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Crabs need salt water . . .

A disclaimer: This posting is all about my family and me just as are many, perhaps most, of my postings, a fact pointed out to me in a recent comment by a visitor. In deference to that visitor and to potential viewers, I must repeat the words of one of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau:  I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.

If you, the viewer, have little or no interest in America’s history and the lives of other people, you can probably spend your time in some other more productive activity. However, if you are interested in my travels and travails over a considerable number of years and would like to learn a bit about our nation and one of its families in the past century, by all means please read on. This posting and related postings on my blog will take a viewer from 1932, the year of my birth, up to the present time almost 78 years later.

For an interesting and highly informative discussion of that event and those years, click on the following URL to begin at the beginning:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/06/unto-you-this-day-a-child-was-born/

I have lived all those years—well, not quite the 78th year but I feel well and should make it satisfactorily—and I don’t need to make up things to fill these pages. My mind is sound, my memory is excellent and my life has been and still is interesting. Stay with me and trust me, and you’ll be exposed to a lot of do and don’t do situations that you may be able to apply to your own lives. In my writings I subscribe to the first objective of the physician, and that is to do no harm. Stay with me and you’ll be returned to an era with no television, space travel, computers, cell phones, no Internet and no national network of highways, a time when the DOW topped 41 versus today’s DOW of 10,000 and counting, and the average life span of Americans was 64 years versus today’s 78 years and counting.

Haven’t you heard? Those were the good old days!

Some ten years after divorcing her first husband, my mother exchanged marriage vows with her second husband, a coupling that would eventually dissolve in divorce and then remarriage that lasted until his death. I saw my father very briefly on three widely spaced occasions in my first ten years, and a fourth time at his funeral ten years later in 1952. I knew very little about him then, and not much more now, but I will reserve a later posting to discuss, among other events, his marriage to a 16-year girl when he was in his sixties—stay tuned!

My mother’s three marriages—one to my father and two to my stepfather—were fraught with problems. Her first marriage was to an itinerant preacher that by all accounts abused her and her children, both mentally and physically. Her second and third marriages were to the same man, a four-times previously married itinerant carpenter and cabinet maker that combined physical and mental abuse with alcoholism, conditions that caused frequent re-locations of our family, and frequent breakups of the family at the whim of her husband—my stepfather. Her remarriage to him seemed to fare better, at least on the surface, principally because the two children were away from the nest and on their own with no particular attachment to the parents.

 I learned many years later from an older sister that my mother’s marriage to our stepfather was contingent on placing the two of us with relatives—my stepfather was quoted as telling our mother that, I’m marrying you, but I’m not marrying the two kids. We did not know then that our separation from the family after the marriage was supposed to be permanent, although we both wondered why we were taking all our clothing on our summer vacation.

At the end of the school year in 1942 at the tender age of nine years, I was handed over to one of my older sisters, a lovely and understanding lady that had agreed to house, feed,  clothe and school me—in fine, to bring me up to adulthood as one of her family that at the time consisted on one husband and one son, a toddler. Accordingly I, with my small metal trunk and my extremely limited wardrobe was delivered to my sister’s home in Pritchard, a small suburb of Mobile, Alabama. Prichard was a small town then, but population in 2005 was estimated at more than 28,000.

My youngest sister, a firebrand just 18 months older than I, was shuffled off to live with an aunt in rural Alabama, one of my mother’s sisters that lived five miles from Vernon, the county seat of Lamar County. That aunt made the same promise to my mother, that she would accept my sister as one of her own family. My sister was just six months short of being eleven years old.

We were babes in the woods, tossed out to live with relatives rather than with our mother and her new husband, but a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds near summer’s end. Our mother breached her agreement to give up her children and convinced her new husband that she had to have us with her—what weapons or persuasive methods she brought into play will never be known.

A few days before the beginning of the school year in 1942, my sister and I joined our mother and our stepfather in a rented apartment in Long Beach, Mississippi. Our stepfather was employed in Gulfport, Mississippi a few miles distant. My sister and I thought only that we were there because our summer vacations had ended and we were joining the family in order to enroll in school.

I will digress for a moment in order to prove that this story is true—at least to the extent that I lived in Long Beach, Mississippi in 1942. Sometimes my wife and my daughters take long looks at me and say things such as How can you possible remember so many details after so many years? I therefore use any pertinent documents available to support my memories.

This image is the title page of the New Testament that was given to me following my successful recitation of the Presbyterian catechism after spending an infinite number of hours under Mrs. Toomer’s tutelage. She offered to teach my sister, but that worthy declined—I believe she feared such knowledge might cramp her style.

That little book has followed me around the world and all the way to San Antonio over the past 68 years, and it’s still in one piece, as am I. However, I am not a Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Church of God, Church of Christ, Mormon, Nazarene or a Muslim. I am unassigned and in the pipeline between being an agnostic or a believer in a supreme deity—much, much closer to the latter.

My memories of Long Beach would fill a book—just a small paperback, not a book such as James Mitchner would write. I remember picking up pecans, using an ice pick to puncture holes in the bottoms of cans at Mrs. Toomer’s request so mosquitoes would not breed in them, and I remember being careless and putting the ice pick through the web between my left thumb and forefinger and into the can—no pain, no blood, but still not a smart thing to do. As a matter of fact, I lost interest in mosquito control soon afterward.

I remember a particularly offensive fifth grade teacher that refused to give me an A+ on a spelling test. She called out the list of twenty words and I spelled every one correctly, but a word that followed a word with a tail began with an ess, and my ess touched the drooping tail of the word above it and the teacher counted it as a capital ess and therefore an error.

Was not, was not! I ran barefoot in play for several hours the prior evening in wet grass and awoke the next morning, a school day, with laryngitis. For a full 24 hours I couldn’t speak, not even in a whisper. I could only grunt in protest and offer to show the teacher exactly how the ess came to appear to be a capital ess, but she was not interested in my artwork. The error stood on the only perfect grade I ever made in elementary school in any subject—oh, alright, okay, make that any subject in any school.

I remember walking to the beach with my sister, carrying crab nets and meat for bait, and fishing for crabs from a pier. I remember walking the beach and finding sunglasses, optical glasses, cheap jewelry and cheap necklaces and other paraphernalia lost by people on the beach—nothing of any real value, but interesting to accumulate.

And to my sorrow I remember us catching about a dozen crabs and returning home with them and putting them in a tub of fresh water and they all died. There was nobody there to tell us otherwise, so we learned the hard way, as did the crabs, that crabs must have salt water to exist. Bummer!

I remember the steps leading up to the stores on Main Street in downtown Long Beach, built that way to prevent flooding in bad weather. I don’t believe the steps helped much when Katrina roared through—some ninety percent of the homes and business in Long Beach were destroyed or damaged—the area is still recovering from that event, hoping that casinos will put the city back on the track to prosperity.

And finally, I remember Long Beach, Mississippi as a small town, perhaps one with a population of five thousand or so. The 2000 census showed a population in excess of 17, 000 and I’m reasonably certain that in the past ten years the city has experienced strong growth—minus, of course, people that may have left for other places following Katrina. We probably have some of them in San Antonio.

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

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South—a goose for Thanksgiving . . .

The word goose in the above title is not intended to be a verb, one that refers to the application of one’s hand, normally using the middle digit, to the derriere of another person, a motion that can be applied lightly, forcefully, brutally, playfully, laughingly, meaningfully or enjoyably but never accidentally. If one has goosed or has been goosed, both gooses were delivered purposefully and received unwittingly without choice—no, in this usage the plural of goose is not geese.

The word goose in the above title is a noun, the name for a large bird that exists in large numbers in the wild, but a bird that is also domesticated and raised for its food and feathers. In this case the plural of goose is geese—the birds shown on the right are geese.

When I was a child in Columbus, Mississippi we lived some thirty miles from our relatives in Alabama, and on Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays we traveled to Alabama to celebrate the day or they traveled to Columbus for the same reason. I can vividly remember a Thanksgiving that was celebrated at our house. a celebration that featured a large cast-iron wash pot and a large not-cast-iron goose.

On the day before Thanksgiving the men fashioned a tripod using lengths of 2×4 lumber similar to the method used by Indians to erect a tepee (also spelled tipi). A fire was laid in the center of the circle formed by the structure but not immediately lighted, the iron tub was firmly suspended from the apex of the tripod and filled with water and the goose, nicely cleaned of everything deemed not edible, went into the pot along with requisite other items—onions, potatoes, carrots and everything else that goes good with goose, and the fire was lighted and the goose was cooked—in fact, one could say truthfully that the goose’s goose was cooked—-just a bit of humor there!

The fire was tended for the remainder of that day and far into the night while the goose cooked and we children played, but never beyond the light supplied by the fire and by lights mounted on the sides of the house. The women sat and talked about everything and everybody except themselves and sang gospel songs, and the men talked about hunting and farming and fishing—occasionally one of the men would walk away just outside the circle of light and tilt a bottle up toward the moon to take a quick swig of its contents—they seemed to be taking turns at that—I’m unsure whether it was the same bottle, but I imagine there was more than one among the group

I was away from the scene and tucked in for the night long before the contents of the pot were removed and taken to the kitchen to await the next day’s carving and dining, kids playing, women gossiping and singing more church hymns and the men taking frequent short walks behind the house with a not-so-mysterious bulge in their shirt or hip pocket.

That goose—the bird, not the verb—was gifted by one of the visiting Alabama relatives that kept a flock of geese around the house for food purposes and to a lesser extent for watch purposes—yep, geese make good watchdogs and will sound the alarm when necessary—actually sound the alarm when anyone is near, whether friend or foe—it’s in their nature.

We lived next door to one of my mother’s sisters, a family of four—counting that four, our five and the relatives from Alabama there was a real gaggle of people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, and we needed a lot of goose. To emphasize the number of people, picture a flatbed two-ton truck with no sideboards and its flatbed covered with passengers, folks lined on three sides with legs dangling and with more riders seated in the center plus several standing at the rear of the truck’s cab and several more in the cab. The dangling legs belonged to adults—the children were safely ensconced in the center of the flatbed.

The image above shows the actual gathering on that Thanksgiving day. It’s a painting made from a quick sketch by one of my uncles and later put on canvas—acrylic, I believe. The other image, by the same uncle, is a painting of my mother presenting the cooked goose to the diners—the fellow behind her is her boyfriend.

Hey, I knew I couldn’t fool my readers—you’re right—that image is a painting of the first Thanksgiving created by American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930), and that is not my mother in the other image, nor is that her boy friend. That’s a painting by Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), one of the Four Freedoms series painted by one of America’s best-loved and most-collected artists—this is his conception of Freedom from Want. The others are Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear and Freedom of Worship.

The truck was overloaded when it arrived, but somehow when it left late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day it accommodated all that had arrived on it plus me and my youngest sister and all the leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner, including a considerable amount of goose and goose dressing—yes, that was one large goose and a monumental amount of goose dressing.

That’s my story of a memorable Thanksgiving day when I was a boy, and I’m sticking to it!


 
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Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South and mumps for Christmas . . .

Christmas morning dawned clear and bright in my town in 1939. I was seven years old that year, an adventurous second-grader that had wished for a cowboy outfit from the Sears catalog, one complete with a gun belt hosting rows of silver bullets and two guns in their holsters, tied down at mid-thigh to facilitate quick draws, sheepskin chaps, a colorful bandana, genuine imitation leather cowboy boots and a genuine high-crowned western sombrero that would shield me from the heat of the western sun and serve as a tool to beat dust from my clothing after an arduous trail drive of cattle to the rail head for shipment to the hordes of people in Chicago longing for western beef and also serve as a drinking vessel for my horse as shown in Hollywood movies.

Evidently Santa was unaware of my wish, or else he mistakenly gave my cowboy outfit to some other kid. Instead I got a drum and a toy train and mumps. Yep, mumps—I awoke Christmas morning with a headache and two serious lumps, one behind each ear. I don’t remember going to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. In those days mumps, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and a host of other childhood diseases were diagnosed by elder family members, relatives, friends and neighbors. Given the fact that I was at one time or another afflicted with most of those conditions and survived, that system apparently worked, at least in my case.

Each of my two gifts had problems. The drum arrived sans drum sticks. We searched frantically through the discarded Christmas wrappings and boxes but found no drum sticks, not even one.

I improvised with a pair of kitchen spoons, but the substitutes lacked any semblance of authenticity. When I wielded those spoons I neither felt like nor looked like Gene Krupa or Spike Jones—I felt like a dork and looked like a dork. Or perhaps I did look like Spike Jones—that’s Spike on the left, the one with the dorky hat.

Now on to my train and its deficits—it consisted of a really small locomotive with a coal tender, one passenger car, a little red caboose and a rather truncated circular track, one estimated to be no more than 18 inches in diameter. The locomotive was not powered by electricity, not the plug-in kind or the kind produced by dry-cell batteries—nope, not my train.

My train was a windup train—one held the locomotive in one hand and with one’s other hand wound up a steel spring that was inside with a key that projected from its side, similar to opening a can of sardines,  then one placed it on the tracks and released it and clickety clack, clickety clack, until the spring wound down. Clickety clack is the sound that real trains made in those days as they traversed narrowly spaced rail joints,but my train never made that sound.

Nope, no clickety clacks for my train—the key was already wound tight and could not be budged. It arrived tight and remained in that condition as long as I had the train. I was reduced to pushing it along and vocally sounding the clickety clacks. Bummer!

Nowadays train rails run seamless for a mile or more—passengers still hear an occasional clickety but the clack is still a mile away. The rhythm is gone—rather than lulling one to sleep, the anticipation of the next clickety and clack denies fulfillment to passengers longing for and reaching for the arms of Morpheus—the unrhythmic sounds of modern rails actually prevent sleep. Note: Unrhythmic may not be a real word, but it looks good and sounds good so I’ll use it.

I spent the Christmas of 1939 incarcerated in my own home, playing a drum with two kitchen spoons and pushing a toy train around a small circular track, writhing in pain produced by an extreme case of double mumps—not really—I had no pain at all, just lumps, and they vanished a few days later.

In retrospect, I suppose I should feel blessed. While I was housebound with mumps—double mumps, so to speak—I heard a phrase several times, whispered between the adults in my family, something similar to this: I hope they don’t go down on him. It sounded so sinister that I also hoped that they would not go down on me—they didn’t. Fast forwarding to today’s medical terminology, I imagine that parents probably whisper to one another that they hope the mumps will not descend—sounds a bit better, right? Right? Right!

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

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Meet the family . . .

The purpose of this posting is to continue to record events in my life that my children may have heard about but don’t have many of the details, and to make a matter of record other events of which they have no knowledge—of course it is a given that there are events in my life that I will not discuss. Hey, I’m no different than everyone else—some things are better kept to one’s self, right up to and including the instant that the last breath is exhaled.

I have told my children to never give all of one’s self to another or to anything else, not to work and not to play and perhaps not even to You Know Who—I have told them to always hold something in reserve, something to build on in case everything else collapses. I taught them that if that advice seems like nonsense, disregard the advice—just forget it. And as for giving or not giving your all to You Know Who, I believe that each of us should hold back a bit there also. There will always be time to settle up at the final reckoning.

Come to think of it, I know I gave that advice to one of my daughters, but I’m not sure I rewarded the other two with such sage stuff. Hey, maybe I felt that the one I told was the only one that needed such advice, or perhaps I felt that she was the only one that needed and would heed such advice—oh, well, no matter—I suppose it’s not too late—I can still give that advice to the other two daughters.

How about that such sage stuff I mentioned? I really love alliteration!

One of my three princesses—the second born of my three daughters—the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia—has for many years urged me to submit to a recorded interview that she would conduct and create a digital video recording for her and her two sisters, and I suppose she would insist that it would also to be a record for posterity. Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone other than my daughters would want such a document. I fact I can’t imagine why they would subject themselves to the torture of seeing me on film—a little bit of me goes a long way!

If I were to make the video and produce 50 copies—one each for my daughters and the additional 47 copies for friends and relatives—I’m sure that most or all of the extra 47 copies would stay on the shelf or wind up in a thrift store. I can count my friends on the fingers of one hand, and most of my relatives are neither in condition nor position to view a DVD. There may be machines and electric receptacles up there—or down there, as the case may be—but I harbor considerable doubt. Besides, I don’t even know 50 people.

My parents and my siblings and all my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family have all departed for greener pastures. At one time I was aware of a gaggle of cousins, likable people of both sexes, but I have no knowledge as to whether even one has survived. Considering the ages of their parents when my cousins were born, the odds are that many, perhaps most, and possibly all have departed, and at least a couple of them departed for warmer climes. My nieces and nephews numbered thirteen at one time. I can account for seven of them, but I have no knowledge of the others as to how many and which ones may be extant.

I begged out of the interview, but I agreed to blog on Word Press in lieu of submitting to a video interview. I began blogging 15 months ago in March of 2009, and as of this date I’ve posted 168 stories, most of which deal with me, my immediate family, my parents and my siblings.

I have only slightly touched on my siblings and their families, and my daughter asked specifically for postings relating to them. My children have only a limited knowledge of my relatives, and according to that busybody in Virginia, all three of them would like to learn more.

This posting is merely an advance notice of my intention to bore—oops, I mean regale—my viewers with stories about my parents, my siblings and other relatives—aunts, uncles and cousins by the dozen. And be warned and beware—I intend to be brutally accurate in my stories—after all, why not? Virtually all—perhaps all—of those I will introduce have already departed this vale of fears and tears for Elysian fields, those fields that in Greek mythology were the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. And as this point, I will state that some of my relatives were heroic and some were virtuous, but very few qualified on both counts, as you will see when I begin posting them.

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


 
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Posted by on May 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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