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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Letter to the editor, Express-News: Pierre shudderd . . .

I don’t deliberately look for gaffes in my readings, regardless of the publication or the topic—they just seem to draw my attention. I’m unsure whether that’s a gift or a character fault. I overlook most writing bloopers, but some cry out for attention.

In looking over past bloopers printed in San Antonio’s Express-News—the only daily newspaper in the eighth largest city in the US—I found this item. My letter was not published by the Express-News so I decided to share it with a somewhat—potentially—larger audience.

Note for copy writers and copy editors—please read and heed.

To the Editor, Express-News: San Antonio, Texas

RE: Your Metro article on Saturday, March 3, 2007, “S.A. cops schooled in Mideast culture.”

“During a classroom session on sensitivity training for San Antonio police officers, a chill apparently came over Instructor Narjis Pierre, president of the San Antonio Muslim Women’s Association. In response to a statement made by SAPD Officer Barbara Thomas, Pierre reacted by closing her blinds. We know this because the article tells us that Pierre “shuttered” when she learned that Thomas had entered a men’s prayer room, an area in which women are not allowed.”

Instructor Pierre did not shutter. She shuddered. Copy writers and copy editors sometimes place an inordinate amount of trust in word-processing spell-checkers. Although a boon to writers and editors, such programs are not infallible. If a word is spelled correctly the spell-checker will ignore it, regardless of its meaning or the context in which it is used. Final reviews (readings) by the copy writer and copy editor are necessary to ensure correct spelling.

I know, I know—I’m fighting a losing battle.

So many errors, so little time.

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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-yearold 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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Civil War oddities & photography with flair . . .

This posting is the result of a comment made by a visitor to one of my recent postings:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/alabama-cotton-fields-old-black-joe/

Some thoughts on picking cotton: (excerpted from the above posting):

While in basic military training near 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 for a penny a pound. I was never able to pick 100 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.

The visitor’s comment follows—anyone interested in stylishness and originality in photography—photography with phlair, so to speak—should check out his work here:

http://burstmode.wordpress.com/

Interesting term: Bummer. Bummers were the foragers associated with Sherman’s army as it marched through the old South. In the march through Georgia and South Carolina, they tended to take and occasionally burn. Bummer became a very negative term, indeed. But there is more…

To bum something, say a cigarette, means that the borrowed item is not expected to be paid back or that the borrowed item will not be returned, like a cigarette. Meaning is a little different from what the Bummers did…

In the final phase of Sherman’s march through North Carolina, it was apparent the Confederacy was in collapse. Additionally, North Carolina had never been a Confederate hotspot (unlike Sought Carolina) and it had lots of Yankee sympathizers, so Sherman instructed the Bummers to pay for items in chits. A farmer that had lost all his chickens to a bummer and received a chit in return had been bummed or, the bummer had bummed the chickens from him because the farmer never expected to see payment. Oddly, Sherman paid and the final significant battle of the Civil War was fought outside Bentonville, NC.

No idea why I told you all this. . .

And this is my reply to the visitor’s comment:

Whatever your reason for telling me, thanks for sharing this Civil War tidbit. I’m familiar with some of that conflict’s many oddities, but I was not aware that Sherman’s foragers were called “bummers” because of their proclivity to take items without repaying.

Considering Sherman’s scorched-earth policy on his march to the sea—a policy established to deny the enemy food, shelter and transportation—the foragers, having appropriated everything useful to the campaign, would have been the logical ones to torch everything that remained and thus would have—or at least could have—been known as ‘burners.” Perhaps some astute southern wag (there were—and are—a few such), watching his crops and home burning after failing to receive remuneration (other than a chit) from the foragers and given the similarity of the terms, referred to the foragers as “burners” rather than bummers, and the term stuck. Come to think of it, that same wag may have given the same treatment to the word “chit.” Not by coining a new word, necessarily, but by using a rhyming word which, coincidentally, also utilized only four letters.

I freely proffer this alternate explanation for the origin of the term “bummers” to all present and future historians for their use in revising the history of the War Between the States. As is all history, the history of the Civil War is constantly being rewritten, and perhaps future revisions will show that “bummers” actually evolved from “burners.”

And perhaps not.

One of Civil War historian James Street’s books deals primarily with such oddities—a small tome, but fascinating reading. It includes the story of a child birthed by a virgin southern belle, the result of a pregnancy caused by the errant path of a mini-ball fired from a Yankee rifle. The round pierced the lady’s outer and inner clothing (if any) and came (no pun intended) to rest in the specific location of the lady’s interior which could cause a pregnancy. The mini-ball had apparently passed through a soldier’s genitals enroute to its final resting place. We may safely assume that the unlucky target was a soldier of the South—either that or the southern belle was on the wrong side of the battle lines. Of all the oddities of the War Between the States, this is my all-time favorite. It’s been discounted, of course, but it’s still my favorite.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2009 in Humor, Military, wartime

 

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New health care plan Top Ten List . . .

A friend forwarded this list to me, and I felt that it was worthy of sharing with anyone that stumbles upon my blog, whether deliberately or inadvertently. In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, I took the liberty of cleaning up some of the chaff that always accompanies any e-mail that has undergone innumerable forwardings. I also took considerable liberties in revising the e-mail, including adding colors and using italics and bold letters, all in the interest of improving presentation of the Top Ten items.

I have a favorite among the Top Ten, and on the off-chance that anyone happens to reach this point in their wandering around the internet, I would be interested to know which of the ten is your favorite (I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours!).

HERE ARE THE TOP TEN INDICATORS THAT YOUR COMPANY HAS JOINED THE GOVERNMENT’S PROPOSED HEALTH CARE PLAN:

You’ll know you’re on the government’s proposed health care plan if:

#10—Your annual breast exam is done at Hooters.

#9—Directions to your doctor’s office include Take a left as you enter the trailer park.

#8— The only proctologist in the plan is Gus, from RotoRooter.

#7—The tongue depressors used by your doctor taste faintly of fudgesicles.

#6—The only item listed under Preventive Care Coverage is An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

#5—Your primary care physician is wearing the pants you donated to Goodwill last month.

#4—The statement that Patient is responsible for 200 percent of out of network charges is not a typographical error.

#3—The only expense covered 100 percent is embalming.

#2—Your Prozac pills are of different colors, and each pill is stamped M&M.

AND THE NUMBER ONE SIGN THAT YOU’VE JOINED THE GOVERNMENT’S NEW HEALTH PLAN IS:

#1—You ask for Viagra and they give you two popsicle sticks and a roll of duct tape.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2009 in health, Humor, Obama administration, politics

 

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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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Age 14—fired from my paperboy job . . .

For several months I served my community as a teenage paperboy, delivering the daily publications of the Commercial Dispatch, a small daily newspaper in a small town—Columbus, Mississippi. For those who may not be familiar with the requirements of the job, I must note that one does not become a paperboy overnight. There is a period of intensive training, a period during which one is given the lofty title of Assistant Paperboy. Following the mandatory interview with the paper’s Circulation Manager (the owner’s son), an interview in which I was deemed acceptable for training, I was assigned to a regular paperboy, one who was voluntarily leaving his employment for greener pastures as a carhop at a local eatery—that’s a subject for a future posting—I worked as a carhop at two different locations in the same city—I was fired from one location and voluntarily left the other.

For several weeks, at the princely salary of $1.50 per week, I accompanied the Paperboy on daily paper pickups and deliveries, learning the route and the necessary bookkeeping and public relations aspects of the job. The papers were delivered in the evenings on Monday through Friday and early in the morning on Sundays—the paper was not published on Saturdays.

During the training period I met my boss, the real paperboy, after school on Monday through Friday in the basement of the building, an underground area accessible by vehicles for pickups and deliveries and by our bikes. There we counted out our papers and placed them in a canvas bag similar to the saddlebags used by horsemen. The bags, printed with the newspaper’s name, had a hole in the center so it could be worn by the delivery person with its paper-filled pouches front and rear, or carried across the handlebars of a bike and the bike’s crossbar, or across the luggage rack above the bike’s rear wheel. The bag was worn when the paperboy had no bike and walked his route, or when the bike was out of commission. It also was worn by the lucky ones that had an business-district route with all-commercial customers—these were the plums, the most desirable routes available, gems sought after by any paperboy with even the slightest desire to succeed in the newspaper delivery field.

We never rolled the papers—I suppose the idea of rolling papers and securing the rolled paper with a rubber band had not been thought of at the time—or it may have been simply because the profit margin enjoyed by newspaper delivery boys did not allow the acquisition and use of such accessories. We delivered the papers flat, and I became rather proficient at sailing the paper across lawns for a considerable distance. In the beginning, of course, I manged to land the paper in or under bushes, in mud puddles and in ditches, everywhere except on walkways or driveways, or on the porch, the ideal final location for the toss. In such failed deliveries the decision had to be made whether to stop and correct the unsatisfactory delivery, or to accept it and hope that the customer would not complain—not an easy decision to be made, especially if the hour was late and supper was waiting at home.

Hey, don’t laugh—it’s no small task for one to control a moving bike with one hand, a bike loaded with 125 newspapers in a canvas bag lying across the handlebars with one side resting on the front fender and the other on the crossbar, surveying the terrain for an acceptable target while keeping alert for potholes, dogs, other moving vehicles, pedestrians, rocks, mud puddles and other possible impediments to forward motion, then selecting a paper with the other hand, positioning it correctly for throwing and, at the precise correct instant, releasing it toward its target. I must admit that an accurate throw under such conditions gave any paperboy, regardless of his tenure, a pleasurable feeling, albeit fleeting.

I followed my boss—the real paperboy—on my bike as he made the deliveries, making mental notes of street signs, house numbers, locations, dogs, potholes, traffic, etc. Dennis—I’ll call him Dennis because that was his name—rode a state-of-the-art bike, one powered by a small battery taped to the bike’s crossbar, with power going to a small motor mounted on the bike’s front fender. With the flick of a switch, the rubber-covered shaft of the motor pressed against the front tire’s sidewall and gave a power-assist to the bike’s motion. Before the motor could be used the bike first had to be moving—inertia had to be overcome by pedaling, then the motor took over. The system worked great on level paved surfaces such as streets and sidewalks, but was a bust on unpaved surfaces and had to be supported by some old-fashioned pedaling by the rider.

I must digress for a moment:

While in training, late in the evening on a cold winter day, the Paperboy and his AA (Able Assistant) delivered a paper to a service station and remained to warm up a bit before continuing on our route. The station manager offered us a cigarette—Dennis accepted one, but told the manager that I was “too young to smoke.” That put-down changed my life—I defiantly took the cigarette, and thus made the first step towards acquiring the nicotine habit, a habit that was finally conquered some 22 years later.

My employment as a newspaper carrier, a vocation that could have propelled me into the upper echelons of newspaper publishing, lasted only a few short months. Early on a beautiful sunny Sunday I stopped at a customer’s house, one located in a rural area with nothing but graveled roads. Any graveled road is a paperboy’s nemesis, especially one on a bike carrying a heavy load of a Sunday issue stuffed with advertising material. I knocked on the subscriber’s door several times, each time harder than the previous knock, and finally the following dialogue ensued:

Man’s shout: “Who the (F-word) is it?”

My answer: “The paperboy.”

Man’s shout: “What the (F-word) do you want?

My answer: “I want to collect for the paper.”

Man’s shout: “I already paid for the (the gerund of F-word) paper.”

My answer: “No, I don’t have a record of your payment.”

His final shout telling me to go away included a name for me which alluded forcefully to my diminutive size and the marital status of my mother at the time of my birth. He shouted “F-word you, you little bastard, go away,” so my response was that of any red-blooded American paperboy unaccustomed to such denigrating language, especially language casting aspersions on one’s mother.

I said “Okay, then do without the damn paper.”

I heard more curses and the sound of feet hitting the floor so I took flight. I hopped on my bike, flew across the road and hid behind a small outbuilding. I waited there for what seemed an eternity, heart pounding violently and scared shiftless (as we used to say under such stressful times). Finally I peeked around the corner. There was no one in sight so I left the scene of the crime, finished my deliveries and went home.

The following day, Monday, was predictable—I knew well how the day would end. I reported to pick up my papers and was met by the Circulation Manager, a worthy that happened to be the son of the owner. The incident of the previous day was not mentioned. He sternly ordered me to turn in my canvas carrier-bags. This I did with alacrity, collecting my two-dollar deposit and then slinking pitifully away from the area with my head down and steps dragging.

But that was all for effect. I hated that damn job. That stuff they say about mail carriers, something on the order of “neither heat nor rain nor snow can delay us, blah, blah, blah” never applied to the crappy job of newspaper delivery boy. Looking back on it the only bright spot in my brief career was one evening around Christmastime when the circulation manager put several of us in the back seat of his new Cadillac convertible and with the top down drove us around to deliver our papers—and this was during a heavy snowfall—I must admit that was fun, but one can’t hang around for something similar to happen—it would probably never have happened again—at least not with me being one of the fortunate boys selected.

Oh, just one more thing—I checked my meticulously kept records and found that the customer whose complaint had cost me my job had in fact—yep, you guessed it—he had already paid me.

Oh, well, you win some and you lose some.

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

Postscript: I was working on a new post today concerning my hometown (Columbus, Mississippi) and I encountered a familiar name, that of the Circulation Manager, the son that repossessed my paperbag and arbitrarily retired me from my paper route at the early age of 13 years. The name was the same, but he is now the owner of the Commercial Dispatch. The only difference in his name and that of the one that fired me was the Roman numeral tacked onto the name. Since the current owner claims the number III, the one that fired me was II, and his father, the owner at the time I was fired must have been the first in that particular lineage——hey, there’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

Evidently the customer told his one-sided story and the circulation manager made no effort to get my side of the incident. Had I been advised to apologize I would have readily agreed. Money was tight in my family at the time, and the pittance I received as a paper boy helped a bit. An apology would probably not have made any difference, because in commercial transactions the customer is always right—that’s the profit angle at work. In this present day and age if an adult male used that sort of language to a minor, he could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of the minor, and would at the very least face some embarrassment.

 

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