, shared the rear seat with me, and my mother and our stepfather—Papa John—filled the front seat.

It took an interminable time to complete the journey. Our interstate highway system was in its infancy at the time, and most of the trip was along two-lane roads—paved, of course, but not conducive to getting anywhere anytime soon. Papa John, dressed in his trademark khakis, shod with hand-stitched Texas style boots, with a wide-brimmed Stetson hat set squarely and firmly atop the ensemble, served as our driver. He sat rigidly upright with both hands on the wheel, positioned at two and ten o’clock, and hurtled us toward our destination at a hair-raising speed of forty-five miles per hour—exactly. I gave him credit for getting us to Midland safely along treacherous roads, but gave no kudos for making good time—both comments made inaudibly, of course—I couldn’t afford to tempt fate!

My time in Midland lasted just over three months. It began in March and ended in late June when Papa John, once again weary of shepherding our small family, found an excuse to throw a tirade–or pitch a fit, as my sister put it—and send us packing, off on another great adventure. My mother, my sister and I wound up in El Paso with my older brother who lived and worked at the El Paso Smelting Works. We made the trip on a Greyhound bus, one that we hastily boarded after hastily packing our meager clothing.

Our stay in El Paso was of short duration, and that stay will form the basis for a subsequent posting. As a preview of things to come, I’ll say that my arrival in El Paso was followed by travel by my brother and me, from El Paso to Dallas and on to Valley Park, Missouri for an overnight stay in jail on a Sunday—my sixteenth birthday—then on to St. Louis and New York City for a brief stay at 21 University Place in that city’s Greenwich Village.

Here’s a teaser: My brother and I were hot on the trail of his wife, a native New Yorker that had left home with their two children, shortly after he left for work, on the pretext of a shopping trip to downtown El Paso—that pretext took them all the way to New York City.

Stay tuned– more details of our pursuit will soon follow. The pursuit proved fruitless, but provided significant adventures for my brother and me, not the least of which was our overnight stay in a Saint Louis suburb. Our sleeping accommodations were rather sparse with no freebies, but were provided by the city at no cost to us.

Had I the talent and the inclination (I have neither), I could write a book on my experiences during that summer in Texas—not just a short story but a lengthy tome. Just as a teaser, I’ll say that in that interval of time I acquired a Social Security card—illegally—I was fifteen and the minimum age requirement at that time was sixteen, and subsequently had two paying jobs while in Midland. That card enabled Papa John to hire me out, first to a self-service laundry as an indentured servant—so to speak—and then as a clerk in a retail hardware store.

In addition to swamper duties—mopping, sweeping, cleaning windows, etc., my job at the self-service laundry included bringing in dry soiled clothing from conveyances and taking out newly laundered wet clothing to the same. The bringing in was no problem, but the taking out was a serious problem because the laundry had no dryers. Customers took their wet clothes home and hung them out to dry on lines mounted in their back yards—ah, for the good old days!

Picture this: A #2 tin washtub piled high with wet clothing carried by a 100-pound teenager—I’m here to tell you that the job got old quickly. My usual sequence for outside delivery was to squat, take a deep breath, lift the tub with a loud grunt (the grunt was mine, not the tub’s) and hasten with short steps, almost running, to the proper conveyance, be it an auto, a child’s wagon or a wheelbarrow—all three modes were used at that time in that place.

Following a brief period of hauling in soiled clothes for women and returning wet clothes to the proper conveyance, Papa John thoughtfully secured a position for me as a clerk in a combination lumber yard and retail hardware store—I’ll hold that story in reserve for a future posting.

One final note on my adventures in Midland, Texas—no, belay that—this may not be the final note—there may be more to come, because writing of one aspect of our sojourn there tends to awaken more memories, many well worth separate postings.

Now to continue with my not so final note on Midland:

As in all locations in which I earned money while under the tutelage of my stepfather, my take-home pay in Midland was not subjected to discussion but was, as always, subjected to division. One half went to my mother for my room and board, and I was allowed to retain a pittance for my use—the rest went for the purchase of federal savings bonds in my name, documents that were termed war bonds during World War II. I suppose I should feel indebted to Papa John for instilling good saving habits in me, but at the time I did not appreciate the continued division of my labors, with the smallest amount left available for my use, an amount not determined by me.

Bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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Redux—Thoughts on adultery . . .

This is a re-post of the original posting. Since it has garnered only five votes since its posting—all excellent, of course—I can legitimately surmise that very few have read it. It’s reproduced here, en toto, for the benefit of those that have not read  it. I am vain enough to believe that it’s well worth the time and effort a viewer may spend in reading it. I hasten to acknowledge the fact that vanity in one is frowned on by others, but please know that vanity is my only fault—except for that I would be perfect.

The original posting follows—enjoy!

In the interests of full disclosure, I must stress the fact that I’m never wrong—about anything. I thought I was wrong recently, but I later learned that I was right. I was chastised by a blogger for misspelling adultery. I was told that the correct spelling is adultry.

Wrong.

I don’t spell by rote—I spell by instinct. That statement is copyrighted, but all are free to use it. Check out this definition of adultery at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adultery. It’s worth the read.

Adultery: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Adultery is referred to as extramarital sex, philandery, or infidelity, but does not include fornication. The term adultery for many people carries a moral or religious association, while the term extramarital sex is morally or judgmentally neutral.”

Say whut??!! I’ve read the above definition hump-teen (so to speak) times and I still don’t understand it. Adultery does not include fornication? Wikipedia defines fornication as consensual sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other. If Decartes’ statement that cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) is true, then in the context of Wikipedia’s definition of adultery, even if one only thinks it one might as well do it because it follows that the thought is as bad as the deed. Or as good, perhaps, but not likely.

Permit me to quote—and then corrupt—some words from a poem by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832):

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
that never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!”

I know. You’re wondering about the pertinence of the above quote. Trust me—it’s pertinent. One needs only to replace the third line as follows:

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
that never to himself hath said,”
“Wow! I wish I could . . . . . .”

Or perhaps thusly:

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
that never to himself hath said,”
“Oh, boy! I’d like to . . . . . .”

The possible variations of substitutions for the third line are infinite—one is bounded only by one’s imagination. Of course Sir Walter is referring to a man’s fealty (fidelity) to his native land. He probably never considered the possibility that his words might, some two centuries after his death, open a wide window of opportunity to the feckless (and reckless) among the world’s population when faced with a desirable person of the opposite sex.

Special note: In compliance with our Equality Opportunity laws and in fairness to the fairer sex (females), it must be noted that the corruption of these words in Sir Walter’s poem requires replacing the words man and himself by the words woman and herself.

One more thought, completed unrelated to the original posting: Does anyone remember the wealth of little moron jokes that made the rounds several decades ago? We aren’t allowed to use them now because they are not politically correct. Such jokes would disparage anyone of those among us that may be outside the intellectual norms established by our society. My use of the word instinct brought back one of those jokes, and I humbly apologize (but not too seriously) in advance to anyone that may be offended by my adding it to this post.

I believe the question Are ya’ll ready for dis? which introduces the joke is copy-righted and used by the San Antonio Spurs NBA team at the start of their games. I acknowledge that right and give them full credit for its origin and its use (the voice is that of a former player named Johnson).

Are ya’ll ready for dis?

First little moron: It’s going to rain.
Second little moron: How do you know?
First little moron: My instincts.
Second little moron: My end stinks too, but it doesn’t tell me it’s going to rain.

I realize the two speakers could just as well have been Bert & Nan (the Bobbsey twins), Pat & Mike (Irish friends), Dagwood & Blondie, Mutt & Jeff, Donnie & Marie, Pelosi & Reid, Barack  & Hillary,Dodd & Barney, Stanley & Livingston, O’Reilly & Beck, Paula & Simon, ad infinitum (or ad nauseam, perhaps). And the joke could also feature two people of any nationality, race, sex or sexual preference, political affiliation, ideological bent, region, occupation, body build or marital status (two old maids, for example, or two grumpy old bachelors).

I used the original speakers (two little morons) as I remember them—one should never try to rewrite history.

And one more special note:

I really like the combination of Pelosi & Reid! They were overwhelmingly voted into first place in a recent poll as the most logical team to replace the little morons in all the old jokes, and in any that may be created in the future. In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that the poll was limited to one person—can you guess who won?

My vote guaranteed first place for Pelosi & Reid.
The team of Dodd & Barney qualified as first runner-up.
Barack & Hillary were relegated to third place.

And a rather lengthy final note:

Lighten up! It’s all in fun, and if this posting elicits at least one chuckle from any readers, regardless of their age, religion, sexual orientation, political preference or affiliation, education, profession, location, marital status, economic status, race, nationality, place of birth, height, weight, intelligence quotient, hair style, eye color or shoe size, then I have accomplished my objective—I’ve lightened their load for a moment, however brief, as they laboriously trudge along the road of life.

I will conclude this posting by echoing the words of Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time comic whose career flowered and flourished in various entertainment venues in the years between 1950 and 1970, and included the production and sale of millions of LPs (long-playing vinyl record albums). Brother Dave would not be accepted today because of his politically incorrect repertoire, one that depended heavily on the use of regional and racial dialect. His career nose-dived in adverse proportion to the rise of political correctness in our republic. Were Brother Dave privileged to read this posting, he would analyze it and express his thoughts with his trademark expression—he would say, Ain’t that weird!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: In my search for photos to add to this redux, I learned that Kate Moss and Dave Gardner were an involved couple, and I found this image of Kate and thought it might be of interest to my readers. I realized later that this is a completely different Dave Gardner with whom Kate is involved, but I decided to let the image remain for the same reason work crews are instructed to let the wildflowers bloom and flourish when they cut the grass along Texas highways—most motorists in the Lone Star state find those fields of flowers pleasing to the eye, visually stimulating and gratifying.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2010 in Family, Humor, marriage, Writing

 

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Let me tell ya ’bout the birds and the bees . . .

I have dredged up this posting from the depths of my blog in order to bring it into the bright light of today. It was posted early in my blogging career, dated June 11, 2009. My daughter in Virginia considers the subject a favorite memory—it’s also one of my favorites.

The original posting follows—it is my remembrance of a very positive multi-grade on-stage presentation at my elementary school, a presentation chock-full of lights and action, but no cameras except for a smattering of Kodak Brownies—none with flash capabilities—wielded by family members in the audience. It was a presentation that should be replicated on-stage in today’s schools, in high schools as well as elementary institutions. It was a highly positive learning activity that taught us all we needed to know—at that age—about the birds and the bees.

Now for a redux of the original posting:

My family has been blessed with three princesses produced, with a little help from me, by my wife, the Queen Bee of Texas. This posting is in response to an e-mail from Cindy, the middle daughter, a royal princess who lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia.

The e-mail is a passionate plea for me to blog about two events, one that took place in the early years of my education and was reprised some 32 years later, and another that took place around the same time as the reprisal. I have divided her e-mail into two parts, and will respond to the two parts separately.

This is the first part of her e-mail:

I have always loved this memory…you, me, and Kelley…sneaking into an abandoned grade school in Mississippi…you got up on stage and started singing some bee song. You told us about your mother making you a bee costume but she either couldn’t (or didn’t care) that you would be the only orange and brown striped bee. Your costume wasn’t yellow and black, as assigned. I think I was only 12 or 13 when you told us this story. Remember that adventure?

And this is my response, my blog posting, to the first part of her e-mail:

My acting career began and ended at some point in my fourth grade school-year at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi, a town of some 25,000 people, situated on high bluffs overlooking the Tombigbee River. My school occupied a relatively small two-story red-brick building, but with its surrounding playgrounds it covered a full city block. It was ruled by the iron hand of Miss Mary Stokes, the school principal, a white-haired high-buttoned-shoe spinster throwback to the 19th century.

I loved that lady with all the fervor a little boy could muster, a love that still exists many years after her death. I loved her despite being a frequent target—perhaps the most frequent target—of the 18-inch ruler she always carried in that iron hand, a tool that she used for punishment, and one that she wielded with vigor, accuracy and effectiveness on recalcitrant palms and backsides.

Ah, those were the days! Corporeal punishment no longer exists in our elementary schools, whether public or private, and our nation suffers horribly because of its demise.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, and I humbly offer myself as a shining example of the system’s effectiveness, with full credit given to Miss Mary and her ruler.

She never left home without it.

I attended her school for the first four years of my education (a process that continues to this day). For the fifth grade and through (almost through) the tenth grade, I began each school year in one city and finished it in another. That tortuous progression in my education resulted from my mother’s remarriage near the end of the fourth grade year. At the close of that year I began a pilgrimage that lasted seven years—a pilgrimage that would have me living, and attending schools, in several different cities in several different states.

Now on to my acting debut and its reprisal

I was fortunate enough to successfully complete the academic requirements of the fourth grade, chiefly because the school did not grade its students on their acting abilities. I debuted my acting career in that year, and some 32 years later I briefly revived that career with an impromptu reprisal of my debut performance. The reprisal was a command performance of the part I played so many years before, at the same school and on the same stage. My reprisal was performed before a wildly applauding audience comprised wholly of my two younger daughters, aged 8 and 12 years.

The school year was 1940-1941, and I was enrolled in the fourth grade at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. The principal, Miss Mary Stokes, felt that every student should be involved in everything—if the third grade performed on the auditorium stage, every student in that grade had a part, even if it consisted of lining up on stage and watching their peers perform. However, the play in which I made my debut required flowers of different sizes, so students from grades below and above my grade were pressed into service—one of the taller flowers was my sister, a fifth grader. I mention all this because the stage was small and the cast of the play was huge.

I debuted as one of several boys cleverly costumed as bees. The curtains opened to reveal a group of girls—including my sister—cleverly costumed as flowers. The girls were almost immobile, because flowers have neither the option nor the ability, perhaps not even the desire, to move around. In this case, because the script called for it, these flowers were allowed to lean forward, backwards and sideways to simulate swaying in the breeze, most of which would be created by the bees buzzing around them, doing their pollinating thing.

The flowers began singing a bee song on cue, and on cue we bees spread our wings (arms), trotted on-stage and buzzed—as in bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, etc.—all around and between the flowers, pausing briefly near each flower and bzzzing like crazy, with the bzzzes aimed at the flower’s ear (a bit of symbolism there—hey, we didn’t write the script—we just emoted!). We were given to understand that we were simulating pollination and that the actual pollination was a vital activity of the bees, although they accomplished it unknowingly and accidently by transferring pollen (with their legs) from flower to flower—the pollen accumulated on their legs while they were gathering nectar. We learned that bees were absolutely necessary to propagate the flower species and to ensure a good honey crop and beehive survival.

That which we bees were doing was simulation, not stimulation—I don’t think I learned the latter word until junior high school. Here I must note that, contrary to the popular and virtually universal belief regarding familial relationships in the deep South, I never pollinated my sister, not even once, nor was I in the least bit ever inclined to pollinate her.

I drew the line at pollinating her.

I did not even like her.

As we bees flapped our wings and trotted, buzzed and pollinated, the girls sang the bee song, a catchy refrain of which I remember only a smattering. I googled the term and was faced with a bewildering array of bee songs but none sufficiently comparable, as I remember it, to this line from the song the flowers sang:

“Honey bee, honey bee, fly to and fro, gathering honey where ever you go,” etc., etc.

I know now that bees do not gather honey—they gather nectar, a substance that is ultimately turned into honey in the beehive. And all that pollination, a process that generated a lot of giggling from the girls, is purely accidental. We bees, bless our hearts, may not have been fully aware that our pollination was ensuring the propagation of the flower species. However, our lack of awareness did nothing to reduce the giggles.

The girls made their own costumes, with considerable help from the school staff. Their costumes consisted of varicolored crepe paper shaped as petals and affixed to their regular clothing, effectively obscuring their clothing and transforming them into beautiful flowers filled with pollen.

The flower costumes were made by the girls with staff assistance, but the bee costumes were made by the bees’ mothers at home. Our costume was a one-piece ensemble similar to a jump suit with short sleeves, with the legs descending only to mid-thigh—the ensemble’s legs, not ours—our legs continued all the way to our bare feet—evidently bees do not wear shoes. The basic color of the bee costume was light yellow, with strips of black material affixed horizontally to give the effect of stripes.

I was given no samples to take home to assist my mother in selecting cloth for my costume, so she winged it (so to speak) based on my verbal description. She chose bright orange for the basic color and light brown, almost tan, for the horizontal stripes.

I can truthfully state that I would rather have been a normal bee, one of several normal bees, but I was not—I was a standout among bees, a honey bee of a different color, if you will—I was like, you know, a honey bee with panache and lots of it. In later years I would happily conclude, in retrospect, that my costume was intended to identify me as the king bee, the strongest of the beehive’s male bees—all the others were mere drones.

I was the lucky bee that would be able to follow the Queen Bee’s flight straight upward to unimaginable heights, while one by one the other suitors would be falling back to earth, completely exhausted, and ultimately, at the apogee of our ascension I would mate with the queen, thereby ensuring that the pollination and propagation of flowers would continue, nectar gathering would continue, and the production of honey would continue in the new colony that the queen would establish.

Sadly I also learned in later years that, immediately following our coupling, the queen would begin the new colony as a widow. I, the bee with panache—the bee with the spectacular colors—the strongest and highest-flying bee—would not survive the mating.

Very soon, after you know what, I would have died—with a smile on my bee face, perhaps, but no less dead.

Bummer.

But that’s how things go in the bee world—if you don’t believe me, google it.

And now to the crux of this posting:

I and my two younger daughters were touring my home town, with me pointing our the various places I had lived,  played, worked and gone to school, and we found that my elementary school was still standing, but just barely. The building was condemned, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with warning signs posted prominently:

Danger!

This building is condemned!

Do not enter!

So we squeezed through an unauthorized opening in the fence and entered the building. It was in total disrepute, with broken windows, sagging sheet rock and debris everywhere. We were not deterred. I gave the girls a limited tour (we avoided the second floor because the stairs did not appear trustworthy), but we thoroughly toured the lower floor that included the auditorium. The seats had been removed but the stage was still there and reasonably intact.

I told my daughters about the fourth grade play, and at their urging I even mounted the stage for a reenactment of my part, including my entry, the play’s sound effects and my exit. I was a smash hit, with a far better reception than I received at the original performance, and I bowed to thunderous applause from the audience. In fact, I received a standing ovation—well, it was necessarily a standing ovation because there were no seats, but my daughters assured me that, had they been seated they would have nevertheless stood to applaud, and I accepted that gracefully.

And here is the second part of my daughter’s e-mail. Again, the e-mail is a plea for me to blog this subject:

And another segue….we always marveled at a) how many places Hester shuffled you and Dot off to whenever Papa John demanded the two of you be banished…and b) how you could remember exactly where (even if the house had been replaced by a 7-11 at the time you were showing us the location) each house was, which aunt/uncle/cousin took you in, and how long you were there before Hester cajoled Papa John into letting you return home. It seemed like dozens of locations, but maybe that is just how I remember it. That memory sticks out because we can’t relate to being tossed out of our home. We always had such stability (still do) in our family. I recall only living in five places—155 Farrel Drive in San Antonio, the house in Louisiana, then 155 Farrel Drive again, then briefly in Bonnie’s trailer park in Weslaco, then finally on 109 N. 10th Street in Donna.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Et al . . .

A special note from the writer to the reader: Please be forewarned—I wrote this story with my tongue pouched firmly in my cheek. The dictionary defines tongue-in-cheek speech and writing as “Ironic, slyly humorous; not meant to be taken seriously.

From Wikipedia:

et al, a Latin abbreviation meaning “and others” (‘et al.’ is used as an abbreviation of `et alii’ (masculine plural) or `et aliae’ (feminine plural) or `et alia’ (neuter plural) when referring to a number of people); “the data reported by Smith et al.”

The family that I will introduce to you in this posting would not know a Latin term from a monkey’s rash, but you will soon learn that the family is closely related—to the Latin term, not to the monkey.

The aforementioned family lives and reproduces in a mountainous region somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. It is an extended long-lived family that includes members from several generations, members ranging from great grandparents to great grandchildren, all crowded under the same roof.

For many years the family enjoyed the companionship of a beloved pet, a lady pig reared from its piglet status to adult pighood. She had a sparkling personality, and readily responded to the name Al, a diminutive term for Alberta. Al’s name was diminutive but she was not—she tipped the scales at 1,000 pounds, and for many years was awarded the title of Healthiest and Heaviest Hog at the state’s annual Hog Festival—she was much larger even than Godzilla, an Alabama boar hog pictured at right (you will note that Godzilla is now deceased).

The family’s rationale for naming their pet Alberta is unknown, but it’s doubtful that it came from any sort of written material, unless from can labels or printed feed sacks—most of the family was neither inclined nor capable of deciphering literary symbols—in fact, the only printed material to be found in the home, other than can labels, seed catalogs and printed feed sacks was the Sears catalog, delivered to the family annually by a postal worker leading a mule. The mule carried the mail while the postman walked, but following the last delivery the worker was authorized to ride, if he so desired.

Note: I have walked and I have ridden mules—astride—and I would much rather walk.

One more thought concerning the name Alberta—one may reasonably surmise that the home may have housed one or more immigrants, legal or otherwise, from Italy or Spain, or perhaps from Mexico, Central America or South America, all locations with considerable numbers of Spanish-speaking people, hence the name Alberta, the feminine form of Alberto.

The Sears catalog, a thick periodical comprised of thousands of smooth and very slick pages with thousands of pictorial images, was handled so much by everyone, including the very young and the very old, that the pages were softened by its constant use, especially in the section that presented images of underwear-clad models of both sexes.

Each year, in a time-honored practice initiated immediately following the delivery of the new catalog, the previous year’s publication was exported to a small house located a few yards to the rear of the big house, to be used for a secondary purpose—although very few members of the family could read, some wag had posted a crudely lettered sign in the little house behind the house that read, “Blot, do not rub,” a reference, perhaps, to the catalog’s remarkably smooth pages.

Please forgive me. I have inadvertently digressed from my original purpose, that of telling the story of the family’s beloved pet, a tremendously talented pig named Alberta—Al for short.

Now to continue the saga of Al:

Al lived with one of the family’s grandmothers—a kindly woman, an Aunt Bea type that cheerfully welcomed all visitors that came to see her highly talented pet perform. Al was a very intelligent pig and very light on her feet— she could, on cue, perform various tricks including dancing wildly on her back legs to tunes played by one of the younger boys in the family. That worthy was a lad that never did well at his studies—fact never entered a schoolroom, but he was a music maestro with a banjo in his hands. Oh, and Al also did a remarkable imitation of the belly dance performed by Little Egypt in1893 at the Egyptian Theater on the World’s Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago (pictured at right).

In addition to her dancing abilities, Al could also emit a staccato series of grunts and squeals that were easily identifiable as the tune of The Star Spangled Banner. People came from far and wide—over the river and through the trees, to grandma’s house they came—just to hear Al sing our national anthem. The highlight of Al’s performance was when she hit the high notes in the final stanza, the part that goes, ” . . . o’er the land of the free . . .” When she inhaled deeply and then squealed out the word free, thunderous applause erupted, with the audience according recognition and appreciation for a performance that would equal or surpass the applause for any rendition of the song at major league baseball games.

The family prospered for many years, but in time the area fell on hard times, a deep economic depression that required them to forage for sustenance over a wide range. They had a plentiful supply of poke salad, a type of green made from pokeweed, a plant that grows wild over a wide range. When properly prepared, pokeweed is a palatable and digestible green, similar to turnip greens and spinach. However, preparation must be meticulous because, if not properly prepared, the weed is poisonous—it has the ability and proclivity to kill a person soon after its ingestion. The images on the right show the living plant and a woman preparing a meal that includes poke salad—ummm, looks tasty!

Not long after the depression hit, visitors seeking entertainment from the family’s beloved pet were told that the pig was not available. On questioning Al’s whereabouts, they were first briefed about the hard times on which the family had fallen, with emphasis on its inability to adequately nourish the children, primarily because poke salad did not furnish the protein necessary for survival. So in answer to the question, the grandmother would furnish a prepared answer, one couched in the form of a poem:

“Our young’uns was hungry,

And we was too,

So we done the only thang

That we knowed to do.

We et Al!

We et everthang ‘cept her squeal, and we shore do miss ‘er!”

Please don’t laugh—this is a true story, as told to me by the banjo-playing boy from Deliverance, a great movie that starred Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty—if you can find it on VHS or DVD, check it out—it’s well worth the watch!

In an odd way this posting is related to the movie, because in one scene the script called for Ned Beatty to squeal like a pig—Ned squealed beautifully, so well that he was awarded Hollywood’s Oscar for Best Squeal of the Year. The award could better have been titled Best Squeal Ever.

And just in case that a reader of this posting—any reader—really believes this is a true story, as told to me by the young banjo picker in that movie, I stand ready to offer that reader a fantastic deal on some ocean-front property near Flagstaff, Arizona—I’m reasonably certain that we can come to an agreement on the price.

Just one more thought, a word of precaution to anyone that harbors thoughts of using the poem above for mercenary purposes—the poem that reveals the fate of the fair Alberta. The poem is my creation, given birth by me. It should be obvious to any viewer that I expended a considerable amount of my time, talent and energy in its creation, and the fruits of my labor should not be harvested by others. Beware—the poem has been properly copyrighted and made a matter of record in all the appropriate venues.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.



 
 

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Why they call it Garcia’s Cave . . .

In the spring of 1979, a father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn, an excursion into the wilds of Mexico. The start of our trip was discussed in detail in this posting here.

At the conclusion of that posting I promised to return and give more details of the excursion, and here I am, making good on my promise. Check out the other posting—in my completely unbiased opinion, it’s well worth the read.

And here I must digress in order to discuss the word excursion:

The ex in that word comes from the Latin and means out of. I therefore rationalized that since our trip was in to Mexico rather than out of Mexico, it was an incursion rather that an outcursion, but alas—although that seems rational, we are stuck with excursion simply because the words cursion and incursion do not exist in our English lexicon.

Bummer!

My daughter recently sent this message suggesting some details to include in the promised posting:

Hey, don’t forget to talk about the actual ride up, going into the cave, lights being turned off while we were climbing treacherous ladders, you talking in Spanish to the “tour guide” (VERY loosely defined; he was probably the short order cook in the cafe, too) and asking him why they named it Garcia’s Cave, then you trying to cajole me into walking back down to our teeny tiny Volkswagen Rabbit in the desert—seemingly miles away—a bright orange (um, sorry, Panama Brown) speck in the dirt below—then your silence on the tram ride back down—then you finally telling me how the cave got its name.

Following our guided tour of Garcia’s Cave, my daughter took an interminable length of time to photograph the world that was visible from our location near the mountain peak. While I waited (impatiently) I struck up a conversation with the mule operator, a likable fellow that spoke excellent Spanish.

Although my ability and agility with Spanish was, and still is, far south of excellent, we managed to have a useful discourse by using combinations of our two languages. Mule was the term used in reference to the engine (not the operator) that huffed and puffed and wheezed and snorted and brayed while moving the tram cars up and down the mountain.

Our English term mule is translated as mula in Spanish, pronounced moola with the accent on moo. I once spent an eternity in a small theater in Reynosa, Mexico watching the movie Dos mulas para la hermana Sara, starring Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood—the English title of the movie was Two Mules for Sister Sara.

Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands!

In response to my question concerning the origin of the cave’s name, the mule operator told me that it derived from the death of the cave’s discoverer, a death that occurred when a tram cable broke and Senor Garcia was killed at the conclusion of the car’s accelerated trip to the bottom.

Bummer!

I found a site online that tells us that the appellation Garcia’s Cave is derived from the name of a nearby town called Villa de Garcia—Garcia’s town. I suppose the name is similar to the argument of whether the chicken or the egg came first—in this case, Garcia’s death or the town of Garcia. I submit that the point is moot, especially in view of the fact that our solar system, the one that includes our planet, is hurtling through space at warp speed toward some unknown and unknowable finish—so who cares which came first?

I rest my case.

Okay, where was I? Oh, now I remember—I was visiting with the mule operator while my daughter was taking some outstanding photos of our surroundings. When she had finished, I suggested that it would be ever so exciting to walk down the mountainside, along with the cows and goats that roamed the mountain at our altitude—I reasoned that if they could do it, we could do it.

My daughter was adamant—she refused to take the walk, and I eventually was reduced to begging rather than suggesting (I knew better than to attempt ordering!). We both rode down—I simply held my breath and kept my eyes squinched shut, silently repeating to myself (an always avid listener), Never again, never again—never, never, never!, until the car came to a bumpy stop at the bottom.

There are several web sites that go onto considerable detail concerning Garcia’s Cave, and I suggest that everyone visit the cave through that venue—you’ll find the excursion interesting and educational. Should you choose to make the incursion to the mountain, you’ll find that the railway has been replaced by a modern system of airborne cable cars, a system undoubtedly safer, but not nearly as exciting (and scary) as the old system.

I will therefore conclude this rambling recitation by telling the viewer that, at one point in our guided tour, while deep in the bowels of the cave our guide, without warning, shut off all the lighting, leaving us stranded in an infernal, hellish state of stygian darkness—frozen, afraid to move in fear of sinking farther into said bowels. I wanted to express my feelings in Spanish, but I knew very few Spanish cuss words. I did, however, mutter a few English cuss words, heard only by my daughter—I hope.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

To learn more about Grutas de Garcia, click here.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2010 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, Writing

 

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Age 10, with a job as water carrier for mobile homes . . .

Picture this: The year was 1942 and World War II was raging. Now picture a location near Oak Ridge, Tennessee where construction and work on the world’s first atomic bomb was in progress. That location was known as Gamble Valley, Tennessee, a trailer city peopled by many of those involved, one way or another, in the best kept secret of World War II—the building of the world’s first nuclear weapon, bombs that would be dropped in 1945 on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bring to a conclusion our long war with Japan.

And finally, picture a family living in one of Gamble Valley’s modular homes-on-wheels, a small family consisting of one mother, one stepfather and two children, a boy of ten years and his sister, a firebrand just eighteen months older than her brother. We arrived there in early summer, shortly after the end of the school year, and left shortly before the end of summer.

The home was only eight feet wide and thirty feet long while being transported, but when placed for occupancy its width was expanded with panels, some of which had been stored on top in transit and others that folded out to make the home larger. That expansion, with an additional 12 feet of floor space added on each side of the 30-foot length, provided an overall area of 960 square feet, cramped but adequate for that small family.

Entrance was gained through the kitchen, with the dining area straight ahead and two spaces on either side, each measuring twelve by fifteen feet (there was no back door). In effect, in addition to the kitchen and the dining area, the expansion created four other spaces that could, when curtained off, be used either as bedrooms, living rooms or storage space.

Floor-to-ceiling curtains hanging on ceiling rails provided visual privacy for the two spaces on each side of the home, a system identical to that used today in most hospitals. With all the curtains closed, four rooms were created, each closed off from the kitchen, the dining area and the other three rooms by the curtains. The curtains were lightweight and had no muffling properties. And trust me, some of the sounds needed to be muffled.

The curtains were adequate for visual privacy, but there were no provisions for vocal sounds nor for sounds other than vocal—and as one might expect, there were many sounds, both vocal and otherwise. Punishment, including corporeal, verbal and psychological, was meted out behind drawn curtains by one-fourth of the family—the stepfather—to the other three-fourths of the family—my mother, my sister and me. There were lots of arguments, private conversations and various activities that I and my sister always heard, but never were privileged to see.

Now on to my job as water carrier for my home and for paying customers. The trailers had no bathrooms and no running water. The kitchen was equipped with water storage tanks that could be filled to provide water suitable for drinking, cooking and for washing dishes. Known as gray water, the dish water was drained from the trailers and moved through a buried pipeline to a distant waste water area. The village had centrally located communal bath houses that included restrooms, showers and laundry facilities.

My stepfather mandated that everyone in the family be gainfully employed, a trait that extended to animals. He allowed no pets—no cats or lapdogs—he felt that if an animal did no work it was not entitled to be fed, and that included human animals. He would feed and groom a working dog only as long as it produced. If a watchdog didn’t bark to ward off intruders, it shortly disappeared, ostensibly a runaway. If a hunting dog slacked off noticeably in its production of game, whether rabbit dog, squirrel dog or bird dog, that dog would also disappear, and would also earn the label of runaway.

Special note: The paragraph above will reappear as the preamble to another posting, one to be published shortly after this one is published. Stay tuned.

Forgive me for digressing from my original subject, that of being a water carrier for trailer homes at age ten. This is how it was: The kitchen water tanks were fitted with a filler tube that was accessed outside the home. My stepfather convinced several people, a dozen or so, to hire me at one dollar a week to keep their water tank filled. I was outfitted with two water buckets, each with a three-gallon capacity, and a tin funnel with a long neck, ideal for slipping into the outside neck of the water tank.

Water weighs about six pounds per gallon, so with a bucketful of water filled at the laundry facility in each hand, I was carrying (we called it toting in those days) about 36 pounds—not an extreme weight, but more than enough for a boy of ten. I don’t know how much I weighed then, but six years later when I took a physical to enlist in the U.S. Army I weighed a whopping 110 pounds. It’s probably safe to say that I weighed significantly more than I did when I was just ten years old.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the neck of the funnel was flexible, so I curled it around my neck while in transit, full buckets in one direction, empty in the other—admittedly it was not the most inspiring work for which a young boy could wish—I would have been much happier at shearing sheep or castrating bull calves, anything other than carrying water—in fact, it left such an indelible imprint that since that time I have used every excuse available to avoid carrying other people’s water.

Another memory that has escaped me is the capacity of the trailer tanks, nor do I remember how many buckets it took to fill an empty tank. The part I  remember best is that I had to continue hauling water until the filler neck overflowed, and I did that twice a week for each of the dozen or so customers on my list. And I don’t remember my weekly income or my total income for that summer, but I have vivid memories of how that income was divided—half of my weekly take went to my mother for my board and keep, one dollar to me to spend at my leisure and my pleasure, with the remainder going for victory stamps, purchased at the post office for twenty-five cents each—this was my contribution to winning the war, albeit a non-voluntary contribution.

Following its purchase, each stamp was pasted into a special book furnished by the post office. It took $18.75 to fill the $25-dollar stamp book, a book that at maturity would be, some seven years later, worth a whopping $25. None of my books ever made it to the $25 dollar level. They were necessarily turned into cash during separations from my stepfather during the war years, separations necessitated by his violent temper that flared when something did not go his way.

When I started this posting, a flood of memories washed over me—friends I made, games I played, digging up our front yard and planting vegetables (under my stepfather’s direction), a gaggle of family conflicts, my mother teaching me to embroider—I finished decorating a tablecloth and a napkin set that summer—and many more memories worthy of telling, but I must conclude my rambling for now—I’m running out of paper.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Travel, wartime

 

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Don’t blame Madoff . . .

Don’t place all the blame on Madoff for the billions of dollars that passed from thousands of people to him, his family, his friends and his associates through his Ponzi scheme. Many of those thousands that were bilked enjoyed the rarefied atmosphere found in our top income brackets, but most breathed the common air of middle incomes. Those billions of dollars handed to Madoff were considered by all to be investments, but after a considerable amount of time passed—years—the truth was outed. Those billions of dollars were actually donations, given freely to Madoff and his investment company, given in anticipation of earning fantastic profits.

The blame is not Madoff’s alone—he is guilty, of course, but that guilt must be shared by his victims.

Madoff is now firmly incarcerated, entombed by our criminal justice system and will remain entombed for the next thousand years or so, or until he dies, whichever comes first. He is enduring a punishment for something that was not his fault—well, perhaps half of it was his fault, but no more than half. The other half of that fault lies with the people that followed a trail of crumbs of greed, one carefully laid by Madoff, to its ultimate destination—the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many of his victims—not all, but perhaps most—were honest and hardworking people, all expecting to profit by dabbling in the stock market and thereby improving their lives, a perfectly normal expectation in our capitalistic society.

Those that were scammed by Madoff’s Ponzi scheme were sorely afflicted with gullibility and greed, a two-pronged disease that will always be lurking in the darkness, ready to oblige anyone that expects to receive something in return for giving nothing. Such are those that firmly believe in that fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

We have a maxim that will protect us from similar situations, but only if we acknowledge its truth and follow it scrupulously. That maxim goes like this:

If something seems too good to be true, it isn’t.

A simple and straightforward adage and one to which we should all adhere. And there is another simple and straightforward adage to which each of us should adhere. This adage is my adage, or maxim if you will, coined by me. I give it freely, with neither hope nor need of recompense—no hope or need of monetary recompense, but I would appreciate and acknowledge recognition of its value. Here is my contribution to civilization:

Every person now living, and every person that arrives later, can be had.

For anyone unfamiliar with the verb phrase to be had, it means can be screwed. In this instance the verb screwed is a remarkably understandable synonym for cheated—the verb to screw has substantially different meanings, of course, as do many verbs in our language.

Conjugation of the verb to be screwed would be screwed, screwed and screwed. Present, past and future tense would be, I am screwed, I was screwed, I will be screwed again.

If confession is good for the soul, then mine is about to be washed clean—I have been had, not once but many times over a lifetime of susceptibility, a life that has taken me far beyond senior citizen status and still counting. The situations in which I have been had differ only in degree—everything else is the same, identical to the situation in which people were had by Madoff. In every instance in which I have been had, I was afflicted with and guided by gullibility and greed.

Trust me—those two emotions are always present and are always the culprits when one is had—there are no exceptions. Many years ago I was had by a carnival barker that promised me a huge profit if I would only toss wooden rings at several rows of wooden pegs. Each peg had a specific point value that ranged from one-half point up to a much higher number of points—there was an explanatory chart taped to the counter top showing the various point values.

Prizes to be given ranged from teddy bears to televisions, prominently arrayed on shelves behind the counter, to be given depending on the number of points earned from tossing the rings at the pegs. Each ring had to be paid for before the toss. The ring could be tossed until a peg was ringed, and the number of points on that peg were earned and added to the total points already earned, if any.

The limited amount of money I brought to the carnival—only five dollars or so—was soon expended, and after my last dollar had been pissed away—oops, I meant thrown away—I needed only one-half of one point to win the brass ring—my choice of any prize behind the counter. As a precaution prior to investing more money, I studied that fraction-filled point chart (studiously) and found that the lowest fraction on the chart was one-half—1/2—of one point.

There was no one-fourth—1/4—point!

Voila!

How could I lose?

The answer?

I couldn’t lose!

I only needed to toss rings until my toss circled a one-half point peg, and the brass ring would be mine!

I only needed the wherewithal to purchase more rings.

I was a proud enlisted member of our American military force at the time. I was paid once monthly at the end of each month—not much, but I was paid regularly. I was four days away from payday and neither my wife nor I had any more money with us, but safely ensconced at home, well hidden against the possibility that a burglar might ransack our home, was one twenty-dollar greenback.

And now for the rest of that story:

I hied myself to our home, extracted the bill from its hiding place, returned to the carnival, began tossing rings and finally, after I had the entire twenty dollars invested, the barker said, “This one’s a winner.” The brass ring winner? No—the last peg I ringed with that stupid wooden ring that took the last one of my twenty dollars showed only one-fourth of a point.

I protested vigorously and vehemently, charging that the chart taped to the counter did not include a one-fourth—1/4—point. The barker calmly placed a fingertip on the chart, and my gaze followed that stupid grimy hand and its stupid grimy fingertip with its stupid nail packed with dirt to a number that definitely and indelibly read as follows:

1/4.

It hurt horribly and I protested loudly, threatening to leave and return with my base commander, all without effect—my twenty dollars could never be retrieved. For all the good that bill did me, I might as well have utilized it at home and then flushed it.

That’s my story—I could have told other stories, some involving more money and some less, and some involving other than money, but this is as good an example as I have to demonstrate my theory of gullibility and greed. I did not see the 1/4 point on the chart because I did not want to see it. It was there, but my gullibility and greed infected and affected my vision, resulting in the loss of our accumulated cash wealth at the time.

I say that in all seriousness. We had no money in a checking account or savings account because we had no bank account. With the loss of the twenty we had no money, nothing to exchange at the commissary for food or for baby formula, diapers and talcum powder. Other than that ill-fated twenty-dollar bill, we had absolutely nothing reserved for a calamitous event such as the one precipitated, with treacherous and malicious aforethought, by that damned carnival barker—may he rest in (fill in the blank).

Bummer!

I was gullible and greedy, just as were the victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. However, that incident has stood me in good stead over the years since. I readily admit that I can be had, that somewhere in my world there is some silver-tongued devil that has the ability to make a profit off me by focusing on those two emotions, and I resist it with every fiber of my being, knowing that it could happen again.

In the near future I plan to post the story of how we made it through the last four days before payday. That posting will be a sad tale that involves floating a five-dollar loan and completing a sales transaction, both successful only because of the beneficence of two fellow service members.

A special note: The brass ring was an item that could be snagged by a rider whirling around on one of the old time carnival merry-go-rounds, provided that the rider had a very long reach—hence the expression go for the brass ring. A rider that snagged the brass ring qualified for a prize, one of very little value but one sought for desperately, particularly by young men eager to impress their dates, or perhaps by young men eager to impress other young men, or by young women eager to impress—etc., etc.—who knows who or why? I don’t know whether the practice still exists—I do know that it did exist—I tried many times, but I never caught the brass ring.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Family, friends, Humor, stock market

 

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Lightning, lobsters and babes in the woods . . .

The e-mail that follows was sent by one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. She suggested that I tell the story of a camping trip we took in the summer of 1986, a jaunt that began in northern Virginia and took us through Washington D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and back to Virginia—ten states, eleven counting Virginia, and the District of Columbia, all in just six days. We were really happy to get back home!

This is her e-mail:

Here’s a memory to get you started: Our road trip to Maine….you wanted lobster…I ordered chicken (no surprise there)…she brought us the food, then left. You called her over to ask for the lobster cracker thingies and she said, “That family over there is using them.” We were blown away that they only had one set—-something about “people keep taking them” or something like that. I don’t remember what happened or how long you had to wait, but it put a damper on your “famous Maine lobster” adventure.

Then the night in the tent in the campground…and the lightning and raining and horrendous thunder…seeing shadows of trees through the tent when the flashes occurred….then you whispered, “Where are your arms?” I asked why and you said, “Tuck them in and don’t touch the metal on the bed….JUST IN CASE.” Way to go to scare your kid, pop! This would have been spring or early summer 1985, I think. I’ll check the date on my slides to verify, though.

My daughter touched on the lobster snafu and the night we spent in a non-waterproofed tent while a storm raged around and over us, and one might legitimately say, with one of its components—water—inside the tent with us. At twilight that day we luckily stumbled upon a small state park in Maine with tent grounds, and we pitched our tent under the comforting arms of a giant oak, reasoning that its shade would be welcome the following day. The Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best with the phrase that began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: It was a dark and stormy night . . .

For us it was not only a dark and stormy night—it was also a very wet night that we spent in our two-person tent, an item we purchased new just before we began our odyssey, along with two aluminum folding cots, two light-weight sleeping bags, a one-burner Coleman camp stove and a Coleman two-mantle lantern, both of which used white gas for power. Using the booklet provided we practiced pitching the tent in the parking lot at our apartment, but decided not to follow the instructions to “waterproof your tent by using the waterproofing tubes included.” Since the skies were clear that day in Arlington, Virginia, we surmised, wrongly of course, that they would remain clear for the duration of our camping trip. They did not remain clear.

Note for campers: Do not—I repeat, do not—pitch a tent of any size under a tree of any size regardless of the weather and regardless of whether the tent is waterproofed. The absolute last place one should be in a storm is under a tree, whether in a tent, a car, a trailer, a wagon or just standing, sitting or lying under a tree. Trees and lighting bolts appear to have a passion for one another—everyone knows, of course, that lightning goes upward from the ground, quite often from a tree, and is met by its counterpart coming down from the clouds. We can pass this gem of knowledge we gleaned on our trip: Weather has an odd way of changing abruptly—in our case it changed so abruptly that we had neither time to relocate our tent, nor time (or the means) to waterproof it.

The massive storm hit around 9:00 p.m. and lasted for an eternity, with brilliant flashes of lightning and rolling thunder, sounds comparable to the sounds made by massive landslides with huge trees snapping like twigs—before the night was over it sounded like Mount Helena blowing its top. Of course my imagination was at high pitch, fueled by something similar to fear—no, not just similar to fear, it was fear. For awhile I feared that I could drown even if the lighting didn’t get me. Not surprisingly, my daughter slept soundly through most of the bedlam, awakening only when I whispered, “Where are your arms?”

At one point during the storm I imagined that I could smell sulfur, an odor associated with lightning strikes—some say brimstone, as in “fire and brimstone.” In 1983 in Arizona it smelled like sulfur. I was in a moving automobile at ground zero near the Arizona/Mexico border when a lighting bolt struck and mangled an aluminum guardrail just a few feet from my front-seat passenger position. Come to think of it, that may not have been sulfur I smelled, but I definitely smelled something!

We survived the ordeal of the storm and emerged from our tent, a bit bedraggled but bound to continue on our great adventure, and as time passed we began to remember that night as a fun time and one of the most memorable moments in our trip.

Prior to finding the state park where we camped that night, we stopped in a couple of travel-trailer parks to see if they allowed tent campers. Neither provided sites for tents, but a woman in the second park mentioned that “a nice family” owned and operated a camp nearby and accepted tent campers. While giving me directions, she included a but, a but as in, “But they only accept family campers.” Thinking perhaps that family size was a factor for admission, I told her there were just two of us. She repeated the provision that, “They only accept families,” with strong emphasis on the word families, and then I realized the reason for her repetition of the sentence. She had a good view of me standing in front of her, of course, and she could clearly see my daughter standing outside near our car.

Note: My daughter was twenty-three years old at the time, and I was rushing toward my fifty-third birthday, an approximate age difference of some thirty years. I said, “Oh, I see,” and turned on my heel and left, my heart and my chest swelling with pride, knowing that she actually believed that I could entice a female non-family member such as the lovely 23-year-old girl standing by my car to embark on an extended camping trip with me. As I pranced out of that office I felt much taller than I did when I entered—had I been capable of doing so, I would have snorted, whisked my tail and whinnied all the way out to the car.

Enough is enough, at least for now. I have been criticized and censured for making my postings too long—evidently some viewers’ truncated attention spans prohibit them from spending very much time reading, especially if there is a dearth of photo images in a posting. I will therefore terminate this posting, a tiny vignette, but representative of the memorable experiences we accumulated over the six-day period, and return at a later date with more details.

I promise.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in camping, Family, Humor, Travel

 

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To lay, or to lie—that is the question . . .

And this is the answer: Hens lay—people lie.

The misuse of lay and lie is one of my pet peeves, perhaps the pettiest and peeviest of all.

We hear the verbs misused in every venue—we see it printed in our daily newspapers and other periodicals, and we hear it on radio, on television and in everyday conversations. Medics arriving at an accident scene will invariably tell the injured to lay down, lay still. The medic may report to his home station that he found the injured person laying in a ditch beside the road—and the operator may ask him to repeat the victim’s location by saying, “Repeat, please—where is the victim laying?” As much as I detest repeating myself, I will now repeat myself:

Hens lay—people lie.

Remember when we learned to conjugate verbs? We memorized word groups containing the present, past and future tenses of verbs. The verb to lie, as in lie down, is conjugated as lie, lay, lain—I lie down today, I lay down yesterday, and  by this time tomorrow I will have lain down again. This conjugation is used to reflect the position of something in repose, whether alive or dead, whether animate or inanimate, whether animal, vegetable or mineral and whether prostrate or supine.

A quick explanation here on prostrate versus supine may be in order, just in the highly unlikely possibility that one or more viewers may be confused by the difference between prostrate and supine. Prostrate means lying on one’s stomach (face down), and supine means lying on one’s back (face up).

Special note: Some people sometimes tend to confuse the term prostrate with prostate. The first refers to position—the second is “a gland found at the neck of the bladder in male mammals.” I remember a sentence in a novel that read, “He lay prostate on the altar of Mammon.” The name Mammon, of course, refers to wealth, something regarded as evil, an object of worship and devotion. Medieval writers took Mammon as the name of the devil of covetousness. I suspect that the misspelling of prostrate was a typo, an error made way back in the days before spellcheckers came into use. There is a truth to be learned here—spellcheckers are not infallible.

The verb to lie also refers to truthfulness (or the lack thereof), and is conjugated as follows: lie, lied, lied—I lie today (or I am lying, the gerund form of lie), I lied yesterday, and by this time tomorrow I will have lied again.

The verb to lay also has two very different meanings, as does the verb to lie. It can refer to the hen’s ability to lay an egg (lay, laid, laid), or it may be used to place or put something, also conjugated as lay, laid and laid. Rather that saying “Put (or place) it on the table,” we can say “Lay it on the table.” We can then legitimately say that we laid it on the table, and that by this time tomorrow we will have laid another on the table.

I suppose that a hen could lie down, but in my experience they only sit—or stand, of course. I have never seen a hen lie. However, I have heard hens lie. When I was a child, in a time shrouded in the mists of the past, a cackling hen usually meant that an egg had just been laid. That sound would send me running to the hen house for a quick visual scan of the nests to locate and purloin the egg, still warm after its journey from darkness to the bright light of day, then a quick run to the general store one-quarter mile distant to initiate and complete a business transaction. A dozen eggs in those days cost 60 cents, so I would exchange the egg for a nickel’s worth of something sweet, the buyer’s choice of items ranging from candy to cookies to a Coke. Yes, at that time the green Mae West-shaped bottle of Coca-Cola cost just five cents.

As regards that hen cackling, the cackling did not always indicate that an egg had been laid and was available. There were other situations in which hens cackled. They often cackled when the rooster was in hot pursuit, a cackle engendered by panic or perhaps by anticipation or some alternate feeling. Hens also sometimes cackled shortly after being overtaken by the rooster—whether the cackling indicated pleasure or disappointment is known only by the hen—and the rooster, perhaps. I use the word perhaps because the hen, in any discussion that may have ensued between her and the rooster following their encounter, may have told him things that were somewhat less than truthful, little white lies told so the the rooster would hear that which she knew he wanted, and needed, to hear. Let’s face it, my brothers—it’s well known that some actions of some animals sometimes mirror the actions of humans, both in the psychological sense and the physical sense—they just speak a different language.

A quick application of basic arithmetic to the sale of eggs at sixty cents per dozen:

Armed with the knowledge that twelve of something—anything—equals one dozen, then dividing the cost of a dozen eggs (sixty cents) by the number of eggs in a dozen (twelve) would show that one egg had a value of  five cents, and one might wonder how the store’s proprietor could make a profit. In this instance he was satisfied to break even—he was my uncle, the husband of my mother’s sister, a deeply religious and benevolent man cut down in the prime of his life. He was killed by the actions of a 12-year-old boy, a first-cousin to me and the younger of his two sons.

My cousin’s actions were not deliberate—his father’s death was an accident, avoidable perhaps, but still an unfortunate accident. Unless it sprouts wings and flies (or flees) from my memories and refuses to return, the story of my uncle’s death will be the subject of a future posting.

Stay tuned.


 

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Two women make different choices . . .

This posting is a letter that I submitted to the editors of the San Antonio Light way back in 1992, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that it was never published. Apparently my letter touched a nerve, or perhaps several nerves, because it was neither printed nor acknowledged.

First, a brief history of the SAN ANTONIO LIGHT, a daily newspaper that flourished for more than 100 years in San Antonio, Texas, but is now defunct:

The San Antonio Light, a daily afternoon and Sunday morning newspaper in San Antonio, Texas began as the San Antonio Surprise in 1881. The paper subsequently morphed through a series of titles including the Evening Light, the Daily Light, the Light and Gazette, and finally settled on the San Antonio Light title in 1911. The Light was published continuously until late 1992 and was then closed, shortly after its purchase by the Hearst Corporation.

This is the letter I submitted:

Letters to the Editor, San Antonio Light

PO Box 161

San Antonio, TX 78291

“One Woman’s Choice,” the article that appeared in FOCUS on July 5, was an eloquent and compelling plea for legal abortion. Subtitled “Best decision made among grim options,” its objective was to convince the reader of the rightness of pro-choice.” The article practically guaranteed equal space in FOCUS for a pro-life rebuttal, providing that such a rebuttal would be submitted. The Light’s editors must have prayed for a rebuttal and had their prayers answered, because in the space of one week a rebuttal was submitted, verified, edited and printed in the FOCUS section of the paper.

Remarkable!

The pro-life article appeared in FOCUS just one week later, titled “Another Woman’s Choice.” Subtitled “Giving birth took love, hard work,” the article is just as eloquent and compelling in its plea for pro-life as the first was for pro-choice. The Light did not publish either writer’s name because of the “personal and sensitive nature” of their stories. I can understand the woman that aborted her pregnancy being reluctant to see her name in print, but not the woman that gave birth and life to her child and then achieved success in her quest for an education—summa cum laude, no less!. That mother (so to speak) should be shouting her name from the highest rooftops, perhaps even having it written in the sky high above the city of San Antonio.

Ostensibly the letters reflect widely disparate personal experiences of two young women in San Antonio, events which profoundly affected their lives. Rather than the work of individuals, the letters appear to be composites of the abortion issue. I suspect that they are ghost-written, perhaps by a professional writer or writers or groups of writers, all well-versed in the pros and cons of the abortion issue.

While both articles are excellent journalism, an error or two in sentence construction, grammar, punctuation or spelling might have made them more believable. Of course, one of the authors is careful to tell us that because of her abortion she was free to pursue her education, and ultimately graduated from college and traveled extensively.

The other author stresses the fact that she was able to pursue her education without aborting her pregnancy, and was graduated magna cum laude by a prestigious university. The stated accomplishments of the two women effectively explain their articulateness and the excellence of their literary arguments.

If the letters are genuine, I apologize for allowing my skepticism and cynicism to show (Ann Landers would probably sign me, “Cynic in San Antonio”).

Whether the letters are genuine or bogus, I extend my congratulations to their authors and to the Light for publishing them. The abortion question is probably the most divisive issue this country has ever faced, and I applaud any efforts to resolve it, even those efforts that appeal to emotions rather than reason.


 

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A return to THE TOMATO TEMPEST—check it out!

I began blogging in March, 2009 in response to an e-mail from one of my daughters. I ended that first posting with a question for my viewers, and ten months later I have yet to receive any answers to that question. This is a repeat of that first posting. Since the question remains unanswered I’ll ask it again, just as it appeared in the initial posting—the question will appear again at the conclusion of “THE TOMATO TEMPEST.”

Please feel free to voice your thoughts. I assure you that your comments will not be edited for content, whether negative or positive. However, I must state that any errors in spelling and punctuation will be corrected—I can’t resist that—it’s in my nature!

Note for readers of this posting (if any):

I’ll leave it up to you, the viewers who blindly stumble onto my blog—should I write my memoirs, with the purpose of publishing a book? Should I consolidate and cement those memories for others to enjoy, or should I be selfish and keep them all to myself?

If you respond, I have only one request:

Be honest, but be gentle!

The tomato tempest

Recently one of my three princesses (daughters) e-mailed me excerpts from a diary she kept early in her working career as a graphic designer. Her incredibly detailed (and lengthy) notes prompted an incredibly detailed (and lengthy) answer. To read those excerpts, check out that posting on her blog at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/the-year-of-living-detailed-ly/

This is my response to my daughter’s e-mail

Your diary is a great read, and your posting brings back a host of memories for me. I wish I had the discipline necessary to do the diary thing. I believe I’ll start one now by backtracking through the past—it will necessarily be in the “stream of consciousness” vein, and nowhere approaching chronological order because I’ll probably never get the dates accurately sorted out.

Here’s a brief (?) example, a memory that came, unbidden and unexplainable, while I was reading your e-mail. It’s an incident that occurred a year or two after my mother married my stepfather.

I’ll call the incident:

The tomato tempest

My sister and I, with our mother and our recently acquired stepfather, traveled the 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi to a farm near Ethelsville, Alabama to visit Papa’s sister, a red-haired wife who had become a widow a few weeks earlier—her husband killed himself. Yep, committed suicide. On a cool fall evening after supper he left his wife and three sons in the house, walked a short distance into the woods and into a ravine near the house (ravines are called hollows and pronounced “hollers” by Alabama country folks) and slashed his throat with a straight razor. His hounds found him early the next morning, and their baying alerted the family. One of his three sons was the first on the scene.

As Papa John explained it, “He damn near cut his head off.” I never knew why my aunt’s husband killed himself. Perhaps no one knew, but he may have done it because Papa’s sister, as long as I knew her, constantly whistled country singer Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” song between her teeth—day and night, at work and at play. It may have been that her husband simply got “mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore” and took the only way out—not the only way, perhaps, but certainly one of the quickest ways available to him—it may have been a classic case of, “One of us has to go, so it’s either her or me.”

The year would have been around 1942-1943. With the advent of World War II, America was recovering from the Great Depression, but recovery was slower in the South than in other sections of the country (similar to the South’s recovery after the “War Between The States,” known by some as the “Civil War”).

In a more serious vein, the father’s action may reasonably be attributed, at least in part, to the severe economic times. He and his family were share-croppers, tenants eking out a living by sharing the profits from crop returns with the land owner. The land-owner furnished housing, land, seed and farm implements, and extended credit to the family. In return the family did the work of clearing, planting, tending and harvesting the crops. The division of profits was always heavily in the landholder’s favor.

That the larger portion of profits accrued to the land-owner is understandable, but in far too many instances the paltry portion extended to the family, coupled with the family’s dependence on credit for the following year, guaranteed that they could never hope to rise above the share-cropper level.

A share-cropper and his family had a hand-to-mouth existence—they existed on credit until crops were harvested and sold, paid their debts with their share of the profits and promptly began using credit to get through the next growing season. If this seems to reflect a bleak existence with little hope for the future, it’s because the reflection was true—very little hope for the future existed.

I have vivid memories of the house. It sat near the woods a half-mile or so off the paved highway at the end of a winding one-lane dirt road, little more than two ruts between cotton fields. The farmhouse was typical of the time—built on piers, walls of unpainted ship-lap boards, rusting tin roof, a brick chimney, kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms—the living room with the fireplace did double duty as a living room and bedroom.

The living room and two bedrooms were separated from the kitchen and dining room by a “dog-run,” an wide open concourse running from front to rear of the house. Breezes flowing through the dog-run helped cool the home in summer, and provided shelter for the dogs at night and in inclement weather (hence the term “dog-run”). In later years in many of such houses, the dog-run was enclosed to provide additional interior space, either as a wide hallway or for additional rooms or storage space—either way, the change put the dogs at a definite disadvantage. In all my memories, none is of full-grown hounds being allowed into the house, regardless of the weather—they took up far too much space and produced far too many bad odors.

This was my only visit to the farmhouse. My mother took various foodstuffs to the family on that visit, including a small bag of fresh tomatoes, items that would figure prominently in our lives following our one-day excursion to visit the family. We arrived early in the day and stayed until late afternoon. We ate dinner with the family at noon, a meal which included sliced tomatoes. My sister was about 12 years old, some 18 months older than I. She loved sliced tomatoes, and on that day ate perhaps what could be described as “more than her share” of them—however, the plate was repeatedly passed at her request with no admonitions from anyone.

When we left to return home, our route to the paved highway was blocked by a huge pile of brush placed there by my aunt’s youngest child, a boy a bit younger than my 11 years. If I ever knew why he did it I don’t remember the reason, but I do remember Papa’s frustration and his language—he had to clear the path before we could move on. I remember the air in that area turning blue. His language probably stemmed from his intake of alcohol during the day. We were to learn in later years that Papa John was a confirmed alcoholic, a trait that would exist for many years and figure prominently in our future.

Our supper at home that evening included a plate heaped high with sliced tomatoes. Papa John kept passing the tomatoes to my sister, and she cheerfully accepted additional helpings. However, when she had her fill of sliced tomatoes he insisted she take more, telling her that she had insulted him, his sister and his sister’s sons by eating so many at noon, that the tomatoes had been taken there for a grieving family, and should have been theirs. When she stubbornly refused to eat more, he reached across the table and struck her, open-handed, on the left side of her head, a blow that he repeated two more times, inter-spaced with the question, “I told you to eat them!” I remember my mother saying, “No, John, that’s enough, don’t hit her anymore.”

We lived in a two-story colonial style house that, in the early years of World War II, had been converted into several apartments. One of my older sisters lived in the front downstairs unit with her husband and young daughter, a two-year old, and we lived in the downstairs rear unit. Our combination kitchen and dining room opened onto the back porch.

When my older sister heard the commotion she rushed into our kitchen. All of us—my sister, mother, stepfather and I were on our feet when she arrived and charged into our stepfather. Papa John didn’t hit her, but he shoved her violently out the door with so much force that she fell off the porch. Other than minor bruises and injury to her pride, she was not hurt. Her husband wasn’t home at the time, and she returned to her apartment saying that she would tell him everything and he would deal with Papa John later. Our stepfather responded by saying his pistol was “loaded and ready.”

And it was. Papa John kept an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at his bedside, with a full clip and a round in the chamber, the safety off and the hammer fully cocked. His reasoning for that was to insure that the weapon could be fired quickly in an emergency—to fire it he could simply pick it up, squeeze the hand grips to override the final safety feature, and pull the trigger. He proudly told people that neither my sister nor I would ever touch the weapon—he was blissfully unaware of the many times I handled the Colt, pointing and sighting it at objects and people (including him), having morphed with the weapon in my hand into the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Don (Red) Barry, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or any one of the host of Hollywood cowboys so prominent in my boyhood (trust me, I can name ‘em all).

Nothing else ever came of the incident. The end result was a permanent partial loss of hearing and untold psychological damage for my younger sister, and an enduring hatred of Papa John by the older sister he threw out of the kitchen. Later in the evening our stepfather apologized profusely to my younger sister, an apology that included tears—his, not hers. She listened stoically and made no response, nor did I respond, mainly because the apology was not addressed to me—I decided that the less said, the better, a maxim that would characterize and shape my actions far into the future, especially when Papa was involved.  To my knowledge, no apology was ever offered to the sister thrown out of the kitchen.

Okay, so what do you think?

Should I start writing my autobiography/memoirs, entitled something similar to “Memoirs of Mikey” or perhaps “Mike’s Memoirs” or maybe “Confessions of a Step-child”? This is just one incident in one day in a life which at this point has covered some 76 and one-half years. I can conjure up at least 16,900,027 vignettes from those years, all true. Not that truth matters—there is no one alive who can confirm, deny or dispute anything I might say or write concerning the first 19 of those years. For the following 57 years I’ll need to be stick closely to the truth, because your mother and your sisters may disagree with some of my memories.

Just imagine—Oprah might select my book for her reading club, and I would be on her show, and you could come along and photograph the proceedings—oh, and you could also save me a lot of money by producing my literary blockbuster.

Note for readers of this posting (if any):

I’ll leave it up to you, the viewers who blindly stumble onto my blog—should I write my memoirs, with the purpose of publishing a book? Should I consolidate and cement those memories for others to enjoy, or should I be selfish and keep them all to myself?

If you respond, I have only one request:

Be honest, but be gentle!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 17, 2010 in Childhood, death, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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An adoption option—I could’uh been uh contenduh!

In his 1954 black-and-white movie “On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando dreamed of being a great fighter and winning titles. He eventually was relegated to working on waterfront docks, but always maintained that with the right handling and the right breaks, he could have been a contender for national prizefight titles—thus his plaint “I could’uh been uh contenduh!”

As a young boy I dreamed variously of becoming a cowboy, an explorer, an Indian fighter, an Indian, a pilot, a continental bus driver, a soldier or sailor or airman, a policeman, a taxi driver, a husband and a father, a doctor or teacher or scientist or author of books or a combination of all those occupations. I became an airman, husband and father and a law-enforcement officer (in that order) but none of the other dreams ever came true. Because of those failures this is my plaint, as was Marlon Brando’s in “On the Waterfront”:

I could’uh been uh contenduh!

In all seriousness, I believe I could have been a contender had I been born into a family somewhat higher on the economic scale. We were so far down on that scale that my mother often said, “We don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.” Yep, she said that and said it often, and she exaggerated only slightly.

She divorced her first husband (my father) shortly before I was born. Yes, I know that being born out of wedlock makes me (technically) a little bastard, but I can live with that—some feel that since then I have earned the right to that term. When I was nine years old and in the fourth grade, my mother remarried. Her new husband, not anxious to shoulder the responsibilities and economics of raising two kids, dumped me and my sister (18 months older than I) on relatives. During the next seven years I was relegated to an older sister, an older brother and a first-cousin, and as you will learn in this posting, given the opportunity to be relegated to someone outside the family, someone with absolutely no connection to my family. My sister suffered similar treatment, although banished to other pastures—we were never foisted off to the same people—apparently two kids were one too many for others to handle.

I abandoned my formal education just short of finishing the tenth grade, but over the years that followed I managed to earn a BA degree in American history (Nebraska) and a BS degree in Criminal Justice (Texas). This was over a period of 22 years of study, including on-campus study at five different universities, at home and abroad. Also during that period I worked full-time and assisted my wife in maintaining a home and raising three children.

But I have digressed—back to my contention that “I could’uh been a contenduh!”

At the princely age of eleven, when I was in the second semester of the seventh grade, I was offered a path out of the poverty in which I was mired. Early one morning as I entered my home room, the teacher ordered me to report to the principal’s office. With that order every part of me puckered-up—the principal normally waited until two boys got into trouble and then had both sent to his office. He had a wooden paddle, a formidable weapon that was used on the buttocks of male miscreants. The principal did not wield the item himself—he favored a system called “swapping licks.”

The system involved one wrong-doer whacking the other across the buttocks, then submitting to the same punishment by the one he had just whacked—tit for tat, so to speak. The boys were allowed to decide which one administered the first blow. If the principal felt that either or both of the whacks lacked the proper force, he would order one or both to be repeated—that was rarely necessary. (Note: In those days, long ago and far away in a different kingdom, grades seven and eight were termed “junior high,” and grades nine through twelve were “high school.” The six grades were combined in a series of campus buildings and one official, the “high school principal,” held complete sway over the whole.

I was sent to the principal’s office only one time, early in the first semester of the seventh grade, and I must confess that I don’t remember the nature of my transgression—apparently the ravages of time have deleted it, but it was something to be remembered. Of the two boys that faced the principal that day, one was five feet tall and weighed somewhere around 100 pounds—that one was me. The other was Hugh, six feet tall and well over two-hundred pounds, a first-string lineman for the school’s football team—his name was Hugh but everyone called him “huge.”

Infused with the belief that I wouldn’t be able to whack anybody after I received a blow from Hugh, I insisted on giving the first whack. I held back very little, but Hugh made no sound when the paddle landed, although he did rub his backside a bit immediately afterward. I made a concentrated effort by will of mind to tighten up everything I had in that area, hoping to force some muscle into the soft flesh in order to better absorb the blow. What followed was a mystery to me, but it was a mystery that would soon be revealed. While Hugh was warming up to retaliate, the principal said to him, in a tone that left no doubt as to his meaning, something on the order of “Gently, Hugh—make sure you are very gentle.”

I had no way of knowing then that the principal had plans for me—I was soon to learn that he wanted to adopt me, so he was probably reluctant to take on damaged goods. Hugh was more than “very gentle.” He tapped me across the buttocks so gently that, had it not been for the sound of the paddle landing I wouldn’t have known I had been hit—phew! What a relief!

I fully expected that two people would be in the office when I arrived—the principal and another wayward boy. I was right, but the two people were the principal and my mother.

Here I must again digress:

The high school principal was known to be a wealthy man. He owned and lived in one of the finest antebellum homes in town, and owned or had substantial interests in local businesses. I mention this only to stress that the reason my mother was there was to give her youngest son the opportunity to be adopted by the principal and raised as his son. Well, I suppose she had another reason, namely the possibility of relinquishing her responsibilities of raising me to another person. I have no problem with that—I accepted her reasoning then and I accept it now.

It was also known that the principal was the father of two girls (I was well aware of that). He had not been blessed with any boys, and had always wished for a boy he could bond with as a father, one that could then carry on his family name (I was not aware of that). His wish was never granted, and he was therefore willing to adopt a boy for those reasons. My mother was willing to authorize the adoption—nay, she appeared to be quite enthusiastic about it—but she made it clear that the decision was ultimately up to me.

And here I must digress from my digression:

The principal’s daughters were very popular and very pretty—not just pretty—they were gorgeous. The ninth grader was a brunette and the younger, a perky blond (whatever “perky” means), was in the eighth grade. In my admittedly untrained and immature opinion, both girls were beautiful and fully worthy of becoming my sisters. In fact—and you may call this vanity if you like—I have reason to believe that they possibly were urging their father on, perhaps even begging him, in his quest to adopt me. Hey, don’t laugh—I was a cutie back then!

Both girls were active in school activities, including band and cheer-leading and as all know, rightly or wrongly, there are no homely cheerleaders. Had the two girls—or just one of them—either one—been present at my meeting with my mother and the principal, I suspect that the outcome may have been very different.

I had three sisters in my family, all of varying mental and physical characteristics. The two older sisters were married and the younger, the one that was passed as I was from one relative to another in her early years, while bright and likable in many respects would never have won any beauty contests, neither first place nor first runner-up. She has since passed on, almost two decades ago, to a place where everyone is equal and there are no runner-up positions—no matter the nature of the contest, all are judged first-place winners.

Okay, that should be the final digression.

The principal briefed me on what he had in mind. He wanted to adopt me and raise me as his son, with the promise to guide me and support me in my quest for learning. Evidently my performance in the first semester of the seventh grade had impressed him—and that’s another story, well worthy of its own blog posting. Stay tuned.

I learned that my surname would be changed to his family name, and everything was downhill from that point. My stepfather had wanted me to change my name to his, but I refused because I did not want other kids making jokes such as, “Hey, there’s Weathers—how’s the weather gonna be tomorrow?” etc., etc. Had I accepted the adoption my new name would have garnered jokes such as, “Hi, Farmer, what are you growing now?” and “Hey, Farmer, be sure you spread enough fertilizer.” The word “fertilizer” would, of course, be replaced by one or another of less savory words.

The surname I was given at birth was bad enough—it generated questions such as, “Hey, Dyer, what are you dyeing? Your clothes? Your hair?” and “If you’re a Dyer are you dead? How long will it take you to die?” ad nauseam. Over the past 13 years I had learned to live with the die jokes (heh, heh, heh), but I was reluctant to voluntarily provide hecklers with a fresh repertoire.

Actually, the proposed name change was a minor factor (pun unintentional). I rejected the “adoption option” because I was a rather independent 13-year old lad. I had already survived several changes in life and locations in the past three years, and I was prescient enough to believe that other, perhaps greater, life changes and locations loomed in my future (I was right—boy, was I ever right!).

I felt that my independence would be severely hampered, and any inclination I may have had to accept the adoption was severely tempered by the memories of, and the presence of, the wooden paddle the principal kept in a desk drawer. I speculated as to whether he took it home with him each night, or perhaps kept one or more similar items in his home.

I also was aware of the story that he had recently become so irate at one boy that he slapped him and punched him in the eye—gave him a really significant shiner and dispelled him—that was the boy’s story and most students believed him. The kid with the black eye said he was ordered to submit to the paddling procedure and when he refused to submit, the principal lost his temper. I worked with that ex-student for a time as a drive-in restaurant car-hop, and heard him tell his story many times—he never deviated from the salient parts of the incident, and I believed him.

Bummer.

So, in a nutshell as some say, in order to wrap this posting up, I have always felt that “I could’uh been uh contenduh!” had I accepted the offer of adoption. Rather than 22 years of combining work and family with my quest for learning, I could have and perhaps would have been educated at the finest schools in the nation for a career in law or medicine or business or mathematics—oops, scratch the mathematics—or perhaps a career in politics, one that theoretically at least, could have catapulted me into the highest office in the land. Speaking frankly (and comparatively), given the nature of current events and the recent past, I could have done a more stellar job in that office than the present occupant.

That’s it. I could have been a contender for things that were denied me because of my economic status, but I have no regrets. I am completely satisfied with my contributions to society and to my country, and with their contributions to me.


 

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The way it was—then and now . . .

From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Guest:

Edgar Albert Guest (August 20, 1881, Birmingham, England – August 5, 1959, Detroit, Michigan) (aka Eddie Guest) was a prolific American poet who was popular in the first half of the 20th Century and became known as the People’s Poet.

The poet authored 25 books from 1920 to 1927. In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that whenever I want to express my feelings and my words fail me, regardless of the subject, I will cheerfully and respectfully, without hesitation or remorse, use the words of another to convey my thoughts, with due credit being given, of course, to the other person.

Edgar Guest authored 25 books from 1920 to 1927. The poem which follows is from his All That Matters, published in 1922. I find it amazing that some 87 years ago someone could express so eloquently how we feel about our children and how proud we are of them. This posting is an effort to let our three daughters know how much we love them and how proud we are of them and their families. And perhaps any parent or parents that view the posting may choose to allow Edgar Guest to speak for them. The image below faced the  poem—it’s reproduced from a painting by Robert E. Johnston—this is the then part of the above title.

WHEN THE YOUNG ARE GROWN

Once the house was lovely, but it’s lonely here today,
For time has come an’ stained its walls an’ called the young away;
An’ all that’s left for mother an’ for me till life is through,
Is to sit an’ tell each other what the children used to do.

We couldn’t keep ‘em always an’ we knew it from the start;
We knew when they were babies that some day we’d have to part.
But the years go by so swiftly, an’ the littlest one has flown,
An there’s only me an’ mother now left here to live alone.

Oh, there’s just one consolation, as we’re sittin’ here at night,
They’ve grown to men an’ women, an’ we brought ‘em up all right;
We’ve watched ‘em as we’ve loved ‘em an’ they’re splendid, every one,
An’ we feel the Lord won’t blame us for the way our work was done.

They’re clean, an’ kind an’ honest, an’ the world respects ‘em, too;
That’s the dream of parents always, an’ our dreams have all come true.
So although the house is lonely an’ sometimes our eyes grow wet,
We are proud of them an’ happy an’ we’ve nothing to regret.

And this is the now part of the title— it’s a recent photo of our children’s parents, and is included to show viewers how little—or perhaps how much, depending on the viewer—we resemble the parents in Edgar Guest’s poem.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2010 in Family

 

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Dear Abby poem, a letter from those beyond . . .

The lines that follow were excerpted from Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play:

To die, to sleep, to sleep,| perchance to dream;
Aye, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death,
what dreams may come

when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause.

The poem below appeared in the San Antonio, Texas Express-News on Sunday, July 11, 1993, in Dear Abby’s column. It’s a moving message from one and all who, as voiced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, have shuffled off this mortal coil, and it is for us a solemn reminder of our own mortality. My sister’s husband had recently died and I included the poem in a letter.

This is the letter I sent to my sister following the death of her husband:

July 11, 1993

Dear Sis,

It’s Sunday morning here and I just finished wading my way through the Sunday issue of San Antonio’s Express-News. This poem was in Dear Abby. I know it’s very sad, and I know it won’t be easy for you to read. But I’ve read it over and over and I found that, at least for me, it became more uplifting and less sad with each reading. It was untitled, so I guess we are supposed to furnish our own title.

Nice touch, that. We can simply leave it untitled, or we can dedicate it to someone or something we’ve loved and lost, whether it be a person or pet or place or dream. We can title it I am not dead and accept it as being the voice of one we’ve loved and lost, or we can title it We are not dead and accept it as being the voices of all those we’ve loved and lost. Whether the voice of one or the voices of all, and regardless of the title the poem, in the words of Hamlet, must give us pause.

I choose to entitle the poem as the voice of one we’ve loved and lost:

I am not dead

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awake in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Re: Dear Abby—the following biographical sketch was extracted from Wikipedia:

Pauline Phillips (born July 4, 1918 as Pauline “Popo” Esther Friedman) is an advice columnist and radio show host who founded the “Dear Abby” column in 1956. The current Dear Abby is her first-born child and only daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who now writes under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren, which was also used by Pauline. She also has a son, Edward Jay Phillips.

Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips was an identical twin; her sister, Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, wrote the Ann Landers column until her death from multiple myeloma in 2002, at age 83. As children, the two grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and went by the nicknames “Popo” and “Eppie,” respectively. Both are alumnae of Morningside College and both wrote for the college newspaper. They were so close then that they had a joint wedding in 1939 when both women were 21 years old. They were both Jewish.


 
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Posted by on November 15, 2009 in death, Family, newspapers

 

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Ode to a little girl . . .

This poem came from the heart, and I felt it was worth sharing with the world—at least with that part of the world, admittedly an infinitesimally small part, that finds its way to my blog. Lauren was a precocious three-year old when her aunt (my youngest daughter) penned this poem, way back in the last century (1984). The years have passed quickly—Lauren is now 25, a lovely and loving young woman, currently employed as an Early Child Development teacher while continuing her education.

The years have passed, but the Eskimo kisses and the miniature bear hugs persist.

Lauren

Before you came into our lives

Children were just toys,

To be held and played with

And then returned to their rightful owners.

Through your eyes I have seen life

As only a child can;

You bring tears to my eyes

And warmth to my heart.

I await news of your latest conquest

Of adult conversation, which you seem to

have mastered at the wizened age of three.

And though you give them at random

And with deliberate consideration,

Those Eskimo kisses and miniature hugs

Mean more than you’ll ever know.

Love,

Aunt Kelley

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2009 in Childhood, Family

 

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Letter to Dockie, November 1993 . . .

Sixteen years ago I was pulling night-duty at San Antonio’s International Airport, waiting for and working flights coming in from Mexico. Since I had long ago mastered any and all U. S. Customs rules and regulations as they related to my duties, I felt justified in passing the time and staying awake by writing letters to friends and relatives. I began this letter that evening, and added to it over a period of several days and sent it snail-mail on the above date.

November 13,1993

Hi, Dockie and Jackie,

Don’t faint, it’s just me. I realize you folks are not very accustomed to getting letters from me (especially since this is the only one I ever sent you), but the shock should wear off pretty soon. We found the picture of Philip in the flower bush. I mean we found the picture which shows Philip in the flower bush, not that we found it in the flower bush. I figured I would send some words of wisdom along with it. The picture has faded a lot over the years. It was made 18 years ago, so I guess it’s in pretty good shape considering the time that has passed.

I’m working a swing shift at the airport, from 3-11 p.m., and have a lot of free time on my hands. Well, actually I’m not working 3-11 today, I’m working 8-5, but usually I am 3-11. There’s not much to do and I really get bored, so I decided to use the time to write letters and bore the people I send them to.

I’ve written my sisters more since I started working nights than I have in my entire life. I’ve even written Aubrey and Evelyn and Winnie and Clyde and Bill several times. One thing about the letters I need to warn you of—they are long. Writing on a computer is a little like running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex—once you start, it’s hard to stop.

We really had a great time in Georgia, especially at the cookout. Seeing you and Jackie and Jean was a real treat, and seeing that gaggle of kids and grand-kids and in-laws and outlaws was great. Of course, the years weigh a bit heavier when you see that the kids now have kids, and their kids will soon be having kids, and you wonder where the years went. I can remember so clearly us playing jacks in Montgomery. I’m not sure but I think I remember winning, at least some of the games. Tell you what—you and Jackie come on out for a visit, and I’ll buy some jacks and challenge you to a game—I think I can still beat you!

Cindy spent 10 days with us recently, from October 23 until November 2. She left this past Tuesday, but has already bought tickets to return during Christmas. The house sure seemed empty for awhile after she left, and we’re already looking forward to her return in December. She is doing well in her work in Virginia—in fact she will make more than her ol’ pappy this year if she keeps on like she is going. The only problem is that she has learned how to make money, but has not yet learned how to hold on to any of it. When she masters that, she will have it made. Her sister Kelley is running her a close second on that—not in making the money, but in spending it.

I think the people in Mexico are still talking about the visit you and the others made to Laredo. In fact, in Mexican folklore they refer to you as “la senorita loca con la pela rubia y el sombrero gigante,” which means “the crazy lady with the blond hair and the giant hat.” When you folks come out, we’ll try to fit in a trip to the border so you can terrorize the natives some more.

I just got back to my office. One of the ladies I work with is a garage sale freak like me, and we went hunting garage sales. They were supposed to have a giant sale at Trinity Baptist Church today, so we went there first. There were at least 100 cars there, so we figured it would be a great sale, but we couldn’t find where they were set up. We finally asked a motorcycle cop at the corner about it, and he said that the cars were there for a funeral, and that he didn’t know anything about a garage sale. I guess we have sunk to a new low, trying to get a really good bargain at a funeral.

We finally found several small yard sales before we had to return to work. I bought a 35-millimeter slide projector for $2.00. Does it work? I don’t know yet, haven’t tried it, but even if it doesn’t work I’m only out two bucks, and I’ll probably value it at $50 and donate it to Goodwill Industries and take a tax deduction, so how can I lose?

How are the goats doing? Boy, we really have some ritzy relatives—they keep a BMW parked in the yard just so their goats will have something to climb on! Alta and I liked your house, and you have it so nicely decorated. She is still talking about her visit with you. I guess you two sat up and talked all night.

Hope your Cocker Spaniel is alright now. She is a friendly little thing —well, not so little, I guess. And I know now not to blow the horn when I come to visit, or the white elephant will come out and chew off my bumpers. You call him a bulldog, but he’s more elephant-sized than dog-sized.

I told you that the letters are long. You’re probably getting an Excedrin headache from reading this. You know you can always stop and come back to it later if you want to. Of course the news will be that much older by the time you return.

Did we have our patio covered when you were out here? I don’t think we did. Anyhow, it is covered now, and we are going to extend the patio cover across the back of the house, probably about 50 feet all together. Hope to get it finished by the end of November, before the weather turns cold and wet. We had a cold spell last week. The temperature got down to about 27 degrees, but just for a few hours. We put all the plants in the garage and haven’t put them back out yet. Actually we have a 2-cat garage. They stay there at night, and are in and out of the house all day. They are having a ball climbing the ficus trees in the garage.

Took the tom cat (Dumas Walker) to the vet yesterday for his shots. It took three of us to give him the immunizations—two to hold him down and one to use the needle. That cat does not like to go to the vet. We gave him a tranquilizer before we took him in, but all it did was make him mad. I mean he was a real tiger, but normally he is a very gentle and loving cat—spends a lot of his time lying on my chest while I’m watching television. After seeing him in action at the vet’s office yesterday, I don’t feel quite as comfortable having him lying there.

I suppose I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close. Tell everybody hello for us, and give Jean our love. We know that you have a tough row to hoe, and you are doing it alone. We’ve never been in that situation, but we understand your problems and frustrations, and support you in everything you do.

Lots of love,

Janie and Mike

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in Family, friends, Humor, pets

 

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Words to live by: Lean on me . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share, with anyone and everyone who happens to pass this way, the beautiful thoughts expressed by Samuel Ullman in his poem Youth, excerpts of which appeared recently on Refdesk as the THOUGHT OF THE DAY. The posting is also a recommendation for Refdesk as a home page. Refdesk has an astonishing range—it has never failed me in my searches, regardless of their purpose. Donations to Refdesk are welcomed, but otherwise the service is free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.” – Samuel Ullman

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Youth, by Samuel Ullman:

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

A brief biography of Ullman (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia):

Samuel Ullman (April 13, 1840 – March 21, 1924) was an American businessman, poet, humanitarian. He is best known today for his poem Youth which was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur. The poem was on the wall of his office in Tokyo when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan. In addition, he often quoted from the poem in his speeches, leading to it becoming better known in Japan than in the United States.

Born in 1840 at Hechingen, Germany to Jewish parents, Ullman immigrated with his family to America to escape discrimination at the age of eleven. The Ullman family settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After briefly serving in the Confederate Army, he became a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. There, Ullman married, started a business, served as a city alderman, and was a member of the local board of education.

In 1884, Ullman moved to the young city of Birmingham, Alabama, and was immediately placed on the city’s first board of education.

During his eighteen years of service, he advocated educational benefits for black children similar to those provided for whites. In addition to his numerous community activities, Ullman also served as president and then lay rabbi of the city’s reform congregation at Temple Emanu-El. Often controversial but always respected, Ullman left his mark on the religious, educational, and community life of Natchez and Birmingham.

In his retirement, Ullman found more time for one of his favorite passions – writing letters, essays and poetry. His poems and poetic essays cover subjects as varied as love, nature, religion, family, the hurried lifestyle of a friend, and living “young.” It was General Douglas MacArthur who facilitated Ullman’s popularity as a poet – he hung a framed copy of a version of Ullman’s poem “Youth” on the wall of his office in Tokyo and often quoted from the poem in his speeches. Through MacArthur’s influence, the people of Japan discovered “Youth” and became curious about the poem’s author.

In 1924, Ullman died in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1994, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Japan-America Society of Alabama opened the Samuel Ullman Museum in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. The museum is located in the former Ullman residence and is operated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In my not very humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (title and chorus are in bold italics):

Lean on Me

Sometimes in our lives

we all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride

If I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill those of your needs

That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear

That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road

I’ll share your load

If you just call me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on

So just call on me brother,

when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem that

you’d understand

We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me . . .

All lyrics are property and copyright Bill Withers.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2009 in Family, foreign travel, friends, Writing

 

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The wooden bowl . . .

I received this story, author unknown, from a friend several years ago. I found it recently in my saved e-mail and decided to share it with anyone whose path might cross my blog.

The Wooden Bowl

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table, but the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Food  fell off his fork onto the floor, and sometimes when he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. ‘We must do something about father,’ said the son. ‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.’

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since he had broken dishes in the past, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had tears in his eyes as he sat alone. Still the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, ‘What are you making?’

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, ‘Oh, I’m making some little bowls for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.’ He smiled and went back to work.

His words so impressed the parents that they were speechless. Tears streamed down their cheeks, and although no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with his family.  And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, or milk was spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

On a positive note, I’ve learned that no matter what happens—no matter how bad it seems today—life goes on and tomorrow will be better.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about people by the way they handle four things—lost luggage, a rainy day, tangled Christmas tree lights and the elderly.

I’ve learned that, regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from this life.

I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life, and I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands—you need to be able to throw something back.

I’ve learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, your friends, the needs of others, your work and doing the very best you can, you won’t need to look for happiness—it will find you.

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.

I’ve learned that every day, you should reach out and touch someone. People love that touch—holding hands, a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back.

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn, and I’ve learned that you should pass this on to everyone you care about.

I just did.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Family

 

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Alabama cotton fields & Old Black Joe . . .

SueCottonPaintingOne of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia, created a painting for her friend Sue as a house-warming gift. Sue had recently relocated from Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama and needed a mantle-piece decoration suitable to that part of our country. My daughter e-mailed me and included a photo of the painting (shown at right with the proud owners). Check here to read her posting on the painting and its journey to its new home.

This is my reply to her e-mail:

I shore do lak ‘at, especially the sky—and as you said, the trees on the horizon eliminate competition between the clouds and the cotton field.

Beautiful, simply beautiful.

At the instant I viewed this image, a phrase from a refrain immediately popped into my remembering apparatus, a song we learned in Miss Mary’s elementary school, probably around the second or third grade—I hear those gentle voices calling—I googled the phrase, and this is the song:

Old Black Joe
by Stephen C. Foster

Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know,
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low,
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

Why do I weep when my heart should feel no pain,
Why do I sigh that my friends come not again,
Grieving for those now departed long ago,
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low:
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

Where are the hearts once so happy and so free,
The children so dear that I held upon my knee,
Gone to the shore where my soul has longed to go.
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low,
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

A word of caution—you probably shouldn’t spend a lot of time on Foster’s poem. If you do, you may find yourself becoming misty-eyed and feeling a certain tightening in your throat, a sure indication of a heavy heart and bitter-sweet memories (of course it could be nothing more than a psuedo allergic reaction to the heat and dust and airborne molds found in cotton fields and wooded areas).

Your painting and the poem brought so many memories crowding in that I didn’t have enough room for them—I had to push some aside so I could concentrate on others.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR SUE: She might want to consider printing the poem on a small placard and placing it near the painting—after reading it viewers (anyone over the age of 16 and assuming a reasonable understanding of the English language), would lapse into a moment of reverie, alone with their memories, oblivious to sights and sounds around them, even though they may have never seen a field of cotton, in Alabama or elsewhere.

And then again, maybe not.

Some thoughts on picking cotton:

While in basic military training at the mid-way point in the past century, I was discussing cotton-picking with a new-found friend from Aspermont, Texas. I mentioned that, at the tender age of 11, I picked cotton in Mississippi for a few days. I was never able to pick one-hundred pounds in order to reach the dollar-a-day wage. Some adult males picked as much as 200 pounds in one day by working from dawn to dusk. Early in the season, when the cotton was heavy on the stalks, pickers earned a penny a pound, but later in the season when the cotton was sparse on the stalks, the rate rose to two-cents a pound (it was sparse when I picked it, but my never-indulgent step-father paid me only a penny a pound).

Bummer.

My friend told me his mother picked as much as 800 pounds a day. I figured this was nothing more than a tall Texas tale, but after further discussion I learned that there was a huge difference between the states in the method of removing the cotton from its stalk. In Mississippi we picked the cotton ball out of its bowl—in Texas they pulled the cotton, bowl and all, from the stalk, and occasionally also placed the stem in the cotton sack (inadvertently, of course).

The latest ginning machinery that separated the ball from the bowl had not yet found its way to the deep South. In rural areas Mississippi also lagged behind the rest of the country in electricity, paved roads, water lines and sewers.

I know—I was there. We cooled ourselves with hand-held fans, usually purloined from church benches, we heated our homes with wood-burning open fireplaces, we cooked our meals on wood-burning cast-iron stoves, we did our school homework by lamp-light, we hand-pumped our water from wells, we made the long trip—out to and back from—outdoor privies in daylight and darkness, in the heat of summer and the cold of winter—and the only way we talked to anyone other than family members was either face-to-face or by sending and receiving letters.

Ah, those were the days, my friends.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2009 in Family, Humor

 

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How I won baseball’s World Championship . . .

This posting consists of several e-mails that recently passed between me and my son-in-law (the team’s coach) concerning his son’s Little League baseball team performance this year:

Brantley’s e-mail to me on 8 June, 2009:

The little Cubs finished 3rd in the post season tournament, only  losing their final two games to the top two teams by one run each game. They had an exciting season. Their coach enjoyed it, but is glad it’s over also. Here are the scores for the four games:

Game One:
Wylie 9
South Garland 3

Game Two:
Wylie 11
Dallas 2

Game Three:
Wylie 11
The Colony 0

Championship Game Four:
Wylie 10
North Garland 4

Yesterday Brennan was voted by the other coaches in the league to be one of the 13 Wylie Little League “All Stars” for the All Star team, so he apparently will be playing a couple tournaments later this month and next. The Garland Tournament is June 20—these are “kid pitch” games and should be interesting, since these kids have only played “coach pitch” so far.

This is my response to Brantley on 9 June:

Kudos to Brennan (and to the coach) for a successful season — All Stars! — WOW! Tell Brennan to be especially careful when sliding into home plate. My very brief baseball career (on a Little League team sponsored by the American Legion Post in Suitland, Maryland) ended abruptly when I rounded third-base (the only triple I ever hit) and the coach waved me in. I slid in and wrapped my right leg around the catcher’s shin guard—broke the tibia cleanly in one spot (my tibia, not his) and cracked it in two places below and two places above the clean break. When the dust cleared, my right foot was lying at a 90-degree angle from the knee.

P.S. If you’ve heard this story already, just skip it—I won’t mind—much.

This is Brantley’s response on 9 June:

That is an interesting story, one that I had not heard. Were you safe?

And finally (maybe), this is my response to Brantley on 9 June:

Nope—I was out by a mile—as I remember it the catcher met me approximately halfway between third and home. Well, maybe I was a bit closer than that to home plate, but not much.

Boy, you’re really opened up an old wound. In all the years since the incident I’ve never once thought about whether I was safe—it didn’t really matter to me at the time, nor does it now—I never really liked baseball anyway.

But listen up:

Wouldn’t it have been great if I had been called safe? And wouldn’t it have been fabulous if we had been in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied—and mine would have been the winning run, and my team would have also won the district championship and went on to win the state championship, and would have gone on to win the national title, and then on to Japan to win the world title—I can see the headlines now in newspapers everywhere:

“Maryland Little League Team Declared WORLD CHAMPIONS—the winning run was scored when Mikey, the team’s award-winning left-fielder (and sometimes shortstop), crawled the last few feet to home plate on one knee, dragging his shattered right leg in the dust.”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that.

That’s exactly how it happened. I was safe, and it was the bottom of the ninth, and the score was tied so I brought in the winning run, and we were declared district champions, and we went on to win the regional championship and then the state championship, and then on to win the national championship, and then on to Japan to compete for the world championship, and we won there and became the world champions, and at each game I was the honored guest, seated on a special platform directly behind home plate (with my cast and crutches).

Yes, I remember it clearly now—that’s exactly how it happened and that’s how I’ll tell the story in the future. Thanks for nudging my memory. Actually, now that I’ve thought about it in greater depth, we may have still been at war with Japan.

No, I was right the first time—the year was 1947 and the war was over, although American troops were occupying Japan at the time. So I’ll stick with my memory that our World Championship was won in Japan.

Yep, that’s how it was. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Incidentally, three years later in April, 1950 I became part of the Army of Occupation in Japan. For more details click the link below:

http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/never-volunteer-note-for-incoming-military-personnel/

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2009 in Childhood, Family, games, Humor, sports

 

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Dollar Store with no limits on stuffed animals . . .

The salutation in the e-mail reproduced below is the result of our youngest daughter’s pronunciation of apple when she was a toddler—for her it was wap—rhymes with cap—so we called her Wap-Wap.

She has since learned to pronounce the word correctly.

As the proud grandparents of her daughter and son—ages five and eight—we are contributing to their education by posting automatic monthly contributions to their individual savings accounts. She thanked us for our generosity in a recent e-mail.

This is my answer to that e-mail:

Wap-Wap, we thank you for your thank you.

You’re welcome.

When I think of your children and their accounts, I remember you telling your mom what they said when you showed them how much money they have. They speculated that their money would buy a lot of stuffed animals at the Dollar Store.

I pictured them racing around the Dollar Store pushing shopping carts and tossing stuffed animals and other items into the carts, having been loosed, unfettered, with your permission to buy anything and everything they wanted. A home video of that would probably take the grand prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Winning the grand prize of $100,000 would be—would be—well, it would be grand, and even the weekly prize of $10,000 would net you a nice profit, but I am not suggesting, nor am I recommending, that you enter the competition, at least not at the present time.

You might consider competing at some time in the future, perhaps, after the Irishman (O’bama) gets us through this recession—or compression, possession, confession, depression—whatever this afflicted, infected, neglected and projected economic situation is called—it’s probably a combination of all the above.

Hey, here’s a thought—you might be able to make a deal with the Dollar Store to let you fake it. Unleash the kids, give them 30 minutes to fill up as many baskets as their can, up to the value of their combined accounts, video their efforts, then make them put everything back.

Considering the fact that your attorney husband can draw up some sort of binding contract for you and the store to sign, you would have a leg up (so to speak) on others entering the competition.

You couldn’t and shouldn’t tell the kids that the whole thing would be a scam—for one thing, they wouldn’t know what a scam is, and if you explained it to them they would refuse to cooperate—and even if they did cooperate, the spontaneous nature of their shopping efforts would be lost and you wouldn’t win the prize.

And if you were to win the prize you would have to split the money with the store in accordance with your contract, and you would have to suffer the wrath of the kids when they learned that you had fooled them, and no amount of prize money would help your case—not one iota—not one bit—not even one teeny weeny bit.

However, if you captured their wrath on video and combined it with the video of their shopping spree, then the big prize could well be yours.

Think about it.

Nah—bad idea—forget about it—or as they say in Noo Yawk, fuh geda bow dit.

I’m sorry I even thought of it.

No amount of money could compensate for the loss of your children’s trust.

Just forget the whole thing.

And then again, on second thought . . .

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2009 in Childhood, education, Family, Humor

 

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Age 10—fired from a job stocking groceries . . .

My mother remarried when I was nine years old, and her new husband was not one to allow a lad at the advanced age of nine years to remain idle. Over the next seven years he assisted me in obtaining employment, either after school or between school years, in such diverse areas as delivering groceries, stocking groceries, filling water tanks in mobile homes, selling newspapers, doing duty in a self-service laundry, and clerking and filling orders in a lumber yard—the clerking job was the last but certainly not the least—it was the job that paid the most, and it was the only one that I really enjoyed.

The first job—that is, the first job I had working outside the home—my stepfather kindly negotiated a job for me to begin delivering groceries for a small neighborhood grocer at the corner of our block. My primary duty was to deliver groceries to homes in the neighborhood. My tool was a large two-wheeler—actually it could more accurately be described as a one-and-a-half wheeler. The front wheel was perhaps one-half of the rear wheel’s size, scaled down to accommodate a gargantuan basket mounted above it—such vehicles are now relics, collectors’ items relegated (thank heavens) to museums and such.

My career as a bike-riding grocery delivery boy was brief—it began on Tuesday and, through no fault of my own, ended the same day. I made several successful deliveries, but then a huge balloon sprouted out of the front tire and exploded. I pushed the bike with its groceries to the proper address, delivered the groceries, pushed the bike back to my place of employment, explained the problem, and was told that a new tire and inner-tube would need to be ordered, and in the interim I was assigned to a satellite store several blocks away from the main store.

In reference to me riding the bike with the little wheel and the huge basket full of groceries, picture this:

I was a nine-year old kid, under-weight, under-height and sometimes underfed, and that was a man-sized bike—it was a struggle for me to control it with the basket empty—when underway with a full basket, my forward progress was similar to that of a western sidewinder rattlesnake navigating a stretch of hot sand.

The satellite store did not make deliveries and therefore had no delivery bike (thank heavens), so I was assigned to stock shelves, sweep floors, police up the outside areas and accomplish other duties as directed. One of the other duties was to walk several blocks to the main store with the days’ receipts—it was never a really substantial amount of money, but the way I was cautioned would make one think that I was relocating the contents of Fort Knox.

My grocery delivering career began on Tuesday and ended on Tuesday, but my shelf-stocking and money-transferring career lasted two and one-half days—it ended at noon on Friday.

This was the situation as I explained it to my employer:

I told him that I needed Friday afternoon off, and he asked why. I had not yet learned to feign pain, or sickness, or to claim a dental appointment so I told the truth. A new movie was in town and I wanted to see it—it was the newest horror film out of Hollywood—the movie was titled, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-man,” a sequel to the original Frankenstein film, long awaited and a must-see for ten-year-old boys.

My request was denied but I persisted—actually I insisted, and was told that if I took off to see the movie I was not to return—in essence I was fired, at age 10, from a job stocking groceries. I acquiesced to the terms, requested my pay for the three-and-one-half days I had worked, and was given two whole dollars!

Real paper money.

Greenbacks.

Silver certificates with some guy’s picture and the words “In God We Trust” printed on them.

Which reminds me of a sign often seen in bars:

In God we trust—all others pay cash.

And of course, one bar-sign joke calls for another:

Helen Waite, Owner

Need credit?

Go to Helen Waite!

But I digress—on with my sad tale of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

With the two dollars in my pocket I took the rest of the day off and relaxed in the coolness of the Varsity Theater, the only one of the three theaters in town that was air conditioned. There was a huge banner atop the building that featured Willy the Penguin of Kool-cigarette fame saying, “Come on it, it’s Kooool inside.”

Believe it or not, for those of us under 13 years of age the theater admission was only nine cents—nine cents, mind you, would give a kid access to a double feature, usually a western and a detective movie (Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie, for example), a weekly serial which ended each week with a cliff-hanger, several cartoons and loads of trailers for upcoming movies—and we could come and go as we pleased, provided that we held on to our ticket stub.

The answer to your question about the ticket stubs is “yes.” We sometimes adversely affected the theater’s daily take by passing our ticket stub to a kid who lacked the necessary nine cents for admission.

One thin dime would pay for the entertainment with a penny left over. A penny doesn’t sound like much, but that one penny would pay for any one of various penny-items stocked at the concession stand—an all-day sucker, a lolly-pop, a jaw-breaker, one of Tom’s individually wrapped peanut-butter candies, a stick of one’s favorite chewing gum, and even a long-lasting ball of bubble-gum to be deposited under one’s seat just before leaving the theater.

Oh, life was good in the old days!

I was never foolish enough to lie to my stepfather so, albeit unwillingly, I was truthful about my job loss. He was a bit perturbed at first, but loosened up when I told him about the two dollars, an amount which included any severance pay I may have earned. His secondary reaction was to discuss the matter with my previous employer, but my mother convinced him that such a discussion would be neither wise nor productive.

So that’s it—that’s how I landed my first job and that’s why I was fired, a firing that was “E pluribus unum,” which, as all know, is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, Family, Uncategorized

 

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My acting debut reprised, circa 1972 . . .

My family has been blessed with three princesses produced, with a little help from me, by my wife, the Queen Bee of Texas. This posting is in response to an e-mail from Cindy, the middle daughter, a royal princess who lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia.

The e-mail is a passionate plea for me to blog about two events, one that took place in the early years of my education and was reprised some 32 years later, and another that took place around the same time as the reprisal. I have divided her e-mail into two parts, and will respond to the two parts separately.

This is the first part of her e-mail:

I have always loved this memory…you, me, and Kelley…sneaking into an abandoned grade school in Mississippi…you got up on stage and started singing some bee song. You told us about your mother making you a bee costume but she either couldn’t (or didn’t care) that you would be the only orange and brown striped bee. Your costume wasn’t yellow and black, as assigned. I think I was only 12 or 13 when you told us this story. Remember that adventure?

And this is my response, my blog posting, to the first part of her e-mail:

My acting career began and ended at some point in my fourth grade school-year at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi, a town of some 25,000 people, situated on high bluffs overlooking the Tombigbee River. My school occupied a relatively small two-story red-brick building, but with its surrounding playgrounds it covered a full city block. It was ruled by the iron hand of Miss Mary Stokes, the school principal, a white-haired high-buttoned-shoe spinster throwback to the 19th century.

I loved that lady with all the fervor a little boy could muster, a love that still exists many years after her death. I loved her despite being a frequent target—perhaps the most frequent target—of the 18-inch ruler she always carried in that iron hand, a tool that she used for punishment, and one that she wielded with vigor, accuracy and effectiveness on recalcitrant palms and backsides.

Ah, those were the days! corporeal punishment no longer exists in our elementary schools, whether public or private, and our nation suffers horribly because of its demise.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, and I humbly offer myself as a shining example of the effectiveness of the system, with full credit given to Miss Mary and her ruler.

She never left home without it.

I attended her school for the first four years of my education (a process that continues to this day). For the fifth grade and through (almost through) the tenth grade, I began each school year in one city and finished it in another. That tortuous progression in my education resulted from my mother’s remarriage near the end of the fourth grade year. At the close of that year I began a pilgrimage that lasted seven years—a pilgrimage that would have me living, and attending schools, in several different cities in several different states.

Now on to my acting debut and its reprisal

I was fortunate enough to successfully complete the academic requirements of the fourth grade, chiefly because the school did not grade its students on their acting abilities. I debuted my acting career in that year, and some 32 years later I briefly revived that career with an impromptu reprisal of my debut performance. The reprisal was a command performance of the part I played so many years before, at the same school and on the same stage. My reprisal was performed before a wildly applauding audience comprised wholly of my two younger daughters, aged 8 and 12 years.

The school year was 1940-1941 and I was enrolled in the fourth grade at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. The principal, Miss Mary Stokes, felt that every student should be involved in everything—if the third grade performed on the auditorium stage, every student in that grade had a part, even if it consisted of lining up on stage and watching their peers perform. However, the play in which I made my debut required flowers of different sizes, so students from grades below and above my grade were pressed into service—one of the taller flowers was my sister, a fifth grader. I mention all this because the stage was small and the cast of the play was huge.

I debuted as one of several boys cleverly costumed as bees. The curtains opened to reveal a group of girls—including my sister—cleverly costumed as flowers. The girls were almost immobile, because flowers have neither the option nor the ability, perhaps not even the desire, to move around. In this case, because the script called for it, these flowers were allowed to lean forward, backwards and sideways to simulate swaying in the breeze, most of which would be created by the bees buzzing around them, doing their pollinating thing.

The flowers began singing a bee song on cue, and on cue we bees spread our wings (arms), trotted on-stage and buzzed—as in bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, etc.—all around and between the flowers, pausing briefly near each flower and bzzzing like crazy, with the bzzzes aimed at the flower’s ear (a bit of symbolism there—hey, we didn’t write the script—we just emoted!). We were given to understand that we were simulating pollination and that the actual pollination was a vital activity of the bees, although they accomplished it unknowingly and accidently by transferring pollen (with their legs) from flower to flower—the pollen accumulated on their legs while they were gathering nectar. We learned that bees were absolutely necessary to propagate the flower species and to ensure a good honey crop and beehive survival.

That which we bees were doing was simulation, not stimulation—I don’t think I learned the latter word until junior high school. Here I must note that, contrary to the popular and virtually universal belief regarding familial relationships in the deep South, I did not pollinate my sister, nor was I in the least bit inclined to pollinate her.

I drew the line at pollinating her. I did not even like her. As her brother I was required to love her, but I was not required to like her.

As we bees flapped our wings and trotted, buzzed and pollinated, the girls sang the bee song, a catchy refrain of which I remember only a smattering. I googled the term and was faced with a bewildering array of bee songs but none sufficiently comparable, as I remember it, to this line from the song the flowers sang:

“Honey bee, honey bee, fly to and fro, gathering honey where ever you go,” etc., etc.

I know now that bees do not gather honey—they gather nectar, a substance that is ultimately turned into honey in the beehive. And all that pollination, a process that generated a lot of giggling from the girls, is purely accidental. We bees, bless our hearts, may not have been fully aware that our pollination was ensuring the propagation of the flower species. However, our lack of awareness did nothing to reduce the giggles.

The girls made their own costumes, with considerable help from the school staff. Their costumes consisted of varicolored crepe paper shaped as petals and affixed to their regular clothing, effectively obscuring their clothing and transforming them into beautiful flowers filled with pollen.

The flower costumes were made by the girls with staff assistance, but the bee costumes were made by the bees’ mothers at home. Our costume was a one-piece ensemble similar to a jump suit with short sleeves, with the legs descending only to mid-thigh—the ensemble’s legs, not ours—our legs continued all the way to our bare feet—evidently bees do not wear shoes. The basic color of the bee costume was light yellow, with strips of black material affixed horizontally to give the effect of stripes.

I was given no samples to take home to assist my mother in selecting cloth for my costume, so she winged it (so to speak) based on my verbal description. She chose bright orange for the basic color and light brown, almost tan, for the horizontal stripes.

I can truthfully state that I would rather have been a normal bee, one of several normal bees, but I was not—I was a standout among bees, a honey bee of a different color, if you will—I was like, you know, a honey bee with panache and lots of it. In later years I would happily conclude, in retrospect, that my costume was intended to identify me as the king bee, the strongest of the beehive’s male bees—all the others were mere drones.

I was the lucky bee that would be able to follow the Queen Bee’s flight straight upward to unimaginable heights, while one by one the other suitors would be falling back to earth, completely exhausted, and ultimately, at the apogee of our ascension I would mate with the queen, thereby ensuring that the pollination and propagation of flowers would continue, nectar gathering would continue, and the production of honey would continue in the new colony that the queen would establish.

Sadly I also learned in later years that, immediately following our coupling, the queen would begin the new colony as a widow. I, the bee with panache—the bee with the spectacular colors—the strongest and highest-flying bee—would not survive the mating.

Very soon, after you know what, I would have died—with a smile on my bee face, perhaps, but no less dead.

Bummer.

But that’s how things go in the bee world—if you don’t believe me, google it.

And now to the crux of this posting:

I and my two younger daughters were touring my home town, with me pointing out the various places I had lived, played, worked and gone to school, and we found that my elementary school was still standing, but just barely. The building was condemned, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with warning signs posted prominently:

Danger!

This building is condemned!

Do not enter!

So we squeezed through an unauthorized opening in the fence and entered the building. It was in total disrepute, with broken windows, sagging sheet rock and debris everywhere. We were not deterred. I gave the girls a limited tour (we avoided the second floor because the stairs did not appear trustworthy), but we thoroughly toured the lower floor that included the auditorium. The seats had been removed but the stage was still there and reasonably intact.

I told my daughters about the fourth grade play, and at their urging I even mounted the stage for a reenactment of my part, including my entry, the play’s sound effects and my exit. I was a smash hit, with a far better reception than I received at the original performance, and I bowed to thunderous applause from the audience. In fact, I received a standing ovation—well, it was necessarily a standing ovation because there were no seats, but my daughters assured me that, had they been seated they would have nevertheless stood to applaud, and I accepted that gracefully.

And here is the second part of my daughter’s e-mail. Again, the e-mail is a plea for me to blog this subject:

And another segue….we always marveled at a) how many places Hester shuffled you and Dot off to whenever Papa John demanded the two of you be banished…and b) how you could remember exactly where (even if the house had been replaced by a 7-11 at the time you were showing us the location) each house was, which aunt/uncle/cousin took you in, and how long you were there before Hester cajoled Papa John into letting you return home. It seemed like dozens of locations, but maybe that is just how I remember it. That memory sticks out because we can’t relate to being tossed out of our home. We always had such stability (still do) in our family. I recall only living in five places—155 Farrel Drive in San Antonio, the house in Louisiana, then 155 Farrel Drive again, then briefly in Bonnie’s trailer park in Weslaco, then finally on 109 N. 10th Street in Donna.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Vietnam vacation, circa 1969 . . .

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in South-East Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan San Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan San Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mould, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clinging to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep them from imitating Japanese horror monsters.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo, and a visit to, and into, Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2009 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, Travel

 

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