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College Street, #301 & 1/2—a boarding house . . .

For a few weeks during the second World War I lived in a boarding house with my mother, stepfather and an older sister, a young girl that was a complex assortment of tissue, fluids and organs with a brilliant mind and a tendency to manufacture, from whole cloth, tales that were told as true but believed by none. Eighteen months older than I, she was from birth in 1931 to her death in 1992 at the age of sixty-one, a teller of tall tales.

We were together constantly in our early years, but beginning in our early teenage years we grew apart and were together for brief periods only when our paths crossed. She married a military man and moved with him to various assignments, including stateside and oversea locations. I was also in the military, but our paths crossed only once in Germany.

But I digress—this posting deals with our living for several weeks during the summer at an address in uptown Columbus, Mississippi in Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House, a mini-hotel that occupied the second floor of a building on College Street—several blocks east of the boarding house was the Mississippi State College for Women, thus the name College Street. It was the procedure at that time to give the one-half designation to identify the second floor of a building. I don’t remember what sort of business occupied the lower part of the building, but it must have been something that held no interest for a young boy.

The building’s mailing address was 301 College Street. Mrs Cooper’s Boarding House was 301 1/2 College Street. Had the building sported a third floor I suppose its address would have been 301 3/4 College Street, and it follows that a fourth floor would have been 301 4/4. I know that buildings with multiple side-by-side units—duplexes, triplexes and such—are identified by adding letters, such as 301-A, 301-B, 301-C and so on, normally from left to right when one is facing the building. Perhaps fractions were used rather than letters because letters were already taken to indicate side-by-side units.

As with many of our domiciles were during the years we were with our mother and our stepfather, we lived in one room. Toilet facilities were always down at the end of the hall, or down the hall and left or right to the end of that hall, depending on one’s room number. The rooms did not include cooking or eating—Mrs. Cooper cooked and served three meals daily at a long table in a cavernous room with windows facing the street. Meals were served punctually—breakfast at seven in the morning, dinner at twelve noon and supper at six in the evening.

Yes, dinner was at noon—to my knowledge nobody in the south at that time ate lunch—we didn’t even know the term. If someone got the best of us, we never said Wow, he really ate my lunch! Nope, we said Wow, he really got the best of me!

I have learned since then that the difference between lunch and dinner and between dinner and supper depends on which of the two is the more important meal. If the big meal is served and eaten at noon, it’s dinner and the meal served and eaten in the evening is supper—we dine at noon and we sup in the evening. Conversely, if the big meal is served and eaten in the evening it’s dinner, and the meal at noon becomes lunch. Then of course we have brunch, a meal enjoyed between breakfast and lunch. I suppose a meal enjoyed in mid-afternoon would therefore be a combination of lunch and dinner—linner—or perhaps a combination of dinner and supper—dupper—if one has dinner at noon and supper in the evening.

Enough of that, so back to my original subject, namely Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House. Meals there were always interesting. We comprised a motley assortment of people representing diverse occupations and all races, all that is except blacks, a group now known as African-Americans—the term was unknown in my childhood. Mrs. Cooper employed such persons in her establishment but none ever lived there and none ever sat at the table, at least not when paying guests were seated there. This was deep in the segregated south sometime during the Second World War, long before Lynden Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights marches and the cattle prods, snarling dogs and snarling policemen in Selma, Alabama.

As an aside, I’ll say that I was stationed at Craig Air Force Base in Selma for some six years, from 1955 to 1961, and I was therefore familiar with Alabama and Dallas County’s system of segregation of the races. Stay tuned, because I plan to discuss Craig AFB, Selma, Alabama, fishing and segregation in future postings.

I have no memories of Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House that are worthy of sharing with my viewers, but I remember a cute story told to me by a lady in a different town and in a different but similar setting. My mother was an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse and for a year or so she tended a bedridden wheelchair-bound elderly widow in Durant, Mississippi. a small town northeast of Jackson. Her compensation for that task was the income generated by a large house owned by the invalid, a house that had been converted into several apartments. Our family had a furnished apartment at no cost with all utilities paid, and my mother managed the facility, renting and collecting the rents and maintaining the house—anything left over was her salary. Her patient also lived there and my mother furnished around-the-clock nursing care for her. Incidentally, this was during a period of a forced separation from our stepfather, one created by him as were all the other times we were thrown out to continue our lives in whatever way we could.

Click here for that story—it features a violent incident, a threat, a shotgun and two children hiding in the woods—shades of Hansel and Gretel!

That’s about it—I posted this item for no other reason than to discuss the oddity of an address ending in a fraction. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but of course I have never really tried to find another fractioned address.

Oh, I’ve decided to save the story told by the invalid lady in the apartment house my mother managed, but stay tuned—it’ll show up in a future posting, and it’s really funny! Sadly though, it’s a clean joke—not even the suggestion of a bad word or thought in it, not one double entendre in it, single, double or otherwise—bummer!

Speaking of a double entendre, the image on the right is an 1814 engraving of one such. The balloons above their heads read as follows:

He:My sweet honey, I hope you are to be let with the lodgings!

She: No, sir, I am to be let alone!

The term let, of course, means rent. It refers to lodgings for let, or rooms for rent. The gentleman is hoping that the girl comes with the lodging. I mean, like, hey, those folks in the Victorian era were really raunchy, huh! Just consider the dissolution, dissipation and disintegration of acceptable social mores during that time, the sexual overtones in that conversation, all reflecting a time in history of debauched living, and look—they’re even touching! Ostensibly in an attempt to chuck her under the chin, a move that she is warding off, his hand is perilously near her breast—horrors! It’s sad to think that young children were exposed to such filth during the Victorian period. You’ll never find anything like that in one of my postings—except for this time, of course.


 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Cowboys, coffee shops and overnight in jail . . .

The year 1948 was a really busy one for me. I began the year in high school in the second semester of the tenth grade, but I left school to travel with my family—stepfather, mother and sister—from Mississippi to Midland, Texas. Although dropping out was not my decision, I must honestly say that I was not too upset.

As a preteen and teenager, I was a voracious reader of adventure novels—Zane Grey was and still is one of my favorite authors.  I looked forward to being in the land of wild Indians and cowboys, horses and rustlers, crooked bankers and comely maidens, cattle drives to the rail head, stampedes and shoot-outs, fast-draw sheriffs and outlaws, snake-oil peddlers and bible-thumping circuit riders—I was not obsessed with all things western, but I was an avid—okay, rabid—fan.

I spent the rest of the year, at various times traveling, living and working in Midland, Texas and El Paso, Texas. In September of that year I traveled by auto with my older brother from El Paso to New York City, with a Sunday overnight stay in jail in Valley Park, Missouri, a small city a few miles west of St. Louis—it has probably grown a lot since then. On release from jail, we paid a brief visit in St. Louis to my stepfather’s sister and her husband in an effort to borrow gas money to get to New York.

They declined to help out, saying they couldn’t be certain that we were who we said we were—some really cautious people there. We only asked for $20 (gas was twenty-six cents a gallon in 1948) but they were adamant and refused. And here I will be just as cautious as they were by offering my apologies in advance if some are offended when I say that their refusal to help two people adrift on a sea of uncertainty may have been based on the husband being of a certain ethnic persuasion—if you catch my drift. Hey, give me a bit of credit—I’ve already apologized for the slut—oops, I meant slur.

The fact that my stepfather’s sister and her husband apologized to my stepfather and my mother at a later date does little to soften their refusal to finance the remainder of our trip to New York. Twenty dollars? The couple owned and operated an upscale coffee shop in one of the finest hotels in St. Louis. They could not possibly have believed that my brother and I were anyone other than who we professed to be—I told them things about my stepfather, both pro and con, that I could only know from having lived under his rule for some seven years.

Here’s a not-so-brief discussion of our futile chase of a wife, a bus and a train enroute to New York City. While my brother was at work at the El Paso Smelting Works (we lived in one of the company houses on-site), his wife took his wallet, his car and their two children to town, ostensibly on a shopping trip. Around noon on that day, a Friday, we received a call from a parking lot attendant in downtown El Paso. He said the woman that left it there told him to call her husband to pick up the car. My brother called a taxi and asked me to go with him to pick up the car. I unwisely agreed to go—big mistake.

We retrieved the car and immediately headed east. My brother had checked the Greyhound bus schedules and said that she had probably taken the bus and we could catch her in Dallas, more than 600 miles distant. He neglected to ask me if I wanted to go with him—he simply pointed his 1942 Mercury coupe, the one with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off and the ignition system hooked up to the fog lights—yep, it was hot wired—turn on the fog lights and the engine could be started. We left El Paso and headed for Dallas with my brother driving—I was riding shotgun.

The Greyhound had a fair start on us, but we arrived in Dallas before it did. His wife and children were not on it. My brother then checked the train schedules out of El Paso and decided that she must have taken the train to New York. He said that we could beat the train to St. Louis, so we headed for St. Louis, another 6oo miles away.

A funny thing happened to us on that leg of our journey. We were only 27 miles from St. Louis, and had our forward motion not been impeded, we would have beaten the train from El Paso. However,  around noon on that Sunday in Valley Park, Missouri, a small town (then) just 27 miles west of St. Louis, we passed a drive-in restaurant where two uniformed city police officers were having lunch in their police cruiser, with an attractive young short-skirted female carhop leaning into the driver’s window. We were in slow-moving city traffic as we passed, so we had time to admire the rear view of the carhop, and that was probably a fatal mistake. The cops dismissed her and scattered gravel as they dug out in hot pursuit of us, siren blaring, red lights flashing and a bullhorn roaring Pull over! Just as in the old black-and-white Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan and James Cagney movies.

Following the stop and a few questions and answers, my brother and I were arrested, patted down and placed in the city jail. We were suspected of auto theft, and the police posed the probability that we were guilty and possibly had kidnapped and murdered the owner of the car—yes, they used those words, and repeatedly asked us what we did with the gun and where had we hidden the body of the person we murdered after stealing the car.

I hasten to add that the only thing we were guilty of was being stupid enough to first race a Greyhound bus from El Paso to Dallas, and then race a cross-country passenger train from El Paso to St. Louis, all the while driving a hot-wired car with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off, three different sets of license plates in the trunk, no personal identification and no luggage. Add to that the fact that neither my brother nor I had a scrap of identification on us, and I had a handful of .22 caliber long-rifle cartridges in a pocket of my jeans. We were arrested on Sunday, and after our overnight jailing we were released just before noon on Monday. We were told that we could only be held 24 hours without being formally charged with a crime and booked. We were released after 23 hours in jail, with no apology offered, just an emphatic, Get out of town and don’t come back—just as in those old-time western movies.

We had valid explanations for the hot-wiring, multiple sets of license plates, no identification, no luggage and a pocketful of rifle cartridges, but the officers obviously did not believe us, and told us that none of our story could be checked on Sunday because the offices that could verify our story were closed and inquires could not be made until Monday. We  asked them to call our mother in El Paso and she could verify our story. We also asked them to call the parking lot attendant, but they had no interest in calling either. No computers could be checked, of course, because computers had not yet been invented—well, invented perhaps, but none were in use at the time.

The police station boasted two cells in a metal cage, constructed with flat metal strips rather than bars, located in a back room. Apparently the two sections were bolted together after being placed in the room. Each section was approximately 6 x 10 feet, and each had a steel bunk bolted to the middle partition—just the flat knee-high steel platform—no mattress, no pillow, nothing in the way of bedding.

The only other furnishing was a ceramic toilet with no seat and no lid, filled nearly to the brim with things that defied descripti0n. My brother’s cell was similarly equipped and similarly filled to the point of overflowing. I had a faucet on my side, and early in our stay my brother asked our captors for a drink of water. One of those worthies retrieved a pint milk bottle from a pile of rubbish in a corner, passed it to me and told me to get my brother a drink. The bottle was dirty, so I filled it partially and then shook it in an effort to get it clean, then poured the contents into the toilet, and that was a huge mistake. It stirred up the contents of the toilet and unleashed odors that filled the air and our nostrils for the rest of our stay. I told my brother that I couldn’t get the bottle clean and he wisely decided that he wasn’t really thirsty after all.

The cells were separated by a metal partition—I was placed on one side of the partition and my brother was secured on the other side. We could talk but could not see each other. The room had no lighting—daytime lighting was furnished by one double-sash window on my side, with the lower sash raised and no screen—the back side of my cell was against the wall with the window.  Flies, mosquitoes, sounds and odors entered with ease—sounds and odors seemed to come and go, but the flies and mosquitoes only came and never left. A single overhead naked light bulb mounted near the room’s ceiling far above the top of our cells served for night lighting—it was never turned off while we were incarcerated.

My brother and I were smokers—I had the matches and he had the cigarettes, but we were able to improvise. There were several small holes drilled through the partition, just large enough to pass a cigarette through, so he would pass me a cigarette and after lighting it, I would pass the lighted match through the hole so he could light his cigarette—we thus confirmed the adage that necessity is the mother of invention.

Late in the afternoon nearing dusk, I glanced out and saw a young boy standing outside the window and staring at me—he was probably twelve or so—I asked him if he would run an errand for me, and if he would I would reward him for it. He agreed, so I gave him fifty cents and asked him to bring back two packs of Camel cigarettes. Don’t laugh—in those days with cigarettes at eighteen cents a pack, a half-dollar would buy two packs with fourteen cents left over. With an apology in advance for using the word bastard, the little bastard took my fifty cents and never came back—hey, I said I apologized!

The cops came to us at about dark-thirty and asked what we wanted for supper, saying that sandwiches were available at a nearby restaurant. My brother and I asked for milk and two cheeseburgers each, and I must admit that the burgers were first-rate. As an aside, burger buns and burgers came in one size in those days—small—nothing even approaching the huge ones we enjoy today. We learned later that the food was not furnished by the city—our suppers were paid for with the few dollars they took when they searched us before placing us in our cells. If there was any change left over they kept it, because no money was returned to us.

There’s lots more to tell about our trip, but I’ll save it for another posting—this one has rambled on long enough. I tried to make it brief, but posting is closely akin to eating peanuts, running downhill and having sex—once started it’s hard to stop. Stay tuned for additional information regarding our jail stay, including a discussion involving a length of rubber hose.

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

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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