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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