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.

“Valley of the Dolls”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Subs

 

I’ve been feeling miserable with the first cold I’ve had in 10 years.  I don’t get sick much.   Trying to sleep is rough when you don’t feel good.  When I think of being cold, I drift off back to when I was 17, going through submarine school in Groton, Conn. back in 1969.

I was a year or two younger than most of the guys I was stationed with, but I had an advantage over them.  Because my Dad was an Officer, I had enjoyed many privileges that most enlisted men don’t get to see.  I had been on subs as a kid.  My Dad was a Submariner, he had his “Silver Dolphins,” that you earn as an enlisted man.  I wanted mine. Just like aviators get wings, submariners get “dolphins”.  Dad would send me on excursion trips during the summer, “Kiddie cruises” he called them.

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I’ve been on Carriers, Subs, “Tin Cans” (Destroyers), Destroyer Escorts, Mine Sweepers, Helicopters, PT boats, PBY’s(Sea Planes), you name it.  Dad was the Discipline Officer in Gitmo, if a guy got put on report for some infraction or another, Dad would let them work it off, their chore was to “show me the ropes”.

Guess I was “Gung Ho.”  I loved it.  I had lived through more sea duty, before I enlisted than most guys ever get.  Our house never had a floor or a wall in it.  It was always the deck or the bulkhead, we ate in the galley, the bathroom was called the “Head” and our bunks had to be made by Zero Six Thirty..

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When I went to boot camp, in Orlando, I volunteered for submarines because I wanted to be just like my Dad.  I was tested for a billet.  It seems like I had extraordinary hearing and was assigned as a sonar tech.

Hold on, give me a second, time for some cold medicine, oh, how I hate cold weather.

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Okay where was I?  I started Sub school in January, it was an 8 week class.  We were tested every week, you had to maintain a 3.0 average or you were shipped back to the fleet.  The two things I remember most about the school, other than the bitter cold, were the “Pressure Chamber” and the “Escape Tower”.  The pressure chamber was a surprise to me, I had never heard of it before.  One day we are marching in formation, destination unknown, 5 minutes later, we are stripping down to our skivvy’s and told to enter this small, round metal chamber that resembles an over sized pressure cooker.

 

They took us 6  to 10 men at a time, into a large tank, a bench on either side.  The instructor told us to hold our nose and try to blow through it, til they popped.  He said that we were gonna simulate 600 psi, if we couldn’t stand the pressure, just holler out, then he slammed the hatch behind him, secured the locking mechanism and started pumping air into the chamber.

At first we were all uneasy, because it got weird fast.  I knew a couple of the guys were ready to holler, but they couldn’t.  The joke was on us.  At 600 psi, simulating the pressure at 300 feet, you can’t talk, blood streamed out of our noses.  Some of the guys were rolling on the floor, doubled over. After about (for what seemed forever) 15 minutes.  They relieved the pressure, things got back to normal, no one it seems, suffered any permanent damage.  I didn’t want any more of that pressure chamber, that’s for sure.  I started having second thoughts about being a submariner.

 

When the snow was too deep to march to the chow hall, school would be cancelled for the day.  Instead of learning about all of the controls and valves and the mysterious compartments on a sub, we learned the very important skill of shoveling snow.   I grew up in Cuba.  I found myself wondering “How did I end up here?”  I had no experience with a snow shovel, but the US Navy saw fit to rectify that.  If we wanted to eat, we had to march to the Chow Hall.  In order to make a path through the snow, someone had to get out there with a shovel.  Since I was the youngest and one of the newest members of the fleet, I had to pay my dues to join the club.

The Navy is famous for serving great chow.  The food on a sub is said to be even better. I weighed in at 132 pounds after boot camp, after hours and days, sometimes weeks of shoveling snow, I wanted to be first in line at the Galley.  I became a real chow hound.  Potatoes of some kind were served at every meal.  I left sub school weighing  158 pounds.  The Navy has a way of making a man out of you, whether you like it or not.

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If I didn’t have the duty on weekends, I was free to explore the surrounding communities.  The Coast Guard Academy was across the Thames River, just down the road from Connecticut University, it was still an all girls’ school back then.  To me, being a little bit of a rough neck, it seemed like the girls at the University preferred the smooth, suave sophistication and some what debonair persona of the Coast Guard plebes over that of the sometimes rough and tumble and more aggressive men of the Navy, stationed across the river in Groton.  Having a competitive nature, I just figured “Game On.”

I had an advantage over most of the guys.  I had my own car, a ’68 Volkswagen and a southern accent, yeah I know just what you’re thinking, a real “ice breaker.”  I did have a problem sometimes ordering food off base, most folks couldn’t understand me.  Up there, a “submarine” sandwich is called a “grinder.”  Go figure.  I often heard insults about taking the “grits” out of my mouth before I try to speak, but the local girls loved it.  Every week end that I didn’t have the duty, I would cruise by the girl’s college and just pull up to a dorm and ask “Which one of y’all wants to go to Boston for the week end or can any of you purty gals here, show me how to get to New York City for a couple of days?”  We would go to Boston and hang out around the “Common” or go to New York City and check out 42nd Street and Times Square.  Just walking up and down Broadway was a real experience for a kid that grew up on a small base in Guantanamo Bay.  In Gitmo, I may have been a “pearl,” but in NYC, I was just another oyster.

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Before graduating the class, we had to make a simulated escape from a 100 ft. deep.  The escape tower was a hundred foot tall and had a fake conning tower at the base.  I had to go down some steps and climb up inside the conning tower chamber.  There, we were shown how to open a valve to let sea water fill the chamber, (after I shut the hatch and secured the lock).  When the chamber was two thirds full of almost freezing water, I had to shut the water valve, then reach down below the water level and unlock the hatch that led into the tower, which was filled with sea water, dark and foreboding, scary. I took a deep breath, duck my head under water, swung the hatch open, climb through and turned back around to shut the hatch and lock it.  There on the other side was an instructor wearing an insulated diving suit.  He made sure that I locked the hatch, before ascending.

I wrapped one hand around the rope that ran from the bottom of the tank, to the surface and started exhaling, as I let my grip on the rope loosen.  We were taught to exhale as we floated upwards; the instructor’s job was to be sure we did.  If not, he would stop you and put his knee in your belly.  The danger being that if you didn’t exhale; your lungs would explode from the compressed air.  The bubbles from my mouth raced ahead of me, even in the dark, I could see the effervescent glow of bubbles in the gloomy water.    Faster and faster, seems like it took forever.  Just when you don’t think you don’t have any more air left to expel, a faint glow appears above you and all of a sudden the surface seems near. Just about the time I felt like I could reach out and touch the glow, like a cork, I popped up into the air about three feet and fell back, still holding the rope.

I made it. I don’t remember the cold water anymore, just breaking through the thin ice at the surface, but I do remember how sweet that first breath of fresh air tasted, said to myself, I’m glad that’s over.  Little did I know that I was gonna have to do it in real life, from a hundred foot deep in the ocean several times.  It’s all part of training, If you do something often enough, correctly, you get good at it.  When your life is on the line, and others, you appreciate every bit of training you get.

 

After Sub School I went back to Orlando to complete Sonar School for four weeks, and then it was back to New London.  My first duty station was a “boomer,” the USBNS Thomas Jefferson.  My first cruise, the yeoman got appendicitis and was transferred off the ship to the USS Orion, a Sub Tender.  The yeoman was one of the most important men aboard ship, because without him, nothing gets done.  A guy that could type, read, write and spell was important, especially if you wanted to go on liberty and needed a liberty pass, of a leave chit, travel orders were a necessity, transfer papers, request for nearly everything, the Plan of the Day, Officer’s fitness reports, you name it.  Since I took typing in high school to hang out with a room full of girls, some of that wore off on me.  I told the Captain that I could type and immediately had my bunk transferred to a much better berth.  I had my own compartment, next to the Captain.

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Working for the Captain gave me a new status.  Just because I could read and write properly, I could take the Captain’s rough language and type reports, and messages using correct spelling and grammar.  Being on call 24/7 removed me from the Duty Watch List.  I typed the duty roster.  Suddenly I was every body’s friend.  If we came into a foreign post like Rota, Spain for instance, no one wanted to be stuck on board with the duty watch, while everyone else was ashore, living it up.  I got invited to pinochle games, chest matches, scrabble games and allowed to win, this was the Navy I was brought up in I thought, you mean I don’t get woke up in the middle of the night to make an emergency escape in the cold dark waters anymore just because I can spell and punctuate?  To me, everything was “4.0”,  I spent some of my off duty hours writing letters for less fortunate guys to send back home.  Over and over I thanked my parents for those Bobbsey Twin books I got for Christmas back in Cuba, when what I really wanted was a bike.  Those books paved the way.

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Flying Fishermen

My brother Gary and I were room mates at the motel when we sold tools.  We weren’t always cashed up, but most of the time when we worked “together” within a week or two, we would have our pockets full of hundred dollar bills.

My brother Gary was an “info-maniac”.  No matter where we were, east, west, north, south, first thing after breakfast he’d get the local newspaper and the USA today, when it came out.  Gary would read about land for sale, the weather, the sports, what areas of the US was booming and oh yeah, good places to go fish.  Of course he would make it sound good, so I would want to go too.  Seems like we had a lot of fishing adventures.

Gary could fish, no doubt about it, he didn’t use bait, just lures, to give the fish a sporting chance.  The fish usually lost.  If I tell one fishing story, then I got to tell a hundred.  It’s hard for me to decide which one is best.  I’ll let y’all be the judge, here’s one.

Gary and I were selling tools in New Orleans.  We were staying at the Holiday Inn in Kenner, not far from the Superdome.  Gary read an ad for “Delta Sand Bar” offshore fishing, accessible by plane only, hot spot for red bass.

K-mart had what we needed, rods and reels , leaders, lures, then we stopped at the Ice House and got some ice for the cooler and a 12 pack of Michelob, then met the pilot/guide at the hangar.

The pilot filled us in on all of the details.  For $750,00 each he promised us the adventure of a life time.  That’s just what he called it.   He told us, that’s where the Red Bass are bedding down.  He said we would be flying due south, past the tip of Plaquemine Parrish where the Mississippi River turns empties into the Gulf, then on for another 60 miles and land near the sand bars of the Delta.  During low tide, the water was only about 2 foot deep.  He told us that we had to catch the tide right, it needed to be all the way out and we could fish the incoming tide.  He also said that he would toss out an anchor and stay with us and bring us back.  That sounded good, so we paid him the $1,500.00, put our cooler behind the seat, crammed into the little Cessna Scout with pontoons, ready to go, let’s go catch some red bass.

The flight took about 30 minutes.  Flying over the cresting waves, just above the diving birds.  The landing was a little rough, not my first landing in a seaplane but the first in a plane this small.  We were about 60 miles south of New Orleans, in the Gulf, fishing the Delta sand bars.  Nothing but ocean as far as you can see, the white tops of the cresting waves seem to go on forever.  Hard to believe that the water was only 2 feet deep.  The pilot gave us some instructions and an air horn to put in our fanny pack, next to a couple of beers, just in case we needed to get his attention.

Gary, true to form was a sportsman all the way.  He didn’t believe in using live bait of any kind.  We broke out the “Stingray grubs” that was in with the gear we had loaded in our fanny packs.  Little white lures, with red lead heads and a swirly red twisted tail.  They were dynamite.  Gary always caught the first fish (and he did that day) while I’m still trying to untangle the backlash, from my first cast.  We had two beers apiece with us, we fished, drank our beer and had a great time, no land in sight, small breakers rolling in and the plane anchored behind us.

We fished for hours, the pilot was right, both of our stringers, about 12 feet in length were full of beautiful red bass.  The smallest bass was about 3 foot long, most were 4 foot or bigger.  The tide started to rise up on us, slowly at first, we fished on until we noticed dorsal fins in the water, all around us.  This looked “serial”, damn.  We decided to call it a day, took a quick look for the plane and it was gone, disappeared from sight.

Rising up on a cresting wave, we finally located the plane, it was about a quarter mile away.  We used the air horn till it quit on us.  Nada, nothing, no notice that the pilot heard us, saw us or was even in the plane.  When the tide rolled in, the swells caused the plane to rise, because of the short anchor rope, it would move about 20 feet away from us, with each wave.  We had tied our stringers full of fish to our belt loops.  As much as we hated it, we had to cut our stringer of fish loose.  The blood in the water was attracting too much attention from the sharks, and I am terrified of Barracuda, they way they hit and run.  We started wading towards the plane, difficult as it was with the rising tide and current going against us.

Next thing to go was our new fishing gear and fanny packs with our leaders and lures and what ever contraband we had carried with us that day.  The last 150 yards we had to swim for it, the tide was rising that fast.  When we finally got to the plane the water was up to our necks, rising even higher with each approaching swell.  Once we climbed onto the pontoons, we felt a sense of relief.  Finally, we were safe, we weren’t going to drown, now what’s wrong with that damn pilot?  Gary was first into the cockpit of the plane.  I heard a commotion, saw fists flying, blood spurting on the windshield, then, screaming and hollering.

The pilot had drank the rest of our beer.  Empty Michelob bottles scattered across the deck of the planes interior, rolling back and forth.  The empty cooler was  lying on its side.  When we got there, the pilot was laying back in his seat snoring, head tilted back, passed out cold.  Gary went off, fists a flying, tagging the pilot with every blow.  I knew that  Gary nor I either one could fly the plane, so I made Gary quit.  Forty-five minutes later, we spot the roof top of the Superdome and the plane is landing back at our point of departure.  Just as soon as the plane quit taxiing down the runway and came to a halt, Gary jumped on him again.

The pilot is flailing his arms trying to ward off the blows, crying too, saying “what, what?  You already kicked my ass once.”  Gary said “That’s for drinking all our beer, you son of a bitch, the adventure of a lifetime my ass.”  The pilot ran away from the plane towards the hangar, seeking medical attention I guess, but I was afraid that some one would call an Air Marshall to us.

My half of the trip was $750.00, plus all the money I spent on new fishing gear.  The really good fight happened when we got back to the Holiday Inn.

Guantanamo Bay

Ever sail one of these? It’s called a “Sunfish”, a day sailer. Just about the easiest sailboat to maneuver, you’ll ever find.

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Living in Guantanamo was confining at times. It was such a small Naval Base, near the center of the Caribbean Ocean.  During summer vacation, the dependent school children were offered a variety of summer sports programs to attend.  The first step was safety education, the “rules” do this, don’t do that.

The first summer we were in GTMO, mom had us take swimming classes, even Duane. In didn’t take him long, he was at home in the water, his disabilities didn’t add up to much, the waters made him buoyant.
We also took tennis and golf lessons, Mom figured that Officer’s children should know how to play tennis and golf.  Another reason might be that the Captain’s wife taught tennis, it might get her an invite to cocktails.
The second year we were there, We took sailing lessons at Special Services to get checked out on a Sunfish, a real small, cute little sailboat.  This boat was big enough for two adults, or as in our case, three small boys. We could go down to the marina and check one out for the day.  Special Services was kinda like a sporting goods library. You could check out any piece of equipment you wanted at no charge, you just had to bring it back when you were finished with it.

Sailing isn’t as hard as it looks. With the wind, no brainer, if you want to go left, push the tiller to the right and visa versa. Sailing against the wind, was a littler tougher. You pick out the point on the horizon where you want to end up and with the use of the tiller, you aim either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock, keeping your destination in the corner of your eye. That’s called a tack, you run out the tack until you can’t go any further, then you “come about”, and run before the wind in the opposite direction, always moving forward.  If you want more speed you use a full sail and if the wind gets too brisk, lower the sail. If you use too much sail on a tack, you’ll probably tip over and capsize. Then everybody loads up on one side and tips it back up right, bail out the water and keep going.

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The bay was a beautiful place, to pre-teen age boys, it was paradise.  Mom kept a ship’s bell on the cliff, right next to a pair of ship’s binoculars, mounted on a swivel, to keep an eye on us.  We got to explore small islands, atolls (under water islands), reefs, bays etc.  Sometimes a large shark would decide to check us out, the Sunfish was 14 foot, I remember a hammerhead trying to pin us up in a small lagoon, being every bit of 14 foot. We beached the boat, even though we heard Mom’s bell going off high up on the cliff at the end of Radio Point, we stayed put until the shark left to play his games somewhere else.

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Boys without toys find something else to do, to tickle there fancy.  We climbed trees, hunted iguanas and bird’s nests, gigged frogs, gathered wild fruit, explored mysterious trails and when we weren’t allowed to go out on the reef or hunt in the jungle, we found other things to do.

Our dad had multiple duties.  He was the Asst. Admin Officer, the Discipline Officer, the Barracks Officer, Naval Intelligence Officer (I & E) and the Postal Officer.  He couldn’t be every where at once.  We knew that and had his schedule imprinted in our brains, so that we could show up where he wasn’t, to reap the benefits of being Mr. Frailey’s sons.

As the Discipline Officer, it was up to Dad to decide if minor infractions of the Code of Military Justice warranted a Captain’s Mass or other minor forms of punishment, like “extra duty.”  Extra duty could entail a lot of things, one of them being to serve as baby sitters for his 3 boys, while Dad and Mom went to the “O” Club for a couple of hours.

Since we didn’t have TV on the base, these wayward sailors would find other means to occupy our time.  We learned to cuss like “a sailor” early in life, much to our parent’s chagrin.  One of the first things I remember was learning to sit on my knees and disassemble a Colt .45 automatic.  I know what your thinking, I was only 8 years old true enough, but my brothers were 6 and 5.  They learned too.

The barrel bushing is the first piece off and the last back on.  It holds the barrel slide in place.  If I remember right, there were 9 pieces all told, including the magazine.  Be careful not to lose the spring.  We were shown how to place each piece in order, from left to right, easy to reach as we disassembled and reassembled the piece.  Once we mastered this technique, off would go the lights.  You’ve heard of doing something blindfolded, well turning out the lights has the same effect.

Next, we learned hand to hand combat techniques. How to grab some one from behind with your left hand under your foes chin and tilt it upwards as you stick your bayonet in his kidney, then twist it, to prevent him from hollering out.  Of course we didn’t use a real bayonet (at first).  Depending on the skills of the guy that kept an eye on us, sometimes it was “Ski” or “Tommy” for Thompson, “Smitty,” “Brownie,” on down the line, each with special skills. We learned to make Malatov Cocktails, how to use semaphore, Morse code, how to use flags to signal landing instructions to a jet on an aircraft carrier, Military jargon, the “P’s and Q’s” of the Black shoe Navy.  How to use you’re your clothes as a flotation device if you were ever on a boat that sank came in handy a time or two, we were always flipping a Sunfish over.

Yeah, we  grew up before our time.  We turned out to be some mean little shits.  Dad always called us his “Strikers,” a military term for midshipmen.  To us, there was no “hallowed ground.”  Nothing was safe.  Sure, we got caught, it was a small naval base, we always got caught and being the Discipline Officer, Dad saw to it that we always got punished.

Our house didn’t have a bath room, it was called the “head.”  Same with the floor, it was called the deck, the walls were called the bulkhead, and the mop was a swab.  When we walked anywhere in Dad’s view, in was in military alignment, no straggling.  Reveille was at 0600 hours, our beds were made by 06:30 hours, we scoured the reefs to see what treasures the outgoing tide had left us overnight.  At 07:30 hours we got ready for school, caught the bus at 0800 to further upgrade our education, always with a military slant.

Because of the heat, school was from 0800 to 1100, then a two hour lunch break.  The buses would take us home for lunch/siesta, then pick us up and it was back to school from 1300 to 1500 hours, Taps was at 2200 hours, that meant lights out.

After school, depending on the day of the month, we would look for our Dad where we knew he wasn’t.  We would check out the Admin Office when we knew he was doing Barracks inspections, just so we could sit at his desk, look for his cigarettes, drink coffee and eat doughnuts.  The Operations Office was next door with a glass partition in between.  We could see on a chart mounted on the wall just what ships were due in and at what dock they were going to berthed.   My brothers would take a grease pencil when no one was watching and write “Kilroy was here,” on the plexi-glass chart, a military joke.  We also wanted to see what dates ships were coming or going, the reason being that on the incoming ships the guys debarking from the ship would carry boxes of comic books and magazines that we could buy really cheap.  After a two to six month cruise, these books had been read from cover to cover. Two or three dollars would get a whole box.   The ships that were departing on a lengthy cruise would be good customers for what ever fruit we could gather.  Coconuts, bananas, pomegranates, avocadoes, mommasitos (Cuban Grapes), tamarinds, mangoes and more.  Scurvy was the scourge of the fleet.  No one could have enough fruit on a lengthy voyage.  We earned plenty of pocket money selling boxes of fruit.

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On days that our Dad was holding Captain’s Mass at the Admin Office, we would scoot down to the Post Office “looking “ for Dad.  Nonchalantly we would help the guys sort the mail, always looking for contraband.  Guys that has been transferred or their enlistments were up would have their mail stored in a “dead file” pending receipt of a forwarding address.  Sometimes suspicious packages needed to be searched.  We felt it our duty to give a hand in this regard.  Every suspicious package that smelled like fruit cake or cookies needed to be checked and sampled, we were duty bound.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.  Cuban cigars were considered contraband, but it seems like everyone was sending them home to the States.  We would sit at Dad’s empty desk and go through his drawers, find some “Monte Cristoes or a couple of “Presidentials” and help ourselves, filling our pockets with stogies when no one was looking.  Like I said before, we always got caught, but we were Mr. Frailey’s sons, the guys working were the same guys that watched us at night when our folks were off having cocktails and hors devours.  I could read as good as anybody there and would help sort mail, I loved doing it, to me, it wasn’t what I would call work, more like killing time so that I could find something else to get in to.

The “Lucky Bag,” was where they kept old uniforms, from guys who’s enlistment was up or guys that changed pay grades or like when a guy was transferred in from up north and he would discard his winter gear for summer uniforms.  We were too small to wear most of the stuff, but some times we would find a pair of shoes that fit.  The base didn’t have a shoe store, which was okay, we didn’t like to wear shoes anyway but when you are out on the reef, walking on sharp coral, it doesn’t hurt to have something on your feet.  Our special interest was in gathering old ammo belts and enlisted men’s white hats, sometimes a poncho or a back pack.  Leggings were of special interest too when we went on jungle excursions.

Heathens you might think.  Yeah, we were called heathens plenty enough, and some other salty names come to mind too.  Especially after my youngest brother Duane tried to light a Malatov Cocktail one night after we snuck out of the house.  We were behind the Navy Exchange were the gas pumps were, filling old rum bottles with gasoline.  Duane wanted to light one up just to check it out.  I told him to go ahead, just throw it on the pavement and run.  Well, he pulled out a Zippo lighter that we had com-shawed from one of Dad’s desk and tried to light the rag sticking out above the neck of the bottle, when he did, the excess gas that had spilled on his arm lit him up, causing Duane to toss the bottle up in the air.  It land up against the dumpster next to a bunch of pallets leaning up against the Navy Exchange.  We ran home once we realized that the fire was out of control, to act like we had been in bed the whole time.  The fire alarm could be heard all across the base, a signal for volunteers to come hither.  Of course we some of the first “volunteers” there.  We weren’t allowed to participate, just watch.  When we saw the firefighters were tossing ammo out of the sporting goods area into a dry ditch, we quickly took the opportunity to move as many boxes of ammunition into a nearby culvert.  Later after the fury had calmed down, we moved these boxes of shot gun shells and rifle and pistol bullets to our “fort,” a cave that we had dug into the cliff below our house.

We had already been taught by Smitty or Tommy how to separate the gun powder from the casing.  We knew how to wrap this gunpowder in tin foil with BBs from the shotgun shells to make a little explosive device that would make a loud pop when tossed against a hard object.  We didn’t actually get caught until later when we tried to use them against the military police during “Operation NEGDEF.”  (Defensive maneuvers preparing against Castro

We used home made bolos to catch iguanas, slingshots to kill chukka, spears that we made at Public Works to gig moray eels and longusta and “billy clubs” that we got from the Shore Patrol as our first line of defense against javelinas.  We used all of these weapons and more almost everyday.  We lived in Guantanamo for four years.  I don’t know if we just got use to our environment, or if they just got use to us. It was our Utopia, our Shangri-la.  I never wanted to leave, but all little boys must grow up, I don’t know if the base was the same with out us or not, but my brothers and I carried a little piece of Gitmo with us the rest of our lives.

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