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How to build a fire in the wilderness . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my response to her questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t progress wonderful?!

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

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

Right?

Right!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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