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.22 shorts, Indians, desperadoes & turkeys . . .

Papa John, my step-father, placed little emphasis on the yuletide season, whether regarding religion and the birth of Christ or on the spirit of giving at Christmas time. I can only remember two gifts he gave me.  I posted the story of his promise to my sister and me that he would get us a dog for Christmas, and how he kept his promise. Click here to read about that memorable Christmas. It’s a sad story, sadder even than that of Tiny Tim Cratchet in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol—well, not really that sad, but it was memorable.

We lived on a small farm in Mississippi for a year or so, just long enough to sell off the cotton and a bit of timber, enough to give our stepfather a grubstake to return to a life to which he had become accustomed before marrying into our family. With the money in his pocket, he only needed to create a situation that would infuriate him enough to rid himself of the albatross around his neck, namely my mother, my sister and me. Click here for that merry tale, a story of violence and threats, including me and my sister racing to gain a hiding place and safety in the woods.

The only other Christmas gift my stepfather gave me over the seven years I lived with him, on-and-off for varying periods of time, was a .22 caliber Remington rifle in as-new condition, having been restored by a gunsmith. The wooden stock had been refinished and the metal parts re-blued. He also handed me a box of fifty .22-short rifle bullets. If you should ever have to be shot with a .22 caliber weapon, opt for the short bullet. Its casing is shorter than 22-long bullets and thus has less powder to propel the lead or copper tip.

In my boyhood I devoured the stories told in books by Zane Grey and James Fenimore Cooper. At an age somewhere between eleven and twelve years and with that rifle in my hands I became Natty Bumppo—Hawkeye—the protagonist in The Last of the Mohicans, moving silently but swiftly through the virgin Eastern forests, unseen and unheard, avoiding every twig, bush or loose stone that might reveal my presence to the wily Hurons bent on lifting my scalp, all the while protecting the white women that the author felt that renegade Indians coveted for whatever nefarious purposes.

I was also in pursuit of desperadoes, violent and dangerous men as depicted by Zane Grey including bank robbers, cattle rustlers, horse thieves and those that at one time or another had neglected to tip their hat on meeting genteel ladies on the wooden sidewalks in western frontier towns, nor did they step aside to the muddy street to allow the long-skirted ladies safe passage—the ladies were therefore required to raise their skirts to avoid the mud, thus revealing their ankles to the salacious men by deferring to them and stepping off the boardwalk into the muddy street—bummer.

As President George Herbert Walker Bush—Bush #1—might say, shortly after receiving the rifle I was in deep you know what—I was in a lot of trouble. Unknown to me at the time, our neighbors on our right some mile or so distant raised turkeys for the market. As I prowled through the forest in that direction looking for Indians or rustlers or bank robbers, I came upon a clearing with a dead tree in its center, stripped of its leaves and its branches festooned with turkeys. Since I had found them in the forest I immediately deduced that they were wild turkeys and commenced firing with the intent of putting meat on the table for my family, starving after a meager crop, with no money and a dearth of wild animals for food.

My turkey rifle was a single shot, and my stepfather had told me to never carry a loaded rifle, to load it when I was ready to shoot at something. This involved pulling back the bolt, digging a cartridge out of my pocket, inserting the cartridge into the barrel, closing and locking the bolt, then pulling back the firing pin and locking it into position to fire. Only then should the weapon be aimed and the trigger be pulled to release the firing pin that strikes the shell and ignites the powder, providing the force to propel the missile to, or at least in the direction of the target. My rifle was definitely not a rapid-fire weapon, and that feature probably saved me from disaster.

I laboriously reloaded after the first shot—the turkey I had aimed at did not seem to be adversely affected, so I took my second shot at a different bird. That turkey also seemed impervious to the bullet, but I was denied a third shot, whether at him or one of the others. I was in the process of reloading for a third shot when the owner of the turkeys entered the scene, running and shouting for me to stop shooting his turkeys.

I didn’t know that our neighbors had changed from a white family with a passel of kids, one of them a beautiful red-haired cross-eyed girl about my age, but a young girl that had all the attributes of a mature woman, or at least all the visible attributes of a mature woman. A black family was now living on the farm—yes, that’s what we called African-Americans back in the olden days—and the turkey-farmer was big and moving swiftly in my direction, shouting at me to stop shooting, so I wisely matched his speed in the opposite direction and headed for home as fast as my bare feet could carry me.

I never knew whether my bullets struck either of my turkey targets. I would hope that I missed completely, but I was afraid to ask my stepfather. I told him about my error in thinking the turkeys were wild, and he just laughed, then went into a long discourse on the use of firearms and safety after telling me that there were no wild turkeys in that part of the state.

I don’t know whether the neighbor ever came to our house to talk to my stepfather, or whether my stepfather went to his house. I have my doubts that either happened. As for my hunting efforts with my rifle, I never again went toward the turkey farm, with or without my rifle—I had lost most of my attraction for shooting at anything, whether animal, vegetable, mineral or otherwise.

The rifle is in my possession now. In the early days of our marriage, I used it for collateral to get enough money to buy gasoline for our 250 mile trip home from visiting my wife’s relatives. Many years later my brother-in-law returned the rifle to me for the exact amount of the collateral—five dollars. I realize that doesn’t sound like much, but gas was only 22 cents a gallon in 1954.

I treasure that rifle. I treasure it so much that it’s stripped down into three pieces, stock, barrel and bolt, and stored in three different places in my home.  Finding all three pieces would be a daunting task for a burglar—in fact, I’m not sure that I can find them—and should an intruder enter while the house is occupied the task would be even more laborious and completely unneccessary because I have a veritable arsenal of weapons readily available for such an occasion, as do most patriotic and conscientious citizens in my neck of the woods.

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

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A country breakfast? Never, not for a country boy. . .

While rambling around a Virginia blogger’s site I came across a photo masquerading as a breakfast in a Huntsville, Alabama home. I was born in Alabama but left there as soon as I could, illegally migrating at the age of five with my family far off to a westerly location in Mississippi, some thirty miles distant from my birthplace. For the next eleven years or so, I had many occasions to return to rural Alabama and I consider myself an expert on country breakfasts, including their composition, presentation and consumption. Click here if you are even the least bit interested in my humble beginnings—it’s a good read—check it out.

Please heed my warning—do not attempt to follow a mule while breaking new ground for planting if this is all you had for breakfast because neither you nor the mule will last until dinner—yes, dinner, not lunch. Country folk do not do lunch, except perhaps while visiting in colder climes in the northern regions.

A so-called country breakfast: This photo supposedly depicts a country breakfast offering in a Huntsville, Alabama home. Granted that it is a beautifully composed and presented photograph, neither it nor the meal constitutes a real country breakfast. Click here for the original posting with the photo, narrative and comments.

This is the narrative from the original posting:

Breakfast at Sue’s 23 11 2008 En route to Texas for the holidays, we stopped to stay overnight and spend Sunday with our friends, Sue and Steve, in Huntsville, Alabama. They moved from Virginia in April 2007. Sue always has funny napkins on hand, and Sunday morning’s breakfast proved no exception—guess she’s not a Yankee anymore with that attitude! Sue buys most of her funny napkins from Swoozie’s.

And this is my comment on the counterfeit breakfast, a comment that is beautifully composed and presented and can be consumed far more readily than the fruit and pseudo sandwiches shown in the photograph:

Breakfast? BREAKFAST? In Alabama? Where are the grits and eggs and sausage and bacon and biscuits and gravy? No new ground ever got cleared and plowed and cotton never got planted, chopped, picked and hauled off to the cotton gin by people with such a breakfast—that’s not a breakfast, that’s a brunch. Is that a glass of tea? FOR BREAKFAST? Where’s the steaming mug of coffee, one-half chicory, one half cream (real cream) and the other half sugar (real sugar)?
This is a country breakfast!

I can only surmise that the invasion of hordes from Northern climes has wrought such drastic change. That “breakfast” wouldn’t provide enough energy to get a team of mules harnessed and hitched up to the wagon. What a pity, or as we say in South Texas, “Que lastima!” As Stephen Foster lamented in his ode to Ol’ Black Joe: “Gone are the days . . .”

With that off my chest, let me say that the table setting is lovely, the photography is superb as always, and your hosts Steve and Sioux—I mean Sue—are the ultimate in graciousness. Their migration from Alexandria to Huntsville is Virginia’s loss and a boon to Alabama—these are people who will always “. . . leave the light on for you.” Click here for a beautiful dissertation on painting, poetry and picking cotton, all relative to this posting—a great read!


And as always when the need arises I will render full disclosure concerning any of my WordPress postings. The breakfast blogger is my daughter, one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and labors in Virginia, and that bogus breakfast is the work of a transplant from Virginia, formerly a neighbor and still a best friend of the blogger, her BFF as they say on facebook. Sue is a lovely lady that has become a genuine Southern belle in every respect except, of course, in learning what constitutes a country breakfast. I trust that she will learn and conform as time passes—and time is fleeting, Sue!

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

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Revisit: Words to live by—Lean on me . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share, with anyone and everyone who happens to pass this way, the beautiful thoughts expressed by Samuel Ullman in his poem Youth, excerpts of which appeared recently on Refdesk as the THOUGHT OF THE DAY. The posting is also a recommendation for Refdesk as a home page. Refdesk has an astonishing range—it has never failed me in my searches, regardless of their purpose. Donations to Refdesk are welcomed, but otherwise the service is free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.” – Samuel Ullman

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Youth, by Samuel Ullman:

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

A brief biography of Ullman (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia):

Samuel Ullman (April 13, 1840 – March 21, 1924) was an American businessman, poet, humanitarian. He is best known today for his poem Youth which was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur. The poem was on the wall of his office in Tokyo when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan. In addition, he often quoted from the poem in his speeches, leading to it becoming better known in Japan than in the United States.

Born in 1840 at Hechingen, Germany to Jewish parents, Ullman immigrated with his family to America to escape discrimination at the age of eleven. The Ullman family settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After briefly serving in the Confederate Army, he became a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. There, Ullman married, started a business, served as a city alderman, and was a member of the local board of education.

In 1884, Ullman moved to the young city of Birmingham, Alabama, and was immediately placed on the city’s first board of education.

During his eighteen years of service, he advocated educational benefits for black children similar to those provided for whites. In addition to his numerous community activities, Ullman also served as president and then lay rabbi of the city’s reform congregation at Temple Emanu-El. Often controversial but always respected, Ullman left his mark on the religious, educational, and community life of Natchez and Birmingham.

In his retirement, Ullman found more time for one of his favorite passions – writing letters, essays and poetry. His poems and poetic essays cover subjects as varied as love, nature, religion, family, the hurried lifestyle of a friend, and living “young.” It was General Douglas MacArthur who facilitated Ullman’s popularity as a poet – he hung a framed copy of a version of Ullman’s poem “Youth” on the wall of his office in Tokyo and often quoted from the poem in his speeches. Through MacArthur’s influence, the people of Japan discovered “Youth” and became curious about the poem’s author.

In 1924, Ullman died in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1994, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Japan-America Society of Alabama opened the Samuel Ullman Museum in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. The museum is located in the former Ullman residence and is operated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In my not very humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (title and chorus are in bold italics):

Lean on Me
Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

So just call on me brother,
when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that
you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me . . .

All lyrics are property and copyright Bill Withers.

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

 

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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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Revisit: The day I lost my marbles . . .

I originally posted this story in July of 2010. I came across it while browsing today and enjoyed it so much that I decided to share it with the multitudes of people that overlooked it. I know they overlooked it because it garnered only one comment and that was from a lovely lady that lives in Montgomery, and she probably felt compelled to comment because she is my niece and I am the only surviving uncle from her mother’s side of the family. Actually, if I were a female I would be the only surviving aunt from her mother’s family—yep, of the original seven children I am the last one standing, and yes, I’m a bit lonely!

This is an intriguing—albeit rather sad—tale of one small boy’s attempt to establish and cement friendship and perhaps help to promote cordiality between races in the deep South at a time long before the marches between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and long before civil rights legislation was passed by Congress. Well, alright, I confess that I was also trying to add to my collection of marbles and because of my politically incorrect older sister I failed miserably, and instead found my collection reduced by a significant number, including some of my favorite pieces. Bummer!

The day I lost my marbles

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi on the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marbles out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

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

 

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A feral cat, a loaf of bread and an execution . . .

Cat in the Hat Barn

A couple of months ago I posted the story of my family’s brief attempt at living life on a farm in Mississippi in a three-room house with no bathrooms, no electricity and no running water. Winter was kept at bay by two fireplaces that heated the combination living room and bedroom and a separate bedroom. Added to those two rooms were the combination kitchen and dining area and a lean-to intended for storage, primarily for stove and fireplace wood and livestock feed. Click here to read the details—it’s well worth the read, featuring tales of cotton picking, sexual abuse of chickens, killing twin fox terriers and threatening runaway children with a shotgun.

This posting is about an incident on the farm that featured a feral tomcat. One evening at dusk my stepfather, knowing that I longed for a pet, came in from the barn and told me there was a wild cat in the barn and that if I could catch him I could keep him for a pet. Although I was exultant at the thought of having a pet, I approached the barn with more than a modicum of apprehension—I had learned earlier that his promises should not be taken literally, but with a grain of salt.

One Saturday soon after we moved to the farm he promised to bring me a present from town. I felt sure that it would be a bicycle, but it turned out to be a wheelbarrow, to be used to clean stables and other indelicate and backbreaking activities. I spent that Saturday afternoon shoveling you-know-what out of long-neglected barn stalls and hauling the loads to our garden and to what my stepfather called his horse pasture, although we didn’t have any horses. Also one year near Christmas time he promised to bring my sister and me dogs as Christmas presents—he gave her a collie and me a Pekingese—hers decorated an ashtray and mine was a leaded doorstop. Read the full story here.

I was surprised to find an actual wild feral cat in the barn, hiding out among the hay bales and equipment stored in the barn’s loft. Equipped—armed, actually—with nothing more than a flashlight with weak batteries, I finally cornered the cat, a multicolored tomcat with a ferocious temper. I caught him after many tries, each of which added to the plethora of scratches he inscribed on my hands and arms. I tried to stuff him in a burlap bag but finally just wrapped it around him and made a triumphant return to the house. The hardest part of that return was going down the ladder from the barn loft using only one hand, with the other holding firm to some fifteen pounds of wriggling screeching tomcat.

The farm included a skid-mounted store fronted by a single gas pump, a dinosaur mechanism operated by first pumping fuel from the underground tank with a hand pump into a glass reservoir with gallon marks and then using gravity to lower the required number of gallons into a vehicle’s tank.

The little store measured some 12 by thirty feet and was stocked by those items that country folks needed to replace between visits to markets in the city, items such as bread, cigarettes, cigars, snuff, candies, thread, needles, lard, sugar, flour and various canned goods. The store was infested with rats, and my stepfather told me to close the cat up in the store and it would take care of the rats. That sounded plausible to me as a temporary measure, and then I would begin a program to domesticate my new wild pet.

It was not to be. That cat ate an entire loaf of bread the first night, leaving only the plastic wrapper. Store-bought bakery bread came in one-pound loaves only in those days—today’s one and one-half pound loaves had not yet been developed.

My stepfather indicated that he understood the cat’s depredations, considering that he had been in the woods with only bugs and field mice for sustenance, and then only if he could catch them. He told me to catch the cat and cage him, then put him in the store again in the evening. Having filled up on a full loaf of bread, the cat’s movements were slowed down, and that feeling coupled with his belief that he had found a cat’s Shangri-La made him easy to corner and catch. That day happened to be a Saturday, and at dusk I locked him in the store.

The store was closed on Sundays, and my stepfather awakened to start his usual morning with a few snifters of bourbon before breakfast, a practice that continued following breakfast, and in mid-morning we opened the store’s door and the cat catapulted out—did you get that? He catapulted out and kept going, quickly disappearing under the house some one hundred feet or so from the store.

The evidence was spread all over the floor near the bread shelves. A full pound loaf was a bit too much for him this time, and several slices were scattered about, some whole and some shredded in various stages of having been eaten.

My stepfather voiced numerous epithets, loudly and earnestly and not one of them was anything similar to “That darn cat!” No, they were not gentle, and all contained words and threats not really suitable for my young ears—not that I hadn’t heard them before, of course—and all seemed to be centered on the likely untimely demise of the cat.

And so it came to pass. My stepfather raced—staggered, actually—to the house and retrieved his 16-gage shotgun from its stance against the wall in the corner nearest to his side of the bed he shared with my mother in the combination living room/bed room. The shotgun was kept fully loaded with a live shell in the chamber, as was the military .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol he kept on a bedside stand, again on his side of the bed.

The house was built on piers that provided a substantial crawl space underneath. The shooter kneeled, peered under the house and fired one shot from the shotgun. I soon learned that the cat had been outlined against the base of the brick fireplace when the buckshot took his life.

I learned that because I was tasked to bring out the remains and dispose of them properly. It was not an easy task because numerous particles had been splattered against the bricks, but I managed to clean up everything, to not leave anything that might cause unsavory odors on hot days.

There is a story about Abraham Lincoln that I would like to tell now. It seems that some unruly urchins had inserted dynamite into a certain orifice of a stray dog and then lighted the fuse. Abe was witness to the explosion and he commented at the time that, Well, that dog won’t ever amount to anything now—at least anyway not as a dog.

That story is probably apocryphal but it serves to showcase Lincoln’s sense of humor and perhaps his belief in an afterlife, perhaps even in reincarnation. Who knows? Could be!

I know that my erstwhile potential pet, that feral feline, that thief of baked goods and consumer of the same never amounted to anything else, at least not on earth and not as a cat. And as regards reincarnation, I and my family have had several cats over the years, and I cannot discount the possibility that one or more of them could have been reincarnations of that wild cat I rescued from a life in the woods and sentenced him to be executed, to die an untimely and undignified death for no other reason than his hunger and my drunken stepfather’s temper.

That was as close as I came to having a pet while I lived with my stepfather. I did come close another time when I saw a speeding car hit a black-and-tan hound dog on the road some distance from our house. I raced to him to see if he was alive, and finding him inert but breathing I carried him back to the house.

That was no easy task—that darn hound was full grown and weighed almost as much as I did. I stretched him out on the front porch and asked my mother if I could take care of him and keep him if he lived. She assented but only after considerable thought, saying that he was probably a working dog and that my stepfather would want to keep him for hunting. We scrounged around for something to use as a bed, and with an old quilt in my arms I returned to the front porch.

The dog was gone. I looked around the yard and then glanced up the graveled road where he had been hit, and there he was, going full-tilt in the same direction he had been going when the car hit him, going at full speed without a trace of a limp, kicking up gravel with every stride.

For a moment I felt anger, not for the driver that had hit him, but for the dog that fooled me and made me stagger a considerable distance to get him to the house, then forced me to convince my mother to let me nurse him and keep him. Yep, I really took it as a personal affront that he had recovered so nicely and thus denied me an opportunity to nurse him back to good health and keep him for a pet.

My anger was brief, however—I realized that had I kept him and returned him to good health and he turned out to not be a working dog, a dog that would not contribute in some way to the family larder, he would eventually suffer the same fate suffered by the two fox terriers and the wild cat—splattered, perhaps, all over the brick fireplace and at that thought I breathed a sigh of relief.

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

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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My red-haired blue-eyed neighbor . . .

We moved to the farm in Mississippi at the end of the school year in Tennessee. The home of the nearest neighbor on our left was visible, perhaps a quarter of a mile away on the opposite side of the two-lane graveled road. The nearest neighbor on our right was farther away, perhaps a mile or so away, and there resided a family comprised of the father and the mother and, as they say in the southern hemisphere, a passel of young ‘uns.

There were several boys, stair-steps in age but all younger than I, and one girl, a beautiful red-haired woman-girl somewhere near my age, perhaps a bit older than I but much more attractive, with just one exception. That lovely auburn-haired girl with the azure blue eyes was—I won’t say she was cursed with those eyes, nor will I say she was blessed with them. I will only say that she had what my mother referred to as A&P eyes, namely that one looked toward the Atlantic and the other toward the Pacific.

The video below shows various girls that have deliberately crossed their eyes for the camera. Compared with my beautiful red haired neighbor, they all look normal. Click on the black screen below to watch the video, and be sure to turn up the sound for some catchy music—enjoy!

In this respect the girl was a reflection of her mother, a seldom seen lady with the same flaming red hair and azure blue eyes that never seemed to be focused on the same object, each seemingly independent of the other, apparently looking in opposite directions. I don’t remember whether any of the boys had inherited the eye aberrations, primarily because I paid very little attention to the boys or their eyes—they may in fact have been replicas of their mother, but my thoughts and my eyes were always focused on their sister. I do remember that all the boys had red hair, undoubtedly inherited from their mother.

Their dark-haired father worked somewhere away from home and was seldom seen, even on weekends. I don’t remember that he ever spoke to me—he may have felt that I was just another one of his kids, although my blond, almost white hair should have been a dead giveaway—perhaps he shared the same visual affliction with his wife and children.

I know, I know—I’m being ungracious and I don’t mean to be that way. I’m just telling the story as it was, without any attempt to gild the lily. The daughter was a beautiful creature, blue eyes and creamy skin with a sprinkling of cute freckles, a complexion and a countenance that reflected her age. I was only twelve at the time—okay, twelve and a half, but for some time I had been uncomfortably aware of certain physical differences between boys and girls and between girls and women. Believe me, the girl left no doubt as to her gender. The only doubt raised—so to speak—was of her chronological age.

At any time that I bring up memories of the farm and of the red-haired girl with the striking blue eyes, I immediately recall a line from the Wreck of the Hesperus, a narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in 1842. My first contact with the poem was a hundred years later in 1942 when I was a fourth grader at Miss Mary’s elementary school.

In Wordsworth’s epic poem the captain lashes his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being washed overboard in a violent storm. The ship breaks up on the reefs and the daughter is found dead, still lashed to the mast. The only line I remember coherently from the poem is blue were her eyes, blue as the skies, blue as the blue dress she wore.

Yep, times have changed—I defy anyone to show me a fourth grade teacher today with the temerity to present such obsolete reading material to a class. And I submit that it may be difficult to find a fourth grade teacher that is familiar with the poem. I am privy to much of the material presented in today’s schools through contact with my grandchildren, up to and including the college level, and I feel safe in saying that poetry, particularly poetry from the ages, is outmoded, unfashionable, gone the way of cursive writing in our schools.

Students of today, if required at all to apply pencil or pen to paper, choose to print rather than using cursive writing as taught with the old-time Spencer handbooks. The essay questions used in my school days, beginning in elementary school and continuing through college, have gone the way of the dinosaurs, and it is doubtful whether they can ever be restored. The students don’t like essay questions, and the teachers don’t like to create the questions and grade the answers—too time consuming. Bummer!

I just reviewed the last several paragraphs and I realize that I have digressed from my topic, that of the red-haired girl. I offer my abject apology and I will return to the subject of this posting, to wit:

I was only favored with a few weekends during that summer to visit with the family. We kids played kick-the-can, tag, hide-and-seek, pussy-in-the-corner, hop-scotch and similar games, exercises virtually unknown by today’s youth. I have vivid memories of Saturday when it rained all day, and all of us were banished to the barn hayloft—the house was too small to contain us and our antics. I never knew how long the family had lived there. I only know that they were there in the spring when we moved to the farm, and were gone when school started in the fall, replaced by a black family that raised turkeys, and yes, I have in mind a posting relating to the turkeys—stay tuned.

The red-haired girl and her family were gone by the time school started in the fall, so I never had the opportunity to share a seat on the school bus for our 12-mile daily ride to school. Even had she and her family not moved away, the pleasure would have been brief because around Christmas time my stepfather created a situation that would allow him to get rid of his familial responsibilities The crops were in, nothing had been planted for the next growing season, the flock of chickens had been appropriately thinned and the survivors fattened, one mule sold and the other found dead behind the barn—a death that deserves a separate posting so stay tuned—two Fox Terriers had been dispatched to dog heaven, and our milk cow had been serviced to reproduce herself in early summer, and yes, that also deserves a separate posting—stay tuned!

Click here for the story of the family’s breakup on the farm—it’s a tale well told, one that involves a question, Jergen’s Lotion, a cheek severely slapped, a cheek brutally scratched, a pan of biscuits, a shotgun, a race for the woods and a Model-A Ford roadster—not exactly an epic but a story with lots of earthy pathos and drama.

If there was anything else to tell about my relationship with the cute red-haired cross-eyed girl, something perhaps ranging somewhere between prurient and obscene, I would proudly post it in detail, all in capital letters with lots of exclamation points. I suppose I could fabricate something, but I don’t want to tell a lie—embellish, perhaps, but not an outright lie, not at this late stage in life. I already have a heap to answer for, and I have no wish to add to to that heap.

Nope, nothing happened, not even in the hayloft, and I’ll close with a quote from the words of John Greenleaf Whittier in Maud Muller: For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these—it might have been. And just between you and me and the barn hayloft, had I known then what I know now, it would have been!

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

 
 

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