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Hooray! I’m in the bottom one-third of home owners . . .

According to the Census Bureau’s report (§963 Mortgage Characteristics – Owner Occupied Units), as of 2007 when the most recent data was available, the United States had 75,647,000 owner-occupied households.  Of these, 24,885,000 had no mortgage.  That is, not a single penny was owed the bank and the homeowner had total equity in the property.

That means 32.896% of owner-occupied households own their property outright and have no mortgage.

Now, these figures were from before the housing crisis but that shouldn’t matter because it seems like a good bet that if you owe nothing on your house, you can’t have the bank foreclose on it, can you?  No matter what the market value of your home is, nobody can kick you out, as long as you pay your property taxes, which are often a fraction of the value of a residence.

To put that into perspective, imagine walking into a room of 100 homeowners that represents a cross-section of the United States.  Statistically, 33 of the people in that room would have no mortgage.  They would make no payment to the bank and they own their home outright.  The other 67 people would have a mortgage.

There’s a downside to paying off a mortgage. I can no longer itemize items on my tax returns because I lack the necessary amount of valid deductions. The  amount allowed by the IRS for a single taxpayer with only one personal deduction (self) and no home mortgage is beyond miserly—it’s pathetic. However, so far I have managed to overcome the impulse to purchase a home with a huge mortgage in order to claim the interest exemption, thereby reducing my taxes.

I realize that the option of upgrading to a larger home in an exclusive neighborhood—The Dominion in San Antonio, for example, something comparable to the home of NBA star David Robinson or that of George
Strait of country music fame, but the savings would not justify the horrors of relocating and besides, I would probably walk away from the mortgage a few months later having exhausted my savings—okay, one month.

I suppose I could search for a soul-mate (a female, naturally, or a male unnaturally—just a bit of humor there) for marriage and thereby decrease my taxes by doubling my exemptions, or even adopt a few wayward children, perhaps three or four orphans thereby tripling, quadrupling or quintupling my exemptions. Of course, if I chose any of those options I would probably wind up living in my backyard storage shed, even if I only opted for the soul-mate—bummer!

In support of my decision I have artfully crafted a poem, dedicated to those left alone by the love of their life passing from this realm to another (the dedication is extended to such persons still burdened by a mortgage).

A most heroic poem,
and beautifully made

I will remain alone
in my debt-free home
with my senior discount
until I tire of riding single
after riding double so long,
and I surrender the reins
of this unruly mount
that I travel on.

The next horse I ride
I hope will have wings
as befitting a king.
Pegasus would do
but I follow a rule,
I’ll take what is offered
though it be a mule,
But whichever life brings,
I refuse to board
unless it has wings.

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

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Humor, IRS, mythical creatures

 

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Jawbreakers, bubble gum & molested chickens

World War II was over—the bombs had eradicated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and large segments of their populations, and neither my stepfather’s carpenter talents nor my talent to deliver newspapers were needed in Tennessee. The modular homes were being disassembled and the areas where hundreds of families had been living would soon revert to the wild. We left Happy Valley, Tennessee and returned to Mississippi because my stepfather had recently bought a 40-acre farm, complete with a skid-mounted grocery store with one manually operated gasoline pump, a small house, a large barn, a chicken house and an adequate outhouse.

His purchase included one milk cow, one white mule, one brown mule and a motley flock of chickens—White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds with a sprinkling of speckled hens. The flock was serviced by one lone rooster, a Rhode Island Red, hence his name Red.

Oh, and one more item concerning the chickens. Several of the hens were in poor physical shape. I learned soon after we moved to the farm that the hens had been—ah, had been subjected to—uh, ah, okay, I’ll just come right out and say it—they had been sexually molested, presumably by that dolt of a teenage farm boy in the family that previously owned the farm.

That was a presumption voiced by my stepfather, except that he didn’t use the term sexually molested—many of the words he used to explain the physical condition of the hens and to express his displeasure were limited to only one or two syllables. I’ve often pondered on that presumption, wondering and speculating on whether he arrived at that conclusion from reading, from other conversations or from experience—my stepfather grew up on a farm in Alabama.

I never knew, and I definitely was unwilling to question him. I’ll get back to you later with more information on that, so stay tuned. Until then, I’ll close that portion of life on the farm by saying that my stepfather put the hens out of their misery with blasts from a 16-gauge shotgun, after which the carcasses were buried far from the house, feathers and all, except for those that were scattered by the pellets.

There were no cats, an absence unusual for a farm. Also included in the purchase were two small terrier dogs, a pair that served no useful purpose and came to an untimely end through action taken by my stepfather soon after we took residence on the farm, again with the 16-gauge shotgun.

Also included in his purchase of the farm, to my dismay, were several acres of unpicked cotton. For the edification of those familiar with Roy Clark’s song in which he sang proudly that he never picked cotton, I am here to tell you that I have picked cotton and I didn’t like it. Early in cotton season, pickers were paid a penny a pound to pick, and later in
the season when the bowls were sparse and farther apart, pickers earned
two cents a pound.

I strived mightily to pick a hundred pounds in one day, but never made it, no matter how early I started and how late I stayed in the cotton field, and no matter how many times I peed in the cotton sack, an time-honored country-boy scheme to add weight to his pickings. Another way to increase the weight was to start picking at or before good daylight and pick frantically while the dew was still on the cotton, thereby adding the weight of the water—not much, but pennies went a long way back in the good old days.

One penny would buy a cigarette, two crackers with one’s choice of cheese or bologna or sausage, and a plethora of penny candies—an all-day sucker, a jaw-breaker, one piece of bubble gum or one stick of gum, a small handful of jelly beans and one’s choice of various individually wrapped candies such as Tom’s Peanut-butter Logs.

I have a vivid memory of reading a newspaper article saying that the price of cotton paid at auction was forty-one cents a pound, a total of $205 for a 500 pound bale. I was brash enough to ask my stepfather why he paid only two cents a pound for pickers when he was getting twenty times that amount, and he treated me to a prolonged lesson in economics—that effectively broke me from asking any more questions.

I have many more stories to tell about my brief life on the farm. One involves a beautiful cross-eyed redhead, another a tree filled with turkeys and still another of a wild cat I captured and thereby indirectly caused his death, so stay tuned—there’s more to come.

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

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Alabama sans bathrooms . . .

I lived with my family in several houses before we moved from Alabama to Mississippi. Our first home in that city was on Fifth Street South. Click here for a sordid but hilarious tale of the itch, and of two naked kids undergoing treatment for their supposed infection of scabies.

The images shown at right show outhouses ranging from the most basic to the most outlandish. Note the brick outhouse in the center—is there anyone, anywhere, that has not heard this remark? Boy, she’s built like a brick—uh, like a brick—well, you know, like a brick outhouse! The last privy pictured is perhaps the ultimate outhouse, a two-story number with a ground entrance and a sky walk for the upper floors.

The house on Fifth Street was my first exposure to running water in the house and its accompanying refinement, a bathroom equipped with a bathtub and a commode. My prior residences in Alabama had neither, nor did the homes of our relatives in Alabama. Water was hauled in from the well or pumped from an underground source and hauled in, and baths were taken in a #2 wash tub or via a wash pan and a wash cloth. We mostly didn’t call them wash cloths—we called them wash rags because that’s what they were, squares of cloth taken from ragged sheets or towels or other cloth items that were no longer used for their original purposes. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were way ahead of the current recycling craze now sweeping the country!

In lieu of an inside toilet, our necessaries were outside and away from our domiciles, usually placed but not always, downwind from the house, depending on the direction of prevailing breezes, and at some locations the necessary was in any location at a distance from the house that provided a modicum of privacy, regardless of the prevailing breezes—get the picture? When a man-made structure existed, it was called privy, toilet, outhouse, the little house behind the big house and numerous other names, mostly vulgar terms. Regardless of its name, location or composition each adhered to this corruption of Shakespeare’s immortal line, namely That which we call a toilet, by any other name, would smell the same—hey, I said the line was corrupted, didn’t I? And it rhymes!

Now for the gist of this posting—it relates to personal cleansing, or bathing. I hesitate to use this term for an early Alabama bathing facility, but I don’t know how to get around using it, so I’ll borrow a truism from one of our former presidents—it is what it is, and it was what it was, so I’ll call it a wash hole and continue from that point.

A wash hole in my childhood days was any declivity in a stream that held enough water to enable one to get wet all over, and through the use of soap cleanse oneself—take a bath. As a child I was exposed—literally—to bathing in wash holes, usually on a Saturday afternoon. Farming in my early childhood days, in my area and my era, was a full time job from daylight till dark beginning with Monday’s daylight  and ending at Saturday’s noontime—from that point farm work ceased. Menfolks would leave their toils at noon, eat a hearty dinner, nap for awhile in the shade, usually on the front porch and then head for the wash hole for their weekly overall bath—seriously!

That Saturday afternoon bath held good through Saturday night and all the way to the next week on the following Saturday afternoon, and then the process would be repeated. In that interim period of one week, ablutions were restricted to face and neck and hands and arms and feet—unless one were caught in the rain, nothing else got wet until wash hole time came around again. I cannot speak for womenfolks and their bathing habits. At my tender age I was never privy—pardon the pun—to their bathroom habits or their methods or frequency of ablutions. Whatever methods were involved, the women always managed to appear and smell much better than their male counterparts.

Armed with soap, towels, clean shirts and overalls or trousers following Saturday’s dinner and brief siesta, the men and boys, regardless of their ages—even the little ones such as I—would head for the wash hole and once there, strip and wade in or dive in if the depth of the wash hole allowed it. It could be a small pond, a deep spot in a creek or a gravel pit filled with spring water. Diving required a working knowledge of the wash hole’s depth—click here for a tragic tale of a wash hole’s depth overestimated.

The hours from noon on Saturday until Monday’s return to the fields provided a respite from toil and worry, and virtually everyone–men, women and children headed for town. In my case the nearest town was five miles distant—as a child I have covered that distance in conveyances ranging from a mule-drawn wagon to a Ford Model A to an interstate bus. The trip in a wagon brings up more pleasant memories. The men sat on the wagon seat and in the wagon bed—upright cane-bottom chairs were placed for the womenfolk, and the kids were left to hang on anywhere they could find room. Depending on the length of the wagon tongue, one or two kids could sit on the rear portion for a really rocky ride. For most of the five miles we ranged ahead of the wagon chasing rabbits, picking blackberries along the roadside, throwing rocks at flying birds—we never hit one—and luxuriating in all the pleasures of childhood. Once into town with the mules tied up at the courthouse square and munching on hay, we were pretty much on our own.

The two things I remember best about the town square were Wimpy’s Hamburgers—a name taken from the Popeye comic strip featured in most newspapers—and the movie house, placed on opposite sides of the square. Movies were shown only on Friday and Saturday nights, the same films on both nights, and they usually ran for several weeks. The fare usually consisted of two feature-length films, termed a double feature, one a cowboy show and the other a detective or love story, supplemented by newsreels, cartoons and previews of coming attractions, all presented in black-and-white—-color was still in the future.

But I digress—back to the wash hole. I learned to swim in various wash holes by lying in shallow water and propelling myself along by my fingertips along the bottom, and graduated from that to pulling myself along in deep water with the same motion—the only difference was that my hands were pulling water towards me instead of pulling me along the pool’s bottom. From that point I mastered virtually every one of the dozens of swimming strokes—nah, not really—I still use my hands to propel myself along to keep my head above water to avoid drowning, a simple act that would eliminate drowning as a cause of death if learned and practiced by everyone.

The unvarnished truth is that I really learned to swim when my brother-in-law Elmer tossed me off a bluff into Pearl River, a stream that runs through the Hobolochitto Swamp in south Mississippi. In those years the swamp included alligators of all sizes, and I could feel teeth nipping at my toes from the time I hit the water. Knowing that I couldn’t climb the bluff, I thrashed and splashed my way successfully to the opposite side of the stream. I was reasonably sure that Elmer would rescue me if I foundered, but I decided not to risk sinking to the bottom in order to be rescued. No, I didn’t use the crawl I learned in wash holes. I combined the overhand front crawl with some stupendous flutter kicking—any alligator would have avoided the area on the belief that it was occupied by a monstrous specimen of its own species or perhaps of an unknown species.

My tale of being tossed into an alligator-infested river is true—I know—I was there! Sometimes, depending on my audience, I tell the story differently. I claim that I survived by swimming faster than the alligator that came after me, a Herculean feat made possible by the fact that I was swimming in clear water, as opposed to what the alligator faced.

That’s my story of bathrooms, outhouses, swimming and alligators and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2010 in Humor, sports, swimming

 

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A one-mule syrup making operation . . .

I recently posted the story of the death of a favorite uncle. He was killed in a freak accident involving his ten-year-old son, a farm tractor and a grist mill. Click here to read the full story.

In listing the various businesses and occupations of my Uncle Esker, I overlooked his syrup mill where he made some gloriously sweet ribbon cane syrup with the help of  a mule. The mule was tethered to a boom that caused him to walk in an endless circle in order to turn the gears that ground the juice out of the fresh stalks of cane. The stalks were stripped of leaves and dirt and hand-fed into a set of grinding gears, and the cane juice traveled down a wooden trough to the boiling pot. The hand-feeding part of the operation was very dangerous—if one encountered a one-armed person in rural areas of Alabama in those days, the odds were that the person had been careless in pushing the cane stalks into the gears and included his hand and part of his arm into the mechanism. Accidents such as that were rarely fatal, but almost every incident required amputation of the mangled hand and arm.

No person or animal, not even a mule, could be expected to walk in a circle hour after hour and be satisfied with its work and its surroundings. However, this mule was equipped with blinders, a harness with leather side pieces that fit on his head and blocked his vision on both sides. While wearing this apparatus he could only see straight ahead, and those in the know said that it fooled him into believing he was going somewhere other than in a continuous circle. Apparently it fooled him, but I don’t believe that it would fool me—of course I am a bit smarter than the mule—at least I would like to think so.

We kids spent a lot of time hanging around the syrup mill for several reasons, not the least of which was that Uncle Esker would use his pocket knife to cut off joints of the ribbon cane, then peel the outer layer from the joint and cut the cane into bite-size pieces, and from that point it was pure pleasure for us. We chewed the pieces until we had coaxed out and swallowed all the juice, then spit out the chewed part and selected another bite. Few, perhaps none, of today’s children will ever experience the simple pleasure of chewing ribbon cane for its juice, and that’s a shame, albeit a rather messy process.

Another of the syrup mills’ pleasures was riding the mule. Sometimes as many as four of us were placed astraddle of the mule’s back and were carried around and around at a leisurely pace—about the pace of a mule walking, so to speak—playing cowboy and Indians, cocking our fingers and pointing at imaginary figures in the surrounding area and making the gunshot sound with our voices—you, the reader, know what I’m talking about. We even simulated the sound of our bullets ricocheting off rocks when we missed our elusive targets—of course, I rarely missed.

I can’t recall ever being told anything about the process of converting cane juice into table syrup. I know only that the juice was filtered and boiled and ultimately ended up in a bottle or a bucket. The syrup of choice then, and perhaps now, in Alabama was named The Pride of Dixie. Folks in that area used those initials , POD, to describe anything that they found satisfactory or attractive, whether in taste or appearance and if satisfied with something they would say, Well, that’s really POD! In other words, it was at least as good as the Pride of Dixie syrup—okay, I guess you had to be there.

Now you know as much about a primitive one mule, one man syrup mill as I do. Some may still exist in some undeveloped countries but they are ancient history in the United States.

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

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Family, farming, food, Humor

 

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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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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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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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Turn around and bend over . . .

I wonder how many people out there remember Dragnet, an early black-and-white television show starring Jack Webb and Ben Alexander. That law-and-order series was my very first exposure to television, viewed in an Atlanta, Georgia motel on Peachtree Street in 1952, the same year that I returned from a two-year tour of the Orient (Japan and Korea). Oops, I forgot something—I watched part of the 1947 World Series, the very first time it was broadcast in color. You can read all about it here.

The television in my room on Peachtree Street was activated and kept active by inserting quarters into a coin slot mounted on the set—one quarter bought thirty minutes of viewing—if the minutes ran out in the middle of a show, a viewer had to be fast on the draw to recover the picture by inserting another quarter—not being particularly fast on the draw, I compensated for that deficiency by sitting close to the set.

I slept very little that night—I fed all my quarters to the television, and made two trips to the motel office for more quarters. I was in Atlanta to reenlist in the military, a process I completed the following day, one that was both hilarious and sad.

The next day, December 20, 1952, dawned clear and cold, a day that holds memories both funny and psychologically painful for me. I left my motel room on Peachtree Street early, and arrived at Fort McPherson at 0830 hours to submit to a physical examination required for my reenlistment for another four years in the United States Air Force. On that day 500 men reported to Fort McPherson for physicals, a huge group that included volunteer enlistees, re-enlistees and draftees. After a brief signing-in process, we were ordered to remove all clothing except shorts, and were told that, should we be so inclined, we could remove that item as well.

The provision to retain underwear did not apply to those wearing long-handles, a winter underwear garment that covers everything except head, neck, hands and feet—you know, that one-piece winter accessory that is strategically fitted with a button-up drop flap in back. There were no long-handle wearing participants present, a fortunate exception for the wearer and for the rest of us. It would prove to be a very long day, and having someone’s Johnson or someone’s Willie, depending on one’s terminology preference, staring (or peeking) and waving at us as we moved from one location to another would have been disconcerting—for some, perhaps, but perhaps not for others.

I have spent what may be regarded as an inordinate amount of space and number of words in this first paragraph, but it was necessary because I needed to present some important details. We were told to bundle our clothes, place them on the floor and then form a single line. We obediently obeyed those orders, all 500 of us. That line snaked out the door and down a long corridor, then a 90-degree left turn and farther down another long corridor. Buildings at the installation were connected by those corridors, enabling people to move from building to building without being exposed to inclement weather, including rain, heat and cold. And cold is the operative word for that day. Those corridors were not heated, and their floors were covered with linoleum.

I was near the end of the line that formed, and my feet were bare—yes, I removed everything except my shorts—I have always been one to follow orders unless I stood to sustain injuries in doing so. As a result of leaving my socks with my bundle, I stood on one foot for much of the day, letting one foot freeze while its counterpart warmed up a bit—I felt, and probably looked like, a Florida flamingo.

Now that I’ve laid the stage, this posting will be mercifully short. Our physical exams progressed as the sun reached its zenith, and continued well into the afternoon as shadows lengthened. We filled out innumerable forms and presented ourselves for weight measurement, height measurement, eye exams, dental exams, exams of our privates, rectal exams, IQ tests, blood draws, urine sampling, dexterity tests, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

The only moment of comedy relief came after we marched into a large room and lined ourselves around its perimeter while a doctor stopped in front of each man, had him drop his shorts so the doctor could take a cursory look at his genitals, then pull his shorts back up. The doctor then stepped in front of the next man, and on and on until the line was completed. He then ordered us to face the wall, drop our shorts and bend over so he could make the rounds again, ostensibly making a visual rectal examination.

When he finished that round he told us to restore our shorts to their original position and face front. At that point the doctor made a declarative statement. He had earlier directed a rhetorical question to an individual while the doctor was performing a visual examination of that individual’s genitals: He said, “Damn, boy, have you been driving nails with that thing?”

Revealing the racial composition of the man to which the question was directed should not be necessary, but I will point to the doctor’s use of the term “boy.” This was in Georgia and the year was 1952, long before the passage of civil rights legislation, and long before the concept of political correctness swept the nation.

And in the words of Tom Horn, as portrayed in the movie by Steve McQueen, “I’ll have nothing further to say on the subject.” (I love that movie!)

The doctor’s declarative statement was made just after he ordered us to pull our shorts up and face front after he completed his visual rectal examination. When we were faced front he said, “Well, it’s just as I expected—they’re all brown!” There were several chuckles, titters and giggles, but none from me—my feet were so cold that, had I attempted a laugh it would have sounded like something akin to the “He-haw, he-haw” of an Alabama mule—a bit more subdued, of course.

The long day eventually came to a successful close, and I embarked on my second enlistment in the U.S. Air Force, a career that would end several months after I completed my twenty-second year and retired for length of service

Nope—my retirement did not include even one percent of disability. I had no lower back pain and I even passed the hearing test—bummer!

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

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2010 in actor and acting, grammar, Humor, Military

 

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32 Czars & counting—we need one more . . .

Our government now has 32 czars, each charged with oversight of a different segment of life in the United States. These positions are filled by people selected by unknown means, but some of whom admittedly know nothing about the segment over which they hold sway.

I suggest that President Obama appoint a Phart Czar. Were I the president, my selection would be a former vice-president—Al Gore.

Al Gore is one of the major causes of global warning. He is consistently, in the words of the bard, “hoist with his own petar.” Some of the bard’s analysts suggest that the phrase is a play on words and refers to the fact that the persons mentioned are lifted aloft by their own flatulence (see explanation below). In Al’s case, he is lifted by his own hot air, primarily generated by his pompous proclamations concerning global warming.

For now, the former vice-president seems to be a necessary evil, about which little can be done—it’s just something we will have to tolerate. Perhaps his appointment to the position of Phart Czar will add a bit of weight to a couple of his lightweight awards—the Oscar awarded by Hollywood and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here I must digress for a moment and offer my thanks for a site that is a great source for writer’s tips—check it out at http://www.dailywritingtips.com/hoist-with-his-own-petard/.

The information that follows was gleaned from that site:

Here is how the expression is used in Hamlet (III, iv, 206-208):

For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines,
And blow them at the moon.

A “petar” was an explosive device. It got its name from the French verb pêter, which means “to break wind.” The Old French noun pet means “fart.” Shakespeare was making one of his earthy puns here.

Another major cause of global warning, other than Al Gore—one that can be addressed and perhaps eliminated, or at least reduced—is the methane gas emitted by animals. This is the vast amount of flatulence produced by livestock, primarily cattle (cows). In 2005 the United State’s livestock population, including cattle, was almost 96 million—this would include horses, mules, sheep, swine and other lesser animals (lesser in size, not necessarily in the amount of methane expelled into the atmosphere). Of all the animals, those in the know tell us that cows are the worst offenders (I don’t know how that was determined, and I’m not sure that I want to know).

Our country needs a Phart Czar, one who can evaluate the situation, determine methods of controlling such emissions, and exercise control over such emissions by implementing those methods. The Czar’s duties would include intensive measurements of emissions collected from various breeds of cattle. It could be that Jerseys (cows, not people) emit more methane than the Holstein breed, for example. Armed with that knowledge, the Phart Czar could concentrate on reducing the Jersey population (cows, not people), or perhaps if deemed necessary, eliminating the breed through attrition (of Jersey cows, not people).

However, I believe that our major problem is not necessarily with the lower order (so-called) of animals. A corollary problem is methane—flatulence—produced by the higher order (so-called) of animals. That order is the human race, and that problem should be addressed immediately.

To my knowledge no effort has been made to measure the contribution to the atmosphere of methane generated by the herds of humans in our country—in concentrating on animal production we may have completely overlooked our own contributions. The estimated population for the United States in 2008 was almost 304 million human pharters, more than triple the number of livestock in the nation.

Who knows? Our collective contributions to global warming may approach, equal or even surpass that of livestock.

This should be the Phart Czar’s immediate concern—to determine the depth of the problem and make recommendations to reduce the output of something which, apparently, is detrimental to our health and to our future.

Who would have thought that such a normal function of our bodies could be harmful? Certainly not I. In fact, there is a little ditty that many of my generation learned at our mother’s knee and frequently recited over the years. It’s one that the U. S. Air Force officer who established the Wellness Clinic at Wilford Hall Hospital used as the opener in all his speeches promoting the program.

It goes like this:

Beans, beans, good for your heart,

The more you eat, the more you phart,

The more you phart, the better you feel,

So let’s eat beans every meal.

This would be the most sensitive part of the Phart Czar’s job:

Any analysis of the problem must—I repeat, must—include race. The amount of flatulence, as well as its olfactory and auditory effects, is in large part influenced by diet. Some foods promote the production of methane—examples are beans, onions, diary products (especially milk) and let’s not forget one of the worst culprits—broccoli. There are those among us who eat far more beans, broccoli, dairy, etc., than do other segments of the population and therefore should be so judged and subjected to intense scrutiny and evaluation, and corrective action taken as deemed necessary.

Of course, over time through on-hands management, diligent investigation, development of corrective measures and prompt application of those measures, the Phart Czar may find that other foods and other segments of the population may generate as much, or even more, methane gas. No one, including vegetarians, pescotarians, etc., can be exempted—all must be scrutinized and evaluated.

I also suggest that significant stimulus money be provided to persons and companies involved in the study of enzymes (some of which may reduce unwanted digestive issues). In theory at least, new enzymes could be developed that would significantly reduce or even eliminate flatulence, both in humans and in the so-called lower classes of animals. As we all know, flatulence is involuntary and therefore not the fault of the animal, whether human or otherwise—it’s the bacteria in the animal’s colon—they are the culprits—perhaps under the direction of the Phart Czar, a new strain of bacteria could be developed, one which could continue to make its necessary contributions to life without producing methane gas.

One can only hope and dream.

There is, of course, a downside to the complete elimination of methane emitted by living beings—some of us, and perhaps some of the animals, are not strongly disinclined with the conditions which presently exist.

And finally, this is why we need another czar—a Phart Czar:

According to Al Gore, time is of the essence.

As an aside, I recommend that those who invest in the stock market take a careful look at Beano, a product that is said to counter, or at least reduce, the effect of beans in the production of methane in humans. It may be found that by the simple introduction of Beano into beans and other foods, either in the growth process by injecting Beano into the seeds or in the preparation of beans for retail to the public, both uncooked and cooked—a good place to start would be in the vast numbers of restaurants, particularly fast-food restaurants—that feature beans in virtually every dish offered to the public. One of the bean side dishes offered with many entrees is an ultra-delicious culinary delight—it’s called re-fried beans, an item that should be considered particularly suspect for its contributions to the cumulative deleterious effect of flatulence discharged into our atmosphere.

The makers of Beano claim that it counteracts the adverse effects of beans on the human digestive system (for some of us but not all), and offer compelling testimonials to its favorable action. I predict that Beano will in the future change the lifestyle of many people, perhaps propelling (so to speak) some into the rarified air of millionaires, provided that investors get in at the bottom (so to speak) and invest in the product. However, I must in the interest of full disclosure reveal that the product does not work for me.

It makes me phart.

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

 

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