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11th Street South and a gravel pit . . .

Eleventh Street South is where I lived for a couple of years that included my first year in elementary school. It was the second house we lived in following our migration from Vernon, Alabama to Columbus, Mississippi. That first house, located on Fifth Street South, has some vivid memories I intend to share with my visitors, memories that are just as fresh as when they were acquired. The house was where I and my youngest sister were administered to by our mother—medicated—when she became convinced that we both had or soon would have scabies—the itch. Click here for that story—it’s worth the visit!

I lived on Eleventh Street with my mother and three older sisters in a small frame house, a three-room shot-gun house, so called because it was said that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the shot would go straight through the house and out the back door. The house boasted electricity and running water but had no bathroom. The necessary, a one-hole privy or outhouse, was located a few yards from the back door. Ours was the next-to-last on the block, and Fuqua’s Grocery was located at the other end of the block, a mercantile that figured prominently in our lives, especially mine—it’s a fit subject for a posting, and deserves individual attention. It’s mentioned in a previous posting, and among other things includes a discussion of my first job and my first firing—click here for that posting.

The last house was the residence wherein resided my best friend Tootie—his name was Edward Earl but he was nicknamed Tootie and for good reason—he had a predeliction for producing gas—flatulence—he would have been more aptly named Flatus—that has a nice Roman ring to it—a Latin lilt, so to speak. Tootie figures prominently in this posting and will be featured in a future story concerning a significant Saturday, a day when Tootie and I were privileged to ride in a city police car for a short distance and a day on which in current times would have warranted an Amber Alert.

Just as a harbinger of tales to come, Tootie once nailed the door to our privy shut—I’m unsure why, but the act was probably his revenge for something I had said or done. My mother had to borrow a hammer from a neighbor in order to pull the nails and put the family back in business.

Just as an aside, back in the 1980s while living in the Washington, D.C. area, I spotted an auto license plate that read FLATUS. I was traveling to my job in downtown D.C. with a friend and his wife. I laughed when I saw the plate and they asked me what was so funny. I told them and they both laughed, but after a short pause the wife said, “What does that mean?” Her husband unashamedly admitted that he didn’t know, so I had to explain. In their defense, I must tell you that they were from Minnesota, born and bred there—that should be adequate explanation for anyone that remembers Rose Nylund on  TV’s Golden Girls, portrayed by Betty White as a typical native of Minnesota.

The asphalt pavement ended at our house, and the two-lane gravel road continued straight for a short distance and then made a sharp left turn, almost ninety degrees, before continuing on into rural areas, outside city limits. If, instead of turning left, a driver or pedestrian continued straight on a two-rut road for a mile or so, they would come to a large gravel pit filled with water—cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys from a nearby orphanage, the Palmer Home—and for me. Click here for a brief history of the home. Over the years the orphanage has grown and is now known as the Palmer Home for Children. Click here for an update.

My mother often threatened to send me to the Palmer Home unless I changed my ways, specifically concerning my frequent trips to the gravel pit. I never told her that I would welcome the transfer because I envied the kids there. They had all sorts of animals—cows and horses and dogs and goats and a farm where they grew vegetables—they were allowed to feed the animals and milk the cows and work in the garden and had what appeared to be unrestricted access to the gravel pit—in fact, the gravel pit was on property owned by the Home.

For those unfamiliar with the term, gravel pits are created when material—gravel—for use in road building and construction, is mined in an open pit. Because the water table was high in my area, a grand swimming pool was formed—a pool of cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys that lived at Palmer Orphanage, and of course for me.

On a memorable day in a hot summer, memorable for the heat and the cooling effect of gravel pit water, but most memorable for me a day in which my mother came to the gravel pit looking for me and found me. I was blissfully floating around on my back in the middle of the pit, face upturned to the sun and eyes closed, and a clamor arose.  I looked around and watched my friends from the orphanage scramble for their clothes and head away from the pit towards the orphanage in considerable haste. And I saw my mother standing on the bank, my short pants in one hand and my leather belt in the other.

With the departure of the other boys the area grew silent, a silence broken only by my efforts to stay afloat and offshore as long as I could. After awhile my mother told me I might as well come on in because she wasn’t leaving without me. I stayed out in that cold clear deep water until my lips turned blue and everything I had shriveled up—you know, like fingertips, toes, etc. When I finally came out my mother refused to let me have my shorts, but instead pointed me in the direction of home and ordered me to march.

And march I did, driven on by frequent pops on my bare derierre. With each pop I accelerated my pace a bit, but each time my mother told me not to run, that it would be even worse when she caught me. The blows from the narrow belt were not delivered in anger—I would like to believe they were delivered with love, but with repetition they began to take a toll, much as does the fabled Chinese water torture process. She whipped me for the full mile, all the way to our house, along the two-rut road and into the middle of the street, past Tootie’s house where that worthy was standing on the front porch, laughing and pointing at me as I hopped, skipped and jumped along, and finally after an eternity, through the front door of our house.

No, that derierre above is not mine—that’s a plastic replica of Donatello’s sculpture of David. The colorful ones on the right are those of naked cyclists, presented here only because the colors are as fascinating as they are functional.

I learned a lesson that day, not to stay away from the gravel pit, but to be far more furtive—sneaky, so to speak—in planning my trips to the gravel pit. I couldn’t help it—it was in my nature—as a child I was a vagabond and probably would have been well served with around-the-clock supervision. Had I been a a few years older I would have been riding the rails with the multitude of others during the Great Depression.

As a child I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch—our next home, also located on the south side of town, was adjacent to an open sewage ditch where I spent many blissful hours. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying at home, a trait—call it a fault if you will, but I consider it a trait—less admirable than others but nevertheless a trait rather than a fault. There will be additional postings in reference to my fascination with water in all its aspects. That’s a threat as well as a promise, so be forewarned and govern yourselves accordingly.

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

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Ode to a cheesecake . . .

In the winter of 2009 during the heavy snowstorms in and around Washington, D.C., an incident occurred in Alexandria that generated several postings on Word Press. Pending their annual Chocolate Party my son-in-law, the one that’s married to my daughter that lives, loves and works in Virginia, buried a huge cheesecake in their backyard flower garden under two feet of snow, an interment necessitated by the lack of storage space in their refridgeraterrefrigereter—refrigeretar. Oh, damn it, in their icebox!

Click here to read my daughter’s explanation of the unprecedented backyard burial.

I composed a rather brilliant poem—well, somewhat brilliant—well, at least it rhymes—and used it to comment on the incident. That comment, unlike the cheesecake arisen from the grave, remains buried under an avalanche of postings by my daughter. I am resurrecting it, bringing it up from and out of the Stygian darkness of the nether world of comments and into the bright light of day for others to enjoy.

Because I took the liberty of borrowing a few words and phrases from several prominent writers and using them in my poem—horribly fractured, of course—I humbly offer my abject apologies to the preacher John Donne, to the poet Joyce Kilmer, to my favorite author Henry David Thoreau and to my daughter in Virginia, the author of An apology to the wood anemone.

I also apologize to visitors to my blog—I apologize in advance for wishing a pox on those that do not visit, and a double pox on those that visit and fail to comment on my postings. Finally, I apologize for making so many apologies—I cannot help myself—it’s something I cannot control. I apologize often in an effort to dodge or divert or at least minimize criticism—it’s in my nature—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

Please note that I freely admit that I apologize far too often, but I am thankful to report that it’s one of only two faults. In addition to the fault of copiously apologizing, I am also modest to a fault. Sans apologies and modesty, I would be perfect!

Ode to a cheesecake

Breathes there one with soul so dead
That never to one’s self hath said
Methinks that I shall never see
A word so lovely as anemone.

Offed from my tongue it rolls
Sadly as the bell that tolls
Not for thee and not for me
Nor for the lovely anemone.

But for the cheesecake in its bower
Not ‘neath trees nor plants nor showers
Nay, ‘neath snowstorms full of power
Lying beneath the snow for hours

In wait for the chocolate party
To be eaten by goers hearty.

But wait, what’s that I see
Beside the cheesecake ‘neath the snow
The anemone arises ready to go
With the cheesecake to the table

Petals eight to be divided
‘Mongst the diners so excited
A ‘nemone to see.

They smell the petals
They hear the bell
They’ll come to know
As time will tell

If snow and cheesecake
Sounds their knell
Or leaves them alive
And well.

— H.M. Dyer (1932-     )


I neglected to give credit to Sir Walter Scott for his poem The lay of the last minstrel in my Ode to a cheesecake—credit is now given. I also neglected to say that I loved your poem An apology to the wood anemone—well done! Your cheesecake arising from the snow is reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden in which he tells of a golden bug that in the spring gnawed its way out of a table after being entombed in the wood for many years.


 
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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Barbara Frietchie and Robert E. Lee . . .

In January of this year I sent an e-mail containing John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie, to a friend that lives in Alabama. She acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and replied as follows:

Wow! What a beautiful story of pride, loyalty and courage! Thank you for sharing this poem. I’m sending it on to several of my friends up in Northern Virginia.

She also asked who commanded the troops that entered Frederick, Maryland during the War between the States—I use that title because as yet I have learned nothing about the war that could be considered civil.

I responded to my friend with this e-mail:

Subject: Barbara Frietchie . . . . .

The troops in Whittier’s poem were General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, led by General Stonewall Jackson. I was introduced to Barbara Frietchie in elementary school—not the real Barbara, just the poem—somewhere around the fourth grade. I’ve forgotten most of the poem, but for some reason these two verses took root: Shoot if you must this old gray head . . .  and, Who touches a hair of yon gray head . . .

And now for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the poem, here it is:

Barbara Frietchie

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,
Fair as the garden of the Lord,
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde.

On that pleasant morn of the early fall,
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead,
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”—the dust-brown ranks stood fast,
“Fire!”—out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892)

Some final notes:

Given the present demographics of Maryland, Barbara Frietchie could well have been an African-American. Could be—so much of our history is being rewritten that anything is possible (click here for George Orwell’s 1984). Future research online may find that the lady that made the first flag was an African-American—whether true or untrue, that would become part of our revisions of American history.

If the revisions continue, eventually George Santayana’s time-worn statement that Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it will take on new meaning—learning and repeating revisionist history will do little to advance civilization and our standing in the world order.

If I fail to learn history and I am doomed to repeat it, I prefer to repeat the history of the founding of our nation. I do not wish to fail to learn and repeat history that has been revised, and in the revision process has cast aside many of our basic values, and distorted and diluted others.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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