Grandpa’s Rain Barrel

Mom had been promising me and my brothers all summer that we were going to Grandpa’s farm up in Alston, Georgia to stay for a couple of weeks.  My sister Glenda had been visiting all summer.  We just knew she was having lots of fun without us.

We pulled into the yard just in time to see Glenda running across the pigpen with our cousin Jackie right behind her.  Glenda was crying, her freckled face flowing with tears when she stopped and picked up a clod of something to throw at Jackie.  Manure of some kind or at least that’s what it looked like from the backseat of Mom’s car.

Come to find out, that’s just what it was.  Glenda ran to the ladder leaning up against the barn and raced up to the top of the barn.  Jackie stopped at the bottom of the ladder, first looking up and then turning around to squint at Granny who was standing right behind her, holding a willow switch.

Jackie and Glenda had been told to sweep the front  yard, company was coming.  The chickens saw to it that there wasn’t even a blade of grass, but their poop and countless mouthfuls of tobacco spit of the front porch had littered the entrance way to Grandpa’s front door.  Jackie was a teenager, Glenda not quite.  When Jackie didn’t think Glenda was working fast enough, she bent over and pinched her.  Glenda recoiled, still smarting, responded by calling Jackie a “bitch.”

Granny always pretended to be deaf, hearing just what she wanted to hear but she heard that and grabbed a switch off of the front porch, chasing my big sister across the yard while screaming at Jackie to catch  a hold of her.

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Granny told Jackie that if she didn’t climb up the ladder to get Glenda, she was going to set fire to her ass with that switch.  Red faces must run in the family because all three of them had bright red freckled faces that day.  When Jackie climbed to the top of the ladder, Glenda pulled a wooden shingle loose from the roof and tossed at Jackie, hitting her in the cheek.  Jackie began a retreat from the top of the ladder, a few ginger steps at a time, only to be met by Granny a couple of rungs from the bottom.  “What did I tell you,”  Granny said as she applied the switch.  “You don’t come down without her.”

I could tell from my safe spot in the back seat of the car that Jackie didn’t want no part of climbing back up that ladder but she knew better than to climb down.  She climbed up a couple of rungs, just out of Granny’s reach.  Glenda had pulled another shingle loose and she had her arm drawn back, ready to chuck another if need be.

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Grandpa Sharpe came around the corner of the barn by the edge of the pig pen carrying a washtub full of what looked like mason jars, covered with mud.  He shooed Granny and her switch away, telling her to go heat up some water on top of the stove.  Then he turned to face Jackie, reaching up to help her back down the rickety old ladder.  He turned to look up at Glenda, talking soothingly and calmly to her as he climbed the ladder asking her what was wrong, be careful don’t fall, tell me all about it.

Glenda said “Jackie pinched me and when I called her a bitch, Granny said she was gonna whoop me.”  Grandpa kinda chuckled, I think he had seen this act play out before.  He reached out his hand for Glenda to grab and told her that he wasn’t going to let that happen, climb on down.

Jackie still had a red mark on her cheek.  She looked like she was seething but she helped Granny by grabbing one side of the wash tub while Granny held the other and they both disappeared with the tub, into the house.

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Grandpa’s house consisted of a big kitchen and table while the rest of the house was wall to wall beds.  The front porch was the living room.  The bath room was an outhouse in the back yard.  Mom had 7 brothers and sisters.  Farm life needed lots of labor, Grandpa and Granny had raised their own.

A truce was called, Mom brought us up to the front porch to reintroduce us to our Grandpa.  He hadn’t seen us since we were wee tykes and I’m pretty sure he had forgotten out names.  Mom had pulled up while Grandpa was in the middle of counting his moonshine money that he had buried.  It seem that the money had mildewed in the jars.  He and Granny were fixing to wash the money and clean the jars.  It seems like the bank and local stores wouldn’t accept mildewed money.

Mom gave us a hug and a kiss goodbye, saying that she would be back in a couple of weeks to pick us up in time to start school.  I was going to be in the first grade this year.  I was a little apprehensive, not knowing what to expect.  Then she told Jackie that if she pinched any of her children why she was gone, that she would take her ass down to the creek and wear it out.

While Granny busied herself at the stove, first stirring a pot of collards, then a soapy boiling pot of mixed bills, ones, fives, tens and twenties.  Jackie strung a clothesline across the front of the fireplace to hang money from, with clothespins, just like it was laundry.  While she was doing this Grandpa went to the pump to draw more water to wash the empty jars in.

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The pump was old and rusty, the handle had been broken halfway up, many years before.  Grandpa had slid a piece of pipe over the broken handle to make it usable.  Now the handle was so long that it was unwieldy, he was the only one that could use it.  To make life easier for Granny, he had put an old pickle barrel next to the drain spout from the roof, so that it would fill up with rain water for Granny’s kitchen use.  He had rolled a log over to stand up against it, so us shorties could fetch Granny a pot of water when needed.

Granny’s kitchen was always hot.  The fire in the wood burning stove was always lit. It kept the whole house hot.  That’s why the front porch was considered the living room.  When she wasn’t washing Grandpa’s money or boiling mason jars she was cooking greens, peas, corn or cornbread and such.  My favorite was the pan style cornbread that she cooked on top of the stove like pancakes.

Most of the evenings were spent on the front porch, taking turns either rocking or swinging.  When Granny or Grandpa were rocking they would sit close to the edge of the porch so that they could lean over and spit when the need occurred, chewing either tobacco or dipping snuff.  Grandpa favored Beechnut while Granny seemed to like Navy’s peach brand.  Grandpa would try to teach us our numbers with an old domino set. He told us that we needed to learn our numbers just in case he needed help counting  his money.

Grandpa had a few field hands that lived with him.  In the summer, they slept under the porch, in the winter, on top.  When he needed extra help, neighbors would mysteriously appear like magic.  Grandpa needed help picking his cotton or cutting his sugarcane, bringing in the hay, plowing up his peanuts then cutting his tobacco and hanging it in his barn.

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After he put is hay up, Grandpa parked his wooden wagon under the loft so us kids could jump from the loft onto a pile of hay.  That would keep us busy for hours while Grandpa was working on his moonshine still down by the creek.  Jackie had put an old croaker sack under the big pile of hay when Glenda was climbing up the ladder.  When Glenda jumped and was still in the air, Jackie jerked that croaker sack out from the back of the wagon, bringing with it most of the hay.  Glenda said that when she landed she it so hard that it made her teeth hurt.  She went crying to Grandpa down by the creek to see if he would give her a nickel to tell him what Jackie had done to her.

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Grandpa whittled us some guns out of dead tree limbs and then made us a bow and arrow set one night while we were swinging on the porch so we could play cowboys and Indians while we enjoyed the breeze as he told us his stories every night.

“I remember one time, I won’t ever forget.”  Is how they usually started out, telling us about the stories he heard when he was a boy, just about our size.  He would show us his arrow head collection, most of which he said he found behind the barn, down by the creek. He talked about the depression, he said that ’bout the time he heard there was one,  it was over.

 

When it came time to cut the sugarcane and make he syrup, Grandpa started a big bonfire and let it burn for a couple of days to get the coals red hot, just the way he wanted them.  Then he set up a tripod to hold a big  deep dish metal pan about five feet wide, hanging from three,  five foot long chains over the coals.  My brothers, Gary, Duane and I would take turns leading one of Grandpa’s two mules in a circle to power the cane press.  He would then collect the juice and put into the heated pan, letting it simmer, when it came to a boil, he would add more juice to cool it down.  After hours and hours the simmering juice would start to thicken.  That’s when the neighbors started to appear out of the woods to “help.”  It seems to me that everyone brought their own cup to sample the sweet juice with.  Grandpa would cook it ’til it thickened and pour it into mason jars and empty liquor bottles.

On Friday night Grandpa must have been expecting more company.  Us kids swept the yard.  We kept a wary eye to make sure that Jackie kept her distance.  He put the chickens in the coop and a butchered hog on the spit.  After he did that, he put his RCA radio in the kitchen window facing the barn and turned the volume all the way up.  It wasn’t too long after that, cars started to pull into the yard and parked facing the barn.

Grandpa got his fiddle out and played along with the music on the radio.  It wasn’t long before some one else joined in with a harmonica and another started keeping time with an old washboard.  After the dancing started,  I watched him bring out jars of moonshine, trading them for cash to his friends.  The headlights from the cars lit up the yard for dancing, in front of the barn.

It wasn’t full dark yet but us kids were told to stay on the porch.  In the twilight we played mumbly peg and checkers to pass the time.  We listened to our uncles tell ghost stories and watched Granny fuming, running in and out of the house to check on Grandpa.

The dancing, hooting and hollering went on ’til the late hours of the night, way past our bedtime.  Grandpa would come in every once in a while and place a mason jar stuffed full of cash, rice and soda crackers on the dresser.  Our bed was under Granny and Grandpa’s, slid out at night and pushed back during the light of day.  I can remember looking up, I won’t never forget, that in the glow of a kerosene lamp I could see more than a dozen jars  on top of the old mahogany dresser.  Sitting in front of an old round mirror, instead of dozens, they looked to be more than a hundred in the reflection.  When Grandpa stumbled and tried to crawl in bed, Granny made a fuss and shooed Grandpa out of the bed, telling him to go sleep on the porch with the rest of the “dogs.”

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The next morning Grandpa was still sawing logs on the front porch cuddled up to his old hound “Sambo.”  Glenda witnessed Granny bend over, reach into Grandpa’s top overall pocket and take a roll of bills that he had forgot to put in a jar.  The she started hitting him with her broom, telling him to get up, calling him all kinds of names.  The she said she was going to get a bucket of water out of the rain barrel.

Glenda rushed over to Grandpa to tell him he’d better get up quick or else he was fixing to get doused.  Grandpa still in a stupor sat up, scratching his head trying to gather his thoughts.  Glenda held her hand out, palm up asked him if he would give her a nickel.  When he asked her what for, she told him that she saw Granny take a wad of money out of his pocket.  He laughed at this, started scratching, like maybe old Sambo had fleas or something, then he laughed.  He started reaching for his pockets, pulling out rolls of wadded up cash.  He told Glenda that she ain’t hurt me, I got money in every pocket.  If I had more pockets, I’d have more money.  Glenda told me later that for all the nickels Grandpa ever gave her, she never got to spend the first one.  She said she didn’t know if Jackie waited for her to fall asleep and took ’em or she just forgot where she hid them, because whenever she woke up, they were gone.  Jacky was always full of meanness.  Glenda told us that Jackie would pee the bed on purpose and tell Granny that she did it, Just “sos” she’d get a whooping.

Grandpa had an old truck, but to get away from Granny, he hitched up his mules to his old wagon and took us for a ride into town, six miles away.  He bought some supplies, got Granny a couple of tins of snuff.  The he got himself some chewing tobacco and two blocks of ice wrapped in sawdust, for a quarter apiece.  On the way home he joked about his mules being like his sons, one being lazier than the other.  Once we got close enough to the house, one of the mules started pulling at the traces, anxious to get home, ready to start eating some grain.  The other lag behind, letting the lead mule do most of the work.  I asked Grandpa if the one mule was faster than the other.  He leaned over the wagon and spit a mouthful of tobacco juice at a Georgia Cracker grasshopper sitting on a barbed wire fence and said, “Oh, I don’t know about that, here we’ve come about 10 miles and he ain’t no more’n six inches ahead of t’other.”

When we got home, Grandpa surprised Granny with a couple of lemons he bought in town and a jar of dandelion wine.  Then told her he bought the extra block of ice to make ice cream with, then he shooed us boys off to the creek to look for arrowheads while he took a snooze on the swing.

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My brothers and I soon tired of hunting arrowheads in the muddy creek bank.  Gary and I started playing cowboys and Indians with the make believe weapons Grandpa had made us.  Duane, the youngest said he was hungry and he left us and headed back toward the house.  It wasn’t too long after that, we heard Granny calling us, like she was hollering “sooey” for the pigs.

When we got to the house we found Grandpa busy churning the handle on the ice cream bucket.  He had cut up a watermelon and had the slices stacked along the edge of the porch, like a smorgasbord.  He brought out some more  jars and filled them with rolls of cash, rice and soda crackers.  They were sitting on the other side of the porch.  Granny got a bucket of water out of the rain barrel and made some ice cold lemonade.  Grandpa drunk his down in two big gulps while Granny sipped hers as she rocked.

My brothers and I took our turns spinning the crank on the ice cream churn, Grandpa took his jars and disappeared around the back of the barn only to return quickly, his face red as I don’t know what.  Someone had overturned the pig trough exposing his hiding spot for the mason jars.  The money was still in the jars but the soda crackers were missing.  Duane started brushing the crumbs from his mouth, to escape Grandpa’s wrath, but somehow Grandpa knew who the culprit was.  He asked Duane why he opened them jars.  Duane said, “I couldn’t help it, I was hungry.”  When Grandpa asked him how he knew where they were, Duane said, “It’s all your fault, when you tried to climb in the bed with Granny, the pig shit sprinkled all in our face from your dirty feet.”

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This brought a smile to his face and he leaned back for a minute.  When my brothers and I went back to spitting watermelon seeds at the chickens he noticed that Duane’s feet were clean, while Gary’s and mine were still covered with mud.  He asked Duane, “I know you can’t work that pump boy, how’d you clean them feet?”

Duane looked back at him and said, “In the rain barrel.”

 

 

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Adventure has followed me my entire life.  I have been here and done that.  Now that Father Time is finally catching up with me, so has Mother Nature.

 

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In my later years I have come to appreciate God’s own creations that have surround me.  I love my cats and kittens.  Who would have thunk it?  They are the center of my universe.  They keep my life interesting, fill it with joy and beauty.  The appreciation I get from the good folks that get kittens from me makes my chest swell.

 

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I lived in southern Georgia for many years, with my wife and four sons.  The job I had paid $8.00 an hour, my travel time to and from work every day was one to two hours, each way.  The future didn’t look good.  The prospects for my son’s looked bleak.  I prayed for economic relief for me and my family.  We didn’t prosper, but we survived.

 

I started getting letters in the mail, once a month.  A pastor that remained anonymous told me that he knew me from my past.  He knew that I desired more than what I had.  He encouraged me, telling me that I had in me what it took to achieve success.  At first, I just thought he was fishing for a donation,  but no, he never asked.  I kept getting the letters filled with a positive message, trust in the Lord have faith, sometimes the letters contained a couple of pennies taped inside, as a hint of what lay in store.  One day I get a letter with an ignition key to what he said was a 1957 Lincoln.

In the letter he said that many years before some one sent him this same key.  It was the key to his success, he wanted to be a traveling Evangelist, all he needed then, was a car.  In his letter, he said that what worked for him could work for me.  All I had to do was go look for the lock that it fit.  I took this as a sign from God.  I loaded up my boys and went 3 hours away to Jacksonville.   We slept on the floor of my nephew’s house, printed up some business cards and went searching for work.

 

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At Home Depot, I was passing out business cards.  I ran into a fellow that asked me if we could put up a privacy fence to block out his neighbors junky yard.  He lived in Beauclerc a very nice section of town.  His neighbor’s yard was cluttered up, it was across the street from his house.  Working hard, my sons and I put the fence up in less than half a day.

The home owner’s neighbor watched us work.  His name was Mike Miller.  He owned Jacksonville Waterproofing Company.  He watched us work and was impressed.  He asked if we would like to work for him.  He offered to pay our motel room bill every week, a generous salary and to have our pay check ready on Thursday every week, so that we could leave early on Fridays to travel back home to Georgia.

This was great, we loved it.  We worked on the improvements to Alltell Stadium where the Jaguars play football.  We met the owner, Wayne Weaver.  Mr. Weaver gave us an autographed football.  Then we worked on the new Wolfson Stadium Baseball Park, after that the new  “Veterans” auditorium.  The special privileges that we enjoyed didn’t sit well with Mr. Miller’s original employees.  The other workers didn’t like being “showed” up.  The foreman split us up to work on separate crews.  Telling us that it was to get more work out of the other guys.  Then the book keeper started complaining about the trouble it caused her to have our payroll done on a different day than everyone else.  Soon their grumblings made us feel uneasy.  We started passing out more business cards.

 

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We met a fellow by the name of Dwayne Williams, a roofing contractor.  Dwayne paid us $320.00 per roof to nail on 24 square of shingles on brand new Habijax houses. We worked for months doing over 60 houses off of Golfair and throughout the Northside of town.  We tried to do two a day.  After each job, by carefully conserving the materials, we would end up with a couple bundles of shingles and some left over materials which we saved.  By the end of the week, we had enough materials saved up to go do a small roof.  People that lived in these old neighborhoods were always in dire need for a new roof or a roof repair.  We made other contacts and after a few jobs for Ricky Blaylock, I bought two dump trucks from him.  We were in business for ourselves then, as sub contractors.

 

One day we gave a card to Jack Blaze, he was the foreman for Mr. John that owned Jax Bargain Plywood.  They bought and sold houses on the side.  Soon we did all of their roofs and some repairs.  They gave me a discount on the materials and if any one asked the name of a good roofer, they passed them of one of our business cards.

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My income as a contractor for many years was in the six figures.  I didn’t set anything aside because I thought I was still relatively young and had many more years to enjoy success.  But after 10 hernias and 3 operations, old age caught up with me.  It took me 3 years to get my disability claim approved.  I had to sell both of my dump trucks and all of the equipment that I had accumulated.  Living below the poverty level is hard to get use to.  After my disability was approved I didn’t qualify for any government help.

 

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Once again God intervened, through my grand daughter Claire’s love for kittens, the good Lord opened my eyes.  Just like the letters I received from the unknown preacher, the kittens she loved so much, opened my eyes.  They provided me with the opportunity to provide for my family.  Now I breed Rag Dolls and sell them via the internet all across America.  I don’t miss the dump trucks or the hernias.

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No, I don’t earn the six figure income anymore, but I have had a taste of it.  The Lord has provided for me through thick and thin.  We all hold the keys to our own success, we just have to unlock whatever it is that’s holding us back.

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Puerto Rico

As I start this story, I have no idea where it’s going or how it will end.  Bits and pieces come to my mind like flashbacks into my past.

Of all places to begin, I have to start this story in New London, Connecticut or to be more exact, Groton.  Groton is the home the Navy’s Submarine School.  I went through sub school in the winter of 1970.  The weather didn’t permit ever lasting memories.  I spent more time slipping on ice and shoveling snow than I care to admit.sub9

My first duty station was the USNS Sea Robin, a diesel pig boat.  I was TAD (Temporary assigned duty), until my permanent duty station, the USBNS Thomas Jefferson came back into port.

I was to be assigned as a sonar striker.  I went to school in Orlando.  After 4 weeks and completion of the training, sent back to New London.  My first cruise out, the yeoman (the Captain’s clerk) suffered appendicitis and had an emergency transfer at sea.  Boomers endure 90 day cruises underwater, destinations unknown, top secret.  His transfer was done at night under the cover of darkness to a sub tender, the USS Orion at sea.

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His transfer created a void that needed filling.  My billet as a sonar tech wasn’t that glorious of a job.  I had to keep fighting the tendency to fall asleep, while pinging and waiting for the ping to bounce back.  Since I had taken typing classes two years in high school, I felt qualified to mention to my chief that I could temporarily step in if needed.

There is so much work that falls on the shoulders of a yeomen that the backlog of work demanded my services.  Every report has to be typed.  All of the Captain’s correspondences, duty transfers, pay chits, leave requests, liberty passes, fitness reports, the Plan of the Day, menus for the galley, just on and on.  It was just piling up.  My offer was quickly accepted.

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Part of my duties involved communications.  Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.  Every communique sent out by the Navy, crossed my desk.  When our cruise was nearing the end of our deployment, I didn’t cherish the thought of going back to being a laborer for the next 90 days.  When a nuclear sub comes back into port with the “Gold” crew, it immediately restocks and redeploys with the “Blue” crew.  The first week or so the crew that just came in gets R & R, then it’s back to “training.”  For guys in the lower ranks like me, training meant working for the First Lieutenant.  Chipping paint, grinding rust, applying red lead and then after inspection apply another coat of gray paint on a rusting hulk that sole purpose of existence before retirement into mothballs was for “training” purposes.

I knew that the yeoman should be coming back to work and that I would be assigned to the First Lieutenant’s squad.  One day I saw a list of names of men that were to be sent to Roosevelt Roads Naval Base for “Survival” school.  In the Navy, the continuous training exercises exist to keep idle hands busy and to prepare you for what may lay in store.

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Even though we had completed training in school, we often practiced making escapes from a hundred feet deep.  The day time training exercises were bad enough, but the night time “escapes” were terrifying, especially in freezing temperatures.  Just the thought of going to Puerto Rico, the warm climate, clear blue oceans and the thought of tropical breezes was enough for me to add my name to the bottom of the list of men being sent to Survival School.  I put it in front of the Captain without explanation, he signed it without reading it and off I went.

Survival School was a four week training period.  Men that were sent to UDT (Underwater Demolition Training) school had to complete it first, we became a part of that class too.

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Our uniform of the day consisted of green boxer shorts with a button fly, a pair of rubber flip flops and blacked out dog tags.  We spent so much time in the water training, that anything else would have rotted off of our backs.  Before the sun rose in the east, we swam as a group of 50 men to Viaques, an island 2 miles off the coast.  Viaques was also used as an artillery range for the big guns on base.  During our swim every morning, the artillery wasn’t suppose to fire over our heads but they did at the tail end of our swim, just to get us use to the sounds of gunfire, the plumes of smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder.

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Words just can’t describe how rigorous the training was, we had to swim as a group to keep from being targets for the sharks and barracuda.  The chief and a bosun’s mate rowed beside us in a boat, with an M-1 to ward of any uninvited intruders.  Salt filled every pore.  It caked around our ears and between our fingers.  When we weren’t swimming, we were running, barefoot across miles and miles of sand, just knowing that the further you went only meant the further you had to run back.

Push ups, chin ups, jumping jacks, tug of war.  All part of the Navy’s plan to transform young men into hard, physically fit, well trained, disciplined sailors.  My last two days of training were spent on a life raft.  Me and another sailor were dropped off by helicopter many miles off the coast with an eight foot life raft.  This was an oval shaped, hard fibered, orange colored raft, with webbing for the bottom.  This meant that for the next 48 hours, we were sitting in at least 6 inches of water.

The raft could accommodate more than 2 men, but for me, two were enough.  The first few hours aren’t too bad.  It’s more like an adventure than anything else.  We had a compass, a survival knife, that included fishing gear in the handle, a tube of zinc oxide to cover our noses with, plus our Navy dungaree uniform that we were trained to use as flotation devices if need be.

The constant motion of the waves, the up and down part was nerve racking if you let it.  Up and down with the cresting of each wave.  One moment you could see the across the horizon, nothing but more waves as far as the eye could see, then the next second you were in a trough, with the walls of a wave, pushing you from side to side.  All of that water and nothing to drink, until we broke out the desalinization packs.  These were little plastic containers that we use to turn salt water into drinking water.  You just tear open a package, fill it with salt water and hold it up until the water drains through the chemicals.  We had a total of four packages, two apiece.  The idea was to only use it, if you had to have it.  In the rough seas, it really wasn’t that easy to do.

My companion was a few years older than I was, our relationship was like “oil and vinegar.”  I was optimistic, my glass was half full.  He was a pessimist, his glass was half empty.  He spoke about the downside of everything.  It was constant, “Oh we aren’t going to make it,” or “I bet we get swamped and turn over.”  Then it got worse.  The sun can do things to you that you can’t plan for, or do anything about.

I would pass the time thinking about my girlfriend that I had in high school.  If I mentioned her name or said anything about her to my shipmate, I would suffer through a barrage of comments like, “She’s  bending over for the fleet since you’ve been gone,” or “she giving it to your best friends now.”  Just on and on, I think the Navy feels like that’s part of your training too.  You have to grow up sometime.  No time like the present.

When it came time for my raft mate to talk, all he wanted to talk about was the women at the Black Angus.  The Black Angus is a famous bar, known world wide for its casino on one side and it’s bar/hotel combination on the other.  The bar consisted of mirrored walls that the prostitutes would line up against.  The patrons, most always sailors ashore from a recent voyage, would sit at a circular bar.  This bar was also a carousel that rotated, round and round.  As you drank, you could get glimpses of some of the most beautiful women in the world, all lined up against the wall for the sole purpose of catching your fancy.

If you made eye contact with any of them, they would take it as a signal that you fancied them and sashshay over to start a conversation.  Then the next move was to suggest to you that there were rooms available upstairs for privacy.

Well, out in the middle of a sea of madness is not where I wanted to hear this conversation.  The sun bore down on us, I was hot and cold at the same time.  The sun would blister me and the waves would cool me down.  I spent most of the time chattering my teeth while holding on with both hands to keep from being washed away.

It turned out that we didn’t need the fishing kit.  Flying fish would jump into the raft.  They told us that eating raw fish was good for you.  To me, it just made me thirsty.  The seagulls flying over head were pests.  They kept us company and used us for target practice.  I kept wishing that I was back in a nice warm, dry sub.

The raft had a beacon, a little flashing red light that also transmitted a radio signal.  After 48 hours, just when I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore, a little dragon fly appeared on the horizon.  It turned out be our rescue Chopper.  Good ole “U.S. Navy” painted on the side.  They wouldn’t help us aboard until we secure lines to our raft, so that it could be retrieved.  I had a hard time trying to stand up, my legs were weak, the skin on my hands and feet were wrinkled and shriveled up so bad that I couldn’t use them.  We spent the next 24 hours in the base dispensary under observation, then we were discharged, only to be sent back to our permanent duty station.

Before being sent to Survival school, I had applied for a hardship transfer.  My mom had cancer and wasn’t expected to live.  In my absence, my request was approved.  No sooner did I arrive back in New London, than I was transferred back to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to VW-4 WEARECONRON FOUR, a weather reconnaissance squadron based at NAS.

A weather reconnaissance squadron didn’t need a sonar tech, my new assignment was working as the Captain’s yeoman, a real cushy job if the Navy has one, this was it.  Within 24 hours, our squadron was sent to of all places, to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

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We were assigned there to perform during project “Storm Fury.”  During hurricane season we were to provide up to date aerographer information to the fleet.  Did you know that at sea you can see lightning for 40 to 50 miles away?  Well in flight, you can see it further than that.  While airborne you can feel lightning strikes when it hits the plane.  It can be terrifying.  The static electricity in the air will make the hair on your head stand straight up.  My job was to keep Commander Marsh, our captain happy, record data and transfer oral radio communications to a written record.  To be honest with you, I stayed strapped in my bunk as much as possible, right next to the cockpit, near the Captain, he was the number one pilot, getting his flight time in order to draw flight pay.

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The planes we flew in,were “Super Connies.”  The Super Constellations  were World War II vintage aircraft.  WC-121- N’s.  At the time, the largest aircraft the military flew, perfect for weather recon.  The wings on the aircraft would actually flap, at least six feet in times of stress.  Now a days they fly P-3s, a much smaller plane and a rougher ride.

Okay, back to my story.  After 3 months at sea on a boomer submarine, then being sent TAD to Survival school for 4 weeks, I hadn’t received a paycheck in over 4 months.  I had received some TAD money, living expenses, that was it.  In the Navy, you don’t really need money if you are a single enlisted man, not all the time anyway.  I didn’t smoke,  chow was free, uniforms free, barracks and a bunk, free.  There is always coffee and donuts available, plus at the chow hall, there’s “mid-rats,” served all hours of the night in case you get hungry.  One good thing about the Navy, the chow was always good.

When my squadron got to Puerto Rico, the Captain saw to it that my pay request received immediate attention.  After I was there about 24 hours, I got some per diem money.  Now before you start adding it up, when I enlisted, I got 98 dollars a month, plus after sub school, I received a 50 dollar a month hazardous duty pay.  While I was in Survival school, Admiral Zumwalt had gotten pay increases approved for all military personnel.  My monthly pay check doubled from $98 per month to $198.  My first week in Puerto Rico, the Navy owed me close to a thousand dollars.  I was still only 17 years old at the time.  My first liberty after getting my per diem money, where did I go?  No, I didn’t go to the Black Angus, not yet.  I didn’t have any friends at my new duty station.  When some of the older guys found out that I had some payola, they invited me to go to the “Green Door,” in Ceiba, just off base.

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I did take my whole wad, it was about 150 bucks.  After drinking a couple “White Russians,” I started buying drinks for my new found friends.  I didn’t realize at the time that they were just using me to buy drinks.  After they got what they wanted from me, they found my company to be rather annoying.  Like who wants to be around a 17 year old drunk?

I had grown up on a Naval base in Gitmo.  For a gringo, my Spanish wasn’t that bad.  If you are going to “hablo espanol,” you need to learn how to roll your “r’s.”  While drinking that night at the Green Door, I met a gal named Lydia that could converse in both Spanish and English.  I found that intriguing.  She and I struck up an acquaintance.  We moved from the bar to a booth.  Not the kid of booth you are thinking of probably.  This booth was missing the table.  Just a little cube with a small juke box on the wall.  She and I started dancing together, she was selecting the songs, while I provided the quarters and a few drinks.

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When I went to the bar to get us another drink, one of my “buddies” whispered in my ear, that my new girlfriend Lydia was the bar owner’s wife.  He was a retired sailor that had married a local gal and opened up a bar off base to provide military personnel a friendly atmosphere to blow some steam.  I didn’t pay this skuttlebutt no never mind.  I was just interested in dancing and practicing my Spanish.

Soon, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that someone wanted to talk to me outside.  This didn’t raise any hairs on the back of my neck.  I was thinking that Puerto Rico is one heck of a nice place, everybody seems to be super friendly.  My curiosity got the better of me, I had to go see who it was and what they wanted.  Big mistake.  Just as I opened the “Green Door” to step outside, someone grabbed the front of my shirt and jerked me out of the door way.  Then I was hit in the mouth with a 2 by 4.  After that I got a couple of face fulls of fist.  Before my eyes started to swell, I could tell there was a large group of men in the alley that they were dragging me to.  I tried to resist and holler out to my shipmates.  The Airedale Navy must be different from the Blackshoe Navy because my cries fell on deaf ears.  There were more than a dozen of them coming at me.   I guess the bar owner was a jealous man and had some clout.

To my salvation, two Shore Patrolmen entered the alley.  One of them grabbed me by the back of my uniform, trying to tug me away from my attackers.  Once the guys in the alley saw the two Shore Patrol, they came out from behind their cover.  These guys were members of the “Los Macheteros.”  A gang that makes MS-13 look like the Mickey Mouse Club.  They are so feared, that if you Google them, I bet you can’t find any pictures.

The Shore Patrol recognized the group, vanity being the better part of valor, they turned and ran, leaving me in the grasp of this group of killers.  Looking back, I don’t blame my buddies at the bar.  There were too many to fight and I don’t blame the Shore Patrol for tucking tail and running.  Because just as soon as I saw the two Shore Patrol guys get in the their white van and lock the doors, I pulled free and ran  too.

I couldn’t get them to open the door to the van, no matter how hard I banged. They were pulling out with at least a couple dozen guys in the mob chasing behind us.  I couldn’t think of anything to do, I just reacted.  The van was on the verge of leaving the alley but before it did, I got a grip on the rear view mirror and swung my leg over the top.  I was riding along with them, even if was hanging on, straddling the mirror, on side of the van, upside down with my face looking at the ground as it sped past.

We made it or I should say, I made it.  I spent the next week in the infirmary.  My face was smashed in, nose broken and a about a dozen stitches in my face where I caught a blade to the cheek.  Those Macheteros don’t play.  My Captain was a little perturbed, I don’t know if it was entirely with me or my comrades that deserted me.  Any way, for the next few days, he had to make his own coffee, he had to hunt and peck his own reports.

The next pay period, I finally got my back pay.  It was a wad too.  I was making plans to go check out San Juan and the Castille de San Cristobal that I had heard so much about.  Since San Juan was a good 50 miles away, I called a cab to start my journey.  When the older guys in the barracks heard that I had gotten all of my back pay and had called for a cab to San Juan, they all wanted to go with me.  Funny how after pay day you can always find friends.

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I was young and naive.  When we got to San Juan, they let me pay the cab fare, fifteen dollars.  Then after we got there, they told me that the castle had been there for over 300 years.  It wasn’t going anywhere, but while I was in town and had some money, we needed to go to the Black Angus and try our luck at the casino.

At the door we found out about the dress code.  I was the only one in uniform, I was wearing my dress whites.  The others were wearing civilian clothes.  They had to buy a tie to get inside. Me?  My uniform came with a kerchief, a suitable tie.  Now I kept a roll of dimes rolled up in my kerchief, held in place with rubber bands.  Just in case I needed a weapon in an emergency, I could use it as a club or a sling.  Plus the five dollars worth of dimes could come in handy too.

The drinks were free as long as we were gambling.  I took it easy on the rum, drinking cokes or seven up off of the tray as the refreshment girl came by.  My companions were soon separated from their money.  Their pockets turned into “elephant ears.”  Me, beginner’s luck I guess.  I soon won over three hundred dollars playing Blackjack.  Since my buddies didn’t have any money left to gamble with, I let them talk me into buying them a drink next door at the bar.  I had been hearing all about the world famous Black Angus.  My girlfriend back home had stopped writing me, she seemed like a thousand miles away.  I was a man of the world now, I figured why not, it doesn’t cost anything to take a look, besides it was my birthday.  If I needed any more reason to celebrate, that was good enough.

The bar at the Black Angus was dazzling to say the least.  The casino was exciting yes but paled in comparison to the rotating bar, the mirrored walls and the round mirrored globe chandelier that hung over the rotating bar.

I had just turned 18 that day.  I was virtually just a babe in the woods.  My experiences with girls, yes girls not women, was pretty much limited to the back seat of my Volkswagen at the drive-in theater.  Here were at least a hundred of the most glamorous women that I had ever seen in my life.  The lingerie section of the J.C. Penny’s catalogue had never prepared me for anything like this.  Their revealing outfits left nothing to the imagination. With just a single button or clasp, they could completely disrobe.

How does an eighteen year old boy, recently self declared man of the world, react to all of the bright lights, beautiful women and the intrigue of being in a tropical setting?  I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink.  “Hey, let me try one of those White Russians.”  I turned my stool around a ogled the girls as the bar rotated in a circle, drinking it all in as the room swirled around me.

When I say beautiful, that word doesn’t say enough, I would have been proud to take any one of these gals back home to show off to my buddies from school.  If you make eye contact, that shows that you are interested, then the girl saunters over and makes casual conversation.  My buddies were all pestering me to loan them some money ’til payday.  Yeah, the same guys that watched me get my ass beat, two weeks before.  It could have been the liquor, the glamour or just the sheer excitement of the moment.  I let bygones be bygones and doled out the cash.  I mean these girls just charged five dollars a shot, why not?  They would come over and whisper what they would do with you, to you or what ever, for just five bucks.  If you decided to go upstairs and get a hotel room, you paid the bartender six more dollars and he would give you the key to a room.  The elevator ride was short and sweet.  In a few moments you left the world behind and entered “Shangri’la.”

I was going, oh yes, I really couldn’t wait, but first I wanted to be flirted with by everyone of the women before I made my choice.  That night, I forgot about every girl that I had met before.  I made so many trips up the elevator that night I lost count.  I was disappointed in the fact that you had to pay for another room again each time.  Soon, I said to hell with the room.  I would turn off the power switch to the elevator and just took care of my business there. There’s something to be said about having sex with all the bells and whistles, the red lights flashing overhead and hearing that emergency bell clanging just a few feet from your ears.

After I made about my 5th or 6th trip upstairs, I met Josefina at the bar.  It was her birthday too.  She told me and to anyone that was listening that for the rest of the night, anytime I wanted to go upstairs it would free, no charge.

Just before reville, the taxi drooped me and my shipmates off at the front gate.  We were all hung over.  I don’t remember all the money I spent, but I do remember that I spent it all.  Josefina had a mouth full of gold teeth.  I wonder now, just how many military pay days it took to pay for all of that gold?

I was back to being broke again.  Aw heck, I was use to it.  The next week end, I didn’t have the money to see the glamour of the island as a tourista.  I just took off walking and hitch hiking.  I was really enjoying the weather and the beautiful scenery when a light blue Volkswagen (just like mine back home) pulled over to give me a ride.  Guess who?  It was Lydia driving, she recognized me and gave me a ride.  I know what you are thinking.  I should of had enough of Lydia already, but my problem wasn’t with her, it was with her husband.  She suggested I see Laquio Beach.  When we got there she told me that I owed her two dollars.  Turns out she drove her car as a publico or public transportation.  She and her husband were fighting, she had left him and was doing her thing.

Laquio Beach is beautiful beyond description.  Clear, aqua blue waters, white sand, tall graceful palm trees sprinkled above the high water mark.  People were skiing in the shallow waters of the lagoon.  Most of the women swam topless, some nude.  Every one in Puerto Rico is well tanned and I can see why, so much beautiful warm sun.  I never wanted to go back to Connecticut again.

After giving Lydia my last two dollars, I was broke.  When it was time to leave the beach she drove me to see El Yanqui, a beautiful, spectacular 1,500 foot waterfall. What a spectacle.  I told Lydia that I didn’t have any more money but that didn’t kill her interest in me.  We left El Yanqui and drove to a fishing village about an hour away.  Sure wish I could remember the name of the place.  It was on the leeward side of the island or the southern side, farthest away from the Atlantic Ocean facing the Caribbean.

When we got out of her bug, she was greeted by her family members.  They owned a fishing boat.  I was able to go out with them and check logustino traps. A Caribbean lobster.  We made a pretty good haul, when we got back the women folk were preparing a feast, fried oysters, shrimp, crab legs, baked red snapper, with a variety of tropical fruits for decoration.  Every one danced on the beach, a typical Saturday night celebration of life.

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The beach was sprinkled with little “Cabanas,” straw huts, basically a roof of palm fronds and partially enclosed sides.   That’s where we spent the night, sleeping in a swinging hammock.  The ocean breeze was strong enough to keep the screaming “meemees”  or “no see-ums” at bay.  After a couple of Henikens, I slept like a baby.

Lydia’s Dad was a dentist in Philadelphia, he would come back to Puerto Rico six months out of the year to be a priest.  After meeting Los Macheteros and a hundred or so prostitutes, it was nice to meet what I call decent people.  I got to admit that my first impressions of the people I met down there left a lot to be desired.  Puerto Rico is a beautiful place.  It’s temptations are great, if you want to be led down the wrong path, it isn’t hard to find company.  After spending the weekend with Lydia and her wonderful family, I was happy that my glass was only “half full.”

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I could probably add some more to this story, but right now, in my mind I’m swinging in the breeze in a hammock strung between two palms, looking at the white clouds an blue skies, watching the folks skiing across the blue waters of Laquio Beach.

Hasta Luego!

 

 

Frenchy

The Thanksgiving holiday is behind us, Christmas not far away.  Since I’m not a big fan of the Hallmark Channel, I guess I need to tell my own holidays stories.

Westbound on I-10 just before dusk, many years ago, I see a hitchhiker on side of the road.  I had just passed the north bound entrance to 1-75, so I guess it’s fair to say this guy was heading west, same as me.

My hitch hiker, a short bearded fellow wearing a blue flannel shirt, threw his gear, a sleeping bag and a back pack into the rear of my truck and climbed up front with me.  I asked him his name and destination.  He told me in a very thick French accent that his name was Andre Beaubleur.  He was from Ontario, Canada and that he was headed anywhere that he could find work.

I told Andre that if was willing to work, that there were plenty of good jobs to be had.  His response was slow coming out, like he was having a difficult time forming his sentence.  “Not for one such as I, I am afraid.  You see, I have no papers.  I am zee lumberjack.  In my family I have 11 brothers, I am zee youngest, we cut trees.  But to work here, I must have zee papers.

I was sort of surprised to hear him say he was a lumberjack.  Andre was kinda small, short you might say, about 5 foot tall.  To think of him as a lumberjack was stretching it a might.  I asked him why didn’t he cut trees in Canada, don’t they have plenty of trees up there that need cutting?

Andre replied, “Zee bears, I am much afraid of zee bears.”  I told him that “the Bears around here play in Chicago, ain’t that a long ways from Ontario?”  He said, “No, not zis Bears, but zee bear in za woods, big bears, zey will hunt you and eat you.”  Finally catching on, I had to laugh.  Little ole Andre wouldn’t have a been much of a meal for a hungry old bear, I don’t think.

I had a six pack of beer in the front seat.  I finished the last beer and put the empty bottle back into the carton.  Then as we were approaching a highway sign, I asked Frenchy to lean back a might.  He did as I asked in bewilderment I’m sure, until I zipped out two empty bottles and nailed the sign as we were passing by.

I think he was impressed because he said, “Sacre bleaur, you are zee marksman I think, you can do that again?”  I told him “oh yeah, no sweat, I’ve had plenty of practice, watch this.”  Then I nailed the next sign with three empty beer bottles, Looping the first one up high, following it up with two more direct tosses that all ended up in the middle of the next sign at the same time.

Frenchy as I started calling him, came back with “For this I have never seen, you must be extraordinaire, I think.”  I told him, “No, I’m from the South, all the guys in the South can do that, it’s just the way we was raised.”

Andre asked me what type of work did I do.  I told him that I was a traveling tool salesman, a “Jackman.”  He asked me if he could work for me, I asked him, “Doing what?”  He responded by telling me that he could take care of the truck, keep it clean, check the oil, clean the windshield, watch my tools when I was away and keep them nice and clean.  To top it off, he said, “Merci, pardon me if I may, I will sleep in the truck.”

Well if that didn’t beat all, he was offering to be my French valet.  The tools do get heavy when I have to lug them into the motel room at night.  To top it off, he said that if I was willing to teach him to speak zee American, he would be very happy to teach me to speaka zee French.  This was too much, I had to laugh.  Okay, I figure why not, I was just going to Baton Rouge to work, if he didn’t pan out, I could leave him with some Cajuns or something.

From then on, if I got a six pack, he drank one maybe two, he always marveled at my accuracy when I target practiced with the empties.  Once I hit the same sign with all six of the bottles at once.  He marveled at this for days and would brag to the other guys on the crew about my unique talent.

When it got cold, I let Frenchy sleep on the floor of my motel room.  He had his sleeping bag.  He refused to sleep in a bed.  The first time I let him in the room, he disassembled the the meter on the night stand for the vibrating bed while I was in the shower.  When he showed me the stack of quarters, his face was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I let him know that I was pissed about it.  I told him that when I needed money, I worked for it, I didn’t steal. I told him he could find more money than that behind the seat of my truck.  Later I realized it wasn’t the money that intrigued him.  It was just the fact that it was a mechanical device that he sought  to outwit.  I over looked it and told him we live in motels, we don’t steal from where we live.

Maybe him being from another country had something to do with his morals.  It wasn’t long after, that Frenchy showed me another bag of quarters, a big bag.  I got mad at him and told him that I thought that I told him to leave those vibrating boxes alone.  He used his hands to motion for me to calm down, then he said, “Dis is not from zee motel but from zee booth with zee telephone.  I use zis clamp to put pressure on zee box and zee lid, she pop off.  Now, we have zee quarters to buy more beer.”

Here I am earning five hundred to a thousand a day, if the weather’s good and this guy is jeopardizing that by stealing chump change again.  I picked up a hoist handle using it like a club and slammed the top of the table.  I told him that I don’t know how they teach people not to do things up in Canada but if I caught him doing it again, I was going to straighten out his learning curve.

It was getting time for a break.  I liked this guy, but he was getting on my nerves.  I told Frenchy about my brother and his friend Arnie Fields that lived up in Arkansas.  I suggested that we go pay them a visit.  Arnie had bought a 40 acre farm for $8,000.00 and my brother bought the land next to it.  The Ozark Mountains were heavily wooded and these two tracts of land were nestled between the tops of three mountains and the two valleys in between.

The main drawback to me, were the ticks and the lack of women.  If you have money though, the women will come out of the woods and find you, but you have to be in one spot long enough for them to find out just where to look.  The tick problem was solved when Arnie bought 200 chickens.  Then we had plenty of eggs and lots of chicken and dumplings.

Frenchy was pretty industrious.  He went to work building a chicken coop and felling trees for firewood.  Most of the trees on the two parcels weren’t that big, two or three year old saplings, about 4 to 6 inches in circumference.  We went out to work in Oklahoma City for a couple of weeks, leaving Frenchy in charge of getting the homestead into shape.

It sure was cold that winter, 40 below freezing in OKC.  So cold that we had to put cardboard in front of the radiator of the truck to keep it from freezing up.  One thing you notice when you work Oklahoma is the fact that they don’t have any trees.  My brother Gary and I dropped a load of tools to a feed lot.  We sold the feed store owner our load of tools for cash and got a 16 foot utility trailer to boot.

Gary saw a dwindling pile of fence posts for sale and asked the man how much did he get for his posts.  The guy told us that since there weren’t any trees for hundreds of miles, that every farmer and rancher needed all the fence post he could get.  He said that they were in short supply.  He asked us if we knew where he could get any.  He said he would pay us $5.00 a piece for all the fence post we could get.

That sparked an idea into our heads.  Gary and Arnie probably had 80 acres between them of nothing but fence posts, ready to be cut.  When we got back to the farm, we saw that little ole Frenchy had been busy.  First off, he had the land around the front of the 2 BR House cleared of any trees and underbrush.  That and the cold weather had killed off any ticks.  He had cut several cords of firewood near the house and had the wood stacked between  trees that grew close together.  Then we found that he had taken an old truck that I had rolled over a couple of times and hooked it up to a  portable saw mill that we had bought, without a power source.  Frenchy had put it  up on concrete blocks, took the tire off one of the rims, made a belt from an old fire hose and used the motor and transmission as power for the saw mill.  I was afraid to ask where he got that fire hose from.  He had a stack of railroad ties cut from oak about head high (his head), about 40 foot across.

We went to work making bridges across the many little streams that criss-crossed the property.  Then we parked the trailer, bought a chain saw and told Andre to start cutting some of the thousands of small trees that covered the property into 6 foot fence posts.  The next week when we came home for the week end, Andre had that trailer loaded down with over five hundred fence post and another thousand or so laying nearby.

We not only hauled fence post to that Feed Store but another half a dozen as well.  There are plenty of tiny cedar trees in the Ozarks, not so many  in Oklahoma.  The size of these trees may not be good for much of nothing else, but they were plenty good enough for fence posts in Oklahoma.

After about a year’s time had come and gone.  Frenchy was ready to see the bright lights of the city.  When I mentioned that I was heading back home to Florida, Frenchy begged me to take him with me, so I did.

Driving back home, I always take the back roads, scouting out for future territory to sell tools.  We took Highway 82 through Dothan, Alabama.  About an hour or two after dark we passed a night spot that looked pretty hot.  I couldn’t just pass it by, the next day was Thanksgiving.  I just had to have me a couple shots of “Wild Turkey.”

I probably should have told Frenchy to watch the truck.  He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, he was just short.  His beard had grown considerably living out in the woods back in Arkansas and I couldn’t swear that his “Englise” had gotten any better.  Any way, I was having a good time, really enjoying myself meeting lots of new lady friends, next to chucking empty beer bottles, my forte.  I saw that Frenchy was having a problem with some big dude across the dance floor and I walked over to see just what the problem was.  As I walked up, I could hear the big guy saying “Tell me what you told her.”  Then Frenchy saying “I say to her, you give me service?”  Now I was kind of use to Frenchy’s bastardization of the Queen’s English, it didn’t bother me that much.  He was just asking the lady for a dance, but I could put myself in this guy’s shoes.  If some guy come up and asked my old lady for service, I would have got hot about it too.

I knew what was fixing to happen, even before it did.  Frenchy was short, this guy was taller than I was.  I looked for something to use as a weapon.  I spotted an empty bar stool on the other side of the dance floor and I was just about halfway back with it, when the big dude picked Frenchy up by the front of his shirt, held him up over his head and started shaking him like a rag doll.  Just about that time me and the bar stool caught up with them, me catching the big man behind the head with the meaty end of the stool.  He let go, rubbed the back of his head and turned to face me.  I swung the stool again, this time catching him in the knees.  Bending down rubbing his sore knee he was just about the right size.  I hit him with a beer bottle and he went down.

In the background behind the bar, I could hear some one say, “The police are on the way.”  Then far off, I could hear the whining of a siren.  I knew we had a few minutes because we were 7 or 8 miles past the city limits.  I grabbed Frenchy up from where he had been tossed and herded him to the truck.  The name of the bar was the Wagon Wheel, it’s still there.  It’s been closed for years though, when I drive past it today, I can still  hear the sirens approaching and visualize the police cars as they passed us heading for the bar as we drove back towards town.

The area we were driving past was nothing but pulp wood trees, large, giant pulp wood trees.  In my rear view mirror I could see the far off blue lights leaving the bar and coming towards us.  I turned off the head lights and drove in the dark, looking for a logging road to pull up in and hide out.  Before I could find a road, the accelerator linkage decided it had enough and came apart on me.  The motor was running at idle speed but no power.  Still coasting, I crossed the ditch and put the truck between two trees before it came to a stop.  I was pretty sure it could be seen from the road, so I took off running.  I thought Frenchy was right behind me.  I shinnied up a pine tree and crawled behind some branches as the police cars pulled in behind my truck.  In the glow of their headlights I could see Andre walking out of the woods with his hands held high in the air, hollering out, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I am afraid of zee bears, don’t shoot.”  His silhouette against the trees, while standing in the glare of the headlights made him look 10 feet tall.

That damn Frenchy.  I wouldn’t be in this spot if it weren’t for him.  I only 60 feet from the truck, up in the air. I could see and hear everything.  The cops were searching the woods for me with their flashlights.  I could hear Frenchy telling them to be careful, I was a deadly accurate shot, he had seen me place six shots dead center, with the truck going very fast.

That  little rat. Now he’s got the police thinking I’ve got a gun.  I wanted to shout out that he was talking about beer bottles, but I didn’t want to give away my spot.  I guess though it served its purpose.  The cops didn’t want to search the woods at night for some one who was “a deadly shot.”  They might of been scared of “zee bears” too.  All I know is they called a wrecker to tow my truck in.  I didn’t want to be left stranded in the woods at night.  The road was dark and lonely.  It was too far to walk back to town, besides I was pretty drunk at the time.  The police cars pulled off into the night, one with Frenchy in the back seat.  I could see the tow truck driver was still hooking up his chains.  I decided that now was as good a time as any.

I climbed down the tree and in the dark I ran to the truck and jumped in the back, crawling under my load of tools, just as the driver was pulling off.  When we got to town, the driver put my truck in the compound and shut the gate, locking it behind him.  Then the driver went inside, did some paper work, got into his pick up and drove off.

After making sure that the coast was clear, I raised the hood on my truck, hooked the linkage back up on the accelerator.  Then I got my spare key out of the tool box that was mounted on the fender, under the hood and a hack saw.   I cut the chain to the gate, drove my truck off into the dark, without any headlights.

I found a nearby apartment complex to hide my truck in, parked and got out on foot, searching for the police station.  Frenchy might be a rat, but we got into this together, I wasn’t going to leave him behind without trying to get him out of jail.  I called a taxi from a convenience store and asked him to take me to the jail.  Oh, the driver was a talker.  He asked me if I had heard about the police chase and the shoot out.  He said that he heard the whole thing on the scanner.  The guy they were hunting got away, but he was supposed to be a real desperado, that is according to the hostage that the police had brought in.

Just about that time we pulled up in front of the police station.  I’m still trying to figure all of this out but I was in a fog.  A shoot out?  A desperado? A hostage?  That damn Frenchy.  I was about to get out of the taxi when I see Frenchy’s blue sleeping back rolled out under some stairs next to the police station.  It was him alright.  He wasn’t locked up.  He told the police that I made him go with me and they believed him and let him go.

The police had gotten a K-9 unit and were headed back out to the woods to search for me.  The taxi driver was ecstatic.  He couldn’t believe his luck.  He wanted to drive us to Jacksonville on the down low to thwart the police.  I had to use my head.  If I didn’t lead him on, he would call the cops,  and he just might do it anyway.  I told him to drop us off at the apartments, go fill up with gas and meet us back here in 30 minutes while I said good bye to my girlfriend.

He ate it up.  He couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He told me he would only charge us us 400 bucks for the trip.  I led him on.  I agreed to the deal.  Just as soon as he was out of sight, I jumped in the truck and went south on Highway 231 toward Cottondale and Panama City, leaving Dothan, Alabama in my rear view mirror.

Frenchy told me that he put the heat on me, to get it off of him.  He said that he had no fear that I would get away.  That’s why he waited at the Police Station, so that I could find him.  That skeezer.  I knew that was the truth, it’s hard to think of that good a lie in a foreign language.

The next day in Jacksonville, I needed a shower bad.  My funds were getting a little low.  The money from the fence post was running out.  Instead of getting a motel room, I looked up an old friend Cherie Eagerton.  Her parents owned a plumbing company, but her sister Angel worked for the FBI along with Jean Jones, one of my jack buddy’s sister.  I sure didn’t need any more heat.  Cherie and Angel were cut from two different bolts of cloth.  While Angel was my age, she was straight as an arrow.  Cherie was a couple of years younger, we had dated in high school.  Back then, she looked older than what she really was.  Cherie though, was my kind of people, she had a streak of outlaw in her, a touch of the wild side.

Cherie invited us in, she was glad to see me.  Frenchy made the small talk, as good as he could I guess.  That night, Cherie got a baby sitter for her daughter Amber and the three of us celebrated Thanksgiving at the Wrangler on Beaver Street.  I had plans for the next day, leaving early from Cherie’s the next day, she kissed me by at the door and told me to hurry back.

I was counting my money at the gas station when we stopped to fill it up.  Frenchy leaned over to me and gave me 60 dollars.  I was shocked, amazed, just where did he come up with 60 dollars?  Then he told me that he “was the jackman, when you sleep with zee girl, I take zee money from her pocketbook.”  Oh man no, tell me you didn’t.

Cherie was my friend, an old girlfriend at that, you can’t steal from my friends.  I grabbed him by the scruff of his outdoorsman’s vest and held him up with just his toes touching the ground.  I cussed him and told him she was my friend.  That we were going back to return her money and he was going to apologize.  Cherie was in her housecoat when she opened the door.  Disbelief covered her face when I tried to tell her what happened.  A single mom with a little girl needed every penny.  I couldn’t leave her with that hanging over my head.  She seemed grateful but I couldn’t be sure when I left, I hoped she believed me.

Andre and I drove down to Orlando to join up with Wayne Holland’s crew.  I needed to drop a load of tools or two to get cashed back up.  No one knew the story on Frenchy, he had never been around these guys before.  Wayne was gearing up for the Christmas break.  He wanted all of his men to get cashed up before the break.  He had bought a new brief case with all kinds of fancy locks, to keep his payroll money in.  To add incentive to the crew and to fire everybody up, Wayne brought his briefcase full of Christmas bonus cash to the breakfast meeting to show the guys at breakfast.  After the breakfast meeting, Wayne and I decided that we would take turns, going out with each guy on the crew to help them sell their load.  The when we got back, we would divvy up the Christmas bonus money.

The next morning, our meeting place was the restaurant.  Wayne left his brief case in his motel room.  He and I made several sales apiece that day, helping everybody out with cash in their pocket and an empty truck for the holidays.  That afternoon, with only empty trucks in the parking lot, the crew met back up at the motel restaurant for a celebration.  We gathered round, had a big feast.  To top it off, for the grand finale, Wayne brought out his brief case to spread the wealth.  When he opened the brief case, it was empty.  Yeah, bare to the bone.  The money was gone.  Disbelief all over Wayne’s face.  All of the guys were down trodden with disappointment.

The first thought that entered my mind was that damn Frenchy.  He was the only one that didn’t work that day.  He usually rode with me but I was busy helping every body else.  I couldn’t prove it, so I didn’t say anything.  Wayne and I hit all the topless bars on the Orange Blossom Trail hoping to see someone spending lots of cash, to no avail.  I still blamed Frenchy in the back of my mind.  I had brought him into this, I felt responsible.  There was 6 guys on the crew and I had earned about $2,800 in two days.  I gave each guy $400.00.  I told them it was from Wayne.  Wayne asked me about it.  I told him that I remembered him selling a load of tools with me, when I first started out with him in Orlando a couple of days before Christmas, many years before.  He and I sold a load and made $2,890 dollars profit, he gave me all of it.   I told him what comes around goes around.

The next day, we split up for Christmas. What goes around comes around.  I stopped at a convenience store just before I got to the Beeline Expressway.  I gave Andre $20.00 to go in to get some beer.  I said we’re going to take some target practice..  Before he could come back out, I was gone.

I don’t have to worry about Cherie being mad at me anymore.  About 2 years ago I got a private message from her, no not a friend request.  She just wanted to cuss my butt out. She never returned any of my friend requests.

Frenchy?  Oh, I think about his turkey neck every Sunday when I’m watching football.  Because every week I pull for “zee Bears.”  Tres bien mon ami, merci beau coup.

 

Cattykisms 102

My kittens must have known just how tired I was.  I got to sleep ’til 6:30 this morning.  All of the festivity yesterday must have wore me out.  Yesterday was the first time I’ve had anything to drink in almost 30 years.  The last time, you might ask, well let’s see…………………

“Pedro is coming”

My brother Gary and I had been traveling together selling tools for many a year.  Being Military brats, I guess traveling was in our blood.  We had worked Texas, Arizona and Southern California often, many times I guess but we had never taken the time to go to Mexico as “touristas”.

One winter we were working in El Paso, Texas, a large city but down in the dumps economically speaking. It seems like the main source of income was begging, (no kidding).  At every intersection, on all four corners, were people holding up signs “will work for food” or “Please help, need cash”.

Usually we could sell a load of tools at will, we were good at it.  We acted like dumb butt truck drivers from the hills in South Carolina (Carolina Tool).  It worked pretty good, I guess ’cause we didn’t need much help acting like dumb butts.  We would tell people that asked too many questions “Don’t ask me, I just drive a truck”.

Our whole crew (about 25 men) were working El Paso with us.  We stayed at the Congress Motel, I think because it also had a lounge and allowed dogs, (we had a couple of dogs working on the crew).

Since we were little kids I had always made an attempt to speak Spanish.  We lived in Cuba and I was stationed in Puerto Rico and had lived in San Antonio, rather than duck the language barrier I embraced it.  Well, this weapon in my repertoire paid off in El Paso.  We worked that town for two weeks and the only ones to sell any equipment was me and Gary.  We worked the “barrio” with delight.  It was crowded, music blaring, all kinda of colors, people pushing and shoving.  I remember one guy asking me “Who taught you to speak Spanish?  I’d cut his throat.” I told him ” I learned it in “prison, now chew on that.”

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The “barrio” is a neighborhood strip across from Jaurez and the Rio Grande, like a buffer between American El Paso and Mexican Jaurez.  El Paso is a big town with about 1 million people.  Jaurez while no metropolis, has two million people, mostly slums and more slums crowded together and sprawled out across the Rio Grande Valley and sloping mountain sides.  At first we were timid to say the least, about being fairheaded gringos working the barrio but it paid off, we sold two loads a day, always got paid cash.  Twice what any one else did while we were there.

In a festive mood Gary and I decided to drop our drawers, let our hair down and take our life in our hands and just go across the border for some fun and excitement.  We left our truck in Los Estados Unidos and walked across the Customs check point promising to return by the end of the day.  We tried to see it all.  American money  (US dollars)  buys a lot more in Mexico, than pesos will.  Leather goods like Tony Lamas boots cost less than a hundred bucks, versus 3 to 4 hundred here.  Tattoo parlors every where, crowded street and street vendors, chicken fights in every ally and muchos putas por barrato, todas ahora.  To say that their streets are crowded is a play upon words.  Street lights didn’t exist, it was the guy with the loudest horn that had the right of way.

Gary and I decided we wanted a cold beer (cerveza fria) and tried to find a cantina that didn’t look like it was about to be condemned.  We gave up on that and found a place that looked like an old style western bar that you always saw on TV westerns.  The sign above the door said “Cantina de Royale”.  It even had the swinging “bat wing” styled doors that guarded the door way, like gargoyles.

Next to the entrance was a guy without any legs, sitting on a skateboard, with a tin cup, looking for handouts.  I think we gave him a dollar apiece, to which he replied “Gracias amigos” and grinned at us, when he did the sun flashing off of his gold teeth almost blinded us.  I think almost every one we met that day had either gold or silver teeth.

The first thing that caught my eye when we entered the bar was the one bladed ceiling fan, tilted to an angle, turning slowly like a ticking clock, it was surrounded by sticky fly tape, hanging from the ceiling.  This place was crowded, every one drinking and having a good time.  “Selena” was blaring from the juke box, every body cried when she sang and loved her music.  Guys would stand around and cry “Selena” hold their drinks to the sky and drink a toast.  Seems like she had just been killed not long before and everyone was still shocked by her passing.

This place wouldn’t pass any health inspections stateside, but the filth didn’t seem to hamper any one’s drinking.  There was one guy hustling drinks, he had a mouthful of silver teeth, he had an electric cord plugged into the wall outlet, the ends of the cord were frayed and the two wires were pulled apart. He would put the light bulb between his teeth and then hold both ends of the electric wire, one in each hand. The bulb would light up, sticking out of his mouth. (Don’t try this at home).

Gary and I went to the bar, pushed a few whores aside to make room for our elbows.  We ordered a bottle of mescal and two draft beers for chasers.  We were about half way through our first bottle, when we noticed every one looking out the window.  It seems like the crowd of people in the street had started moving in one direction like “lemmings leaping into the sea”, the folks in the bar wanted to see what was the commotion, they rushed to the window to find out.

The murmur outside became a roar, instead of moving fast, folks began running past the window.   The building started shaking.  So many people moving in one direction, it was dumbfounding.  The guy on the skateboard came inside under the swinging doors and hollered “Run for your lives, Pedro is coming!!!!!!!!!!!” .

Me, I was thinking that “Pedro” must be some rambunctious bull that some one had let loose and not thinking he could get in the bar, so I kept drinking my mescal.  That stuff has a kick to it in case you haven’t heard.  The people in the bar started leaving in a hurry, not even bothering to scoop up their change on the tables, knocking over chairs on their way out the front door.  Big time, even the guy passed out on the pool table got up in a hurry and left.

The beer tender came up to us, wanting us to settle our tab.  We asked him “What’s the rush amigo, we’ve only just got started?”  He said “You must hurry, haven’t you heard?  Pedro is coming; he is the biggest and the meanest hombre in all of Mexico”.

He was ready to go, so we got him to get us another bottle of mescal and he set it on the bar in front of us, before he too, took off running out the door.

Soon after that, the biggest, meanest and ugliest looking dude I ever saw came walking through the “bat wing” doors.  He had tattoos all over his chest and one on his back that was a complete bull fighting ring, with thousands of people, a matador and a bull in the center, it covered his back.  What I noticed most was even though he was bare chested he wore a shoulder holster, with a .45 automatic.  He came up to me and Gary at the bar, pulled out his pistol, pulled back the slide slowly, then turned to shoot at cockroaches scurrying on the shelves.  He holstered his gun and looked at us.

I reached over to the bar and grabbed the near empty bottle of mescal and chugged it straight from the bottle, clinched the worm between my teeth, bit it in two and swallowed both halves then tossed the empty bottle over my shoulder, never taking my eyes away from his.  He reached over to the bar and grabbed the unopened bottle of mescal and broke the neck on the edge of the bar.  Then he took his still smoldering cigarillo butt from his mouth, dropped it into the now opened bottle, then he raised the bottle to his lips, pressing the broken edges of the bottle so tight against his mouth, that blood started running down his chin.  He drank and chugged until all of the mescal was gone, either down his gut or running past both sides of his mouth until he had that cigar butt between his teeth, and he even swallowed that.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.  I looked at Gary and he had his hand in his front pocket, I knew he was ready to whip out his blade.  This guy shook his head left, and then right a couple of times, like a boxer that had just taken a good punch to the jaw. Then, all of a sudden, he turned to leave, just the way he came in.

I reacted in surprise I couldn’t stand the suspense and hollered out “Hey Amigo, wait where are you going”?  He turned and looked at me , he spit phlem and blood.  Then he said, “Estupido Gringo haven’t you heard?  Pedro is coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

CattyKisms 101

The kitties have decided to let me have a few minutes to myself. It seems they prefer the electric blanket’s company this morning, more than they do mine.

 

 

 

 

Let me try to use this time wisely, In my dreams I remembered this story.  See if you can relate.

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Old school, I know.  Everyone is tired about hearing how we did it back in my day.  Every where you look, people have their face stuck staring at their phone.  I wondered out loud to my son, just how did we get along back in the day, without being able to send text messages?

Duh, back in school, we sent notes, via our friends to our girlfriends, via their friends.  Little folded up pieces of paper, most of the time the notes started out “Hi, whatcha doin?”  I use to fold mine up in a three corner manner like a paper football.  You didn’t want to get caught passing notes.

It was better than the Pony Express, it got the job done.

At church was a little different.  We didn’t pass notes, we used sign language.  My Sunday school teacher, Nell Johnson thought that it would be a good idea to teach sign language in Sunday School.  We had a couple visitors to our Church that were deaf, Ms. Johnson thought that we might get more visitors, if there more people that could sign and also I think she wanted to impress others when we went on visitations to other Churches.

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For young minds, it doesn’t take very long to pick up new ideas, as a group, my Sunday School Class at Dinsmore Methodist jumped on the idea.  We all got pretty good with the alphabet and could spell out our messages in church, without having to pass notes in front of the preacher.

My girlfriend at the time was the preacher’s daughter Gerry.  She and I carried on in front of her Dad, he didn’t care.  He was ex-Navy, a retired Chief.  He seemed to like me because my Dad was in the Navy.  I visited Gerry quite often and got to be a familiar face around the church and across the street, at their house.

During the summertime, I got to where I was slipping over to see Gerry after dark, around bed time.  After her parents said goodnight, she would open her bedroom window and I would slip in.  It started with her having her friend Linda Butler spend the night.  Then me and my friend, Wayne Taylor would sneak in through the opened window.

I really don’t know how her parents slept through all of that, it was a long summer.  I know that Wayne tried his hardest but I’m not sure that Linda liked him all of that much or if he just tried too hard, but their fussing cut into mine and Gerry’s private time.  Finally I told Gerry that Linda was gonna have to stop spending the night with her every week end.

To me, it was worth the wait.  Finally, it was just me and her.  I got to where I was falling asleep at her house in her bed, with her Mom and Dad in the next bedroom, just on the other side of that wall.  Her Dad would get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I would scootch under the cover and Gerry would pull up the blanket, just in case he looked in.  Most of the mornings when he got up to pee, I would gather my things and head back out the window in the dawn’s early light.

Ed, the bread man would honk his horn at me most every morning when I was riding my bike home in my underwear, with my clothes wrapped up in a bundle on the handle bars.

I got my license to drive on my 14th birthday. I got a hardship operator’s permit, because of my mother’s bad health. Soon after that, Dad got me a car. Once I got to meeting all of those new girls at Paxon High School, I sorta stopped seeing Gerry so much, pretty soon, it was not at all.  I kept going to Sunday School but slowed down on going to Church.  Gerry found out about the girls I was dating over in Paxon, I’ll never forget the last message she sent me.sign land 4

Mickey, Chinese Food and the Greater Metro Plex

When you live on the road and your home address is a PO box, you have to make money every day.  Motel room, gas, eating out, entertainment, laundry mats and bar tabs, etc., they all ad up, quick.  We got up every morning at 6 am, had breakfast at 7, then on the road looking to make a sale by 8:30.  Hopefully, you can make a sale early and then you have the rest of the day to goof off.

I sold a load of tools early one morning.  I arrived back at the motel honking my Dixie horn, spinning tires and cutting donuts, as usual.  Maudie was still brushing her teeth.  I asked her if she wanted to go to the baseball park in Arlington to see the Texas Rangers play a game.   She wasn’t 100% enthused about it.   I think she had her hopes up for Six Flags.  Maudie wasn’t exactly a baseball fan, she liked the eight dollar beers alright, but it just something about those 10 dollar Dilly Dogs.  She agreed to go, if I would take her out to eat Chinese food later.

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The normal game time for most week day games was one o’clock. It gets so hot in Texas that most games are scheduled for later.  The start of today’s game was delayed until five for a television broadcast.  We got there early.  Maudie and I were walking around the outside of the stadium sightseeing and killing time.  We saw a white, on white, on white Lincoln Mark V, with the front license plates that read “MICKEY.”  Immediately I recognized the name.  Hey, that’s Mickey Rivers, he’s the center fielder for the Rangers.  He got out of the car wearing a Malcom X cap, sunglasses, and a black jogging suit with a big gold chain. He walked over and started to unlock the gate.  I went up to him and started a conversation.  “Who’s gonna win the game today?  Is Nolan Ryan gonna pitch today?  Who do you think is gonna get MVP?  Then he acted like he had to go.  Before he could leave though I asked him if he would sign my program.  He said, “Sure, do you have a pen?”  I  told him how to write it out, “To Mike and Maudie, enjoy the game.”  When he handed it back to me I glanced down at the scribbled signature and I read, “Jerome Johnson.”  I asked him, “Who in the hell is Jerome Johnson?  Ain’t you Mickey Rivers,  center field?” He said, “Who me?  Hell no.  I’m Jerome Johnson.  Mickey is in the training room, I just got his car washed for him.”

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It was a great evening for a baseball game.  After watching the fireworks from center field and after half dozen stadium beers I was more than ready to take Maudie out to go eat.  Chinese sounded good to me.  Jerome had told me how to get to a great Chinese place nearby.  His directions were a little off though.  Instead of coming into the restaurant from the front, we ended up coming in the back way.

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Not being familiar with the place, when we saw the sign over the door China Gate or something, we walked right on in, the door wasn’t locked.  By mistake, we entered through the kitchen door.  On every wall it seemed there were skinned animals of some kind, hanging high up on the wall, from a hook.  Immediately I thought they looked like cats, but it couldn’t be.  I knew that one hanging off to the side sort of looked like a bluish duck, maybe it was just my imagination.  The menus were written in Chinese.  I had to ask what each entrée was and was told it was either “chicken this, or chicken that.”  Funny, I son’t remember seeing any chickens in the back.

I just ordered some egg rolls and won ton sauce.  I couldn’t get my mind off of what ever that blue thing was, hanging from a hook in the kitchen.  Not Maudie, she put on the feed bag.  She wanted chicken this, that and the other and got her wish.  The waitress kept bring her one order after another.  She kept saying, “You should try this.  It’s the best chicken I ever ate.”  A man at the table next to us leaned over shaking his head and told me, “Tell her it’s not chicken, it’s rabbit.”  Maudie lost her appetite after that.  She got up from the table holding her mouth, stomping her way to the bathroom.   I don’t eat fortune cookies, but I won’t ever forget what Maudie’s fortune read “Hare today, gone tomorrow.”

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Maybe those 10 dollar Dilly Dogs weren’t such a bad idea.