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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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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

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

 

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Battling e-mails . . .

Battling e-mails . . .

For some time I have considered posting this series of e-mails but I have held the posting in abeyance until now. I doubt that many viewers will hang on long enough to finish reading it, but that will be their loss. It seemed to me in the past that a rift had been created between me and the finest neighbor and friend one could ever wish for, and through no fault of either of us. Nevertheless, it appeared to exist—now it seems to have gone away, or perhaps never was.

These are the e-mails that passed between me and my neighbor lady to the west, posted as transmitted and as received. My e-mails are in standard type and hers are in italics.

Feb 3, 2010:

Good morning, Sherlock Holmes here:

I’m currently conducting an investigation to determine why and how my daily copy of the Express-News is mysteriously appearing on my front step, neatly placed there by someone or something to be determined. It was there this morning at an early hour. Today is the second time the phenomenon has occurred in as many weeks, and we had rain on both days.

My first thought was that the paper carrier wanted to ensure that the paper stayed dry, but it was double-bagged and would have to be submerged before it could suffer any damage. Besides, I have not remitted a gratuity to the carrier since 2007 and cannot reasonably expect her to be so obliging. Unless, of course, she is buttering me up for the coming Christmas season. I suppose that could be it, but I have serious doubts.

I next considered the possibility that Rudy, the cat that lives with the family across the street, is picking the paper up with his teeth and placing it in a dry spot, hoping for a continuation of the chicken and salmon handouts.

That is not likely, because he was nowhere in sight when I picked up the paper either time. He did not show at all on the first day, and as of the time of this writing I have not seen him today. That reduces the probability that he is doing the good deed. I suppose Ralph, the cat that resides with my neighbor to the west, could harbor the same thoughts, but I would think that Rudy would be more likely.

There is a third possibility, one a teeny bit more plausible than the first two. Two weeks ago I stepped out on my stoop, looked very carefully in all directions, except to the rear because no danger lurked in that direction. The coast was clear (so to speak), so I ambled out toward the mailbox (the paper was in proximity to said letter receptacle). Wearing a bright green fuzzy housecoat and brown house shoes, I arrived at my destination and bent over to pick up my paper, and at that instant I heard someone say, very audibly and gleefully, “I wish I had a camera!”

As to whether my ensemble included pajamas, it did not. A pair of skinny white legs were in full view. Well, not in full view, just up to mid-tibia. Said legs were supported by a matching pair of skinny white feet, ensconced in brown leather house shoes.

So the third possibility is that the person that voiced that wish, not wishing to be faced with that apparition again, is defending himself by placing the paper on my stoop, thereby keeping me out of sight in the process of retrieving my paper.

This is a very serious investigation, and I would be grateful for any and all assistance.

Feb 3, 2010

WHAT???? Your paper doesn’t get wet??? Our paper gets soaked. Now that I think about it, the water probably runs down the driveway right into the bag. Well, I don’t think you need to worry about your paper phenomenon any longer. Do let me know if the culprit starts hiding the paper, though. That would definitely require a more thorough investigation.

Kathy

At this point a three-day quiet ensues with no e-mails between me and my neighbor. I was very busy running between home and the hospital and I neglected to read and respond to my e-mails.

Feb 6, 2010

It has been eerily quiet over there. Did my response offend you? You are very funny and clever in your writings. When I try that tactic, it usually backfires, since I am neither funny nor clever. I did put your paper on your porch because I thought it was getting soaked like ours often does. Your white legs had nothing to do with it! Now that I know your paper does not get wet, I’ll leave it there. You are free to retrieve it in whatever attire you choose. I often retrieve our paper in my robe. So, let’s just agree to leave our cameras out of this.

Kathy

P.S. You are a very good writer, a trait that obviously not everyone has. I hope you decide to continue writing your memoirs for a potential book. I’d definitely buy one, but I would want it autographed.

Feb 7, 2010

Hi, Kathy,

I read your e-mail at 2:30 this morning (I had a brief sleep last night —up at 2:01). Nothing new there, of course—my sleep is brief on most nights.

A hundred mea culpas!

No, make that a thousand mea culpas because there is nothing you, Kevin or Ralph could do to offend me, and had you and Kevin and Ralph not banished the girls to another exotic location, there is nothing they could do to offend me. Even if you, Kevin, Ralph, the banished iguanas and your extended family banded together in a concerted effort to offend me, I would not be offended. The only way you could possibly come close to offending me would be to take me and my babbling seriously—life is simply too short for me to be serious—besides, it’s not in my nature!

I had the best of intentions to answer your previous two e-mails, the one on Victor Borge’s video that Cindy posted, and the one in which you asked me to let you know “if the culprit starts hiding the paper.” Of course, as the saying goes, “The road to (fill in the blank) is paved with good intentions.”

Unfortunately, recent events got in the way and I delayed my responses (actually, that means I forgot to respond). We’ve had an unusually busy week, and things are not going as well as we would like. Yesterday especially was not a good day, but things seem to have leveled off. I believe—I hope and I pray—that the worst is over.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I found that phrase on Wikipedia— I am greviously at fault, and as an apology Wikipedia said it far better than I could.

I have no knowledge of how or why or when your Sunday paper was placed neatly just outside your door this morning, placed at a right angle to the street (I just pray that the picker-upper doesn’t trip over it). Also if I were forced to guess, I would guess that it was placed by some nut wearing a bright green robe, etc., etc. I would also hazard a guess that the deed was accomplished somewhere around 6:00 AM (Central Time).

March 2, 2010:

A card from Kathy, delivered by the US Postal Service although our mailboxes are approximately sixty feet apart:

Dear green-robed phantom and your pink-robed wife:

Thank you so much for the delicious edible arrangement! That was quite a surprise. The other big surprise is that you used 4 exclamation points after “Happy Birthday.” I was so perplexed that I questioned Kevin, “Do we know any other green and pink-robed couples?”

I hope you know that your presence as our neighbors is truly a real gift. Any more than that is really not necessary. Thank you, though. That was very kind!

Your (one year older) neighbor,

Kathy

March 3, 2010

Dear One Year Older Neighbor,

Thanks for the card and for the kind thoughts, especially the thought that you consider our presence as your neighbors to be a real gift. I wish I had said it first but I didn’t, so I’ll just bounce it right back at you. Regarding our presence as neighbors, As ours is to you, so yours is to us.

On the subject of exclamation points, I have given up. You know that in a dog fight the vanquished dog, rather than running, may simply end the fight by lying on his back, thereby giving the victor access to his underbelly, his most vulnerable area—it is a sign of surrender.

I’m not going to that extreme, but I have surrendered. I have given up on my quest to eliminate, or even to reduce, exclamation points. I realize that the practice is too well entrenched, so I’ve decided that if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em! And I enjoy it—it’s fun!

I just took a closer look at the sentence that says “As ours is to you, so yours is to us.” When viewed out of context it seems to take on some profound meaning, similar to a Tibetan monk’s summary of life or some other chant.

Try it. Read it aloud several times. Look real solemn and speak in a deep tone. You’ll find that it takes on mystic properties. I think I may have created something. I should probably copyright it!

March 4, 2010:

You are so funny!! I wish the Express-News would replace that Marcie Meffert (Elders Express) in the S.A. Life with your writing. I’m not sure what the “elders” is for, and I’m not implying anything concerning your age here. I think she writes for the group of readers who would also qualify for AARP membership, older folks fifty-ish plus. I have only read her articles a few times, but I have yet to read one that I like. She tries to tell stories about her life, and I think she is trying to be humorous. She seems to be lacking the charm that you seem to have captured. You are a far superior writer, and way funnier! This “Dear Neighbor” writing had me LOL today! I agree on the mystic properties—copyright it!

Kathy

March 5, 2010:

Those are some really kind words. Ain’t nobody that good, but you finally convinced me! Normally I would be delighted to replace the Meffert lady, but I have such distaste for the Express-News that I would be unwilling to have my name associated with it. I fought a running battle last year with Bob Richter, the editor for Letters to the Editor—dueling e-mails, if you will, and I won—he apologized for his lapse in judgment. He had asked for permission to print my letter, saying that he liked it but would omit my “whining” about the paper. I refused to authorize its publication.

I no longer strive to have my thoughts printed in Your Turn of the Metro section of the Express-News—my gain, the public’s loss. However, I sometimes throw rocks at the paper by posting items that I did not submit for publication, then I bad-mouth the Express-News on Word Press by claiming that my submission was rejected. Sneaky, huh?

Kathy, it really is a small world—we were neighbors to the Meffert family for several years in the latter part of the 1960s, with only one house between us, in what was then a decent lower-middle-class neighborhood near Lackland Air Force Base. It’s now a shambles, a nightmare with gang activity everywhere, gunshots frequently heard both day and night, lots of graffiti, chain-link-fenced front yards and junked cars behind them. The fences are not to keep the kids in—they’re there to keep the dogs out and to slow down burglars laden with items purloined from the houses.

Marcie had five children, two girls and three boys, their ages ranging from one year up to nine years—a very fertile lady, that one! Her husband was a surgical dentist in Lackland’s dental service, and attended me through a long series of dental procedures required by my failure to pay proper attention to dental matters. I was a smoker at the time—he said he did not smoke, and frequently lectured me on the evils of tobacco, then on almost every visit apologetically bummed a cigarette from me.

We were never close friends with the parents. We waved at them when appropriate, and Marcie and Janie often stood outside to discuss whatever women discuss—their children, I would suspect—Marcie was usually out looking for her children. As best as I can remember, neither family ever entered the other family’s house, probably because neither family ever invited the other family in. However, we came to know her children well. She put them out to graze each morning and called them back in for lunch and dinner, leaving the neighbors to look out for the kids. They were well behaved—the older girl was Cindy’s best friend, and she spent lots of time in our home.

All five children received good educations and seemed to fare well following graduation. Cindy’s best friend Lisa died several months ago—her obituary in the Express-News said only that she died suddenly. The obituary included her siblings’ names, marital status and their whereabouts. Their various professions were impressive—two colonels in the military, two doctors and one biology professor. I am of the opinion that their early association with our girls gave them the necessary head start to put them on the way to success—then again, maybe not.

When we returned to San Antonio in 1987, Marcie was the mayor of Leon Valley and wrote a column on city activities. I believe the Elders Express gig came after she was no longer the mayor. We have never made any effort to contact her to talk about old times. Lacking any strong desire to relive history with Marcie, we have been content to read her columns. Those columns, along with her daughter’s obituary, comprise our knowledge of her and her family.

But it is a small world, wouldn’t you agree?

March 5, 2010:

Agreed—a very small world sometimes! I hope that my observations of her writings weren’t too unkind. I just think that you would be a much better writer for that spot in the paper. Well, as long as I’m wishing, you’d make a far better editor to the Letters to the Editor too, but let’s not even go there!

I see that you and Kevin must have talked. He didn’t know that I would be home for a short time this afternoon and I didn’t know either. One of my tutoring students canceled out, so they may make the delivery while I’m here. If they do I’ll call and let you know. Thanks!

Kathy

March 5, 2010

Your observations of her writings were not unkind at all, and your analysis of her work is right on. Writing with a restricted amount of space is more difficult than the writing I do. I have unlimited space and therefore just keep writing until I everything I want to say has been said, and is available somewhere among the verbiage. The reader just needs to keep sifting through the chaff in order to find the kernels of wheat.

At various duty stations during my military career, I wrote performance reports for a whole gaggle of people, officers as well as enlisted people, and that included writing my own performance reports. My superior only needed to sign them. The writing wasn’t part of my job. People heard about the guy that could get a person promoted and came to me with the details. I fashioned them into a performance report. The narrative had to be fitted into a limited space, and I soon learned that 250 words wrested from my vocabulary filled that space nicely. When I reached the magic number, I stopped writing.

No, writing such reports was not my job. I was a maintenance analysis superintendent, whatever that was, and I dealt more with numbers than with words. I hated numbers and loved words. Go figure!

While at Kelly Air Force Base in the late 1960s, I wrote performance reports for my commanding officer. In our association over a period of five years, he was promoted twice, from lieutenant colonel to full colonel and then to brigadier general. Coincidentally, I was promoted twice during the same period. My pay raises were not quite as generous as his, of course, and shortly after the second promotion, both his and mine, I was unceremoniously shipped off to Vietnam. I guess the general figured that one star was all he was going to get. Bummer!

November 16, 2010:

That concludes the exchange of e-mails between me and my neighbor. I trust that some of my viewers made it this far in this posting. I realize it’s lengthy, but I also realize that it contains some interesting neighborly communications, perhaps with comical, even historical value that may appeal to my family and to my neighbor and her family, and perhaps to some of my viewers—I hope, I hope!

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

 

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Neighbors ‘R Us . . . (via The King of Texas)

The original posting has been available since September of 2009, and has garnered zero votes and a similar number of comments, so I’m bringing it out of the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the brilliant light of a South Texas August sun. Casting any semblance of modesty aside, I can truthfully say that is beautifully written, tremendously interesting and well worth the read—enjoy!

Neighbors 'R Us . . . The purpose of this posting is to share a recent e-mail from my next-door neighbor and my response to that e-mail. The posting includes titillating observations on house-sitting, cats, iguanas, the Galapagos Islands, timeshares, exotic places, lawyers, teachers, builders, grammar, Fox News, McDonald’s, skiing, Texas, Colorado, refrigerators, snot and more—it’s a veritable smorgasbord of completely unrelated items—brace yourselves for a bumpy … Read More

via The King of Texas

 

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Cure for itch: Sulphur and molasses . . .

At some time in my fifth year of life and my first year as a Mississipian, my mother became convinced that I and my sister, eighteen months older than I, either had scabies (the itch) or would surely become afflicted with the disease based on our having played with the children next door.

Playing with the kids next door was forbidden because they were somewhat different than we were—actually they were not different than we were, except that theirs was a nicer house and their family was more prosperous than we were—they just looked different. We were white and they were black, and folks in Mississippi in the 1930s frowned on the races mixing, regardless of the ages involved.

Our mother always said that she had nothing against blacks  “as long as they stayed in their place.” When asked specifically about the nature of “their place,” she would say, “Well, you know, in their place, the place where they are supposed to stay.” That pretty well explained it as far as she was concerned.

Although we were forbidden to play with the neighbor children we still managed to get in some playtime, and because of that contact our mother decided that even if we did not have scabies we would probably soon show symptoms of the disease. I have no doubt that my sister and I itched and scratched in all the places that kids—and adults for that matter—normally scratch, but I do not believe we had the itch. We never exhibited any of the symptoms associated with the itch. If any reader is inclined to learn everything one needs to know about the itch—scabies—click here.

You will learn that sulfur, mixed with a petroleum jelly and applied topically, is effective as a treatment for scabies, and sulfur is what our mother used on us. She took powdered sulfur and mixed it with molasses, stripped me and my sister right down to the buff and smeared the mixture on every part of our body, every square inch of skin including cracks and crevices, and even worked the mixture into our hair and on our scalps. I was the first to have the “medication” applied and my sister giggled throughout the process, giving our mother instructions as to various areas and items and ways to apply the mixture.

I watched as my mother smeared her with the mixture, but not being as worldly and wise as she was I did little giggling—we were a very private family and I was not accustomed to seeing a naked female—in fact, a fast trip back to my earliest memories reveals no instance of my ever having seen a naked female of any age prior to that day—and now that I think of it, a significant amount of time would pass before I was privileged to see another one.

I searched diligently on the internet for images of a naked little boy and a naked little girl and following a prolonged search I found the two pictured at the right. I trust that none of my viewers will be offended by the graphic nature of the images. I felt very fortunate at finding an image of our skin color prior to the application of sulfur and molasses, and another approximating our skin color after the application. The upper image approximates our before skin color and the lower approximates our after skin color. Who would have ever thought I would be so lucky in my search!

I am reminded of a business card I saw in later years—the business part was on one side and the other side showed a line drawing of two naked children, a little boy and and a little girl, and the little boy was saying in the caption below, “No, you can’t play with mine—you already broke yours off!” I suppose that if I thought anything about my sister’s  physical characteristics, my thoughts echoed the words of that little boy—either she broke hers off or was born without one. The card was not quite as graphic as the images I found on the internet.

Our skin took on a yellow sheen from the sulfur and for several days we could not sit on any chair or sofa. We sat on the floor, we took our meals on the floor, and we slept on the floor on sheets and blankets that were cleansed in boiling water after we used them.

I had not yet started the first grade, so our restriction to the house and our banishment to the floor had no effect on my education. My sister, a first-grader, missed several days of school but apparently suffered little from that absence—to my disappointment she was promoted to the second grade, thus dashing my hopes that she would be retained in the first grade so I would be equal with her in school—bummer!

Eventually our mother decided, since no symptoms of scabies appeared, that the medication had apparently done its work and we were allowed to remove the mixture of sulfur and molasses. Many years have ensued since the scabies incident, and I have told that story more than once over the years—some listeners believed it and others expressed considerable doubt as to its veracity. Please believe me, it’s true and I can prove it. I can show you the house where it happened because it’s still standing. It’s on the west side of Fifth Street South one block from the Palmer Orphanage! Click here to read an essay that includes information on my association with the Palmer Orphanage, now known as the Palmer Home for Children —it’s worth the visit!

On hearing the story most people ask whether the molasses attracted ants, flies, bees, roaches, mice, spiders and other pests in search of sweet treats. My answer to that is that we were not bothered by such—my theory is that pests were powerfully attracted to the molasses but were equally repulsed by the sulfur—one canceled out the other.

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

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Mede, Zona Belle, Louise and lunch . . .

Mede is the name of a woman that was at one time a neighbor of our family, a lady with two daughters. The elder was named Zona Belle and the younger was Louise. Zona Belle was tall and thin and dark-haired, and Louise was short and fair-haired and very nicely proportioned—I was younger than they were, but I was old enough to appreciate females and their proportions.

In fairness to their mother, I will only say that she was amply proportioned, so ample that in all the years I knew her she had considerable difficulty negotiating stairs—in fact, she was challenged by the height of street curbs. I’m unsure of the spelling of her name, but it was pronounced Mee’de, two syllables with the accent on the first syllable—that spelling appears a bit awkward so I settled on Mede.

I know nothing more about Zona Belle and how she fared later in life, but I certainly hope that life has been, or perhaps was, good for her. Both she and her sister were somewhat reticent in conversations, but in one instance the sisters comported themselves in ways that exposed more of themselves than should have been exposed to a young lad of tender years—a memorable event, one that lingers on, quite favorably, in the memory of that young fellow. I hasten to add that I will neither acknowledge nor respond to any request from anyone to elaborate on that event—I do not even remember it, so don’t bother to ask.

But I digress—back to the younger sister. Louise married, birthed several children and settled down to a nice middle-class existence with her family in a house near her husband’s business of a combination service station and restaurant. At some point in their relationship, the husband became a philanderer and engaged in various infidelities.

Louise did not approve of his activities so she summarily shot and killed him. An investigation was conducted, a charge of murder was filed, a trial followed and Louise was acquitted of all charges. The jury based their acquittal on self-defense, justifiable homicide following long periods of spousal abuse including mental and physical cruelty. All this is hearsay, knowledge that I gleaned while on leave from military service shortly after the trial. The local gossips—specifically my mother and my older sisters—speculated that some, perhaps most, of the spousal abuse charge was inflated and unfair to the deceased husband.

I know nothing more of Louise and her family—I trust they fared well. As for her husband, if he was in fact guilty of long periods of spousal abuse including mental and physical cruelty shame on him, and if he was guilty only of infidelities, then shame on the jury and shame on Louise.

And now for Mede—I lived with my mother, my youngest sister and our stepfather on a Mississippi farm some 15 miles outside the city limits of Columbus, Mississippi. I was enrolled in junior high school in town and rode a bright yellow county school bus to and from school. I abhorred brown-bag lunches and shunned the school cafeteria, primarily because we country bumpkins were the objects of derision for snooty and snotty city-dwelling students, especially those in the upper echelons of society—the sons and daughters of bankers, merchants, car dealers, civil service workers and the like.

Mede at the time lived and worked as a self-employed seamstress in a spacious second-story loft in the business district near my school. My mother worked out a deal with her for me to have lunch there on school days. I don’t know the details of the deal, and I don’t remember the lunches, neither their quality nor their quantity. The arrangement lasted only a few weeks, and I began taking my lunches elsewhere, either at an uptown poolroom or on the river bank where a lady purveyed hamburgers for five cents each. If you like, you can read about the poolroom here, and about the five-cent hamburgers here. Both are worth reading!

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

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A letter to Sue . . .

A long-time friend and neighbor of our daughter—the princess that lives, loves and works in Virginia—relocated with her husband from Virginia to Alabama, and that relocation prompted this letter. I’m posting it now in order to record our respect and love for her, and for her friendship and love for our daughter. For many years she and our daughter provided a safe port for each other, a haven to protect one another through all weather, either fair or foul, whether in or out of their neighborhood. They still maintain that friendship, over a considerable distance than before. Our daughter created a keepsake album for Sue, and this letter was our contribution to the album.

This is the letter, exactly as originally written:

Dear Sue,

We’re glad to hear that you’ve found a new home so quickly, and we wish you every success and happiness in your new location. However, we are sorely disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to spend more time with you—the time we had with you on our visit with Cindy several years ago was all too short.

With your permission (actually, you have no choice in the matter), we will use our space in your album to tell others what sort of a person you are and perhaps in the telling others will learn what sort of people we are. We used the alphabet (English, of course) to describe the characteristics we observed in the brief time we had with you. We also formed some opinions and cemented others in many conversations with Cindy (yes, we talked about you). You’ll note that the adjectives are all positive—no matter how we searched, we couldn’t come up with any negatives.

Twenty-four of the twenty-six words came easy, based on our visit, conversations with Cindy, and our observations of you in numerous photos sent by Cindy—Weedette meetings, costume parties, chocolate parties, painting parties and more—oh, and in the glamor photos Cindy sent, of course.

The two letters in the alphabet which gave us some heartburn were X and Y, so we referred to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, an item which I “accidentally” packed with my personal files when I retired. It’s appropriately marked PROPERTY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT. We gave the government 48 years, so we figured that was enough to compensate for the loss of the dictionary.

In the remote possibility that you are not familiar with “zingy” and “xanaduic,” we’ll save you a trip to the dictionary: American Heritage defines zingy as “pleasantly stimulating, especially attractive or appealing.” Xanadu was a bit more difficult—the word is defined as “an idyllic, beautiful place.” We felt that the term could be applied to a person as well as a place, so we coined a new word— xanaduic (we briefly considered “xanaduish,” but somehow it lacks the dash and verve—panache, if you will—conveyed by “xanaduic”).

Here are the 26 words we feel will afford others some insight into your character and personality— if you disagree with any, we’ll be glad to discuss—as in argue—them with you.

Affable                Judicious              Sagacious

Beautiful            Knowledgeable    Tactful

Charming           Lighthearted        Unassuming

Delightful           Merry                     Vivacious

Effervescent       Neat                        Wise

Friendly              Open-minded       Xanaduic

Genuine              Perspicacious        Youthful

Heartwarming   Queenly                  Zingy

Iridescent            Righteous

We’ll wrap this up by wishing you and Steve the very best that life has to offer, including health, wealth, long-life and happiness. If you’re ever in our area, drop in—we’ll leave the light on for you.

Mike and Janie, the Queen and King of Texas

(Appointed and anointed by Debbi Coney — thanks, Debbi!).

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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