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Dempsey and his dad . . .

Dempsey was one of my many first-cousins, born in 1928, the younger of two sons born to Ellie, one of my mother’s sisters. Aunt Ellie was married to my Uncle Esker, a hard-working land-owner that lived with his family in a rural area some five miles south of Vernon,the county seat of Lamar County, Alabama. He  was a highly successful landowner, farmer, store keeper, blacksmith, syrup-maker, grist mill operator, auto mechanic, self-trained veterinarian and a husband and father.

He died under the wheels of a farm tractor, his head crushed by the lugs of the left rear wheel with his younger son, a boy of ten years, at the controls of the tractor. For the edification of anyone unfamiliar with lugs, they are the huge metal spikes on the rear wheels of some tractors, designed to allow the tractor to find traction in mud and loose soil. One can still see highway signs in rural areas prohibiting vehicles with lugs from operating on paved highways—for obvious reasons, of course. Those spikes can cause significant damage to asphalt pavements and bring death to living flesh, whether animals or humans.

It was an unfortunate and horrible accident, and it was impossible to know with any certainty how and why it happened. The tractor had a power take-off, and its broadband drive belt was hooked up to operate the grinding machines of grist mill at the time. Families came from farms and small communities from miles around to the grist mill with wagon loads of raw corn and grains and returned home with cornmeal and flour. The old-time tractor had no starter—its engine was started by a hand-crank from the front, as were many vehicles in those days, a procedure that often required two people for success—one to turn the crank and the other to operate the throttle and choke to provide the proper mixture of gasoline and air to start the engine.

Obviously the gearshift had to be in neutral when the engine started—otherwise the tractor would lurch forward  when the engine started, with predictable results for the person cranking the engine. The tractor should have been rendered immobile—that is, secured with safety chains or with barriers in front to keep it stationary while it was hooked up to the grist mill—it was not secured in any manner.

This was an accident waiting to happen, and it  happened. The tractor was not secured, and when the engine started the tractor was in gear and it lurched forward. My uncle slipped and fell and the left rear wheel crushed his head. His son either failed to place the gearshift in neutral before signaling his father to turn the crank, or by accident put the tractor into gear after the engine started, and before his father could move out of harm’s way—he was said to have died instantly.

I don’t know my uncle’s age or the year he died. There is no record in the Social Security Death records because this was just a short time after Social Security was established in 1935—I doubt that my uncle ever had a Social Security number. I was a little feller at the time, somewhere around five or six years of age, but I have vivid memories of my uncle’s  casket in my aunt’s house—the casket was closed, for obvious reasons. His casket was one of three  that I remember seeing in that same room in a period of perhaps five years  when I was a small boy. The others were those of my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and another uncle, one of my mother’s brothers. The life and unusual death of my mother’s brother is recorded in one of my postings. It involves my uncle, another patient in the asylum and a metal bedpan. Click here for that story—it’s worth the read.

In those days the deceased lay in state at home for a time, at least overnight, before being interred. This gave friends and relatives time to bring in flowers and food for the family and for the other mourners, and to tender their respect for the dead and condolences to the grieving family members. There were lots of flowers and lots of food at Aunt Ellie’s house—my uncle was a highly-respected man in the community, very active in his church in addition to his business activities, and people came from many miles around to attend his funeral.

I had big ears when I was a little boy—still do, as a matter of fact. I don’t mean that my ears are larger than normal—they aren’t. It’s just that I am unable to tune out conversations around me. I dislike dining at cafeterias because I am tuned in to every conversation at every table within earshot, and that becomes a bit overwhelming. As I moved around at my uncle’s wake, in the room and through the house and on the porch and in the yard, anywhere that mourners gathered, I gleaned information from people talking in low voices about the accident, going over the details and wondering how such a thing could have happened. I took in all the solemn voices and speculations and conclusions, and because I am blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a fairly decent memory, I have retained many memories of the event.

One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Esker is of his huge barn across the highway from his house. I went with him one morning to feed the animals and to see the foal that he told me had been born the day before. It was a beautiful colt, brown with white markings. I stood in awe of the foal and my uncle asked me if I would like to have one like that. I answered in the affirmative, of course, and he told me that the colt was mine, but that I would have to wait until it grew up a bit before I could claim it.

No way—I claimed that colt that same day, and I could hardly wait to tell all my friends about my pony. I was the only kid in my circle and on my block and maybe in the entire city of Columbus, Mississippi that could claim to be the owner of such an animal, and I got as much mileage as I could with the information. My uncle died soon after the gift was made, and since he and I were the only ones that knew about the transaction, I laid no claim to the colt but I still feel, even to this day almost three-quarters of a century later that I once owned a beautiful white-faced and white-footed pony—that’s a very satisfying feeling—not many kids can make that claim!

I was not around Dempsey very much, and I didn’t know him well. I have no way of knowing how well he coped with the  knowledge that he was complicit in his father’s death. He died in 1977 at the age of 69 so whatever he felt and how he coped with his part of the accident is of no consequence now. We were four years apart in age, and few ten year old boys have much in common with six year old boys. I may have seen him three or four times in later years, but it would have been for very limited periods. The only concrete knowledge I have about him is that he worked in Birmingham, Alabama for Bama Foods, a company that produced jams and jellies for home and commercial consumption, as did most of my relatives from that period. I and my family have used their products for many years and I can highly recommend them—and no, I do not have any stock in the company!

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

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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Childhood, death, drivers, Family, food, funeral

 

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The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

This is a story of beagles, a bachelor and a bridge, a Crosely convertible auto, Chesapeake Bay, a ferryboat and deep sand. It’s a story of an overnight business trip my brother and I took to Salisbury, Maryland in 1947—yes, that’s some 63 years ago but I remember many of the details, and I promise to tell the story with no embellishments.

My brother was in the trucking business in the Washington, D.C. area in those years. He returned from overseas duty in World War II, acquired two 1946 two-ton dump trucks—a Ford and a Chevrolet—signed up several other independent truck owners and secured various contracts for hauling. One contract was for hauling coal to federal buildings in DC, buildings that were steam-heated in those days. Other contracts included hauling sand, gravel and asphalt for road construction in the Washington/Baltimore area. I acquired my first traffic ticket at the University of Maryland while driving one of his trucks loaded with ten tons of hot asphalt—I was fourteen years old, and the fine was $17.95, immediately paid in cash to a sharp-eyed Maryland state trooper. I’ll hold the other details for a future posting. Stay tuned!

The trip to Salisbury was to discuss a possible contract, and I went along on the trip from Suitland, Maryland to Salisbury near the tip of the Chesapeake peninsula. There was no Chesapeake Bay bridge then—that bridge was completed in 1952—in 1947 a ferryboat provided access to the peninsula. We made the trip in a 1941 Crosely convertible—yes, an auto made by the same people that made refrigerators and radios, autos that initially were sold through hardware store outlets.

Our Crosely was a two-door, four passenger convertible with an air-cooled two cylinder engine that moved the car 50-60 miles on one gallon of gasoline. It was lightweight, about 1000 pounds. I remember us changing the left front tire by loosening the lug nuts, then my brother holding up the left corner of the car until I could remove and replace the wheel and tighten up the lug nuts.

We were the first in line to board the ferry, and we were the first to debark. We had a problem because the rise from the ferryboat floor was too high for us to climb without making a running start, and we were jammed between the incline and the car behind us. After several tries, the driver behind gave us a not-so-gentle bump and bounced us up onto the dock. Our trusty transportation would face another problem late in the evening that day.

My brother’s business was completed late in the evening and we were traveling through dense fog trying to return to the ferry dock for a return the next morning. We made a couple of wrong turns and wound up in deep sand on an unpaved road out in the boondocks. Our Crosely tried mightily to best the sand but finally gave up the effort. We abandoned the car and trudged through the sand towards lights in the distance.

The lights turned out to be the home of an aged life-long bachelor, one that sported a bald head and a full beard and raised beagles—a bearded bald beagle-raising bachelor—just a little alliteration there. Our host was a gentle and talkative soul that bade us welcome, served sandwiches and milk soon after we knocked on his door and invited us to spend the night, saying that at daylight he would use his tractor to haul our car out of the deep sand and on to a paved road.

Whether the beagles were raised for commercial purposes or show was never made clear, but please know that there were lots and lots—and lots—of beagles there. They seemed to come and go, so a true count was impossible because they all looked alike. They had the run of the house, and shared the dining table with us as we supped—every chair around the large dining table was occupied by at least two beagles, all quiet, well mannered  and evidently well-fed because there was no begging. They simply sat and watched us in silence, obviously and politely acknowledging us as guests.

They also shared our sleeping quarters. The single bedroom had a standard-size bed and a cot—I slept on the cot and my brother shared the bed with our host. I had several beagles at the foot of the cot, and several more shared the bed with the bachelor and my brother.

Our Crosely was extracted from the sand with the tractor without mishap, and we were hauled a short distance to a paved road, with our benefactor of the previous night giving instructions to the ferry landing. I don’t recall whether  my brother offered to compensate him for the food and lodging, but I don’t believe the offer would have been accepted—of course I could be wrong about that.

Just one more memory of our trip:

Have you seen the mud flaps on commercial trucks with the name Fruehauf? I met the man—he was elderly, he drove a 1942 Lincoln Continental with a 12-cylinder inline engine and he wore long-handle underwear, the type with the flap in back. How do I know that? There was snow on the ground and I was in my shirt sleeves and complaining about the cold. He first turned up his sleeve then pulled up his trouser leg to show the underwear and said, “Thon, you thud wear thith, and don’t give a thart about how you look.” Yes, he spoke with a lisp.

And that reminds me of an incident involving a girl with a lisp and a request for Super Suds washing powder—I’ll get back to you later with the details. Stay tuned!

Hey, here’s a boat joke: Have you heard about the little tugboat that was unhappy because his mother was a tramp and his daddy was a ferry? Think about it—the joke is there—it’s politically incorrect but it’s there!

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

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in bridge, bridges, drivers, driving, Travel

 

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The legend of Lee and his wives . . .

The legend of Lathan:

Internet research reveals that the proper name Lathan is pronounced to rhyme with Nathan, but apparently the folks in Alabama ‘way back in the past century didn’t know that. I don’t know how he spelled his name, whether Lathan or Lethan or perhaps Leethan, but everyone knew him as Lee. Then, as now, Alabamians have their own set of rules on pronunciation of the English language, and for that matter, rules for all other languages. Click here to read about names.

Lee was my first cousin, the elder of two boys born to one of my mother’s sisters. Lee’s younger brother was indirectly responsible for their father’s death from an accident involving a farm tractor. I will cover that in a future posting, so stay tuned.

Lee’s mother, my Aunt Ellie, figured prominently in my pre-teenage years. It was to her home that I and my youngest sister, a lass just eighteen months older than I, were shipped annually for our summer vacation. I know now that it was to provide some relief for our mother and two older sisters. Our banishment to Alabama for several weeks each summer was their summer vacation, relieved of the need to look after us.

I won’t speak for my sister because she’s not around to defend herself, but I must admit that I needed around-the-clock supervision. I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying home, a trait—call it a fault—that will be the subject of a future posting—stay tuned.

Aunt Ellie lived with her husband and children some five miles south of Vernon, a small town in west central Alabama that served as the seat of Lamar County. Vernon was only thirty miles east of Columbus, Mississippi, just across the state line—the towns were connected by a two-lane graveled road, the negotiation of which was an adventure in itself.

I’ll discuss that road in a future posting—I promise! Just as a teaser, I’ll say that my uncle, one of my mother’s brothers, drove an interstate bus for a company called Missala Stages—get it? Miss for Mississippi and ala for Alabama? Missala looks and sounds like something from Hebrew history, right? Right!

That uncle’s lofty profession was at the top of my wish list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Another of my uncles was a city policeman in Columbus, Mississippi. His was the second profession on my wish list. I never realized my first dream. The closest I ever came was owning and driving a full-size customized van, a vehicle that I still own and drive around the block frequently to keep the battery charged. I did, however, fulfill my second wish—I became a federal law enforcement officer in a second career following retirement from military service.

And now back to my cousin—Lee was married five times, I believe. I may be off one or more—that’s one time less than five and one or more than five. There may well have been others of which I have no knowledge. Two of those marriages are indelibly fixed in my memories of my cousin Lathan.

His third, or perhaps his fourth bride was a 16-year old girl that his younger brother, a youth not much older than she, had managed to impregnate. The brothers were in the state of Washington at the time—many of my Alabama relatives migrated to that state each year seeking employment among the many apple orchards.

I don’t know whether Washington state law at the time prohibited coitus between minor girls and not-much-older boys, but it really made no difference in this instance. The girl’s father was not seeking legal retribution for his daughter’s deflowering—this was the proverbial shotgun-toting father demanding that the boy marry his daughter, and as might be surmised, the boy was in a state of panic. It was my understanding that the girl was willing—nay, eager—to comply with her father’s wishes.

Lee soothed the emotions of the father and his daughter, and skirted serious damage to his younger brother by saying something on the order of, “Hey, baby brother, don’t worry about it. I’ll marry her for you—I’m used to it and besides, she’s kinda cute.”

And so it came to pass—Lee and the girl were married quickly and remained married for a long while, at least as long as any of Lee’s previous marriages. I have no knowledge of the whereabouts and health of the bride, the baby or the father, but the brothers are long gone from this realm and the others probably are also—that shotgun marriage was consummated far back in the past century.

Lee had another quaint habit. He was known to cross over the hollow behind his home to visit the home of an ex-girlfriend, one then married to the man that owned the home. Lee’s visits were naturally made during the husband’s absence. And here Lee’s acuity in all things daring is demonstrated. He always told his mother where he was going—he did not feel it necessary to tell her why he was going and what he planned to do when he got there. His mother knew that he had learned that the husband was away from home and the wife was there alone, and she knew that the husband was subject to return later, perhaps while her son was still there and perhaps still involved in certain activities.

At this point one must suspend disbelief. Lee’s mother—my aunt—stood watch on the highway for the husband’s return, and if Lee had not returned by that time she would give a warning holler across the hollow to prevent Lee from being caught with his pants down, so to speak. Her holler was something that sounded like whooooeeeee, whooooeeee, a sound that could carry for a mile or more on a still night. I realize that some may consider this a Ripley’s Believe It or Not issue, but both my mother and my aunt—Lee’s mother—told me this story and I believe it.

Just one more story and I’ll close this posting. Lee was an irreverent prankster, and his ultimate prank was played on his last wife, a lovely lady that cleaved to her husband through thick and thin, and even stayed with him after he pulled this prank on her.

Lee’s last wife, the one he spent the most years with after marriage, was different from all the others. Lee said he married her because she needed to be cared for and there was no one else to do it. She was marred in the womb, perhaps, or could have been afflicted with polio or some other debilitating disease as a youngster. Her body was terribly misshapen, with gnarled arms and crooked legs and a prominently hunched back.

I met her only once, and the person I met was a beautiful woman, one that withstood and accepted the worst that illness, or perhaps nature, could throw at her, and she persevered. She had a pretty face, a brilliant smile and a personality loved by all that knew her. I can only think of one fault—she loved and married my cousin Lee and never faltered in her love.

And now for Lee’s joke—his wife had a specially built toilet seat, made to accommodate her physical features. One night after she had retired, Lee raised the seat, covered the toilet bowl with Saran-wrap and then lowered the seat.

The result was predictable. At some time later in the night his wife needed to empty her bladder, and did not notice the addition to the toilet—in Lee’s words, she flooded the whole bathroom.

He said that when she returned to the bedroom she straddled his chest and began beating on him with both fists. He was a big man and she was a tiny woman, so she couldn’t do much lasting damage. Before it was all over, both were laughing at the incident. Both are gone now, and may God be merciful with Lee when he pulls his shenanigans in heaven—if he made it to heaven, that is.

Everything I have told about my cousin and his wives is hearsay—however, I heard the story about the saran wrap from Lee himself. He was considerably older than I and we did not move in the same circles, but I believe the stories are true.

Lee also spent time in Walla Walla State Prison in the state of Washington on at least two occasions, both for passing bad checks. He was paroled from the first sentence, couldn’t find work and decided to commit suicide. He wrote a bad check for an old Cadillac sedan, another bad check for a garden hose and a roll of duct tape, parked under a highway bridge, taped the hose to the Cadillac’s exhaust, ran the other end through a window, taped the window, started the engine and lay down and went to sleep.

He awoke several hours later with a splitting headache, but was very much alive. He was told by the used car salesman that the tank was full of fuel, but it seems that the fuel gauge was inoperative and was stuck near the full mark. Having failed to take his own life, Lee returned home to Alabama and waited for the authorities to return him to Walla Walla for violation of parole—writing the bad checks.

Lee was eventually paroled again, and as far as I know he spent his declining years without further problems, all the while enjoying life with the most beautiful and sweetest of his many wives.

That’s my story—it consists mostly of hearsay, but I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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