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A typewriter, a teacher and a teenager . . .

During my tenth year of schooling I enrolled in a typing class. I would like to say that my interest in typing was an effort to hone my writing skills and perhaps follow in the footsteps of the great authors, giants such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Twain, Orwell, Vonnegut and lesser lights. I would like to say that but I will not say it because it would not be true. I had a rather strong ulterior motive to learn how to type.

There were several typing classes taught by different teachers, and I chose the class taught by the one that was said to be the best teacher of the group. No, belay that. I can’t say that because it would also be untrue, and I cannot tell a lie, at least not in this instance. This is a WordPress blog and I do have my standards.

I chose a specific teacher’s class because she was quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive, and the rumors that swirled around the campus of the original Stephen D. Lee High School in Columbus, Mississippi in that stellar year of 1948 were that she had been known to dally with some of the students.

Well, actually, the talk in the restrooms reserved for male students was that she—well, it was not only talk but it seemed to be confirmed by some of the writings on the walls of the stalls—the talk intimated that she dallied with students, and in fact some of the images depicted such dallies, crudely of course but rather effective. Walls of the stalls has a solid resonance, don’t you think? Quite expressive, and also quite masculine!

Well, actually, the rumors and the writings and the crude images drawn indicated that she not only dallied—she was said to have actually diddled some of the students. The writings and graphics were routinely obliterated by the janitors but mysteriously re-appeared, often on the same day they were removed.

I attacked that state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter with all the fervor a fifteen-year-old lad could muster, and after three or four weeks I was typing 65 words a minute, and that was after taking off 10 words for every error made, regardless of its nature, whether a misspelling, a wayward comma, a failure to capitalize or missing a period—hey, that last error has a double meaning!

I felt in my first week that the rumors might have a modicum of truth—judging from my observations there was definitely some meat on those bones—the rumors, that is. I know, I know, that term could apply to the typing teacher and in fact did apply to the typing teacher, and it was distributed in all the right places in the right amounts. Before the second week ended I had convinced myself that the rumors were probably true, and I had also convinced myself that the teacher was perhaps considering me a possible candidate for diddling purposes.

That quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive typing teacher was a hands-on instructor—literally. She would often stand behind students, both males and females and reach across a shoulder to point out errors and perhaps to demonstrate how to retrieve the carriage to start another line, with the other hand on the student’s other shoulder to help maintain her balance—the teacher’s balance, that is. I believe I made many, perhaps most, of my errors while she had her hand on my shoulder.

I was a cutie at fifteen and I can prove it. One day when I was around 10 or 11 years old I was with my mother at a grocery store, and I can vividly recall a remark made by the check-out lady. She asked my mother if I was her boy and my mother replied in the affirmative. The lady then said, “He’s a real cutie. He’ll be a heart-breaker and a home-wrecker when he grows up.” Don’t bother to ask whether that prophecy came to pass. I will stand on my rights under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to get me into all sorts of hot water and incidentally, of course, would tend to incriminate me. Also incidentally, the image on the right is not me—that’s Michelle Pfeiffer, a gorgeous lady that realized her true calling while working as a checker at a California supermarket. I used this photo to simulate a grocery checker—Michelle probably dressed differently at work.

That heart-breaker and a home-wrecker remark had the same effect on me that I felt several years later when a young girl out in west Texas told me I looked just like Van Johnson. I blogged that incident, and that posting has a lot more than that to offer—it’s worth the read, and you can find it by clicking here.

On a fateful Friday I made my move, and in doing so I made a fatal error. I dawdled after class until I was alone with that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman and then I made my bid—actually it was a proposition—I proposed, provided that she was amenable to my proposition, to share some time with her over the weekend. Exactly what I said and how I phrased it is enshrouded in the mists of time, but I’m sure that it was concise and to the point and could not possibly be misunderstood. Actually I blurted it out, and I could see that she was transfixed by the proposition. After a long meaningful stare, she answered thusly, each word enunciated slowly and distinctly:

I do not want you in my class. Do not return to my classroom on Monday. Find another typing class or a different subject to fill this period. Is that clear to you, or should I repeat it?

The mists of time have also shrouded my response to that measured order. I have a feeling that my only response was to vacate the premises as quickly as possible. I probably squeaked out something similar to Yes, m’am, it’s clear to me and no, you don’t need to repeat it, and immediately made my exit, out of the class and away from that ugly broad—I mean, I made my exit away from that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman.

On Monday morning I fully expected my homeroom teacher to tell me that my presence was urgently required in the principal’s office. However, she called the roll and then released us to head out for our classes. I waited until the others left and told her that I was not doing well in my typing class and needed to replace it with something else.

Without questions or comment she scheduled me to a second hour of biology, sentencing me to two hours, back to back, under the tutelage of a well-past-middle-aged woman that dressed in multiple layers of clothing, wore heavy black stockings rolled down to midway between knee and ankle and had a face remarkably resembling a turtle—in fact that’s what the students called her—old lady turtle. Actually, I thought she was kinda cute, but of course I have a soft spot in my heart for turtles—in fact, I once had one for a pet.

That’s my story about a state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter and a class taught by a quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman who turned out to be an ugly old unappreciative toad that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole—not that I had anything that resembled such an item.

My only regret concerning this situation is that neither she nor I will ever know what we missed—well, I’m pretty sure I know what I missed, but I can’t speak for her. In the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.

The poet had another saying that had I known it then I would have told that typing teacher this: The joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you. With that included in my proposition my weekend might well have been remarkably more memorable.

Where ever she is now, whether she is still in this realm or has left it for another realm, I wish her well.

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

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South & Pussy in the Corner . . .

I lived with my family in the house on Nineteenth Street South in Columbus, Mississippi for an estimated four years with my mother and three sisters, one just eighteen months older than I, one about ten years older and the eldest sister some seventeen years older.

Neither I nor any of the other children on the block were ever allowed in the house next door to our house on the north side, nor was the only child in that family allowed into our house. It never bothered us, and I don’t remember whether my family ever discussed it, but in retrospect it seems a bit strange. This posting may shed some light on the subject.

The family’s name was Berryhill, a family that was comprised of the mother, the father and a young daughter named Sue, a cute girl around my age, with blond pigtails and a really nice wardrobe. Her mother was always dressed in, I suppose, the latest fashions—I remember the women in my family discussing Sue’s mother and how she dressed. I know nothing of the father’s profession, but judging by their clothing and the fact that the mother always left the house in a taxi and returned in a taxi they had money to burn. Very few people on our street owned cars, and a limited number ever used taxi cabs—they walked, whether to the grocery, the picture show, to church, to visit, to the doctor, to the barbershop, etc. The late 1930s and early 1940s were lean years in our nation but especially in Mississippi, a state still reeling from the War Between the States and the resultant reconstruction era.

Sue was allowed to come outside and play games with us, always with the stern admonition to not soil her clothing ensemble. Sometimes she was allowed to stay outside while her mother took a taxi to some unknown point, probably to the local Black-and-White department store on shopping trip for the latest styles in women’s clothing. Speaking of that store, its name and it storefront were black and white, but the store sold clothing and accessories of all colors. I’ve always wondered whether the name was intended to inform the public during those days of segregation in the South that the store welcomed people of both races—perhaps—could be—who knows? I got no help from Google on this one—I found a White House–Black Market store that sold only white and black clothing, but also sold many accessories in color. However, no reference to a Black and White Department Store—it may possibly have been a partnership between Mr. Black and Mr. White—again, who knows?

On one memorable occasion while she was away from home Mrs. Berryhill’s daughter and I and several other kids from homes on our block played games, one of which was called Pussy in the Corner, and that was the one we were playing in her front yard when she returned in a taxi.

Ordinarily we would have delayed our game to watch her dismount from the taxi and stroll up the sidewalk and into her house, slowly and deliberately, looking to the left and to the right with the steps of a runway model as she progressed, dressed in the latest fashions—or so I gleaned by listening to my mother and my older sisters. However on this day our game was at a really exciting point and as she passed us someone shouted Pussy in the corner! and all of us shifted positions as required by the rules of the game, none of which I remember.

Sue’s mother stopped her runway walk abruptly and turned toward us and we froze in our Pussy in the Corner positions. She faced us and said in strong forceful tones, “Children, I feel that it would be much better if you would say Kitty in the corner, so please do.” She then resumed her strut to the front door and into her house.

We tried mightily to do as we were told—for the remainder of the game we laughingly shouted Kitty in the corner when the game demanded it, but our fun was ruined. A short time later the kids dispersed and went in search of pastimes that posed fewer restrictions, games such as Kick the can, Ring around the roses, Pop the whip and Hide and seek, but the thrill was gone—taking out the term pussy took out the fun in the game.

And speaking of thrill—one of the most popular songs of that day was by Fats Domino, a  haunting melody in which the singer would say, I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, the moon stood still, etc., etc. Without exception, every little boy on my block and probably all the big boys and the men, had at one time or another sang Fat’s song as, I found my thrill on Mrs. Berryhill, etc., etc. Speaking strictly for myself, I had no idea why the corruption of the song was so funny—I just played along with a joke that I didn’t understand.

I’m serious—I was probably the world’s least knowledgeable kid in matters of sex and all its ins and outs—so to speak. The sister seventeen years my senior birthed her first child in the house on Nineteenth Street. I was at home when the baby was born—I remember my sister making lots of noise on the day my niece arrived, but I was out playing when the doctor came to our house. After he left and I returned home, I learned that I now had a niece—I  questioned her source, and I was told that the doctor delivered her. Since I was not present when he arrived, I had no reason to believe otherwise. I didn’t really care where the doctor got the baby—the place from whence she came was of no particular interest to me.

I am totally serious. While living in the house on Nineteenth Street, I spent a long summer with one of my sisters, the second oldest of my three sisters, and when I returned home my mother asked me if my sister was going to have a baby. I told her that I didn’t know, and that if she was going to have a baby she said nothing about it to me.

In retrospect I remember going to a nearby creek several times with my sister and her toddler son to bathe—the toddler skinny-dipped, I wore undershorts and my sister wore a one-piece bathing suit, and I clearly remember that she had gained a tremendous amount of weight, most of which seemed to be centered in her abdomen. The big boys always explained such a condition as the result of the woman swallowing watermelon seeds—I suppose I believed that just as I believed the doctor delivered my first niece—hey, nobody ever told me the difference between delivered and delivered.

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

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a stolen candy bar . . .

At some point during the time I resided at the house on Eleventh Street South with my family—three older sisters and one older mother—I stole a Payday candy bar. Yep, I casually strolled into Mr. Fuqua’s corner grocery store at the opposite end of my block, cruised around pretending to shop and purloined a full-grown Payday, perhaps the most exotic and tastiest candy bar in existence both then and now, and casually strolled out of the store undetected.

I stuffed the Payday into my pocket while the proprietor was busy with a paying customer and exited the store. Calendar points—days, weeks, months and years have dimmed considerably over time, but I can say with confidence that I was either six or seven years old when I stole the Payday, an age that most would consider a bit early for one to begin a life of crime. I hasten to add that shortly after the theft, on the same day in which I committed the theft, I reluctantly but firmly renounced that life—read on for the details.

I researched the history of Payday candy bars in preparation for this posting and learned that the Payday candy bar and I were born in the same year, an amazing coincidence. We’ve both grown since that time, but in opposite directions—I’m considerably larger—Payday, conversely, is considerably smaller and considerably more expensive—for a brief history of the storied candy bar, click here: Can’t get enough peanuts? Try a PAYDAY Peanut Caramel Bar, with sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts.

As was Macaulay Culkin, the child actor in the Home Alone movies, I was alone at home that day and thus free to roam at will. My roaming took me to the store and started me on a life of crime, albeit short-lived. On that day I became a criminal—small time and insignificant in the overall history of crime in the United States but a criminal nonetheless, a doer of a bad deed—a lawbreaker and a thief.

I’ll fast-forward and confess that after hiding the candy bar, still in its original wrapper, its sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts untouched by fingers, lips, teeth or tongue—at least untouched while in my possession. In retrospect, I felt that if my theft was discovered I could return the item, virginal in every respect and thus avoid prosecution and subsequent incarceration. I probably planned to plead guilty and hope for probation and community service at some place other than grocery stores with extensive candy displays.

I hid my purloined Payday in several places in my house. Each seemed logical at first but doubt soon set in and the hiding place was changed—none was satisfactory. I briefly considered hiding it in our outdoor toilet, but wisely rejected that location. At one point it spent some time beneath a bush in the vacant lot across the street from my house, craftily hidden under dry leaves.

I finally returned the Payday candy bar, that concoction of sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts, to its original display shelf in Mr. Fuqua’s corner store, its wrapper a bit wrinkled from its unauthorized and illegal sojourn and covered with my fingerprints but with its innards pristine, ready for sale to and consumption by anyone with the necessary nickel.

I would like to believe that the proprietor of that corner store, a long-time friend of my family, was aware of my criminal act—that he witnessed its departure from and its return to the candy shelf and decided to overlook the incident, to consider it insignificant in the greater scheme of things but resolving to keep a sharp lookout any time I entered the store in the future. If he did reason in that manner, it was a good choice—I never took another item from his establishment—I was tempted, but I never again succumbed to that temptation.

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

Oops, I forgot something—a few years later at some time during the conflagration of World War II, I rescued a turtle, a teeny tiny real live baby turtle with its one-inch-diameter shell sporting a painting of the American flag. I’ll save that story for a future posting, but as a teaser I’ll say that by my action I mercifully released the turtle from its display case in a five-and-ten-cent store, one of a chain that is now defunct. That little guy—or little girl, perhaps—such determination with turtles is quite difficult—lived a long and varied life following his—or her—release, rescued from and no longer subjected to the stares, giggles, anti-turtle comments and unlimited handling by untold numbers of an uncaring public. McLellan Stores were a 20th-century chain of five-and-dime stores in the United States. You can click here to read McLellan’s history.

The first image above shows the size of my turtle—no, that’s not my hand—I didn’t steal three turtles—I stole only one. The second image is a somewhat expensive representation of a turtle, size unknown—it’s available online for anyone with $995 to spare.

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

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a Kool cigarette . . .

My mother smoked cigarettes from my earliest memories all the way to her eightieth birthday, and periodically during those years she said, I’ll stop smoking when I’m eighty. On her eightieth birthday, just as she had promised, she stopped smoking and she stopped cold turkey—no dependence on any system designed to control the habit. She lived another three years, then died following bypass surgery for an aneurysm near the heart—the doctors said that her lungs were in remarkably good condition, especially considering her past history of smoking.

Hers was one of the surgical situations in which the operation was a success but the patient died.

In my early years she smoked Kool cigarettes, those with mentholated tobacco and a cork-tip for filtration—smokers addicted to that brand probably believed that although they were damaging their body they were being medicated for the damage at the same time. As far as I know the maker never claimed that, but there is no doubt that some smokers believed it to be true—my mother was one of those believers. For those not familiar with the brand, it was represented by Willie the Kool Penguin, beginning in 1934 and ending in 1960, and there is no doubt that Willie sold a lot of Kool cigarettes.

The first cigarette I smoked was a Kool—well, it was the first cigarette I attempted to smoke—I couldn’t make it go. My mistake was in trying to set fire to the filter-tipped end instead of the tobacco filled end, the part that was supposed to be lighted. All I got was a really nasty taste and a really bad smell in the area where I tried to light the cigarette, a smell composed of burning cork, burning tobacco and burning mentholatum, a real bummer. I was a first-grader somewhere along in my first year of schooling at Miss Mary Stokes’ Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. Click here for an excellent posting, even if I say so myself!

You can also find the information on Miss Mary Stokes’ school by clicking here.

Following my failure to light the cigarette I quickly consigned it and the burned match to our outdoor privy—toilet—and opened doors and windows throughout the house and fanned a magazine all through the house in an attempt at fumigation. It must have been effective, because none ever knew about my first attempt to smoke—my family may be learning about it with this posting.

I hate to admit it, but my next attempt to smoke was highly successful, accomplished at age fourteen, establishing a habit that continued for more than twenty years. I ran out of cigarettes one night and simply never bothered to ever smoke again—I never bought another carton or another package of cigarettes, nor did I ever bum a smoke from another smoker—I simply quit—cold turkey. I’m unsure why I stopped, but I may have heard a silent voice saying ominously—it is time—shudder, shudder!

Now travel with me back to Eleventh Street South, a street block on which I lived at one end and Fuqua’s Grocery stood at the other end. Back in those days—the good old days—one could purchase a cigarette with one penny—any brand of cigarette. If the proprietor had no open package of the brand desired, he would open a new pack in order to satisfy the customer and make the sale. There was no prohibition on children smoking—it was a practice generally frowned on, but nobody ranted and railed at seeing children smoking, nothing more than a tsk, tsk, perhaps.

I had the requisite penny and I decided to buy a cigarette. My mother had often given me a penny and asked me to go to the store and get her a Kool cigarette, so my request for a Kool came as no surprise to Mr. Fuqua. Of course, I took no chances—I lied and told him that my mother had sent me for the cigarette, and he had no reason to think I was being somewhat untruthful.

As an aside, in those days the owner also maintained a supply of saltine crackers available for purchase by the piece—for the price of one penny, a customers could get sausage or cheese and two crackers. Five cents for an eight-ounce Coke, a 12-ounce Pepsi or a 12-ounce RC Cola, then five cents more for ten crackers and five slices of cheese or sausage made a sumptuous meal for many people, including workers, during the days of the Great Depression—a depression that lasted far longer in the southern part of our nation than in other parts.

That’s it—that’s the story of my first attempt to smoke. I can pinpoint the year and almost to the month and day when I smoked the last cigarette. It was definitely in 1967 in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning in the spring—it was a filtered Winston cigarette that I huffed and puffed right down to the filter while fishing on Medina Lake, a fisherman’s paradise some thirty miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. My fishing companion was Charley, a friend from work that smoked Swisher Sweet cigars and—-well, I’ll stop there and finish the story in a later posting. Stay tuned!

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

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Age 10—fired from a job stocking groceries . . .

My mother remarried when I was nine years old, and her new husband was not one to allow a lad at the advanced age of nine years to remain idle. Over the next seven years he assisted me in obtaining employment, either after school or between school years, in such diverse areas as delivering groceries, stocking groceries, filling water tanks in mobile homes, selling newspapers, doing duty in a self-service laundry, and clerking and filling orders in a lumber yard—the clerking job was the last but certainly not the least—it was the job that paid the most, and it was the only one that I really enjoyed.

The first job—that is, the first job I had working outside the home—my stepfather kindly negotiated a job for me to begin delivering groceries for a small neighborhood grocer at the corner of our block. My primary duty was to deliver groceries to homes in the neighborhood. My tool was a large two-wheeler—actually it could more accurately be described as a one-and-a-half wheeler. The front wheel was perhaps one-half of the rear wheel’s size, scaled down to accommodate a gargantuan basket mounted above it—such vehicles are now relics, collectors’ items relegated (thank heavens) to museums and such.

My career as a bike-riding grocery delivery boy was brief—it began on Tuesday and, through no fault of my own, ended the same day. I made several successful deliveries, but then a huge balloon sprouted out of the front tire and exploded. I pushed the bike with its groceries to the proper address, delivered the groceries, pushed the bike back to my place of employment, explained the problem, and was told that a new tire and inner-tube would need to be ordered, and in the interim I was assigned to a satellite store several blocks away from the main store.

In reference to me riding the bike with the little wheel and the huge basket full of groceries, picture this:

I was a nine-year old kid, under-weight, under-height and sometimes underfed, and that was a man-sized bike—it was a struggle for me to control it with the basket empty—when underway with a full basket, my forward progress was similar to that of a western sidewinder rattlesnake navigating a stretch of hot sand.

The satellite store did not make deliveries and therefore had no delivery bike (thank heavens), so I was assigned to stock shelves, sweep floors, police up the outside areas and accomplish other duties as directed. One of the other duties was to walk several blocks to the main store with the days’ receipts—it was never a really substantial amount of money, but the way I was cautioned would make one think that I was relocating the contents of Fort Knox.

My grocery delivering career began on Tuesday and ended on Tuesday, but my shelf-stocking and money-transferring career lasted two and one-half days—it ended at noon on Friday.

This was the situation as I explained it to my employer:

I told him that I needed Friday afternoon off, and he asked why. I had not yet learned to feign pain, or sickness, or to claim a dental appointment so I told the truth. A new movie was in town and I wanted to see it—it was the newest horror film out of Hollywood—the movie was titled, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-man,” a sequel to the original Frankenstein film, long awaited and a must-see for ten-year-old boys.

My request was denied but I persisted—actually I insisted, and was told that if I took off to see the movie I was not to return—in essence I was fired, at age 10, from a job stocking groceries. I acquiesced to the terms, requested my pay for the three-and-one-half days I had worked, and was given two whole dollars!

Real paper money.

Greenbacks.

Silver certificates with some guy’s picture and the words “In God We Trust” printed on them.

Which reminds me of a sign often seen in bars:

In God we trust—all others pay cash.

And of course, one bar-sign joke calls for another:

Helen Waite, Owner

Need credit?

Go to Helen Waite!

But I digress—on with my sad tale of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

With the two dollars in my pocket I took the rest of the day off and relaxed in the coolness of the Varsity Theater, the only one of the three theaters in town that was air conditioned. There was a huge banner atop the building that featured Willy the Penguin of Kool-cigarette fame saying, “Come on it, it’s Kooool inside.”

Believe it or not, for those of us under 13 years of age the theater admission was only nine cents—nine cents, mind you, would give a kid access to a double feature, usually a western and a detective movie (Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie, for example), a weekly serial which ended each week with a cliff-hanger, several cartoons and loads of trailers for upcoming movies—and we could come and go as we pleased, provided that we held on to our ticket stub.

The answer to your question about the ticket stubs is “yes.” We sometimes adversely affected the theater’s daily take by passing our ticket stub to a kid who lacked the necessary nine cents for admission.

One thin dime would pay for the entertainment with a penny left over. A penny doesn’t sound like much, but that one penny would pay for any one of various penny-items stocked at the concession stand—an all-day sucker, a lolly-pop, a jaw-breaker, one of Tom’s individually wrapped peanut-butter candies, a stick of one’s favorite chewing gum, and even a long-lasting ball of bubble-gum to be deposited under one’s seat just before leaving the theater.

Oh, life was good in the old days!

I was never foolish enough to lie to my stepfather so, albeit unwillingly, I was truthful about my job loss. He was a bit perturbed at first, but loosened up when I told him about the two dollars, an amount which included any severance pay I may have earned. His secondary reaction was to discuss the matter with my previous employer, but my mother convinced him that such a discussion would be neither wise nor productive.

So that’s it—that’s how I landed my first job and that’s why I was fired, a firing that was “E pluribus unum,” which, as all know, is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

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

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, Family, Uncategorized

 

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