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Retired at 10 & 16, a triple-dipper at 20—go figure!

The seventh day of March is a red-letter day for me. One of my sisters, the one closest to me in age, was born on that day eighteen months before I made my entrance into the world of 1932 on September 19, one of the more important events of that year. My birth in that month of that year was overlooked by Wikipedia—that organization listed only four events in September worth reporting, and none was on the 19th. If you like, you can click here to read a proudly crafted and craftily presented study of my birth and many subsequent events.

The year 1932 was a leap year—had I been born on the 29th of February that year, I could only celebrate my birthday every four years, and by counting only my official birthdays I would now be twenty years old. I share my birth during a leap year with my neighbor, a lady that was born on the 29th day of February. As Don Adams of Get Smart fame would say, while showing a small space between his thumb and forefinger—Missed it by that much! Using the same formula that made my age 19, her leap year birthdays would make her 13 years old.

I hold the seventh of March firmly in my memories. On that date in 1949 I awakened at an early hour, performed my morning ablutions, broke my fast, allowed my mother to teach me how to make a Windsor knot in a necktie, dressed and bade my goodbyes, walked the few blocks to the courthouse in Columbus, Mississippi, swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, became a US  Air Force recruit, boarded a train to New Orleans, transferred to the Sunset Limited bound for San Antonio, Texas, arrived there the following day, completed 13 weeks of training successfully and remained in the United States Air Force for 22 years plus several months. I celebrated my actual nineteenth birthday in 1951 in the middle of a shooting war while based at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. If you like, you can click here to learn a lot about Korea and Kimpo and the war, probably a lot more than you thought you needed to know.

I realize that it’s childish to compute one’s age on the premise that one was born on the last day of February in a leap year but it’s a lot of fun, and childish and fun somehow go together. I have retired twice from US government service, once from the Air Force with 22 years, and again from a federal law enforcement agency after 26 years of service. Using the leap year computation with a birthday only every fourth year, I would have been 10 at my first retirement,16 at my second retirement and I would now be—at the tender age of 20 years—a triple-dipper with a combined income from military service, federal civil service and Social Security.

Hey, I didn’t plan it that way—things just seemed to happen, and as they happened I just went with the flow. Oops, I forgot something—I also have a substantial return from a substantial IRA, one that is earning an annual interest rate of six and one-quarter percent. I suppose that would make me a quadruple dipper.

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

Postscript: I just thought of a letter I wrote to a newspaper editor in McAllen, Texas on the subject of double dipping, a letter that I posted on my blog. Click here to learn how I really feel about double dipping.


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How to build a fire in the wilderness . . .

This posting is prompted by a comment made by my daughter, a lovely young woman that comprises one-third of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and has a full-time job tending to and pacifying one husband, one son, one daughter and one Miniature Australian Shepherd, aptly named Wrigley.

A special note: That Miniature Australian Shepherd—the one aptly named Wrigley and tended to and pacified by my daughter—is a dog, a sweet, friendly, intelligent and talented canine—sweeter, friendlier, more intelligent and more talented than some homo sapiens I have known. Wrigley is a dog—he is not a person of diminutive size, of Australian heritage and a tender of sheep—I just felt that I should set the record straight on that! And one more thought concerning Wrigley: He is indeed wriggly—wriggly to a fault—he wriggles incessantly, but it is neither his fault nor mine that my daughter misspells his name. I have pointed out the misspelling, but she rambles on and on about some field called Wrigley—that shouldn’t happen to a dog!

The image above shows Wrigley and friends—these three constitute three-fourths of those my daughter loves, tends to and pacifies. Brennan is on the left, Macie is on the right and Wrigley is in the center.

The image on the right shows Brennan and Macie with last year’s Santa Claus—that’s Santa in the center. Santa in the center sounds kinda like hip-hop, doesn’t it? It could be a starter for a bit of Christmas wrapping—get it? Wrapping versus rapping, get it? Oh, alright, forget it!

Apparently Brennan has figured out the Santa Claus thing—this is the first Christmas that he has questioned his mother as to why Santa is wearing sneakers instead of shiny black boots.

My daughter’s comment was on my posting of some of my boyhood activities—click here for an exciting tour of the Big Ditch, a story of dining out on frog legs, building a fire without two Boy Scouts to rub together and other fascinating renditions of my life as a youngster living in a house on the south side in Columbus, Mississippi.

This is my daughter’s comment on the Big Ditch blog:

Ok, I didn’t know about this. Who knew how to start a fire?  How did you cook the frogs?  This is very Grapes of Wrathish, Dad.  And to think we didn’t even go camping when we were growing up…look what we missed out on.  Great story.

This is my response to her questions:

We started a fire in those days by using something known as matches. They were small pieces of wood about the length of wooden toothpicks with a bulbous red and white ball at one end, a ball that would burst into flames when scratched on a rough surface, and that flame was applied to a pile of dry leaves and/or dry grass, and various bits of bark and dry sticks were added as the fire progressed.

The matches came in a colorful box similar to the boxes that banks use to mail a new supply of checks to their customers. I was frequently dispatched to the store to purchase a nickel box of matches—and can anyone guess the cost of a nickel box of matches?

Hey, you guessed it! A nickel box of matches cost just five cents and no tax, only one twentieth of a dollar, a nickel. I never counted the number of matches in a nickel box of matches, but I know that they numbered in the hundreds, and perhaps a thousand or more—that box held a lot of matches!

We did not cook the entire frog—we used only the legs, amputating and skinning them, then into the pan for frying in pure lard, an item always available in any kitchen in the land. And I know that none will believe me when I say that the frogs were still hopping around for hours following the surgery—looking back on it I would like to think that bullfrogs grew new legs, much as the salamander, or geco or whatever that little fellow is called, grows a new tail when a predator relives him of the old one—that isn’t likely, of course—it was probably nothing more than reflex.

Okay, I’ll admit it—that’s a joke, a bit grim and gross but still a joke—they had no back legs and could not possibly be hopping around. And if anyone finds the joke offensive and complains in the comment section, possibly someone connected with PETA, I will consider removing it—consider, mind you—the actual removal would depend on the number of comments, their sources and their content—that’s fair enough, don’t you think?

Click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know about matches.
Below is a brief definition of a match,  plagiarized from Wikipidea and provided here in order to stimulate your appetite for more information.

A match is a small stick of wood or strip of cardboard with a solidified mixture of flammable chemicals deposited on one end. When that end is struck on a rough surface, the friction generates enough heat to ignite the chemicals and produce a small flame. Some matches, called strike-anywhere matches, may be ignited by striking them on any rough surface. Other matches, called safety matches, will ignite only when they are struck on a special rough surface containing certain chemicals.

The matches were used—and still are used—by smokers to light their cigarettes in underdeveloped nations and in certain remote areas of the United States, primarily in mountainous and swampy areas in southern states. There were three smokers in my family—my mother and two older sisters, and a nickel box of matches was emptied in a short time. And just as an aside, a few years later when my mother—yes, your grandmother Hester—taught me to play poker we used those giant matches as poker chips, and as dollar chips when she taught me to play dice—to shoot craps, if you will. So much for the parental warning for kids never to play with matches, right?

Nowadays folks light their cigarettes with items known as lighters. One of those items is a slender cylindrical pistol-grip rod equipped with a trigger—one needs only pull the trigger and a blue flame of some unknown composition leaps out and is applied to whatever  combustible material that one wishes to light, whether gas logs in the fireplace, an outdoor gas grill or a non-filter-tipped Camel cigarette or a filter-tipped Kool cigarette, the smokes of choice for the smokers in my family.

Just a word of caution here: Should one choose to use the pistol-grip lighter to light a cigarette, the cigarette should be of considerable length and the flame applied carefully, otherwise the user’s mustache, eyebrows, lips, nose and other facial features may suffer horribly.

Cigar and cigarette smokers have their choice of an infinite variety of other devices also known as lighters, items normally carried by males in a pocket and by ladies in a purse. Extraction of the lighter and a flick of one’s thumb produces the wherewithal to cause the end of a cigarette or cigar to begin the burning process through which one is enabled to inhale smoke containing scadjillions of cancer-causing elements, most of which are left behind in the smoker’s lungs after exhaling.

Ain’t progress wonderful?!

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

A special note for my daughter: I apologize for the absence of camping trips while you were in the process of growing up, but after you achieved the status of grown-up—long after—well, not that long—you and I and your mother and your Aunt Winnie spend a week camping in Nevada and Utah, albeit in various hotels and motels, but it was a hoot, right?




Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

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


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