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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I remember Mama—thoughts of my mother . . .

Countless times over the years I heard my mother say that she was not afraid to die, that she had lived her life with love for her Maker and in deference to Him, and that she was ready to meet Him at any time He called her. My mother believed that if one had faith, even though that faith be no larger than a mustard seed, then everything would be alright regardless of the situation, whether it be sickness or hunger or severe weather or any other danger looming on the horizon. And if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed you’ll have a good idea of how much leeway that gives one regarding the amount of faith one must have as one travels through life in this realm—let’s just agree that the size of a mustard seed leaves a lot of room for error, for straying from the straight and narrow path.

In late November of 1980 my mother was hospitalized with an embolism near the heart and was scheduled for surgery. She was so thin and the embolism was so large that it was visible under the skin, expanding and contracting with every heartbeat. When I arrived at the hospital late in the afternoon she was in the Intensive Care Unit, scheduled for surgery early the next morning.

She was understandably fearful of the pending surgery, and I told her that her fear was normal, that anyone would be afraid, and then I reminded her of the oft-quoted power of the mustard seed, the seed that if faith were no larger than, then everything would be alright.

My mother’s answer? With tears flowing freely she said, I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to hear any more about that mustard seed!

My mother was a heavy smoker, beginning in her teenage years and continuing through adulthood and middle age and later. She never really became old—her body took her into old age and reflected that long journey, but her mind and her thoughts and her outlook on life remained young, right up to the end of her time here on earth. Somewhere around the age of fifty she enrolled in a course of mail order studies and eventually became an LPN, a Licensed Practical Nurse. She often nursed persons rendered helpless after years of smoking and she was well aware of the dangers of the habit.

In response to admonitions to quit smoking, she always said that she would quit smoking when she was eighty years old. She smoked her last cigarette on her eightieth birthday in 1977, and her death came in November of 1980, almost four years later. Her surgery was one of those instances, according to her doctors, in which the surgery was a success but the patient died—her heart was not strong enough to endure the invasive and intensive surgery.

One of her doctors told us that her lungs were remarkably clear, particularly considering some six decades of smoking. I’ve never believed that—his comment was probably meant to be some sort of balm in an attempt to keep her survivors for blaming her cigarette habit for her death. It was not necessary—none of us placed any blame on her—our blame was aimed at the cigarette makers.

That’s it—that’s the story of my mother’s surgery and her death, the only time that I was present when a member of my family died, although I was privileged to attend the funerals of several relatives during my boyhood days. One by one my family members fell—mother, father, brother, five sisters and my stepfather, not necessarily in that order, of course. From the age of sixteen I was far off from home and was able to attend only a few of the funerals, whether my immediate family or those of assorted relatives—brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins—all gave up this realm for another as the result of accidents, disease, old age and in one instance, suicide—none was murdered, at least none of which I am aware.

Of my immediate family I am the last one standing. I’m not particularly proud of that, but I’m not disappointed either. I remain, I exist, perhaps due to the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, or the turn of the wheel, or perhaps because of divine providence. Perhaps the Creator has a special purpose for me.

Hey, it could be—perhaps some day my WordPress musings, my ramblings, will be consolidated in a pseudo autobiography and published world-wide in numerous languages, and perhaps my tales, my escapades, my foibles and my frolics will influence someone to turn away from a life of sin and pleasure and become a monk and one day become the Pope, the holy keeper of the Catholic faith, the only living link with St. Peter, an apostle of Christ and the rock on which He built His house.

And perhaps not.

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

Postscript: I’ll be back later with more thoughts of my mother—stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A medical miracle . . .

A medical miracle

When I was twelve years old I went to live with my brother and his family in Suitland, Maryland. This was not a voluntary change of scenery and habitat. My stepfather had returned to his parental duties after having broken up our little family for the umpteenth time. My mother, my youngest sister and I were living in Durant, Mississippi and as far as I was concerned, I would have been happy to continue there through high school, and then on to whatever life might offer.

Prior to our migration to Durant, we were living on a small farm twelve miles from Columbus, Mississippi, living an idyllic existence and had I been asked, I would have said that everything was coming up roses. Papa John, my stepfather, had other ideas. Just as he had done at other times in the few short years of his marriage to my mother, my sister and me, he found an excuse to explode into a rage and dissolve the family. Click here to learn the reason for the breakup. It’s a story of chapped hands, Jergen’s lotion, talcum powder, biscuits and breakfast, a clawed cheek, a shotgun, a young boy and girl hiding in the woods and a Model T automobile. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I can’t imagine what would!

When I left Durant I went to live with a family that was unknown to me. In my first twelve years I could count the times that I had seen my brother on the fingers of one hand, and each of those times was only for a few days. Now everything was strange to me—my brother, his wife, their young son, our neighbors, my school, the community, the people and the weather.

Now in order to continue, I must discuss a mental and physical change in me that any psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor could have predicted—I swiftly descended into a condition known as constipation. You can Google that, but it probably isn’t necessary. Sooner or later, having birthed into an unfriendly world—probably sooner rather than later—every living creature, whether human or otherwise, will suffer from that same malady.

One should think, even at the tender age of twelve years, one would know what was causing the gnawing stomach pains that began a few days after I joined my brother’s family. What began as a slight feeling of discomfort rapidly devolved into severe pain that could only be lessened by my curling up into a fetal position and doing some audible grunting and groaning.

Okay, it took a bit of ink for the prelude to the following action, and I apologize for the delay—I felt that the background leading up to my visit to a doctor was pertinent to this discussion, but from this point I will make an effort to be brief. I realize that my readers are anxious to learn what deadly malady had overtaken me.

Very soon after arriving at the doctor’s office I was lying on my side sans trousers and undergarments, and the doctor’s index finger, the one on his right hand with the hand ensconced in a white plastic glove—yes, that inordinately long digit was uncomfortably fitted into a sensitive area in my lower part of my body—yes, you guessed it—it was in the part that can be considered a homonym, a word that sounds like another but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. In this instance the word rhymes with wrecked ‘um, a condition that describes the effect of one motor vehicle colliding with another—go figure!

The doctor, calling on all his medical study and training and the sensitivity of that inordinately long finger, diagnosed my condition as severe constipation, a malady that in his opinion was caused by my reluctance to fill my brother’s small abode with unspeakable odors, thus making me the object of ridicule, scorn and sarcasm. I know, I know—it sounds really stupid, and to echo the words of Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does, and it was stupid of me to worry about something that is as common to mankind as breathing. The exact words of the doctor’s diagnosis were, There’s a lot there that needs to be cleared out.

Now on to my recovery, a miracle that was accomplished with a solution of warm water with some sort of powder dissolved therein and placed in a red rubber bag known as a hot water bottle—well, there was another common term for the bag, one that was not voiced in mixed company, that is in company comprised of mixed genders. That other nomenclature is douche bag, and that should indicate one of its functions to any knowledgeable reader.

Shortly after returning home from the doctor’s office I was seated in the bathroom on you know what with the business end of a flexible tube inserted in you know where with the other end attached to a red rubber bag filled with that solution of powder and warm water, with my brother manipulating the bag much as a musician manipulates an accordion.

With each squeeze of the accordion, the musician creates musical notes. With each squeeze of that devil bag my brother elicited vocal sounds from me and lifted me ever so slightly off my seat, and with each squeeze his laughter increased in tempo and volume. He was literally in tears, long before the deed was accomplished to his satisfaction.

The rest is history—I retained my seat on orders from my brother, and shortly after being disconnected from that devil apparatus following many days of discomfort and pain, I was cured by a miracle, a miracle that featured a kindly, long-fingered doctor, a red rubber bag, a medical solution and a maniacal brother, and I returned to the adventurous life I had lived before my transportation to strange surroundings.

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

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in health, Humor

 

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About my uncle Dalton . . .

This post is about my Uncle Dalton, one of my mother’s younger brothers. I never knew him, and I saw him for the first and last time at his wake. I can’t pinpoint the year he died, but my best guess is that it was around 1940. I know it was before 1942, the year my mother unwisely brought a stepfather into our family, and when I picture myself standing at my uncle’s coffin and listening to my mother explain how he died, I appear to be somewhere around the age of seven or perhaps eight years—hey, don’t laugh—I said it would be a best guess, right?

My Uncle Dalton died in the old Bryce Hospital, an institution for the insane located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can Google it here if you like—there’s lots of info on the Internet.

According to my mother and other family members, Dalton was the victim of a beating rendered by a fellow inmate, a not-so-gentle man that attacked Dalton with a metal bedpan and the beating proved to be fatal. I have a vivid memory of standing beside my mother and watching her lift the departed’s right arm and the hand dropping limply, indicating, as voiced by my mother, that the wrist was broken. I know now that the hand dropping, or drooping, was normal and did not indicate a break. Had the body been in the maximum stiffness of rigor mortis,  the hand would not have drooped when the arm was lifted.

In humans, rigor mortis commences  about 3 hours after death, reaches maximum stiffness after 12 hours, and gradually dissipates until approximately three days after death. I am reasonably sure that Uncle Dalton had been dead for at least three days before he lay in state at his wake prior to his burial. Therefore it was natural for the hand to drop, or droop, when the arm was lifted. If you like, you can click here to confirm my findings concerning rigor mortis.

My mother told me that Uncle Dalton was a perfectly normal young adult until he unwisely dived head-first from a tree limb into shallow water and lost consciousness when his head struck the bottom—her expression was, I believe, that his head stuck in the mud. He remained unconscious for several minutes and was finally revived, but was never quite the same after the accident, and some years later was committed to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, an institution for the mentally disturbed—insane, if you will.

My mother visited Dalton numerous times during his tenure at Bryce, and she had interesting stories to tell about those visits. She said that he loved chewing gum, and she always took him gum on her visits. Patients were not allowed to shave themselves, and Mama said that he invariably removed a stick of gum from its wrapper, then reconstructed the wrapper and  pretended to shave with it. She told me a joke that she claimed Dalton told her—I seriously doubt the origin of this joke, but I must admit that it’s funny!

The joke my Uncle Dalton supposedly told was of a mental patient that had been told that after thirty years in the asylum he could go home, so he was given a razor and told to shave. As he faced the mirror and began shaving, a nurse stopped in the hallway to congratulate him, and he turned away from the mirror for an instant, and while he was turned away the mirror slipped of its hanger. When he returned to face the mirror he exclaimed, “Damn, thirty years in this place and the day I get ready to leave I cut my head off!” If that story is true, I have some doubt as to the severity of Dalton’s insanity.

One more story about my insane Uncle Dalton, and I’ll leave this posting for posterity. An official from Bryce Hospital called Dalton’s family to tell them that Dalton had wandered away from the institution and was believed to be returning to his home. A couple of days later his mother noticed that a shotgun that normally hung over the fireplace was missing. A report was made to local law enforcement, and a search began for Dalton in that area. While the search was in full swing, Dalton appeared at the house with the shotgun and several squirrels he had bagged. He said that he left the hospital with the intention of going squirrel hunting and having his mother make squirrel stew for him. As the story goes, the local law officials arrived to take Dalton back to the hospital, but waited until he had finished a meal of squirrel stew.

Possible? Yes, but plausible? No, but it makes a good read, especially as told to me by my mother, and I would like to believe it. Well, why not? It’s all in the past, and whether true of false it’s an indication of the frailty and the goodness of human nature, and our acceptance of both attributes.

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

Postscript: I overlooked a memory of my uncle, something my mother told me and was confirmed by at least two of her sisters. One manifestation of his separation from reality was his insistence that the air was filled with clocks, all manners of timepieces—clocks large and clocks small, all showing the same time of day or night, and he couldn’t understand why others could not see them.

Was that proof of his mental imbalance? Perhaps, but according to my mother and my aunts he never carried a pocket watch and never wore a wristwatch, yet when someone asked, he could give them the correct time, at any moment of the day or night. Such a gift has its advantages—assuming that the clocks required neither winding nor batteries, the absence of maintenance costs and physical effort would mount up over a lifetime.

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

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2010 in Humor, hunting, insanity, law enforcement

 

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Second letter to Larry, my brother (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

Next month will mark the twenty-seventh year that has passed since that October day in 1983 when you, as Shakespeare has so poignantly observed, “shuffled off this mortal coil.” As you probably are aware, I did not attend your funeral, but I can make no apology for that—when the call came with the news, I was en route to Washington’s National Airport to take a flight to Miami for an assignment that was critical to my job with the U.S. Customs Service.

I had prepared for the flight for several weeks and could not afford to miss it. I’m sure you understand—the bills were still arriving with monotonous regularity—I know it’s trite to say, but I needed to be able to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.” Please know that I was there with you in spirit—I thought of little else on the flight to Florida.

I’ve written letters to two of our sisters, Hattie and Jessie, and I plan to write to Dot and Lorene, our other two sisters, and possibly in the future to our mother, our father and even to the stepfather our mother unwisely allowed into the family in 1942. All are gone now, but I trust and would like to believe that you are in communication with them. I have serious doubts that the stepfather is available—he may be somewhat lower on the metaphysical level of existence than the others.

I would like to couch this letter in terms of us remembering certain times when we were together. My memories are still just as fresh as they ever were, and I hope yours are also—I would not want to talk about happenings that you may not remember.

I remember vividly the fishing trip you took me on when I was about four, perhaps five years old. We lived at the old Box place in Vernon, Alabama, and we went fishing in Yellow Creek near the house. My float went under and I snatched the hook out of the water and snagged it on an overhead branch. I thought I had a really big fish until you reached up to remove the hook—I was really disappointed, but at least you had a good laugh.

You were at home on leave from President Roosevelt’s CCC—the Civilian Conservation Corps—a respite from helping build in Utah what you described as“ roads that started nowhere and ended nowhere.” The family had a homecoming party that included a washtub filled with ice and beer. Someone left a partially filled can on an inside table and I drank some of it, and a short while later I stood on the top step of our front porch and barfed it up in view of the entire family. Shades of child abuse!

Do you remember taking me on a rabbit hunt on a snow-covered day just a year two later when I was in the first grade? We were living on Eleventh Street South in Columbus, Mississippi and you were home, once again, from Roosevelt’s CCC. We only found one rabbit that day, but that one generated memories that are burned into my psyche—memories of the rabbit, a nylon stocking and a bedpost that will always be there. A click here will refresh your memory and will create a memory for any potential viewer of this letter.

Do you remember when I was living with you and your wife Toni and your two boys in Suitland, Maryland and I broke my right leg sliding in to home plate in a ball game? I had a full cast from my toes to mid-thigh, with a forty-five degree angle at the knee, and you bought a set of crutches for my use. Long before the cast came off, I used one of the crutches in an attempt to kill a pesky bee and broke it—the crutch, not the bee—the bee escaped unharmed. In spite of my pleas, you refused to replace the crutch, saying that what I did was dumb, that it’s impossible to buy just one crutch and you told me to manage with the remaining crutch—I managed.

I wrote a long-winded story, more than a bit fictional, of that broken leg, a tale that was told and can be found here. The tale tells how I and my Little League team won the national and international championship that year.

You bought me my first bicycle, a beautiful item that needed only the pedals, seat and handlebars installed to make it complete, but you made me disassemble it right down to the wheel bearings which I cleaned and repacked with the special grease you used on your fleet of trucks. I followed orders with some resentment, but I realize now that your method contributed to the bike’s longevity and to my safety. Click here for the full story of my first bike, first kiss and first train ride.

You may have put this memory aside, but I remember coming home late one evening and you were seated in the living room with a half-full pint of whiskey, and Toni was crawling around on her hands and knees on the floor, groaning and moaning and mumbling. You explained that you had caught her at a place where she should not have been, with a person she should not have been with. You said she had swallowed a lot of sleeping pills and that you would take her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped out after she went to sleep. Toni was mumbling something over and over that sounded suspiciously like he hit me, but I couldn’t be sure—it could have been my imagination.

Being a young fellow of at least average intelligence, I took my leave and returned to the apartment in Suitland that our mother and our sister Dot were renting from month-to-month, and stayed there until things quieted down. We never discussed the incident after that evening—I don’t know whether you took her to the hospital or to a doctor. I’m guessing that she did the same thing with the pills that I did with the beer I drank at that party some ten years earlier. That would probably have rendered a trip to the hospital or to a doctor unnecessary.

The outcome of that incident was a temporary breakup of your family. Toni and the boys went to her mother’s place in New York City, and you and I returned to Mississippi. I have no knowledge of your activities or whereabouts for several years, and just four years later in 1948 I was reunited with you and your family in El Paso, Texas as the result of our stepfather casting me, our mother and our sister Dot aside in Midland, Texas and we managed to negotiate the 300 miles to El Paso on a Greyhound bus.

That refuge was broken up a short while later—our mother and sister returned to Mississippi, your wife and sons took a plane to New York City, and you and I pursued her—our pursuit first took us to Dallas where we met the Greyhound bus you thought she may have taken from El Paso. You said she may have taken the train and we could meet the train in St. Louis. We failed to meet the train in St. Louis because we spent the night in jail in Valley Park, a suburb some 20 miles west of St. Louis. We continued on to New York City and stayed with Toni and the children in her mother’s apartment in Greenwich Village for several weeks, and finally from there back to Mississippi. If your memory is faulty in this instance and you have access to the Internet, click here for the full story of our trip across the continent to New York.

Do you remember the sleeping arrangements in your mother-in-law’s apartment? It was a two-room affair with a tiny bathroom, and we slept, cooked and dined in one large room—pretty crowded but far better than our room in the Valley Park jail. I was accustomed to such luxurious surroundings from years spent in places that either had no bathroom or the bathroom was somewhere down the hall and shared with others.

As for our sleeping arrangements, I remember that the two boys shared a baby bed, and each night we placed the top mattress of the only bed on the floor for you and Toni, and I slept on the bottom mattress on the bed near the window.

I’m sure you remember the night when an intruder threw a leg over the sill of the apartment’s only window! Although we were on the second floor of the building, someone managed to climb up and enter through the open window. The shade was pulled down—yes, windows had shades in those days—and when the intruder straddled the window sill the shade rustled and you awoke and shouted and threw a shoe at the window. One loud curse and the burglar was gone. We never knew exactly how the person climbed up to the window. Evidently the intruder survived the drop, because there was nobody in sight when we finally got up enough nerve to raise the shade and take a look outside.

We finished the night with the window closed, and without the occasional breezes that slipped into the apartment. We had a really uncomfortable night. Nope, no air conditioning in those days, and no fan. I hadn’t slept well before the incident, and it certainly didn’t reduce my insomnia for the remaining nights in that apartment.

I remember you and Toni arguing one morning and you telling her that we were leaving and that you were taking the two children with you. I will never forget Toni running downstairs to the sidewalk, screaming for the police, and returning with two of New York’s finest. The officers said that you and I could leave and take our personal things with us, but nothing else—you were ordered, under the threat of arrest, to not attempt to take the children away from their mother.

You left the apartment before I did, and as I was leaving Toni told me that if I ever needed anything to call her. I never saw her or talked to her again—I know that she remarried, but I never knew her married name or her whereabouts, and to this day I do not know whether she has also shuffled off this mortal coil—if still alive today she would be about 86 years old. I would like to believe that she is alive and well—I have never wished her anything other than well, and whatever the event, I still wish her well.

I doubt that you ever saw the picture I’ve included in this letter. It’s from a 35-millimeter slide, probably taken in the mid-1970s—I’m guessing 1975 because there were some other slides that showed our 1975 Oldsmobile 98—it looks new, and we bought it in that year. The slide was scanned in and printed by Cindy, your niece that lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia. Unless my memory fails me, the black-and-tan hound was named Bugler, and the little Cocker Spaniel in the lower right corner was named Useless.

Larry, there are many things I would like to discuss with you, but this letter seems to have legs. Let me chop them off for now, with the promise of returning soon with a whole new set of reminisces. I trust that you and any potential viewers of this letter will understand my feelings and my reasons for taking them back in time. Some of my memories are pleasant, and I enjoy speaking of them. Not all are pleasant, of course, but in this world of Yen and Yang we must take the good with the bad, and learn to smile with the one and frown with the other.

From your only brother, the only member of our family still standing—all the others are gone.

Mike

Postscript: Regarding the names of the two dogs in the image above, my memory did indeed fail me. My niece in Arkansas, my brother’s daughter, e-mailed me on 9-5-10 to say that the black-and-tan-hound was named Sam and Bugler was his pup, and the Cocker Spaniel I presented as Useless was named Puny. Thanks, Deanna, for straightening the names out for me.

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

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Meet Papa John (not the pizza man) . . .

Meet Papa John . . .

Papa John, my stepfather, is a recurring figure in many of my postings, and he looms just as large in my memories as he did in life. For good or for otherwise, he was part of my life for some 28 years, from the time of his marriage to my mother in 1942—the first of their two marriages—until the time of his death in 1970. I trust that el Hombre ariba—the Man above—will forgive me for saying that his death coincided with one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Actually, it was not a coincidence—his death brought about one of the best things because it got me out of Vietnam and home with my family for a month. I had to return to Vietnam to finish my scheduled tour, but those thirty days at home were priceless. That month brought me out of the darkness of the Vietnam war and into the bright light of my wife and my children—the time with my family restored my faith and my sanity and allowed me to return, unwillingly of course, and finish my assignment with renewed vigor.

The military did not want me to have the thirty days at home—evidently my presence in Vietnam was critical to the war’s success. While I was honored that I was so important to the war effort, I managed to convince the brass to honor my right to be at my mother’s side following the death of my stepfather, and I recorded the events leading up to my return to the US in a prior posting. Click on the following URL for more details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

With my mother’s marriage to my stepfather, my family was reduced to four—mother, stepfather, son and daughter. The older son and the two older daughters were safely outside the family, and were influenced by Papa John only through observation and interaction with my mother, my younger sister and me.

My stepfather had a rudimentary education, but over the years he became a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker. His talents were in demand during the years of World War II, but those demands ebbed and flowed and required several re-locations, from Mississippi to Tennessee on two separate occasions, and eventually to Texas.

Between his job assignments and the dissolution of the family for one reason or another, mostly caused by his alcoholism, we always returned to Columbus, Mississippi. From my birth until the age of nine, I lived in six residences in two states, Alabama and Mississippi. In the seven–year period between the ages of nine and sixteen, following my mother’s marriage to Papa John, I lived in 17 different residences in five different states—Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and New York. My travels involved living in eleven different places in three Mississippi cities—one in Durant, one in Long Beach and nine in Columbus.

I spent 22 years in military service and another 26 years in federal service as a law enforcement officer, and in that 48 years I traveled all over the United States and several foreign countries. Is it any wonder that I don’t like to travel now? And if I do leave home, for whatever reason, I desperately want to be back home before dark!

Forgive me for digressing from the purpose of this posting. My intent here is to talk about some of Papa John’s idiosyncrasies, some of his peculiarities that we quickly learned and adhered to—I’ll mention only a few but not all, because I would soon exhaust my ink supply. He was fifty when he married our mother, so his habits were firmly ensconced.

He saucered his coffee. He would pour a bit from the cup to the saucer and when it cooled, he sipped from the saucer. We were told we could do that when we turned fifty.

He drank directly from his cereal bowl to drain the last vestiges of milk. We could do that at the age of fifty.

He allowed no pets unless they worked, hunting dogs for example, and no cats except for rat and mouse control. For his idea of pets, click here to read about his promise of two dogs for my sister and me as pets for Christmas presents. Click on the following URL for the details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/two-pets-for-christmas/

He was prone to produce intestinal gas in prodigious amounts, and was always polite when he released it. He always excused himself and left the table when the occasion demanded it, but no matter where we lived there was no place in the house that would do much more than muffle the sound. This was a source of mirth for me and my sister, but as we grew older the mirth waned rapidly. Our mother’s response, whether the explosions came while watching television, dining or  after retiring for the night, she never deviated from an exasperated exclamation: My God, John!

He did not use swear words, nor did he allow us to use them. His favorite expression was to refer to a person as a peckerwood, a corruption of woodpecker, I suppose. However, the way he pronounced that word left no doubt that the person was at least some of the swear words that describe people in scathing terms.

He used prodigious amounts of aftershave lotion and talcum powder, so he always smelled good—well, almost always. His use of talcum powder caused one of our family breakups, one that took us from an idyllic life on a farm in Mississippi—talcum powder was the immediate cause, but the underlying cause ran much deeper—my guess would be that he used the talcum powder incident as a reason to dissolve the family so he could pursue activities more desirable than managing a small farm. For a reading of that breakup, click on the following URL: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/sid-looney-and-a-model-t-ford/

He was an inveterate gambler, and when enough money had been accrued to constitute a grubstake, he usually returned to Midland, Texas where he was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization that was legally authorized to conduct gambling in a state, county and city where gambling was illegal. When the money ran out—and it always did—he took the necessary steps to reassemble our family, ostensibly having seen the light and turning over a new leaf, but actually to build another grubstake. For a comprehensive posting of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and life in Midland, and a recount of my brief stint as a cocktail waiter, click on the following URL:https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/my-brief-stint-as-a-cocktail-waiter/

There is more to tell about Papa John—if I appear to be dwelling on his less than acceptable manners and his pursuits outside the family, it’s because those are among my most vivid memories. Papa was not all bad—there were good times—it’s just that the other than good times outweighed the good times. There were periods of genuine affection among our small family, but they were darkened by times of affliction. Just one instance of someone inflicting pain, distress and grief on another person or persons, whether physical or mental, is one too many, and Papa John was guilty of such actions repeatedly over the years, particularly on my mother.

I have a sneaking suspicion that with my writings I am saying some of the things I would have liked to say to Papa while he was alive—and should have said—but prudence coupled with fear forbade me doing that.

I hope he’s listening now.

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

 

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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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