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11th Street South and a watermelon party . . .

In a recent posting I outed a boy that lived next door to my house on Eleventh Street South. His name was Edward Earl but he responded to Tootie, a justifiable moniker that he could easily demonstrate—Edward Earl could, with little or no urging toot at will, hence the nickname Tootie.

Tootie and I were friends and we rambled together all over town and country, but I don’t remember whether he attended my school. There was another elementary school nearby and he may have been enrolled there. I say may have been, but in retrospect I suspect that he was not enrolled anywhere. I have no memories of walking to or from school with him—I usually walked with my sister, eighteen months older than I and one grade ahead of me. She constantly lorded over me in our elementary school because she was ahead, and I spend a lot of time dreaming and hoping and praying that she would fail at least one grade—two grades if the good Lord could manage it.

But I digress—back to Tootie and the watermelon party.

Early one sunny summer Saturday morning Tootie and I decided to go uptown to check out the flood waters of the Tombigbee River, a normally peaceful stream that was in flood mode at the time and was the subject of much conversation. We walked the eleven blocks east to First Street, then eleven blocks north to Main Street, a distance of some two miles—city blocks usually run about twelve blocks to the mile.

Most of the homes on First Street were, and I suppose still are, owned and occupied by the upper crust of Columbus—the wealthy, the near wealthy and a few wannabees. All the homes fronted First Street and backed up to the bluff overlooking the river. We checked out the flood waters from several backyards along the street, and at one point the water had risen so high that we were able to walk out over the flooded area on a limb of a huge tree near the bluff.

Our destination was the high bridge over the Tombigbee River. We traversed the length of the bridge, marveling at the flotsam and jetsam moving down the river, did the uptown thing, checked out the marques and the black-and-white lobby cards posted at the town’s three movie houses, rambled through Woolworth’s and McClellan’s Five and Dime stores—didn’t shoplift anything—and sometime in mid-afternoon we headed for home, primarily because we had no money and we were hungry—considerable time has passed since breakfast.

We made it home safely but not under our own power. Several blocks from home on Eleventh Street was an ice plant, a business that operated five and one-half days a week. The plant’s loading dock was near the street and as we drew near we noticed numerous watermelon halves on the dock and walked over to take a look. Apparently the workers had a watermelon party after their shift was over. The plant was silent, no vehicles or people anywhere in sight.

Evidently the workers had just left because theĀ  melons were still cold. In most of the melons only the heart, the part with no seeds, had been gouged out, so one can guess the rest of this story. Tootie and I feasted on cold watermelon, digging out melon bites with one hand, swatting flies with the other hand and competing to see how far we could spit seeds—for two tired and hungry little boys it was heavenly!

We were still enjoying our find when a city police cruiser, a black-and-white with two patrolmen, drew up and stopped at the loading dock. The driver asked us what we were doing and we told him the honest truth—we told him we were eating watermelon. He asked us for our names and we told the truth to that question also. He suggested that we hop into the rear seat so he could give us a ride home. Tootie said that it was not far and that we would rather walk, that we were going home and only stopped to eat some watermelon.

Both patrolmen exited the car and each opened a rear door. The same officer repeated his suggestion, but couched it in different terms and in a different tone—we scrambled off the dock and into the rear seat. As the doors closed Tootie whispered to me that yeah, they’re taking us home alright—home to jail. I made no response because I was so scared that I couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.

When we got home we were met by some very relieved and very angry family members. Calls had been made to the city police around mid-morning and the search had been going on ever since. I don’t know what sort of system they had at the time—obviously there was no Amber Alert system in place. I imagine the search was simply a call to local law enforcement personnel to be on the lookout for two wayward boys, one named Mikey and one that was called Tootie.

I have every reason to believe that some sort of corporeal punishment was meted out to us. There was no doubt that we deserved it—we had earned it. However, I do not remember what transpired following our triumphant homecoming. My punishment may have been so severe and so traumatic that I blotted it from my memory. I may awaken some night screaming, drenched with perspiration, reeling from a whip lashing and recalling threats of being drawn and quartered, but I may have suffered nothing more than a few bear hugs and kisses.

At least seventy years have gone by since that day, and I have never had such dreams and what scars I have were earned in other places and in other ways. I have serious doubts that I will ever have such dreams, but hey, anything is possible. The punishment may be so deeply buried in my subconscious that nothing can bring it to the surface—I hope!

I am honest enough to admit the possibility that I may have—may have, mind you—embellished this story a tiny teeny weeny little bit along the way in my efforts and desire to enlighten and entertain those that may pass this way, but the story is true—honest! I can prove it by demonstrating that I can still eat watermelon with one hand and swat flies with the other hand.

It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a Kool cigarette . . .

My mother smoked cigarettes from my earliest memories all the way to her eightieth birthday, and periodically during those years she said, I’ll stop smoking when I’m eighty. On her eightieth birthday, just as she had promised, she stopped smoking and she stopped cold turkey—no dependence on any system designed to control the habit. She lived another three years, then died following bypass surgery for an aneurysm near the heart—the doctors said that her lungs were in remarkably good condition, especially considering her past history of smoking.

Hers was one of the surgical situations in which the operation was a success but the patient died.

In my early years she smoked Kool cigarettes, those with mentholated tobacco and a cork-tip for filtration—smokers addicted to that brand probably believed that although they were damaging their body they were being medicated for the damage at the same time. As far as I know the maker never claimed that, but there is no doubt that some smokers believed it to be true—my mother was one of those believers. For those not familiar with the brand, it was represented by Willie the Kool Penguin, beginning in 1934 and ending in 1960, and there is no doubt that Willie sold a lot of Kool cigarettes.

The first cigarette I smoked was a Kool—well, it was the first cigarette I attempted to smoke—I couldn’t make it go. My mistake was in trying to set fire to the filter-tipped end instead of the tobacco filled end, the part that was supposed to be lighted. All I got was a really nasty taste and a really bad smell in the area where I tried to light the cigarette, a smell composed of burning cork, burning tobacco and burning mentholatum, a real bummer. I was a first-grader somewhere along in my first year of schooling at Miss Mary Stokes’ Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. Click here for an excellent posting, even if I say so myself!

You can also find the information on Miss Mary Stokes’ school by clicking here.

Following my failure to light the cigarette I quickly consigned it and the burned match to our outdoor privy—toilet—and opened doors and windows throughout the house and fanned a magazine all through the house in an attempt at fumigation. It must have been effective, because none ever knew about my first attempt to smoke—my family may be learning about it with this posting.

I hate to admit it, but my next attempt to smoke was highly successful, accomplished at age fourteen, establishing a habit that continued for more than twenty years. I ran out of cigarettes one night and simply never bothered to ever smoke again—I never bought another carton or another package of cigarettes, nor did I ever bum a smoke from another smoker—I simply quit—cold turkey. I’m unsure why I stopped, but I may have heard a silent voice saying ominously—it is time—shudder, shudder!

Now travel with me back to Eleventh Street South, a street block on which I lived at one end and Fuqua’s Grocery stood at the other end. Back in those days—the good old days—one could purchase a cigarette with one penny—any brand of cigarette. If the proprietor had no open package of the brand desired, he would open a new pack in order to satisfy the customer and make the sale. There was no prohibition on children smoking—it was a practice generally frowned on, but nobody ranted and railed at seeing children smoking, nothing more than a tsk, tsk, perhaps.

I had the requisite penny and I decided to buy a cigarette. My mother had often given me a penny and asked me to go to the store and get her a Kool cigarette, so my request for a Kool came as no surprise to Mr. Fuqua. Of course, I took no chances—I lied and told him that my mother had sent me for the cigarette, and he had no reason to think I was being somewhat untruthful.

As an aside, in those days the owner also maintained a supply of saltine crackers available for purchase by the piece—for the price of one penny, a customers could get sausage or cheese and two crackers. Five cents for an eight-ounce Coke, a 12-ounce Pepsi or a 12-ounce RC Cola, then five cents more for ten crackers and five slices of cheese or sausage made a sumptuous meal for many people, including workers, during the days of the Great Depression—a depression that lasted far longer in the southern part of our nation than in other parts.

That’s it—that’s the story of my first attempt to smoke. I can pinpoint the year and almost to the month and day when I smoked the last cigarette. It was definitely in 1967 in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning in the spring—it was a filtered Winston cigarette that I huffed and puffed right down to the filter while fishing on Medina Lake, a fisherman’s paradise some thirty miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. My fishing companion was Charley, a friend from work that smoked Swisher Sweet cigars and—-well, I’ll stop there and finish the story in a later posting. Stay tuned!

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

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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How to win friends and influence people . . .

No, I’m not Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, nor am I a reincarnation of Dale Carnegie, nor am I promoting the book or attempting to sell copies. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have never read the book, but over a period of time approaching eight decades, I’ve developed my own system of winning friends and influencing people. My system is absurdly simple—one needs only to show a genuine interest in another person and theĀ  system—my system—will begin to work its magic.

For quite a few years now I have spent considerable time in the waiting rooms of chemotherapy units at two major hospitals here in San Antonio, Texas, namely the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston and the Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base. In my experience, most of the people in those waiting rooms tend to draw inward, to retreat into themselves. It’s an understandable characteristic—they are filled with concern for those for whom they wait and their thoughts are of that person, whether for a spouse, a child, a close friend or a casual acquaintance. Most deliberately avoid making eye contact with others in order to maintain their solitude and their thoughts—if eye contact is inadvertently made, most break the contact immediately and return to that solitude, or at best acknowledge the eye contact with a nod—rarely do they speak unless the other person speaks first. They seemingly prefer to read, knit, crochet, write, spend time on cell phones or laptop computers or, in the case of younger persons, hand-held digital games. They sleep or attempt to sleep, or stare at the floor, a wall or the ceiling, and if a window is available they stare at the outside world.

Over the years I have initiated conversations with men and women of all ages, and in virtually every instance those people have opened up in varying degrees. Yes, I intrude on their thoughts and on their knitting, their reading, their gazing at something or nothing, and even their attempt to sleep if the opportunity presents itself. By initiating conversations with others I have met some interesting and lovely people, both men and women—young, middle-aged and advanced in years, and I have never been rebuffed.

I watched a young woman constructing greeting cards a few weeks before Christmas of last year, apparently oblivious of her surroundings. She had the components in a voluminous handbag, including colored pencils, small black-and-white prints, pre-cut cards and glue. She was coloring the prints and attaching them to the cards. After I observed her actions for awhile, I expressed an interest in her work and we became friends. We shared our stories of family members undergoing chemo treatments, and discussed chemotherapy in some detail—between the two of us we had gleaned at least a conversational knowledge of the process and its successes and failures. She said that she was making Christmas cards for family and friends, something she did every year, and promised to send my family a card. The one pictured below arrived at my home shortly after Christmas of 2009—the cardinal is hand colored, the snowflake is jewel mounted, and the card is layered in six different levels with ribbons and other decorations. It’s a beautiful piece of art, original in almost every respect—I have matted and framed it and will always cherish it—that gift is a beautiful keepsake and a reminder of how to win friends and influence people.

On another day in the waiting room at Wilford Hall, I sat next to a lady that was reading a Robert Ludlum novel. The book was a paperback, printed in large type, and the way she held it allowed me to read most of the synopsis on the rear cover. It dealt with a man that was searching desperately for something that did not exist, at least not outwardly—he was searching for himself. I excused myself and told her that she appeared engrossed in the novel, and I asked her if she was a fan of the author. She tilted the book to show me the front cover and said that Ludlum was one of her favorite authors. I asked her if the story involved a man searching for something without knowing that he was searching for himself.

She naturally assumed that I had read the book but I told her, truthfully, that I had never even heard of the title. She then asked me how I could know the story without having read the book, and I told her that I had psychic powers and had read her thoughts. Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened and I heard a sharp intake of breath, and I hastened to tell her that I was just joking, that I had read the synopsis on the rear cover of the book. In the long conversation that followed, I learned that she was Hispanic, a native of Mexico and that she believed in mediums and their psychic powers. We parted as newfound friends—I promised that I would not read her thoughts if we should meet again, and she gave me the traditional Spanish blessing of Vaya con Dios, a blessing I have tried to follow since our meeting—and for some years before that, of course.

I could ramble on for several reams of paper describing other times that my system of How to win friends and influence people has yielded benefits, but I won’t—I’ll be merciful and close this posting with a word of caution: If you decide to use the psychic powers approach, gauge your audience carefully, tread lightly and be prepared to beat a hasty retreat—as I did with that lady.

Try my system—you’ll like it!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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