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Category Archives: Military

Revisit: The day I lost my marbles . . .

I originally posted this story in July of 2010. I came across it while browsing today and enjoyed it so much that I decided to share it with the multitudes of people that overlooked it. I know they overlooked it because it garnered only one comment and that was from a lovely lady that lives in Montgomery, and she probably felt compelled to comment because she is my niece and I am the only surviving uncle from her mother’s side of the family. Actually, if I were a female I would be the only surviving aunt from her mother’s family—yep, of the original seven children I am the last one standing, and yes, I’m a bit lonely!

This is an intriguing—albeit rather sad—tale of one small boy’s attempt to establish and cement friendship and perhaps help to promote cordiality between races in the deep South at a time long before the marches between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and long before civil rights legislation was passed by Congress. Well, alright, I confess that I was also trying to add to my collection of marbles and because of my politically incorrect older sister I failed miserably, and instead found my collection reduced by a significant number, including some of my favorite pieces. Bummer!

The day I lost my marbles

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi on the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marbles out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

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

 

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Omaha, St. Mary’s University & Cyrano de Bergerac

Far back in the swirling mists of time, back in the seventh decade of the past century—well, to be specific it was in 1966 and I needed a few more college credits to add to the motley collection I had amassed over the prior nine years.

I was a member of the United States armed forces at the time, not necessarily gainfully employed—military pay was miserly when compared to today’s pay rates. My wife and I were sharing—not equally but sharing—the responsibilities involved in raising a young family of three girls and a miniature Chihuahua, aged twelve, eight, four and one year respectively. That didn’t leave much time for study, but spurred on by my desire for a bona fide college degree, I enrolled in night school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

I had almost enough college credits to transfer my hours to the Municipal University of Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska in order to earn a baccalaureate. I only needed a few more hours in general education, and at that time I had more than a passing interest in religion, so in my search for truth I enrolled in several courses dealing with religion. My final class at St. Mary’s was a study of early Greek philosophy and ancient Greek philosophers. Successful completion of that final course with its three hours of credit would allow me to transfer my hours to Omaha under the auspices of the military services’ Bootstrap program.

Remember my statement that working full-time and helping maintain a household and raising three girls and a Chihuahua was a hindrance to my studies? I did not do well in the philosophy class, and that was reflected by my final grade, a grade based only on the final test for that subject in that semester. No credit was given for attendance, dress or attitude, class participation or good looks—not that such credit would have helped me—I just thought it was worth mentioning.

On second thought I am convinced that extra credit was given in that class, but was restricted to the mini-skirted girls that monopolized the front row seats, habitually—nay, constantly—crossing and uncrossing their legs. However, I will reserve that topic for a future Word Press post—stay tuned!

The test consisted of four essay questions, to only one of which—number four—I penned a scholarly answer and was given the full 25 points allowed for each question. As for the first three questions, my blue test booklet showed only the numbers and that little black dot—the period—that followed each number. If you guessed my final number grade for the course as 25 you would be correct, and if you guessed my final letter grade as an F, you would be wrong. The priest that taught the class quite generously awarded me a D for the class, a grade that carried weight and could count toward a degree from St. Mary’s University.

That evening I asked the instructor for a private meeting, and we stayed in the classroom after the other students left. I explained the predicament in which the D placed me, and he told me that it could be used at St. Mary’s, but I explained that even if it could be transferred, Omaha would not accept it. I did not shed any tears during my private session with the priest, but I did allow my voice to waver and crack several times—I know I created a pitiful spectacle, but hey, I was desperate.

And it worked. He told me to study industriously and return to his classroom the following week on an evening that he had no class. I spent most of the next week studying the material and writing notes on small scraps of paper. Yes, they were cheat notes—I said I was desperate, right?

I returned the following week and the priest gave me a blue test booklet and a paper with four hand-written questions, then told me to find an empty classroom on the second floor, take the test and return it within one hour. Although the evening was balmy, I sported a sport coat fitted with two outside pockets and two inside pockets, all filled with those little scraps of paper that I mentioned—I was running late that night and had forgotten to remove them—honest! (And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona, etc., etc.)

The rest of this story will be mercifully brief. I found an empty classroom, entered and closed the door behind me so I would not be distracted by hallway noises, and also with the hope that I would be alerted should the door be opened while I was cheating on the test. And now, just one more short paragraph and you, my readers, will be free to search for greener pastures of literature. I know full well that the final paragraph will require readers to suspend disbelief, but so be it—as Bill Clinton might say, It is what it is.

I removed not one cheat note from my stuffed coat pockets—not one. I had worked so hard to identify test material to put on cheat notes that I knew the material by rote. I never knew the actual point grade given, but my D was upgraded to a C that was immediately transferred to Omaha’s municipal university, an institute of higher learning that graduated me in the spring of 1968, the last class to be graduated before the university became UNO, the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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

Postscript: Please note that I said the Municipal University of Omaha graduated me, not that I graduated the University of Omaha. One cannot graduate a university, no matter how mightily one strives—only universities have the right and the privilege to graduate. Yes, I am aware of the common usage of the verb phrase to graduate, but I steadfastly refuse the common usage, electing instead to abuse the words of Cyrano de Bergerac as given voice by Edmond Rostand in his 1897 play—like the mighty oak I stand, not tall but alone—or something similar to that.

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

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Books, education, Family, Humor, Military, poetry, Writing

 

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You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

Memories of those words and that question, and memories of Archie Williams, W.C. Fields, Shirley Temple, dirty old men and a certain red-haired office typist—all came together in my thoughts this morning while I reminisced in search of fodder for my blog. If that group has in any way piqued your interest, read on.

I’ll begin with the red-haired office worker, an administrative clerk sitting sideways with legs crossed while operating an old-time word processor, a dinosauristic but cleverly constructed machine that combined mechanical, electrical and manual functions, a machine known as a typewriter. When the machine was operated properly it produced ink impressions, alphabet letters, on white unlined material—paper—a versatile material with many uses, made from wood pulp and commonly used for writing and printing upon but with various other uses and capabilities and sometimes referred to as tissue or tissues, quintessentially used at work, at home and away from home.

Just as an aside, I wonder how many readers will resort to Wikipedia for a definition of the word quintessentially. In the past, one in search of a definition would have referred to another dinosaur, that quaint publication known as a dictionary. Alas, that item is swiftly disappearing from our society, but I have one to which I felt I was entitled. I purloined it from my office when I retired from government service. In fact, I retired twice from government service, first from the military and then from federal law enforcement—the dictionary I brought home on the second retirement was simply a free upgrade of the one from the military.

But I have digressed from my original objective, to tell the story of Archie Williams. For that I apologize and return forthwith and continue towards that objective. From the information given in the first paragraph you, the reader, probably have in mind the image of a young auburn-haired beauty in a mini-skirt seated sideways before an office typewriter with her legs crossed and showing lots of leg, both lower leg and thigh and you would be right—except for the fact that the typist was a young red-haired male member of the United States Air Force, clothed in khaki shirt and trousers showing no leg, belted in blue and shod in black, sporting on his sleeves the three stripes of an Airman First Class, engaged in a spirited conversation with Archie Williams, an Air Force master sergeant, a six-striper similarly clothed who embodied and displayed the unique characteristics of W.C. Fields, an old-time veteran Hollywood comic of black-and-white film fame, in at least one of which films he shared billing with a very young and very precocious Shirley Temple, a child prodigy who tap danced, beautifully and at length while wearing a very short dress, and whose characteristic close-ups revealed curly hair, a cute smile, snow-white legs and significant expanses of white underwear, both front and rear, as she tapped and whirled and smiled enticingly for the camera.

I know, I know—you’re wondering why the previous sentence is so lengthy, nearing 200 words. It’s because I’m trying to equal or surpass the length of the one in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, not the longest sentence in literature but certainly among the longest—1,300 words. Of course, that’s very brief compared to a sentence in Ulysses by James Joyce that has 4,391 words—more or less!

I will digress no more—I’m running out of ink, so I’ll try to finish this posting. I’m reasonably certain that you, the reader, are wondering where this is going so I’ll put your mind at rest. I read an article in a magazine prized by men that in big city theaters that show the old black-and-white movies in certain theaters with Shirley Temple displaying her dancing talent, the major part of the audiences consists of dirty old men. Admittedly, some of the dirty old men simple needed a place to rest or to sleep, and some were addicted to black-and-white movies regardless of their contents—some may in fact have been movie producers, black-listed by Senator McCarthy and forced out of the movie industry—maybe.

My contention is that the dirty old men in the audience felt that the child prodigy was wearing that smile and showing the underwear just for them, and as a result of that feeling they perhaps—alright, probably—reached illegal and unimaginable plateaus of pleasure during the showing, a la Pee-wee Herman.

While I was busy in the Administration Office on a typical working day, I was privy—inadvertently—to a conversation between Archie and the young red-haired leg-crossing sergeant that centered on the typist’s off-duty activities. After quizzing him on those activities Archie told him, in Archie’s replication of W.C. Fields whiningly nasal tone, poetically and in rhyme, You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do? Archie’s height and girth, his stance, his ambulatory movements and his habit of carrying an unlighted cigar all mimicked W.C. Fields. While Archie’s physical characteristics were not controllable, I believe that the cigar and his voice were perhaps props, intended to imitate the old-time actor and indulged in so much over time that they belonged to him and were part of his persona, just as legitimately as they were for W.C. Fields.

When I heard Archie’s question I immediately decided that I had no other business in that office, and I hurriedly relocated so I could satisfactorily react to the question without incurring the enmity of the typist. I never knew the typist’s answer, if in fact he gave an answer, and I did not have the temerity to ask Archie how his talk with the typist was concluded. I did learn later from another source that the typist shared his lodging and his life with an over-the-road non-military truck driver. I find it interesting that in that era I was not aware that my service had either an animus against, or a tolerance for, members with sexual preferences that differed from what traditionally has been our society’s norm—there was no don’t ask, don’t tell policy. At that time, circa 1965, I was in my sixteenth year of military service, and if my service had a problem with such preferences it was never part of my training. Over the years I served during peacetime and wartime with several such persons and had no problems—none at that time and none now.

Archie died in the mid-1960s, and his earthly remains were interred in Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery here in San Antonio, Texas. Full military services were provided, with taps, rifle volleys and uniformed pallbearers, and I was one of the six men that carried the casket, with Archie safely ensconced inside, a considerable distance through interminable rows of upright grave markers to an open grave, fitted with the mechanical device that would lower the casket.

Archie was a big man that in life would have approached a weight of 250 pounds, perhaps more, and at least partially because of that weight I almost preceded him into the excavation that had been prepared for him alone. As we marched towards the open grave I quickly concluded that he had not been embalmed—had he chosen that mortuary option—not required in Texas—he would have been considerably lighter. Of the six pallbearers, I’ll give you three guesses as to which pallbearer was less tall than the others, and the first two guesses won’t count—not that I am necessarily short, mind you, but I will admit that I was less tall than the others.

My position as we marched Archie, feet first through the rows of white markers, was at the left forward corner of Archie’s casket, the corner closest to his left foot, I am convinced that mine was the heaviest area of the weight we carried, perhaps fitted with a large anvil—perhaps Archie had been a blacksmith in his youth and the anvil was placed as a salutary salute to that profession—he may have suffered from a left club-foot, but I doubt that it would account for the weight at my corner.

Just as we moved the casket to a point directly over the grave and the lowering mechanism, my right foot slipped into the opening and I frantically relinquished my portion of the weight—I became an ex-pallbearer. However, the remaining five pallbearers apparently divided up my former contribution to the operation and held the casket up until I could reposition myself and return to pallbearer status, and we then properly placed the casket, stepped back and snapped to attention, and the ceremony continued and was concluded without further incident. In my haste to return both feet to solid ground, scrambling to avoid being interred with Archie, I soiled the knees of my uniform trousers as I frantically returned to an upright position—the soiling process could have been far worse, I suppose.

I have good reason to visit Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery these days. I don’t remember where we left Archie some fifty years ago—that’s far too much time for me to be expected to remember his Section and Plot numbers. I have promised myself that I will ask cemetery office personnel for the location of his grave. I want to say hello to him, and I may hear again the question below, the question he addressed to that red-haired typist, and perhaps the typist’s answer to the query—if Archie chooses to confide in me:

You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

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

 
 

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Retired at 10 & 16, a triple-dipper at 20—go figure!

The seventh day of March is a red-letter day for me. One of my sisters, the one closest to me in age, was born on that day eighteen months before I made my entrance into the world of 1932 on September 19, one of the more important events of that year. My birth in that month of that year was overlooked by Wikipedia—that organization listed only four events in September worth reporting, and none was on the 19th. If you like, you can click here to read a proudly crafted and craftily presented study of my birth and many subsequent events.

The year 1932 was a leap year—had I been born on the 29th of February that year, I could only celebrate my birthday every four years, and by counting only my official birthdays I would now be twenty years old. I share my birth during a leap year with my neighbor, a lady that was born on the 29th day of February. As Don Adams of Get Smart fame would say, while showing a small space between his thumb and forefinger—Missed it by that much! Using the same formula that made my age 19, her leap year birthdays would make her 13 years old.

I hold the seventh of March firmly in my memories. On that date in 1949 I awakened at an early hour, performed my morning ablutions, broke my fast, allowed my mother to teach me how to make a Windsor knot in a necktie, dressed and bade my goodbyes, walked the few blocks to the courthouse in Columbus, Mississippi, swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, became a US  Air Force recruit, boarded a train to New Orleans, transferred to the Sunset Limited bound for San Antonio, Texas, arrived there the following day, completed 13 weeks of training successfully and remained in the United States Air Force for 22 years plus several months. I celebrated my actual nineteenth birthday in 1951 in the middle of a shooting war while based at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. If you like, you can click here to learn a lot about Korea and Kimpo and the war, probably a lot more than you thought you needed to know.

I realize that it’s childish to compute one’s age on the premise that one was born on the last day of February in a leap year but it’s a lot of fun, and childish and fun somehow go together. I have retired twice from US government service, once from the Air Force with 22 years, and again from a federal law enforcement agency after 26 years of service. Using the leap year computation with a birthday only every fourth year, I would have been 10 at my first retirement,16 at my second retirement and I would now be—at the tender age of 20 years—a triple-dipper with a combined income from military service, federal civil service and Social Security.

Hey, I didn’t plan it that way—things just seemed to happen, and as they happened I just went with the flow. Oops, I forgot something—I also have a substantial return from a substantial IRA, one that is earning an annual interest rate of six and one-quarter percent. I suppose that would make me a quadruple dipper.

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

Postscript: I just thought of a letter I wrote to a newspaper editor in McAllen, Texas on the subject of double dipping, a letter that I posted on my blog. Click here to learn how I really feel about double dipping.

 
 

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Watermelons, fish, skinny-dipping & dynamite

I recently told the tale of how three of us, all miscreants and all active members of the United States Air Force stationed at Moody Air Force Base near the city of Valdosta, Georgia decided to raid a watermelon patch one Saturday night with the laudable purpose of illegally obtaining enough watermelons to have a Sunday watermelon party for ourselves and for our fellow barracks occupants. We felt that it would be a friendly, patriotic, doable and inexpensive gesture, especially since the watermelons would be free and the only other things we needed would be knives, forks and salt—yes, salt, because watermelon without salt is just watermelon. Click here for the original story of our night-time foray—our incursion into enemy territory, so to speak.

The knives and forks and salt could be easily lifted—oops, I meant borrowed—from our military dining facility, aka mess hall or chow hall, and by some as our slop shop. For those readers unfamiliar with the word slop—and there are lots of city folks, especially New Yorkers, that won’t know—slop is the mixture fed to pigs, and could be comprised entirely of commercial grains or entirely of table scraps or a combination of both.

As for a location for the party, the air base was surrounded by oak and pine forests, and our plan was to combine the watermelon feast with one of our frequent weekend sojourns into the woods to skinny-dip in one of the many dark-water creeks in the area—usually on such outings we consumed only beer—we felt that the melons would be appreciated by all.

The blast from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car at an isolated location in that south Georgia area while he disappeared into the woods to a place where beavers had dammed a small creek and formed a fairly large body of water behind their dam.

When he disappeared in the bushes after telling me to wait in the car he was carrying a small bag, and a few minutes later when he burst from the bushes running toward the car, laughing like crazy, there was a tremendous explosion that told me the bag had contained dynamite, and the explosion was so loud and so unexpected that it almost resulted in me soiling my seat covers. He had wired the dam with the dynamite and blew it up, based on his belief that the pool created by the beavers’ dam would yield tons and tons of fish—trout, bass, perch, catfish, etc., perhaps even a sailfish or two—no, I made up the part about the sailfish.

I never learned whether the use of dynamite brought anything to my brother-in-law’s table. We left the area in considerable haste, spurred on by his admonition that someone may have heard the explosion and would come to investigate. My brother-in-law said he would return later to check on the effectiveness of his work with the dynamite, sometime after the reverberations had subsided and possible searchers for the source of the explosion had left the area. I never asked him how the fishing was, and he never volunteered the information.

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

 
 

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Watermelons, shotguns, Red Sovine, Patsy Cline & Viet Nam

This is a sequel to my original post of 13 January 2011. That story involved the theft of a watermelon by a brother-in-law, a born again Christian, and my confession that I had been guilty of a similar offense, but I furnished few particulars. This posting expands on my unlawful actions considering watermelons, namely stealing them from a roadside field a few miles from the South Georgia Air Force Base where I was stationed a lifetime ago—way, way, way back in 1952. Click here for the original post. It’s well worth the read, then come back here for this story of the farmer and his firearm—it’s also well worth the read!

Almost fifty-nine years have passed since then, but my watermelon memories are as fresh as the first seasonal load of melons being off-loaded at my local supermarket, and for good reasons, primarily because my last foray into purloining watermelons involved the farmer, a shotgun and the thoroughly trashed rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible.

On that eventful Saturday night I and my two co-conspirators wisely waited until a late hour in the evening to ignore Georgia law and also ignore signs that many of the local farmers posted along roads bordering their fertile fields of crops. We were of the belief that the farmer would be safely ensconced in his easy chair listening to the Grand Ole Opry on radio, a Saturday night not-to-be-missed event in those days.

As our method required—a well thought out method of stealing watermelons and one highly successful on previous Saturdays—I lowered the top on my chick-magnet 1951 Ford convertible and drove slowly as we neared the field and my two buddies disembarked—jumped over the side of the car—and disappeared into the cornfield on the right side of the road.

Yes, cornfield—this was a combination corn-and-watermelon crop, a common practice in the area. In fact, some farmers added a third crop, that of pole beans, with the corn stalks serving in lieu of the poles that the beans require for climbing and maturing properly. Pretty neat, huh?

I continued down the road for several miles, then turned around and waited a few minutes to give my team time to gather watermelons and place them in the roadside ditch preparatory to transferring them to the rear seat of my Ford chick-magnet convertible.

At this point I must digress to explain the ditch—road building, Georgia style. There were no freeways in the area nor in that era, just two-lane roads graveled or paved with asphalt—the interstate system was in work, but years would pass before multiple lane roads came to that area. The depressions that border both sides of South Georgia roads are called bar ditches by the locals, as in, Muh tar blowed out an’ muh car runned off in uh bar ditch.

I puzzled over the term bar and queried several local natives for its meaning and its origin—natives of Georgia, of course—and was told Ah on oh, interpreted as I don’t know. Having heard the song and seen the movie about Daniel Boone and his bear-slaying ability—kilt him a bar when he was only three—I figured it had something to do with bears—bars—but I was wrong. I learned from one of the more educated and articulate natives—a rarity in that area—that it was a borrow ditch, so-called because soil was borrowed from the roadsides and used to build up the roads to prevent water accumulating on the highway during the rainy season. Thus borrow ditch in English became bar ditch in Georgia-speak.

Now back to the farmer and his firearm. As I approached the drop off point—now the pickup point—I flashed my headlights three times to signal my criminal associates of my approach, then turned off the lights and coasted to a stop at the proper point, and the watermelons began to take flight, sailing over the side of my chick-magnet and landing indiscriminately on the seat, against the side panels, window sills, window handles, on the floor and on each other. Speed was of the essence because we planned on a watermelon party for our barracks-bound buddies the next day, a Sunday watermelon fest to be held in a secret location in a wooded area near the air base, and we needed a lot of watermelons for that crowd.

The blasts from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car while he disappeared into the woods to go to an unnamed location, saying only that he would return in a few minutes. Click here to read about the explosion that resounded several minutes after he entered the woods.

At this point I will conclude my digression and return to the tale of the Great Watermelon Heist, and hold my brother-in-law’s actions for a later posting, one for which the wait is well worthwhile.

In addition to the sound of the shotgun blast, we could detect the sound of lead shot pellets tearing through the leaves of corn stalks, a sign that the shotgun was not aimed skywards when the pissed-off farmer pulled the trigger—or triggers—judging by the sounds it may have been a double-barreled shotgun, or perhaps an semi-automatic shotgun that held five shells and the trigger was pulled so fast that the five explosions blended into one fearsome sound.

As an aside to this subject, I know that such a sound could have been made, and here’s proof. Many years ago while assigned to duty in Washington, DC, I was privileged to be present at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC when one of the agency’s top guns demonstrated his dexterity and the power of his weapon by firing it six times in succession. The sound of those six shots of .38 caliber ammunition exploding was absolutely continuous, just one smooth roar. When the agent pulled in the silhouette target, it showed that the rounds were all closely grouped in the chest area of the target, a group that indicated the location of the heart.

That’s enough of my digressions and my asides—okay, more than enough. I will conclude this posting by saying that I and my companions in crime escaped unscathed, and our depredations were never made public. That was not our first watermelon heist, but it was definitely the last—we never even considered another, neither in that watermelon season nor in subsequent seasons.

However, the rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible did not escape unscathed. Several of the large melons, tossed in the rear seat under extreme distress—the throwers, not the melons—burst open from impact with the car and with each other, and the faux leather rear seat and side panels were covered with watermelon seeds and juice, as were the combination rubber-and-felt floor mats. I worked half the day on Sunday cleaning up the mess. However, enough of the melons escaped destruction for us to have a watermelon party, albeit somewhat truncated because of the losses we suffered. Ah, those were the days!

This story is true—I know it’s true because, just as was the protagonist in that popular song Deck of Cards, sung variously and in various years by T. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale and Bill Anderson—I was that soldier! If you like, you can click here to read the complete words of the song. It’s clever—I wish I had thought of it!

I know I promised no more asides or digressions, but I must do one more aside. The last time I heard Deck of Cards sung was in 1969, it was rendered by country singer Red Sovine before a raucous, rowdy and unruly crowd in an NCO Club at Da Nang Air Base in South Viet Nam. That in itself is worthy of a separate posting, so stay tuned. If you like, you can click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know, and even more, about Red  Sovine.

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

Postscript: In reference to that so-called chick-magnet auto—I never knew whether it would have drawn girls into its magnetic field because my future wife and I were already going steady and the subject of marriage had been broached, albeit ever so lightly, when I traded for the convertible, and we married just four months after we met, a marriage that lasted for 58 years. As for the convertible, it was traded immediately after our first daughter was born—so much for the chick-magnet characterization.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in driving, friends, Humor, Military, Uncategorized

 

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Oh, no! Exit fat, French fries, sugar, salt & gravy . . .

On a recent Sunday morning I unrolled my home-delivered plastic-bagged copy of the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in America, with a potential audience of some two million readers. Prominent on the front page was an article announcing planned changes in menus of military dining halls, specifically at Fort Sam Houston, Texas but eventually in military dining halls world-wide. Click on the image below to read the front-page portion of the article.

As a retired military person I can appreciate and accept all the changes except one. I do not mourn the loss of fat, French fries, sugar and salt and I welcome whatever substitutes replace those items, but gravy? GRAVY? Not gravy, please dear Lord don’t let them outlaw gravy. Without gravy there will be no SOS, a dish that is embraced emotionally and gastronomically by everyone that has ever served in any of the United States military forces. SOS is primarily a breakfast entree—gravy with chipped beef, hamburger meat or sausage added, and usually served as a stand-alone spread on toast or biscuits with various other items added if desired—bacon or sausage, perhaps, or eggs cooked to order, or pancakes or all the above.

Those in the stratospheric zones of the military hierarchy—commissioned officers and their families—usually refer to SOS as creamed chipped beef on toast, or creamed hamburger on toast, or creamed sausage on toast—creamed is simply a euphemism for gravy. However, the unwashed hordes in the military services, the enlisted population including NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) are comprised of those always willing to call a spade a spade—oops, delete that phrase—it is so not politically correct—make the phrase willing to tell it like it is instead. That elite group of military persons refer to the breakfast delicacy as Shit On a Shingle, with the toast being the shingle and meat gravy the shit, thusly SOS. As a side note, that culinary masterpiece known as SOS is also called Stew On a Shingle and Same Old Stuff. The words may be different, but the visual appearance and taste of the mixture are the same.

Please say it ain’t so, Barack!

Please say it ain’t so, Michelle!

Please don’t do away with gravy—that will sound the death knell for SOS, a breakfast choice for untold millions of men and women in America’s armed forces, in peace and war in virtually every country on the planet, a breakfast delicacy that has been around since long before World War II, and in my opinion helped the United States win its wars—with the exceptions of Korea and Viet Nam and possibly Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that are still unfolding. Although we are claiming the war in Iraq to be a victory, it will probably be rated as a failure in future history books, as will Afghanistan—that is purely my opinion, and I freely admit that opinion is similar to a certain body orifice, the operation of which is controlled by the sphincter muscle—everybody has one, and that’s mine.

Please don’t throw SOS under the bus, Mr. and Mrs. Obama. I believe in change just as much as anyone, including battle-hardened Democrats, but I draw the line on the elimination of SOS from military dining halls. As a home-care giver for many years, I have been a frequent morning visitor to San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center and to Lackland’s Wilford Hall Medical Center, and although I have lost my reason for being a home-care giver, I will continue to use both entities for my own medical care, and you may be assured that I will, at every opportunity, enjoy an SOS breakfast in the hospital cafeterias as long as it is served.

And you may also be assured that if SOS is dropped from their breakfast menus I will look elsewhere for SOS and give my business to those other locations, including such ubiquitous outlets as Whataburger and the myriad Jim’s Restaurants in San Antonio, both of which proudly serve sausage gravy on biscuits for breakfast.

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

Postscript: In my outcry against the demise of SOS I used the term eggs cooked to order, and I must tell my readers that in the hospital cafeteria at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center you can in fact have your eggs cooked to order, except you cannot have soft-scrambled eggs, eggs over-easy, eggs over-medium or eggs sunny-side up. You can only have them hard scrambled, fried hard on both sides, scrambled hard in an omelet or hard-boiled. The rules are in place to prevent salmonella.

But listen up, and I’ll whisper this in your ear: Go to the hospital cafeteria at Lackland’s Wilford Hall Medical Center and you can get your eggs made to order. Just tell the cook what you want and you’ll get it, up to and including fresh eggs cracked in a bowl and served raw, as many as you want and none having been anywhere near flames or heat, usually ordered by those trying to bulk-up for competition in such sports as wrestling and boxing and, of course, for those that just enjoy flexing their muscles for the opposite sex, and in some instances for the same sex.

Hey, it happens—at my age I don’t flex and I never have, couldn’t even if I tried because I never ate raw eggs, but even at my age I still get flexed at—not all that often, but once in awhile. I believe some men follow the advice contained in a song my brother used to sing, namely that, If you can’t get a woman, get a clean old man.

That’s the end of my story and my postscript and I’m sticking to both.

 

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