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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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I never owned a snowsled . . .

As a teenager I spent two winters in Suitland, Maryland and there were heavy snowfalls in both years, heavier than any snowfall I remember in my hometown of Columbus, Mississippi or in any other location in which I spent time in my teenage years. The lack of snow in our winters was just one of the three reasons that I never owned a snow sled. The other two reasons were that we had no hills in Columbus worthy of sledding, and even had there been mountains, my family could not have afforded a sled—after housing, food, clothing, transportation and even a slight attention to health, there was nothing left for winter pleasures such as sleds or skis or mukluks or hot toddies. The only sleds I was familiar with were the wooden-skidded sleds drawn by mules on the farm, sleds used to move heavy items such as bagged fertilizer, wood for fireplaces and kitchen stoves, and to move corn and watermelons and pumpkins from the field to storage. No, we never tried sliding downhill on those sleds—never even considered it!

I arrived at Union Station in Washington, D.C. in December to live with my brother and his family in Suitland, Maryland and a heavy snow fell early in the spring. I had no sled, but some of my new friends in Carry Homes where my brother lived had sleds, and all were generous in sharing them with me. My brother’s duplex sat at the top of a long and fairly steep hill, and most of the sledders in the neighborhood favored that hill for sledding. I quickly became adept at sledding—it seemed to come natural to me—not that sledding is difficult to learn, because gravity does most of the work. The sled operator needs only learn to steer the sled by the sled’s handle grips and body movements and learn how to avoid anything that might impede the sled’s race to the bottom of the hill.

Yep, sledding came easy for me and I reveled in it, but I learned, late one evening on a cold and still night after the other sledders had gone home, that I still had a lot to learn about sledding. One of my playmates abandoned his sled at the top of the hill near my house, and I appropriated it for some late night sledding. There were several cars parked on the hill, but only one on the right side—keep that one in mind—but the center was open and I made several speed runs to the bottom, exalting in the bitter cold, red cheeked and nose running faster than I could keep it licked off, and I felt really happy and alive—too happy for the feeling to last.

During the day I had seen some of the kids sledding backwards down the hill, and I decided to try it. Got the picture? Can you guess what happened on my first try? If you guessed that I slid under the only car parked on the right side of the street, you win the stuffed gorilla. At the beginning of my slide I kept an eye turned over my shoulder, but as the ride progressed I became careless, feeling that I had already mastered backwards sledding.

The sled had no trouble clearing the underside of the sedan that it went under, the only auto parked on the right side of the street. It continued its journey under the rear bumper, the muffler, the transmission, the engine and the front bumper without slowing and thence to the bottom of the hill, but its successful trip did not include me. I stopped abruptly when my head hit the rear bumper.

I don’t know how long I lay on my stomach under the car, but I know that when I awoke I had a huge goose egg on the back of my head and a headache—no blood, but the mother of all headaches. I remained there for awhile, speculating on whether I should turn myself in for needed medical attention—for a concussion, perhaps, or loss of memory, or the possibility of broken speech and uncontrollable movements indicating severe brain damage. The more I considered it the longer the list of adverse possibilities became. At one point I felt that I was the victim of all those problems, but after awhile the headache began to subside and the goose egg, although still very large, was a bit less sensitive.

I crawled out from under the car, wandered around in the cold night air for awhile to get my bearings and finally trudged home, entered the house and announced to all that sledding was very tiring and that I was going to retire early. I never told anyone about the time I stupidly slid downhill backwards on a sled and had my ride interrupted by a car bumper. You, the reader, are learning about it at the same time my children are.

Eventually the goose egg disappeared, and in that winter and the following winter I had ample opportunities to go sledding—for some unaccountable reason I never sledded again. Once was enough for me—in that slide downhill with me facing uphill, I learned everything that one should do and not do while in that position on a snow sled speeding downhill. And as for skiing? Forget about it!

Oh, concerning the sled I left at the bottom of the hill that night—I’m guessing the owner found it, but I have no way of knowing that he did—at least none of the kids came around asking if I had seen a lost sled.

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

 
 

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13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

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