Recently various television news outlets discussed the existence of hell, noting that if heaven exists but hell does not, then everyone that dies must go to heaven. I submit that if a person believes in heaven, then that person must believe in hell. One cannot exist without the other. Heaven exists in the minds and beliefs of people, and hell exists in their minds and beliefs just as surely as does heaven. I am pleased with the way heaven is presented but I really dislike the current description of hell, and I believe I have a more acceptable vision of hell—if it exists!
Everything in our universe and everything outside our universe has its opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Form an image of a mountain in your thoughts, and you’ll find that a valley is included in the image. No mountain can exist, either in reality or in our thoughts, without the existence of a valley. Mountains and valleys must coexist if either is to exist, and while their existence can be verified, it cannot be falsified, and it is at this point their existence diverges from the discussion of whether heaven or hell exists.
I submit that heaven and hell also must coexist or not exist at all. We can cling to our belief that one or the other or both exist, but we can never know—we can only believe. True knowledge is reserved to those for whom life as we know it has ended, and they now exist in another world, either in heaven or hell if either exists. Their existence can neither be verified nor falsified by anyone living. Their existence depends on our beliefs, whether those beliefs are derived from the Scriptures or from our lifetime of living and observing humanity.
Just for discussion, let’s suppose that heaven is exactly as described in the Scriptures and that hell is not as described. Perhaps hell does not exist. Perhaps those not entitled to spend eternity in heaven do not go to hell when they die. Let’s suppose that the wicked have already been judged when they die—prejudged, so to speak—and they simply do not go anywhere. Their spirits do not go to heaven when they die—their spirit, their souls, that which gave them life simply cease to exist, and perhaps that is the hell foretold in the scriptures.
Let’s suppose that the spirit that exists in those of us who have been judged unacceptable in heaven dies when the body dies and remains dead through eternity. Our being barred from heaven therefore is our punishment for living our lives in such a manner that we did not qualify for heaven. Of course those of us that do not make the grade will never know that we failed, but we will have been spared an eternity doing the devil’s bidding while enveloped in flames and forced to shovel coal to keep the fires burning. Bummer!
Thus we have postulated a heaven and its antithesis, hell, without the necessity of describing hell as fire and brimstone ruled by a red devil with horns and a pitchfork tail. If the truth be known, had it not been for volcanic eruptions the ancients would never have developed the idea of hell, then invented the devil and located his kingdom at the center of the earth.
In all of recorded history only one person has returned to the earth after death, and the truth of that record resides in us as individuals. We can neither verify nor falsify that story of life after death, and can never know the truth of that return until we draw our final breath—until then we can only believe and hold to that belief in the hopes that heaven does exist and that our beliefs and our actions in this life will qualify us to spend eternity in heaven—not an easy task, that! And the beauty of my hypothesis is that even if we are denied entry into heaven, we will never know that we were denied because we would spend eternity in the nothingness of hell.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Postscript: This final image is my self-portrait from some five months ago, but as time has passed my anger has faded to the point that I no longer try to place blame on anyone or anything. I no longer fault God for not giving her doctors the power to lengthen her life, and I no longer curse the devil for the disease that took my wife away from me—even after 58 years of marriage I wanted more—I wanted our marriage to never end. If you like, you can click here for a posting that came from my heart and from the depths of my soul.
This YouTube video is in no way related to the primary subject of this post, namely the treatment of raw sewage to recapture the 99.9% of raw sewage that is water and make it potable. I intend to end this post with the same video. I am presenting it here to ensure that my legions of followers have the opportunity to view it. If you view the video at this point and are so turned off by it that you don’t read the posting, it’s your loss—you’ll miss a highly educational essay—timely, well constructed and presented, and I say that with all sincerity aside. I know, I know, everyone always reads my posts all the way to the bottom, but just in case . . .
This morning while watching a cable show—MSNBC—I learned that at sometime in the future much of our drinking water will consist of treated sewage. That knowledge as defined by Wikipedia rests uneasy on one’s gustatory palate:
Sewage is water-carried wastes, in either solution or suspension that is intended to flow away from a community. Also known as waste water flows, sewage is the used water supply of the community. It is more than 99.9% pure water and is characterized by its volume or rate of flow, its physical condition, its chemical constituents and the bacteriological organisms that it contains. Depending on its origin, waste water can be classed as sanitary, commercial, industrial, agricultural or surface runoff.
The spent water from residences and institutions carrying body wastes, washing water, food preparation wastes, laundry wastes and other waste products of normal living is classed as either domestic or sanitary sewage.
The purpose of this post is an attempt to allay the fears of those that may be taken aback when told that the water they drink in the future will be sewage, coming direct to them as treated sewage from some remote treatment plant that has taken the action necessary to eliminate contaminants from raw sewage and now wants people to believe that the water is pure and potable—drinkable.
I know that’s a stretch, given the fact that the so-called sanitary sewage includes body wastes donated—love that term donated—by the community. However, I have personal knowledge that the decontaminated liquid may be consumed without fear of the consumer becoming contaminated—how that knowledge was gained is the purpose of this post.
As a young boy growing up between the ages of six and nine years I lived near a flow of treated sewage moving away from the city’s treatment plant via an open concrete-floored ditch—locals called it the Big Ditch—idling along on its way to Luxapalila Creek, a stream that joins Mississippi’s Tombigbee River, a stream that converges with the Alabama River to form the Mobile River that in turn empties into Mobile bay on the Gulf of Mexico—take that, Mobile!
Purely as an aside, the Indian word Luxapalila is said to translate into English as floating turtles. Considering the effluvial characteristics of human waste materials entering the stream, perhaps the first syllable of turtles, accidentally but aptly, describes the water and its contents—how’s that for coincidence!
But I digress—back to the Big Ditch, its contents and the marvelous flora and fauna that thrived—-or throve, take your pick—when I was a boy. The ditch may well be covered by now, or perhaps its contents have been diverted elsewhere. Many years have passed since I was treated—so to speak—to a life in that area and that era. Perhaps the Big Ditch is still fulfilling its destiny as a playground for the enjoyment of today’s children, activities in dialectical opposition to their parent’s wishes.
On more than one occasion I and one or more of my boyhood friends—always boys, although girls would have been welcomed and we would have been delighted by their company, but none accepted our invitations—dined on the banks of the Big Ditch, feasting on fried frog legs and hack-berry tea, a simple meal easily prepared. From our respective homes we brought a small frying pan, a small pot for boiling water, a block of pure lard, our pocket knives, a bit of corn meal, a pinch of salt, a few matches and our appetites to the Big Ditch, a Shangri-la for giant green bullfrogs easily rounded up by a couple of hungry boys.
We built a small fire and boiled water for our tea—yes, we used the nearest available source of water, that which flowed along the bottom of the Big Ditch. When the water was boiling we dumped in handfuls of hackberries gathered from the proliferation of hack-berry trees that thrived on the banks of the ditch.
The hack-berry tea was set aside to cool, and we heated the pure lard in the frying pan. After separating the legs of several frogs from their bodies we skinned the legs, rolled them in the corn meal, placed them in the frying pan and turned them until brown.
Don’t laugh—our culinary talents and our gustatory senses at our age were underdeveloped and unrefined, and we had minimum expectations that the meal would equal those served in fancy French restaurants specializing in fried frog legs and offering fine wines to accompany the meal—cuisses et vin de grenouille frits—the French refer to the legs of frogs as thighs instead of legs. The use of the word thighs is probably considered a sexual reference by the French, intended to affect the mood of a dinner companion, whether male or female. A Frenchman might say, Mon cher, j’aime le goût des cuisses, delivered softly and translated as My dear, I love the taste of thighs—his after-dinner delights would be guaranteed—dessert, so to speak.
So there you have it—treated sewage can be safely ingested, digested and further processed by humans without fear of damage to their bodies or their life expectancy. My body shows no perceptible damage from the meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I am just a hop, skip and a jump away from successfully completing eight decades of living life to its fullest—whether because of the frog legs or in spite of the frog legs is unknown. However, also unknown is the collective fates of my various boyhood companions. Some of them or all of them by this time may have already exchanged their earthly realm for one or the other of our two alternatives.
I must reluctantly admit that the others—some of them, none of them or all of them—may have already succumbed to the ravages of various diseases that were directly attributed to those meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I do not recommend such meals to today’s boys, at least not meals garnered from the same source or similar sources—nope, I would neither recommend it nor suggest it.
I am of the opinion that today’s youth, although physically larger, stronger and enjoying greater longevity and enhanced motor skills, are not significantly more intelligent—in fact many, perhaps most, are somewhat lacking in basic subjects as demonstrated by accumulated grades given on an incredible numbers of tests administered by our schools. There are so many unknowns that I hesitate to imply that meals such as we prepared in the Big Ditch increases longevity, but I will postulate that such meals may promote a higher level of intelligence.
Today’s youth lag behind in the three Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic and their skills in communication skills are deplorable—they are deficient both in receiving and transmitting the spoken word, obviously derelict in vocal expression and auditory reception. I feel that my detailing just one of my eating habits as a boy proves, at least in some degree, that consumption of treated sewage water will not be harmful to us and our neighbors, and that proof has been beautifully presented to my viewers. That’s why I was motivated to make this posting and I feel that I have made my point—my efforts were successful and productive for society.
I apologize for diverting my attention to other problems facing our society and our nation—I couldn’t help it—it’s either in my nature or it could possibly be the result of my being distracted by a cantankerous keyboard.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Postscript: The fact that I frequently watch MSNBC does not mean that I like MSNBC. I frequently tune in to get the side of the news and opinions that are presented by other, more reliable and more truthful cable entities. I do not dislike MSNBC—I enjoy its graphics and its presentations of news that are not permeated with and perforated by personal political presentations, situations that are far less frequent than presentations that are afflicted—tainted, so to speak—well, let’s face it—filled with and distorted by such taints and afflictions. Tune in to MSNBC on any weekday evening and listen to the talking heads in its evening lineup—you’ll be both attracted and reviled by their vituperative views on subjects ranging from A to Z—from armadillos to zebras–but particularly on Cs and Rs—Conservatives and Republicans.
One more postscript: Having clicked on the center of the above YouTube video, you have read the notice that someone, somewhere and somehow decided that the videos violated copyright, and it is stated that “the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including Real Clear Politics” . . .
Obviously when I showed the video and in effect compared it with the effluvia and solid particles that characterized the Big Ditch in my boyhood, I stepped on someone’s pepperoni and they demonstrated their ability to exercise their right to censure that part of of this post. I consider it a violation of my right to express my disgust of the vituperative drivel that nightly spews from the show. It’s still on YouTube, along with similar excerpts from other Ed Shultz’ nightly rants—check ’em out.
And just one more note: I understand now why the network abruptly tossed Keith Olberman out the window—they didn’t need him because they had Ed Shultz.
I recently spent some time online seeking information for the proper way to dispose of an American flag, for whatever reason—tattered, torn, soiled, etc. At the risk of being called un-American, I will say without reservation that the information given ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The most acceptable method of destroying an American flag that is not longer serviceable is by burning, but first its composition must be determined.
Is it cloth? If cloth, it may be burned but under tightly controlled supervision, with close attention paid to local burning restrictions and most important, the flag must be completely consumed by fire, with none of the fragments allowed to float away on prevailing winds.
Is it plastic? If it is made of plastic, burning may well release chemicals that will pollute the air and pose a danger to humans and animals, so clearance must be obtained from our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency—good luck with that!
In lieu of burning, a flag may be buried but it must be buried in a non-degradable container to ensure that it will never again see the light of day nor be exposed to the elements of nature, and the drivel goes on and on—click here to read the do’s and don’ts as promulgated by the United States Flag Code.
A flag is a flag is a flag, etc., or as William Shakespeare might say, “That which we call a flag, regardless of its composition, whether constructed of plastic, silk, nylon, 1200-thread-count Egyptian cotton or a combination of all the above, would have streamed just as gallantly o’er the ramparts we watched as did the original that was flown over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1914 in the War of 1912 and is now displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.”
Yep, I believe that’s what the bard might say. Any item, regardless of its composition, that features the proper colors and the requisite numbers of “broad stripes and bright stars,” all arranged in the manner of those of the real flag—the one periodically displayed at the Smithsonian—is a representation of that flag and therefore warrants the same attention to usage and storage and final disposition.
Each year without fail, a local realtor places a small American flag on a stick in the front yard of every home in my neighborhood—the flags number in the hundreds at least, and perhaps in the thousands, and I’m reasonably sure that the process is repeated in other neighborhoods all across our nation. The flags are not marked with the country of origin, but I’ll bet a half-barrel of pickled a-holes that they’re made in China. The staff is some sort of white wood, and the material is some kind of fabric, either a natural fabric or synthetic material—who knows which?
Our flag code requires flags to be of certain proportions, regardless of their intended use, whether flying over the White House or sticking in my front lawn. Overall size is a matter of choice, but the star field, the stripe widths, the size of the stars relative to the overall size, etc., are specified by the Code and any lop-sided construction of the flag, regardless of size, is a violation of the US Flag Code, and any disposition other than specified in the Code is a violation.
I haven’t measured the specifics of the flags that proliferate in our neighborhood each year on Flag Day, beautifying or polluting, take your pick. Given the ability and the proclivity of the Chinese to excel in mathematics, I suspect that they are right on the money—so to speak—in the dimensions of the untold tons of flags they ship to the United States each year.
Are you, dear reader, beginning to see what I mean when I say that flag instructions and its procotol range from the ridiculous to the sublime? In our devotion to our flag and our need to protect it, we have given it properties that more properly pertain to living, breathing life forms, whether human or animal. When we die we are subjected to specific methods of disposition—what, when, where and how, and to a lesser extent for the so-called lower order of animals.
The Star Spangled Banner
On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s words gave new significance to a national symbol and started a tradition through which generations of Americans have invested the flag with their own meanings and memories. Click here for the flag’s history.
If the real flag should ever be subjected to destruction—let’s say, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands should the District of Columbia be overrun, whether by the extreme left or by the extreme right, we should consider a Viking funeral for the flag on the Potomac river–what a riveting spectacle that would be! Click here to read up on Viking funerals—it’s worth the read—hey, those Norse ceremonies involved a lot of people other than the diseased in order to comply with all the requirements that had be met.
Timing of the ceremony would be critical, of course, to ensure that the burning Viking ship would sink before ramming one of the Potomac’s bridges. The current is fairly swift in that area—the ship should probably be anchored before being torched, and the usual sacrifice of a slave girl should be omitted. I’m not aware of any available slave girls, at least none that would be willing to volunteer to accompany the flag on its final voyage. Although that would guarantee throngs of spectators and television saturation—all the bridges on the Potomac would be packed with spectators—such an event could possibly produce political complications. I worked and lived in the DC area for three years, and I’ll admit that one of the girls that entertain nightly on Fourteenth Street in downtown DC might be persuaded, especially one filled with the intoxicating drink mentioned by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan in the tenth century—then again, perhaps not—who knows? The following video will introduce you to 14th St—if you need and want an introduction. If not, just skip over it, but if you do shun it you’ll miss out on a nightly spectacle, the pulchritudinous parade of practicing purveyors of es e ex.
I conducted all the research above with the serious intention to present it, with all seriousness aside, in an effort to educate and entertain those that follow my blog and those that simply stumble onto it. I mean no disrespect to our flag, although I detest the placement of that tacky little flag on a stick that mysteriously appears on my lawn each year on Flag Day. I love Old Glory and I dedicated more than 22 years of military service to it, years in which I proudly assisted our nation in losing two wars, with combat tours in Korea, 1950-1952 and Viet Nam, 1969-1970.
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?
As I mentioned in an earlier posting, when our family had accumulated a sufficient amount of capital, enough for our stepfather Papa John to live his life in the manner to which he had become accustomed, a life to which he longed to return, he would take the necessary action. When he deemed that capital to be sufficient, he would find an excuse to dissolve our family. He would then go his way and we would go ours. This posting will discuss the spark that led to another conflagration in our family.
I believe Papa John always knew his ultimate destination in these circumstances, but we never knew ours until shortly before or shortly following the dissolution of our family. I never knew for certain in this instance, but I have a strong suspicion that he remained in Midland.
He was a skilled poker player, or at least professed to be such, and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles—F.O.E—hosted such activities nightly, up to and sometimes beyond the witching hour. Gambling was illegal in the state, but the state apparently considered poker playing similar to the game of canasta, or perhaps bridge, but I was a witness to some of the games—they usually involved seven players, too many for either canasta or bridge.
Now that I think of it, Midland was in a dry county at that time, and whether in search of beer or other alcoholic beverages, Midland’s residents journeyed to the city of Odessa, some eighteen miles to the west and smuggled their purchases into the city of Midland.
The F.O.E, however, served up myriad alcoholic beverages on demand, with that demand met by a demand for remuneration. A supposition could be made—and I do suppose such—that bending of the liquor law was allowed because the F.O.E is a fraternal social club for members only—ordinary non-member drunks, however thirsty, are not allowed.
I have a separate posting in mind pertaining to the F.O.E and will follow up shortly with that posting unless I forget—I’ll never forget the incident, but I may well forget to post it. If it doesn’t appear soon, perhaps a visitor to my blog will remind me of my promise to post it.
As with any gambler, Papa John’s luck ebbed and flowed with the tide. When his luck turned sour and the tide was at its lowest, he would make up with my mother and take the measures necessary to reassemble our family. My mother never volunteered to brief my sister and me on the actions of our fickle but predictable stepfather and we never asked—we became experts at testing the wind, and usually could see the breakup coming down the pike.
Now to the crux of this posting:
The four of us were crowded into a single motel room on the outskirts of Midland. Ours was termed a kitchenette, a room equipped with a stove, refrigerator and an area for dining. One corner was walled off from the rest of the room and equipped with a small combination tub and shower, a small commode and a small sink.
Yep, everything was scaled down to fit in a very small area. The walls of the bathroom consisted of sheet rock on both sides with no sound proofing in between. The room had only one bed—a sleeping area for me and my sister was provided by placing the top mattress on the floor, thus leaving the bottom unit on the bed for our mother and our stepfather.
Yep, my sister and I shared that mattress, but I hasten to say that even though we were products of the deep South we did not conform to the popular notion that siblings in that area share a mutual physical attraction. There are some from the northern climes, particularly those attracted to novels such as God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road and The Journeyman, that probably believe that such siblings are always physically attracted to one another and many, perhaps most, indulge in that mutual attractiveness.
Nope, not my sister and not I—we stayed on our respective sides of the mattress. My sister did not appeal to me and I can truthfully state that I did not appeal to her—for most of the limited time we were together during our teen years, we fostered and fed an intense dislike for each other.
The motel was adjacent to the city baseball park, and visiting baseball teams often housed players in the same motel. Also in proximity to the motel was a really swinging country music dance hall, one that attracted well known, little known and unknown country bands to perform there. As with the baseball players, the motel frequently hosted band members during their gig in Midland.
As the bard would say, “Ay, there’s the rub!” My sister was almost eighteen years old and apparently was considered quite comely, both by baseball players and country band members. I hasten to add that I was nowhere in agreement of their assessments of my sister’s comeliness, but I also confess that she and I shared only a modicum of respect and liking for each other—that mutual modicum figured prominently in my assessment of her comeliness.
Be that as it may, she was quite popular with the young men that called our motel home while in the city. On most evenings she could be found in a communal area directly in front of our room, an area that offered seating, umbrellas for shade in the daytime, a barbecue pit and lighting—very subdued lighting, subdued to the point that Papa John had to strain to effectively observe activities after nightfall. His observations frequently led to criticisms and warnings to my sister, prophecies that terrible things could come of her penchant for visiting with the visitors. He always ordered her in at an early hour, but my sister never came in at his first order—it always required repeated calls from our doorway, and often I was required to take the message to her.
My sister was a rebel, a modern day female Thoreau—she ultimately went her own way by going over, under, around or through any obstacles placed in her path. She responded to Papa John’s remonstrations with humor, none of which set well with our stepfather.
One evening when she came in just before midnight, considerably later than usual, Papa John told her that she should stay away from the baseball and band gangs, that they were n’er-do-wells with nothing in their jeans. My sister responded laughingly that, “Oh, they sure do have something in their jeans.” Papa John was obviously thinking of money in their jeans, but my sister’s thoughts were elsewhere.
And that incident was, I believe, the catalyst that sparked the dissolution of our family. The tinder caught fire that night, a fire that would smolder for several days and then erupt into a full blown four alarm fire. The cataclysm that ensued was the result of a clever rejoinder my sister made to a cautionary remark made by our stepfather, a rejoinder that I considered hilarious—not that I laughed at the time, but I joined my sister in laughter later.
A few days later Midland and the summer we spent there was history—our kitchenette was vacant, Papa had disappeared and my mother, my sister and I were on a bus headed for El Paso, watching the motel, the ball park, the dance hall and the city of Midland recede through the back window of the bus. We were on our way to join my older brother and his family.
Our stay in El Paso would prove to be of short duration.
In March of 1969, I had the privilege of taking a 13-month tour of South Vietnam with all expenses paid—my tour began in the the capital city of Saigon and ended at Da Nang Air Base in April of 1970. While at Da Nang I made two week-end visits to Hong Kong. The first was rather harrowing, but turned out okay. To read my posting on the first flight click here.
The second week-end trip was even more harrowing, and I wisely declined all invitations for additional trips. Had another aircraft been available—another model a bit less vintage, I perhaps would have returned—no, belay that—the only circumstance that would have gotten me on a third flight to Hong Kong would be the imminent fall of Da Nang to North Vietnamese regulars. In that case I would have made a third flight to Hong Kong on any conveyance that could get me off the ground, whether on the Gooney Bird, in a lawn-mower-powered ultra-light or under a parasail towed by a child in a rowboat.
This posting will reveals the details of the second flight, details that would cause anyone, particularly my mother’s youngest son, to forego a third flight to Hong Kong.
Saturday dawned bright and clear at Da Nang, South Korea on a day in 1969, and we lifted off for our flight to Hong Kong, the star of the Orient. We were ensconced in a C-47 transport plane affectionately nicknamed Gooney Bird. Powered by two reciprocating engines, our Gooney Bird was assembled in the late 1930s or the early 1940s—a durable bird, but not exactly a state-of-the-art conveyance. However, its age and its continued use by the United States Air Force were testaments to its reliability.
Our flight from DaNang to Hong Kong was routine, uneventful, with nothing to portend the nature of our return flight to South Vietnam. We arrives at Hong Kong in mid-morning and passed the the day shopping—I purchased a a reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the finest units available at the time, along with a plentiful supply of tape, some jewelry for my wife, and a wooden model of a Chinese junk—the recorder was junked, the jewelry is part my wife’s heritage to our three daughters, and I’m still stuck with the Chinese junk—it’s still accumulating dust and it’s still an eyesore. I can’t decide what to do with it—I’ve offered it as a present to several people—all expressed their appreciation of the offer, but none accepted it. I hate to give it up, and I hate to keep it—bummer!
But I have digressed—back to our return flight:
We left Kong Kong in mid-morning on Sunday. Our flight was routine until a short while after passing the point-of-no-return to Hong Kong—regardless of circumstances we were required to press on to Da Nang—if an inflight emegency should 0ccur, our options would be to ditch into the ocean, land somewhere in China, either on an island or on the mainland, or land somewhere in North Vietnam.
An emergency did in fact occur, and a mayday call—a call for assistance—was made to DaNang. Our #2 engine—that’s the engine on the left if one is facing the nose of the aircraft—began coughing, a series of sounds indicating a problem with fuel intake or ignition problems. The coughs were infrequent and minor at first, but soon became more frequent and longer in duration. I was privileged to be seated at the window closest to that engine, and each time it coughed the propellers would stop, only for a tiny instant at first, but the stop was clearly visible.
Our loadmaster told us that a mayday message had been sent to DaNang and that a Navy PBY, an aircraft with the ability to land on water as well as land, had been dispatched to meet us in the event that our aircraft had to be ditched in the ocean. The loadmaster began moving all our luggage and our Hong Kong goodies to the cargo door. I asked him why, and he said our load had to be lightened to help the Gooney Bird remain aloft in case we were reduced to only one engine. I protested—mildly, of course—and was told something to the effect that the load had to be lightened, one way or another, and that it was either my new reel-to-reel tape recorder or me. Naturally I chose to remain on board and sacrifice the recorder.
However—and that’s a really important however—I, my tape recorder, the passengers, the crew and the aircraft landed safely at DaNang. The ailing engine stopped completely several times–all three prop blades became clearly visible for a few seconds—but the engine recovered enough each time to contribute to the other engine’s efforts.
Following the loadmaster’s explanation of our current situation and his description of possible changes to that situation, the passenger section became eerily silent, with each of us enveloped in our own thoughts. I venture that my thoughts were identical to the thoughts of others.
Yep, I prayed. I prayed to my god and to the gods of others, regardless of the nature of their gods. I prayed that the engine would recover, that the PBY would arrive soon, that ditching would not be necessary, and that we would land safely in South Vietnam. If their prayers were anything like mine, then they made promises they knew the would not—or possibly could not—keep.
I have no doubt that our combined prayers were answered, all except my prayer that the engine would recover—it was still coughing mightily when we landed at DaNang. The PBY soon arrived—its pilot made a 180 degree turn and placed his aircraft near our starboard wingtip—a position taken in order to observe the ailing engine—and escorted us to a safe landing. Made all the gods bless PBYs and their pilots!
A quick aside at this point, just in case a viewer is unsure of the difference between left and right in nautical terms—port is left, starboard is right. Running lights on vessels are red and green—red is for left side, green is for right side. Here’s a memory aid that may help one remember which is which—memory aids seem to be items for which I have an ever-increasing need as I advance in years!
Just remember that port, left and red are short words with fewer letters than starboard, right and green, so port and red are on the left side—starboard and green are on the right side.
Below is an image of today’s Da Nang—it did not look like that when I was there!
Speaking of inflight aircraft malfunctions, Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time stand-up comic, created a skit to use in his comedy routines, a skit dealing with an inflight emergency on a commercial flight in the United States. An engine caught fire inflight, and a little old man seated near the burning engine prayed long and loudly for his god to rectify the situation, saying “Please get me on the ground safely and I’ll give half of everything I own to the church.”
The fire was instantly extinguished and the plane landed safely.
When the little old man deplaned he was met by his minister and the minister said, “Brother, I heard what you said up there! I heard you tell God that if he got you on the ground safely you would give half of everything you own to the church, and I know you’re going to start right now!”
The little man said, “Nope, I made a better deal—I just now told God that if I ever get back on another one of those things, I’ll give Him everythingI own!
The winter of 1951 in Korea was the same as any winter before and after that year—brutally cold, with snow and howling winds. We lived in tents strategically placed near the flight line, ostensibly so we could respond quickly to alerts but really designed to enable us to, whether on-duty or off-duty, enjoy the sights and sounds of a busy flight line—the ear-splitting sounds of jet engines being tested, day and night, and of jet aircraft taxiing for takeoff or parking after landing, also day and night.
Each tent was equipped with a small JP4-fired (jet fuel) stove which did little to heat our living and sleeping accommodations. We relied on sleeping bags, blankets and multiple layers of clothing, and tended to delay our trips to the privies (outdoor toilets) whenever the need arose—trips were far more delayed and far less frequent at night. I’ll describe our primitive privies in as much detail as I can remember (some 58 years have passed since I used them). Our outdoor toilet facilities were similar in nomenclature and function to indoor accommodations, but remarkably dissimilar in appearance.
First the urinals, used for #1:
This facility accommodated four relief-seekers simultaneously, but was rarely used by more than one person at any one time. It boasted four 6-inch ceramic pipes, placed to form a square and sunk, flared end up and angled outward at approximate crotch level, into a gravel-covered pit. The pit was intended to capture the urine output of some 80 men, both enlisted and commissioned urine (no separation according to rank here). I can only vouch for the upper level of the pit—its construction below the visible gravel level remains a mystery. The urinals were not covered or screened, and were fully exposed to the glances of any passer-by, whether casual or curious. One may be assured that this “privy” was anything but private.
Next the commodes, used for #2:
This structure was a marvel of Korean construction, a dirt-floored building with wooden walls up to waist-level, then screened from there to its wooden roof and it featured a screened door which served both as entry and exit. Inside were six 55-gallon drums, three in a row on each side, sunken to a comfortable sitting-level, their tops cut out and fitted with a cleverly engineered wooden cover, shaped to resemble, and to serve the function of, commode seats. The arrangement of the drums contributed significantly to eye-to-eye conversation between users of the facility (if warranted).
Here I must digress for a moment to discuss Korean farming practices. In 1951 Korean farmers favored the use of human excrement as fertilizer, with amazing results in the size and quantity of produce produced. When the drums neared peak capacity, Korean workers came and poured a flammable liquid into the four end drums (no pun intended) but none into the two center drums, and then lighted the contents of the four drums. Their purpose was to burn off the paper and gases in those drums to prepare their contents to be emptied. When the four fires died down, the workers used long-handled dippers to transfer each drum’s contents to buckets and then to a donkey-drawn rubber-tired cart. From there the drum’s contents would be further processed (that’s an assumption), and the resultant fertilizer sprayed (or bucketed) on growing crops. After the four end-drums were restored to service, the two center drums received the same treatment.
This was a blessing in disguise. Picture this—just imagine one’s self in the privy on a bitterly cold day or night, with four roaring fires in that small enclosure and one’s self seated between two of the fires and two more fires directly opposite. Blissful warmth in bitter cold, and that bliss could be sustained as long as necessary (or at least until the fires died down). To be seated in the #2 privy when the two center drums were burning (seated on one of the non-burning drums, of course) was also pleasant, but considerably less blissful—roughly about half-less.
Oh, and one more thing—we used a GI euphemism to describe the buckets and the cart—they were known as “honey buckets” and “the honey wagon,” respectively.