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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

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

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Ponce de Leon finds a flower first . . .

One of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia recently posted a photo of a gorgeous highly complicated plant on her blog. This is the princess that in age and maturity falls somewhere between my first-born and my last-born daughters. Click here to go to her blog and enjoy a photographic journey that covers the state, the nation and various distant parts of the globe—be prepared to spent a lot of time there—it’s well worth the visit! Be sure to read her Stuff About Me page, located on the right of her home page. If you’ve never been to Alaska, Antarctica and deep into the four sections of the United States—dozens and dozens of locations in the north, south, east and west quadrants, with emphasis on the Four Corners of the Southwest—and Canada, Spain, Italy and other foreign countries, she’ll take you there with her photography and her writings. Be forewarned—it’s highly addictive!

She captioned the photo as follows (it’s pictured at the close of this posting):

Your guess is as good as mine!

It looks like a Gaura plant, but I’m just not sure, and the plant wasn’t labeled at Green Spring Gardens this morning. Any one venture to guess? Patty? The sprigs tend to lean downward, like a waterfall.

I commented on the posting and chastised her for failing to research the Internet in an effort to identify the plant. Having a bit of spare time on my hands—well, a lot of spare time—I spent a few minutes on research and the results of my effort are shown in the narrative analysis below. I was pleased with my findings, so pleased that I decided to bring my comment up from and out of the Stygian darkness of comments and into the bright light of a separate posting in order to share those findings with my viewers.

This is my comment, exactly as entered:

thekingoftexas (03:52:16) :

I am in shock! You don’t know? My guess is as good as yours? Evidently you made no effort to identify the flower by researching the internet. I found it in less than ten minutes!

This is the Flower of Paradice—no, not the paradise flower, that gorgeous bloom also called crane flower (Strelitzia reginae), an ornamental plant of the family Strelitziaceae.

Note that in the spelling of the Flower of Paradice, the ess in paradise is replaced with a cee. The flower was discovered by the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon (1474 – July 1521) in his search for the fountain of youth. He believed it to be in what is now the state of Florida, but he ultimately turned his attention to Venezuela, spurred on by a notation he had found in a centuries-old document indicating that the fountain of youth was at the foot of what is now known as Angel Falls.

After an arduous journey fraught with perils and nearing the end of his life, he arrived at the falls but found that the pool at the foot of the falls failed to restore his youth. However, he did discover something there that would shake the scientific world, especially the world of flowers and that would ultimately have an effect on locations such as Las Vegas and Reno and Atlantic City—he discovered an unusual and theretofore unknown blossom that he almost immediately christened the Flower of Paradice—the Spanish name of the flower is “La flor que pasa siempre inmediatamente,” the flower that always passes immediately.

You see, Ponce de Leon was addicted to the game of dice—craps, if you will—and he noted that each bloom of the plant was graced with six beautiful petals and five golden yellow thingies protruding from the center of the bloom for a total of eleven elements and, much as did the great Pythagoras on his discovery of the 47th Problem of Euclid when he exclaimed Eureka!, a Grecian word meaning “I have found it,” Ponce de Leon shouted “Eleven!” He meant that he had found a flower with a total of eleven elements in its bloom, and to one addicted to the game of dice, the number eleven is magic—eleven along with seven are the two numbers in the game of craps that give the shooter an immediate win.

Sadly, Ponce de Leon never found the fountain of youth and he died at the age of 47. His many discoveries in his travels contributed greatly to our knowledge of the new world, and we are indebted to him for his discovery and naming of this beautiful flower.

A special note: Journey to any one of the world’s great gaming sites and head for the crap tables—there you will find that many of the high rollers wear a Flower of Paradice or a facimile of such—a ring or perhaps even a tattoo, just for luck.

PeeEss: I stated that on his discovery Ponce de Leon shouted, “Eleven!” but the actual word he shouted was once, the Spanish word for the number eleven, pronounced as on’ce with the accent on the first syllable. I used the English word to avoid the reader untutored in Spanish pronouncing it as the English word once, meaning one time only, a single occurrence, etc.

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

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Snipe hunting—a tale retold . . .

From wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt

A snipe hunt, a form of wild-goose chase that is also known as a fool’s errand, is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. Incidentally, the snipe  (a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.

In the most popular version of the snipe hunt, especially in the American South, a newcomer is taken deep into the woods late at night and told to make a clucking noise while holding a large sack. The others, who are in on the joke, say that they will sneak away and then walk back towards the newcomer, thereby driving snipes towards the bag holder. The frightened snipes, they say, will be attracted to the clucking noise and be easily caught in the bag. The newcomer is then simply left in the dark forest, holding the bag, to eventually realize his gullibility and find his way home or back to camp.

What follows is my posting dated June 21, 2009. Click here to read the original.

Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friends—were in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Don’t blame Madoff . . .

Don’t place all the blame on Madoff for the billions of dollars that passed from thousands of people to him, his family, his friends and his associates through his Ponzi scheme. Many of those thousands that were bilked enjoyed the rarefied atmosphere found in our top income brackets, but most breathed the common air of middle incomes. Those billions of dollars handed to Madoff were considered by all to be investments, but after a considerable amount of time passed—years—the truth was outed. Those billions of dollars were actually donations, given freely to Madoff and his investment company, given in anticipation of earning fantastic profits.

The blame is not Madoff’s alone—he is guilty, of course, but that guilt must be shared by his victims.

Madoff is now firmly incarcerated, entombed by our criminal justice system and will remain entombed for the next thousand years or so, or until he dies, whichever comes first. He is enduring a punishment for something that was not his fault—well, perhaps half of it was his fault, but no more than half. The other half of that fault lies with the people that followed a trail of crumbs of greed, one carefully laid by Madoff, to its ultimate destination—the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many of his victims—not all, but perhaps most—were honest and hardworking people, all expecting to profit by dabbling in the stock market and thereby improving their lives, a perfectly normal expectation in our capitalistic society.

Those that were scammed by Madoff’s Ponzi scheme were sorely afflicted with gullibility and greed, a two-pronged disease that will always be lurking in the darkness, ready to oblige anyone that expects to receive something in return for giving nothing. Such are those that firmly believe in that fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

We have a maxim that will protect us from similar situations, but only if we acknowledge its truth and follow it scrupulously. That maxim goes like this:

If something seems too good to be true, it isn’t.

A simple and straightforward adage and one to which we should all adhere. And there is another simple and straightforward adage to which each of us should adhere. This adage is my adage, or maxim if you will, coined by me. I give it freely, with neither hope nor need of recompense—no hope or need of monetary recompense, but I would appreciate and acknowledge recognition of its value. Here is my contribution to civilization:

Every person now living, and every person that arrives later, can be had.

For anyone unfamiliar with the verb phrase to be had, it means can be screwed. In this instance the verb screwed is a remarkably understandable synonym for cheated—the verb to screw has substantially different meanings, of course, as do many verbs in our language.

Conjugation of the verb to be screwed would be screwed, screwed and screwed. Present, past and future tense would be, I am screwed, I was screwed, I will be screwed again.

If confession is good for the soul, then mine is about to be washed clean—I have been had, not once but many times over a lifetime of susceptibility, a life that has taken me far beyond senior citizen status and still counting. The situations in which I have been had differ only in degree—everything else is the same, identical to the situation in which people were had by Madoff. In every instance in which I have been had, I was afflicted with and guided by gullibility and greed.

Trust me—those two emotions are always present and are always the culprits when one is had—there are no exceptions. Many years ago I was had by a carnival barker that promised me a huge profit if I would only toss wooden rings at several rows of wooden pegs. Each peg had a specific point value that ranged from one-half point up to a much higher number of points—there was an explanatory chart taped to the counter top showing the various point values.

Prizes to be given ranged from teddy bears to televisions, prominently arrayed on shelves behind the counter, to be given depending on the number of points earned from tossing the rings at the pegs. Each ring had to be paid for before the toss. The ring could be tossed until a peg was ringed, and the number of points on that peg were earned and added to the total points already earned, if any.

The limited amount of money I brought to the carnival—only five dollars or so—was soon expended, and after my last dollar had been pissed away—oops, I meant thrown away—I needed only one-half of one point to win the brass ring—my choice of any prize behind the counter. As a precaution prior to investing more money, I studied that fraction-filled point chart (studiously) and found that the lowest fraction on the chart was one-half—1/2—of one point.

There was no one-fourth—1/4—point!

Voila!

How could I lose?

The answer?

I couldn’t lose!

I only needed to toss rings until my toss circled a one-half point peg, and the brass ring would be mine!

I only needed the wherewithal to purchase more rings.

I was a proud enlisted member of our American military force at the time. I was paid once monthly at the end of each month—not much, but I was paid regularly. I was four days away from payday and neither my wife nor I had any more money with us, but safely ensconced at home, well hidden against the possibility that a burglar might ransack our home, was one twenty-dollar greenback.

And now for the rest of that story:

I hied myself to our home, extracted the bill from its hiding place, returned to the carnival, began tossing rings and finally, after I had the entire twenty dollars invested, the barker said, “This one’s a winner.” The brass ring winner? No—the last peg I ringed with that stupid wooden ring that took the last one of my twenty dollars showed only one-fourth of a point.

I protested vigorously and vehemently, charging that the chart taped to the counter did not include a one-fourth—1/4—point. The barker calmly placed a fingertip on the chart, and my gaze followed that stupid grimy hand and its stupid grimy fingertip with its stupid nail packed with dirt to a number that definitely and indelibly read as follows:

1/4.

It hurt horribly and I protested loudly, threatening to leave and return with my base commander, all without effect—my twenty dollars could never be retrieved. For all the good that bill did me, I might as well have utilized it at home and then flushed it.

That’s my story—I could have told other stories, some involving more money and some less, and some involving other than money, but this is as good an example as I have to demonstrate my theory of gullibility and greed. I did not see the 1/4 point on the chart because I did not want to see it. It was there, but my gullibility and greed infected and affected my vision, resulting in the loss of our accumulated cash wealth at the time.

I say that in all seriousness. We had no money in a checking account or savings account because we had no bank account. With the loss of the twenty we had no money, nothing to exchange at the commissary for food or for baby formula, diapers and talcum powder. Other than that ill-fated twenty-dollar bill, we had absolutely nothing reserved for a calamitous event such as the one precipitated, with treacherous and malicious aforethought, by that damned carnival barker—may he rest in (fill in the blank).

Bummer!

I was gullible and greedy, just as were the victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. However, that incident has stood me in good stead over the years since. I readily admit that I can be had, that somewhere in my world there is some silver-tongued devil that has the ability to make a profit off me by focusing on those two emotions, and I resist it with every fiber of my being, knowing that it could happen again.

In the near future I plan to post the story of how we made it through the last four days before payday. That posting will be a sad tale that involves floating a five-dollar loan and completing a sales transaction, both successful only because of the beneficence of two fellow service members.

A special note: The brass ring was an item that could be snagged by a rider whirling around on one of the old time carnival merry-go-rounds, provided that the rider had a very long reach—hence the expression go for the brass ring. A rider that snagged the brass ring qualified for a prize, one of very little value but one sought for desperately, particularly by young men eager to impress their dates, or perhaps by young men eager to impress other young men, or by young women eager to impress—etc., etc.—who knows who or why? I don’t know whether the practice still exists—I do know that it did exist—I tried many times, but I never caught the brass ring.

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

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Family, friends, Humor, stock market

 

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Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing, medical and dental services and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friendswere in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, friends, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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