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A feral cat, a loaf of bread and an execution . . .

Cat in the Hat Barn

A couple of months ago I posted the story of my family’s brief attempt at living life on a farm in Mississippi in a three-room house with no bathrooms, no electricity and no running water. Winter was kept at bay by two fireplaces that heated the combination living room and bedroom and a separate bedroom. Added to those two rooms were the combination kitchen and dining area and a lean-to intended for storage, primarily for stove and fireplace wood and livestock feed. Click here to read the details—it’s well worth the read, featuring tales of cotton picking, sexual abuse of chickens, killing twin fox terriers and threatening runaway children with a shotgun.

This posting is about an incident on the farm that featured a feral tomcat. One evening at dusk my stepfather, knowing that I longed for a pet, came in from the barn and told me there was a wild cat in the barn and that if I could catch him I could keep him for a pet. Although I was exultant at the thought of having a pet, I approached the barn with more than a modicum of apprehension—I had learned earlier that his promises should not be taken literally, but with a grain of salt.

One Saturday soon after we moved to the farm he promised to bring me a present from town. I felt sure that it would be a bicycle, but it turned out to be a wheelbarrow, to be used to clean stables and other indelicate and backbreaking activities. I spent that Saturday afternoon shoveling you-know-what out of long-neglected barn stalls and hauling the loads to our garden and to what my stepfather called his horse pasture, although we didn’t have any horses. Also one year near Christmas time he promised to bring my sister and me dogs as Christmas presents—he gave her a collie and me a Pekingese—hers decorated an ashtray and mine was a leaded doorstop. Read the full story here.

I was surprised to find an actual wild feral cat in the barn, hiding out among the hay bales and equipment stored in the barn’s loft. Equipped—armed, actually—with nothing more than a flashlight with weak batteries, I finally cornered the cat, a multicolored tomcat with a ferocious temper. I caught him after many tries, each of which added to the plethora of scratches he inscribed on my hands and arms. I tried to stuff him in a burlap bag but finally just wrapped it around him and made a triumphant return to the house. The hardest part of that return was going down the ladder from the barn loft using only one hand, with the other holding firm to some fifteen pounds of wriggling screeching tomcat.

The farm included a skid-mounted store fronted by a single gas pump, a dinosaur mechanism operated by first pumping fuel from the underground tank with a hand pump into a glass reservoir with gallon marks and then using gravity to lower the required number of gallons into a vehicle’s tank.

The little store measured some 12 by thirty feet and was stocked by those items that country folks needed to replace between visits to markets in the city, items such as bread, cigarettes, cigars, snuff, candies, thread, needles, lard, sugar, flour and various canned goods. The store was infested with rats, and my stepfather told me to close the cat up in the store and it would take care of the rats. That sounded plausible to me as a temporary measure, and then I would begin a program to domesticate my new wild pet.

It was not to be. That cat ate an entire loaf of bread the first night, leaving only the plastic wrapper. Store-bought bakery bread came in one-pound loaves only in those days—today’s one and one-half pound loaves had not yet been developed.

My stepfather indicated that he understood the cat’s depredations, considering that he had been in the woods with only bugs and field mice for sustenance, and then only if he could catch them. He told me to catch the cat and cage him, then put him in the store again in the evening. Having filled up on a full loaf of bread, the cat’s movements were slowed down, and that feeling coupled with his belief that he had found a cat’s Shangri-La made him easy to corner and catch. That day happened to be a Saturday, and at dusk I locked him in the store.

The store was closed on Sundays, and my stepfather awakened to start his usual morning with a few snifters of bourbon before breakfast, a practice that continued following breakfast, and in mid-morning we opened the store’s door and the cat catapulted out—did you get that? He catapulted out and kept going, quickly disappearing under the house some one hundred feet or so from the store.

The evidence was spread all over the floor near the bread shelves. A full pound loaf was a bit too much for him this time, and several slices were scattered about, some whole and some shredded in various stages of having been eaten.

My stepfather voiced numerous epithets, loudly and earnestly and not one of them was anything similar to “That darn cat!” No, they were not gentle, and all contained words and threats not really suitable for my young ears—not that I hadn’t heard them before, of course—and all seemed to be centered on the likely untimely demise of the cat.

And so it came to pass. My stepfather raced—staggered, actually—to the house and retrieved his 16-gage shotgun from its stance against the wall in the corner nearest to his side of the bed he shared with my mother in the combination living room/bed room. The shotgun was kept fully loaded with a live shell in the chamber, as was the military .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol he kept on a bedside stand, again on his side of the bed.

The house was built on piers that provided a substantial crawl space underneath. The shooter kneeled, peered under the house and fired one shot from the shotgun. I soon learned that the cat had been outlined against the base of the brick fireplace when the buckshot took his life.

I learned that because I was tasked to bring out the remains and dispose of them properly. It was not an easy task because numerous particles had been splattered against the bricks, but I managed to clean up everything, to not leave anything that might cause unsavory odors on hot days.

There is a story about Abraham Lincoln that I would like to tell now. It seems that some unruly urchins had inserted dynamite into a certain orifice of a stray dog and then lighted the fuse. Abe was witness to the explosion and he commented at the time that, Well, that dog won’t ever amount to anything now—at least anyway not as a dog.

That story is probably apocryphal but it serves to showcase Lincoln’s sense of humor and perhaps his belief in an afterlife, perhaps even in reincarnation. Who knows? Could be!

I know that my erstwhile potential pet, that feral feline, that thief of baked goods and consumer of the same never amounted to anything else, at least not on earth and not as a cat. And as regards reincarnation, I and my family have had several cats over the years, and I cannot discount the possibility that one or more of them could have been reincarnations of that wild cat I rescued from a life in the woods and sentenced him to be executed, to die an untimely and undignified death for no other reason than his hunger and my drunken stepfather’s temper.

That was as close as I came to having a pet while I lived with my stepfather. I did come close another time when I saw a speeding car hit a black-and-tan hound dog on the road some distance from our house. I raced to him to see if he was alive, and finding him inert but breathing I carried him back to the house.

That was no easy task—that darn hound was full grown and weighed almost as much as I did. I stretched him out on the front porch and asked my mother if I could take care of him and keep him if he lived. She assented but only after considerable thought, saying that he was probably a working dog and that my stepfather would want to keep him for hunting. We scrounged around for something to use as a bed, and with an old quilt in my arms I returned to the front porch.

The dog was gone. I looked around the yard and then glanced up the graveled road where he had been hit, and there he was, going full-tilt in the same direction he had been going when the car hit him, going at full speed without a trace of a limp, kicking up gravel with every stride.

For a moment I felt anger, not for the driver that had hit him, but for the dog that fooled me and made me stagger a considerable distance to get him to the house, then forced me to convince my mother to let me nurse him and keep him. Yep, I really took it as a personal affront that he had recovered so nicely and thus denied me an opportunity to nurse him back to good health and keep him for a pet.

My anger was brief, however—I realized that had I kept him and returned him to good health and he turned out to not be a working dog, a dog that would not contribute in some way to the family larder, he would eventually suffer the same fate suffered by the two fox terriers and the wild cat—splattered, perhaps, all over the brick fireplace and at that thought I breathed a sigh of relief.

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

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A second letter to Janie in el cielo. . .

This is the second letter I’ve written to my wife Janie since she left this realm for another, a realm on a much higher plane, the highest level of existence, and I intend to write more similar letters from time to time. Click here to read the first letter I wrote to Janie in el cielo.

In reference to the method of correspondence I have initiated between me and my wife, I realize and acknowledge that it strains credulity, but a significant number of this nation’s population and the population of the world routinely talk to a celestial being—God—and all believe that their prayers are heard. Given that followers of every religion that exists now and that has ever existed features prayer, and that prayer is fervently practiced by those followers, I feel that the strain on credulity is considerably lessened. Such followers routinely call on their God to comfort those that have passed on to a higher realm as well as those that remain on this level—in effect, in using this medium to communicate with my wife I’m simply bypassing the Middle Man—the envelope is open and can be read by all, just as you are doing now.

My second letter to my wife Janie follows:

Hi, sweetheart,

This letter will be brief because there’s not very much new to talk about. Our daughter returned to her home in Dallas today with our grandson and granddaughter. They arrived in San Antonio early in the evening three days ago on Monday, and we have been pretty busy over the past three days. We packed a lot into that time, including dinner at our San Antonio daughter’s home—lots of great leftovers from her Christmas dinner with several new items added. We also managed a trip to the Ninety-nine Cents store across from HEB. Oh, and we also took in the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Wednesday—slim pickings but our daughter found some novels that she liked, and also a large book that claims to make learning to play the piano easy—I doubt whether the family dog will appreciate the sounds that the book will generate.

Over the past several days we had the requisite tacos and fried chicken baskets from Bill Miller’s Barbeque, and MacDonald’s pancake/egg/sausage/potato/biscuit breakfasts today. On Tuesday morning I served the kids thick-sliced bacon and soft-scrambled eggs for breakfast, and as usual they made quick work of making it disappear. Yesterday we had lunch at Jason’s Deli near Costco. Our daughter had a salad, the children had pizza and as you might guess, I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup—extra hot, and I managed to sneak out two cups of ice cream to bring to our daughter that lives near us. She has been under the weather for several days with allergies brought on by the norther that swept into San Antonio recently, bringing cedar mold and other pesky airborne afflictions down from our vaunted hill country.

We visited you at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery yesterday. Your community is really busy—we estimated that at least one hundred more residents have been moved in since you’ve been there, just in the past thirty days. I read that an average of 13 burials are made daily, usually Monday through Friday. With few exceptions, Saturdays and Sundays are down days for interments.

We stopped at HEB’s supermarket, the one near our home, and the four of us selected sprays of flowers for you. The only flowers I can identify with any assurance are roses, poppies and tulips. I brought you tulips on your birthday last Sunday, but I don’t know what the sprays were that we brought yesterday—whatever species they were, they were fresh and bright and beautiful.

Workmen were busy in your community, placing floral pieces on recent arrivals and seeding and leveling the ground in the newly created area. Underground irrigation is already in place and by midsummer your community should be up to par with older established communities, with headstones in place. Creating and placing those simple marble monuments usually takes six weeks or so following interment. That should give you an idea of how busy the National Cemetery is, and that’s all year long except for holidays and weekends.

After we placed the flowers near your temporary marker and returned to the street, I told our daughter that I would like to tell the children what some people believe, and tell them that they could talk to you if they liked, but that you would not respond in any way.  Their mother seemed to have no problem with that and agreed to it.

I told our grandchildren that lots of people believe that persons that have ascended to a higher plane than on earth are still present in spirit, and can hear comments directed to them, and I told them that if they wished they could go back and talk to you. Both of the children decided they would do that, and spent some time kneeling near you. We don’t know what they said, but I’m sure you were listening.

I made several phone snapshots of the children and their mother placing the flowers, and of the children talking with you, but I won’t make them part of this letter. I’ll just keep them in the phone and let you look over my shoulder to see them.

That’s all for now, but I’ll get back to you with more news as it happens.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2010 in death, education, funeral, Military

 

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The day after Christmas, 2010 . . .

Yesterday was December 25, the Year of Our Lord, 2010. That day was Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, hailed, revered and worshiped by Christians as the Son of God and the savior of mankind, One of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was the seventy-eighth Christmas of my life, and the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife near the mid-point of the past century—1952.

I spent all but five of those 58 holidays with my wife. On Christmas Day in 1961 and 1962 I was in West Germany helping my country during our cold war with the Soviet Union, a war that ended in a cold stalemate. That stalemate continues to this day under different names and titles. I was in South Viet Nam on Christmas Day in 1970 and 1971, helping our country lose the war against North Viet Nam.

Just as an aside, I spend Christmas Day in 1950 and 1951 helping our country lose another war, the one ineptly labeled the Korean conflict, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 American lives over four years of fighting, a conflict that ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. Apparently stalemates run in our national history.

Yesterday was the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife, the love of my life. It was only the fifth Christmas that I did not spend with my wife and my family. My wife died last month on the eighteenth day of November, and I spent most of yesterday alone in the house we have lived in for the past twenty-two years, alone with the furniture, decorations, artwork, various collections and photographs, my wife’s clothing and other personal articles, and our memories we accumulated over the past fifty-eight years of our marriage.

I spend most of Christmas day at home, but I accepted an invitation to enjoy a Christmas dinner with one of my three daughters and her family that live nearby. Earlier in the day I visited my wife at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I had planned to place a beautiful plant that our neighbors to the west, the finest next-door neighbors in existence, brought over as a Christmas gift, a beautiful poinsettia. I wanted it to grace my wife’s grave, and I intended to tell her how kind and thoughtful the neighbors were to give us the plant.

I wanted to believe—no, I did believe—that she would know the flowers were there. I realized that the plant would last longer in the home than in the open, subject to heat and cold and lack of moisture, but I felt that its brief life in the open would be better than watching it age and wither in our home—frankly speaking, I do not have a green thumb, and it’s a given that any potted plant will not last long under my tutelage.

I visited my wife without the poinsettia. My previous perfectly plotted perverted poinsettia plan (I really do love alliteration) was abandoned when I stepped outside to check the weather . The air was bitterly cold and a strong blustery wind was blowing, and I realized that the tall poinsettia plant would be lying flat and frozen even before I left the cemetery. I decided to let the plant remain in the home and take its chances with me, with the firm resolve to take flowers to my wife the following day, December 26, the day of her birth in 1932.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Carnation Milk & Swanson Turkey . . .

The company that makes Carnation Evaporated Milk did not offer $5000 for the best slogan beginning with Carnation Milk is best of all . . . , nor did the company ever make such an offer, neither in the 1940s nor at any time before or after the 1940s. The company also did not award a woman $1000 for a submission that they loved but could not use for advertising. Snopes gives many examples of doggerel supposedly submitted to Carnation for the contest. Click here for the story as told by Snopes.com. The simple—and I really do mean simple—verse that I learned sometime in the decade of the 1940s is:

No tits to pull,
No hay to pitch,

Just punch a hole
In the son-of-a-bitch.

Now I would like to share with my legions of readers a tale entitled, What I had for breakfast this morning. This may seem to be a stretch from the Carnation ditty, but please trust me—the stories are related, so read on.

I enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast this morning. I dined, alone of course, on roasted carved turkey with stuffing, carrots, whipped potatoes and brown gravy at 5:00 AM on this chilly December morning in south central Texas. My meal was beautifully displayed in a plastic shell with dividers between each of the various components, then covered with clear plastic sheathing and enclosed in a nicely decorated sealed cardboard box.

The box included the information that, if kept frozen, the meal could safely be consumed up to December 25, 1911 and I assumed that included Christmas day. Speaking strictly for myself, I believe that such items can safely be consumed centuries later—if kept frozen. However, pay no attention to anything that I say when speaking strictly for myself—I could be wrong.

In addition to the graphics the box gave directions for cooking, either in a conventional oven or a microwave oven, along with a plethora of nutrition facts including the fact that the meal constituted fully one-third of my daily value of sodium—bummer!

It also gave a brief but concise history of the Swanson Classics, entitled A Menu of Mouthwatering Memories, from its beginnings in 1954 through the year 2007. Swanson claims the title of The Original TV Dinner—based on my limited one-time experience with Swanson Dinners, I have no reason to doubt that claim, nor do I doubt its  claim for palatability and safe consumption if kept frozen—so far.

Thanks to Swanson’s turkey, my breakfast was a resounding success—a piece of cake so to speak, and I penned the piece of doggerel below to commemorate that success. I apologize in advance for any misery that may be caused by exposure to it, whether from the ode per se or by any consumption of any Swanson product by one or more of my readers related to their having read this posting. In fine, I am not recommending this product to anyone. I’m simply recounting my experience of a Swanson turkey breakfast on a chilly day in south central Texas—and simply is the operative word.

Ode To Swanson’s Frozen Turkey Dinner

No turkey to kill,
No gravy to make,
No ‘taters to peel,
No bread to bake.

No table to clear,
Nothing to freeze,
No dishes to wash,
I’m free as a breeze.

A fine turkey breakfast
And I’m on my knees,
Giving thanks to Swanson,
For meals such as these.

I have already apologized for foisting off the burden of my Ode To Swanson’s Frozen Turkey Dinner to my legions of unsuspecting readers, but I feel compelled to reinforce that apology through repetition—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2010 in Family, Humor, kitchen appliances, television

 

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Battling e-mails . . .

Battling e-mails . . .

For some time I have considered posting this series of e-mails but I have held the posting in abeyance until now. I doubt that many viewers will hang on long enough to finish reading it, but that will be their loss. It seemed to me in the past that a rift had been created between me and the finest neighbor and friend one could ever wish for, and through no fault of either of us. Nevertheless, it appeared to exist—now it seems to have gone away, or perhaps never was.

These are the e-mails that passed between me and my neighbor lady to the west, posted as transmitted and as received. My e-mails are in standard type and hers are in italics.

Feb 3, 2010:

Good morning, Sherlock Holmes here:

I’m currently conducting an investigation to determine why and how my daily copy of the Express-News is mysteriously appearing on my front step, neatly placed there by someone or something to be determined. It was there this morning at an early hour. Today is the second time the phenomenon has occurred in as many weeks, and we had rain on both days.

My first thought was that the paper carrier wanted to ensure that the paper stayed dry, but it was double-bagged and would have to be submerged before it could suffer any damage. Besides, I have not remitted a gratuity to the carrier since 2007 and cannot reasonably expect her to be so obliging. Unless, of course, she is buttering me up for the coming Christmas season. I suppose that could be it, but I have serious doubts.

I next considered the possibility that Rudy, the cat that lives with the family across the street, is picking the paper up with his teeth and placing it in a dry spot, hoping for a continuation of the chicken and salmon handouts.

That is not likely, because he was nowhere in sight when I picked up the paper either time. He did not show at all on the first day, and as of the time of this writing I have not seen him today. That reduces the probability that he is doing the good deed. I suppose Ralph, the cat that resides with my neighbor to the west, could harbor the same thoughts, but I would think that Rudy would be more likely.

There is a third possibility, one a teeny bit more plausible than the first two. Two weeks ago I stepped out on my stoop, looked very carefully in all directions, except to the rear because no danger lurked in that direction. The coast was clear (so to speak), so I ambled out toward the mailbox (the paper was in proximity to said letter receptacle). Wearing a bright green fuzzy housecoat and brown house shoes, I arrived at my destination and bent over to pick up my paper, and at that instant I heard someone say, very audibly and gleefully, “I wish I had a camera!”

As to whether my ensemble included pajamas, it did not. A pair of skinny white legs were in full view. Well, not in full view, just up to mid-tibia. Said legs were supported by a matching pair of skinny white feet, ensconced in brown leather house shoes.

So the third possibility is that the person that voiced that wish, not wishing to be faced with that apparition again, is defending himself by placing the paper on my stoop, thereby keeping me out of sight in the process of retrieving my paper.

This is a very serious investigation, and I would be grateful for any and all assistance.

Feb 3, 2010

WHAT???? Your paper doesn’t get wet??? Our paper gets soaked. Now that I think about it, the water probably runs down the driveway right into the bag. Well, I don’t think you need to worry about your paper phenomenon any longer. Do let me know if the culprit starts hiding the paper, though. That would definitely require a more thorough investigation.

Kathy

At this point a three-day quiet ensues with no e-mails between me and my neighbor. I was very busy running between home and the hospital and I neglected to read and respond to my e-mails.

Feb 6, 2010

It has been eerily quiet over there. Did my response offend you? You are very funny and clever in your writings. When I try that tactic, it usually backfires, since I am neither funny nor clever. I did put your paper on your porch because I thought it was getting soaked like ours often does. Your white legs had nothing to do with it! Now that I know your paper does not get wet, I’ll leave it there. You are free to retrieve it in whatever attire you choose. I often retrieve our paper in my robe. So, let’s just agree to leave our cameras out of this.

Kathy

P.S. You are a very good writer, a trait that obviously not everyone has. I hope you decide to continue writing your memoirs for a potential book. I’d definitely buy one, but I would want it autographed.

Feb 7, 2010

Hi, Kathy,

I read your e-mail at 2:30 this morning (I had a brief sleep last night —up at 2:01). Nothing new there, of course—my sleep is brief on most nights.

A hundred mea culpas!

No, make that a thousand mea culpas because there is nothing you, Kevin or Ralph could do to offend me, and had you and Kevin and Ralph not banished the girls to another exotic location, there is nothing they could do to offend me. Even if you, Kevin, Ralph, the banished iguanas and your extended family banded together in a concerted effort to offend me, I would not be offended. The only way you could possibly come close to offending me would be to take me and my babbling seriously—life is simply too short for me to be serious—besides, it’s not in my nature!

I had the best of intentions to answer your previous two e-mails, the one on Victor Borge’s video that Cindy posted, and the one in which you asked me to let you know “if the culprit starts hiding the paper.” Of course, as the saying goes, “The road to (fill in the blank) is paved with good intentions.”

Unfortunately, recent events got in the way and I delayed my responses (actually, that means I forgot to respond). We’ve had an unusually busy week, and things are not going as well as we would like. Yesterday especially was not a good day, but things seem to have leveled off. I believe—I hope and I pray—that the worst is over.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I found that phrase on Wikipedia— I am greviously at fault, and as an apology Wikipedia said it far better than I could.

I have no knowledge of how or why or when your Sunday paper was placed neatly just outside your door this morning, placed at a right angle to the street (I just pray that the picker-upper doesn’t trip over it). Also if I were forced to guess, I would guess that it was placed by some nut wearing a bright green robe, etc., etc. I would also hazard a guess that the deed was accomplished somewhere around 6:00 AM (Central Time).

March 2, 2010:

A card from Kathy, delivered by the US Postal Service although our mailboxes are approximately sixty feet apart:

Dear green-robed phantom and your pink-robed wife:

Thank you so much for the delicious edible arrangement! That was quite a surprise. The other big surprise is that you used 4 exclamation points after “Happy Birthday.” I was so perplexed that I questioned Kevin, “Do we know any other green and pink-robed couples?”

I hope you know that your presence as our neighbors is truly a real gift. Any more than that is really not necessary. Thank you, though. That was very kind!

Your (one year older) neighbor,

Kathy

March 3, 2010

Dear One Year Older Neighbor,

Thanks for the card and for the kind thoughts, especially the thought that you consider our presence as your neighbors to be a real gift. I wish I had said it first but I didn’t, so I’ll just bounce it right back at you. Regarding our presence as neighbors, As ours is to you, so yours is to us.

On the subject of exclamation points, I have given up. You know that in a dog fight the vanquished dog, rather than running, may simply end the fight by lying on his back, thereby giving the victor access to his underbelly, his most vulnerable area—it is a sign of surrender.

I’m not going to that extreme, but I have surrendered. I have given up on my quest to eliminate, or even to reduce, exclamation points. I realize that the practice is too well entrenched, so I’ve decided that if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em! And I enjoy it—it’s fun!

I just took a closer look at the sentence that says “As ours is to you, so yours is to us.” When viewed out of context it seems to take on some profound meaning, similar to a Tibetan monk’s summary of life or some other chant.

Try it. Read it aloud several times. Look real solemn and speak in a deep tone. You’ll find that it takes on mystic properties. I think I may have created something. I should probably copyright it!

March 4, 2010:

You are so funny!! I wish the Express-News would replace that Marcie Meffert (Elders Express) in the S.A. Life with your writing. I’m not sure what the “elders” is for, and I’m not implying anything concerning your age here. I think she writes for the group of readers who would also qualify for AARP membership, older folks fifty-ish plus. I have only read her articles a few times, but I have yet to read one that I like. She tries to tell stories about her life, and I think she is trying to be humorous. She seems to be lacking the charm that you seem to have captured. You are a far superior writer, and way funnier! This “Dear Neighbor” writing had me LOL today! I agree on the mystic properties—copyright it!

Kathy

March 5, 2010:

Those are some really kind words. Ain’t nobody that good, but you finally convinced me! Normally I would be delighted to replace the Meffert lady, but I have such distaste for the Express-News that I would be unwilling to have my name associated with it. I fought a running battle last year with Bob Richter, the editor for Letters to the Editor—dueling e-mails, if you will, and I won—he apologized for his lapse in judgment. He had asked for permission to print my letter, saying that he liked it but would omit my “whining” about the paper. I refused to authorize its publication.

I no longer strive to have my thoughts printed in Your Turn of the Metro section of the Express-News—my gain, the public’s loss. However, I sometimes throw rocks at the paper by posting items that I did not submit for publication, then I bad-mouth the Express-News on Word Press by claiming that my submission was rejected. Sneaky, huh?

Kathy, it really is a small world—we were neighbors to the Meffert family for several years in the latter part of the 1960s, with only one house between us, in what was then a decent lower-middle-class neighborhood near Lackland Air Force Base. It’s now a shambles, a nightmare with gang activity everywhere, gunshots frequently heard both day and night, lots of graffiti, chain-link-fenced front yards and junked cars behind them. The fences are not to keep the kids in—they’re there to keep the dogs out and to slow down burglars laden with items purloined from the houses.

Marcie had five children, two girls and three boys, their ages ranging from one year up to nine years—a very fertile lady, that one! Her husband was a surgical dentist in Lackland’s dental service, and attended me through a long series of dental procedures required by my failure to pay proper attention to dental matters. I was a smoker at the time—he said he did not smoke, and frequently lectured me on the evils of tobacco, then on almost every visit apologetically bummed a cigarette from me.

We were never close friends with the parents. We waved at them when appropriate, and Marcie and Janie often stood outside to discuss whatever women discuss—their children, I would suspect—Marcie was usually out looking for her children. As best as I can remember, neither family ever entered the other family’s house, probably because neither family ever invited the other family in. However, we came to know her children well. She put them out to graze each morning and called them back in for lunch and dinner, leaving the neighbors to look out for the kids. They were well behaved—the older girl was Cindy’s best friend, and she spent lots of time in our home.

All five children received good educations and seemed to fare well following graduation. Cindy’s best friend Lisa died several months ago—her obituary in the Express-News said only that she died suddenly. The obituary included her siblings’ names, marital status and their whereabouts. Their various professions were impressive—two colonels in the military, two doctors and one biology professor. I am of the opinion that their early association with our girls gave them the necessary head start to put them on the way to success—then again, maybe not.

When we returned to San Antonio in 1987, Marcie was the mayor of Leon Valley and wrote a column on city activities. I believe the Elders Express gig came after she was no longer the mayor. We have never made any effort to contact her to talk about old times. Lacking any strong desire to relive history with Marcie, we have been content to read her columns. Those columns, along with her daughter’s obituary, comprise our knowledge of her and her family.

But it is a small world, wouldn’t you agree?

March 5, 2010:

Agreed—a very small world sometimes! I hope that my observations of her writings weren’t too unkind. I just think that you would be a much better writer for that spot in the paper. Well, as long as I’m wishing, you’d make a far better editor to the Letters to the Editor too, but let’s not even go there!

I see that you and Kevin must have talked. He didn’t know that I would be home for a short time this afternoon and I didn’t know either. One of my tutoring students canceled out, so they may make the delivery while I’m here. If they do I’ll call and let you know. Thanks!

Kathy

March 5, 2010

Your observations of her writings were not unkind at all, and your analysis of her work is right on. Writing with a restricted amount of space is more difficult than the writing I do. I have unlimited space and therefore just keep writing until I everything I want to say has been said, and is available somewhere among the verbiage. The reader just needs to keep sifting through the chaff in order to find the kernels of wheat.

At various duty stations during my military career, I wrote performance reports for a whole gaggle of people, officers as well as enlisted people, and that included writing my own performance reports. My superior only needed to sign them. The writing wasn’t part of my job. People heard about the guy that could get a person promoted and came to me with the details. I fashioned them into a performance report. The narrative had to be fitted into a limited space, and I soon learned that 250 words wrested from my vocabulary filled that space nicely. When I reached the magic number, I stopped writing.

No, writing such reports was not my job. I was a maintenance analysis superintendent, whatever that was, and I dealt more with numbers than with words. I hated numbers and loved words. Go figure!

While at Kelly Air Force Base in the late 1960s, I wrote performance reports for my commanding officer. In our association over a period of five years, he was promoted twice, from lieutenant colonel to full colonel and then to brigadier general. Coincidentally, I was promoted twice during the same period. My pay raises were not quite as generous as his, of course, and shortly after the second promotion, both his and mine, I was unceremoniously shipped off to Vietnam. I guess the general figured that one star was all he was going to get. Bummer!

November 16, 2010:

That concludes the exchange of e-mails between me and my neighbor. I trust that some of my viewers made it this far in this posting. I realize it’s lengthy, but I also realize that it contains some interesting neighborly communications, perhaps with comical, even historical value that may appeal to my family and to my neighbor and her family, and perhaps to some of my viewers—I hope, I hope!

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

 

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My first port director—my friend and my mentor . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a GS-7 trainee at the port of Progreso, Texas and I was upgraded to the GS-9 journeyman position after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. Almost from the beginning we were like brothers, respectful of each other and each always looking out for the other’s back.

As a measure of how well the port director taught me, I was awarded an in-grade pay increase in my second year and another in my third year, both based on my duty performance, particularly on my arrest and seizure record. An in-grade pay increase is a pay raise given for outstanding performance, and is in addition to the normal longevity raises given to federal employees based purely on successful duty performances. In-grade pay increases are the gifts that keep on giving!

Some ten years older than I, the port director took me under his wing like a mother hen protects a chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities. I also was brash enough to submit several suggestions that I felt would improve port operations, and upper headquarters felt impelled to implement my suggestions and provide remuneration for my ideas. How about that!

His most recent assignment was at the port of Eagle Pass, almost 300 miles upriver from Progreso. In the latter part of 1971 Progreso became a separate port from the port of Hidalgo, and he was promoted to the position of port director for the new port. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead.

Paul, my first port director and supervisor in Customs—my friend and my mentor—was buried in Brownsville, Texas some fifty miles distant from Progreso. I was unavoidably delayed at the port and the casket was closed when I arrived at the funeral home. The funeral director offered to open the casket for my viewing but I declined the offer. I figured that Paul had once again been promoted and was already on the way to his next assignment, that shining port in the hereafter, and I was reluctant to slow him down.

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

 

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First kiss, first train ride, first bicycle . . .

A preview: Her name was Joyce, the train ride was from Memphis to Washington, D.C. and the bike was blue.

Events leading up to the three firsts . . .

Sometimes when I look back over my shoulder the past is shrouded in the mists of time, and dates and places and people and events appear crowded together and all trying to be in the front row, hoping for recognition and a trip from the past to the present. Some things are irrevocably fixed in my memory but others are hazy and must be tailored to adapt to whatever story I’m telling at the time. An astute reader may find that some dates overlap—in some instances I may have the cart before the horse, but the error is inadvertent, and I will place a standing apology for such errors—hey, I’m almost 78 years old—I have earned the right to err occasionally.

For several years my wife and I collected gnomes, small statues created by Tom Clark, a retired priest that lives and creates in North Carolina. Folklore has it that the gnomes move around during the night, visiting other gnomes, and sometimes do not return to the place they left. Several times over the years I have found a gnome at a place different than I remembered it had been. Memories are very similar—we search for a thought in the place we believe it should be, but eventually find it in another by relating it to something different—if we find it at all!

I believe that we—my mother, my sister Dot and I—left Columbus, Mississippi in the winter of 1944 when I  was twelve and traveled by bus to Durant, Mississippi, a small town northeast of Jackson. My mother was an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse, and for a year or two she tended a bedridden elderly widow in Durant. My mother’s compensation for that task was the income generated by a large house owned by the invalid, a house that had been converted into several apartments. Her patient also lived there and my mother furnished around-the-clock nursing care for her.

Our family had a furnished apartment at no cost with all utilities paid, and my mother managed the facility. She rented the apartments, collected the rents and maintained the house—anything left over was hers, part of the salary agreement between her and the widow’s son—when the rents fell short of their agreement, he supplemented her salary as necessary.

Our move to Durant was during a period of a forced separation from our stepfather, one created by him as were all the other times we were thrown out to continue our lives as best as we could. A few weeks earlier we were living on a forty-acre farm some 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi. My sister and I bolted out of the house one morning following an altercation with our stepfather. We ran out to the middle of the road, and he called us back to the house from the front porch. When we refused, he said he was going for his shotgun and we left at top speed, running toward the woods bordering the graveled road we were running on. We stayed hidden in the woods while our mother and stepfather rode back and forth in the car calling us to come back home. We remained hidden until they finally gave up on us. Click here for a detailed explanation of the incident. We left the farm that morning and never went back.

My first kiss . . .

Now on to the salacious stuff—no, nothing x-rated. I refer specifically and respectfully, to my first real kiss-in-the-face, a memorable kiss bestowed on me by a girl that was a bit taller and a few months older than I, and here I will hasten to add that while it was my first osculation, it was far from her first—in retrospect and in view of subsequent similar situations, I would have to give her a perfect 10 in the art of kissing.

Her name was Joyce, and her father owned and operated a small radio repair shop just off Main Street in Durant. Her house was only a few blocks from the shop, and I was invited to a party there. When I arrived the guests—all teenagers and no adults present—were playing a game called Spin the Bottle—the name of the game was familiar, but in all my twelve years I had never played the game, simply because I had never had the opportunity.

All the players stood around in a circle and one player placed a bottle on the floor in the center of the circle and gave it a hard spin. When the bottle stopped spinning, the spinner and the pointee were required to kiss—not a cheek kiss or an air kiss, but a real kiss-in-the-mouth kiss. No, there was none of that same-sex stuff. If the spinner was a girl and the bottle pointed at another girl, the spinner kept spinning until it pointed at a boy, and if the spinner was a boy—well, you get the picture. Yes, we were having a gay old time, but in those days gay meant something very different than it does today. And yes, we were all high, but from the salt on potato chips and the sugar in Pepsi—those were the good old days! Pot was something my mother used for cooking, and crack was—well, crack, whether the verb or the noun, certainly meant things other than cocaine crystals!

I joined the game as one of those in the circle, and Joyce was in the center when I joined. It was her floor and her bottle, and I’m reasonably sure that she had played the game before and knew how to control the bottle’s revolutions, just like the people running the roulette wheels in Las Vegas. She gave the bottle a spin and when it stopped it was pointed at me, and the rest is history.

I would like to say that with that first kiss I heard angels singing, a mighty host on high, but the only thing I heard was Joyce groaning during the kiss, low-voiced but clearly audible, a long string of low voiced uumm, uumm, uumms, etc. I was there, of course, but Joyce had a firm grip on my head and both my ears, and she used my mouth and my lips and my tongue in bestowing the kiss, but I had absolutely no control over any part of the process. I would like to say that I tingled all over, in places that I had never before tingled, but I can’t say that—well, I had tingled all over before, but never from a kiss.

The part of the kiss I remember most is the tongue—mine, not hers. I thought my tongue was a goner, but I finally managed to extract it with only a small hickey at the tip, and I talked with a slight lisp for several days afterward—I also walked with a slight limp.  At this point, in the interests of self-preservation and showing the proper respect to the fairer sex, I’ll have nothing more to say on the subject of Joyce and my first kiss.

My first train ride . . .

Around Christmas time in 1946 I stuffed my pitifully sparse wardrobe into a small metal trunk, loaded it into Papa John’s 1939 Plymouth sedan in mid-afternoon and left Durant in the rear view mirror, en route to Memphis, Tennessee, a distance of 152 miles. With us hurtling along at 45 miles per hour, the trip took four hours. Papa’s plan was to spend the night in Memphis and  put me on a train to Washington, D.C. early the next morning. I could have traveled to Memphis by train, but that would have required a change in Memphis—I have no doubt that my mother insisted on the trip by auto—Papa would have cheerfully waved goodbye to me had the train been headed west to California.

We arrived in Memphis in late afternoon and checked in at a hotel for the night. When we walked in, Papa strode to the front desk, an imposing figure dressed in a long-sleeved western-cut khaki shirt with a black tie held in place with a gold-and-silver tie clasp of a western boot spur and rowel, khaki western-cut trousers, tan sombrero and cowboy boots, twirling a stout cudgel he laughingly called a walking stick, and said, Good afternoon, my good man, I would like to speak to the manager. The clerk obligingly stepped to the back and returned with a person he introduced as the manager.

Papa told the manager that we would be in his fair city overnight and required accommodations for two. Yep, a third-rate hotel located near the train terminal in a seedy rundown section of the city, and he acted as though it was the Waldorf-Astoria. The manager personally made the room assignment, probably with the full belief that he was dealing with a Texas tycoon. As you may have already guessed, Papa put on a good show.

Now fast forward to my arrival in Washington at Union Station where I was met by my brother. I say fast forward because I have no recollection of the rest of my stay in Memphis, nothing of the room or a restaurant that evening or the next morning, or of boarding the train early the next morning—if it’s still in my memory banks they refuse to give it up. I hasten to add that I have not suppressed any memories because of any calamitous event—it’s simply that the interval between the conversation at the front desk and my arrival at Union Station is unmemorable—even though it was my very first train ride, I have retained no memories of it—I remember well and can clearly visualize my arrival at Union Station, me brother meeting me and the drive to my brother’s house.

In the seven years between my mother’s marriage to my stepfather and my enlistment in the military, I was little more than a tumbleweed, moved hither and thither at the whim of the prevailing winds. A shift in the breezes and I was off a tangent or reversed direction, bound for one state or another, one city or another, put off—or put on, perhaps—one relative or another for one reason or another. To put it another way, I was a rolling stone, but believe me, I gathered lots of moss in the form of memories that lurk in the recesses of a brain approaching the end of its eighth decade of compiling and filing people, places and particles of thought.

My first bicycle . . .

The bicycle was new, blue with cream accents, packed in a huge cardboard box, fully assembled except for the handlebars and pedals. My brother brought it home early in the evening, and I removed it from the box and started putting on the pedals and the handlebars, but my brother stopped me. He told me to take the bike apart, in as many pieces as I could, to clean the wheel bearings of their prepacked factory grease and replace the grease with a special brand he used on his fleet of trucks. Then I could reassemble the bike and ride it. I grumbled mightily, but I did as I was told—I learned early on that my brother didn’t back down on any orders he gave.

By the time I broke the bicycle down into its smallest pieces, cleaned and repacked the bearings and reassembled everything it was after 10 pm, but I put the bike through its paces, and rode around the neighborhood for more than an hour. I don’t believe that any gift I have ever been given, or any gift that I have given myself, has ever given me as much pleasure as I experienced that night—well, I suppose there are things that have given me, and still give me, as much pleasure, but they don’t last nearly as long as that bike’s did! And I brought it home to Mississippi, lashed to the rear bumper when Larry and I left Maryland.

Our leaving Maryland is a story in itself—our departure was the result of events that included an illicit tryst of a couple at a drive-in theater, each married to another person, the discovery of that tryst by the husband of the woman, a bottle of sleeping pills and a pint of whiskey, events and elements that resulted in a separation and ultimately a divorce and a division of properties and the custody of two children given to their mother. I’ll get back to you later with more details.

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

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Family, trains, Travel

 

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Letter to Lorene—December 6, 1994 . . .

San Antonio Int’l Airport

December 6, 1993

Dear Rene,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, you must have really had to go!

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

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

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

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

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

Mike

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

 

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How to build a fire in the wilderness . . .

This posting is prompted by a comment made by my daughter, a lovely young woman that comprises one-third of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and has a full-time job tending to and pacifying one husband, one son, one daughter and one Miniature Australian Shepherd, aptly named Wrigley.

A special note: That Miniature Australian Shepherd—the one aptly named Wrigley and tended to and pacified by my daughter—is a dog, a sweet, friendly, intelligent and talented canine—sweeter, friendlier, more intelligent and more talented than some homo sapiens I have known. Wrigley is a dog—he is not a person of diminutive size, of Australian heritage and a tender of sheep—I just felt that I should set the record straight on that! And one more thought concerning Wrigley: He is indeed wriggly—wriggly to a fault—he wriggles incessantly, but it is neither his fault nor mine that my daughter misspells his name. I have pointed out the misspelling, but she rambles on and on about some field called Wrigley—that shouldn’t happen to a dog!

The image above shows Wrigley and friends—these three constitute three-fourths of those my daughter loves, tends to and pacifies. Brennan is on the left, Macie is on the right and Wrigley is in the center.

The image on the right shows Brennan and Macie with last year’s Santa Claus—that’s Santa in the center. Santa in the center sounds kinda like hip-hop, doesn’t it? It could be a starter for a bit of Christmas wrapping—get it? Wrapping versus rapping, get it? Oh, alright, forget it!

Apparently Brennan has figured out the Santa Claus thing—this is the first Christmas that he has questioned his mother as to why Santa is wearing sneakers instead of shiny black boots.

My daughter’s comment was on my posting of some of my boyhood activities—click here for an exciting tour of the Big Ditch, a story of dining out on frog legs, building a fire without two Boy Scouts to rub together and other fascinating renditions of my life as a youngster living in a house on the south side in Columbus, Mississippi.

This is my daughter’s comment on the Big Ditch blog:

Ok, I didn’t know about this. Who knew how to start a fire?  How did you cook the frogs?  This is very Grapes of Wrathish, Dad.  And to think we didn’t even go camping when we were growing up…look what we missed out on.  Great story.

This is my response to her questions:

We started a fire in those days by using something known as matches. They were small pieces of wood about the length of wooden toothpicks with a bulbous red and white ball at one end, a ball that would burst into flames when scratched on a rough surface, and that flame was applied to a pile of dry leaves and/or dry grass, and various bits of bark and dry sticks were added as the fire progressed.

The matches came in a colorful box similar to the boxes that banks use to mail a new supply of checks to their customers. I was frequently dispatched to the store to purchase a nickel box of matches—and can anyone guess the cost of a nickel box of matches?

Hey, you guessed it! A nickel box of matches cost just five cents and no tax, only one twentieth of a dollar, a nickel. I never counted the number of matches in a nickel box of matches, but I know that they numbered in the hundreds, and perhaps a thousand or more—that box held a lot of matches!

We did not cook the entire frog—we used only the legs, amputating and skinning them, then into the pan for frying in pure lard, an item always available in any kitchen in the land. And I know that none will believe me when I say that the frogs were still hopping around for hours following the surgery—looking back on it I would like to think that bullfrogs grew new legs, much as the salamander, or geco or whatever that little fellow is called, grows a new tail when a predator relives him of the old one—that isn’t likely, of course—it was probably nothing more than reflex.

Okay, I’ll admit it—that’s a joke, a bit grim and gross but still a joke—they had no back legs and could not possibly be hopping around. And if anyone finds the joke offensive and complains in the comment section, possibly someone connected with PETA, I will consider removing it—consider, mind you—the actual removal would depend on the number of comments, their sources and their content—that’s fair enough, don’t you think?

Click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know about matches.
Below is a brief definition of a match,  plagiarized from Wikipidea and provided here in order to stimulate your appetite for more information.

A match is a small stick of wood or strip of cardboard with a solidified mixture of flammable chemicals deposited on one end. When that end is struck on a rough surface, the friction generates enough heat to ignite the chemicals and produce a small flame. Some matches, called strike-anywhere matches, may be ignited by striking them on any rough surface. Other matches, called safety matches, will ignite only when they are struck on a special rough surface containing certain chemicals.

The matches were used—and still are used—by smokers to light their cigarettes in underdeveloped nations and in certain remote areas of the United States, primarily in mountainous and swampy areas in southern states. There were three smokers in my family—my mother and two older sisters, and a nickel box of matches was emptied in a short time. And just as an aside, a few years later when my mother—yes, your grandmother Hester—taught me to play poker we used those giant matches as poker chips, and as dollar chips when she taught me to play dice—to shoot craps, if you will. So much for the parental warning for kids never to play with matches, right?

Nowadays folks light their cigarettes with items known as lighters. One of those items is a slender cylindrical pistol-grip rod equipped with a trigger—one needs only pull the trigger and a blue flame of some unknown composition leaps out and is applied to whatever  combustible material that one wishes to light, whether gas logs in the fireplace, an outdoor gas grill or a non-filter-tipped Camel cigarette or a filter-tipped Kool cigarette, the smokes of choice for the smokers in my family.

Just a word of caution here: Should one choose to use the pistol-grip lighter to light a cigarette, the cigarette should be of considerable length and the flame applied carefully, otherwise the user’s mustache, eyebrows, lips, nose and other facial features may suffer horribly.

Cigar and cigarette smokers have their choice of an infinite variety of other devices also known as lighters, items normally carried by males in a pocket and by ladies in a purse. Extraction of the lighter and a flick of one’s thumb produces the wherewithal to cause the end of a cigarette or cigar to begin the burning process through which one is enabled to inhale smoke containing scadjillions of cancer-causing elements, most of which are left behind in the smoker’s lungs after exhaling.

Ain’t progress wonderful?!

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

A special note for my daughter: I apologize for the absence of camping trips while you were in the process of growing up, but after you achieved the status of grown-up—long after—well, not that long—you and I and your mother and your Aunt Winnie spend a week camping in Nevada and Utah, albeit in various hotels and motels, but it was a hoot, right?

Right?

Right!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South—a goose for Thanksgiving . . .

The word goose in the above title is not intended to be a verb, one that refers to the application of one’s hand, normally using the middle digit, to the derriere of another person, a motion that can be applied lightly, forcefully, brutally, playfully, laughingly, meaningfully or enjoyably but never accidentally. If one has goosed or has been goosed, both gooses were delivered purposefully and received unwittingly without choice—no, in this usage the plural of goose is not geese.

The word goose in the above title is a noun, the name for a large bird that exists in large numbers in the wild, but a bird that is also domesticated and raised for its food and feathers. In this case the plural of goose is geese—the birds shown on the right are geese.

When I was a child in Columbus, Mississippi we lived some thirty miles from our relatives in Alabama, and on Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays we traveled to Alabama to celebrate the day or they traveled to Columbus for the same reason. I can vividly remember a Thanksgiving that was celebrated at our house. a celebration that featured a large cast-iron wash pot and a large not-cast-iron goose.

On the day before Thanksgiving the men fashioned a tripod using lengths of 2×4 lumber similar to the method used by Indians to erect a tepee (also spelled tipi). A fire was laid in the center of the circle formed by the structure but not immediately lighted, the iron tub was firmly suspended from the apex of the tripod and filled with water and the goose, nicely cleaned of everything deemed not edible, went into the pot along with requisite other items—onions, potatoes, carrots and everything else that goes good with goose, and the fire was lighted and the goose was cooked—in fact, one could say truthfully that the goose’s goose was cooked—-just a bit of humor there!

The fire was tended for the remainder of that day and far into the night while the goose cooked and we children played, but never beyond the light supplied by the fire and by lights mounted on the sides of the house. The women sat and talked about everything and everybody except themselves and sang gospel songs, and the men talked about hunting and farming and fishing—occasionally one of the men would walk away just outside the circle of light and tilt a bottle up toward the moon to take a quick swig of its contents—they seemed to be taking turns at that—I’m unsure whether it was the same bottle, but I imagine there was more than one among the group

I was away from the scene and tucked in for the night long before the contents of the pot were removed and taken to the kitchen to await the next day’s carving and dining, kids playing, women gossiping and singing more church hymns and the men taking frequent short walks behind the house with a not-so-mysterious bulge in their shirt or hip pocket.

That goose—the bird, not the verb—was gifted by one of the visiting Alabama relatives that kept a flock of geese around the house for food purposes and to a lesser extent for watch purposes—yep, geese make good watchdogs and will sound the alarm when necessary—actually sound the alarm when anyone is near, whether friend or foe—it’s in their nature.

We lived next door to one of my mother’s sisters, a family of four—counting that four, our five and the relatives from Alabama there was a real gaggle of people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, and we needed a lot of goose. To emphasize the number of people, picture a flatbed two-ton truck with no sideboards and its flatbed covered with passengers, folks lined on three sides with legs dangling and with more riders seated in the center plus several standing at the rear of the truck’s cab and several more in the cab. The dangling legs belonged to adults—the children were safely ensconced in the center of the flatbed.

The image above shows the actual gathering on that Thanksgiving day. It’s a painting made from a quick sketch by one of my uncles and later put on canvas—acrylic, I believe. The other image, by the same uncle, is a painting of my mother presenting the cooked goose to the diners—the fellow behind her is her boyfriend.

Hey, I knew I couldn’t fool my readers—you’re right—that image is a painting of the first Thanksgiving created by American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930), and that is not my mother in the other image, nor is that her boy friend. That’s a painting by Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), one of the Four Freedoms series painted by one of America’s best-loved and most-collected artists—this is his conception of Freedom from Want. The others are Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear and Freedom of Worship.

The truck was overloaded when it arrived, but somehow when it left late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day it accommodated all that had arrived on it plus me and my youngest sister and all the leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner, including a considerable amount of goose and goose dressing—yes, that was one large goose and a monumental amount of goose dressing.

That’s my story of a memorable Thanksgiving day when I was a boy, and I’m sticking to it!


 
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Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Two pets for Christmas presents . . .

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.

Merry Christmas!

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!

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South and mumps for Christmas . . .

Christmas morning dawned clear and bright in my town in 1939. I was seven years old that year, an adventurous second-grader that had wished for a cowboy outfit from the Sears catalog, one complete with a gun belt hosting rows of silver bullets and two guns in their holsters, tied down at mid-thigh to facilitate quick draws, sheepskin chaps, a colorful bandana, genuine imitation leather cowboy boots and a genuine high-crowned western sombrero that would shield me from the heat of the western sun and serve as a tool to beat dust from my clothing after an arduous trail drive of cattle to the rail head for shipment to the hordes of people in Chicago longing for western beef and also serve as a drinking vessel for my horse as shown in Hollywood movies.

Evidently Santa was unaware of my wish, or else he mistakenly gave my cowboy outfit to some other kid. Instead I got a drum and a toy train and mumps. Yep, mumps—I awoke Christmas morning with a headache and two serious lumps, one behind each ear. I don’t remember going to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. In those days mumps, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and a host of other childhood diseases were diagnosed by elder family members, relatives, friends and neighbors. Given the fact that I was at one time or another afflicted with most of those conditions and survived, that system apparently worked, at least in my case.

Each of my two gifts had problems. The drum arrived sans drum sticks. We searched frantically through the discarded Christmas wrappings and boxes but found no drum sticks, not even one.

I improvised with a pair of kitchen spoons, but the substitutes lacked any semblance of authenticity. When I wielded those spoons I neither felt like nor looked like Gene Krupa or Spike Jones—I felt like a dork and looked like a dork. Or perhaps I did look like Spike Jones—that’s Spike on the left, the one with the dorky hat.

Now on to my train and its deficits—it consisted of a really small locomotive with a coal tender, one passenger car, a little red caboose and a rather truncated circular track, one estimated to be no more than 18 inches in diameter. The locomotive was not powered by electricity, not the plug-in kind or the kind produced by dry-cell batteries—nope, not my train.

My train was a windup train—one held the locomotive in one hand and with one’s other hand wound up a steel spring that was inside with a key that projected from its side, similar to opening a can of sardines,  then one placed it on the tracks and released it and clickety clack, clickety clack, until the spring wound down. Clickety clack is the sound that real trains made in those days as they traversed narrowly spaced rail joints,but my train never made that sound.

Nope, no clickety clacks for my train—the key was already wound tight and could not be budged. It arrived tight and remained in that condition as long as I had the train. I was reduced to pushing it along and vocally sounding the clickety clacks. Bummer!

Nowadays train rails run seamless for a mile or more—passengers still hear an occasional clickety but the clack is still a mile away. The rhythm is gone—rather than lulling one to sleep, the anticipation of the next clickety and clack denies fulfillment to passengers longing for and reaching for the arms of Morpheus—the unrhythmic sounds of modern rails actually prevent sleep. Note: Unrhythmic may not be a real word, but it looks good and sounds good so I’ll use it.

I spent the Christmas of 1939 incarcerated in my own home, playing a drum with two kitchen spoons and pushing a toy train around a small circular track, writhing in pain produced by an extreme case of double mumps—not really—I had no pain at all, just lumps, and they vanished a few days later.

In retrospect, I suppose I should feel blessed. While I was housebound with mumps—double mumps, so to speak—I heard a phrase several times, whispered between the adults in my family, something similar to this: I hope they don’t go down on him. It sounded so sinister that I also hoped that they would not go down on me—they didn’t. Fast forwarding to today’s medical terminology, I imagine that parents probably whisper to one another that they hope the mumps will not descend—sounds a bit better, right? Right? Right!

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

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The Korean War—please remember it . . .

As a retired military person I subscribe to the Air Force Retiree web site at www.retirees.af.mil. I received the following e-mail on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:27 AM. I am posting the e-mail in its entirety—the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War highlights a significant milepost in my life and I wanted to share it with any viewers that may pass this way–if the posting strikes a positive chord in only one viewer it will be justified.

When the Korean War began I was stationed at Yakota Air Force Base in northern Japan and had been there for three months when the North Koreans invaded South Korea. Soon after the war began I was sent to Itazuke Air Force Base on the southern island of Kyushu. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday at Itazuke, then on to South Korea for an additional 15 months before rotation back to the states. I celebrated my nineteenth birthday in Korea at Kimpo Air Force Base near Seoul and arrived back in the states eight months before my twentieth birthday.

I mention all the above dates simply to show that my latter teen years do not reflect the usual rite of passage enjoyed by most young men in the US, and because of that I do not need a reminder of the Korean War—my experiences during those years are indelibly stamped in my phyche, and I will take them with me when I depart this vale of tears.

The Korean War claimed the lives of almost 40,000 of America’s best and brightest, yet the war has been forgotten by many and is unknown to a host of others—I’m posting this item as a gentle reminder—nay, a stern reminder for those that fail to remember, and a strong admonition for those that have never known to learn about the war—it is vital history.

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

Postcript: Viewers will find numerous posts on my blog that deal directly or indirectly with Japan and Korea—I find them well-written and well-worth the time required for reading (nothing strange about that, right?). Below are several on which you might like to pass some of your leisure time—one involves a tattooed lady, another a salute to drive-in theaters, and one concerns the Dixie Division and the Mississippi Army National Guard. Others include my first airplane ride, and a three-day R & R pass that lasted seven days—enjoy!

This is the e-mail, exactly as I received it:

Nation marks Korean War’s 60th anniversary

By Donna Miles

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) — Sixty years ago this week, North Korean troops stormed across the 38th parallel into South Korea, launching a three-year conflict that culminated in an armistice in 1953, but never officially ended.

The North Koreans launched a massive, coordinated air-land invasion in the early-morning hours of June 25, 1950, with more than 230,000 troops, fighter jets, attack bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, tanks and artillery.

The ferocity of the offensive caught the South Korean army by surprise. With fewer than 100,000 troops, no tanks and limited aircraft, they were unprepared to halt the invasion force.

Seoul, the South Korean capital, fell June 28. Then-President Harry S. Truman, concerned after World War II about the spread of communism, recognized the importance of repelling military aggression on the Korean peninsula.

“I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores,” Truman wrote in his autobiography. “If the communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggression by stronger communist neighbors.”

President Truman ordered U.S. air and naval forces to defend South Korea, and committed ground troops as part of a combined United Nations effort. The 16-member coalition formed under the auspices of the U.S.-led United Nations Command, with President Truman naming Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur as its commander.

The 24th Infantry Division, part of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan under General MacArthur’s command following World War II, deployed the first U.S. troops to Korea. Advanced elements of the 24th Infantry Division rushed to Korea on transport planes to block the enemy advance.

As they awaited follow-on deployments, the 24th Infantry Division troops, known as Task Force Smith, suffered heavy losses and ultimately, defeat during their first significant engagement of the war, the Battle of Osan.

Outgunned and overpowered, the division ultimately lost more than 3,600 dead and wounded and almost 3,000 captured as the North Korean progressed south.

By September, the U.N. Command controlled only about 10 percent of Korea in a small southeastern corner of the country around Pusan.

The Battle of Pusan Perimeter raged from August to September 1950, with the U.S. Air Force and Navy air forces attacking North Korean logistics operations and transportation hubs. Meanwhile, troops from the 7th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and other 8th Army supporting units poured into South Korea.

The Inchon Landing, a massive amphibious landing in September 1950, ultimately turned the tide in the fighting by breaking the North Korean army’s supply lines. This prompted China to enter the war on North Korea’s behalf, ending hope, as General MacArthur had predicted, that the war would end soon and the troops would be home for Christmas.

The conflict raged for three more Christmases, with neither side achieving a decisive military victory.

Ultimately, two years of negotiations led to an armistice agreement signed July 27, 1953. Representatives of the North Korean army, the Chinese volunteers and the U.N. Command signed the agreement, but South Korea refused to participate.

The United States lost more than 36,000 servicemembers during the Korean War, with more than 92,000 wounded, more than 8,000 missing in action and more than 7,000 taken prisoner of war.

Since the signing of the armistice, South Korea has emerged as an economic powerhouse, with the world’s 11th-largest economy and a gross domestic product approaching $1 trillion. North Korea, in contrast, remains militarily powerful, but economically isolated.

In its most recent act of provocation, North Korea sank the frigate Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Related Sites:  Remembering the Korean War

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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To all my valued employees . . .

I received this item in an e-mail from a friend, and I am posting it on my blog for the same reason the author, or authors, stated in the first paragraph—to add some perspective for our friends who subscribe to the “eat-the-rich” mentality so prevalent among liberals.

My first act on reading the e-mail was to check it out at snopes.com by using the phrase To all my valued employees, but found nothing conclusive on that site—nothing either denying or affirming the letter. The writing—punctuation, paragraphing, sentence construction, etc.—could stand a teeny weeny tiny bit of tweaking, but for just this once I chose to post it exactly as I received it—en toto.

This is the original e-mail I received:

Here’s a gem that’s been making the rounds on the Web. We post it here to add some perspective for our friends who subscribe to the “eat-the-rich” mentality so prevalent among liberals:

To All My Valued Employees

There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn’t pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is the changing political landscape in this country.

First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that casts employers against employees. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You’ve seen my big home at last year’s Christmas party.

However, what you don’t see is the BACK STORY: I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.

My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn’t have time to date. I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business—hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of buying the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the discount store extracting any clothing item that didn’t look like it was birthed in the 70’s. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends supposedly had.

So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9 A.M., mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5 P.M., I don’t. There is no “off” button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and you have a weekend all to yourself. I unfortunately do not have the freedom. I eat and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year old special-needs child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that garden—the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations… you never realize the Back Story and the sacrifices I’ve made.

Now, the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for.

Yes, business ownership has its benefits, but the price I’ve paid is steep and not without wounds. Unfortunately, the cost of running this business, and employing you, is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit and let me tell you why:

I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don’t pay enough. I have state taxes. Federal taxes. Property taxes. Sales and use taxes. Payroll taxes. Workers compensation taxes. Unemployment taxes. Taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then guess what? I have to pay taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations and all the accounting that goes with it, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the US Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my “stimulus” check was? Zero.. Nada. Zilch. The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check? Obviously, government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country.

The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you’d quit and you wouldn’t work here. I agree, which is why your job is in jeopardy. Here is what many of you don’t understand … to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated to me that I didn’t need to pay taxes, guess what? Instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries.

Business is at the heart of America as it has always been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it. The power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the type of change you can keep. So where am I going with all this? It’s quite simple.

If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I’ll fire you. I’ll fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child’s future. Frankly, it isn’t my problem any more.

Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire. You see, I’m done. I’m done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.

So, if you lose your job, it won’t be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steamrolled the constitution, and will have changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about….

Signed,

THE BOSS

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Buster, a pit bull, or why I left the farm . . .

In my posting on March 20, 2010 regarding parched peanuts and skin crawling, I told how I left the farm for a few days to visit my mother and sister in Mississippi, some 30 miles west of the farm, and in my absence my cousin Ruby’s husband killed my dog, an American Pit Bull Terrier. I never learned how he was killed but I know why, and the purpose of this posting is to tell the heart wrenching story of Buster’s untimely demise. Click here to see the relationship between parched peanuts and crawling skin, and how my dog and I became farmers.

My most heartfelt hope at the time—a hope that has consistently remained with me over the intervening years—that hope was, and still is, that before the deed was done Buster was able to remove a few chunks of meat from his killer. Please don’t fault me too much for that hope—Bonnie had considerable meat to spare, and I have never wished that Buster could have reached his throat, even if just for a few seconds. Oh, okay, if it will make the reader happy, I probably would have been very sad had Buster taken him out—hey, I disliked the farmer, but I really loved that dog.

Buster was valuable, and several purchase offers had been made for him by surrounding farmers, all of which I declined. Bonnie knew that the dog was valuable, and I would like to believe he sold Buster to some kind farmer that needed him for watch dog services, or perhaps for breeding purposes, and that he—Buster, not the farmer—enjoyed a long and pleasant life, whether barking or breeding or both. Of course I wish the same for the farmer, provided that he had the same proclivity for similar activities.

Shortly after I left the farm to visit my family for Christmas, Bonnie—I’ll call him Bonnie because that was his name—killed my dog. I suppose it’s alright to out Bonnie now. Sixty-two years have passed since the hog/dog/ear/Bonnie incident. My guess would be that by this time Bonnie has gone to that heavenly farm where all farmers go, a place where no crop ever fails and market prices are always sky high (so to speak). Whether he was received or rejected on his arrival to that heavenly farm is, of course, a matter for conjecture. Whether received or rejected, I wish him well.

On a cool cloudless day in October of 1948—a day typical for west central Alabama in the fall—Bonnie and I walked a short distance from the house to cut wood for the kitchen stove. We found a suitable pine tree, felled it and cut it into stove-length blocks, and returned to the house to hitch up the mules and use the wagon to haul the blocks to the house. There they would be chopped into pieces suitable for stoking the kitchen stove.

Yep, that’s how it was done in those days—no electric or gas stoves or heaters because neither gas nor electricity had found their way to that rural area. Cooking and heating homes was strictly a wood-burning process. Our work in the woods was accomplished with a crosscut saw, a two-man-power item in use at the time. I am not aware whether power saws, electric or gas-powered, were available at the time. They may have been, but we would have needed a really long extension cord because the nearest plug–in was several miles distant. Ah, those were the good old days!

As we approached the house, Bonnie’s prized Poland China sow—a female pig— entered the picture. She had managed to escape her pen, and was apparently enjoying her new-found freedom, probably searching for acorns among the fall leaves covering the ground. Leaving her enclosure was a big mistake, both for Buster and for her—she should have stayed in the pen.

This was a young hog, not a piglet but a hog approaching adulthood, a hog probably somewhere in its teens. This was an attractive pig, attractive at least as pigs go, that Bonnie intended to show at county fairs and perhaps breed to raise pigs for the market. The Poland China breed, then and now, fetches good prices at  auctions, and some say that its meat is superior to other breeds.

Buster went with us to fell the tree. Everywhere I went, my dog went. I always felt that he was looking out for me, protecting me. I could leave him for any length of time, telling him to stay, and he would faithfully remain at that spot until I returned. I only needed to leave something of mine with him, anything—it could be my bike or cap or jacket, anything with my scent on it, and heaven help anyone that tried to relieve him of his guard duties. My dog and I understood each other, and he responded to a variety of commands from me.

Just as an aside, Buster had a strong dislike for cats and he periodically brought them home for my approval—dead, of course. Any neighborhood in which we lived had very few roaming cats, at least not after we had lived there for a significant length of time.

On this day he was ranging a short distance in front of us as we walked up the hill toward the house, and the hog was rooting in the leaves just ahead. Startled when she saw the dog, she squealed, snorted and took off through the leaves, obviously frightened by the dog. Buster reacted to the sights and sounds and charged, clamping down on her right ear and pulling her off her feet.

Bonnie and I tried to pull him off—I applied pressure to the pads of his feet with no effect, then actually put both hands around his neck trying to cut off enough air to make him release the hog. Bonnie picked up a fairly good sized limb from the ground and struck him with it several times, without any apparent effect.

Buster never released the ear—with the precision of a surgeon he separated the ear from it owner, leaving a smooth but bloody head on the right side. Then he seemed to lose all interest in the animal, and the hog did likewise—she ran several yards away, stopped and looked back wondering, I suppose, what part the dog might decide to remove next. Bonnie stopped beating him and I stopped trying to choke him, and after the surgery Buster was as docile as I had ever seen him.

I can’t say the same for Bonnie. I fear he lost some, perhaps most, of his religion given the string of expletives that followed, along with statements such as I’ll kill that #&*(@! dogI should have already killed him.

I tried to reason with him but he stalked off to find some medication for the hog, after ordering me to lock the dog up in the corn crib. I did as I was ordered, and kept him there for several days before leaving the farm for my visit with family for Christmas—the rest is history.

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

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Humor, pets, Uncategorized

 

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Letter to Dockie, November 1993 . . .

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

November 13,1993

Hi, Dockie and Jackie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of love,

Janie and Mike

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

 

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Minimalism refrigeration vs three-door refrigeration . . .

In October of 2007 my wife and I shipped an early Christmas gift to our daughter and her family in Dallas. The gift was a beautiful stainless-steel three-door refrigerator, purchased at the Fort Sam Houston PX and trucked to Dallas by a company in San Antonio. We also gave ourselves an identical refrigerator as an early Christmas gift.

The three-door French-style refrigerator was a dismal flop—the far-too-small ice maker on our unit died on the third day, the three-door operation was a dismal failure, and the bottom freezer was a nightmare. We returned the unit a few days later and replaced it with a side-by-side unit. We told the Dallas folks that we would set up the return of the unit,  and suggested that they begin shopping for a unit of their choice to replace it.

Their gift refrigerator came into the house through the front door, but was too large to pass into the kitchen without removing all its doors, the kitchen’s double-doors and the kitchen doors’ molding. That entrance to the kitchen doorway was blocked for several days until the new unit was picked up by the delivery company. The family’s old refrigerator had already been moved to the garage, so rather than return it to the kitchen our son-in-law decided, as a temporary measure, to use a new approach to family refrigeration—he labeled it a minimalist approach to refrigeration.

Although the family now had an older full-size refrigerator in the garage, they would be sans fridge in the kitchen until they could decide on a replacement. As a temporary measure they placed a small unit in the empty kitchen space. The small non-ice-making unit was intended to be used as an under-the-counter reefer for a rec room, or perhaps as an outdoor unit by the pool, or in the garage to keep drinks cold and handle any overflow from the kitchen unit.

This is an e-mail from our son-in-law explaining his action:

“We’ve decided to go the minimalist approach with the fridge. Take a look, as Janie might decide the “less is more” approach may be the way to go!”

And this is my son-in-law’s solution to the problem:

This is my response to his temporary kitchen refrigeration system:

You can certainly be “Martha Stewart-proud” of your minimalist approach to home food preservation. I have no doubt that, given the proper advertising program and the dissemination thereof, your concept could very well sweep the nation, putting scores of refrigerator makers out of business and freeing up incalculable cubic feet of space in American kitchens. An added benefit to be gained is the fact that the nation’s makers of refrigerator magnets would also bite the dust (the esthetic improvement to America’s kitchens would be incalculable).

And the beautiful part of your idea is that you could probably stack two more similar units in that space, thus acquiring an actual three-door refrigerator for a mere fraction of the cost of the FRIDGE FROM HELL. Of course you still wouldn’t be up with Debbie and Bill—they have three full-size refrigerators and a freezer chest—one unit in the house and three in the garage, all fully functional, all plugged in, and all operating at full capacity.

Oh, and Al Gore would also be proud of you—as the concept spreads, global warming will be dramatically slowed with the reduced need and use of electricity and the reduction of materials used in the manufacture of larger refrigerators, thus conserving more of the world’s natural resources.

Your idea could go global—the concept might even be adopted by the Eskimos, a people with whom few refrigerator salesmen have ever been successful. The Eskimo units would require a slight modification—the back would need to be slightly curved forward (towards the front) so it would fit snugly against the interior igloo wall—this may cause a slight reduction of interior space in the unit. Of course for an exterior Eskimo unit, the back would need to be curved slightly towards the rear in order to follow the contour of the outside wall—this might slightly increase the unit’s interior space.

I love your creative approach to a difficult situation. You should be nominated for this year’s Ignoble Peas Prize—you’ll have a leg up on the other nominees. You may even edge out Jimmy Carter—and if you do get a leg up on our former president, you know what to do next!

NOTE FOR POTENTIAL BUYERS OF THREE-DOOR REFRIGERATORS:

Don’t.

But if you must have a three-door refrigerator, before you buy please check out the units recommended by Consumer Reports—when you find the one with the most reported problems, you’ll know the maker of the units we gave as Christmas gifts to ourselves and to the family in Dallas (both units were returned in less than two weeks after delivery).

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2009 in Humor, kitchen appliances

 

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