For a brief period of several months I lived with my family—mother, stepfather and youngest sister—in a one room kitchenette in a small motel on East US Highway 82 in Columbus, Mississippi. This was in the latter years of World War II—although the term motel had been around since 1925, our establishment called itself the Columbus Tourist Court, the word court suggesting a more comfortable kind of accommodation—it was actually a stand-alone cabin in a line of other stand-alone cabins backed by an ages-old cemetery that historically was limited to black burials but was no longer in use.
Just as an aside, our stepfather frequently told people that the owner of the Columbus Tourist Court was a close personal and business friend of many years standing, and that if one mentioned his name—my stepfather’s name—the owner would cut some slack on the price of the accommodations. I tried that some years later and got nothing but a blank stare from the owner—he opined that he was not familiar with the gentleman—so much for slack, right?
The cemetery was in total disrepair, with tombstones missing, broken and fallen, graves sadly sunken and the ground strewn with remnants of urns and flower vases and leaves and rubbish, even a cast-off mattress or two. My sister and I roamed that cemetery picking up bits of colored glass and retrieving unbroken receptacles for flowers, some almost buried in the ground. This was the equivalent of a nature park for us, a place to linger in the evening after school and on weekends. It was also a place that prompted us to make up ghost stories, sometimes so scary that we scared ourselves.
But I digress—this story is not about cemeteries—it’s about the two pets, dogs, that our stepfather promised one day near Christmas as he and our mother headed for town in his four-door black 1939 Plymouth sedan. I mention the auto because it was never, not even once, not even on days of rain or snow or heat or cold, used to transport me and my sister to school. Had our tourist court been on a numbered thoroughfare, it would have been somewhere around Twenty-fifth Street. Our high school was located at Seventh Street and Third Avenue North—city blocks usually run 12 to the mile, so our walk to school covered some 21 blocks, almost two miles, and we walked it barefoot regardless of rain or snow or heat or cold, and it was uphill in both directions. Okay, I’m stretching it a bit, but the fact remains that we walked the distance five days a week while we lived at the Columbus Tourist Court—bummer!
When our mother and our stepfather returned that day shortly before Christmas, our stepfather gave me and my sister separate packages that we hurriedly unwrapped. My sister’s package contained a beautiful Collie, colored identically as Lassie of the movies. My package yielded a gorgeous Pekingese with the cutest face ever seen on a dog.
These were the two dogs he promised us for Christmas, and he had followed through with his promise. However, there was a hitch—my sister’s Collie was mounted on the side of a large tabletop ashtray and my Pekingese was a lead-weighted plaster dog intended to be used as a doorstop. We expected pets, of course, but we were given functional replicas of dogs instead. Mental torture? Child abuse? Of course, but in those days there was no Child Protective Service or any other service to accept complaints, even if we had been endowed with the courage and the willingness to complain.
We were between trips to the atom bomb project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where our stepfather worked. He was laid off for awhile and we had left a government trailer village in Gamble Valley, Tennessee to return to Columbus, and we were now returning to that area to another trailer village called Happy Valley, Tennessee—both locations are subjects for future postings. Stay tuned!
A funny thing happened to us when we were loading the car for the return trip to Tennessee. I had an armful of funny books—they were actually comic books but nobody called them comic books in those days. They were funny books, even the ones picturing the most violent mayhem, and the comic strips in newspapers were also referred to as the funnies.
Our stepfather told me I could not take my funny books because the car was already overloaded. My sister promptly spoke up and told him, in a completely serious tone, that she would carry them in her lap. That was one of the very few times that our little family laughed together—for a brief shining moment we were a happy family, albeit caused by friction. The moment was brief—the stack of comics was consigned to the trash, we climbed into the car and were off on another great adventure.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
June 27, 2010 at 4:34 pm
Ok, these are two of the stories that I always remember and they never fail to make me sad. Thanks, Dad??? You write so very well and the story hasn’t changed through the years. Not even a little.
June 28, 2010 at 5:34 am
Hi, Kel—thanks for the comment, especially for the part that reads, “you write so very well.” I consider that to be the ultimate compliment, coming from someone that has the potential of becoming another Eudora Welty (Google it!).
I’m pleased that you find the stories unchanged over the years. I will never admit that some of the details of a posting are a bit obscured by the swirling mists of time, but should it ever happen I would necessarily fill in the blanks.
Much as some of us improve our appearance with cosmetics, I would make up (get it?) fillers for the gaps in my memories, and those fillers would improve the story and propel it forward without altering its basic truths. A corollary can be found in the pig–and–lipstick story, namely that one can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
I believe that some of us tend to remember things not as they were, but how we would like them to be. Your Aunt Dot is a prime example of that—during the final years of our stepfather’s life, she apparently set aside all the bad and retained all the good of the earlier years and I suppose, as Martha Stewart is wont to say, that’s a good thing!
June 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm
It’s good to read the stories of your childhood, youth and beyond, Mike. And I get the impression from your daughters’ comments here and there, that you’re doing the blogging equivalent of what I’d persuaded my dad to do for me and my sister when he recorded his memoirs onto audio cassette. Though the cassettes were just for us and here you’re talking to the world (or whatever part of the world may come by to read. I do hope that, in time, you’ll get more readers.)
June 28, 2010 at 6:22 am
Hi, Val—thanks for the comment. Your peek into my postings peeled back the cosmetic layers and revealed the naked unvarnished truth—my blogging is the direct result of the persuasive powers of Cindy, the princess that lives, loves and works in Virginia, just as your father’s audio cassettes are the result of your powers of persuasion.
Cindy hounded me for years in an effort to get me on camera, extolling my virtues and/or lack thereof in a series of videos. I consistently and stubbornly resisted—I vowed that I would never allow either the visual or the vocal results of such grilling to impinge on the senses of anyone, whether family or friends or the public.
Using the cosmetic approach I could have controlled the visual but not the audio portion. I consider my voice, both timbre and content, to be a combination of Archibald Alexander Leach (Cary Grant) in “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” and Barak Obama reading from the teleprompter.
However, my recorded voice sounds like a combination of W. C. Fields and Gomer Pyle. And finally, the possibility exists that a slip of the tongue while on camera could land me on the covers of various tabloids along with Britney, Lindsay, Paris, Sean Penn, Hugo Chavez, Harry Reed, Nancy Pilosi and others of that ilk.
As for my getting more readers, the number of visitors to my blog has spiked dramatically just recently, a spike that I attribute–if not entirely then primarily—to you and Cindy.
June 28, 2010 at 9:35 am
My dad frequently made me turn off the tape, rewind and erase bits – not only stuff he’d uttered but some side comments from yours truly!
It’s a brilliant (and respect-worthy) endeavour to commit ones memoirs to some sort of recording device, whether it’s tape (which will be gone soon, I’m sure), CD, DVD, mp3 or any number of other formats or, as you’re doing, internet, for ones family. Sadly, I have no children, nor has my only sibling. I’d persuaded my sister to record hers, mostly for fun for us both and she’d wanted to do it as an interview so we’d both have each other’s, but my damn tape recorder died and I’ve not yet sussed out the digital alternatives.
Now I want to hear your voice! (Was that deliberate, I wonder?) I had to look up ‘Gomer Pyle’ as the show the character was in, was never shown in the UK. (Amongst other exports from the ‘States, we had Bilko – Phil Silvers – but then he sounded like Top Cat/Boss Cat).
While I’ve only been on WordPress since September last year, I’ve been blogging since 2004 and have been thinking about doing a post about blogging, getting traffic to ones blog, etc. One thing is this: it’ll be your own comments on other people’s blogs and their comments in yours, that get people into your blog, particularly when there is more than one-liner reciprocation. People like to surf into blogs via the usericon they see in the person’s comments to find out what that person is about and what sort of blog they have. They are usually (unless they’re authoring a commercial/professional blog) looking for people who are on their wavelength. People look at the content of comments. If there is something that rings bells with something in their own life, present or past, they’ll be interested. So – if you want more people to come by, just keep doing what you’re doing, and send yourself out more. Explore others’ blogs, talk to people about their own lives, find the blended-borders at which you and they meet and they’ll come and check you out.
June 28, 2010 at 9:37 am
Whoops – ‘she’d not wanted to do it as an interview, but a discussion’ was what I had meant to put in that comment, apropos my sister’s memoirs. Sorry. Some of my thinking is still a little disjointed.
June 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm
I can’t wait for your book to come out so I can curl up with it and a good cup of tea for a heartwarming read when I just want to relax and unwind.
June 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm
Hi, Sue—what a nice comment. That makes me want to build a fire under myself and under Cindy and get the show on the road and when, and if, it happens we just might call on you to pose with your copy—the first one off the press, with its title prominently displayed, a nice poster to use for our book signings.
Thanks for the visit, and thanks for the comment.
June 30, 2010 at 2:49 am
Light a fire under me? Under me? Ahem….I’m the one lighting fires, Mister! Get me that title and tagline pronto, ya hear?
Val has some great observations about attracting readers to your blog—keeping on doing what you’re doing and then some!
June 30, 2010 at 4:44 am
Alright, alright—lighten up! As the Spanish-speaking folks enjoy saying, “Lo dije en broma!” I said it playfully, in jest, and you’re right about Val having some great observations about attracting readers—right now she has me working overtime responding to comments—I love it, just love it!