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Unto you this day a child was born . . .

DISCLAIMER: There is a possibility, albeit slight, that some viewers may associate this title with a different birth, one mentioned in the King James version of the Holy Bible (Luke 2:1) wherein it is said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Granted, there appears to be a certain similarity but the relationship is purely coincidental—please be assured that this posting refers to a different child, in a different time, in a different place and under remarkably different circumstances. To those who are familiar with the biblical passage and thus recognize the similarity, I offer my congratulations and my respect.

To continue with my posting:

September in West Central Alabama is a pleasant month—a beautiful month, with foliage exploding in a riotous collage of colors. The days are cool and the skies are clear, and in 1932 the smell of wood smoke was in the air. In that era most homes in Alabama’s rural areas were lighted by kerosene lamps and heated by open fireplaces, and that would continue for several more years until electricity finally made its way to my place of birth, a farmhouse well off the beaten path, located in a thickly forested area some five miles south of Vernon, the county seat of Lamar County, Alabama.

The small clapboard house built on piers is long-gone, replaced with a modern brick-and-mortar edifice with electric lighting, gas heating, air conditioning, computers and telephones. Moreover, the locations of the garbage can and toilet have been reversed—now the garbage can is outside the house and the privy, formerly an outdoor toilet, is now inside.

The smoke came from fireplace chimneys and kitchen stovepipes. Smoke from rich pine chunks, burning in cast-iron stoves, and hardwood oak burning in open fireplaces emerged from stovepipes and chimneys to merge and fill the air with a scent both sweet and pungent. Since fall was hog-killing time in rural Alabama on most farms, some of the smoke came from fires laid around and under iron wash-pots. The water in the pots had to be at, or near, its boiling point before dipping the carcasses of freshly killed hogs in it, a process necessary to loosen the hog bristles so they could be cleanly scraped from the skin.

Shortly before midnight on September 18, 1932 a country doctor completed the successful delivery of a boy baby, the seventh and final child of the 35-year old mother. After he congratulated her and voiced his post-natal instructions, he turned his horse and buggy around and set off on the return trip to his home in Vernon, a small town some five miles to the north. He arrived there on September 19 during the wee small hours of the morning. Though sleepy and tired from his arduous day, he felt obligated to record the birth before retiring from his labors. Because of that tiredness, perhaps, he mistakenly recorded the baby’s birth as 19 September rather than 18 September.

I was that child, and because my mother said I was born on the eighteenth of September, each year on that date I added another year to my age, a process which would continue for many years. The year 1949 was an important milestone in my life. In that year I wanted to join—nay, urgently needed to join—the US Army and I had no birth certificate, so I traveled (hitch-hiked) to Vernon to seek the doctor who delivered me. I found him in his office and told him I was in search of a document showing my date of birth.

In order to know where to begin his search, the doctor needed to know my age and the year I was born. I told him I was 17 years old, born on September 18, 1931. He found his pen-and-ink record of my birth in a huge ledger and noted that I was not 17—I was 16, and I was born on September 19, 1932, not September 18, 1931. He said that was what the ledger showed, and that was what would be reflected by any document he might issue. I was unnamed in his ledger, so he consented to accept the name I gave him (I have often regretted giving him my real name—shucks, I could have been anybody I wanted to be!).

I apologized for my “little white lie” and explained that I needed to be 17 years old, the minimum age required to join the army with parental consent (otherwise the minimum age was 18). I explained that my mother was willing—eager, actually—to sign a false document. My pleas were rejected, and I left the doctor’s office with a certified document showing my date of birth as September 19, 1932.

No matter—where there’s a will there’s a way. The Army recruiting sergeant (a very resourceful recruiter who, at that time, had successfully achieved his recruiting quota for 12 consecutive years) took a bottle of ink eradicator, and deftly using the bottle’s tiny brush to apply the liquid, removed the “2” from the 1932, and placed the birth certificate in an upright Royal typewriter (the state of the art at that time). After several tedious moments he was satisfied that he had the “1” key appropriately placed. He struck the key firmly and—voila!—a “1” appeared in the exact spot where the “2” had been, perfectly aligned with the “3” in 1932. With that one stroke of a typewriter key and its resulting imprint, I officially became one year older.

The rest, as some are wont to say, is history. My mother (my sole guardian) willingly and unashamedly signed the paper attesting to my age and thereby giving her permission for me to enlist, and I was scheduled for a swearing-in ceremony. However, before that time came the Army recruiter had made his monthly quota for that service and enlistments were closed. He told me I could wait until the Army recruiting quota opened the following month, or I could go into the US Air Force immediately.

I accepted the Air Force offer without hesitation and was duly sworn-in, and on the morning of March 7, 1949, shortly after my mother had taught me how to to make a Windsor knot in a necktie, I boarded a train in Columbus, Mississippi (note: 2-digit codes for states had not yet been developed) bound for New Orleans. In that city I changed to a Southern Pacific train, the Sunset Limited headed for California.

In the midst of a gaggle of other enlistees, I left the train at Sunset Station in San Antonio, Texas and presented myself, all 110 pounds of me, at the tender age of 16 years, five months and 18 days, to a burly military policeman. That worthy used some really colorful language to form us into some semblance of a military formation, a formation which he strained mightily to maintain while we waited for the bus which would transport us to Lackland Air Force Base to begin basic training.

My association with the United States Air Force lasted 22 years, plus several more months and a few more days. As one might expect, events of those years now threaten viewers with an infinite number of additional inane blog postings.

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

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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A catastrophic M&M moment . . .

Today I was privileged to spend several hours in (and out of) the chemotherapy unit of Wilford Hall Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas (I had good reason to be there, but that’s fodder for a future posting). At mid-morning I left the hospital for a sumptuous breakfast at Burger King, a sausage-biscuit with strawberry jam and a senior coffee (yes, I’m a senior, and I want my discount, damn it!).

After breakfast I stopped to browse at the base Thrift Shop (it’s open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), and I picked up, at modest cost, a candy dispenser featuring the little yellow M&M fellow—at least I believe it’s a fellow, but one can’t really tell with an M&M, regardless of its color. He’s made of plastic and was probably made in China (everything else is). He’s wearing what appears to be teddy-bear-toed house slippers and sitting in a recliner which has a handle on one side, a handle which, in a real-life chair, would serve to recline the chair and raise the footrest. However this handle, when pushed down, raises the little guy’s legs and flips up a door in the chair’s front to release the candy. There is a small door at the top of the chair back through which the candy can be loaded.

This was the first M&M dispenser I had ever seen, but I learned later that M&M dispensers are ubiquitous—they are molded in several different configurations, some of which have become valuable items and are eagerly sought by avid collector’s—whether mine has any value beyond my cost remains to be seen.

Before returning to the hospital I made a second side trip to the base Commissary to pick up (and pay for, of course) two large  family-size packages of peanut butter M&Ms. I planned to clean the little fellow up, fill the chair with candy, and introduce him to the workers and patients in the chemotherapy unit.

I took him into the small restroom adjacent to the chemotherapy unit waiting-area, sat him on the sink and administered a thorough cleaning, or at least as thorough as I could by using tap water, hand-soap and paper towels. With the cleaning and drying complete, I opened a package of M&Ms, opened the filler door and began to load the candy, and a catastrophic M&M moment ensued. When I lifted the dispenser, I tilted it to facilitate loading and I inadvertently pushed the little handle down. Before I could stop the loading process the little guy unloaded the chair—his teddy-bear-toed house-slippered feet flew up, the door in the chair front flew open and a host of M&Ms flew out—a dozen or so jumped into the sink, and the rest chose the floor and scampered for the corners. A few slyly slipped under the door of the privacy stall, and several others congregated beneath the urinal.

I probably merit a Guinness Book of Records entry “for retrieving wayward M&Ms from the floor of a restroom adjacent to a chemotherapy waiting area in a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas at eleven AM, Central Standard Time, on Tuesday, 21 April 2009,” a record which is unlikely to be challenged and should stand forever.

I was desperately trying to round up all the little candies before another restroom user entered, and I was successful. When the door opened to admit an elderly man, they had all been corralled and flushed (ha, ha, take that!) and I was back at the sink, holding the dispenser up to the light in an effort to discover what had caused the malfunction. The elderly gentleman entered, stopped dead in his tracks, watched for a long moment, returned my cheerful “Good morning” with a sadly negative shake of his head and then placed himself at the urinal. When I left, several minutes later after thoroughly scrubbing my hands, he was still in place—and could possibly still be there.

I decided that, given its propensity to malfunction, it would be unwise to place the unpredictable M&M dispenser in the chemotherapy unit. Instead, I gave the unopened bag and the remainder of the opened bag to a nurse, to be dispensed in some fashion other than the one I precipitated in the restroom.

Okay, that’s my catastrophic M&M moment—I suspect that there are viewers who have had their own significant moments with M&Ms, and perhaps they would share them with us. I welcome the discussion of any such moments (or lack thereof) in response to this posting.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2009 in Humor, Uncategorized

 

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