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Tag Archives: World War II

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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Revisit—11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

I recently visited this posting and found it to be a fascinating and exceptional piece of literature, so I decided to re-post it for the benefit of the throngs that have been fortunate enough to have found my blog in the interim. It is my humble and modest opinion, with all seriousness set aside, that any reading or re-reading of this classic tale will enchant and delight everyone that passes this way. It’s a long read, but it’s highly educational, entertaining and well worth your time and effort—honest!

11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

When I left Plato’s realm of spirits—mind you, I was and I remain one of Plato’s ideal philosophical souls—and entered this world, I became part of a family that included my mother, one brother and five sisters, three living sisters and two dead, and no father—well, of course I had a father, but my parents were divorced a few months before I was born, a situation that technically makes me a little bastard. That technicality doesn’t bother me, even though it has been verbally confirmed many times by many people over the course of my life. Those verbal confirmations have decreased significantly since I retired from the workforce and relinquished my responsibilities and duties as a manager and supervisor of federal employees.

The Great Depression was in full swing when I left the world of souls and appeared on this planet. My brother Larry was away from home, gainfully occupied in building roads in Utah and other western states, roads that in his words started nowhere and ended nowhere. Early in the 1930s he joined the CCC—Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the alphabet organizations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and helped build highways and tunnels in the western part of the United States, systems that would attract many millions of people in the future to our national parks. Following his stint with the CCC, he joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II and remained overseas through most of that conflict and never returned to the family except for short visits.

I have only retained two events over the first six years of my life that included my brother. The first memory is one of us fishing in a creek that meandered along near the house my family lived in at the time, a rental house owned by a local doctor named Box, the doctor that delivered me. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, Alabama, it was referred to as the old Box place—my family moved there from my place of birth, the old home place located some five miles south of town—I was little more than a toddler at the time. If you like, you can click here to read about the monumental event of my birth, Unto you this day a child was born. It’s a well-told tale with tons of family history and well worth your time—trust me!

The other memory involves a washtub in the front yard, filled with ice and beer, and my family enjoying and celebrating my brother’s visit. It also involves a partially filled beer left on a table within reach of a small night-shirted boy, and a set of high steps leading up to the front door of our house. The steps were necessary because the house was built on brick piers in an area prone to flooding. I have a vivid memory of standing on the top step in full view of the family gathered around the tub of ice and beer in the front yard and tossing the contents of my stomach—whatever food I had ingested along with the warm beer I had consumed—all over the steps.

Bummer!

I lived at the old Box place with my mother and three sisters. My mother and the two older sisters worked at a garment factory in Columbus, Mississippi, a city thirty miles west of Vernon, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line. The women walked a short distance to and from town Monday through Friday and traveled to and from their work site on a county school bus set aside for that purpose. They necessarily left at an early hour and arrived home at a late hour every evening.

I and my youngest sister, a child just 18 months older than I, were left in the care of a lady that lived within walking distance. She came to our house early each morning and waited until the women left for work before escorting my sister and me to her house—she returned us home just before the women were due to arrive from work. With her husband and a passel of kids—my mother’s term—ranging from toddlers to young adults, she lived, loved, maintained her family and helped perform the many tasks involved in farming.

Whether they were the owners or were sharecroppers will never be known, but my guess is that they farmed on shares with the owners. Today the family would be called African-American, but at that time they were called everything except that hyphenated politically correct term—my family referred to them as black folks, or blacks, or that black family—other terms were available and quite popular at the time, but none were used by my family. This was a black family that included two white children five days every week, a boy and a girl, both preschoolers, two children that shared playtime and mealtime and after-dinner naps on the front porch with the family and loved every minute of every day.

My family left Vernon and moved to Columbus, Mississippi when I was five years old. My sister entered the first grade on our arrival there, and I entered the first grade the following year. That year is so filled with memories that I must reserve it for a separate posting, and I will include in this posting a third memory of my brother Larry.

He came home for a Christmas visit from his labors under the auspices of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. That winter Columbus, Mississippi had an unusually heavy snowfall, and my brother took me on a rabbit hunt, armed only with a broomstick—just the stick, no broom. The broom part was badly worn and my brother sawed off that part. We walked a short distance from our house to a snow-covered field that served as a dumping ground for discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, wire-coil bed springs, old stoves and other such refuse. Yes, we lived on the south side of the city, the part that was known as the wrong side of town, an area subjected to such dumping.

This is how one hunts rabbits after a heavy snowfall—one takes a broomstick and pounds on any pile of junk where a rabbit might choose to hide, and chases the rabbit when it leaves its cover. In a heavy snowfall rabbits can’t run, so they tend to flee by burrowing under the snow rather than jumping in and out of it. Ergo, the mighty hunter simply follows the unseen rabbit as it ripples the surface of the snow by burrowing under it, estimates the location of the rabbit’s head—not a difficult task, not even for a southerner, and strikes with the broomstick a number of times, enough time sufficient to render the animal ready for skinning, cleaning and cooking.

My brother only found one rabbit with all his pounding, and that one did exactly as expected, and brother did exactly as narrated above, but landed just one blow with the stick. The rabbit’s forward motion was stopped, and on examination was found to be very much alive, only stunned by the blow but no more blows were struck. I pleaded with my brother to not kill it, and let me take it home as a pet.

And so it was. I carried a new-found pet rabbit home—I never knew whether it was male or female, but just for discussion I’ll say it was a female—perhaps I hoped for some baby rabbits. I had no way to secure her, neither inside the house nor outside, and one of my older sisters suggested I make a leash and tie her to a bedpost, and using a six-year old boy’s imagination, I did as suggested.

At this point the reader should probably keep a hankie or a box of Kleenex handy.

I fashioned a leash from a discarded pair of nylon stockings, those with the black seams running the length of the stockings, seams that ladies of the day were constantly adjusting to keep them straight on the backs of their legs. I knotted the stockings together, then secured one end of the leash to the cottontail’s neck and the other to a bedpost. My new-found pet could move around no farther than the length of nylon, so whatever deposits he made during the night would be restricted to a small area.

Okay, folks, here’s where you’ll need the hankie or the Kleenex. When I went to sleep my pet was warm and cuddly and full of life, but the next morning she was cold and stiff and dead, choked by the nylon that had tightened during the night with her circling around and around the bedpost.

I know, I know—I know just how you feel, but just blow your nose and wipe away your tears. It happened some 71 years ago, and I will say to you exactly what Lloyd Bridges said in the made-for-television movie Cold Sassy Tree. This is what he said in answer to his children when they learned he intended to marry his long-time office manager although his wife—their mother—had been dead less than a year. What he said was,

Well, she ain’t gonna get any deader!

And that rabbit ain’t gonna get any deader either, so dry your tears. I assure you that never again—not in all those years, not even once—have I strangled another rabbit by leaving it tied to a bedpost with a knotted pair of ladies’ nylons, nor have I ever strangled another rabbit by any other method, nor have I ever advised my children or the children of others to do such—in fact, largely because of that sad event I have strongly stressed that all should respect the value of life, both for humans and for the so-called lower orders of life.

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

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, neighbors, race, Uncategorized

 

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1947 World Series on television—in color!

Baseball’s 1947 World Series on television—in color!

I’ll bet my daughters don’t know that I watched the very first World Series baseball game broadcast on television. That was in October 1947, played between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers—the Yankees won the series in the seventh game. My brother and I watched the game through the showcase windows of a closed Sears store in Washington, D.C.—in color—very poor color, but still color. Click here for a description of the game.

I was living with my brother and his family in Carry Homes, a community of one-story duplexes in Suitland, Maryland, built mainly for, and primarily occupied by, veterans returning from overseas in World War II. Most of our neighbors were either active duty, retirees or discharged war veterans. Carry Homes community has long since been demolished, giving way to progress and eminent domain exercised by the government—the site is now occupied by the federal Census Bureau.

I went with my brother to the Sears store in Washington, D.C. one evening to pick up some truck parts. Sears was a fascinating place for me—parking on the street was limited, so most customers parked on the roof of the store and then walked down a flight of stairs to the shopping areas below. Hey, there was nothing like that in my little town of Durant, Mississipi, my last home before being shuffled off to live with my brother.

On that evening we parked on the street opposite the store, but found that the store had closed just a few minutes before we arrived. The television was placed in a storefront window for the benefit of pedestrians in the area. This was my first encounter with television, either color or black-and-white, and not until December of 1952 would I see television again—that was in an Atlanta motel while I waited for the next morning to begin my reenlistment in the United States Air Force. I was scheduled for a physical exam and indoctrination the following day. That event is worth reading about—click here for the full story.

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

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in baseball, television

 

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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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Neighbors ‘R Us . . . (via The King of Texas)

The original posting has been available since September of 2009, and has garnered zero votes and a similar number of comments, so I’m bringing it out of the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the brilliant light of a South Texas August sun. Casting any semblance of modesty aside, I can truthfully say that is beautifully written, tremendously interesting and well worth the read—enjoy!

Neighbors 'R Us . . . The purpose of this posting is to share a recent e-mail from my next-door neighbor and my response to that e-mail. The posting includes titillating observations on house-sitting, cats, iguanas, the Galapagos Islands, timeshares, exotic places, lawyers, teachers, builders, grammar, Fox News, McDonald’s, skiing, Texas, Colorado, refrigerators, snot and more—it’s a veritable smorgasbord of completely unrelated items—brace yourselves for a bumpy … Read More

via The King of Texas

 

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5th Avenue South, a chicken and a Spitz dog . . .

For a few brief months I lived on Fifth Avenue South in Columbus, Mississippi with my mother, stepfather and my youngest sister, a female enigma some eighteen months older than I. We lived in a small one-story frame house, home for us between moves to and from Tennessee in the Oak Ridge area—my stepfather, Papa John, was employed as a construction superintendent with the J. A. Jones Construction Company, one of the entities engaged in the atom-bomb project during World War II—his employment rose and fell with the company’s need for his services. This was the second house we lived in on Fifth Avenue South. The other house was a two-story antebellum home that was converted to apartments to provide additional housing during the war. Click here for a posting of notable activities at that location.

Our family included a small Spitz dog, a beautiful female identical to the image pictured here. My mother claimed ownership of the dog, but my stepfather had severe reservations about the animal—he had neither patience nor liking for any animal or any person that made no contribution to the family, and that little dog definitely made none. It’s a wonder that he tolerated the dog, and its ultimate abrupt and final separation from the family came as no surprise to us.

Our next-door neighbor to the east kept chickens, something that may or may not have been in accordance with city regulations—not that it would have mattered. In our neighborhood, as in most neighborhoods on the south side of the city, very few regulations were enforced.

The image on the left shows a male and a female chicken—a rooster and a hen—the hen is the smaller one to the right. Our little dog had the speed and strength and the urge to waylay a hen that had flown over the fence that separated our houses, and she managed to kill the bird. Papa John expressed his disapproval vocally with words that can only be described as other than appropriate for the ears of his two stepchildren, apologized to the neighbors and made some sort of remunerative reparation for their loss of an egg-laying hen in the prime of its life. He also vocalized the future action he would take should the act be repeated—he said he would kill the dog.

Our little Spitz female had drawn blood and I believe she lay in wait for another victim to fly over the fence, and predictably one did, on a bright summer Sunday noon while we were having lunch. Papa John heard the commotion in the backyard and took in the situation at a glance—dog growling and mangling hen  and hen squawking, literally, for dear life. The image on the right is probably how the dog viewed the hen.

Our stepfather hastened to the bedroom for his US Army regulation .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm, secured it, returned to the kitchen, ripped open the kitchen screen door and ran full-tilt down the steps and across the yard toward the corner where the Spitz had the hen down.

The pistol was always ready to fire—Papa said that if everyone knew it was ready to fire they would not be tempted to handle it—he was wrong—in his absence I handled it many times, sighting and making the sounds young boys make to simulate gunshots—I even simulated ricochets, the sound made when the bullets hit a rock instead of the outlaw.

In this instance the pistol was already pointed at the dog as Papa ran, and we knew how this would turn out. We were wrong. Papa John returned to the house with the weapon unfired. There was a wire clothesline strung across the yard between the hen’s death struggle with the dog and the swiftly moving would-be dog killer. Papa John met the tightly drawn clothesline wire at the bridge of his nose, a very prominent member, a proboscis that some might classify as Romanesque—others might consider it bulbous, similar to the one sported by the late W. C. Fields—see image at right.

The wire stopped Papa, but not in his tracks. It stopped his nose but his feet kept going and he fell flat on his back with a grunt that was audible to us from our vantage point on the kitchen steps.

My mother screamed and my sister and I giggled, but the giggling stopped abruptly as Papa John struggled to his feet and slowly, haltingly, returned to the house, bleeding profusely from the point where the wire made contact and the pistol unfired. There was very little discussion from that point on. My mother applied makeshift first-aid to the damaged member and Papa John spent most of the afternoon abed.

This story is almost over—stay with me for the finale. The incident took place on Sunday, and the good news is that the hen survived—the little dog released her when he saw Papa John hit the wire—actually the dog heard rather than saw the encounter. The next day was a school day, and my sister and I dutifully attended school, and when we returned home at the end of our school day we immediately checked the backyard to see about the little dog.

As the reader has probably surmised, there was no dog, not in the backyard nor in the house. Our normally garrulous mother told us, in terse words and somber tones that she had inadvertently left the gate open and that the little dog apparently ran away. We knew that was untrue, and she knew that we knew it was untrue, but we accepted her story on its face—we had no other choice. We knew that Papa John had, in one way or another, completed the action that the clothesline wire had temporarily averted. The incident and the missing canine were never subjects for conversation from that point on, at least not while Papa John was within earshot of such conversations.

Bummer!

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

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Michael Jackson—back in the news . . .

The King of Pop is back in the news. We have now learned that each of his (?) three children will inherit $300,000,000 on their thirtieth birthday. In celebration of that news I am dredging up a posting I made back in July of 2009 following the death of Michael Jackson in June of that year. Apparently hidden from view, that posting has garnered only four votes—three of which are mine—and no comments, so I’m bringing it out from the darkness of Past Postings into the bright light of today’s news.

Yes, I vote for my own postings, but only if I feel they are worthy of a vote—and no, I have never given myself a negative vote, nor have I ever given another blogger a negative vote. My mother taught me that if I cannot say something good about someone, I shouldn’t say anything. I will vote excellent for every posting I place on Word Press, if for no other reason than to congratulate myself for taking the time and effort to write. Any comment I might make to another blogger is intended to congratulate the writer, or to offer what I believe to be constructive criticism—the blogger is always free to edit, accept or delete such comments. I cheerfully admit that my reasoning is circular, but so be it.

As military people like to say, I’m running this posting up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes it—yes, they say that—they really do.

This is my original posting:

Kudos to Robert Rivard, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News, for his Metro article on Sunday, July 5, 2009. His article was titled “As Jackson is recalled, don’t forget his victims.” This article is the only sane review of Jackson’s death, and the only one that offers any measure of comfort to those who were victimized by the King of Pop—those to whom “He reportedly paid out tens of millions in settlements with his alleged victims.”

I know, I know—Jackson was found not guilty—so was O. J. Simpson.

I was somewhat startled by the Jackson is recalled part of the title—my first thought was that the King of Pop had been recalled from whatever dimension he entered following his death. And based on the news coverage, both by network news and cable outlets, my next thought was that perhaps the recall referred to his return to the Deity, the One that lovingly created him and endowed him with a super abundance of talent, and then allowed him to entertain the world for more than four decades. Apparently the Deity was either occupied with other duties or looked the other way during the times Jackson was engaged in those actions for which he was charged, namely the sexual abuse of young boys.

I realize, of course, that Robert Rivard used the term recalled to describe the feverish remembrance by the United States and the rest of the world of Jackson’s accomplishments in the fields of music and entertainment. This outpouring of emotion could only be equaled by combining the emotion which followed the deaths of John Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Lennon, Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ—with America’s entry into World War II and VJ Day thrown in. For those who were not around for it, for those who may have forgotten it and for those who have never heard of it—VJ Day marks the end of World War II—Victory in Japan.

The emotion over Michael Jackson’s death reached fever pitch with the lottery that was set up to accommodate the public for his memorial to be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles—17,500 tickets were offered on-line, and more than a million were requested.

As the San Antonio Express-News editor rightly notes, the cost for the memorial activities will be borne by a city in a state which is paying its debts with IOUs, a city that should have “. . . . . more important priorities than throwing a party for an entertainer whose talent was always shadowed by his own destructive self-loathing.”

I would not be surprised if plans have been formulated and approved for Jackson’s body to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda to allow viewing for mourners, and then be transported  with the rider-less horse and the black caisson procession to Arlington, Virginia for interment in the National Cemetery. In fact, judging from everything that has transpired so far, I will be sorely disappointed if that doesn’t happen. And I predict that in the near future, plans for a Michael Jackson monument on the Washington Mall will be finalized and approved, and will likely be paid for with federal funds, probably from one of the stimulus packages.

Bummer.

I hope that Rivard’s article will be picked up by news outlets and made available world-wide—the San Antonio Express-News is not in the same league as the Washington Post or the New York Times, so it will probably remain here at the local level. However, perhaps this posting will be picked up and carried on by my viewers.

I first came to San Antonio in 1963 and I have called it home ever since, with several absences, some brief and some in terms of years, all made necessary by military service and my later employment in federal Civil Service. I’ve submitted many letters to the editor over the years—some were accepted, some were rejected—some I expected to be tossed but submitted them anyway. An example of that can be found in one of the web sites shown below.

I no longer submit letters to the San Antonio Express-News editor. My reasons for not writing to the editor of the only daily newspaper in Texas’ third largest city—the city I have called home for the past 46 years—can be found in two previous postings to this blog.

Rather than having my submissions summarily rejected, I prefer to blog them. I welcome and will respond to all comments, whether positive or negative.

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/letter-to-the-express-news-editor-san-antonio-tx/

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/letter-to-the-editor-san-antonio-express-news/

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

When I left Plato’s realm of spirits—mind you, I was and I remain one of Plato’s ideal philosophical souls—and entered this world, I became part of a family that included my mother, one brother and five sisters, three living and two dead, and no father—well, of course I had a father, but my parents were divorced a few months after I was born, a situation that, technically at least, makes me a little b – – – – – d. That technicality doesn’t bother me, even though it has been verbally confirmed many times by many people over the course of my life. Those verbal confirmations have decreased significantly since I retired from the workforce and relinquished my responsibilities and duties as a manager and supervisor of federal employees.

The Great Depression was in full swing when I left the world of souls and appeared on this planet. My brother  Larry was away from home, gainfully occupied in building roads in Utah and other western states, roads that in his words started nowhere and ended nowhere. Early in the 1930s he joined the CCC—Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the alphabet organizations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and helped build highways and tunnels in the western part of the United States, systems that would attract many millions of people in the future to our national parks. Following his stint with the CCC, he joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II and remained overseas through most of that conflict and never returned to the family except for short visits.

I have only retained two events over the first six years of my life that included my brother. The first memory is one of us fishing in a creek that meandered along near the house my family lived in at the time, a rental house owned by a local doctor named Box, the doctor that delivered me. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, Alabama, it was referred to as the old Box place—my family moved there from my place of birth, the old home place located some five miles south of town—I was little more than a toddler at the time. If you like, you can click here to read about the monumental event of my birth, Unto you this day a child was born. It’s a well-told tale with tons of family history and well worth your time—trust me!

The other memory involves a washtub in the front yard, filled with ice and cans of beer, and my family enjoying and celebrating my brother’s visit and celebrating. It also involves a partially filled beer can left on a table within reach of a small night-shirted boy, and a set of high steps leading up to the front door of our house. The steps were necessary because the house was built on brick piers in an area prone to flooding. I have a vivid memory of standing on the top step in full view of the family gathered around the tub of beer in the front yard and tossing the contents of my stomach—whatever food I had ingested along with the warm beer I had consumed—all over the steps.

Bummer!

I lived at the old Box place with my mother and three sisters. My mother and the two older sisters worked at a garment factory in Columbus, Mississippi, a city thirty miles west of Vernon, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line. The women walked a short distance to and from town Monday through Friday and traveled to and from their work site on a county school bus set aside for that purpose. They necessarily left at an early hour and arrived home at a late hour every evening.

I and my youngest sister, a child just 18 months older than I, were left in the care of a lady that lived within walking distance. She came to our house early each morning and waited until the women left for work before escorting my sister and me to her house—she returned us home just before the women were due to arrive from work. With her husband and a passel of kids—my mother’s term—ranging from toddlers to young adults, she lived, loved, maintained her family and helped perform the many tasks involved in farming.

Whether they were the owners or were sharecroppers will never be known, but my guess is that they farmed on shares with the owners. Today the family would be called African-American, but at that time they were called everything except that hyphenated politically correct term—my family referred to them as black folks, or blacks, or that black family—other terms were available and quite popular at the time, but none were used by my family. This was a black family that included two white children five days every week, a boy and a girl, both preschoolers, two children that shared playtime and mealtime and after-dinner naps on the front porch with the family and loved every minute of every day there.

My family left Vernon and moved to Columbus when I was five years old. My sister entered the first grade on our arrival there, and I entered the first grade the following year. That year is so filled with memories that I must reserve it for a separate posting, and I will include in this posting a third early memory of my brother Larry.

He came home for a Christmas visit from his labors under the auspices of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp. That winter Columbus, Mississippi had an unusually heavy snowfall, and my brother took me on a rabbit hunt, armed only with a broomstick—just the stick, no broom. The broom part was badly worn and my brother sawed off that part. We walked a short distance from our house to a snow-covered field that served as a dumping ground for discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, wire-coil bed springs, old stoves and other such refuse. Yes, we lived on the south side of the city, the part that was known as the wrong side of town, an area subjected to such dumping.

This is how one hunts rabbits after a heavy snowfall. One takes a broomstick and pounds on any pile of junk where a rabbit might choose to hide, and chases the rabbit when it leaves its cover. In a heavy snowfall rabbits can’t run, so they tend to flee by burrowing under the snow rather than jumping in and out of it. Ergo, the mighty hunter simply follows the unseen rabbit as it ripples the surface of the snow by burrowing under it, estimates the location of the rabbit’s head—not a difficult task, not even for a southerner, and strikes with the broomstick a number of times, enough time sufficient to render the animal ready for skinning, cleaning and cooking.

My brother only found one rabbit with all his pounding, and that one did exactly as expected, and brother did exactly as narrated above, but landed just one blow with the stick. The rabbit’s forward motion was stopped, and on examination was found to be very much alive, only stunned by the blow but no more blows were struck. I pleaded with my brother to not kill it, and let me take it home as a pet.

And so it was. I carried a full-grown cottontail rabbit home—I never knew whether it was male or female, but just for discussion I’ll say it was a female—perhaps I hoped for some baby rabbits. I had no way to secure her, neither inside the house or outside, and one of my older sisters suggested I make a leash and tie her to a bedpost, and using a six-year old boy’s imagination, I did as suggested.

At this point the reader should probably keep a hankie or a box of Kleenex handy.

I fashioned a leash from discarded pair of nylon stockings, those with the black seams running the length of the stockings, seams that ladies of the day were constantly adjusting to keep them straight on the backs of their legs. I knotted the stocking together, then secured one end of the leash to the cottontail’s neck and the other to a bedpost. My new-found pet could move around no farther than the length of nylon, so whatever deposits he made during the night would be restricted to a small area.

Okay, folks, here’s where you’ll need the hankie or the Kleenex. When I went to sleep my pet was warm and cuddly and full of life, but the next morning she was cold and stiff and dead, choked by the nylon that had tightened during the night with her circling around and around the bedpost.

I know, I know—I know just how you feel, but just blow your nose and wipe away your tears. It happened some 71 years ago, and I will say to you exactly what Lloyd Bridges said in the made-for-television movie Cold Sassy Tree. This is what he said in answer to his children when they learned he intended to marry his long-time office manager although his wife—their mother—had been dead less than a year. What he said was,

Well, she ain’t gonna get any deader!

And that rabbit ain’t gonna get any deader either, so dry your tears. I assure you that never again—not in all those years, not even once—have I strangled another rabbit by leaving it tied to a bedpost with a knotted pair of ladies’ nylons, nor have I ever strangled another rabbit by any other method, nor have I ever advised my children or the children of others to do such—if fact, largely because of that sad event I have strongly stressed that all should respect the value of life, both for humans and for the so-called lower orders of life.

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

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Rogue cops and rubber hoses . . .

Picture this:

A lad of 16 years jailed on suspicion of being involved in auto theft, kidnapping and murder—completely innocent, of course—being bullied by burly bulky bastardly bastions of the law—I do really love alliteration-–and threatened with a rubber hose. Click here to learn how such an unsatisfactory situation developed.

In mid-afternoon of that Sunday following our arrest and incarceration, two very large men came into the room that held the two strap-iron cells occupied by me and my brother. They introduced themselves as plain-clothes detectives and started asking questions. After a series of questions relating to our lack of identification, our hot-wired car and the rifle bullets they found in my pocket, one of the men—the larger one–unlocked the door to my cell, entered and locked the door behind him—yeah, like I was going to flee and fly out to freedom and become one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives, with my mug shot featured prominently in every post office in the nation.

I was standing while he was outside, but when he entered I sat down on my bare metal bunk. That was a defensive measure. I believe I felt that should he decide to hit me, I would at least have only a short way to fall before hitting the steel wall behind me or the concrete floor. I could be wrong, of course—I may have sat down because of the sudden weakness my knees developed, and I mean that in all seriousness.

He held a piece of black rubber hose in his right hand. The hose was short in length, thick in diameter and long in menace, and he kept slapping it into the palm of his other hand, staring at me intently all the while.

If anyone reading this thinks I wasn’t scared, think again—I was scared witless, filled with fear that approached the point of something that rhymes with witless. I was a 110 pound 16-year old and he was a really big man, six feet tall and counting, weighing well over 200 pounds—a goodly portion of that weight was centered in his overhanging stomach, but his weight distribution detracted in no way from the fear that I felt, fear generated by his size and by the menacing length of rubber hose he wielded.

Believe me, reader, had I been guilty of any one or all of the several wrong doings of which we were accused, I would have promptly admitted that guilt. Had it been possible I would have cheerfully laid it all off on my brother—yep, I would have squealed like a pig and perhaps made a deal with the cops, or at least plea bargained my way out of what I considered to be a really bad situation. Frankly, I figured that my brother had gotten me into a big mess and I owed him zilch—none of this was my fault—I mean, like, hey, brotherly love has its limits.

The detective finally stopped slapping his hand with the hose, probably because it was beginning to hurt. He knew that he had my undivided attention, and then he held the business end of the hose close to my face and asked some really stupid questions, to all of which I gave some really brilliant answers:

Do you know what this is?

Yes, sir.

Do you know what I can do with this if you lie to me?

Yes, sir.

Did you boys steal that car?

No, sir.

Did you boys kidnap someone?

No, sir.

Did you boys kill someone and dispose of the body?

No, sir.

Have you answered all our questions truthfully?

Yes, sir.

See, I told you his questions were stupid and my answers were brilliant!

The detective ended the conversation, and taking his rubber hose with him he stepped out of my cell, locked the door and started questioning my brother, but he did not enter my brother’s cell. Evidently my brother, a World War II veteran almost twice my age, had been around the block before—he told our inquisitors in firm tones to not bother threatening him with the rubber hose, that he had been threatened with far more than that in World War II combat and survived, that he had told the truth about everything and that all they had to do was make a few phone calls to prove it and finally, that they could delay our release but could not prevent it.

In his telling my brother used some really salty language, some of which was related to the detectives’ parentage, including the legality of their births and their relationships with their mothers, and lots of other language that brought their sexual proclivities and practices into question.

Hey, my brother spent six years in the U.S. Navy, the last four of which were spent overseas in combat zones during the big war—that’s the way sailors talk. I expected the two detectives to beat him senseless, even to the point of his not recovering and spending the rest of his life as a tomato or a cabbage or a stalk of celery perhaps, but no, they listened to his tirade without responding. After he wound down with his remarks, they left the area without comments, and we never saw them again.

I find it difficult to believe that they were intimidated by my brother—I believe that they were amused and perhaps even respectful of his actions. My brother was much older than I but he was not much bigger, and I must admit that while I was shocked by his remarks, I really admired his stance in the face of bigger men with all the power of law at their disposal.

We were held incommunicado for 23 hours, just one hour short of the 24 hours the law allowed before formal charges and booking were mandated. The so-called authorities either made enough phone calls on Monday morning to prove our innocence, or perhaps had simply tired of the cat-and-mouse game they had played with us for 23 hours.

Whatever the reason, they released us, offered nothing that remotely resembled an apology and told us to get out of town and not come back. Other than the handful of rifle shells there was no need to return any possessions to us—the only things we possessed were the clothes we wore. The few dollars we had went for the burgers, and they kept any amount that remained, and I wisely refrained from demanding the return of my rifle cartridges. There was no need to return the keys to our car—we never had any—the starting lock was gone and the starter was hot-wired to the fog lights, and were soon on our way.

After a brief stop in St. Louis in a futile attempt to borrow gas money from my stepfather’s sister—click here for that story—we continued to New York City and stayed there for several weeks, then traveled to Mississipi where I was promptly shipped off to a farm in Alabama to live with a first-cousin and her family—a life very similar to that of an indentured servant. Click here for that posting.

More on my life on the farm and why I left it can be found here.

This story is all true, embellished a bit perhaps in the telling, but it’s all true and there’s nobody around either to disprove it or substantiate it—by now all the participants have departed for other realms. My fervent hope is that my brother and the cops involved in our short stay in Valley Park, Missouri traveled in opposite directions when they departed their lives on earth. I readily acknowledge that there in no way to confirm their paths, but I would like to believe that my brother ascended to his next life and the cops descended to theirs.

That’s my wish and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to both!

PeeEss: We were never told that we could ask for an attorney and were not Mirandized, but that is understandable—the year was 1949 and the Miranda law did not exist—it was still seventeen years into the future, 1966. Click here for information on the Miranda warning.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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MS National Guard, Dixie Division, Korean War . . .

In the early days of 1949 I joined the Mississippi Army National Guard, not for any urge to serve my state or my country, but simply because the Guard promised to pay me ten dollars each month if I would attend training for one 8-hour day each month. I was a tenth-grade high school dropout and was at loose ends, with no parental supervision and nothing to do except shoot pool and scheme on ways of coming into some cash—any amount of cash, with very little regard as to how it could be gained. That ten dollars was a pittance, of course, but with pool games just ten cents a rack, it meant that I could lose a hundred games and pay for the racks—ten dollars traveled a lot farther in those days.

This will be a brief posting, just long enough to cover the three items in the above title. I just covered the MS National Guard part, so on to the Dixie Division and the Korean War. As for the Korean War, I have several postings relating to my unwilling participation in that fracas. Google the war and you’ll find me somewhere in the wealth of information available.

As for the Dixie Division, that organization has a long and illustrious history, with ream after ream of information available online. My connection with it is somewhat nebulous—I was involved with it only on a could have been, and probably would have been basis. The division was activated during the Korean War and segments of it were shipped off to Korea at the height of the war.

Those segments incurred tremendous losses in battle. I vividly remember reading an article in the Pacific Stars and Stripes, an article in which one of our generals in Korea made the following statement concerning the Dixie Division in reference to their casualties:

They arrived in Korea expecting to ride into battle on pneumatic tires.

That sounds rather callous, but it’s true. Had I not joined the Air Force before the war, and had I stayed in the Mississippi Army National Guard, the odds are very high that I would have arrived in Korea as a foot soldier, and you may be assured that my expectations would have included riding into battle on pneumatic tires. That’s how it was in training—we never marched—and that’s how it should have been in battles.

The odds are also very high that had I gone to Korea with the Dixie Division, the name of my mother’s youngest son—mine—would be etched on the wall of the Korean War monument on the Washington mall, just one of more than 40,000 Americans that died in an unnecessary and futile war, a war officially considered a truce but one that I consider a war lost. It could have been won, just as honorably and just as conclusively as World War II was won.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

I said this would be a brief posting—remember?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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More on Midland + country bands + baseball . . .

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, when our family had accumulated a sufficient amount of capital, enough for our stepfather Papa John to live his life in the manner to which he had become accustomed, a life to which he longed to return, he would take the necessary action. When he deemed that capital to be sufficient, he would find an excuse to dissolve our family. He would then go his way and we would go ours. This posting will discuss the spark that led to another conflagration in our family.

I believe Papa John always knew his ultimate destination in these circumstances, but we never knew ours until shortly before or shortly following the dissolution of our family. I never knew for certain in this instance, but I have a strong suspicion that he remained in Midland.

He was a skilled poker player, or at least professed to be such, and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles—F.O.E—hosted such activities nightly, up to and sometimes beyond the witching hour. Gambling was illegal in the state, but the state apparently considered poker playing similar to the game of canasta, or perhaps bridge, but I was a witness to some of the games—they usually involved seven players, too many for either canasta or bridge.

Now that I think of it, Midland was in a dry county at that time, and whether in search of beer or other alcoholic beverages, Midland’s residents journeyed to the city of Odessa, some eighteen miles to the west and smuggled their purchases into the city of Midland.

The F.O.E, however, served up myriad alcoholic beverages on demand, with that demand met by a demand for remuneration. A supposition could be made—and I do suppose such—that bending of the liquor law was allowed because the F.O.E  is a fraternal social club for members only—ordinary non-member drunks, however thirsty, are not allowed.

I have a separate posting in mind pertaining to the F.O.E and will follow up shortly with that posting unless I forget—I’ll never forget the incident, but I may well forget to post it. If it doesn’t appear soon, perhaps a visitor to my blog will remind me of my promise to post it.

As with any gambler, Papa John’s luck ebbed and flowed with the tide. When his luck turned sour and the tide was at its lowest, he would make up with my mother and take the measures necessary to reassemble our family. My mother never volunteered to brief my sister and me on the actions of our fickle but predictable stepfather and we never asked—we became experts at testing the wind, and usually could see the breakup coming down the pike.

Now to the crux of this posting:

The four of us were crowded into a single motel room on the outskirts of Midland. Ours was termed a kitchenette, a room equipped with a stove, refrigerator and an area for dining. One corner was walled off from the rest of the room and equipped with a small combination tub and shower, a small commode and a small sink.

Yep, everything was scaled down to fit in a very small area. The walls of the bathroom consisted of sheet rock on both sides with no sound proofing in between. The room had only one bed—a sleeping area for me and my sister was provided by placing the top mattress on the floor, thus leaving the bottom unit on the bed for our mother and our stepfather.

Yep, my sister and I shared that mattress, but I hasten to say that even though we were products of the deep South we did not conform to the popular notion that siblings in that area share a mutual physical attraction. There are some from the northern climes, particularly those attracted to novels such as God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road and The Journeyman, that probably believe that such siblings are always physically attracted to one another and many, perhaps most, indulge in that mutual attractiveness.

Nope, not my sister and not I—we stayed on our respective sides of the mattress. My sister did not appeal to me and I can truthfully state that I did not appeal to her—for most of the limited time we were together during our teen years, we fostered and fed an intense dislike for each other.

The motel was adjacent to the city baseball park, and visiting baseball teams often housed players in the same motel. Also in proximity to the motel was a really swinging country music dance hall, one that attracted well known, little known and unknown country bands to perform there. As with the baseball players, the motel frequently hosted band members during their gig in Midland.

As the bard would say, “Ay, there’s the rub!” My sister was almost eighteen years old and apparently was considered quite comely, both by baseball players and country band members. I hasten to add that I was nowhere in agreement of their assessments of my sister’s comeliness, but I also confess that she and I shared only a modicum of respect and liking for each other—that mutual modicum figured prominently in my assessment of her comeliness.

Be that as it may, she was quite popular with the young men that called our motel home while in the city. On most evenings she could be found in a communal area directly in front of our room, an area that offered seating, umbrellas for shade in the daytime, a barbecue pit and lighting—very subdued lighting, subdued to the point that Papa John had to strain to effectively observe activities after nightfall. His observations frequently led to criticisms and warnings to my sister, prophecies that terrible things could come of her penchant for visiting with the visitors. He always ordered her in at an early hour, but my sister never came in at his first order—it always required repeated calls from our doorway, and often I was required to take the message to her.

My sister was a rebel, a modern day female Thoreau—she ultimately went her own way by going over, under, around or through any obstacles placed in her path. She responded to Papa John’s remonstrations with humor, none of which set well with our stepfather.

One evening when she came in just before midnight, considerably later than usual, Papa John told her that she should stay away from the baseball and band gangs, that  they were n’er-do-wells with nothing in their jeans. My sister responded laughingly that, “Oh, they sure do have something in their jeans.” Papa John was obviously thinking of money in their jeans, but my sister’s thoughts were elsewhere.

And that incident was, I believe, the catalyst that sparked the dissolution of our family. The tinder caught fire that night, a fire that would smolder for several days and then erupt into a full blown four alarm fire. The cataclysm that ensued was the result of a clever rejoinder my sister made to a cautionary remark made by our stepfather, a rejoinder that I considered hilarious—not that I laughed at the time, but I joined my sister in laughter later.

A few days later Midland and the summer we spent there was history—our kitchenette was vacant, Papa had disappeared and my mother, my sister and I were on a bus headed for El Paso, watching the motel, the ball park, the dance hall and the city of Midland recede through the back window of the bus. We were on our way to join my older brother and his family.

Our stay in El Paso would prove to be of short duration.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Go west, young man, and grow up . . .

Go west, young man, and grow up with the country, a quote attributed, perhaps wrongly, to Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune. Regardless of the quote’s origin, my mother’s youngest son followed that advice—not voluntarily but certainly not reluctantly—the mere thought of going west was exciting. By the age of 12 I had read every Zane Grey western novel, and I fancied myself a fine candidate for the title of cowboy.

Click here for an interesting article dealing with Horace Greeley and the development of our country. Be forewarned—every time the author used an apostrophe or quotation marks—and they are numerous in the article—they printed out as a question mark on a black diamond background such as this:

Now on to my great adventure:

I made the trip from the deep South—Mississippi—to Midland, Texas, as a passenger in the rear seat of a 1939 Plymouth four-door sedan. The youngest of my three sisters, just eighteen months older than I, shared the rear seat with me, and my mother and our stepfather—Papa John—filled the front seat.

It took an interminable time to complete the journey. Our interstate highway system was in its infancy at the time, and most of the trip was along two-lane roads—paved, of course, but not conducive to getting anywhere anytime soon. Papa John, dressed in his trademark khakis, shod with hand-stitched Texas style boots, with a wide-brimmed Stetson hat set squarely and firmly atop the ensemble, served as our driver. He sat rigidly upright with both hands on the wheel, positioned at two and ten o’clock, and hurtled us toward our destination at a hair-raising speed of forty-five miles per hour—exactly. I gave him credit for getting us to Midland safely along treacherous roads, but gave no kudos for making good time—both comments made inaudibly, of course—I couldn’t afford to tempt fate!

My time in Midland lasted just over three months. It began in March and ended in late June when Papa John, once again weary of shepherding our small family, found an excuse to throw a tirade–or pitch a fit, as my sister put it—and send us packing, off on another great adventure. My mother, my sister and I wound up in El Paso with my older brother who lived and worked at the El Paso Smelting Works. We made the trip on a Greyhound bus, one that we hastily boarded after hastily packing our meager clothing.

Our stay in El Paso was of short duration, and that stay will form the basis for a subsequent posting. As a preview of things to come, I’ll say that my arrival in El Paso was followed by travel by my brother and me, from El Paso to Dallas and on to Valley Park, Missouri for an overnight stay in jail on a Sunday—my sixteenth birthday—then on to St. Louis and New York City for a brief stay at 21 University Place in that city’s Greenwich Village.

Here’s a teaser: My brother and I were hot on the trail of his wife, a native New Yorker that had left home with their two children, shortly after he left for work, on the pretext of a shopping trip to downtown El Paso—that pretext took them all the way to New York City.

Stay tuned– more details of our pursuit will soon follow. The pursuit proved fruitless, but provided significant adventures for my brother and me, not the least of which was our overnight stay in a Saint Louis suburb. Our sleeping accommodations were rather sparse with no freebies, but were provided by the city at no cost to us.

Had I the talent and the inclination (I have neither), I could write a book on my experiences during that summer in Texas—not just a short story but a lengthy tome. Just as a teaser, I’ll say that in that interval of time I acquired a Social Security card—illegally—I was fifteen and the minimum age requirement at that time was sixteen, and subsequently had two paying jobs while in Midland. That card enabled Papa John to hire me out, first to a self-service laundry as an indentured servant—so to speak—and then as a clerk in a retail hardware store.

In addition to swamper duties—mopping, sweeping, cleaning windows, etc., my job at the self-service laundry included bringing in dry soiled clothing from conveyances and taking out newly laundered wet clothing to the same. The bringing in was no problem, but the taking out was a serious problem because the laundry had no dryers. Customers took their wet clothes home and hung them out to dry on lines mounted in their back yards—ah, for the good old days!

Picture this: A #2 tin washtub piled high with wet clothing carried by a 100-pound teenager—I’m here to tell you that the job got old quickly. My usual sequence for outside delivery was to squat, take a deep breath, lift the tub with a loud grunt (the grunt was mine, not the tub’s) and hasten with short steps, almost running, to the proper conveyance, be it an auto, a child’s wagon or a wheelbarrow—all three modes were used at that time in that place.

Following a brief period of hauling in soiled clothes for women and returning wet clothes to the proper conveyance, Papa John thoughtfully secured a position for me as a clerk in a combination lumber yard and retail hardware store—I’ll hold that story in reserve for a future posting.

One final note on my adventures in Midland, Texas—no, belay that—this may not be the final note—there may be more to come, because writing of one aspect of our sojourn there tends to awaken more memories, many well worth separate postings.

Now to continue with my not so final note on Midland:

As in all locations in which I earned money while under the tutelage of my stepfather, my take-home pay in Midland was not subjected to discussion but was, as always, subjected to division. One half went to my mother for my room and board, and I was allowed to retain a pittance for my use—the rest went for the purchase of federal savings bonds in my name, documents that were termed war bonds during World War II. I suppose I should feel indebted to Papa John for instilling good saving habits in me, but at the time I did not appreciate the continued division of my labors, with the smallest amount left available for my use, an amount not determined by me.

Bummer!

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

 
 

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Age 10, with a job as water carrier for mobile homes . . .

Picture this: The year was 1942 and World War II was raging. Now picture a location near Oak Ridge, Tennessee where construction and work on the world’s first atomic bomb was in progress. That location was known as Gamble Valley, Tennessee, a trailer city peopled by many of those involved, one way or another, in the best kept secret of World War II—the building of the world’s first nuclear weapon, bombs that would be dropped in 1945 on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bring to a conclusion our long war with Japan.

And finally, picture a family living in one of Gamble Valley’s modular homes-on-wheels, a small family consisting of one mother, one stepfather and two children, a boy of ten years and his sister, a firebrand just eighteen months older than her brother. We arrived there in early summer, shortly after the end of the school year, and left shortly before the end of summer.

The home was only eight feet wide and thirty feet long while being transported, but when placed for occupancy its width was expanded with panels, some of which had been stored on top in transit and others that folded out to make the home larger. That expansion, with an additional 12 feet of floor space added on each side of the 30-foot length, provided an overall area of 960 square feet, cramped but adequate for that small family.

Entrance was gained through the kitchen, with the dining area straight ahead and two spaces on either side, each measuring twelve by fifteen feet (there was no back door). In effect, in addition to the kitchen and the dining area, the expansion created four other spaces that could, when curtained off, be used either as bedrooms, living rooms or storage space.

Floor-to-ceiling curtains hanging on ceiling rails provided visual privacy for the two spaces on each side of the home, a system identical to that used today in most hospitals. With all the curtains closed, four rooms were created, each closed off from the kitchen, the dining area and the other three rooms by the curtains. The curtains were lightweight and had no muffling properties. And trust me, some of the sounds needed to be muffled.

The curtains were adequate for visual privacy, but there were no provisions for vocal sounds nor for sounds other than vocal—and as one might expect, there were many sounds, both vocal and otherwise. Punishment, including corporeal, verbal and psychological, was meted out behind drawn curtains by one-fourth of the family—the stepfather—to the other three-fourths of the family—my mother, my sister and me. There were lots of arguments, private conversations and various activities that I and my sister always heard, but never were privileged to see.

Now on to my job as water carrier for my home and for paying customers. The trailers had no bathrooms and no running water. The kitchen was equipped with water storage tanks that could be filled to provide water suitable for drinking, cooking and for washing dishes. Known as gray water, the dish water was drained from the trailers and moved through a buried pipeline to a distant waste water area. The village had centrally located communal bath houses that included restrooms, showers and laundry facilities.

My stepfather mandated that everyone in the family be gainfully employed, a trait that extended to animals. He allowed no pets—no cats or lapdogs—he felt that if an animal did no work it was not entitled to be fed, and that included human animals. He would feed and groom a working dog only as long as it produced. If a watchdog didn’t bark to ward off intruders, it shortly disappeared, ostensibly a runaway. If a hunting dog slacked off noticeably in its production of game, whether rabbit dog, squirrel dog or bird dog, that dog would also disappear, and would also earn the label of runaway.

Special note: The paragraph above will reappear as the preamble to another posting, one to be published shortly after this one is published. Stay tuned.

Forgive me for digressing from my original subject, that of being a water carrier for trailer homes at age ten. This is how it was: The kitchen water tanks were fitted with a filler tube that was accessed outside the home. My stepfather convinced several people, a dozen or so, to hire me at one dollar a week to keep their water tank filled. I was outfitted with two water buckets, each with a three-gallon capacity, and a tin funnel with a long neck, ideal for slipping into the outside neck of the water tank.

Water weighs about six pounds per gallon, so with a bucketful of water filled at the laundry facility in each hand, I was carrying (we called it toting in those days) about 36 pounds—not an extreme weight, but more than enough for a boy of ten. I don’t know how much I weighed then, but six years later when I took a physical to enlist in the U.S. Army I weighed a whopping 110 pounds. It’s probably safe to say that I weighed significantly more than I did when I was just ten years old.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the neck of the funnel was flexible, so I curled it around my neck while in transit, full buckets in one direction, empty in the other—admittedly it was not the most inspiring work for which a young boy could wish—I would have been much happier at shearing sheep or castrating bull calves, anything other than carrying water—in fact, it left such an indelible imprint that since that time I have used every excuse available to avoid carrying other people’s water.

Another memory that has escaped me is the capacity of the trailer tanks, nor do I remember how many buckets it took to fill an empty tank. The part I  remember best is that I had to continue hauling water until the filler neck overflowed, and I did that twice a week for each of the dozen or so customers on my list. And I don’t remember my weekly income or my total income for that summer, but I have vivid memories of how that income was divided—half of my weekly take went to my mother for my board and keep, one dollar to me to spend at my leisure and my pleasure, with the remainder going for victory stamps, purchased at the post office for twenty-five cents each—this was my contribution to winning the war, albeit a non-voluntary contribution.

Following its purchase, each stamp was pasted into a special book furnished by the post office. It took $18.75 to fill the $25-dollar stamp book, a book that at maturity would be, some seven years later, worth a whopping $25. None of my books ever made it to the $25 dollar level. They were necessarily turned into cash during separations from my stepfather during the war years, separations necessitated by his violent temper that flared when something did not go his way.

When I started this posting, a flood of memories washed over me—friends I made, games I played, digging up our front yard and planting vegetables (under my stepfather’s direction), a gaggle of family conflicts, my mother teaching me to embroider—I finished decorating a tablecloth and a napkin set that summer—and many more memories worthy of telling, but I must conclude my rambling for now—I’m running out of paper.

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

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Travel, wartime

 

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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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Kudos to Robert Rivard, editor, S. A. Express-News . . .

Kudos to Robert Rivard, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News, for his Metro article on Sunday, July 5, 2009. His article was titled “As Jackson is recalled, don’t forget his victims.” This article is the only sane review of Jackson’s death, and the only one that offers any measure of comfort to those who were victimized by the King of Pop—those to whom “He reportedly paid out tens of millions in settlements with his alleged victims.”

I know, I know—Jackson was found not guilty—so was O. J. Simpson.

I was somewhat startled by the Jackson is recalled part of the title—my first thought was that the King of Pop had been recalled from whatever dimension he entered following his death. And based on the news coverage, both by network news and cable outlets, my next thought was that perhaps the recall referred to his return to the Deity, the One that lovingly created him and endowed him with a super abundance of talent, and then allowed him to entertain the world for more than four decades. Apparently the Deity was either occupied with other duties or looked the other way during the times Jackson was engaged in those actions for which he was charged, namely the sexual abuse of young boys.

I realize, of course, that Robert Rivard used the term recalled to describe the feverish remembrance by the United States and the rest of the world of Jackson’s accomplishments in the fields of music and entertainment. This outpouring of emotion could only be equaled by combining the emotion which followed the deaths of John Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Lennon, Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ—with America’s entry into World War II and VJ Day thrown in. For those who were not around for it, for those who may have forgotten it and for those who have never heard of it—VJ Day marks the end of World War II—Victory in Japan.

The emotion over Michael Jackson’s death reached fever pitch with the lottery that was set up to accommodate the public for his memorial to be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles—17,500 tickets were offered on-line, and more than a million were requested.

As the San Antonio Express-News editor rightly notes, the cost for the memorial activities will be borne by a city in a state which is paying its debts with IOUs, a city that should have “. . . . . more important priorities than throwing a party for an entertainer whose talent was always shadowed by his own destructive self-loathing.”

I would not be surprised if plans have been formulated and approved for Jackson’s body to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda to allow viewing for mourners, and then be transported  with the rider-less horse and the black caisson procession to Arlington, Virginia for interment in the National Cemetery. In fact, judging from everything that has transpired so far, I will be sorely disappointed if that doesn’t happen. And I predict that in the near future, plans for a Michael Jackson monument on the Washington Mall will be finalized and approved, and will likely be paid for with federal funds, probably from one of the stimulus packages.

Bummer.

I hope that Rivard’s article will be picked up by news outlets and made available world-wide—the San Antonio Express-News is not in the same league as the Washington Post or the New York Times, so it will probably remain here at the local level. However, perhaps this posting will be picked up and carried on by my viewers.

I first came to San Antonio in 1963 and I have called it home ever since, with several absences, some brief and some in terms of years, all made necessary by military service and my later employment in federal Civil Service. I’ve submitted many letters to the editor over the years—some were accepted, some were rejected—some I expected to be tossed but submitted them anyway. An example of that can be found in one of the web sites shown below.

I no longer submit letters to the San Antonio Express-News editor. My reasons for not writing to the editor of the only daily newspaper in Texas’ third largest city—the city I have called home for the past 46 years—can be found in two previous postings to this blog.

Rather than having my submissions summarily rejected, I prefer to blog them. I welcome and will respond to all comments, whether positive or negative.

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/letter-to-the-express-news-editor-san-antonio-tx/

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/letter-to-the-editor-san-antonio-express-news/

 

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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!

 
2 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,