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Second letter to Larry, my brother (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

Next month will mark the twenty-seventh year that has passed since that October day in 1983 when you, as Shakespeare has so poignantly observed, “shuffled off this mortal coil.” As you probably are aware, I did not attend your funeral, but I can make no apology for that—when the call came with the news, I was en route to Washington’s National Airport to take a flight to Miami for an assignment that was critical to my job with the U.S. Customs Service.

I had prepared for the flight for several weeks and could not afford to miss it. I’m sure you understand—the bills were still arriving with monotonous regularity—I know it’s trite to say, but I needed to be able to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.” Please know that I was there with you in spirit—I thought of little else on the flight to Florida.

I’ve written letters to two of our sisters, Hattie and Jessie, and I plan to write to Dot and Lorene, our other two sisters, and possibly in the future to our mother, our father and even to the stepfather our mother unwisely allowed into the family in 1942. All are gone now, but I trust and would like to believe that you are in communication with them. I have serious doubts that the stepfather is available—he may be somewhat lower on the metaphysical level of existence than the others.

I would like to couch this letter in terms of us remembering certain times when we were together. My memories are still just as fresh as they ever were, and I hope yours are also—I would not want to talk about happenings that you may not remember.

I remember vividly the fishing trip you took me on when I was about four, perhaps five years old. We lived at the old Box place in Vernon, Alabama, and we went fishing in Yellow Creek near the house. My float went under and I snatched the hook out of the water and snagged it on an overhead branch. I thought I had a really big fish until you reached up to remove the hook—I was really disappointed, but at least you had a good laugh.

You were at home on leave from President Roosevelt’s CCC—the Civilian Conservation Corps—a respite from helping build in Utah what you described as“ roads that started nowhere and ended nowhere.” The family had a homecoming party that included a washtub filled with ice and beer. Someone left a partially filled can on an inside table and I drank some of it, and a short while later I stood on the top step of our front porch and barfed it up in view of the entire family. Shades of child abuse!

Do you remember taking me on a rabbit hunt on a snow-covered day just a year two later when I was in the first grade? We were living on Eleventh Street South in Columbus, Mississippi and you were home, once again, from Roosevelt’s CCC. We only found one rabbit that day, but that one generated memories that are burned into my psyche—memories of the rabbit, a nylon stocking and a bedpost that will always be there. A click here will refresh your memory and will create a memory for any potential viewer of this letter.

Do you remember when I was living with you and your wife Toni and your two boys in Suitland, Maryland and I broke my right leg sliding in to home plate in a ball game? I had a full cast from my toes to mid-thigh, with a forty-five degree angle at the knee, and you bought a set of crutches for my use. Long before the cast came off, I used one of the crutches in an attempt to kill a pesky bee and broke it—the crutch, not the bee—the bee escaped unharmed. In spite of my pleas, you refused to replace the crutch, saying that what I did was dumb, that it’s impossible to buy just one crutch and you told me to manage with the remaining crutch—I managed.

I wrote a long-winded story, more than a bit fictional, of that broken leg, a tale that was told and can be found here. The tale tells how I and my Little League team won the national and international championship that year.

You bought me my first bicycle, a beautiful item that needed only the pedals, seat and handlebars installed to make it complete, but you made me disassemble it right down to the wheel bearings which I cleaned and repacked with the special grease you used on your fleet of trucks. I followed orders with some resentment, but I realize now that your method contributed to the bike’s longevity and to my safety. Click here for the full story of my first bike, first kiss and first train ride.

You may have put this memory aside, but I remember coming home late one evening and you were seated in the living room with a half-full pint of whiskey, and Toni was crawling around on her hands and knees on the floor, groaning and moaning and mumbling. You explained that you had caught her at a place where she should not have been, with a person she should not have been with. You said she had swallowed a lot of sleeping pills and that you would take her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped out after she went to sleep. Toni was mumbling something over and over that sounded suspiciously like he hit me, but I couldn’t be sure—it could have been my imagination.

Being a young fellow of at least average intelligence, I took my leave and returned to the apartment in Suitland that our mother and our sister Dot were renting from month-to-month, and stayed there until things quieted down. We never discussed the incident after that evening—I don’t know whether you took her to the hospital or to a doctor. I’m guessing that she did the same thing with the pills that I did with the beer I drank at that party some ten years earlier. That would probably have rendered a trip to the hospital or to a doctor unnecessary.

The outcome of that incident was a temporary breakup of your family. Toni and the boys went to her mother’s place in New York City, and you and I returned to Mississippi. I have no knowledge of your activities or whereabouts for several years, and just four years later in 1948 I was reunited with you and your family in El Paso, Texas as the result of our stepfather casting me, our mother and our sister Dot aside in Midland, Texas and we managed to negotiate the 300 miles to El Paso on a Greyhound bus.

That refuge was broken up a short while later—our mother and sister returned to Mississippi, your wife and sons took a plane to New York City, and you and I pursued her—our pursuit first took us to Dallas where we met the Greyhound bus you thought she may have taken from El Paso. You said she may have taken the train and we could meet the train in St. Louis. We failed to meet the train in St. Louis because we spent the night in jail in Valley Park, a suburb some 20 miles west of St. Louis. We continued on to New York City and stayed with Toni and the children in her mother’s apartment in Greenwich Village for several weeks, and finally from there back to Mississippi. If your memory is faulty in this instance and you have access to the Internet, click here for the full story of our trip across the continent to New York.

Do you remember the sleeping arrangements in your mother-in-law’s apartment? It was a two-room affair with a tiny bathroom, and we slept, cooked and dined in one large room—pretty crowded but far better than our room in the Valley Park jail. I was accustomed to such luxurious surroundings from years spent in places that either had no bathroom or the bathroom was somewhere down the hall and shared with others.

As for our sleeping arrangements, I remember that the two boys shared a baby bed, and each night we placed the top mattress of the only bed on the floor for you and Toni, and I slept on the bottom mattress on the bed near the window.

I’m sure you remember the night when an intruder threw a leg over the sill of the apartment’s only window! Although we were on the second floor of the building, someone managed to climb up and enter through the open window. The shade was pulled down—yes, windows had shades in those days—and when the intruder straddled the window sill the shade rustled and you awoke and shouted and threw a shoe at the window. One loud curse and the burglar was gone. We never knew exactly how the person climbed up to the window. Evidently the intruder survived the drop, because there was nobody in sight when we finally got up enough nerve to raise the shade and take a look outside.

We finished the night with the window closed, and without the occasional breezes that slipped into the apartment. We had a really uncomfortable night. Nope, no air conditioning in those days, and no fan. I hadn’t slept well before the incident, and it certainly didn’t reduce my insomnia for the remaining nights in that apartment.

I remember you and Toni arguing one morning and you telling her that we were leaving and that you were taking the two children with you. I will never forget Toni running downstairs to the sidewalk, screaming for the police, and returning with two of New York’s finest. The officers said that you and I could leave and take our personal things with us, but nothing else—you were ordered, under the threat of arrest, to not attempt to take the children away from their mother.

You left the apartment before I did, and as I was leaving Toni told me that if I ever needed anything to call her. I never saw her or talked to her again—I know that she remarried, but I never knew her married name or her whereabouts, and to this day I do not know whether she has also shuffled off this mortal coil—if still alive today she would be about 86 years old. I would like to believe that she is alive and well—I have never wished her anything other than well, and whatever the event, I still wish her well.

I doubt that you ever saw the picture I’ve included in this letter. It’s from a 35-millimeter slide, probably taken in the mid-1970s—I’m guessing 1975 because there were some other slides that showed our 1975 Oldsmobile 98—it looks new, and we bought it in that year. The slide was scanned in and printed by Cindy, your niece that lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia. Unless my memory fails me, the black-and-tan hound was named Bugler, and the little Cocker Spaniel in the lower right corner was named Useless.

Larry, there are many things I would like to discuss with you, but this letter seems to have legs. Let me chop them off for now, with the promise of returning soon with a whole new set of reminisces. I trust that you and any potential viewers of this letter will understand my feelings and my reasons for taking them back in time. Some of my memories are pleasant, and I enjoy speaking of them. Not all are pleasant, of course, but in this world of Yen and Yang we must take the good with the bad, and learn to smile with the one and frown with the other.

From your only brother, the only member of our family still standing—all the others are gone.

Mike

Postscript: Regarding the names of the two dogs in the image above, my memory did indeed fail me. My niece in Arkansas, my brother’s daughter, e-mailed me on 9-5-10 to say that the black-and-tan-hound was named Sam and Bugler was his pup, and the Cocker Spaniel I presented as Useless was named Puny. Thanks, Deanna, for straightening the names out for me.

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

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Speaking English not good for you . . .

One of my three princesses, the one that was privileged to come into the world ahead of her two sisters, the one I love more than the other two but don’t tell them—yep, that one—sent me an e-mail with the following series of questions and answers concerning the importance of diet and exercise on health.

I felt obligated to spread this doctor’s take on diet and exercise as far and wide as possible. It’s an anonymous piece of writing, so I’m not too worried by the fact that I took the liberty of making numerous changes to the original. And I must say, with the usual humility that my viewers normally expect from me, that those changes improved the document significantly—nay, they improved it immeasurably!

What follows is a series of questions, asked by a patient and answered by Doctor Sum Ting Wong, the patient’s doctor during the two years the patient spent in China:

Q: Doctor, is it true that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life?

A: You heart only good for so many beats and that it. No waste beats on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer. It like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat, and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp theory of logistical efficiency. What do cow eat? Hay and corn. And what that? Vegetables. Steak nothing more than efficient mechanism to deliver vegetable to system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef good source of field grass, and field grass green leafy vegetable. And pork chop give you 100% of recommended daily allowance of protein.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A:  No, not at all. Wine made from fruit. Brandy distilled wine.That mean they take water out of fruit so you get more. Beer and whiskey also made of grain. Bottom up!

Q: How can I calculate my body fat ratio?

A: If you have body and you have fat, you ratio one to one. If you have two body, you ratio two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Sorry, can’t think of single one. Philosophy is, no pain—good!

Q:  Are fried foods bad for us?

A:  You not listening! Food fried these day in vegetable oil. It permeated by vegetable oil. How much more vegetable bad for you?

Q:  Will sit—ups prevent me from getting soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise muscle it get bigger. Only do sit—up if want bigger stomach.

Q:  Is chocolate bad for me?

A:   Helloooo! Bean of cocoa plant is vegetable! Chocolate best feel-good food can find!

Q:  Is swimming good for my figure?

A:  If swimming good for figure, explain whale to me.

Q:  Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?

A:  Hey—round is shape!

This should help clear up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets, and remember this:

Life should not be a journey from the cradle to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, a tall glass of Chardonnay in one hand and dark chocolate in the other, with body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “Woo-hoo, what a ride that was!”

And for those that watch what they eat, here’s the final word on nutrition and health—it’s a great relief to know the truth after all these conflicting nutritional studies:

Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Mexicans eat lots of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Chinese drink little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Italians drink lots of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Germans drink lots of beer and eat lots of sausages and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Conclusion: Eat and drink whatever you like. It’s obvious that speaking English is what kills you.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2010 in death, food, grammar, Humor

 

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A return to THE TOMATO TEMPEST—check it out!

I began blogging in March, 2009 in response to an e-mail from one of my daughters. I ended that first posting with a question for my viewers, and ten months later I have yet to receive any answers to that question. This is a repeat of that first posting. Since the question remains unanswered I’ll ask it again, just as it appeared in the initial posting—the question will appear again at the conclusion of “THE TOMATO TEMPEST.”

Please feel free to voice your thoughts. I assure you that your comments will not be edited for content, whether negative or positive. However, I must state that any errors in spelling and punctuation will be corrected—I can’t resist that—it’s in my nature!

Note for readers of this posting (if any):

I’ll leave it up to you, the viewers who blindly stumble onto my blog—should I write my memoirs, with the purpose of publishing a book? Should I consolidate and cement those memories for others to enjoy, or should I be selfish and keep them all to myself?

If you respond, I have only one request:

Be honest, but be gentle!

The tomato tempest

Recently one of my three princesses (daughters) e-mailed me excerpts from a diary she kept early in her working career as a graphic designer. Her incredibly detailed (and lengthy) notes prompted an incredibly detailed (and lengthy) answer. To read those excerpts, check out that posting on her blog at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/the-year-of-living-detailed-ly/

This is my response to my daughter’s e-mail

Your diary is a great read, and your posting brings back a host of memories for me. I wish I had the discipline necessary to do the diary thing. I believe I’ll start one now by backtracking through the past—it will necessarily be in the “stream of consciousness” vein, and nowhere approaching chronological order because I’ll probably never get the dates accurately sorted out.

Here’s a brief (?) example, a memory that came, unbidden and unexplainable, while I was reading your e-mail. It’s an incident that occurred a year or two after my mother married my stepfather.

I’ll call the incident:

The tomato tempest

My sister and I, with our mother and our recently acquired stepfather, traveled the 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi to a farm near Ethelsville, Alabama to visit Papa’s sister, a red-haired wife who had become a widow a few weeks earlier—her husband killed himself. Yep, committed suicide. On a cool fall evening after supper he left his wife and three sons in the house, walked a short distance into the woods and into a ravine near the house (ravines are called hollows and pronounced “hollers” by Alabama country folks) and slashed his throat with a straight razor. His hounds found him early the next morning, and their baying alerted the family. One of his three sons was the first on the scene.

As Papa John explained it, “He damn near cut his head off.” I never knew why my aunt’s husband killed himself. Perhaps no one knew, but he may have done it because Papa’s sister, as long as I knew her, constantly whistled country singer Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” song between her teeth—day and night, at work and at play. It may have been that her husband simply got “mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore” and took the only way out—not the only way, perhaps, but certainly one of the quickest ways available to him—it may have been a classic case of, “One of us has to go, so it’s either her or me.”

The year would have been around 1942-1943. With the advent of World War II, America was recovering from the Great Depression, but recovery was slower in the South than in other sections of the country (similar to the South’s recovery after the “War Between The States,” known by some as the “Civil War”).

In a more serious vein, the father’s action may reasonably be attributed, at least in part, to the severe economic times. He and his family were share-croppers, tenants eking out a living by sharing the profits from crop returns with the land owner. The land-owner furnished housing, land, seed and farm implements, and extended credit to the family. In return the family did the work of clearing, planting, tending and harvesting the crops. The division of profits was always heavily in the landholder’s favor.

That the larger portion of profits accrued to the land-owner is understandable, but in far too many instances the paltry portion extended to the family, coupled with the family’s dependence on credit for the following year, guaranteed that they could never hope to rise above the share-cropper level.

A share-cropper and his family had a hand-to-mouth existence—they existed on credit until crops were harvested and sold, paid their debts with their share of the profits and promptly began using credit to get through the next growing season. If this seems to reflect a bleak existence with little hope for the future, it’s because the reflection was true—very little hope for the future existed.

I have vivid memories of the house. It sat near the woods a half-mile or so off the paved highway at the end of a winding one-lane dirt road, little more than two ruts between cotton fields. The farmhouse was typical of the time—built on piers, walls of unpainted ship-lap boards, rusting tin roof, a brick chimney, kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms—the living room with the fireplace did double duty as a living room and bedroom.

The living room and two bedrooms were separated from the kitchen and dining room by a “dog-run,” an wide open concourse running from front to rear of the house. Breezes flowing through the dog-run helped cool the home in summer, and provided shelter for the dogs at night and in inclement weather (hence the term “dog-run”). In later years in many of such houses, the dog-run was enclosed to provide additional interior space, either as a wide hallway or for additional rooms or storage space—either way, the change put the dogs at a definite disadvantage. In all my memories, none is of full-grown hounds being allowed into the house, regardless of the weather—they took up far too much space and produced far too many bad odors.

This was my only visit to the farmhouse. My mother took various foodstuffs to the family on that visit, including a small bag of fresh tomatoes, items that would figure prominently in our lives following our one-day excursion to visit the family. We arrived early in the day and stayed until late afternoon. We ate dinner with the family at noon, a meal which included sliced tomatoes. My sister was about 12 years old, some 18 months older than I. She loved sliced tomatoes, and on that day ate perhaps what could be described as “more than her share” of them—however, the plate was repeatedly passed at her request with no admonitions from anyone.

When we left to return home, our route to the paved highway was blocked by a huge pile of brush placed there by my aunt’s youngest child, a boy a bit younger than my 11 years. If I ever knew why he did it I don’t remember the reason, but I do remember Papa’s frustration and his language—he had to clear the path before we could move on. I remember the air in that area turning blue. His language probably stemmed from his intake of alcohol during the day. We were to learn in later years that Papa John was a confirmed alcoholic, a trait that would exist for many years and figure prominently in our future.

Our supper at home that evening included a plate heaped high with sliced tomatoes. Papa John kept passing the tomatoes to my sister, and she cheerfully accepted additional helpings. However, when she had her fill of sliced tomatoes he insisted she take more, telling her that she had insulted him, his sister and his sister’s sons by eating so many at noon, that the tomatoes had been taken there for a grieving family, and should have been theirs. When she stubbornly refused to eat more, he reached across the table and struck her, open-handed, on the left side of her head, a blow that he repeated two more times, inter-spaced with the question, “I told you to eat them!” I remember my mother saying, “No, John, that’s enough, don’t hit her anymore.”

We lived in a two-story colonial style house that, in the early years of World War II, had been converted into several apartments. One of my older sisters lived in the front downstairs unit with her husband and young daughter, a two-year old, and we lived in the downstairs rear unit. Our combination kitchen and dining room opened onto the back porch.

When my older sister heard the commotion she rushed into our kitchen. All of us—my sister, mother, stepfather and I were on our feet when she arrived and charged into our stepfather. Papa John didn’t hit her, but he shoved her violently out the door with so much force that she fell off the porch. Other than minor bruises and injury to her pride, she was not hurt. Her husband wasn’t home at the time, and she returned to her apartment saying that she would tell him everything and he would deal with Papa John later. Our stepfather responded by saying his pistol was “loaded and ready.”

And it was. Papa John kept an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at his bedside, with a full clip and a round in the chamber, the safety off and the hammer fully cocked. His reasoning for that was to insure that the weapon could be fired quickly in an emergency—to fire it he could simply pick it up, squeeze the hand grips to override the final safety feature, and pull the trigger. He proudly told people that neither my sister nor I would ever touch the weapon—he was blissfully unaware of the many times I handled the Colt, pointing and sighting it at objects and people (including him), having morphed with the weapon in my hand into the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Don (Red) Barry, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or any one of the host of Hollywood cowboys so prominent in my boyhood (trust me, I can name ‘em all).

Nothing else ever came of the incident. The end result was a permanent partial loss of hearing and untold psychological damage for my younger sister, and an enduring hatred of Papa John by the older sister he threw out of the kitchen. Later in the evening our stepfather apologized profusely to my younger sister, an apology that included tears—his, not hers. She listened stoically and made no response, nor did I respond, mainly because the apology was not addressed to me—I decided that the less said, the better, a maxim that would characterize and shape my actions far into the future, especially when Papa was involved.  To my knowledge, no apology was ever offered to the sister thrown out of the kitchen.

Okay, so what do you think?

Should I start writing my autobiography/memoirs, entitled something similar to “Memoirs of Mikey” or perhaps “Mike’s Memoirs” or maybe “Confessions of a Step-child”? This is just one incident in one day in a life which at this point has covered some 76 and one-half years. I can conjure up at least 16,900,027 vignettes from those years, all true. Not that truth matters—there is no one alive who can confirm, deny or dispute anything I might say or write concerning the first 19 of those years. For the following 57 years I’ll need to be stick closely to the truth, because your mother and your sisters may disagree with some of my memories.

Just imagine—Oprah might select my book for her reading club, and I would be on her show, and you could come along and photograph the proceedings—oh, and you could also save me a lot of money by producing my literary blockbuster.

Note for readers of this posting (if any):

I’ll leave it up to you, the viewers who blindly stumble onto my blog—should I write my memoirs, with the purpose of publishing a book? Should I consolidate and cement those memories for others to enjoy, or should I be selfish and keep them all to myself?

If you respond, I have only one request:

Be honest, but be gentle!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 17, 2010 in Childhood, death, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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The tomato tempest

Recently one of my three princesses (daughters) e-mailed me excerpts from a diary she kept early in her working career as a graphic designer. Her incredibly detailed (and lengthy) notes prompted an incredibly detailed (and lengthy) answer. To read those excerpts, check out that posting on her blog at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/the-year-of-living-detailed-ly/

This is my response to my daughter’s e-mail

Your diary is a great read, and your posting brings back a host of memories for me. I wish I had the discipline necessary to do the diary thing. I believe I’ll start one now by backtracking through the past—it will necessarily be in the “stream of consciousness” vein, and nowhere approaching chronological order because I’ll probably never get the dates accurately sorted out.

Here’s a brief (?) example, a memory that came, unbidden and unexplainable, while I was reading your e-mail. It’s an incident that occurred a couple of years after my mother married my stepfather.

I’ll call the incident:

The tomato tempest

My sister and I, with our mother and our recently acquired stepfather, traveled the 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi to a farm near Ethelsville, Alabama to visit Papa’s sister, a red-haired wife who had become a widow a few weeks earlier—her husband killed himself. Yep, committed suicide. On a cool fall evening after supper he left his wife and three sons in the house, walked a short distance into the woods and into a ravine near the house (ravines are called hollows and pronounced “hollers” by Alabama country folks) and slashed his throat with a straight razor. His hounds found him early the next morning, and their baying alerted the family. One of his three sons was the first on the scene.

As Papa John explained it, “He damn near cut his head off.” I never knew why my aunt’s husband killed himself. Perhaps no one knew, but he may have done it because Papa’s sister, as long as I knew her, constantly whistled country singer Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” song between her teeth—day and night, at work and at play. It may have been that her husband simply got “mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore” and took the only way out—not the only way, perhaps, but certainly one of the quickest ways available to him—it may have been a classic case of, “One of us has to go, so it’s either her or me.”

The year would have been around 1942-1943. With the advent of World War II, America was recovering from the Great Depression, but recovery was slower in the South than in other sections of the country (similar to the South’s recovery after the “War Between The States,” known by some as the “Civil War”).

In a more serious vein, the father’s action may reasonably be attributed, at least in part, to the severe economic times. He and his family were share-croppers, tenants eking out a living by sharing the profits from crop returns with the land owner. The land-owner furnished housing, land, seed and farm implements, and extended credit to the family. In return the family did the work of clearing, planting, tending and harvesting the crops. The division of profits was always heavily in the landholder’s favor.

That the larger portion of profits accrued to the land-owner is understandable, but in far too many instances the paltry portion extended to the family, coupled with the family’s dependence on credit for the following year, guaranteed that they could never hope to rise above the share-cropper level.

A share-cropper and his family had a hand-to-mouth existence—they existed on credit until crops were harvested and sold, paid their debts with their share of the profits and promptly began using credit to get through the next growing season. If this seems to reflect a bleak existence with little hope for the future, it’s because the reflection was true—very little hope for the future existed.

I have vivid memories of the house. It sat near the woods a half-mile or so off the paved highway at the end of a winding one-lane dirt road, little more than two ruts between cotton fields. The farmhouse was typical of the time—built on piers, walls of unpainted ship-lap boards, rusting tin roof, a brick chimney, kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms—the living room with the fireplace did double duty as a living room and bedroom.

The living room and two bedrooms were separated from the kitchen and dining room by a “dog-run,” an wide open concourse running from front to rear of the house. Breezes flowing through the dog-run helped cool the home in summer, and provided shelter for the dogs at night and in inclement weather (hence the term “dog-run”). In later years in many of such houses, the dog-run was enclosed to provide additional interior space, either as a wide hallway or for additional rooms or storage space—either way, the change put the dogs at a definite disadvantage. In all my memories, none is of full-grown hounds being allowed into the house, regardless of the weather—they took up far too much space and produced far too many bad odors.

This was my only visit to the farmhouse. My mother took various foodstuffs to the family on that visit, including a small bag of fresh tomatoes, items that would figure prominently in our lives following our one-day excursion to visit the family. We arrived early in the day and stayed until late afternoon. We ate dinner with the family at noon, a meal which included sliced tomatoes. My sister was about 12 years old, some 18 months older than I. She loved sliced tomatoes, and on that day ate perhaps what could be described as “more than her share” of them—however, the plate was repeatedly passed at her request with no admonitions from anyone.

When we left to return home, our route to the paved highway was blocked by a huge pile of brush placed there by my aunt’s youngest child, a boy a bit younger than my 11 years. If I ever knew why he did it I don’t remember the reason, but I do remember Papa’s frustration and his language—he had to clear the path before we could move on. I remember the air in that area turning blue. His language probably stemmed from his intake of alcohol during the day. We were to learn in later years that Papa John was a confirmed alcoholic, a trait that would exist for many years and figure prominently in our future.

Our supper at home that evening included a plate heaped high with sliced tomatoes. Papa John kept passing the tomatoes to my sister, and she cheerfully accepted additional helpings. However, when she had her fill of sliced tomatoes he insisted she take more, telling her that she had insulted him, his sister and his sister’s sons by eating so many at noon, that the tomatoes had been taken there for a grieving family, and should have been theirs. When she stubbornly refused to eat more, he reached across the table and struck her, open-handed, on the left side of her head, a blow that he repeated two more times, inter-spaced with the question, “I told you to eat them!” I remember my mother saying, “No, John, that’s enough, don’t hit her anymore.”

We lived in a two-story colonial style house that, in the early years of World War II, had been converted into several apartments. One of my older sisters lived in the front downstairs unit with her husband and young daughter, a two-year old, and we lived in the downstairs rear unit. Our combination kitchen and dining room opened onto the back porch.

When my older sister heard the commotion she rushed into our kitchen. All of us—my sister, mother, stepfather and I were on our feet when she arrived and charged into our stepfather. Papa John didn’t hit her, but he shoved her violently out the door with so much force that she fell off the porch. Other than minor bruises and injury to her pride, she was not hurt. Her husband wasn’t home at the time, and she returned to her apartment saying that she would tell him everything and he would deal with Papa John later. Our stepfather responded by saying his pistol was “loaded and ready.”

And it was. Papa John kept an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at his bedside, with a full clip and a round in the chamber, the safety off and the hammer fully cocked. His reasoning for that was to insure that the weapon could be fired quickly in an emergency—to fire it he could simply pick it up, squeeze the hand grips to override the final safety feature, and pull the trigger. He proudly told people that neither my sister nor I would ever touch the weapon—he was blissfully unaware of the many times I handled the Colt, pointing and sighting it at objects and people (including him), having morphed with the weapon in my hand into the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Don (Red) Barry, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or any one of the host of Hollywood cowboys so prominent in my boyhood (trust me, I can name ‘em all).

Nothing else ever came of the incident. The end result was a permanent partial loss of hearing and untold psychological damage for my younger sister, and an enduring hatred of Papa John by the older sister he threw out of the kitchen. Later in the evening our stepfather apologized profusely to my younger sister, an apology that included tears—his, not hers. She listened stoically and made no response, nor did I respond, mainly because the apology was not addressed to me—I decided that the less said, the better, a maxim that would characterize and shape my actions far into the future, especially when Papa was involved.  To my knowledge, no apology was ever offered to the sister thrown out of the kitchen.

Okay, so what do you think?

Should I start writing my autobiography/memoirs, entitled something similar to “Memoirs of Mikey” or perhaps “Mike’s Memoirs” or maybe “Confessions of a Step-child”? This is just one incident in one day in a life which at this point has covered some 76 and one-half years. I can conjure up at least 16,900,027 vignettes from those years, all true. Not that truth matters—there is no one alive who can confirm, deny or dispute anything I might say or write concerning the first 19 of those years. For the following 57 years I’ll need to be stick closely to the truth, because your mother and your sisters may disagree with some of my memories.

Just imagine—Oprah might select my book for her reading club, and I would be on her show, and you could come along and photograph the proceedings—oh, and you could also save me a lot of money by producing my literary blockbuster.

Note for readers of this posting (if any):

I’ll leave it up to you, the viewers who blindly stumble onto my blog—should I write my memoirs, with the purpose of publishing a book? Should I consolidate and cement those memories for others to enjoy, or should I be selfish and keep them all to myself?

If you respond, I have only one request:

Be honest, but be gentle!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2009 in Childhood, death, Family, Humor

 

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