The Orange Blossom Trail

I remember when Joe hired me, being told that he didn’t think I would make it, but he would give me a chance.  I asked him why not, I was an accomplished salesman, young and eager.  Joe said, “That’s just it, you think you know it all.  To sell tools, you can’t act like you’re selling, you have to make ’em believe your just trying to give it away.  We are selling the sizzle, not the steak.”  He went on to say that everyone has it inside of them but refuse to do what it takes.  He also said that I needed to do exactly like he told me,  “Get out and go hustle,” go door to door, don’t read the signs, just ask for the boss.  Your job is to get ’em on the phone to the factory.  If they make an offer, Rita will close them out, if not just go next door and ask for the boss.  He told me that if I got up every morning and went out and hustled, worked my tail off, that I would make some money.  The trick he said, is to act like you just trying to give it away.

The first town I moved to with the crew was Orlando.  The crew stayed at the Days Inn on the Orange Blossom Trail.  I was broke when I left Jacksonville.   My truck was running on fumes when I got there.  The first night, I slept on the floor of one of the other “new guy’s” motel room.  The next morning I stiffed a “7-11” for five bucks worth of gas, then went to work my “territory.”  Territories were areas drawn up on a map in squares and tacked to the wall of the motel room in Joe’s room, dividing the town up in sections, so that everyone can sign out for a particular area and not have to worry about someone else “riding and raping” your territory.

I signed out for the area right next to the motel, so I wouldn’t have to drive very far to get to work.  I hit five businesses in a row before I started getting any interest.  The first place was a Day Care, no luck the boss wasn’t in yet.  The second place was a parts house, they just laughed at me.  The next place the boss man asked me all kind of questions about the bandsaw.  I told him “Don’t start me to lying, I just drive a truck.”  He told me to come back after lunch and gave me his card.  We called this a “lead.”   They were usually worthless.

I remembered that Joe said, “don’t read the signs, just go door to door.”  By then I started to get a little toasty brown.  I pulled out a note pad and wrote down the response on my first couple of calls, thinking that I could read them over and find the error of my ways.  By number ten, things got better.  Number ten seemed interested, I was so broke and desperate that I told the boss man that if he wouldn’t get me fired and give me a twenty for gas, I would call up my boss and tell him, “The equipment had been damaged by the fork motor, some parts seem to be missing, if you’ll help me, I’ll help you.”   Joe had told us that, “A liar is a buyer, if you can get him on the phone to lie to your boss, he’ll buy.”  I had to put him through the book about a half a dozen times before he finally bought the whole truck load for $2,200.00.   I made $200.00 profit, plus a twenty for gas.  Only 10 am.  I got Wilbur to load my truck again.  The “boss man” that I had spoken with earlier about the band saw had asked me to come back after lunch.  When I got there I was half afraid he would have the cops waiting for me but no, he wanted to know where I’d been. He said that he’d been waiting for me.  He wanted to know everything I knew about that metal cutting band saw.  I told him that, “It cuts north and south or east and west and will spit oil on the blade.”  When he got Rita on the phone and made his offer, the first thing she asked was if he had been drinking.  When he said no, she asked, “What about my driver?”  He ended up getting the saw for a thousand bucks and gave me $20 dollars to get some beer.

It was just after lunch, I wasn’t broke anymore.  I got Wilbur to load the truck back up for me, one more time.  Wilbur Scarborough was Joe’s brother in law.  Wilbur had a unique knack of being able to load the trucks by himself, feeling guilty, I would try to give him a twenty dollar tip, but most times he refused, but he would let me buy him a drink at the bar.  Since I was still riding on the five dollars worth of stolen gas and had money to buy more, I drove up and down the “Trail,” looky looing at all the street walkers, topless bars, pool halls and tattoo parlors.  There was even one club that had an air plane sticking out of the wall.

I realized that it was getting late in the day.  I didn’t want to go back to the motel with this load still on my truck.  I drove back by the guy that had bought my load earlier in the day, just to see if any of his friends might be interested.  Surprisingly he wanted to buy the second load. I told him this equipment came from a guy that wrote a bad check,  that the boss won’t believe that this equipment is all damaged too, so he paid a little more.  I made $700.00 but no beer money.   Wow, a whopping $1,100 for the day, (plus some beer money).   The next morning I went back to the “7-11” and told the clerk that after I had driven off yesterday that I realized I forgot to pay for my gas.  That night, I had my own room.

Joe came by my room; he said that he wanted to take me out to eat.  I thought that he wanted to “Welcome me to the club.”  Yeah, right.  It was just me, Joe and Old George.  George was a nervous sort of older fellow that seemed to like to wash his hands a lot.  We went to an Oyster House a couple miles down the road, on the Orange Blossom Trail.  After about my third or fourth dozen oysters, Joe got up to go use the bathroom, soon after, George said he had to go wash his hands.  I waited and waited but they didn’t come back.

Joe backed his hotrod Ford Super Cab to the front door, racing the motor, then he started spinning the tires.  I knew what time it was then.  I had over a thousand dollars in my pocket, made three sales that day and here was Jumping Joe, wanting to know if I had enough guts to stiff a restaurant or if I was going to break weak and pay for every one’s meal.  I stood up and quickly walked to the door, left the restaurant in a hurry and dove into the back of the truck as he was peeling out, kicking gravel and dust up against the glass windows as we left.

Joes was fired up that night.  He started driving down the Orange Blossom Trail about 70 miles an hour.  He was in a blaze of glory until that motorcycle cop flashed his lights, then Joe hit the nitrous switch and took off.  His truck had one of those genuine “Bittendorf” racing engines from California.  The bike cop couldn’t catch us.   No way.  I was terrified, riding in the back of the truck,  on top of a pile of pallets, but I wouldn’t let on, besides,no one could have heard me if I had screamed my head off.

Joe was so far ahead of the motorcycle cop racing down Highway 441 the main drag, that he stopped to pick up two guys in a navy uniforms that looked like they were in the middle of being mugged by a group of black thugs at a bus stop.  I hollered at them, they just jumped into the back of the truck with me.  Then here came the bike cop, siren wailing, catching up to us.  Joe took off again, driving over a hundred miles an hour, around cars, over the center section divider, in the emergency lane, the traffic signs just seemed to whiz past, the street lights were just a blur.  The two sailors were all for it, lying on their sides holding onto a pallet with one hand and flipping the bike cop the finger with the other, whooping it up.  They acted  like they were pretty drunk.  If it hadn’t of been for that darn helicopter, we probably would have made it. They were waiting for us, right before we hit the overpass on the Beeline Expressway.  Joe told the patrolmen that he never saw the bike cop; he told the officers that we were just trying to help the Navy dudes out of a tight spot.  Even though they backed our story up, Joe went to jail.  Before they cuffed his hands behind his back, he handed me his roll.  I never counted it.  He went in front of a judge the next morning and got time served   I gave Joe back his wad of cash just the same way he handed it to me.    If this was suppose to be a test, well then, I reckon I passed.

A gal named Marie, had hired on with the crew in Jacksonville.  She said she had previous car selling experience, I don’t know why Joe hired her.   Selling tools was a man’s game.  It was well after midnight when she knocked on my door.  Marie said she was broke and wanted to know if she could sleep on my floor.  I think I knew what she had in mind, but I was bushed.

Trying to pump her up, I told her the next morning that everyone has what it takes to make it, if she would get up off her ass and hustle, go door to door, just go work her tail off, she could make herself some money.  I guess she took my advice, later on that night I saw her walking up and down the “Trail.”  What you wanna bet, she wasn’t trying to give it away.

Boston and the Foo Foo Platter

 

My youngest brother Duane died in February of ’85.  My brother Gary and I tried to keep busy selling tools near our homes in Florida.  We were in the dumps so to speak, it’s hard to get over the loss of a loved one.  My brother in law Bug had just passed away the month before that before that.

When we called the home office of Carolina Tool asking for a territory to go work, they sent us to Tampa to clean up behind an old “Red Arrow” crew that seemed to have run out of gas.  The tools had been in the warehouse for months, the old guys had died on the vine. We did our best to rejuvenate the guys on the Red Arrow crew.  We sold their tools in a couple of weeks and were soon calling up the factory looking for “fresh” territory.

For some reason, they didn’t want to give us new territory.  Our crew was kinda small at the time, just Me, Gary , Whistle and Marty.  It seemed like we were always sent to work areas that no one else wanted or had been worked recently by other crews.  Since we were getting the tools on the “front,” we had to roll with the flow.  We just had to trust our luck and accept whatever area we were sent to.

Then we got the word, it was Boston.  Boston, Massachussets at the end of March wasn’t my idea of a prime location.  I had been stationed in Connecticut for “Sub” school.  My recollections of my “stay” there wasn’t exactly favorable.  I couldn’t order food in a restaurant because no one could understand my accent.  I had a tough time understanding them too.

Thinking back on the times, I can’t say for sure that the folks up there are unfriendly to southerners.  I believe that it’s just they way they are brought up.  They pretty much don’t like anybody.  Everywhere else, our southern accent was our best selling tool.  Up there, I was told to take the grits out of my mouth before I speak.

At a sandwich shop I tried to order a “Poor Boy” sandwich.  They looked at me like I was Gomer Pyle or something.  I tried another tack and asked for a “Submarine sandwich” to no avail, no one seemed to know what that was.  Okay, how about a “Hoagie” or a “Cuban”?  No luck.  Finally I started describing the bread and the ingredients that did the trick, “Oh you mean a Grinder.”  Just hearing the name killed my appetite, I think I got a “pretzel” about the size of a horseshoe but not as tasty.  Like who ever heard of eating a pretzel with mustard on it?

Gary was in charge of the operation, it was his call, he was anxious to see New England.  My nephew Whistle and I started north with my jack truck pulling a U-Haul trailer with three loads of equipment inside to hold us over until our equipment arrived.  Gary and Marty Abernathy sidetracked by way of Pulaski, Tennessee where Buford Pusser lived, to pay respects to the family of Terry Hoeffer.        Terry was one of the old Red Arrow tool men that had joined our crew when we went to sell the leftovers in Tampa.  Terry was eat up with cirrosis he died not long afterwards, his family needed money and we needed another truck.  Gary and Marty went to his funeral and offer to buy Terry’s truckfrom his widow.

Whistle and I enjoyed our trip, twelve hundred miles, no real mishaps, though we had a time going through New York City first thing in the morning.  We manage to fight our way through the traffic, Good Lord how do those people stand it?  When were at the foot of the George Washington Bridge and saw six lanes of traffic, going each way, bumper to bumper, with upper and lower decks, it amazed us.

Whistle’s brother Glen and I had rolled two trucks on the Golden State Bridge in San Francisco a couple of years before.  We got out of the wrecked trucks and peed off the side of the bridge in the pouring down rain like nobody’s business, while we were waiting for one of our comrades to come behind us and give us a lift.  The Golden Gate wasn’t that intimidating, no big deal.  The George Washington Bridge was different.  Just look at all of those cars and trucks, taxis everywhere.  Everyone was honking their horns, cutting each other off, waving fists and plenty of noise.

The Ford F100 we were driving had performed well for the trip, we usually disconnected the four barrel for every day driving but not this trip.  Once we got near New York City it started spitting and sputtering.  The same way my VW acted when I first drove up to the naval base in New London, years before.  Whistle was only 17 at the time but he was a fair hand at mechanicking.  At the foot of the bridge we pulled over in the emergency lane, raised the hood of the truck, got the plug wrench out and started cleaning the spark plugs.

We didn’t let the foggy air or the noise pollution scare us, we were just cleaning the plugs like it was an every day thing.  It didn’t take us much longer than thirty minutes.  Like I said, Whistle was pretty good at twisting wrenches.  During that thirty minute period we must have had six wreckers pull over wanting to tow us off of the bridge.  When we told them that we were just cleaning our spark plugs and thanks but we didn’t need a tow, they looked at us like we were crazy.  It was like “Yuse guys are stopped in the emergency lane of the George Washington Bridge just to clean your spark plugs?”  Once we got back on the road, the old Ford pulled like nobody’s business, we were on our way.  The only thing we had to stop for after that was toll booths, about one every 4 or 5 miles.

It was a long trip, we were glad to finally get there.  First thing to do was find an inexpensive motel near the Interstate, with a restaurant.  There weren’t any.  We took I-495 bypass and got off in Winchester.  The motel we picked was right next to a cemetery, an old cemetery and it was packed.  Somebody said that folks were just dying to get in.  Some of the grave markers were dated back to the 1600’s. One tombstone bore the name “Ichabod Crane.”  It seems like we were always running into famous people. Natick was just a couple of miles down the road. We were hoping that we might accidently run in to Doug Flutie.

Gary and Marty showed up with Terry’s old truck.  They were able to buy it from his widow.  We hunkered down, four of us in one room, with a roll away bed, nobody want to share a bed with Marty, that boy could snore.  It was miserable weather; we shared each other’s company to fight the misery.  We rented movies ordered pizza and waited for Carolina to send us our tools.

On Saturday morning, we road out to Nantucket to check out the “beach.”  Not what we were use to.  Oh it was pretty enough, plenty of seagulls but people were digging holes in the sand big enough to lie down in, to keep the wind off of them while they tried to get some sun.  The amusing part of it to me, was watching these folks lay down in these “pits” holding aluminum foil covered cardboard under their necks trying to catch some “rays.”

We wanted to go walk in the park to stretch our legs and get some fresh air, so we asked directions to the park.  Every one told us that the park was “Common.”  Heck it didn’t have to be anything special for us, a common park would be just fine.  Come to find out, that’s what they call a park up there, “the Common.”

We did have three loads of tools with us.  Whistle and I decided we were going stir crazy and mighty tired of that motel, so we headed out to go “drop us a load.”  Cold calling in Massachusetts, going door to door ain’t no joke, it fact it can be down right negative.  Whistle and I started looking for something to fire us up, a sign of some kind to pump us up.  It’s hard to sell with a negative attitude.

We came up on a sign that named the neighborhood we were entering “Gristmill Pond.”  We may have been grasping at straws but even though they spelled “Grits” wrong we took it as a positive sign that something “good” was going to happen to us.  “PMA,” Positive mental Attitude, we needed that.  Next thing you know, we sold our load at a place called “The Grist Mill.”  Has that for a sign?  We enjoyed ourselves for the first time since we’d been up there.  We didn’t make that much money but were sure glad to get rid of a load of tools before we forgot how.

Our way of selling was like this.  We acted like country bumpkin truck drivers that were sent to do an inventory and then told by our boss to load up everything in the ware house and go find some body that would call the home office and make a reasonable offer.  Then the closer would bump them up on the price and then ask us if that was okay before she’d give her approval.

We acted like “Hicks from the sticks.”  I guess folks up there figured we must have fell off the bean truck.  We would tell our “mullet,” to back us up and give us $20 bucks for beer and we’ll tell the boss that the roof on the warehouse leaked, the tools are rusty, don’t get us fired and we’ll help you get it cheap.  It was funny alright, we laughed all the way to the bank.

After our drop, getting sick of pizza, we drove over to Gloucester, hoping to find a nice seafood restaurant just to get out of the motel.  What we call flounder; they call haddock, kind of confusing.  It was like that everywhere we went.  Hard to order food, seems like we were always hungry because no one could understand us enough to take our order.

To pass the time while we waited for our tools to be shipped to us, Gary rented that movie “Bernie’s Vacation” and I ordered some take out Chinese food over the phone.  The guy taking the order couldn’t understand me either.  I got across to him, we wanted some “flied lice, flied shrimp, egg rolls, won ton soup and some flied chicken,”……he stops me and says “Oh you want the Foo Foo Platter, velly good.”  Finally I got someone to understand me, that’s great, yeah, okay, the “Foo Foo Platter” it is.

Whistle went with me to pick up our order.  The restaurant wasn’t far from the motel.  When we got there the Chinese people working there seemed nice, we explained who we were, that we came to pick up our order.  To my surprise the man demanded seventy something dollars for the food.  I asked him if he was crazy, “$70.00 for Chinese food for four people, that’s outrageous.”

This guy got indignant with me, he said “You order Foo Foo platter, must pay seventy dollah.”  Just about that time , a guy wearing white pajamas with a black belt walks over to the door and locks it, then he was joined by four more of those fish eyed fools wearing the same “get up,” white pajamas with a little black cloth belt.  They surrounded us and took a stance that looked like they meant business.

I could see the situation was fixing to get out of hand.  I held up both hands in an act of surrender and said “Wait, wait, we don’t even know what a “Foo Foo Platter” is.  We got four men that are hungry and want to eat, we don’t mind paying but where we’re from, four guys can eat Chinese food for about twenty bucks.”

That statement caused some instant relief.  Master San said, “Oh you got twenty bucks?”  I said “Yeah, can we get some rice and some eggrolls and whatever you got to go with it, to feed four men?” He jumped into action, they dumped the same food from the Foo Foo platter into little card board containers, charged us twenty dollars, then Master San told number one son to unlock the door.

Gary and Marty didn’t like the cold weather much either, they stayed at the motel and let me and Whistle sell the two loads of tools while they waited for Carolina to ship us our equipment.  After we sold our last load of equipment out of the U-Haul trailer, Gary wanted me to go drop off the U-Haul trailer somewhere.  We hadn’t paid the rent on it for a month or so and he didn’t want to get caught with the overdue trailer and be forced to pay up.

Since Whistle and I sold all of the tools and we were the ones that hauled the trailer up from Tampa, we were the chosen ones to go drop it off.

I was driving the truck.  Whistle guided me back to the U-Haul trailer.  I didn’t think to get out and check, to make sure it was hitched down right or if Whistle had hooked up the safety chains, after all, this wasn’t our first rodeo, but I should have.

We drove out on I-495 heading north on the bypass.  We drove past a few exits when coming down a hill at a pretty good clip, I noticed a U-Haul trailer without any vehicle in front of it, pass us by.  I got to looking at that trailer and it had the same scenery painted on the side of it as ours did.  I looked over my shoulder and our trailer was gone.  “Oh shit,” that was our damn trailer, it had come off the hitch and was racing past us, downhill at full speed.

My first inclination was to tap the brakes and just slow down.  Let that trailer pass us by and run off the road.  Looking over the terrain in front of us, I quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea.  Both sides of the road were boxed in by guard rails.  At the bottom of the steep hill was a bridge crossing over a gorge.  On both sides of the road around the bridge were about thirty people wearing orange vest, like community service or something.  They were picking up trash off the side of the road.  There was no telling how it would turn out, but with that trailer bearing down on them better than 65 miles an hour, their only chance to escape harm’s way, was to jump off of the bridge into the gorge about sixty feet below.

The scenerio quickly played out in my head, any way you looked at it, I didn’t see a happy ending.  I told Whistle that we had to catch that trailer and stop it before some gets killed at the bottom of the hill.  I gunned the truck downhill to catch the run away trailer while Whistle climbed out of the passenger window into the back of the truck.

It just took a few seconds, we didn’t have time to be scared.  I caught up with the trailer, got in front of it while doing in more than 70 miles an hour.  Whistle guided me with one hand up in the air to slow down enough for the trailer to catch up with us enough so that he could reach down with a garden hoe that was in the back of the truck and grab a hold of a safety chain that was dragging from the tow hitch of the trailer.  After he got a grip on the safety chain, he bent over the tailgate and wrapped the chain around the trailer hitch good enough so that I could ease down on the brakes gently, slowly bringing the truck and the trailer to a stop, right at the beginning of the bridge.

Wow, that was a close one; it could have ended in tragedy.  No sooner did we stop and get out to lock down the trailer properly we were surrounded by happy laughing voices, people clapping us on the back.  Each one telling us that if they hadn’t of seen it, they never would have believed it.  I looked over the bridge rail, that gorge was deep; it gave me cause to shudder.

Maybe, just maybe we left those community service people with a different opinion about people from the south.  I tell Whistle that I still get Christmas cards from them folks.

I have a couple words of advice for anyone going to New England for a visit.  Be prepared to be misunderstood and what ever you do, if you go out to eat, make sure you don’t order that “Foo, Foo Platter.”

“He Lives”

I spent my preteen age years living with my family on a Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  We live there, 4 years.  From 1960 to 1964.  My first year at Victory Hill Elementary, the classes were held in “Espanol,” in the mornings.  I don’t think the temperature ever got below 90 degrees.  No one had A/C in those days, so at 11:00 am every one went home for a two hour lunch.  In the afternoon, our class was held in English, by the same teacher, Miss Espinosa.  Miss Espinosa was a pleasure to look at.  A young dark, Hispanic gal that made me look forward to learning.  It didn’t take me long to pick up the lingo.  She smelled pretty good too.  Because I had blond hair, I played “Goldilocks” in the school play.

 

Across Sherman Avenue and up the hill, was W.T. Sampson High School, beyond that, over looking the bay, was the all denominational church.  In the church, Jewish services were held on Saturday, afterwards catechism would be conducted in the Sunday School building, next door.

 

Church services for Catholics and Protestants were in held in the same church, but on rotating Sundays.  On Protestant Sundays, the Catholic services would be held in the evening.  Protestants were welcome to attend the Catholic service, many of us did.

 

Radio Point is where we lived, located on a half mile long peninsular.  Officers and there families lived on Radio Point.  Their homes faced the bay.  The Admiral and the Captain’s house were at the very end of the point, ending in tall coral cliffs facing the bay.

 

Down below the cliffs, leading out into the ocean, was a man made reef, to serve as a breaker, for incoming ships, berthing on nearby docks and piers.  At low tide, the reef served as a constant source of interest to three young boys.  We would try to capture what ever fish or other sea creatures that were left in tidal pools of the reef and look for the treasure that the high tide would bring us.

 

The homes on Radio Point peninsula faced the ocean but, on the strip of land in between the two rows of homes was a large field containing the radio communications tower.  The field surrounding this area was our ball field.  Since there wasn’t that many kids to choose from to pick up a team, the neighborhood girls were a part of the team too.  The term “Sand Lot” would apply because the sparse crabgrass on the base paths and parts of the infield, revealed nothing else but sand.  Running in the sand would slow you down, so if you wanted to get on base, you’d better get a good hit to the outfield.

 

Diane Le Masters was in my class, she played ball too.  Her family lived in front of the park.  Her Dad, Lt. Le Masters would sometimes come out to tend to some one that got hurt, show us how swing the bat, make a throw, all that kind of stuff.  Lt. Le Masters was also the base chaplain.

 

Chaplain Le Masters had the arduous task of dictating the services to all three divisions of faith, on the naval base.  He conducted the Jewish services in Hebrew, at least I think it was in Hebrew.  That amazed me, because I knew he could speak Cuban and American too.

After catechism, one Saturday, I went to the confessional to confess my sins.  I knew that I was in trouble for setting fire to the Navy Exchange, (accidentally).  I had been told that if you go to confessional to confess your sins, that you won’t be punished.  It was worth a try.  After entering the confessional booth, I was feeling uncomfortable at first, I told the Chaplain that I didn’t really know what to say or do, because I had always been a Protestant.

 

He told me to relax and just tell him what happened.  I told him that my brothers and I had been shown by some sailors that worked for my Dad, how to make Molotov cocktails.  We snuck out of the bedroom one night, ending up behind the Navy Exchange, where we had stashed our bottles of gasoline.

 

My youngest brother Duane wanted to light one, I told him okay but just toss it on the pavement and run.  Just as Duane lit the rag, gas on his hands burst aflame just as he was drawing his arm back to throw it.  He ended up dropping it and the flames crawled up the side of the dumpster, eventually causing the blaze that burned the Navy Exchange to the ground.  It was the only store on base and we weren’t allowed off base.  I knew it was my fault, I was the ring leader.  I feared the consequences of my actions and was hoping to find some outside help, when it came to my Dad.  He was the Discipline Office on the base.  I guess you can say he brought his work home with him sometimes.

 

Chaplain Le Masters did have a talk with my Dad, they did work out a penance for me.  Every week, I would help the chaplain with doing lawn services around the church and Sunday school buildings.  Back in those days the power mower was a kid pushing a rotary mower.  I remember carrying a big file to sharpen the blades.  These afternoons gave me lots of chances to find out about religion and politics.

 

The church was located on the tip of Hospital Hill, where the peninsula faces the bay.  I believe it was called Hospital Hill because the old hospital had been located there.  The name must have stuck, because when they built the new hospital somewhere else, they still called it Hospital Hill.

 

The Church grounds sloped downhill towards the cliffs.  I pushed the rotary blade lawnmower back and forth and while mowing, I would longingly steal glances across the channel at Radio Point at our little Shangri-la playground, the reef.

 

I pointed out the best places to get Longusta and catch Red Snapper in tidal pools after the tide goes out.  The next Saturday we let the grass go.  We spent the afternoon out on the reef.  I asked the Chaplain why there were so many different religions.  It seemed funny to me and a waste of a lot of time, to have three different church services to worship the same god.

 

He told me that people go to church for different reasons.  He told me that some religions are more strict than others and that some people may prefer the discipline and structure of the Catholic Church, they go to confessional to ask God to absolve them of their sins, while some people may want to enjoy the freedoms that Protestant Churches provide, where you can do as you like during the week but come Sunday if you put money in the offering plate and ask for forgiveness, you are good to go for another week.

 

He told me that the Jewish faith believes in One God, they believe Jesus was a mortal man, no more the son of God, than any of us.  He also said that the Jewish faith is steep in traditions and do not believe in the New Testament.

 

Then I asked him “What about Republicans and Democrats?  I had to help him up, because it looked like he stumbled over that one.  I asked again, “What religion are Republicans and Democrats?  How often do they go to church?”

 

The Chaplain grinned at me and rubbed his hand over my crew cut and told me that “they only go to church, every four years.  Thank God.”  He said that Republicans and Democrats were political parties.  I asked him if they worshipped the same God or different Gods.  He told me that they both worship the same God, the almighty dollar and then he pulled out a one dollar bill to show me in print, “In God We Trust.”  He told me that the Republicans and the Democrats were two different factions that attend the same party.  The ones to the right are conservatives that call themselves Republicans and the ones to the left are more liberal and are called Democrats .

 

I explained how Mom and Dad had been arguing back and forth about who they wanted to be the next president.  Dad said he was pulling for the Republican candidate Nixon to win.  Mom was from South Georgia.  She was on the other side of the fence; she said that the Democrat, Kennedy was going to win.  Mom then went on the tell Dad that Nixon had better not win, because if he did she would make his life miserable.  No more friend chicken for supper I imagined but heck, I liked soup and sandwiches.

Miss Espinosa explained to us in class that Richard Nixon had been the vice president the past 8 years under President Eisenhower.  She said that she thought that he had done a good job serving the country.  She also said that John Kennedy had been a military war hero.  He had been a naval officer during the war and had saved his men after his ship was sunk in enemy waters.

I asked my Dad why he preferred Nixon over Kennedy if both men had been naval officers.  I mentioned that Kennedy was a war hero.  Dad poo pooed the thought saying that a PT boat wasn’t a ship and he wouldn’t have been in command of it if his dad hadn’t been a rich man and US Ambassador.  His way of thinking was a PT boat shouldn’t have been run over by a destroyer to start with.

Sour grapes I think.  Dad was full of ambition.  He was a line officer that came up through the ranks as a “Mustanger.”  He could command a ship but so far had yet to be appointed to one.

The summers in Cuba all run together.  The tropic of Cancer doesn’t recognize winter other than monsoon season.  I eventually worked off my penance.  The Chaplain and I became good friends and fishing buddies.  When he saw my brothers and I on the reef from across the canal, he would wave and sometimes ring the Church bell.

We were evacuated from the base during the Missile Crisis.  Mom, my brothers and I lived with relatives in Jacksonville until we got the all clear to come back.  Not all the families returned however, the Mc Masters were one of the families that didn’t come back.  I missed Diane, she was a good clean up hitter and a great catcher.

I enlisted in the Navy myself in November of ’69.  I wanted to follow my heroes to the next level.  I was in boot camp when Mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse, I was called to the Chaplain’s Office to hear the news.  To my surprise I was greeted by an old friend.  It was now Lt. Commander Mc Masters.

He was now the base Chaplain at Recruit Training Center, Orlando.  I can’t think of a better man for the job.  We sat down in his office and joked about old times.  Then we got around to talking about Mom.  Even though she had been sick for a while, I wasn’t prepared for bad news.  He counseled me, telling me that her death was imminent.  I told him the Mom was a good Christian.  I had sat at the head of her bed holding her hand and singing hymns.  Sometimes scratching her ankle on the leg that had been amputated.

He asked me if I wanted to go see her now while she was still alive or wait a little longer and be present for her funeral.  I was in boot camp at the time, if you miss any time for a prolonged period, you get set back two weeks.  Boot Camp is brutal,  I don’t care what you hear.  I didn’t want to get set back but wanted to see my Mom, even if it was for just one last time.

Chaplain Le Masters always a friend, came up with a plan.  I would fill out the leave request for “Emergency Leave.”  He would give temporary approval and sit on my request until I got back.  I was to return in three days.  If I left on a Friday and returned on Monday he wouldn’t have to process the papers.  In the Navy that’s called “Basket Leave.”  I got to go visit with my Mom for a few days, hold hands again and sing a few more gospel songs.  The last song we sang will be forever on my mind.  “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.”

I made it back to boot camp without being set back.  Mom was tough, even though she suffered every day, she made it to March.  I was in Submarine School in New London, Conn. at the time.  I came home for her funeral, missing the last few days of a cold New England winter.  My scores were good enough that I passed my class without being setback.

After we laid Mom to rest, I realized that it was good that the time for her pain and suffering had finally ended, the chaplain told me that she has gone on to a better place.  I didn’t argue with him but I beg to differ.  She hasn’t gone anywhere.  Her voice is behind my right ear, even 50 years later.  I hear her voice every day, counseling me to know the difference between right and wrong.  I can’t still hear her singing, “He lives.”

Ding ding, Ding ding

What’s that noise?  It sounds familiar, wow, I almost forgot.  Has it been that long.  It must have been a long winter.  It’s the Ice Cream Man, driving up the road ringing the bell on his truck to attract customers.  I wonder if it’s the same one.

If it is, I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten me or Bug Moore, my brother in law. Nobody is that dumb.

Many years ago Bug and I went to go do a repair job early one Saturday morning.  It was a spring holiday, maybe Memorial Day or something.  We wanted to get our job done early.  Our plans were to finish up get paid and go buy a watermelon, some hot dogs and cold drinks, maybe some chips for the kids and a slab of ribs for us adults.

We built a porch that morning.  It came out nice and square, level and centered with the door.  The steps and hand rail were picture perfect.  As we built the porch we kept in mind to cut the lumber in such a way that we would have enough scraps left over to build a picnic table when we got home.

Our customer was very happy, we even got a tip.  We stopped on the way home at the Banner Food grocery store.  Our plan was spend our pay on the goodies for our picnic.  I say that with a caveat because we planned on holding back our bonus money to buy a case or two of beer and ice.

We loaded up on everything to feed his family and mine, between us we had about nine kids, not to mention their neighborhood friends.

When we got home we put the cold drinks on ice, got the charcoal going in the grill and told the kids to go play while we built the picnic table in the back yard.  The back yard was accessible to the street that ran beind the house.  In the shade of a big old live oak tree, Bug and I started building our picnic table.  A holiday cookout just isn’t the same without a picnic table.   Bug was eating sawdust, he was the cut man.  The only noise you couldhear was the whining noise of the skill saw made as it cut it’s path down the chalkline.  Me, I was swinging that hammer, sinking 12 penny nails just as fast as Bug could cut the wood to fit.  If you ever built a picnic table, you don’t need a blueprint, kinda basic.

We were about 15 minutes into our job.  Our thinking was that just as soon as we finished building the table we would drive down to the ice house to buy the beer.  Having a cold beer in the cooler was just too tempting and were were using an electric skill saw around kids.  That’s why we didn’t get the beer first.  We didn’t want to give our wives any cause to get on our case.

Then, there it was.  “Ding ding, Ding ding.”  As we looked up there at the back gate was parked an ice cream truck, with a swarm of kids buzzing like bees.  We both heard, “Daddy, Daddy buy us an ice cream.”  So innocent, how do you ignore that?

Bug and I had been busting our can all morning to get this show on the road.  Our reward was the cold beer waiting for us at the end of the rainbow.  The pleas of the kids got to us though, we stopped what we were doing and strolled over to the ice cream truck thinking, “how much can a couple of popsicles be?”  No one wanted a popsicle though, it was all fudgesicles and ice cream cones or put up with the frowns and tears.  His six kids and my three made nine, plus a couple more rug rats that weren’t ours.  We couldn’t just get our kids a treat and ignore the others, so we did our best to make everyone happy.  Afterall, we had that fifty dollar bonus in our pocket.  That stop cost us eighteen dollars.  After a little bit of quick math, we decided we could still buy a couple cases of Old Milwaukee or two 12 packs of Michelob, with a dollar or two to spare.

We went back to work.  I was sweating bullets.  We were suppose to be enjoying ourselves.  It was time to get the party started.  We were almost finished with the picnic table.  It was still upside down while I was putting on the braces when we heard that same noise.  Here it came again, “Ding ding, Ding ding.”  Looking up I wanted to say, “Not again,” but yep, there it was, the same guy coming back for another run.  Looks like he just circled the block on us.

It the back of my mind I kept thinking, “This guy is playing with fire, he don’t know Bug.”  Just in case y’all don’t remember Bug, he was the guy that got busted on US 1 for fighting dogs at his house.  He had taken the second story floor out of the house to make an arena and a pit for dog fighting.  It was big business at the time.  Front page news back in ’67 or was it ’68?  Anyway the police had to call in a bus to haul everyone to jail.  Over a hundred people went to  jail that day.  The big bettor was  Howard Walker, his wife wife Louise, was a county judge.

Bug use to carry a pair of pliers in his back pocket to adjust the controls on the paint sprayer.  Once while we were sitting at the bar at the fish camp enjoying a cold one, that durn crazy Charley Workman came up drunk behind Bug and slapped him in the back of the head saying, “C’mon Bug, you ain’t so bad.”  I almost fell off my stool.  He was that bad.  This was before Junior Bullard’s day.  Bug was a man’s man. Just like Leroy Brown, you didn’t mess around with Bug.  Without getting up off of the stool, Bug back handed Charley so hard that he fell backwards out the front door.  When Bug got up to face him, Charley crawled up under a car to hide.  Bug reached under the car with one hand and grabbed Charley by the foot.  He reached into his back pocket with the other hand and grabbed his pliers.  Then he started pulling Charley’s toenails off with those pliers, one by one.  He got all five before he let Charley go.

Walking out to the road beside of Bug, I thought about all of this, kinda glancing over to see if he had anything in his back pocket. As we got to the road and approached the truck, my fears were for naught.  This time, there weren’t as many kids and we talked them into getting a popsicle.  The good news for us was the damage was only about eleven dollars.  No sweat, that still left us enough for two or three six packs of Budweisers.

Holidays can be rough on people, in more ways than one.  We flipped the table over and nailed on the “two bys,” for seats on both sides.  Voila, finished.  By this time the coals were ready for the hotdogs and the ribs.  We got my sister Glenda to watch the grill while we got in the truck to go to the ice house down the street for our beer and ice.

Bug has done a lot of dumb thigs in his life, but he wasn’t stupid.  Before we drove off, he parked the truck in the shade and waited.  It didn’t take long.  Pretty soon we could hear, “Ding ding, Ding ding,” from about two blocks away.  Bug drove down the street and flagged the ice cream truck down before he could get to us.  He got out of the truck and reached through the window of the ice cream truck.  He grabbed the driver by the ear with one hand and then pinched his nose with his forefingers in the other.  The driver was in pain and couldn’t move.  Bug had his full attention.  Bug told him, “Listen here, the first time you come by I spent eighteen damn dollars buying all the kids in the neighborhood a treat.  The second time, it cost me eleven dollars.  You must think I’m a sucker, but let me tell you this, the last time, was the last time.  Do you hear me?  It’s a holiday and you got most of our drinking money, you won’t get another dime.”

The next sound I heard was the four barrel kicking in as that ice cream truck was getting on the on ramp to the interstate.  I can’t be positive but I’m pretty sure that can’t be the same guy.

Nickels and Dimes

It just don’t make sense.  Why am I always broke?  I make better than average money, most of the time.  I’m tight with a quarter, just like my Dad and he had plenty.  He use to tell me, “take care of the nickels and dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

I pulled into the Florida National Bank one day to cash a fat check after finishing a big job.  I noticed a Green Jaguar that looked a lot my Dad’s, so I parked next to it.  I had my crew with me, we were all hungry for some cold cash.  Just as the boys and I were entering the bank, my Dad came walking out.  We all noticed him right off, but before we could greet him, Dad bent over and picked up a dime off of the side walk.  Big Dave that worked with me at the time said, “You don’t need that dime, do you Mr. Frailey?”  Dad just smiled as he straightened up, putting the dime in his pocket and said, “Not anymore I don’t.”

Feeling the urge to write and not being able to pick a subject, I decided to flip a coin.  As luck would have it, I dropped the quarter and it rolled under the desk.  As I reached for it I bumped my head on the bottom of the desk, ooh that smarts.  Looking at the quarter it was on heads and it made me smile.  I put it on top of my desk so that I could use it for motivation.  I leaned back in my chair and thought about my Dad, my Mom and what they taught me about having respect for small change.

My parents bought a trailer park on a wing and a prayer.  Each month they had a tough time to make ends meet after paying the bills.  Mom would round off the dollar amount of each check she wrote to pay bills with, to he next highest dollar.  She did it that way just so there would always be more money in the bank than it showed on the books, just in case we needed it.

With three sons to raise, with me being the oldest, I was the one that got the new clothes and my brothers got the “hand me downs.”  Of course that meant I had to wear what ever the Navy Exchange had on sale.  Usually that meant striped shirts and checked pants.  Dad would say if you don’t like it, get out and earn enough money to buy your own.   That’s what I did.  I mowed grass and did chores on the week ends.  In the late summer, I baled hay.  When it came time for school clothes, I bought my own.  I worked for Mr. Johnson at Dinsmore Dairy to earn money to take my girlfriend to the Fair.  Two weeks was all I could stand of that, but since I went to church with the Johnsons and Mrs Johnson was not only my Sunday School teacher but my math teacher as well,  I couldn’t say no when Mr. Charles would come by to get me to pull an evening shift when one of his workers didn’t show up.  I made a dollar and a nickel an hour.

Dad did more than his share.  He was a full time Naval Officer, Full time owner of a mobile home park and he started selling water softners for Culligan part time.  Sales must have been pretty good.  He made enough to start buying a few second hand vending machines and coin operated washers and dryers.  That must have turned a light on in his head because soon after that we got a coke machine and a pay phone.

The coke man came by the trailer park on Thursdays.  On Wednesdays my brothers and I went door to door asking for the empty drink bottles so that we wouldn’t have to pay the extra deposit.

I don’t know if it was kids or whom ever but Dad started noticing slugs and strange coins when he collected the money out of the machines.  He did that on Wednesdays.  After supper, he would pull out a old paint bucket that he collected the change in.  Our family sat around the table and Dad would dump the contents of the can on top of the table.

Our job was to sort through the coins and pull out the slugs and foreign coins.  Dad would count them and Mom would roll them up and put them in the petty cash box to pay the drink man with.  Soon we started finding half dimes and Indian head pennies from the gum machine.

Dad bought a coin book and he started looking up the value of some of the old coins we’d find.  What a gold mine.  Who knew?  The US treasurt Dept. had just started making alloy coins out of zinc and copper.  That meant that the older silver coins had gained in value.  Buffalo nickels were stopped in 1938, they were easy to spot.   The thin Mercury head dimes from 1916 to 1945 were easier to see than the Roosevelt dimes but harder to pick up of the table top, because they were more worn.  Quarters made after 1965 were copper/nickel and not worth as much but the older ones were 95 % silver.

Mom brought out a large magnifying glass and my brothers and I would take turns examing the coins.  We looked for mint marks, misprints or broadstrikes.  War time nickels were highly collectable.  Duane was born in 1955, he looked for coins with that date and would ask Dad if he could have ’em.  Dad said okay until Duane asked him how come this penny had two dates on it and sure enough it did. 1955 stamped twice.

Dad would save the extra money he made on the coins to put $500 down on a new Buddy Trailer, 12′ by 50′ with 2 BRs, 1 bath.  He rented these new trailers out for $65 dollars a week, I remember the payments were $59.00 a month.  With the penny that Duane found he paid down on 3 trailers.

When the telephone man came around to collect, Dad would write him a check for the phone bill and just keep the change.  When the Gypsies came and stayed overnight in the campground, Dad would lock up the laundry mat and the vending machine area before he went to bed.

Dad figured that the money he made off of the vending machines and the odd ball coins was his.  For him it was undeclared income.  He didn’t pay taxes on it and didn’t report it to anyone. He kept an old WWII ammo box full of rolled up quarters, nickels and dimes.  If I expected money from him for any work that I wanted to get paid for, I’d better accept the fact that I was gonna get paid in change.  He started out giving me a two dollar roll of nickels but when I told him I wasn’t a kid any more, that I expected more than two dollars, he upgraded me to dimes.  Yep, instead of two dollars, I got five.  He would say, “I ain’t made out of money, if you plan on going out on Friday night and Saturday night, you might want hold some of that back.”  When Dad died he left me 6 very large wooden ammo boxes about 2 feet wide and three feet long full of rolled up quarters.

All of this runs through my mind as I look at that quarter on top of my desk.  I wouldn’t swear to it, but it almost seems as if Old George Washington is smiling at me, like he knows something I don’t.

 

Dad

Durn cats, why do they like to sleep on my keyboard?  I wanted to go back through my stories and make sure all of the I’s are crossed and T’s are dotted but my cat slept on my keyboard.  Now when I look for my story folder, all I can find is qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq.

Can you imagine almost being full grown, then finding out that you aren’t who you are suppose to be?

That’s what happened to my Dad.  In 1942 at the beginning of WWII, my Dad Julius Frailey quit school in the middle of the 12th grade to join the service.  His choice was the US Navy.

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Only 17 at the time, Dad needed his parents permission to enlist, that and a copy of his birth certificate.  The only problem was, his parents had a glitch involved with providing his birth certificate.

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His Dad, Andrew Winer told him that he had been adopted when he was two years old.  His real last name was Frailey.  Andy had started the adoption process many years before, but never had the extra money required to get a lawyer to file the proper paperwork.

Dad was told that both of his birth parents had been drinkers.  They partied so much that the county took their children away and put them in a county home.  The Winer’s had a childless marriage, they took my Dad home to fill that void when he was 2 and a half years old.

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The German couple had been farmers in rural south Indiana.  They raised Dad as their own.  He helped with the farm labor and repaid them with free labor and a life long devotion.

When Dad presented his actual birth certificate to the Navy recruiter it read Julius Roscoe Frailey.

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Dad’s curiosity was aroused.  He wanted to know more about his real parents, did he have any brothers and sisters?  He enlisted the aide of the American Red Cross to find out.

One thing leads to another.  He didn’t get the whole story all at once, in fact it took him over 40 years to find out the whole truth.

Nellie Hillenberg Frailey was his birth Mom.  The Red Cross found her through country records.  Dad was the oldest son with 3 other siblings.   Hepsie Beulah, Mary Mae and a younger brother James.

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After the county removed the children from the home, they were all placed in an orphanage.  Nellie got her act together and was able to recover custody of three of her kids but not Dad.  He had already been adopted they were told and it was too late to get him back.

Andrew Winer told my Dad that his real father, Sam Frailey had worked on his farm one season and came to him with a proposition.  Sam told him that he had a son in the county home.  He said he couldn’t provide for him and that for a fee of $250.00 he would sign away his custodial rights to him.

This was a big shock to Dad.  Here he had loved this old German couple for what he thought was his whole life, only to find out that they had bought him like a loaf of bread at the store.

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He told me that although they had provided for him and gave him a place to live, that he was raised in a home with no love or emotion.  Strictly enforced was the rule, that if you want to eat, you gotta work.  No shortage of work on a farm.  No luxuries either.  Electricity and running water were non existent.  His bedding material consisted of a corn shuck mattress and a worn out quilt.  His wardrobe mainly consisted of overalls and work boots.  He told me that he looked forward to Christmas, in the good years he received an orange in his stocking.  The out house, which I got to personally inspect many years later, was adorn with a Sears and Roebuck catalogue, with half of the pages missing and a wooden bucket of corn cobs, broke in half. (Now I know exactly what “rough as a cob” means.”

Soon after he enlisted in the Navy, before he got out of boot camp in Great Lakes during the winter of ’43, Dad was told by the American red Cross, that his birth mother had been located, she was now living with his siblings in Bakersfield, California.

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After boot camp graduation Dad hopped a train to Bakersfield to get acquainted with his Mom and to meet his brother and sisters.  Nellie had married a fellow by the name of Roy Brown.  He was from the same neck of the woods as she, a non drinker and a hard worker.  Together they had decided to move to California to look for a new start.

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Nellie filled Dad in on his rough beginnings.  She shouldered her half of the blame.  She told him that she tried to get him back, but to no avail.  She also told him that Sam Frailey had been married to several other women at the same time he was married to her.

Sam became an itinerant farm worker, a mechanic, a miner, what ever he could do to get enough money to get drunk.  He moved from town to town, marrying unsuspecting women along the way, having several children by each, maintaining several families simultaneously.  She didn’t know how many, but his family was from Cave in Rock, Illinois, a good place to start looking for him.

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Dad started out in the Navy as an enlisted man.  His German upbringing had given him a strong work ethic, he rose through the ranks as an enlisted man, finally making senior chief before applying to Officer’s Candidate School, which he completed and was promoted to the rank of Ensign, in 1959.

Dad was never able to share love and devotion to his own family the way people think of it by today’s standards.  He didn’t know how.  To him every thing was cut or dry, no in betweens.  You either did like you were supposed to do or you got punished to the max, just so you wouldn’t do it again.

He didn’t pretend to be any thing else, it was always easy to figure out which way he was coming from, because he didn’t sit on the fence.  It was either his way or the highway.

He kept his family investigation going, finding out over the years that other brothers and sisters had been through the same ordeal as him.  Though about a half a dozen siblings had died in childhood or child birth, he still had 19 siblings that lived.  Sam Frailey had been married to 5 different women at the same time.  Dad didn’t get to meet all of them until his later years when he was nearing the end of his road.

His real Dad Sam, came to meet us with a car load of youngins in 1960 right after Dad made Ensign.  Dad let him stay with us for a day or two, but gave him the cold shoulder after that.  He came to work for us at the Trailer Park when Dad was in Viet Nam.  He mowed grass and helped shovel dirt and would scrape up enough money to go get a six pack, get out his guitar and then sing the “blues.”

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I never showed my grandpa the kind of love or devotion that a grandchild should, how could I?  Not after knowing how he treated my Dad.  I did go to his funeral in Cave in Rock in 1975.  I guess you could say his funeral looked like a clan meeting, they were quite a few of us there.  There were about 300 people spread out on side off the hill, most of them were Fraileys, in the sprinkling rain.  My brother Gary and I were there, we wondered how many of these people were our Grandpa’s off spring.  Gary and I stood up in front of all these people we didn’t know and sang “Amazing Grace” at the church during the services.  Folks not knowing any better, thought that we were the “Haggar Twins” from “Hee Haw.”

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Dad made a real life “rag to riches” story out of his life.  He gives most of the credit to couple that raised him as their own.  When he died, he was paying taxes on over two million dollars worth of property, he owned several businesses and spent a lot of time trying to get reacquainted with his long lost siblings.

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When Dad died in 1995, he could say he earned his 16 gun salute.  He served during WWII, Korea, Guantanamo and Viet Nam.  He left his wealth to his new bride, trusting that she would in turn, share the blessings with his kids by his first marriage.  She didn’t, it doesn’t upset me though, I got to see how he made his.  If I wanted it bad enough, I could do the same things he did.  I am thankful that I was able to grow up in a loving family.  I think I got the better end of the stick.  Qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq!

Peace in the Valley

We had driven out to San Francisco to see the Rolling Stones in concert at the Cow Palace.  After that we drove south to Ft. Ord, to see our cousin Linda and her family.  My brother Gary, our nephew Glen and I rode out from Ft. Ord early the next morning after two cups of coffee.  Linda’s husband  Glenn was a major in the Army.  Glenn worked the night we arrived, so when Linda broke out the beer and wine, it might be truthful to say that in his absence, we over indulged.  We did throw quite a shindig without him.

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Linda met Glenn in High School, we had known him since then, his personality was always stern.  Life in the Army made him more so.  We didn’t want to face Glenn’s wrath when he got home in the aftermath, so we left kinda early the next morning.  Our destination was the new housing developments we had seen scattered throughout the valleys a few days before,  near the mountainous area just east of San Francisco.

We were driving by ogling the countryside when we noticed several bulldozers pushing up stumps, big stumps into a large pile.  There were so many, that they dotted the landscape, some had been set on fire.  A couple of days later, when we were out pitching our tools, we came across a place that was selling high dollar furniture, made from burl.

Burl was the gnarly twisted stumps from a redwood tree.  Once they had been sand blasted and pressure washed the wood was beautiful was brought back to life.  Skilled craftsmen were cutting some redwood stumps into slabs of beautiful cut wood, after which they sculpted it into furniture and treated it with sealer and polyurethane.  This material was being made into very expensive coffee tables, end tables, dining tables, and heck, just about anything that you could imagine.

Once we saw the price they were asking for these relics we asked the bossman if he needed any more?  You know just in case we knew where we could get some.  He told us “hell yes,” he could use it.  He promised to pay us a good price, he said that he would even loan us his trailer to go get it.

When we got back to the area that was being developed, we got the crew boss to hold off on burning anymore piles of stumps.  They loaded them on our trailer with a front end loader.  The stumps were so gigantic, that we could only carry one big one or maybe two small ones, at a time.

We didn’t have any problem getting a good price, after all this was California.  Burl furniture was selling at a premium.  When we asked for a thousand dollars for a stump that didn’t cost us anything, the boss said, “Hell boys, I’ll give you two thousand, have you got any more?”  After dropping each load, we would drive up and down the valleys, searching for new fields of stumps.

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On this morning, it was early morning yet, so early the dew was still heavy on the grass.  I was driving down the side of a steep slope when we stopped to look at the view before us.  From the top of a mountainside, we could see almost the whole of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge with the fog rising above it and the silhouette of Fisherman’s wharf, beneath.

Gary was taking a picture out of the passenger side of the truck when I noticed an imposing iron gate on my left that was just beginning to swing open.  I noticed that it was an unusual gate; someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like a sheet of music.  Across the front were welded steel letters about a foot high that read “Bless Your Pea Picking Heart,” with musical notes painted up like flowers in the background

This discovery caused me to get my brothers attention,  I wanted to show him the gate.  The gate was in motion, opening enough to let us see a dark haired gentleman, walking out of the gate.  Music was blaring out a familiar tune, loudly from unseen speakers.  This gentleman, wearing pink striped pajamas and fluffy white bedroom slippers emerge from the gap.  He took a couple of steps gingerly walking on top of the dew with his white frilly slippers and he picked up a newspaper out of the wet grass.  Just as he stood up, Gary said “Hey, that’s Tennessee Ernie Ford.”  After a closer look, I agreed with him.  Sure enough it was, as he told us later to call him, “Old Ernie.”

I honked the horn, my truck had one of those “Old Rebel Yell horns,” that played “Dixie,” and a Rebel Flag front license plate  This got Ernie’s attention real quick and he stood up to wave at us.  What a sight.  We had the whole San Francisco Bay on the right side and on the left side, Tennessee Ernie Ford, wearing pink striped pajamas, waving at us.

While we were staring, Mr. Ernie walked over to driver’s window of the truck.  He could take one look at us and just know that we weren’t from around these parts.  We both had on western wear and straw hats.  This was before the Duke’s of Hazzard aired, so for that point in time, we were unique, in that area.

He asked us where we were from, what were we up to, did we want to come in for a cup of coffee?  It was a no brainer answering that question.  I could remember my Mom singing along while listening to some of his Gospel music.  We told him in unison,“Hell yeah.”

Our nephew Glen was still sleeping in the truck, so it was just Gary and I that when inside to check out his mansion.  Ernie had an overly inquisitive housekeeper, Filipino I think.  The way he kept an eye on us,  made me squirm a little, like he thought we were gonna steal some silver or something.

Mr. Ernie instructed his housekeeper to fetch us some coffee and to fix us some breakfast.  The he turned to us and asked, “You boys like  smoked sausage and grits don’t you?”  We both spoke at the same time, “Oh Sir, yes Sir.”  Then before we could say anything else the old crooner said, “You gotta import grits around here, nobody seems to know what they are, I get mine sent in special from Martha White.   (I almost looked for the cameras, because I almost thought he was doing a commercial)

Then he said, “I’ve had the hardest time getting Stefano here to learn how to cook ‘em, he wants to put sugar and milk on it.”  While we were waiting for Stefano to bring us our coffee Gary sat down on a piano stool and started pecking out a tune.

Mr. Ernie sat down next to Gary, they both were play along on the same tune.  My brother could play anything.  He had that ear, me? I’m tone deaf.  I have problems playing the radio.  Watching them tickling the ivories on the keyboard, it occurred to me that the great “Tennessee Ernie Ford” might be gay. No wait, I mean, he was very nice to us.  He invited total strangers into his house to drink morning coffee and while at first I thought it was because he liked hearing our southern accents, it dawned on me that it might be because he thought that we were young unsuspecting males.

Our coffee was served.  We told jokes and even a couple of stories about us being southern in California, surviving the pitfalls it projected when everyone thought that you were stupid because we spoke with a drawl.  I reminded Mr. Ernie that Jimmy was in office.  We aren’t the ones with an accent anymore.  He seemed to like that.

Then Stefano brought our breakfast in on a silver serving tray.  A large steaming bowl of grits was in the center of the tray.  Mr. Ernie said to his servant “Are you sure you got these grits right Stefano, I’m entertaining guest from back home and I don’t want to be embarrassed.  He raised the lid and peered into the bowl and said “What the hell?”  Then he stuck a large spoon into the bowl and held it backwards in one hand and then pulled the top of the spoon backwards with the other, this caused the contents of the spoon to spatter up against the window.  Once the grits hit the wall, the gooey mess slid down the window pane.  Mad, yeah I think so, angrily he said “Them grits is too damn soupy, what have I told you, put one cup of grits into two cups of water and bring to a boil for a couple minutes, stir a couple times and then let ‘em simmer.”

Then Old Ernie turned back to us and said, “I’m sorry boys, you know how hard it is to find good help these days, but Stefano here is good people, breakfast will be in just a few more minutes.”

He then sat back on the piano stool and played a medley of some of his hits, we were entertained and to tell you the truth, we had already eaten breakfast, we just didn’t want to cut our visit short.

This time when Stefano brought the bowl of grits back to the table, the first thing Mr. Ernie did was the same trick with the spoon again.  This time instead of running down the window, they stuck in a glob,  One big splat.  Equally embarrassed Mr. Ernie was frustrated as he turned to look at us, shook his head and said “You fellas see what I’m up against out here, I’m ready to pack my bags and head back to Tennessee.”

I told him not to feel too bad about it.  I got beat up by the cops in L.A. and put in jail, just because I had a southern accent.  Me saying that got his attention, he asked me to tell him about it.  I told him there’s not much to tell.  I was in my pickup on Hollywood and Vine, waiting for the light to change.  Me and a friend “Dino” Dave Anderson had just broke the seal on a bottle of Jack Black.  I had taken a swig and was reaching for a can of Sprite on the dash of the truck to chase it with, when two really good looking blondes walked past us, crossing street.  I hit the horn, it played its melody and then I let out a whistle.  I got out of the truck at the red light and hollered at the gals.  I think I said something to the effect about my grandpa told me if I saw any good looking blondes while I was in California to bring him back one or two.

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Old Ernie laughed at this a time or two, when he did the crow’s feet around his eyes almost disappeared, then he asked me what happened next?  I replied “Well, I’m sorry to say this, but while I was watching them gals, they kinda looked to me  like they was about ready to take off running, then two El Monte cops pulled in behind us.  The one that looked like Bing Crosby’s son that you see on Adam 12 once in a while, came up from behind me and got me in a choker hold.  The cops saw the bottle of Jack, but it only had one swallow gone from it.  They asked me about the One a Day vitamins that I had in the glove box.  I asked if that was illegal?  The cop still had me from behind and said “you’re slurring your speech, ain’t body talks like that on purpose.”  Next thing I know he grabbed me from behind in a sleeper hold, then I wake up in the County Jail, naked outside of the bars with my hands sticking through the bars behind my back, handcuffed.  The rest of the night the jailer kept hitting me with his flash light every time he walked past.  The next morning, they let me go.

After hearing this Mr. Ernie sucked on his teeth for a minute, then after shaking his head, he said “It’s enough to make you wonder about people some times, ain’t it.  What happened to the evidence?”  I said, “do you mean the vitamins?”  He responded, “No, no, the sipping whiskey, what happened to the bottle of Jack.?”  I told him that I never saw that bottle of Jack Daniels again.  He just looked at the ground and shook his head, rubbing his tongue over his lips and said “Them bastards, they drank the evidence, that’s probably why they had to let you go.”

Our visit lasted about an hour.  When we got up to leave, he asked us to keep his location a secret for as long as we could.  I don’t care if Old Ernie was gay or not, none of my business.  Heck, there are probably a lot of people in California that wear pink striped pajamas and fuzzy white slippers.  He was a very nice host, a true gentleman, there is definitely something bred into folks from the south, the warmth of southern hospitality is for real.

I can remember watching his gate slowly opening for us to leave and listening to the tune the loud speaker playing a recording in his deep, rich baritone voice.  “There will be peace in the valley, there will be peace some day.  There will be peace in the valley  of the Lord.”