The Judge

I’ve almost quit writing my stories.  No, it’s not that the well ran dry.  I’ve been sick with a cold.  Ideas and memories flood the channels but it’s getting harder to remember the exact dates and times.  Some stories lead to the next, while others run together.

The Dinsmore Cemetery is still right where it always been.  Right across the street from Aunt Irma’s.  Only now it has more of my friends and more important, more family members.  I can remember as a little kid, hiding Easter eggs in the cemetery.

When I got bigger, one of my friends Wayne Taylor got the job from his Uncle Billy who was an ATF agent, to mow the grounds.  Billy was married to Camille.  Her brother, Dewey Pendarvis was our judge.  Being caretaker of the cemetery came under his jurisdiction in those days.

All of that was way before consolidation.  I think that happened in ’68.  I say think because I don’t want to let facts get in the way of a good story.  Wayne’s Uncle Billy caught me joy riding in Mom’s Cutlass one night.  I’d wait until my parents went to sleep, then I would coast backwards out of the driveway, start the car and drive off without the headlights.

I didn’t have anywhere special to go.  That time of night, no one to go see.  I traveled the roads that I knew best.  The dirt roads that ran through the woods and the alleys that were barely visible between buildings.  Some times it was hard to distinguish the path in the dark and I would drive up under clotheslines by mistake or take a cow trail into the pasture.

It was all in fun, there was no mischief on my part.  I thought I was getting old enough to drive and wanted to check it out.  I saw headlights in my rear view, the rabbit in my blood wanted me to push Momma’s Cutlass to the limit, but the blue lights setting on the dash of Uncle Billy’s unmarked car brought me to my senses and I stopped.

Before consolidation, things were different.  The cops could take you home to your parents.  Once, while Dad was in Viet Nam, the Judge took off his belt and gave me and my brother swats for joy riding in some elses boat. Usually the judge’s secretary would make a court date and I would show up with my parents to tell my story.  By that time my folks had more than taken care of the punishment.  The Judge said this time my punishment was to help Wayne Taylor mow the grass at the cemetery every two weeks, for a month.

The problem with that is, although Wayne got paid $15 every two weeks, he didn’t cut half the grass.  Some of it hadn’t been cut all summer.  We were raised in two different kinda families.  If my Dad told me to cut the grass, that meant if I had to,  get down and cut it with a pair of scissors, that grass had better be cut.  Wayne, well he would hit a root with the lawnmower or a stump and just say “Oh well, that lawnmower is tore up, that’s as far as I can go.”

Part of our chore was to assemble the old plastic flowers and metal flower stands in a pile so that they could be hauled off occasionally.  Like I said, this was before consolidation, we didn’t have a normal refuse service back in them days.

I worked for my parents in the Trailer Park on US 1 and Dunn.  The Silver Dolphin.  Dad was in the Navy, mom was sick a lot.  I was the oldest son.  I had a lot of obligations.  I learned that when I did a job, there was no one else to come behind me to clean up the mess.  I had two younger brothers, they were my crew but often enough I had a hard time getting the sense of emergency across.  Like keeping the trailer park maintenance up to snuff, repairs done, picking up the empty drink bottles from trailer to trailer on Tuesday, because the Coke man came on Wednesday.   When Dad was overseas in Viet Nam, it was on our shoulders.  The local swimming hole was across the highway, Dinsmore Beach by the boat landing.  The lure often robbed me of helpers.  Being able to pay the family bills had a direct reflection from our efforts.  If the work didn’t get done, the bills didn’t get paid.

The judge had a work force of some kind I reckon.  His nephew Woodrow Pendarvis was his constable.  Woodrow was married to Elizabeth Hildebrand.  The Hildebrand’s were kin to us by marriage through mom’s sister, Aunt Irma.  Aunt Irma lived across the street from the cemetery.

The other constable was Mr Cauffman.  He and his family live on Old King’s Road out past Plummer Road on the west side of the train tracks.  Mr Cauffman’s wife was the school crossing guard.  We would see her every morning in front of the elementary school, waving to us on the bus as we rode to of to Paxon High.  Ms. Cauffman had a bright red Cutlass with a black top.  She dyed her hair black and wore it in a bee hive.   She would try to wear outfits that matched the colors of her car.  On rainy days she wore a black raincoat and carried a black umbrella.

I went to Dinsmore Methodist with her kids, they weren’t overly friendly, typical Methodist I guess.  Memories sometimes play tricks on you.  This was so long ago, I try to remember things as they happen but that not always the case.

I remember that back in those days Sherwood Forest was all white.  I could go to the Sherwood Teen Club and get a new girlfriend anytime I wanted.  The neighborhood was packed full of white families.  The weren’t any buses.  I had to walk.  It was about 6 or 7 miles.  I worked, so I always had a few bucks.  A couple of the older guys in my neighborhood would come get me, because I would have a couple dollars for gas or they knew that I wasn’t afraid to ask girls to dance.  Aunt Irma had a second job behind the sandwich counter at O’Steens Pharmacy.  I could always take a girl in there and get a milkshake and fries courtesy of Aunt Irma.

On Saturday afternoons, me and my cousin Earl Hildebrand would wash, vacuum and wax Aunt Irma’s Oldsmobile, then we would mow her grass, making ten apiece for the day.  Oh it was good to live in a small neighborhood and be some kind of kin to every body.

Pre-consoloidation, yeah things weren’t that bad.  In Dinsmore we had our own post office, we had our own judge and police officers (constables). Everyone bought groceries from either Mr. Tiller at his Banner Foods or from Steve’s Groceries.  Mr. Rowell even built a “Yummy Burger.” There were so many churches in our area that we had our own softball league and ball park.  Once a month the churches would take a bus load of kids down to Strickland’s Landing or Crystal River.

Many years before the Seaboard Coastline dug out the ditches alongside of the railroad tracks, we use to have floods after weeks of heavy downpours.  A lot of the roads weren’t paved back then, it made such a mess.  One year, It may have been ’67, everything flooded.  From Old Kings Road to US 1 the creek over flowed.  I remember diving off the handrail of the Old Kings Road Bridge only a foot or so into the raging water and swimming all the way to the bridge on US 1, with the help of a swirling current, dodging debris and being careful not to get hung up in barb wire.

The north end of the cemetery had once been a potter’s field where the local Negroes had been buried back in the day.  For what ever reason, mostly neglect, the woods had overgrown this section.  It never got mowed, the tombstones rotted away, no one came to pay their respects.  Dinsmore had it’s negro quarters. It was on the east side of Old Kings Road just before you got to Plumber Road.  We called “The Quarters.”  It was a peaceful settlement, they lived in solitude.  I think the Carter’s owned the land, but I can’t say for sure.

Old Tobe lived there and his wife Willie Mae.  When the physical labor was too hard for me to do by myself, Dad would go get Tobe to help me.  We laid lots of sewer pipe, removed quite a few stumps and poured a few cement slabs together.  Willie Mae was a big help to Mom once she got sick.  She would help with the laundry, iron our clothes, keep Momma company, wash windows just whatever needed doing, she would do it gladly.  I loved using her pan fried cornbread to sop up the pot liquor, because when Mom got sick she always wanted a mess of greens.  I only like the turnip greens but she fixed mustard and collards that she grew in her front yard.

The trees had grown so high and the brambles so thick in the neglected section of the cemetery that you couldn’t walk, when the floods came, these shallow graves floated to the surface. The caskets had long since fell apart. I was swimming off the bridge. I can remember Judge Pendarvis asking me and a couple others to help him gather the body parts and put them in separate piles to try to keep them from being lumped together.  It was a mess alright, dried bones float alright.  You couldn’t tell if they were black or white.  It was morbid.  When the flood waters went down we searched the woods from Old Kings Road, all the way to US 1.

The judge got a small bulldozer and cleared the woods, the north side of the cemetery all the way to the creek, a couple hundred yards. I think they found more bodies and grave sites. If I remember right, these bones were re-interned at Restlawn Cemetery.  Much higher ground.  I always thought that a memorial should have been put on this site.

One day while me and some friends were scouting the path between Old Kings Road and US 1. we heard a lot of laughing and giggling coming through the brush, just the other side of the tracks.  Many years before, this site had been a moonshiner’s den.  In the early ’60’s they had got raided,  Wayne Taylor had told me that his Uncle Billy had a hand in it.  Coming from US 1 there was an old logging road, but coming from Old Kinds Road it only had an old cow path used by moonshiners and car thieves that would hide their cars in the woods and strip them down.  I remember sun bleached bags that once contained sugar strewn across the ground and scattered concrete blocks laying on their sides with weeds now growing through them, that once must have held the still up off the ground.  In the back ground through the brambles we could see splotches of bright red and shiny chrome.

Boys being boys, we got curiouser and curiouser.  We had to find out what this cackling laughter was all about.  The noise was so loud that no one could hear the three of us sneaking up on ’em.  Low and behold were we surprised. Backed up in the bushes was a familiar car.  On it was Mrs Cauffman spread across the hood of her Cutlass, face up.  The only clothes that I could  see that she had on was a pair of black knee high boots.  Behind her was the Judge holding her legs aspraddle.  The antenna on the fender was whipping back and worth with the rhythm as the judge was driving it home.

My buddy had been going with Mrs Cauffman’s daughter Karen, but they had broken up.  After we retreated back in the woods a few feet, he couldn’t resist the urge to toss a few pine cones their way.  No, not the big brown pine lightweight cones but the heavy green hard one ones that hurt if you get hit with one.

I never told a soul about what I saw.  It wasn’t the first time I seen someone down this road doing the same thing.  This was old Toogie Lane and Rosa Braddock’s favorite spot.  But seeing the Judge and Mrs. Cauffman together, boy that was a real shocker.  Secrets are hard to keep though in a small town.  We weren’t consolidated yet.

Soon it was big news.  Constable Cauffman went to the county commissioners and ratted out many counts of malfeasance on the judges part.  I don’t remember if Cauffman quit or got fired but the judge had to serve about 6 months in jail and his nephew Woodrow became a corrections officer.  Woodrow’s wife Elizabeth became a supervisor at the Driver’s license Office.  The judge’s youngest son Bobby sells cars at Duval Honda.

Soon after, Mrs Cauffman’s daughter Karen told her Dad that I attacked her on the school bus, when all I remember doing is offering her my seat so that she wouldn’t have to stand. She and her Dad came by our house demanding some kind of satisfaction.  I told her Dad that he better leave our house before I kicked his ass.  I can remember my Dad telling him, “you’d better go before I let him.”  The next day, I had to fight Karen’s new boyfriend in the hallway at school and after that his cousin and then his cousin’s best friends.  Let me say this, boys that don’t have to work, ones that don’t know what self sacrifice is all about, well they can’t fight.

Aw, that was many years ago.  Too many.  I hope I remembered everything right.  We’re consolidated now.  The city of Jacksonville had a vote, the whole county against us, guess we was out numbered.  Now we get free garbage pickup.  We lost our Post Office but the city gave us a dump to replace it.  The state built 235 houses along Sibbald for black families so all of the white families in Sherwood Forest moved out.  After the federal gov’t provided more financing for black owned  housing projects we got a few sidewalks.

The cemetery now has over 600 filled grave sites, a lot more of my family and friends than I care to admit.  Uncle Bud, well he is out there raising daisies, Aunt Irma is in an Urn. My nephew Clyde is out there too along with my cousin’s wife Patsy and my nephews and nieces too many to name.  The trailer park is still there but just barely.  The last flood almost washed it down the river.  My Dad sold it a long time ago.  It’s been so long that no one remembers, who poured those cement slabs and dug those sewer lines.

Time to go now. I can smell my wife’s cooking, I can’t wait.  Turnip greens and cornbread.  I hope I didn’t let the facts get in the way of me telling a good story.

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.”

 

 

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

Beech Mountain

Have you ever been skiing?  How about on Beech Mountain or Sugar Mountain near Banner Elk, N.C.?  I’ve been telling a lot of stories lately, the time to tell them is when you think about them.

1969 was the end of an era, though I didn’t know it then.  If I could think of it, I did it.  Being 17, I was always looking for adventure, my little brother Gary and I got to talking about snow skiing and wanted to give it a shot.

Dad had rented some trailers to some folks that worked for Kraft Paper Mill that had been closed down for about 20 years, they were from Maggie Valley and had came down to Jacksonville from North Carolina to reopen the mill.  Some of the guys had told us stories about how much fun is to ski near their home in Boone and Banner Elk, North Carolina and all of the beautiful college girls that liked to ski.  We wanted to see it for ourselves.  We had seen some “snow bunnies” on skis on TV commercials advertising for the Winter Olympics and decided that was the place to be.

Our Dad let us use his van for the weekend.  It was on old Chevy Corvair van with a rear engine.  We figured that would help with getting good traction in the snow and ice and give us a place to sleep.  We had seen snow before when we lived in Virginia, but not that much snow, just inches not feet.  We stuck a mattress in the back of the van, that we got out of one of Dad’s rental trailers, took two sets of clothes and a portable 8 track tape deck.

I had my collection of 8 track tapes to prove I was cool.  My portfolio included Johnny Rivers, The Beatles, BB King, Rare Earth, Grand Funk, Credence Clearwater,  Fats Domino, Carole King, James Taylor and a few others.

I cashed in my Savings Bonds to make sure we had plenty of money about $300 dollars worth if I remember right.  I had some Christmas money I had been saving to buy gifts, not much I know, but altogether we had almost $400 bucks.  Gary was only 15 but we were brothers, we shared and shared alike.

Seems like it took us about 7 hours to drive up Hwy 301, there wasn’t many expressways in those days (A folk singer that I met told me that they call ’em Freeways in California).  The first night we were there, we slept in the van.  It got colder than a witches  t…, well let’s just say it was cold.  We had snuck some of Momma’s Bacardi and would take a couple of snorts every 30 minutes or so, to kill the cold.

When we woke up the next morning, there were icicles hanging from the roof, inside the van.  The condensation from our breath had collected on the metal roof and was frozen like stalactites staring down at us.  We got out of the van and when nature called we spelled our names in the snow with urine.  I may have had a little trouble dotting the “I”.

We were surrounded by a beautiful blanket of pretty white snow as far as the eye could see. The snow was about 2 foot deep and the windshield was a frozen block of ice.  We lucked out though, we had gotten directions the night before when we had a long line of cars behind us honking the horn, ’cause we were driving so slow.  The people driving behind us were flashing their lights, honking their horns and were hollering at us because we were flat landers.  We pulled over at a wide spot on side of the mountain where a guy was selling Christmas trees, Fraizer firs, to let every one go around us.  He pointed us in the right direction, clear the other side of the mountain.  Once we got there, we pulled into an empty parking lot at a restaurant that was closed for the day.  It had a large sign painted on the window that said “Blueberry Flap Jacks, all you can eat $2.25.”  We waited for them to open up the next morning and with our bellies full, we followed the snow plow up Beech Mountain.

The resort was already packed when we got there; we found a spot to park near some trees (in case we decided to camp out).  We were “green peas” when it came to everything including skiing, we wanted to check it out, but mostly we wanted to check out the gals.

Beautiful college age girls were everywhere, all wearing bright colored ski suits, thin, but because they were filled with goose down, kept them warm.  We had already put on both sets of clothes to stay warm and we were still cold, freezing.  I used my extra pair of socks for mittens.  The admittance and a lift pass for the day was about $14.00 each.  We went to the equipment rental and bought two pair of goggles, then we rented our boots, skis and poles, altogether cost us about $35 dollars apiece.

We watched to see what every one else was doing and tried to mimic them, trying our best to fit in.  We slipped and fell all the way to the lodge near where the ski trails started.  I saw a beginner’s slope with lots of little kids having a ball.  Everything was so white, it was blinding, that’s where the goggles come into play, oh yeah, they helped a lot.  The “beginner’s slope” consisted of a long cable, strung across two pulleys on an almost flat surface.  The cable was constantly moving in one direction and the idea was to grab a hold of the cable with one hand and let it pull you along, while you tried to maintain your balance.  There was an instructor telling me to point my toes together if I wanted to slow down or stop and to lean one way or the other and to try to dig in with the edge of my skis, depending on which way I wanted to go.  Most of what he tried to tell me went in one ear and out the other.  Maybe if the instructor had of been a she, I might have listened.

Gary met me at the end of the cable, some little kids had told him what to do, then showed him how to do it.  He pulled a “Christy” on me.  That’s when if you want to stop, you hop up in the air and land sideways with the edge of your skis digging in the snow.

So after two futile efforts of trying to learn gracefully, young men being impatient to learn, we decided to give the slopes a shot.  Not that we thought that we were ready but we had come to meet some girls.  We headed for the ski lift; the line was long, long, long.  When we got closer to the head of the line, girls would show up out of nowhere asking if we were “single?”

“Hell yeah we was “single”, whatchoo talking about?  That’s why we’re here.”  No, they meant were we going up on the lift as singles, because the chair was designed for two people.  Sounded like a good deal to me, just about that time, there was the chair, no time for excuses, it’s either get on or get left behind.  Just as soon as your bottom hits the cold seat, the lift rises quickly.  No time to change your mind.  It was about a half a mile to the top.  The lift would break down and grind to a halt for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, cold with the wind blowing snow in your face, it left us swaying in the breeze.  Oh it was cold.  Even wearing two pair of jeans, a flannel shirt and a sweatshirt, it was cold.  I let Gary wear my jacket, because I wanted to show off my blue Florida Gator sweatshirt to make it look like I was a college student.

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The girl sitting next to me (I believe her name was Bridgette) must have took a shine to me, she was a foreign exchange student from Ireland.  Bridgette asked me with a thick brogue if I “wanted a bit of toddy,” confusing me for a second, then she produced a goatskin bag.  She told me that it contained warm  goat’s milk and rum, to keep you warm.  Well it sure did the trick.  The lift stopped so often in the bitter cold that I think we killed most of it on that first run up the mountain.

When we got to the exiting spot I hesitated, she got off, but I was buzzing from the wine and a little apprehensive, so I hesitated.  The lift waits for no man and it just kept going up the mountain.  I kept seeing empty lift chairs pass by me on the way down, while I was still going up.  Every once in a while you could see some poor sucker that had decided that being embarrassed was better than being hospitalized, instead of getting off of the lift, had chosen the humiliating ride back down the mountain while everyone stared at you, pointing fingers.. I decided that wasn’t going to be me and when the lift came close to the ground, I leaned over to see just what was what.  It seemed perilous, I could place myself in the other guy’s shoes, maybe riding back down the mountain on the lift wasn’t such a bad idea.

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The lift started with a jerk to spin around to head back downhill.  I decided it was “either now or never” and jumped into oblivion.  Where I landed was steep and there was a snow machine right in front of it, blowing man made snow right in my face, blinding me so that I skied right into it.  I hit it hard.  So hard that I laid on the frozen ground stunned.  I was so cold that I couldn’t tell if I was hurt or not but I was aware that if I didn’t rise up the snow coming out of that machine would have me covered up in no time.  They probably wouldn’t find me until spring.

I later learned the name for this slope was “Tom Terrific,” it was the bad boy, I guess because it was terrifying.  I found out why, the hard way.  It was so steep that just as soon as I tried to stand up on my skis, before I could get my balance, I went downhill like a shot out of cannon.  If I hit a bald spot with no snow just ice, I got airborne, when I landed I crashed.  Just as soon as I tried to stand up, it was off to the races again.  Every 50 feet I would find some reason to crash, and not gracefully either, it was head over heels, sometimes cart wheeling, all the way down the slope.  I actually felt sorry for the other skiers that I was scaring the daylights out of.

Somewhere, about halfway down the mountain I started to get the hang of it.  Lean to the left and avoid that balled spot or point my skis together with my toes so that I could slow down (some).  At least I got to the point where if it looked like I was going to crash and burn, it wasn’t at full speed anymore.  I was pumped up with the thought that I was getting the hang of it.  I didn’t see my brother at the foot of the slope, I figured that he was alright,  I decided that I would give it another try.

This time my riding partner on the lift, had a snotty nose, when she asked me if I wanted a toddy, I politely declined.  She told me that most all of the kids on the slope went to a school nearby.  I prayed that the lift wouldn’t break down so much this time.  This trip, I managed to get off the lift on the intermediate slope.  Much more better for sure, the second time, kind of like gliding in and out, to the left as far as you can go, point your toes together to slow down and then lean to the right, go as far as you can, not so much straight down hill but at an angle, far as you can, slow down then lean back the other way.  Alright it was getting better.  I still fell here and there but not so much.

When I got to the bottom again I saw Gary with a pretty gal standing next to my Irish snow bunny.  As I got close to them, I attempted a “Christy” and you know what?  I pulled it off.  First try.  Then as I tried to take a couple of walking steps with the skis, I busted my can.  After that, we decide it was time for some hot chocolate, we went into the lodge and sat down in front of a roaring fire.

 

The lodge was a huge A frame facing the slope, the place was packed.  We found ourselves sitting on the floor in front of the fire place.  There were snow bunnies every where we looked, wearing their high dollar ski suits, fancy gloves and accessories.  They weren’t there to ski, not wearing all that make up.  They would bump into you “accidentally” on purpose and say “Escussee moi monsieur, sou ve plais” or “Pardon, merci beau coup”.  I think I can still smell some of that perfume.  I just knew that stuff had to be French.

 

The front of the A framed lodge was all glass.  I noticed that everyone was staring up the mountain, what a beautiful spectacle, every one was zig zagging from side to side, making their way down the slope.  I just couldn’t figure out what were all of those blue spots were that dotted the slope.  They were every where, dozens and dozens of blue spots.  I thought about the blueberry pancakes I had for breakfast.  I couldn’t figure for the life of me just what they were.  The girls asked if we had someplace where we could go, kind of private.  I seems like they wanted to go smoke some reefers.  Gary and I hadn’t been around been around any pot before and these girls were a little older than we were, we wanted to check them out, so we all went to our van parked near the trees.  First thing I did was plug Fats Domino into the tape deck and when he started singing “Bluberry Hill,” it dawned on me.  Looking out of the windshield at all of those blue spots on the mountainside is where I crashed. I hit the snow so hard, that the impact left blue stains from the dye in my blue jeans and sweatshirt.

 

That night the girls invited us back to their campus.  Appalachian State Teachers College, way back before it went co-ed.  It seems like there was going to be a concert in the gym that night and the girl that was singing was a “country/folk singer named Linda Ronstadt and her band from California.  Appalachian State was an all girl’s college at the time.  We had to sneak past the dorm mother to take a shower.

 

The gym was kind of small, I think the capacity was about 1,500 people. The acoustics was pretty good and she rocked the house down.  Linda was in the Nashville area trying to promote her first record deal.  She had just left her previous group, the “Stoned Poneys.”  The members of her band included Glen Frye and Don Henley.  She sang “Desperado” a song she said her band had wrote for her, (this was years before she was famous and recorded it).  She also sang several songs that had been recorded by other people but she made them sound so much better and songs from her new album “Hand Sown, Hand Grown.”.  During the breaks she would walk through the crowd and mingle, trying to promote her record sales.  She tried to talk to or touch hands with everybody there.  She was so pretty and very well liked.  After the concert, she sat in a chair in the middle of the gym floor, smiling, signing autographs, laughing, telling jokes, just trying to relate to the college students and sell a few copies of her new album.

 

That night we went back to the girl’s dorm after curfew and drank some beer and wine and ate cheese sticks.  Gary played the guitar and for a moment, we were almost hippies.

 

The next morning I was sitting on the toilet to pee, (kinda sneaky like to keep from being noticed by the dorm mother) with the door closed, in the dorm bathroom.  I noticed that the girl in the stall next to me was standing with her toes pointed towards the toilet while she was peeing.  I could hear the splash of the water, but her feet were pointed towards the commode, which I found confusing.  I wasn’t sure about this; I waited until she left before I went back to the room and told everyone what I saw.  Everybody had a good laugh and told me she was nicknamed “Sasquatch.”  She was a gal from Banner Elk that was some kind of “backwoodsy.”  She chewed tobacco and dipped snuff.  She was bigger than any one else, so no one made fun of her.

 

I don’t think we ever did tell those girls how young we were.  We didn’t want to leave but if we didn’t, we’d have to listen to a different kind of music when we got home.  That red headed gal Bridgette called me for six months wanting to know when I was coming back, but I never did.  “Save a nickel, save a dime, going back to happier times, I’m going back some day, come what may”.

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Going home, I had a new addition to my tape collection.

Thrill Hill

Jacksonville 1966.  Way out Fort Caroline Road, before the highway department cut it down to size, there use to be a place called “Thrill Hill.”  It was on the other side of town from where I lived,  a section of town called Dinsmore, way out in the boonies.  My two cousins Linda and Cindy from Arlington, a more upper crust neighborhood, drove out with their boyfriends to pay me a visit.  It would brighten my day when they would did.  They were my contact with the more modern world that was non existant in my neighborhood.

 

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They found me in the middle of making my own “Surf Skate.”  This was before they started calling them “Skateboards.”  I had seen the Beach Boys on TV, they were hip, the newest craze.  I wanted to join the new wave, so I made my own “surf skate.”  Since skateboards weren’t available at K-Mart yet, if you lived on the east coast and wanted a skateboard, you had to make your own.

My cousins arrived with their boyfriends riding in a ‘56 Fairlane coupe.  They suggested we go back to their side of town to find a steep slope to test out my new “skate.”  Our first choice was the Matthews Bridge.  This was before the  newer Hart Bridge was built.  On a Sunday afternoon, with light traffic it seemed like a good choice.

 

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I began my test run at the top, just below the edge of the grates, heading towards the toll booths.

Glenn Lackey, Linda’s boyfriend and eventual ex-husband, drove his Grandpa’s  hot rod Ford right behind me, to clock my speed.  If I remember right, they told me I was doing 35 mph, straight down hill.   The scenery swept by me so fast that I can’t describe it but I can remember burning a hole in the toe of my tennis shoe when I drug my foot trying to slow down.

The toll booth tender shooed us off, “enough of that stuff,” he said.  Aw, it was all in good fun, in the mid 60’s, you could get away with a lot of stuff back in them days.

 

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The bridge was okay for a trial run, no one else in the car wanted to be next, so I asked them if they knew of another place with a downhill run.  “Thrill Hill” popped up immediately but before we went there, we stopped on the way at the entrance to the Ravines Country Club.  It was downhill, turning and twisting, just right to simulate dry surfing.  The “Ravines” as it became known later on, became a popular spot to surf skate.  Eventually, they put up “No Trespassing” signs.

 

Our final destination was “Thrill Hill.’  It was located way out Fort Caroline Road, past where there is a convenience store located now where the road to the river forks.  Not many houses on Ft. Caroline in those days.  It was a lonely stretch of road.  We drove past a spot where some one had nailed up a board and painted on it was a “MIOAK” (Mystic Insignia of a Klansman) or better known as a “Blood Drop Cross.”  It was near the entrance to a secluded dirt road.  To me, seeing a red circle painted on a board with a white cross in the middle, nailed to a tree in the middle of nowhere didn’t mean much.  Heck, I had just learned to ride a skate board that morning, what did I know about anything?

 

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My cousins Linda and Cindy both filled me in.  Back in those days the signal for a meeting spot of a Ku Klux Klan rally, was a Blood Drop Cross.  It made sense to me I guess, a better spot couldn’t be found.  We talked about it for a few minutes.  It really wasn’t any of our business, but back in those days, entertainment was hard to find and it just made us curious.  Kids being kids, we couldn’t just drive off and leave this potentially dangerous and exciting discovery behind.  The thoughts of the upcoming mystic ritual weighed heavy on our minds.  I had seen civil rights protest on TV and newsreel pictures of Klan Rallies, but this was different, those riots and marches were hundreds of mile away, this was right here in front of us.

 

We found Thrill Hill right where it was supposed to be.  Golly it was tall and steep, breathtaking.  When I built my skate board, I used a 2 X 6 about 18 inches long.  Then I took one of my roller skates and flattened the shoe guards with a hammer until the top of the skate’s surface was flat.  Then I used 8 penny nails, driving them halfway into the board, then bending them over to hold the skate in place.  This was probably an okay contraption to wheel around the front porch of our house.  When Cindy and Linda showed up and offered to take me to a much better place to skate, I never thought about how secure it was.

 

When they offered to take me to find a place to surf skate, I just said “hell yeah!”  Now after a successful run down the Matthews Bridge and a couple of passes down the “Ravine,” the prospect of shooting down the steep slope of Thrill Hill started me to have second thoughts.  The road wasn’t  smooth asphalt, oh no, this road was gravel rock sprinkled over wet blacktop to form a hard surface.  Once I saw just how rough the roadway was, I could almost visualize the scabs on my elbows and knees if I fell and busted my can.  Glenn didn’t get behind me to clock my speed on this trip.  The crew was waiting for me at the bottom.

 

I almost knew they expected to see me bust my butt.  My first run was a little shaky going over the rough road.  To say I was scared, would be putting it lightly.   I earned my merit badge though.  I was thinking once was enough, but once Cindy started clucking at me like I was a chicken or something, I just gritted my teeth and did it again.  I had a few falls back at the Ravines but I managed to master the course on Thrill Hill.  My chest puffed out, full of pride on my home made skateboard, I felt like I was good a  skateboarder as any boy alive.

 

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The girls wanted their boyfriends to try it, but they refused, not saying they were chicken, no, I think they just had better sense.  Cindy though, she was game.  She had to give it a shot, she always had that  adventuresome spirit.  Instead of starting at the top though, Cindy started off from the “Ladies Tee,” about two thirds of the way down the slope.  Oh yeah, she busted her can a couple of times, skinning  both knees but she got up and tried it again, the third time she was successful, only busting her butt when she tried to stop.

 

As the sun started to set in the west, our afternoon was drawing to a close.  I think it was Cindy that dared everyone else to “Let’s go sneak up on that Klan rally and see what they’re doing.”  To tell you the truth, I believe it was the first time I ever heard a live conversation about the KKK.  I had never seen anything like it in person.  Once the girls told me that it was a bunch of white men wearing sheets, parading around a giant bonfire, it piqued my interest.  I was game, this I had to see.

 

Darkness was soon upon us, as Glen parked his grandpa’s blue and white Fairlane  under some overhanging tree branches, just off of the highway.  He and Linda turned the radio on and volunteered to stay in the car, to keep an eye on it.  In our absence I think they were planning on doing some spooning, but that’s neither here nor there.  Me, Cindy and her boyfriend, I think his name was Ronnie, trekked down the road in the dark until we came to the bushy entrance with the Blood Drop Cross sign attached to a nearby tree.

 

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Before we took off down the dirt road to check it out.  We looked at each other’s eyes in the twilight to make sure, without actually asking, “Is this really we want to do?”  With a hug and a reassuring glance, there was no longer any hesitation on our part. We walked under the tree branches hanging over the seldom used path, using them for cover.  We found a clearing off to one side big enough to park a couple dozen cars.  Big Buicks and Oldsmobiles with their chrome shining in the moonlight, the darker Chevvies and Pontiacs with the Indian Chief emblem on the hood.  There were so many cars parked there that I almost wanted to look for the valet.

 

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In the hot summer weather, the myrtle bushes surrounding us were in full bloom.  Ronnie started a sneezing fit.  Guess who had hay fever?  You can’t just shssssh some one who has to sneeze, not once they get started.  He sneezed so hard, that he lost his glasses in the dark.  Every time he tried to stifle a sneeze, Cindy would squeeze my hand, like she was trying to hush me up.  The humming and chanting noises that we heard in the background, suddenly stopped, ominously, almost forbidding, the silence that followed was almost unbearable.

 

No sense waiting for the other shoe to drop, we got up in a hurry and took off running through the trees.  Following Ronnie’s lead, almost blind and in the dark,  instead of going back to Ft. Caroline Road, we took the fork in the path that led us in the opposite direction by mistake.  I can remember it now.  All those trees and scrubby branches looked the same in the dark.  We hurried down a path that seemed like it was heading in the direction we wanted to go.  It led us to the edge of a large clearing with a large bonfire; in the middle of this fire was what looked like a burning cross.  There were a dozen men standing, arguing among themselves in the smoke coming from the fire.  Their silhouettes on the trees behind them, made them look twenty feet tall.

 

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I almost wanted to just walk right into the crowd and act like I was lost and wanting directions (which was true) but Cindy held her arm in front of my chest barring the way, with a finger to her lips, signaling me to be quite and hold still, Ronnie rushing up behind us, knocked us both into the clearing.

 

Then pandemonium broke loose.  The Wizard or Grand Dragon, what ever he’s called started pointing fingers and barking commands. (Cindy later called him the “HNIC” what ever that spells).  Some of the men rushed towards us while others turned to run.  We were surrounded, in the dark. I didn’t see any means of escaping, but I guess Linda and Glen must have gotten impatient for us to return, because then I heard a car motor start up and a car horn started honking.  In the confusion it seemed like a “Chinese Firedrill.”  The crowd started milling about, right in front of us.  We took advantage andtook off running, hauling our asses right through the middle of the camp, right back down the road that had led us up here.  In the dark, I didn’t see who, but someone grabbed Cindy by the neck of her blouse.  She kept running and her blouse ripped away.  Ronnie without his glasses must have taken another path, because when we got to the car, it was just me and Cindy, both of us out of breath.

 

Glenn must have had an idea that we were up to our necks in hot water, because he had the front door opened and the engine racing.  Our escape looked like a scene from “Mason County Line.”  The spinning tires were kicking up sand and gravel once we got going but before we got 100 yards, we had to stop.  There was Ronnie in the middle of the road with a deer in the headlights look, waving both arm for us to stop.

 

I have been out Ft. Caroline Rd. since then, I think it’s a shame they cut it down to a safer size.  No, its not the same trying to tell the story to my grandkids.  I’m not sure if they believe me or not, after all there’s no way their grandpa could be cool enough to be one of the first skateboarders in Jacksonville.

 

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“Colors”

 

“Colors” that’s the name of the tune the bugler blows of a morning when the color guard raises the flag and of the evening when it’s taken down.  Then with swift military precision, it’s folded into a tri-corner, tucked under the arm pit of the “corporal of the guard” while he marches off the podium.

Called an Ensign on board ship, it is also known as our national flag.  When flown upside down, is used as a “distress signal.”

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, living on a military base in Guantanamo where my Dad was stationed, military etiquette and protocol was of the utmost importance.  Everything was done by the book.

For Christmas in 1960, Santa brought me two Bobbsey Twin books that got me interested in reading.  After I finished reading them, Dad got me a copy of “The Blue Jackets Manual”, the enlisted men’s bible.  In it was the Enlisted Men’s guide to military life.

General orders, how to fold your clothes, make your bed, military drills, oral commands, military protocol, how to tie knots and the do’s and don’ts, essential for life above and below deck.

One Saturday morning before a monthly inspection at 1300 hours, Dad was wearing his dress whites; he and I went by the barber shop to get our ears lowered.  It was a father and son thing, we did it every Saturday.  Three sailors in their dress whites passed us going in the opposite direction.  They must have been “reserves.”  Instead of saluting Dad, they turned their heads the other way as if they didn’t see him and walked past.

My Dad was a Mustanger, he came up through the ranks, in the “Blackshoe Navy”.  He once told me that below decks is where he grew up.  When he walked, he looked like Popeye the Sailor, strolling with his arms bent swinging from side to side.  He even had a tattoo in the same place, an eagle with open wings carrying a torpedo in its claws.

No telling what these three sailors had on their mind that morning.  I am sure that tangling with my Dad never entered their heads.  Dad barked out “Attention on deck.”

The guys stopped walking away from us and turned around.  The biggest guy was pretty good sized; he looked down at Dad and said “Are you talking to me, whattaya want?”

Dad pointed to his shoulder boards that showed his rank of Ensign and told the big guy that when you see a man wearing these, you salute and you hold that salute until it’s returned.  He pointed at the flag waving from the top of the flagpole in front of the barber shop.  He said “When you salute me, you are saluting that flag and all that it stands for.  If I let you disrespect me, then I’m letting you disrespect that flag.”  He said “I can’t tell you how many men, better than you, fought and died for that flag.  I want you to stand at attention and salute me and salute that flag until I tell you to carry on.

The three men were wearing green chevrons on their whites.  This signified that they weren’t Black shoe, but “Airedales”, (a different Navy altogether) probably off the aircraft carrier “Forestall” that was in port.  The three of them formed a semi-circle around Dad.  The big guy in the middle told Dad that he wasn’t stationed on this base and didn’t have to salute officers of other commands and that if he wasn’t wearing those shoulder boards he would teach him a lesson about being a smart ass.

No sooner did he say that, than Dad started peeling off his shirt and handed it to me to hold for him.  Dad told him he was fixing to get his wish.  Then he turned to the three enlisted men and jerked his thumb towards the dumpster and said “Now is your chance to be a big shot, bring your buddies with you.  Let’s step behind this dumpster and we’ll forget about rank for a minute.”

Thinking back, I had to of been 8 years old, because when I was 9, my brothers and I accidentally set fire to that dumpster and the Navy Exchange practicing with Molotov Cocktails.  After that, they moved the dumpster to the other side of the building by the galley.

This whole shebang didn’t last more than about 20 seconds.  Dad always told me that it isn’t always the size of the man in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the man.  The enlisted man was a bully at heart, using his size to intimidate folks.  It didn’t work on Dad.  They squared off, the big man held his fists up to box like old timey boxers do and Dad sailed in with a punch to the man’s gut, when he doubled up Dad caught him right in the nose with an over hand right and it was over.  He went down like a ton of lead.

Dad turned to the two onlookers, rubbing his fist and asked “Who wants to be next?”  They both said “Not me, it was him” pointing to their fallen comrade.  Dad helped his bloody foe up, brushed him off, and gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow of blood coming from his nose.  He told the three men that he wanted them to stand at attention and salute that flag while he got his haircut.  Then he put his uniform shirt back on.  He told them that he would be watching them from the inside of the barber shop.  He said “Don’t make me come back out here and take my shirt off again.”

We went inside the barber shop.  I was first, I wore my crew cut proudly, I wanted to be just like my Dad.  When the Barber finished he dusted my neck with talcum powder and shook the cut hair off of the smock with a loud pop.  Just about that time, Admiral O’Neal entered, nodding to every one inside and pointed to the three men outside standing at attention and saluting the flag.  He said “A fine display of Military Justice no doubt, making boys into men, I love it.”

Rank has its privileges; Dad stood at attention when the Admiral entered the barber shop, he didn’t salute because it was indoors but he sat back down in his chair and let the Admiral go ahead of him for his haircut.  The Admiral and the barber talked about how the carrier that was in port was hooked up to the base water supply, desalinating water from the ocean to make drinking water for the base, since “Fidel” was up to his “shenanigans” again.  When the Admiral’s haircut was finished, the barber held up a bottle of greenish liquid and asked him if he was ready for some “Foo Foo Juice” to make him smell better.  The Admiral said “Hell no, my wife will swear up and down that I’ve been in a French Whorehouse.”  When the Admiral left the Barber Shop he walked a circle around the three sailors saluting the flag in the hot boiling sun.  He smiled, shook his head and walked away without saying anything.

The barber swept the loose ends of the Admiral’s hair off the chair and said “Who’s next?”

Dad stood up, took his place in the chair with his back towards the front of the building, but was continuously keeping the wayward sailors in his vision by staring into the mirror.  When the barber finished, he grabbed the same bottle of green liquid and asked Dad if he wanted a shot of smell good.  “Foo Foo Juice?”  Dad told him “Sure thing, go ahead, my wife ain’t never been in no French whorehouse.

When Dad left the barber shop, he walked up to the sailors still standing at attention, staring at the flagpole and saluting our flag.  He stood at attention, saluted the flag, then turned to the sailors and returning their salute and said “Carry on men, as you were.”  He told them to remember, “that when you salute me, you are saluting that flag and America, for which is stands.”

“Valley of the Dolls”

I got to thinking about my first “real” date.  Aw there probably were a couple of them.  Like the first time I held hands or the first time I ever did any smooching.  Seems like it was so long ago, that they all run together.

My girlfriend Angela had been a cheer leader back in Jr. High.  We were in the same grade.  I was in the 10th grade at the time, so it must have been around 1968. She and I were at the age where dating was on the horizon.  My Mom was all for it, she schooled me in the etiquettes, the proper way to do things.  Like opening doors for a lady, pulling out their chairs and standing when a woman entered the room.  She taught me how to waltz, not to be impolite, pretty much standard stuff for a guy back in those days.

My girlfriend’s Dad had worked at the shipyards with my mom’s brother in laws.  Mom was delighted that my girlfriend was the daughter of some one that she was friends with.  Sometimes she let me drive her Cutlass to go visit her after school.

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She wanted to go see the R rated movie “Valley of the Dolls.”  It had just come out and was only available at certain theaters.  My girlfriend was only 15 and so was I, too young to get into an “R” rated movie back in those days.

My cousin Cindy was close to my age, a few months older, she was already 16.  Her Mom had already allowed her to start dating.  She and I talked often the phone.  I told her about my desire to take Angela out on a date, hoping to be able to go see “The Valley of the Dolls’ that happened to be showing at the Florida Theater on Forsythe St., downtown.

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Cindy told me that our cousin Clarence was in town.  He was our Granny’s grand nephew.  Aunt Ann Sue’s grandson, Clarence was a hick from the sticks, if there ever was one.  He was 22 years old, going on 60.  Our parents had told us that even though he was different, for us to be nice to him.  Previously he had taken my girl cousins and I to the drive inn movies.  He was plenty old enough to chaperone.  He dressed and acted like Gomer Pile.  He liked to wear mix matched clothes, with white socks.  He was one of the nicest persons that you would ever want to meet, just different.  His favorite pastime was rocking on the front porch swapping lies and swatting flies.

After I planted the seed in Cindy’s mind, she arranged an outing where she and Clarence would pick up my girlfriend and me, then we would go to the theater to see the movie.  I worked all day Saturday to earn the money.  I worked for my parents every day but that was supposed to pay for my room and board is what they said.  If I needed any money, I had to go out and earn it.

My cousin Earl and I went out to Bowie’s Dairy and under the shade of some old oak trees, we dug fishing worms.  Red wigglers and night crawlers, we sold them to old lady Hood.  Miss Hood lived next to my parent’s trailer park, across from Tiller’s grocery.  She sold fishing worms and would buy as many as we could dig.  After she bought them from us, she would take the night crawlers and break them in half.  We sold her our worms for a penny apiece.  Sometimes she would conveniently miscount in her favor and we would pretend we didn’t notice, because we knew we could always find plenty more.  That day we got paid ten dollars, so we must have dug about 1,000 worms.

Digging worms wasn’t that hard.  The cows from the dairy would lay up under the shade of the old oak trees up along the fence behind the old fire station.  They would poop big piles, every where, hundreds and hundreds of cow poop piles as far as the eye could see.  Using a potato rake, we would turn the dried clods over and bust them apart with the rake.  Jumping and wriggling worms would appear like magic, 10 to 15 sometimes more from every clod.

Earl and I each had a bucket and we would scoop up our bounty and move on to the next clod.  After about two hours we figured that we had more worms than Ms. Hood had money, she kept telling us how broke she was, we saved the rest for another day.  True to form, she miscounted as usual, poor mouthed us again and again but she did pay us ten bucks.  We were off to a good start.

After that we went by our Aunt Irma’s, she lived across the street from the Dinsmore Cemetery.  Aunt Irma was my aunt, but Uncle Bud, her husband was Earl’s uncle, so we figured that made us cousins, sort of.  Every Saturday, we mowed her grass and then washed and vacuumed her ’64 Oldsmobile.  It was maroon with a white top and white bucket seats, coupe.  It was one beautiful car.  We helped her to keep it that way.  Her sons had grown and left home, both had joined the army.  Aunt Irma would pay us ten bucks each for the chores.

We finished early that day, around two o’clock.  Earl had a motorcycle, a Honda 300 dream. It was ideal for our purpose.  I got on the back of the bike with a plastic laundry basket across my lap.  Earl would guide the bike up and down US 1, all the way to Callahan, while I leaned over picking up drink bottles to exchange for the deposit at Mr. Tiller’s Banner Food Store.  Mr. Tiller would give us two cents apiece for all of the bottles that we returned in the carton.  Sometimes we could find cartons too, but most of them were just “singles”.  Mr. Tiller would only give us a penny each for those, unless they were they big 32 ounce bottle.  For those, we got a nickel.  All told, in about 2 and a half hours we got a little over ten bucks.  Not a bad day for two steppers, because that’s what we thought we were, “steppers.”

I called Cindy up and told her it was “on.”  I had the earned the most money that I could call mine, in my life and I had plans for every penny.  She told me that they were gonna pick me up about 7:00.

It was okay with my Dad if I dressed like Clarence, I think they shopped at the same place but I wouldn’t stand for it.  Earl and I went to Levy-Wolfs in the Gateway Shopping Center and I paid $7.50 for a yellow fitted shirt, with pearl buttons, then I bought a pair of socks to match.  My Dad hit the ceiling when he found out how much I paid for that shirt.  He wasn’t too happy about the socks either, they cost me $2.00.  My Dad was something else.

Clarence and Cindy picked me up, we drove to my sweetie’s in Picketville, everyone got out of the car so that I could introduce them to her parents.  Angela’s Dad and Clarence were from the same neck of the woods, up around Waycross or Baxley.  Their kin were kin too, by marriage.  They seemed to hit it off.

Clarence was wearing checked pants and a striped shirt with a sport jacket.  You could say he was dressed to kill.  It sure killed me and Cindy.  She was going along with this to help me out, we were gonna have a great time, just as long as Clarence had a car and could chaperone us into the theater, we could care less how he dressed.  My girlfriend was kinda of quiet about everything.  She probably didn’t know what to expect.

Clarence stopped at the store to buy Cindy some cigarettes and bought himself a basket of peaches, he said “because they sure looked good.”  He offered to share but I was saving my appetite for cold drinks and buttered popcorn.  I never did smoke, the few times I tried it, I was with Cindy.  I guess it’s an acquired taste, to which I never did.

No problems getting into the movie.  Clarence went first, he was plenty of old enough, I had given him the money for the tickets; the usher never even looked at us.  He just tore our tickets in half and said “enjoy the movie.”

Since we were a little early for the show, we were able to get our seats in the balcony, first rate seats, right in the middle.  The news reel came on and when it showed clips of our troops over in Viet Nam, some of the people in the seats down below started to boo, loudly.  The Viet Nam War wasn’t that popular, some of the folks in attendance voiced their displeasure.

Clarence wasn’t with all of this.  He had put some of those peaches in his jacket pocket.  He took a couple out and splattered some those folks down below us that were booing.  The feature soon came on, that put an end to the hooting and hollering, that is until some of “R’ rated stuff started to appear on screen.

The movie was interesting, 3 girls doing the best they could to survive in Hollywood.  Just like the pills they were doing, they had their “ups and downs.”  The drugs and the alcohol proved too much for them.  I thought that Patty Duke favored my cousin Cindy, only I thought that Cindy was much prettier.

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Clarence had his feet up on the balcony, eating his peaches.  He was happy as a pig in slop.  When a scene appeared showing the girls taking pills or showing a little skin, he would blurt out, “I swan née” time and time again.  People would try to shush him and the usher would shine his light up at us, as if a warning or something.  Clarence had no idea what he was doing though.  When a nudie scene appeared old Clarence choked on a peach pit.  I had to get up and slap him on the back until he spit it out, right over the rail of the balcony.

When this happened the girls got up and went to the bathroom.  When they returned, they changed seats.  Clarence had been on the far left, then Angela, Me then Cindy.  After they returned, Cindy swapped seats with my girlfriend, sitting between me and Clarence.

While the girls were in the restroom, Clarence had stopped eating peaches and pulled out a pouch and put a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth.  He started to spit over the rail but I stopped him.  Instead he chose an almost empty popcorn cup in the armrest between the two seats.  Cindy, not knowing this, reached innocently into the popcorn cup without looking and put a handful of tobacco juice laced popcorn in her mouth.

The movie might have been rate “R” but I don’t think any one was prepared for the words that came out of Cindy’s mouth.

I guess everyone remembers their first date.  I will always remember mine.  Clarence was killed in Viet Nam in 1970.  In 1971 Angela was working for a doctor that gave her an experimental drug for a headache.  Her Mom told me that she went to a party and drank alcohol.  She went to sleep and never woke up.  I came home on Emergency Leave, but I was too late for the service.  Cindy went on to be an Insurance executive for SWD, she passed away 3 years ago from a heart attack.  Now its up to me, to remember them, and I do, to anybody that wants to listen.