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Watermelons, fish, skinny-dipping & dynamite

I recently told the tale of how three of us, all miscreants and all active members of the United States Air Force stationed at Moody Air Force Base near the city of Valdosta, Georgia decided to raid a watermelon patch one Saturday night with the laudable purpose of illegally obtaining enough watermelons to have a Sunday watermelon party for ourselves and for our fellow barracks occupants. We felt that it would be a friendly, patriotic, doable and inexpensive gesture, especially since the watermelons would be free and the only other things we needed would be knives, forks and salt—yes, salt, because watermelon without salt is just watermelon. Click here for the original story of our night-time foray—our incursion into enemy territory, so to speak.

The knives and forks and salt could be easily lifted—oops, I meant borrowed—from our military dining facility, aka mess hall or chow hall, and by some as our slop shop. For those readers unfamiliar with the word slop—and there are lots of city folks, especially New Yorkers, that won’t know—slop is the mixture fed to pigs, and could be comprised entirely of commercial grains or entirely of table scraps or a combination of both.

As for a location for the party, the air base was surrounded by oak and pine forests, and our plan was to combine the watermelon feast with one of our frequent weekend sojourns into the woods to skinny-dip in one of the many dark-water creeks in the area—usually on such outings we consumed only beer—we felt that the melons would be appreciated by all.

The blast from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car at an isolated location in that south Georgia area while he disappeared into the woods to a place where beavers had dammed a small creek and formed a fairly large body of water behind their dam.

When he disappeared in the bushes after telling me to wait in the car he was carrying a small bag, and a few minutes later when he burst from the bushes running toward the car, laughing like crazy, there was a tremendous explosion that told me the bag had contained dynamite, and the explosion was so loud and so unexpected that it almost resulted in me soiling my seat covers. He had wired the dam with the dynamite and blew it up, based on his belief that the pool created by the beavers’ dam would yield tons and tons of fish—trout, bass, perch, catfish, etc., perhaps even a sailfish or two—no, I made up the part about the sailfish.

I never learned whether the use of dynamite brought anything to my brother-in-law’s table. We left the area in considerable haste, spurred on by his admonition that someone may have heard the explosion and would come to investigate. My brother-in-law said he would return later to check on the effectiveness of his work with the dynamite, sometime after the reverberations had subsided and possible searchers for the source of the explosion had left the area. I never asked him how the fishing was, and he never volunteered the information.

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

 
 

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Watermelons, shotguns, Red Sovine, Patsy Cline & Viet Nam

This is a sequel to my original post of 13 January 2011. That story involved the theft of a watermelon by a brother-in-law, a born again Christian, and my confession that I had been guilty of a similar offense, but I furnished few particulars. This posting expands on my unlawful actions considering watermelons, namely stealing them from a roadside field a few miles from the South Georgia Air Force Base where I was stationed a lifetime ago—way, way, way back in 1952. Click here for the original post. It’s well worth the read, then come back here for this story of the farmer and his firearm—it’s also well worth the read!

Almost fifty-nine years have passed since then, but my watermelon memories are as fresh as the first seasonal load of melons being off-loaded at my local supermarket, and for good reasons, primarily because my last foray into purloining watermelons involved the farmer, a shotgun and the thoroughly trashed rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible.

On that eventful Saturday night I and my two co-conspirators wisely waited until a late hour in the evening to ignore Georgia law and also ignore signs that many of the local farmers posted along roads bordering their fertile fields of crops. We were of the belief that the farmer would be safely ensconced in his easy chair listening to the Grand Ole Opry on radio, a Saturday night not-to-be-missed event in those days.

As our method required—a well thought out method of stealing watermelons and one highly successful on previous Saturdays—I lowered the top on my chick-magnet 1951 Ford convertible and drove slowly as we neared the field and my two buddies disembarked—jumped over the side of the car—and disappeared into the cornfield on the right side of the road.

Yes, cornfield—this was a combination corn-and-watermelon crop, a common practice in the area. In fact, some farmers added a third crop, that of pole beans, with the corn stalks serving in lieu of the poles that the beans require for climbing and maturing properly. Pretty neat, huh?

I continued down the road for several miles, then turned around and waited a few minutes to give my team time to gather watermelons and place them in the roadside ditch preparatory to transferring them to the rear seat of my Ford chick-magnet convertible.

At this point I must digress to explain the ditch—road building, Georgia style. There were no freeways in the area nor in that era, just two-lane roads graveled or paved with asphalt—the interstate system was in work, but years would pass before multiple lane roads came to that area. The depressions that border both sides of South Georgia roads are called bar ditches by the locals, as in, Muh tar blowed out an’ muh car runned off in uh bar ditch.

I puzzled over the term bar and queried several local natives for its meaning and its origin—natives of Georgia, of course—and was told Ah on oh, interpreted as I don’t know. Having heard the song and seen the movie about Daniel Boone and his bear-slaying ability—kilt him a bar when he was only three—I figured it had something to do with bears—bars—but I was wrong. I learned from one of the more educated and articulate natives—a rarity in that area—that it was a borrow ditch, so-called because soil was borrowed from the roadsides and used to build up the roads to prevent water accumulating on the highway during the rainy season. Thus borrow ditch in English became bar ditch in Georgia-speak.

Now back to the farmer and his firearm. As I approached the drop off point—now the pickup point—I flashed my headlights three times to signal my criminal associates of my approach, then turned off the lights and coasted to a stop at the proper point, and the watermelons began to take flight, sailing over the side of my chick-magnet and landing indiscriminately on the seat, against the side panels, window sills, window handles, on the floor and on each other. Speed was of the essence because we planned on a watermelon party for our barracks-bound buddies the next day, a Sunday watermelon fest to be held in a secret location in a wooded area near the air base, and we needed a lot of watermelons for that crowd.

The blasts from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car while he disappeared into the woods to go to an unnamed location, saying only that he would return in a few minutes. Click here to read about the explosion that resounded several minutes after he entered the woods.

At this point I will conclude my digression and return to the tale of the Great Watermelon Heist, and hold my brother-in-law’s actions for a later posting, one for which the wait is well worthwhile.

In addition to the sound of the shotgun blast, we could detect the sound of lead shot pellets tearing through the leaves of corn stalks, a sign that the shotgun was not aimed skywards when the pissed-off farmer pulled the trigger—or triggers—judging by the sounds it may have been a double-barreled shotgun, or perhaps an semi-automatic shotgun that held five shells and the trigger was pulled so fast that the five explosions blended into one fearsome sound.

As an aside to this subject, I know that such a sound could have been made, and here’s proof. Many years ago while assigned to duty in Washington, DC, I was privileged to be present at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC when one of the agency’s top guns demonstrated his dexterity and the power of his weapon by firing it six times in succession. The sound of those six shots of .38 caliber ammunition exploding was absolutely continuous, just one smooth roar. When the agent pulled in the silhouette target, it showed that the rounds were all closely grouped in the chest area of the target, a group that indicated the location of the heart.

That’s enough of my digressions and my asides—okay, more than enough. I will conclude this posting by saying that I and my companions in crime escaped unscathed, and our depredations were never made public. That was not our first watermelon heist, but it was definitely the last—we never even considered another, neither in that watermelon season nor in subsequent seasons.

However, the rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible did not escape unscathed. Several of the large melons, tossed in the rear seat under extreme distress—the throwers, not the melons—burst open from impact with the car and with each other, and the faux leather rear seat and side panels were covered with watermelon seeds and juice, as were the combination rubber-and-felt floor mats. I worked half the day on Sunday cleaning up the mess. However, enough of the melons escaped destruction for us to have a watermelon party, albeit somewhat truncated because of the losses we suffered. Ah, those were the days!

This story is true—I know it’s true because, just as was the protagonist in that popular song Deck of Cards, sung variously and in various years by T. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale and Bill Anderson—I was that soldier! If you like, you can click here to read the complete words of the song. It’s clever—I wish I had thought of it!

I know I promised no more asides or digressions, but I must do one more aside. The last time I heard Deck of Cards sung was in 1969, it was rendered by country singer Red Sovine before a raucous, rowdy and unruly crowd in an NCO Club at Da Nang Air Base in South Viet Nam. That in itself is worthy of a separate posting, so stay tuned. If you like, you can click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know, and even more, about Red  Sovine.

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

Postscript: In reference to that so-called chick-magnet auto—I never knew whether it would have drawn girls into its magnetic field because my future wife and I were already going steady and the subject of marriage had been broached, albeit ever so lightly, when I traded for the convertible, and we married just four months after we met, a marriage that lasted for 58 years. As for the convertible, it was traded immediately after our first daughter was born—so much for the chick-magnet characterization.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in driving, friends, Humor, Military, Uncategorized

 

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The purloined watermelon . . .

Some years ago I had a friend, a relative by marriage, one that I loved and felt as close to as I did my only brother—closer, in fact, given the fact that I knew him longer and better than I did my brother. My friend left this realm for another some fifteen years ago, and a few years before his death, in his view having strayed from the fold, he became a born-again Christian.

He became active in his church and tithed faithfully, both in coin of the realm and in services to the church and to his fellow parishioners. He professed his firm belief that he would spend eternity in heaven, among family members, relatives and friends, and felt that he had no reason to doubt that belief, that he had turned his life around and earned the right to enter there. I, in turn, also believe that at this moment he is there, moving freely among those long-departed family members, relatives and friends, laughing and joking and probably barbecuing for them and for the angels.

I don’t recall whether he had an epiphany that prompted the change in his life, but he told me something that he did shortly after he was born again, something that he felt he was obligated to do. He said that as a teenager many years before his return to the Christian religion—his makeover, so to speak—he stole a watermelon from a neighboring farmer’s field. After his return to the Christian faith he went to that farmer, apologized for his action and offered monetary compensation based on the prevailing price for a similar melon. He said that his spirit soared—well, what he actually said was that he felt a lot better after the farmer accepted the compensation and forgave him for his transgression.

I’m reasonably certain that he acknowledged—and made appropriate amends for—any other transgressions as best he could, given the possibility that other transgressions existed.

I have reminisced on his story of the watermelon theft many times over the years, and I still find it remarkable that he remembered his action and felt obliged to make amends for the theft. I find myself speculating that there may have been other, more significant transgressions to account for in one way or another, whether  material compensation or a simple admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness. In any event, the theft of the watermelon is the only transgression he confided in me.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I also have stolen watermelons—and cantaloupes and honeydew melons—from a farmer’s field, not once but numerous times. I was a young GI based in south Georgia on a US Air Force base surrounded by bounteous fields, their crops easily seen along side country roads.

The fields were replete in season with such delicacies as watermelons and cantaloupes, ripened in the hot Georgia sun and ready for harvesting and quite vulnerable to theft, particularly by thieves operating under cover of darkness. I am sorrowed by the fact that I cannot render compensation for those thefts because of the passage of time. That was almost sixty years ago, and the affronted farmer has been tending crops in heaven for many years. Besides, those fields probably sport subdivisions now rather than crops.

The best I can do is to vow that I will never steal another watermelon or cantaloupe in the future. I have already expressed my remorse to the proper authorities in my prayers, and I will take my chances when I stand for reconciliation and entry into el cielo—heaven.

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

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Childhood, death, Family, farming, food, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South & Pussy in the Corner . . .

I lived with my family in the house on Nineteenth Street South in Columbus, Mississippi for an estimated four years with my mother and three sisters, one just eighteen months older than I, one about ten years older and the eldest sister some seventeen years older.

Neither I nor any of the other children on the block were ever allowed in the house next door to our house on the north side, nor was the only child in that family allowed into our house. It never bothered us, and I don’t remember whether my family ever discussed it, but in retrospect it seems a bit strange. This posting may shed some light on the subject.

The family’s name was Berryhill, a family that was comprised of the mother, the father and a young daughter named Sue, a cute girl around my age, with blond pigtails and a really nice wardrobe. Her mother was always dressed in, I suppose, the latest fashions—I remember the women in my family discussing Sue’s mother and how she dressed. I know nothing of the father’s profession, but judging by their clothing and the fact that the mother always left the house in a taxi and returned in a taxi they had money to burn. Very few people on our street owned cars, and a limited number ever used taxi cabs—they walked, whether to the grocery, the picture show, to church, to visit, to the doctor, to the barbershop, etc. The late 1930s and early 1940s were lean years in our nation but especially in Mississippi, a state still reeling from the War Between the States and the resultant reconstruction era.

Sue was allowed to come outside and play games with us, always with the stern admonition to not soil her clothing ensemble. Sometimes she was allowed to stay outside while her mother took a taxi to some unknown point, probably to the local Black-and-White department store on shopping trip for the latest styles in women’s clothing. Speaking of that store, its name and it storefront were black and white, but the store sold clothing and accessories of all colors. I’ve always wondered whether the name was intended to inform the public during those days of segregation in the South that the store welcomed people of both races—perhaps—could be—who knows? I got no help from Google on this one—I found a White House–Black Market store that sold only white and black clothing, but also sold many accessories in color. However, no reference to a Black and White Department Store—it may possibly have been a partnership between Mr. Black and Mr. White—again, who knows?

On one memorable occasion while she was away from home Mrs. Berryhill’s daughter and I and several other kids from homes on our block played games, one of which was called Pussy in the Corner, and that was the one we were playing in her front yard when she returned in a taxi.

Ordinarily we would have delayed our game to watch her dismount from the taxi and stroll up the sidewalk and into her house, slowly and deliberately, looking to the left and to the right with the steps of a runway model as she progressed, dressed in the latest fashions—or so I gleaned by listening to my mother and my older sisters. However on this day our game was at a really exciting point and as she passed us someone shouted Pussy in the corner! and all of us shifted positions as required by the rules of the game, none of which I remember.

Sue’s mother stopped her runway walk abruptly and turned toward us and we froze in our Pussy in the Corner positions. She faced us and said in strong forceful tones, “Children, I feel that it would be much better if you would say Kitty in the corner, so please do.” She then resumed her strut to the front door and into her house.

We tried mightily to do as we were told—for the remainder of the game we laughingly shouted Kitty in the corner when the game demanded it, but our fun was ruined. A short time later the kids dispersed and went in search of pastimes that posed fewer restrictions, games such as Kick the can, Ring around the roses, Pop the whip and Hide and seek, but the thrill was gone—taking out the term pussy took out the fun in the game.

And speaking of thrill—one of the most popular songs of that day was by Fats Domino, a  haunting melody in which the singer would say, I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, the moon stood still, etc., etc. Without exception, every little boy on my block and probably all the big boys and the men, had at one time or another sang Fat’s song as, I found my thrill on Mrs. Berryhill, etc., etc. Speaking strictly for myself, I had no idea why the corruption of the song was so funny—I just played along with a joke that I didn’t understand.

I’m serious—I was probably the world’s least knowledgeable kid in matters of sex and all its ins and outs—so to speak. The sister seventeen years my senior birthed her first child in the house on Nineteenth Street. I was at home when the baby was born—I remember my sister making lots of noise on the day my niece arrived, but I was out playing when the doctor came to our house. After he left and I returned home, I learned that I now had a niece—I  questioned her source, and I was told that the doctor delivered her. Since I was not present when he arrived, I had no reason to believe otherwise. I didn’t really care where the doctor got the baby—the place from whence she came was of no particular interest to me.

I am totally serious. While living in the house on Nineteenth Street, I spent a long summer with one of my sisters, the second oldest of my three sisters, and when I returned home my mother asked me if my sister was going to have a baby. I told her that I didn’t know, and that if she was going to have a baby she said nothing about it to me.

In retrospect I remember going to a nearby creek several times with my sister and her toddler son to bathe—the toddler skinny-dipped, I wore undershorts and my sister wore a one-piece bathing suit, and I clearly remember that she had gained a tremendous amount of weight, most of which seemed to be centered in her abdomen. The big boys always explained such a condition as the result of the woman swallowing watermelon seeds—I suppose I believed that just as I believed the doctor delivered my first niece—hey, nobody ever told me the difference between delivered and delivered.

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

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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 the  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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