Peace in the Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 112

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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Cattykisms 105

Cuddle Bug knows I’m busy trying to do something but no, she’s not with that at all.  My feet, she’s killing me, ouch.  I believe she thinks my feet are long lost “cousins” or a something.  No, not from the smell.

When my grand daughter “Claire Bear” was near three years old, she asked Grandpa for a kitten.  She was so cute, always funny, always wanting to act like she was grown up.  How could I say no?  A few days later, I drove from Jacksonville to Moultrie, Ga. to pick up my youngest son Duane.  He had been visiting friends.  While I was there, I noticed that their cat, a Himalayan, had a litter of kittens.  I asked if I could have one, I was pleasantly surprised that they were going to just give me one.

That’s the way Georgia people are.  If they like you and think of you as a friend, they’ll give you the shirt off of their back.  I didn’t want to insult them, so I gave them $100 bill to them for my son’s board.  That seem to even things out some.

Kozmo was like no other cat or kitten that I had ever been around.  He would follow her from room to room. If she put him in a baby stroller, he stayed right where she put him, until she was ready to mover him somewhere else.  If he wanted something, he wouldn’t hesitate to ask.  I can’t explain it, but he could warble his voice, making me that I could understand him.

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The Fire Department is right across the street from my house.  They leave food out for the cats, every night.  Our neighborhood is a haven for feral cats.  One day a beautiful adult female Siamese started appearing at my front door.  Especially when I was feeding the rest of the cats.  Oh, I couldn’t touch her, she would move just out of hands reach.

“Baby’s Mama drama” stuff, the next time I get to see Claire bear, Kozmo is a grown beautiful Himalayan adult male.  Proud as a peacock.  Friendly, docile, playful everything you could ask for but he wasn’t a kitten anymore.  She said, “But Grandpa, I want a kitten.”

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As luck would have it, my neighbor knocked on my door and said, “Your cat had kittens in my shed.”  After checking it out, there was the female Siamese with 6, five week old kittens.  I brought them home with me, she wouldn’t get nearer than five feet to me.  I put her litter on the porch.  Claire had 6 new kittens to play with.

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Then she was visiting almost every day.  Next thing you know, she’s living with her Daddy, next door.  I get to enjoy her company and watch her play with the kittens.  I kept four of the kittens.  One male and 3 females.  Did you know that everyone of them had either a bob tail or no tail, which made them unique.  I sold the other two on Craigslist for 50 bucks.  It took about 1 hour.

 

Claire would play house with them, serve them tea, walk them in the stroller, change their diapers.  From my side of it, it was all worth the trouble.  I didn’t have the income to lavish her with gifts but I did try to provide her with the things I thought she liked the most, kittens.

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More “Baby’s Mama drama,” now we don’t get to see Claire Bear any more, at all.  Her Mom has remarried and doesn’t want her daughter to know anything about her Daddy’s family.

Claire’s mama’s grandmother lives next door.   One day Claire snuck over during a visit and told us, that she wasn’t allowed to talk to us but she loved us and would run away from home, just as soon as she turns 16.

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The four kittens? Shorty, Bunny Mae, Kozmic and Bunny Boo Boo.  They started having babies of their own.  Just in case Claire showed up at Grandpa’s house again, I wanted to make sure she had a kitten she could play with.  I soon got Pepsi, a Lynx Point rag doll from a friend, then she had Daisy and Yoda.

That has been many years gone by.  No sign of Claire, yet.  I keep her a litter of kittens to play with, just in case one day she shows up.  When they get 8 weeks of age, I put them on Craigslist, then it was Hoobly, and then Facebook.  Gradually, I went up 50 dollars every litter.  Now I have a waiting list for kittens.

I went looking for Kozmo one day.  I asked a lady EMT Technician from the Fire Dept. if she had seen my cat.  She told me in confidence that she saw two firemen throw a blanket over him and toss him into the trunk of a car.  This was a week or so after the fact, she didn’t want me to use her as a witness.  I sucked it up, I still had Shorty.

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Shorty picked up the slack, I used the money I made off of the litters to build a “Kitty Heaven,” on the rear of the house.  Eventually I built the Kitty palace on the front.  I keep two males now, always one for back up.  Shorty was shot with an arrow.  The night before I had seen two of the firemen practicing with a bow.  I took him to the Vet, he was tough he made it.  A year or two later, he was napping under the car when some one released the brake and the car rolled over on top of him.

Oh he was tough though.  He survived for another year, how, I don’t know.  Now I have Yoda and Pretty Boy.  Yoda is a Himalayan and Pretty Boy is a doll face Persian.  It is mandatory that I keep them apart, or it’s a fight to the death, usually mine, when I try to break it up.  Now, I am sorta semi-famous on Facebook for breeding Rag Doll kittens.  Customers come from all over the United States to get them.  One buyer was from Bangkok, Thailand, he bought two solid white kittens with blue eyes.

Now my kitty customers are my Facebook friends, we have our own Kitty Culture.  My friends share pictures of their kittens with me.  My extended family.  Now, instead of just Claire Bear, my kittens bring joy to little girls (and grown up ones too), all over the United States.

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Claire should be 12 this year, I miss her.  Maybe she’ll surprise us and just show up.  “Hear that Cuddle Bug?  Are you still playing with my socks?”

 

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CattyKisms 103

Did you know that Bill Clinton’s cat “Socks” when he was in the white House, received more fan mail than the president?

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Most male cats are left pawed (or left handed) while most females are right pawed.  The exceptions are considered ambidextrous.

 

Most cats have 18 toes.  The exceptions with more toes are considered polydactyls.

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In the US, there are more than 88 million homes with a cat in the family.  America’s most favorite pet.

 

Cat’s claws are curved inward, which makes it easy to climb up a tree, they have to climb down, the same way they went up.

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A lot of cats or kittens is called a “kindle.”

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CattyKisms

My babies get me up just after 5, every morning.  The kittens want to play and the mamas want to get fed. I put on the coffee, then look for the can opener.  After two cups of coffee, I’m ready to write a story.

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Soon after the cats eat, they are ready for a nap.  Leaving me with plenty of free time.

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There is always one though that refuses to go back to sleep.   Now I’ve got a parrot on my shoulder that likes to meow when he sees the cursor move.  Now he’s all over the  keyboard on his way to the monitor.

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Well, at least I don’t have to worry about having something to write about.

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If it weren’t for them, I’d still be in bed.  Good time for me to write my dreams before I forget.

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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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“Babe Watch”

Oh man how did I get here?  The Judge must have had the same thoughts because as he shuffled the papers in front of him on his desk he said to the bailiff “Okay just why do we have these fine people assembled here today?”

I looked to my far left and there was Theresa my high school sweetheart, ready to testify against me.  She still looked like she could wear that cheerleader outfit that I remembered her in, so many years before.  To her right, standing between Theresa and the prosecutor was Donna, another girlfriend, ready to bad mouth me and hoping to put me away.  Donna still looked great, though I haven’t seen her in a while, a little heavier I guess, but she still reminded me of Della Street from Perry Mason.

After asking everyone in front of the bench to raise their right hand and take the oath, the bailiff opened up and said “Your honor this is stemming from a 1979 warrant .  In this warrant Mr. Frailey is charged with two counts of assault and battery, stalking and making threats.”

The Judge gave the girls the once over, then looked at me and said “You’ve heard the charges Mr. Frailey, how do you plead?

Shaking my head I replied “Not guilty, uh, maybe guilty your Honor but with extenuating circumstances.”

The Judge then said “Make up your mind Sir, which is it, Guilty or Not Guilty?”

I said “Sir, I’m not guilty of stalking anybody.  I haven’t made any threats to any body, and if standing up for yourself and demanding the return of your property is a crime, then I’m guilty but with extenuating circumstance.”

Standing next to me on my right, was my Dad, in his military uniform, dress whites with his medals and brass, shining bright. “And who is this gentleman standing next to you?” said the Judge.

I answered “This is my Dad, Lieutenant Julius R. Frailey.

“Why are you here Lieutenant Frailey, in what capacity?”

My Dad standing erect, looking sharp and with military precision said “Your Honor, I came to court today to stand beside my son and to verify what he says is true.  I wore my uniform so that you will know that I am a man of honor and that what I say is the truth.”

The Judge gave Dad the once over and said “Let the record show that Lieutenant Frailey is an Officer in the United States Navy,” then he looked over the top of his glasses at Dad and said “Am I correct?”

Dad answered back “Yes Sir, by the grace of God and an act of the United States Congress”

The judge  said to no one in particular that one the medals on Dad’s chest looked like a combat medal and Dad answered him, “Affirmative sir, with a cluster,” and then he nodded towards me and added, “He has one too”.

The judge chewed on that for a moment and said “This sounds like it’s gonna be good, then he looked around at the two girls wanting to press charges against me and said “Okay, who wants to be first?”

Theresa always reminded me of Heather Locklear, you could tell she was anxious to speak, she stepped forward and said, “He beat up my ex-husband broke his jaw, after my Daddy told him not to come around me no more.”

I got the side eye glance from the Judge and grimacing I kinda nodded, not wanting to interrupt.

Then the Judge turned to Donna and asked “What about you young lady, what have you got to say?”

Donna was cold and calculating, you could tell that she was chomping at the bit to get her voice heard.  “He was my live in boyfriend,” he was calling other women on my phone, when I wasn’t there.  He lost his job and started working out of town.  I broke up with him and he stiffed me with all of the bills.  I told him I didn’t want to see him and for him not to come back to my house.  When I got “married” to a fellow from work, Mike came by our house and got into a fight with my new husband.  I had to call the police.  They came and chased him through the woods.  He got away circled back and used his truck to push the police cars out of the drive way so he could escape while they were in the woods, searching for him with the K-9 units.”

When the Judge heard this he just started shaking his head from side to side and clucking with his tongue then he says, “Mr. Frailey, this doesn’t sound good.  Just what do you have to say for yourself in response?”

“Your Honor” I replied “It’s a long story, all of that happened years and years ago.”

To this the Judge looked at his watch and said, “This is the first case on the docket this morning Mr. Frailey, I got all day, let’s hear it.”

Just about that time, you could hear a noise in the back ground, the doors to the courtroom opened and in walked Maudie Mae, my present day girlfriend.  She had stopped to use the bathroom, since I was running late,  I had gone on to the courtroom with out her.  All eyes in the courtroom turned to watch her walk in.  She was drop dead gorgeous. Tight dress and high heels, she was working it.  She was Indian but looked Polynesian, wearing heels, pearls, a black dress and her long brown hair draping down her back.  All eyes in the courtroom were upon her, as she sashayed past the rows of seats and neared the bench, she stopped an asked the judge if she could approach the bench as a friend of the court.  The judge nodded then asked in what capacity and she said as a witness for the defense.  Maudie stood beside me and grabbed my hand.

The judge then looked at me and asked me “just how is it that you surround yourself with all of these beautiful women?”

I said “Well, I use to make a lot of money.”

He said then “Hell son, I make a lot of money.  Just how much money do you make?”

I told him that I met Theresa when I was in High School.  My parents bought me a car so that I could drive home and give my Mom morphine shots in the middle of the day after she had her leg amputated from bone cancer.  I figured that me driving a car in the 10th grade made me look like a big shot, and that’s probably what Theresa liked about me.  I told him when I met Donna, I was selling cars and made about $1500.00 a week.  Ever since I met Maudie, I had settled down working for my Dad, I only made $225 a week and had a furnished apartment with utilities.

The Judge turned his glance towards Maudie (He could barely keep his eyes off of her) and she told him, “I’m not in it for the money.”

I asked the judge if he wanted me to start at the beginning?  He said “Yes, by all means.”

I started by telling him that Theresa and I were High School sweethearts.  After graduation I enlisted in the US Army.  The Judge looked at my Dad and said “I find it hard to believe that you let him enlist in the Army”

Dad told him that as soon as he found out about it, and added to the fact that I had to wait a month before my swearing in, he took me down to the Navy Recruiter and had me sworn in that day.  It was wartime and he didn’t want his son to be cannon fodder.

The judge turned to me and said “Okay Mr Frailey, uh, Mr. Frailey Jr. get on with it.”

I told him that I needed to go back a little further and tell him about Senior Skip Day.

My parents had bought me a nice Seiko watch, one with an alarm.  I could set the alarm so that it would remind me that it was time for Mom’s medication.  I would take a break from school, drive home to administer her “meds” then return to school to finish my classes.  I told him that in my Senior year, my Dad was serving in Viet Nam and my mom was an invalid, I helped run the house, my family’s trailer park and took care of my little brothers.  When the day came around to order class rings, my friends and fellow students chipped in and bought me the nicest ring available because everyone was aware of my situation.  It was a nice gold ring with a sapphire and in the center the gold letter P was inset into the stone to symbolize Paxon, the high school which I attended for 6 years. (Jr and Sr).

Then he wanted to know what this had to do with Senior Skip Day and the case at hand.  I told him that it was a long story and that I was just getting started.

On Senior Skip Day, I drove myself and several of my friends to Jacksonville Beach.  One of my best friends was Kenny, who was also knew Theresa from our neighborhood.  We wanted to go surfing, I took off my watch, my ring, and along with my wallet put them inside my penny loafers and hid them under the seat of my car.  When I came back to the car, everything was gone.  My watch, my wallet and my ring were missing.  I was devastated.

Then the Judge started looking at his watch, he said he could sympathize with that, he said it was because his family had given him his watch when he graduated from college.  Then he said “What year was this Mr. Frailey?”  I told him, 1969.  He looked up at me and asked me “Do you mean to tell me that you enlisted in the military, in 1969 during the middle of the Viet Nam War?”

It was Dad’s turn again, he said “Yes sir he did, against my better wishes, but he did.”

The judge said “Well I commend you, but does all of this have to do with the price of tea in China?”

I got back to my story; I told him that while I was in boot camp I got the all dreaded “Dear John” letter from my girlfriend of two years, Theresa.  There wasn’t much I could do or say about it, because I was committed to boot camp and didn’t have freedom to do as I pleased.  From boot camp I went to Sub School in Connecticut and from there I was transferred to UDT School in Puerto Rico.   The Judge interrupted to me asked me what was “UDT School.”  I apologized and told him that I forgot that civilians weren’t familiar with military acronyms.  UDT stood for Underwater Demolition School, eight weeks of some of the most rigorous physical training on earth.  I told him I wanted to be like my Dad.  I believe I noticed my Dad, still standing at attention, stand a little more erect after that.

He wanted me to describe the training and I said “Well, start with swimming two miles a day to an island off the coast and back, before breakfast.  Then, doing a thousand pushups a day, a hundred at a time and hundreds of pull ups.  Next, was running up and down a beach with your squad carrying a log on your shoulders.  The only clothes I wore, was bathing trunks, a pair of flip flops and my dog tags, wrapped with black tape so that the sharks and barracudas wouldn’t be tempted to take a bite.  Just me repeating all that I’ve went through, almost made me tear up, but I gotta tell you, I was getting the feeling that I was beginning to sway the judge over some.  I figured now was the time to set the hook.

“Your Honor while I was half way through the training, not knowing if I was gonna complete the course or not, I was a little guy at the time and a lot of the other guys had already tapped out.  Yeah, it was that tough.  I received a letter from Theresa’s parents telling me that she had gotten married, I only found out later that it was to one of my best friends, Kenny.  They thought that it would be for the best if I didn’t write Theresa anymore letters or try to contact her in the future.

From then on, every breath I took, every step I took, every move I made, I had one thought in mind.  I’m gonna show that bitch.  Even if it takes my last breath.  From then on, when I swam, I attacked the waves, If I couldn’t swim over them, I went through them, if it was hot or if it was cold, I didn’t care.   I pulled myself through the cresting waves with cupped hands reaching out and pulling them back, stroke by stroke.  I tasted so much salt water that I wanted to choke.  I was gonna show that bitch.  I did my thousand push ups every day, I started doing them with one hand, either hand, didn’t matter.  I was gonna show that bitch, when I saw better men than me tap out, it didn’t phase me.  I wasn’t going to ring that bell, they were gonna have to carry me off.

The Judge said “Excuse me, ring the bell?”

I said “Yes Sir, they had a bell hanging from a pole on the beach, if any one wanted to tap out, all they had to do was ring that bell and you would get shipped stateside, back to your previous duty station.  I had made up my mind, it wasn’t gonna be me.”

After school I was transferred to back to my duty station, a nuclear sub, the USBNS Thomas Jefferson.

It was Dad’s turn again, “He can’t tell you where they toured, it’s top secret, but he did get a combat medal because they were in a Combat Zone.”

The Judge jumped ahead of me on my story and interrupted me and said “So you are a military bad ass that came home a jilted lover and then you go whip your ex-girlfriend’s husband’s ass, right?”

I told him “No sir, not at all.  I moved on.  My first month in Puerto Rico after graduating UDT School, I spent my whole pay check at the Black Angus in San Juan.  I forgot about Theresa right about then.”

The Judge looked at me and said “Oh, I’ve heard about the Black Angus, tell me more.”

I told him that everything he had heard was probably true.  “It was a Casino on one side and a night club/whore house on the other side.  I said that with beginner’s luck I had won over $300 at the Black Jack table.  Then I went to the bar and boy what a bar.  The bar itself was circular and it rotated.  All the servicemen would sit at the bar as it went round and round.  Standing in front of the mirrored  walls were some of the most beautiful women on earth, ready to please you at a moments notice.  The cost?  Oh, only five dollars a shot, plus later as I found out, a couple shots of penicillin.  That’s right, only 5 bucks each time.  I spent my whole wad in one night.  “Theresa who?” I said. “I moved on.”

I could tell the judge was enjoying my remembrances, then he grinned and shook his head and said “Just exactly what does all of this have to do with you breaking Mrs. Hick’s husband’s jaw?”

“Okay, okay” I said, “I’m getting there.  Like I said I was motivated.  I still wanted to prove that she made a mistake.  When I got out of the service, 3 years later, I wanted to prove to the world that I was somebody.  I wanted to buy a new corvette to show off.   A new one was $7,200 on the showroom at Nimnicht Chevrolet.  At the time, I was driving a Volkswagen.  I had my work cut out for me.”   I told the judge that I started selling cars myself because I needed a better than average income to achieve my goal.  Along the way, my goals changed.  I was wearing fancy clothes to work, patent leather shoes, fitted shirts and silk ties.  I made very good money and had saved over 6 thousand dollars towards buying my new car but by then I realized that by being top salesman at Duval Ford was a sign of success, I could drive any new car I wanted for free.

“I met lots of pretty girls.  Quite a few seemed attracted to me.  I changed my goal from a new corvette, to a new Rolex watch.  I settled on a Presidential with the Oyster face.  It cost me around $5,500.  I bought it from Underwood Jewelers.  It fit right in with the flash I wanted, I was selling cars.  Top man needs to look like top man.  I had all of the tools, I just wanted the flash.  That’s how I met Donna, uh Miss Holloway.  I sold her a car, we dated and then I moved in with her, helped her with her bills and bought new furniture for her house.”

“One day I was working on the point when I saw a green ’68 Ford Falcon pull up on the lot.  It looked familiar.  Hey, that looked like Theresa’s car, the one her parents bought her for graduation.  I hustled over and told the other fellows I got this.  I opened the door and sure enough it was Theresa alright, looking good as ever.  On the driver’s side Kenny got out, durn he grew some since I seen him last.

I greeted them both, no animosity.  I was ready to sell them a car.  Theresa walked off a little ways to look at the inventory and Kenny and I shook hands and when we did, I noticed his ring.  It looked like a Paxon High School ring, just like my old ring, only Kenny graduated the year after me, their rings were different.  I noticed it had the inlaid “P” like mine did and then I saw that it had a piece of the gold “P” chipped in the same place as mine.

Then it dawned on me, this thieving son of a bitch was wearing my ring. I gripped his hand even harder and turned his wrist over so that I could get a better look.  When I did that, he reached over with his left hand to grab mine and pull it back.  When he did this, I saw that he had on my Seiko watch too, the one my parents had given me, the one I thought all of this time had been stolen by a stranger.

Theresa didn’t get to see all of the action but I had a lot of rage in me built up over the years.  All those miles I swam against the current in the ocean.  Thousands of push ups and chin ups, the miles I ran on the beach, it all came to a boil.  Kenny wanted me to let go of his hand and he shoved me with his free hand and when he did, I let go and let him have it with hard right.

I didn’t know I broke his jaw at first.  It was a one punch ordeal and then it was over.  I told him he could keep the damn watch.  Theresa was crying.  I know she didn’t know what was what.  I tried to tell her.  I don’t think she believed me.  She wanted to leave and they did.  I told her I would call her to explain, she said don’t bother.

I was fired instantly.  No matter for what reason, a sales force can’t tolerate fighting.  Guess I did have a quick temper, I always did.  I hated it too, that was such a good job.

When I got home, I told Donna that I had gotten in a fight with a guy that I found out had stolen my belongings at the beach a long time ago and lost my job.  I didn’t mention Theresa.  I tried to call Theresa a few times to explain.  I didn’t know about caller I.D. in those days.  I wish I did.

I started a new job, as a traveling tool salesman.  The money was fantastic.  After a rough start, I was making seven hundred a day sometimes a thousand or more, if I hustled.  The main drawback for a man with a girlfriend or a wife back home, was constant travel and that’s the part I enjoyed the most.

I tried to keep Donna satisfied by buying her new furniture, nicer cars, flying her out for the week end, night clubs and the whole enchilada.  What I didn’t know was that Theresa had returned my calls and spoke with Donna.  She asked Donna to make me leave her alone, stop pestering her.  That wasn’t it at all.  I just wanted my watch and my ring back and to tell her what had happened.   I know now, that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t have done me any good but at the time, I wanted to try.

I called home from Davenport, Iowa.  Donna told me that she had spoke with Theresa over the phone and Theresa had told her that I had been calling trying to hook back up with her.  Donna was mad, she told me that I didn’t live there anymore, that she had discarded my stuff.  That everything I had bought her was hers now, I forfeited it.  I was heartbroken, because I had hope that it would work out between us, the stuff I could replace, no big deal.  Before I hung up she told me that she had started dating a guy from work, don’t bother coming by her house.  After our conversation I thought, damn that.  I want my clothes and my belongings.  My Rolex was in the drawer by the bed.  Yeah, the same Paul Bunyon bed that I had just paid over $1400 for a month before.

I drove home from Davenport, Iowa.  I had a Crew Cab, dual wheeled Chevrolet truck, with a 455 cubic inch motor.  It was petal to the metal all the way.  I was on a mission.

I pulled up to the house and Donna answered the door but wouldn’t invite me in.  She said she had just gotten married to her new boyfriend and that she had filed a restraining order and was calling the police.  When she left the doorway, her new man stepped forward.  I could see on his bare arm that he was wearing my Rolex.

That set me off.  I reached up and grabbed him by the front of his shirt and jerked him into the yard.  I never thought about how big he was, the police coming, right or wrong.  I was mad as hell yes, but I wanted my damn watch.  I was sick of this crap.

I popped him a few times I admit, I probably shouldn’t have I guess. But the bastard was sleeping with my girlfriend before she and I had properly separated, he was sleeping in my new bed and now he was wearing my pride and joy, my Rolex.

I got my watch back.  He gave it up after taking a couple bites of a knuckle sandwich.  Just about that time I could see the police coming up the long driveway.  I knew it wasn’t gonna play out well for me.  I had worked at the County Jail before, remembering how tiny those cells were, I didn’t want no part of the jail house.  I lit out for the woods.

I crossed the railroad tracks and jumped full stride into the palmetto bushes, scared a young deer that was taking a nap.  Then I got to the swamp.  This is good I thought, they won’t follow me in there.  I took off my boots, pulled about 600 dollars out of my pocket and my Rolex and put them in my boots then shoved them up under a palmetto bush.

My thinking at the time was that later, when the coast is clear, I’ll come back for my stuff.  It wasn’t long after that, I heard the dogs on my trail.   I ran lickity split through hell and high water.  They weren’t gonna catch me on my terms.  I saw a place where there were just the tops of fence posts sticking out of the water.  Thinking that the recent rains had flooded the area and there must be strands of wire strung out in between the post, just under the surface.  I climbed on top of the wire, holding on to tree limbs to help me keep my balance, I walked this “high wire” across the flooded area to a much safer spot.  I circled back around the swamp and came up on my truck that was boxed in by two police cruisers.  No one in sight, it was almost dark.  I got into my truck, fired that big motor up and pushed those two police cars into the ditch and out of my way.  Then realizing I was going to need some help,  I went to my Dad’s, a few miles away.

I parked the truck right out front and knocked on the door, Dad answered.  He was home alone.  After Mom died, he had remarried.  His wife and step-daughters were out shopping.  I filled Dad in on what was going on.  He said “you need a bath, some clean clothes and a pair of shoes. “

He took me to his bathroom in the rear of the house to clean up.  As I was showering, I could hear the doorbell ring.  I turned off the shower and listened.  I could hear Dad saying, “No he’s not here.”  Then, another voice asking “Do you mind if we come in and look?”  He told me later that they pushed him aside and came in anyway.  He told them that he didn’t appreciate them not taking his word for it, but couldn’t stop them.

As I got out of the shower, I dripped mud and water everywhere.  I looked for a place to hide and  with water dripping off of my naked body, I settled on the bay window.  From the inside it was just a heavy drape, hanging to the floor.  I knew that on the other side, was a little cubbyhole, built so that dad could sit in the bay window and read during day light hours.

After I got behind the curtains I could see the beam of flashlights searching the grounds around Dad’s house.  Suddenly I heard nearby voices from inside the bedroom.  A voice rang out “He was here,  I can see the mud on the floor and water dripping from where he stood.”  Then Dad’s voice saying, “You didn’t ask me if he had been here, you just asked me if he was here now.”

This seemed to satisfy them for the moment, they left reluctantly.  After they had been gone for a minute or so, Dad met me in the doorway to the bedroom.  He grabbed his chest and said “Oh Son, I thought they had you.  You’re going to cause me to have a heart attack.”

He looked at the mud on the floor, the mess I had made, water dripping every where.  He apologized for letting them in the house.  He said “I’m sorry Son, I tried, but they just came on in.”  I said “I know Dad, I heard the whole thing.”

Our dilemma wasn’t over.  Dad asked me what was I going to do?  I told him not to worry, I was in Dinsmore and they won’t ever catch up with me in Dinsmore.  Dad said that he was worried that they didn’t intend on taking me alive.  I said “Well Dad, why do you think I was running so hard?’

Dad then hatched a plan.  He wanted me to take the keys to his truck with the camper shell and drive out the back way of the trailer park.  He told me to stop by the dumpster and wait for him to take my truck.  He said he would drive my truck out the front entrance as a decoy, for me to wait until he drew them off and for me to ease out the back way afterwards.  The old pigeon with a broken wing trick.

I am alive today to tell you that his idea worked.  Just as soon as he pulled out the front, he was swarmed, surrounded, yanked out of the truck, and put in the ditch face first in the mud, hands cuffed behind his back with guns drawn and held to his head.

Dad nodded his head in agreement to the Judge as if to alibi the events as I stated were true.

Then Judge shook his head in disbelief and then, with a grin he said, “The things we do for our children. ”  He looked at me and asked me “Was it worth it?  Did you ever get your watch?  Did you go back and look for it?”

I had to tell him no, that watch was gone forever, not only did I not find the watch, I couldn’t find the boots or my wallet either, I told him that I thought that a K-9 officer was probably wearing my watch right now.

I had the Judge sitting on the edge of his seat now, it must have been getting close to lunch, because he kept looking at his watch.  When I started speaking again, I told him, that “I left Jacksonville and was gone for many years, When my Dad told me he needed some help, I had to square up with the law first.  I turned myself in, Dad let me drive his new Jaguar to the police station, then he bonded me out.  In the meantime I had met Maudie.  She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.”  Heck she was the prettiest girl most anybody had ever seen.  I courted her for over a year.  There weren’t any problems in our relationship, and I didn’t chase her, really it was the other way around.  I told the Judge that I had “moved on.”

The Judge then studied the top of his desk for a minute, twiddling a pen between his fingers and said “Do you mean to tell me that this is all about a wristwatch?”

I replied “Yes Sir, that about sizes it up.”  He asked me if that was why I wasn’t wearing a watch today.  I told him, “Yes sir it is.”

He then turned to Maudie who was doing her job of just standing there and looking good.  As pretty as my two exes were combined, they couldn’t hold a candle to Maudie and they knew it and by the looks of the judges eyes, he agreed.  “What about you young lady what have you got to say about all of this?” he asked her.  She replied “He’s moved on.”  I’m pretty sure that every one in the courtroom believed her.

The Judge picked up his gavel. He surveyed the courtroom, then he looked at his watch.  He said that he was gonna fine me $2,500.00 plus court cost, withhold the adjudication of guilt with the premise that I was to leave these two young women alone and that “if I ever came back into his courtroom with a complaint from either of these two women again, that he would see to it, that I would know what “Time” it was”.  Case dismissed.

To this day, I still don’t wear a watch.