Big Nickel

Staying at my grandpa’s in south Georgia was a whole ‘nother world.  In fact, I don’t think you can get there from her.  You got to go somewhere else first and start all over.  I remember as a kid not wanting to go but once there I didn’t want to leave.

The house needed paint, it always did.  I don’t think it was ever painted at all.  Yes, they had electricity on the pole next to the house, but not in it.  Kerosene lamps and a wood burning stove were kept company inside the house by an ice box, with the light green paint peeling and curling off from age..  An old black man would come by once a week with his mule and wagon, selling blocks of ice covered in sawdust for twenty five cents.  Grandpa musta been a big spender ’cause he always got two blocks and gave the man an extra nickel if he would carry them into the house.

Sunday afternoons we would crunch up one of those blocks and churn our own ice cream.  Granny would bring a bottle of vanilla extract on the porch to add to the mix.

Coming from Jacksonville my brothers and I would sit in the back of the car and make long faces.  Almost as if we were being sent to reform school.  Grandpa didn’t have a TV.  They would open the kitchen window, place the radio in the sill and plug it up the fourway outlet on the light pole.  The kerosene lamp on the kitchen table would light up the room and make our silhouettes  dance on the walls behind us, as we acted out the action scenes when we listened to Gunsmoke.  Pow, pow, pow!  Milton Berle and Jack Benny would make us laugh, they were so funny.  I always felt sorry for poor old Rochester.  When George told Gracie to say “Goodnight,” well, then it was time for us to hug and kiss everyone goodnight too and off to bed.

Every room in my grandparents house was filled beds, wall to wall, our mattress slid out from under Granny and Granpa’s bed.   Even the living room was filled with beds.  The kitchen table was a 10 foot long picnic table.  During meal times, to Granny’s chagrin, Grandpa would say that it was filled with “assholes and elbows.” The windows were almost always wide open, even in winter.  The screens were mostly missing in action and hadn’t been seen in years.  Granny had indoor plumbing alright, a hand pump mounted on the counter with a broken handle.  Grandpa kept telling Granny that he was gonna fix it one of these days, he added that she didn’t need to remind him every six months neither.

When it rained, every pot in the kitchen was put to use and a couple of buckets from the barn.  I remember everyone saying they sure like to listen to the sound of rain on a tin roof.  I  often wondered where all those people were when we needed an extra hand with those buckets and pots.

After supper, on nights when we weren’t listening to the radio, we gathered on the front porch.  Granny would nod and Grandpa would wave his pipe at anyone that went past the house while he and she rocked back and forth.  My brothers and I had already had our bath in the tub on the back porch, so we weren’t allowed off the swing.  We would twist and turn, pinching and slapping each other in the back of the head when no one was looking.  Granny always played like she was deaf, but I think that was just an act.  Without a glance backwards Granny would swing her switch if she heard the slightest commotion.  It didn’t matter to her if she got the right one or not, far as she was concerned, justice was served and well deserved.

Without much coaxing, Granpa would draw on his pipe and tell us a story, while Granny rocked back and forth at the same even pace for what seemed like hours at a time, ignoring us as she shelled her butter beans or snapped her green beans for tomorrows supper.

Granpa’s stories always started out like this “I remember one time, I won’t ever forget…….”  Then he’d tell us a tale like about the time his brother owned a gas station, got robbed by a man with an axe that killed him.  He told us how when the suspect was caught, he hitched up his mule and wagon and rode every day to the courthouse in Mt. Vernon to witness the goings on.  Then he told us about driving his model A truck down the road about 25 miles to Reidsville, to the state prison to watch the execution.  Granpa’s stories were always good, we didn’t want him to be interupted, we sat on the edge of the swing, all ears.  If someone drove by the house, on their to or back from town, we’d hear a loud “Ahh ooooga!”  Granpa would wave at them with his pipe in his hand, without drawing a breath or a never you mind, kept on with his story.

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When he got to the part when the warden hit the switch on the ‘lectric chair, Granpa would reach over to the light pole by the porch and jiggle the plug so that the outside light would blink off an on.  We felt like we were there with Grandpa on the front row, watching Uncle Wiley’s killer get his.

The cemetery was just down the street.  The Sharpe’s Family Cemetery been there since 1804.  My brothers and I helped with the clean up around the old graves, doing our part.  No one questioned why we did it or tried to duck out of it.  Kids being kids we would just have to read the names on every tombstone and check out the dates.  When Grandpa told us a story about this one or that one, we felt like we knew just who he was talking about.  After the clean up, members of the family would gather in the shade and we would eat fried chicken and potato salad with Granny’s fresh baked bread.  We would sit on Grandpa’s wagon to slice up a few watermelons for dessert, then we would leave the rinds laying in the wagon till he fed them to the pigs.

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“Eat the meat and pickle the rind, save the seeds to planting time.”  I think Grandpa had a rhyme for everything.

Granpa had a Model A truck but  I think he was too tight to spring for the gas.  The truck would hold three people up front if you squeezed together real tight.  He’d say “Aw it’s alright, everybody’s kin.”  I soon discovered the real reason he took the wagon as we followed the old clay wagon ruts to town.  If he chose the wagon instead of the truck, Granny wouldn’t go.

“Ma,” lived just down the road.  I suppose she was somebody’s ma, but she wasn’t any kin to us.  Just a neighbor that had gotten on up in her years.  Her man had died and the kids had been gone so long that no one even remembered what they looked like.

Ma would come up to the house every other day or so to chat and spit snuff, rocking with Granny and to help her shell peas.  When she left she’d take a bowl of peas or fresh cut okra, maybe a few ears of corn, ya see, Grandpa had this garden in a field next to the house.  This garden was for anyone in the family that needed fresh vegtables.  Corn, tomatoes, okra, butter beans, crowder peas, field peas, yellow neck squash, no charge, help yourself.  Neighbors like old Ma would come around and Granpa treated them like family too.  Ma would always say, “I’m gonna pay ya’ll for these veggies, I surely will.  I got that money that Daddy left me hid and when I dig it up, I’ll sure see to it that you get you yours.”

When we loaded up the wagon to ride to town, Granny would stay home, she didn’t want to make that long dusty trip in the hot sun, sitting on that hard bench seat.  We stopped at old Ma’s and she would come out wearing her Sunday bonnet and the floweredee apron she saved to wear for when company come over.  She would reach into the pockets of her apron and hand Grandpa the coupons she’d been saving that she got from the mailman.  All cut out and stacked, wrapped with a rubber band,  like they was worth a small fortune.  She would hand these to my gramps and say, “Here Mr. Groves, I want to pay my way.”  To my brothers and I this seemed just like real money.  Maybe she had one in there for a free pizza.  We didn’t stop to think that there wasn’t any place to get a pizza for 50 miles or more.

Ma would get us to help her load up straw baskets of clean laundry that we would drop off at the church.  She washed and folded laundry for half the congregation.  Anytime time you went past Ma’s house there was always a half dozen sheets on the clothesline, flapping in the wind.

Granpa always loaded a couple pitchforks full of hay into the back of  his wagon.  When Ma climbed aboard we gladly let her have our seat so that we could roll and toss around in the hay, chiggers be damned.

Granpa told us that he would pay us for our work when we got to town so that we could have some money to spend.  The only rule was, we could only spend it something to eat, like candy or shaved ice.  He didn’t want Granny to know he was spoiling us rotten.  When we got to town, Ma wanted to give me a “Yankee dime” for carrying her baskets of laundry to the church.  She said she knew they was heavy, when I looked at her pitiful face, she had snuff running down both corners of her mouth.  I looked at Granpa to see if it’s alright to take money from her, he grinned and nodded his okay.  I asked her just what was a “Yankee dime?”  Grandpa had just given me a “big nickel,” (a quarter) and I was eager for more.  When I held my hand out, palm up, she just bent over and hugged me and planted a big old kiss, right on my cheek.  I could feel the snuff smearing across my face.  Granpa started laughing, he could tell I was surprised.  I felt like I had been tricked.  So a kiss is a “Yankee dime.”  I got to remember that, I won’t fall for that again.

While we were at the market in Uvalda, Grandpa got his “ears lowered” and a quart of ‘shine.  I didn’t know exactly what it was for sure, the jar looked like it was filled with water to me.  I know it made Grandpa’s face real red and I don’t think it was from any after shave.  Ma got herself some sewing needles and thread and a few other things she was needing for the house, while me an my brothers spent our big nickels.  We got some peaches and a stick of sugarcane to gnaw on and a couple of firecrackers that we wanted to save for the fourth of July celebration at the cemetery.

We dropped ma off at her house.  He goats were on the porch and chickens sitting in the window sill.  I remember riding by one day, not too long after ma died.  I guess her kids finally came home.  There were holes all in the front yard and around the house where it looked like somebody had been digging.

Grandpa’s sister Lena Bell, would come over about once a week and remind us boys that when we got back to Jacksonville to tell anybody man we saw that was looking for a wife, that she had ten acres of good growing land and needed her a husband.  She would cackle like an old hen that had just layed an egg, laughing at her own jokes.  Grandpa excused her behaviour by saving that he reckoned that she lived by herself, way too long.

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Once in a while after a rain, Grandpa would take us down to the creek to look for arrowheads.  He told us there were lots of them when he was a boy.  We’d find one or two, just enough to make us want to come back and look for more.  While we were there Grandpa would pull out that jar he got from the barber shop from it’s hiding spot, take a swig or two and then put it back in the hollow tree for safe keeping.

Almost every night the chickens would raise enough fuss to wake the dead.  The possum’s would come up out of the woods from across the creek, looking for some eggs to suck on.  To our delight, Grandpa said he was gonna show us how to build a possum trap.  He made a wooden box, that was open on one end.  On the open end, he fixed a door that would slide up and down.  Then he cut a small hole in the center of the box, just big enough for a short piece of broom stick to slide up and down.  He run a string from the far end of the box to the door.  In the middle of the box he stuck the piece of broomstick in the hole.  The broom stick had a notch so that it rested on the edge of the box and propped the sliding door up in the open position with the string resting in a groove on top of the broom stick.

Granpa reached in his overall pocket and brought out two persimmons that he had got from the wild persimmon tree down by the creek, sliced them in half and placed them in the rear of the box.  Grandpa said, “There’s nothing an ole possum likes better than an inviting slice of a fresh cut persimmon.”

When we went to bed that night my brothers and I were so full of excitement that we could barely sleep.  Granny fixed grits and eggs for breakfast and just as soon as we cleared the table, she told us to go check on her chickens and gather some eggs.  Running just as fast as our feet could fly.  Oh boy, to our amazement the broom stick was down.  Something had crawled up inside there last night and sprung our trap.  From the sound of things, what ever it was, was still inside.

Not knowing exactly what to do, we hollered for Grandpa.  He was moving kinda slow this morning, he was standing on the front porch pulling his overall straps up over his bare shoulders.  He stopped in his tracks, it looked to me like he was picking at bed bugs or something.  If I didn’t know better, I would have said that Grandpa was dragging his feet on purpose.  He laughed when he walked up on us and asked who wants to volunteer to be the brave man that tangles with a wild opossum this morning?  Hearing that kinda changed things for us.  Will they bite us?  Grandpa told us not to worry, he would do the chore, and motioned us boys to move back out of the way.   Shoot , that made us crowd around him all the more.   When he slid the door open to that box trap he took a squint and then jerked his head back so fast we almost missed it.  He dropped the box and out came a black and white skunk with its tail high in the air.  It got every one of us too.

I guess ole skunks like persimmons too.

That was the day Mom came to get us.  School was starting back the next Monday.  We didn’t want to leave. I ran to Mom to give her a hug and to ask her if she wanted a “Yankee Dime.”  Mom took one whiff of us and said,  “Phew, y’all smell like you need a bath.”  We pointed at the tub on the back of the porch and told her that we just got one, Granny even poured a can of tomato juice over our heads.  On the way home she wanted to know all about it, just why in heaven’s name did we smell so bad.

I took the lead and started out with, “Oh Mom, you should have been there, I’ll always remember this time at Grandpa’s, I won’t never forget………….

 

The Evacuation and the USNS Upshur

Oct. 22nd through the 25th, 1962, three days that will live in infamy.  Here’s a part of the story I bet you didn’t know.

My Dad wrote the Evacuation letter, we knew it was coming but even so it was still a shock.  To be forced out of your homes and have your whole life change in just a matter of hours is something you will never be prepared for.

At 0800 hours my Mom, brothers and I with one suitcase loaded up on the Blue Bird bus.  Instead of going to school as was our morning routine, we were being taken to the docks, near where the PBYs berthed.

The day had finally come.  The Base Police had been issuing warnings for months that this day might come.  “Water Condition Bravo.”  NEGDEF was finally in effect.

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When we off loaded from the bus we joined a line that was forming at the docks.  We were told to board the USNS Upsher, a troop transport ship.  The bow of the ship opened up like a door to make it easier to load.  Boys 10 years of age an older were sent to berth in the aft hold.  The bunks were stacked to the ceiling, about 18 inches above each other.

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The women with small children and daughters of all ages were packed in the staterooms in the forward section.  Rooms that were meant for 2 to 4 people were packed with 10 or more.  The women folk leaned up against the bulkhead using their suitcases as room dividers.  They slept on mattresses rolled out on the deck.  In the daytime these mattresses were rolled up and used as couches to sit on.

Mom had my two younger brothers with her but after I paid her a short visit, I could see that she had her hands full.  I managed to get permission for my brother Gary who was 8, to go with me.  Our Dad was Mr. Frailey on base back in  GTMO but that didn’t cut us any slack on board the Upsher.

At first confusion ruled the day and we took advantage of it to roam the ship.  Then military order took effect and we were soon put in our place.  The red light over the head (bathroom) was on 24 hours a day, just in case you wanted to crawl out of your bunk you could find it in the dark.  The scuttlebutt or drinking fountain was near there just in case you got thirtsy.

The stairway leading down to our compartment is where the Petty Officer put his chair after we got caught a couple times trying to sneak out on deck after dark.  Gary and I hid in a lifeboat during the life boat/abandon ship drills, just so we could roam the deck after dark.  We might have got away with it if Gary hadn’t of been playing with the flare pistol.  Let’s just say it was an illuminating experience.

The first hundred miles after leaving port in GTMO, the ship headed due east, toward Puerto Rico, then it changed course northward heading homeward to the US of A.  The weather was nice the first day, I was wearing white shorts and a white T shirt.  In GTMO almost everyone wore light colored clothes, because of the heat. I remember it was so hot that I blistered my arm when I leaned up against a hand rail.   As we turned north though, I could feel the cold wind in the air.

The second day out after our life  boat drills, I noticed that the American flag was being flown upside down.  Even military brats know this is the sign for distress.  I scanned the horizon and there on our port bow were two gray frigates chasing us, shadowing our every move, one behind the other.

The two ships were flyin red flags. It was too great a distance to be able to make out the hammer and cycle until later in the afternoon when they got closer.  The Upsher was a troop transport ship.  No armaments.  Maybe a few hand guns among the ship’s crew but no defense against two frigates.  Not being familiar with the Russian Navy, I call them frigates.  They were too big to be destroyers.  Their radar was constantly rotating back and forth.  Their guns were covered by camolouged nets but you could tell what and where they were.

This caused concern among the passengers but there wasn’t anything we could do about it, not really.  The Navy personnel aboard ship kept an eye on them but maintained our course.  As time progressed the two Russian ships edged closer and closer.  The scuttlebutt aboard ship was that our Navy was busy with a blockade around Cuba, maybe they were too busy to worry about us.

We were in International Waters, might makes right.  The ship nearest to us kept sending us signals.  Me and the boys with us that could read morse code thought that they wanted us to heave to.   They removed the netting from their 5 inch guns. Our Captain refused, the closer they got to us, the more he would veer off course to the right to maintain a safe distance.  He didn’t want us to be boarded and he had the feeling the Russians wanted to take us hostage.

Gary and I kept getting into trouble doing stupid things that spoiled brats do.  For punishment we were told to help the cook in the galley.  One of our chores was to dump the garbage overboard, off the fan tail.  This gave us the opportunity to see the night sky and the ghostly silhouettes of what seemed to us to be two bullies that acted like they were spoiling for a fight.  Intimidation, that’s what is was, intimidation.  Ever hour they crept closer and closer until on the morning of the third day, they were only 500 yards off our bow.

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After the morning lifeboat drills, the boys from my baseball team usually stood on the bow, tossing a baseball back and forth, non chalantly playing catch.  On this morning there was a lot of jeering and hurling insults at the the Russian ships.  God only knows if they could hear us.  We lined up with our backs to the Russian ships and when one of the bigger boys hollered “GTMO Salute,”  we all dropped our drawers, bending over we gave them a full moon shot salute.  Then on the command “Ready Two,” we straightened up and fastened our pants.

I  brought my school notebook with me, I wanted to make some drawings.  After a few cartoons of making pictures showing Kruschev kissing an American bald eagle on the butt, I started making them into paper airplanes.  I tossed a couple over the side in the direction of our Russian nemesis.  This caused a stir amongst my buddies and soon we were all making drawings and airplanes.  We were too far away for the planes to make it, we were hanging over the side watching silently as they fell one by one into the sea, then a loud cheer arose as one that seemed destined for the drink, took a new life and rose with the air currents to new heights, gaining altitude before it dipped sharply and succumbed to the depths, bringing at a loud groan from the onlookers.

This groan however was soon replaced by a chorus of loud hurrays and everyone pointing to the rear of the ship.  I looked and saw coming towards us, out of the fog  a white American Coast Guard destroyer with the plugs removed from the mouth of it’s guns.

The Coast Guard ship edged it’s way between us and the two gray ships.  They dipped their ensign as a salute, then seemed to slowly disappear in the fog.  The day was saved.  Hurray for the US Coast Guard, they had our back.

After what seemed forever, we finally docked at Newport News.  The weather was a brisk 49 degrees.  I hadn’t experienced this kind of weather since ’59 and I was wearing shorts, a tee shirt and a pair of flip flops.

I was the first dependent to walk down the gangway, Mom and my brothers were right behind me.  A photogrpher from AP got a shot of us.  The next day it was across the front page of most every newspaper in America.

There to greet us was the American Red Cross and a crowd of about a thousand people.  The Navy Band played Stars and Stripes.  A nice lady gave me a red sweatshirt parka and a cup of hot chocolate.  Oh it was good to be home again.

I’ll never forget how good it felt to be an American that day, listening to the band playing Stars and Stripes as I walked down the gangway.  I will be forever grateful to the Red Cross for the warm clothes and nobody, I mean nobody better ever say any thing bad in front of me about the US Coast Guard.

 

 

The Orange Blossom Trail

I remember when Joe hired me, being told that he didn’t think I would make it, but he would give me a chance.  I asked him why not, I was an accomplished salesman, young and eager.  Joe said, “That’s just it, you think you know it all.  To sell tools, you can’t act like you’re selling, you have to make ’em believe your just trying to give it away.  We are selling the sizzle, not the steak.”  He went on to say that everyone has it inside of them but refuse to do what it takes.  He also said that I needed to do exactly like he told me,  “Get out and go hustle,” go door to door, don’t read the signs, just ask for the boss.  Your job is to get ’em on the phone to the factory.  If they make an offer, Rita will close them out, if not just go next door and ask for the boss.  He told me that if I got up every morning and went out and hustled, worked my tail off, that I would make some money.  The trick he said, is to act like you just trying to give it away.

The first town I moved to with the crew was Orlando.  The crew stayed at the Days Inn on the Orange Blossom Trail.  I was broke when I left Jacksonville.   My truck was running on fumes when I got there.  The first night, I slept on the floor of one of the other “new guy’s” motel room.  The next morning I stiffed a “7-11” for five bucks worth of gas, then went to work my “territory.”  Territories were areas drawn up on a map in squares and tacked to the wall of the motel room in Joe’s room, dividing the town up in sections, so that everyone can sign out for a particular area and not have to worry about someone else “riding and raping” your territory.

I signed out for the area right next to the motel, so I wouldn’t have to drive very far to get to work.  I hit five businesses in a row before I started getting any interest.  The first place was a Day Care, no luck the boss wasn’t in yet.  The second place was a parts house, they just laughed at me.  The next place the boss man asked me all kind of questions about the bandsaw.  I told him “Don’t start me to lying, I just drive a truck.”  He told me to come back after lunch and gave me his card.  We called this a “lead.”   They were usually worthless.

I remembered that Joe said, “don’t read the signs, just go door to door.”  By then I started to get a little toasty brown.  I pulled out a note pad and wrote down the response on my first couple of calls, thinking that I could read them over and find the error of my ways.  By number ten, things got better.  Number ten seemed interested, I was so broke and desperate that I told the boss man that if he wouldn’t get me fired and give me a twenty for gas, I would call up my boss and tell him, “The equipment had been damaged by the fork motor, some parts seem to be missing, if you’ll help me, I’ll help you.”   Joe had told us that, “A liar is a buyer, if you can get him on the phone to lie to your boss, he’ll buy.”  I had to put him through the book about a half a dozen times before he finally bought the whole truck load for $2,200.00.   I made $200.00 profit, plus a twenty for gas.  Only 10 am.  I got Wilbur to load my truck again.  The “boss man” that I had spoken with earlier about the band saw had asked me to come back after lunch.  When I got there I was half afraid he would have the cops waiting for me but no, he wanted to know where I’d been. He said that he’d been waiting for me.  He wanted to know everything I knew about that metal cutting band saw.  I told him that, “It cuts north and south or east and west and will spit oil on the blade.”  When he got Rita on the phone and made his offer, the first thing she asked was if he had been drinking.  When he said no, she asked, “What about my driver?”  He ended up getting the saw for a thousand bucks and gave me $20 dollars to get some beer.

It was just after lunch, I wasn’t broke anymore.  I got Wilbur to load the truck back up for me, one more time.  Wilbur Scarborough was Joe’s brother in law.  Wilbur had a unique knack of being able to load the trucks by himself, feeling guilty, I would try to give him a twenty dollar tip, but most times he refused, but he would let me buy him a drink at the bar.  Since I was still riding on the five dollars worth of stolen gas and had money to buy more, I drove up and down the “Trail,” looky looing at all the street walkers, topless bars, pool halls and tattoo parlors.  There was even one club that had an air plane sticking out of the wall.

I realized that it was getting late in the day.  I didn’t want to go back to the motel with this load still on my truck.  I drove back by the guy that had bought my load earlier in the day, just to see if any of his friends might be interested.  Surprisingly he wanted to buy the second load. I told him this equipment came from a guy that wrote a bad check,  that the boss won’t believe that this equipment is all damaged too, so he paid a little more.  I made $700.00 but no beer money.   Wow, a whopping $1,100 for the day, (plus some beer money).   The next morning I went back to the “7-11” and told the clerk that after I had driven off yesterday that I realized I forgot to pay for my gas.  That night, I had my own room.

Joe came by my room; he said that he wanted to take me out to eat.  I thought that he wanted to “Welcome me to the club.”  Yeah, right.  It was just me, Joe and Old George.  George was a nervous sort of older fellow that seemed to like to wash his hands a lot.  We went to an Oyster House a couple miles down the road, on the Orange Blossom Trail.  After about my third or fourth dozen oysters, Joe got up to go use the bathroom, soon after, George said he had to go wash his hands.  I waited and waited but they didn’t come back.

Joe backed his hotrod Ford Super Cab to the front door, racing the motor, then he started spinning the tires.  I knew what time it was then.  I had over a thousand dollars in my pocket, made three sales that day and here was Jumping Joe, wanting to know if I had enough guts to stiff a restaurant or if I was going to break weak and pay for every one’s meal.  I stood up and quickly walked to the door, left the restaurant in a hurry and dove into the back of the truck as he was peeling out, kicking gravel and dust up against the glass windows as we left.

Joes was fired up that night.  He started driving down the Orange Blossom Trail about 70 miles an hour.  He was in a blaze of glory until that motorcycle cop flashed his lights, then Joe hit the nitrous switch and took off.  His truck had one of those genuine “Bittendorf” racing engines from California.  The bike cop couldn’t catch us.   No way.  I was terrified, riding in the back of the truck,  on top of a pile of pallets, but I wouldn’t let on, besides,no one could have heard me if I had screamed my head off.

Joe was so far ahead of the motorcycle cop racing down Highway 441 the main drag, that he stopped to pick up two guys in a navy uniforms that looked like they were in the middle of being mugged by a group of black thugs at a bus stop.  I hollered at them, they just jumped into the back of the truck with me.  Then here came the bike cop, siren wailing, catching up to us.  Joe took off again, driving over a hundred miles an hour, around cars, over the center section divider, in the emergency lane, the traffic signs just seemed to whiz past, the street lights were just a blur.  The two sailors were all for it, lying on their sides holding onto a pallet with one hand and flipping the bike cop the finger with the other, whooping it up.  They acted  like they were pretty drunk.  If it hadn’t of been for that darn helicopter, we probably would have made it. They were waiting for us, right before we hit the overpass on the Beeline Expressway.  Joe told the patrolmen that he never saw the bike cop; he told the officers that we were just trying to help the Navy dudes out of a tight spot.  Even though they backed our story up, Joe went to jail.  Before they cuffed his hands behind his back, he handed me his roll.  I never counted it.  He went in front of a judge the next morning and got time served   I gave Joe back his wad of cash just the same way he handed it to me.    If this was suppose to be a test, well then, I reckon I passed.

A gal named Marie, had hired on with the crew in Jacksonville.  She said she had previous car selling experience, I don’t know why Joe hired her.   Selling tools was a man’s game.  It was well after midnight when she knocked on my door.  Marie said she was broke and wanted to know if she could sleep on my floor.  I think I knew what she had in mind, but I was bushed.

Trying to pump her up, I told her the next morning that everyone has what it takes to make it, if she would get up off her ass and hustle, go door to door, just go work her tail off, she could make herself some money.  I guess she took my advice, later on that night I saw her walking up and down the “Trail.”  What you wanna bet, she wasn’t trying to give it away.

Boston and the Foo Foo Platter

 

My youngest brother Duane died in February of ’85.  My brother Gary and I tried to keep busy selling tools near our homes in Florida.  We were in the dumps so to speak, it’s hard to get over the loss of a loved one.  My brother in law Bug had just passed away the month before that before that.

When we called the home office of Carolina Tool asking for a territory to go work, they sent us to Tampa to clean up behind an old “Red Arrow” crew that seemed to have run out of gas.  The tools had been in the warehouse for months, the old guys had died on the vine. We did our best to rejuvenate the guys on the Red Arrow crew.  We sold their tools in a couple of weeks and were soon calling up the factory looking for “fresh” territory.

For some reason, they didn’t want to give us new territory.  Our crew was kinda small at the time, just Me, Gary , Whistle and Marty.  It seemed like we were always sent to work areas that no one else wanted or had been worked recently by other crews.  Since we were getting the tools on the “front,” we had to roll with the flow.  We just had to trust our luck and accept whatever area we were sent to.

Then we got the word, it was Boston.  Boston, Massachussets at the end of March wasn’t my idea of a prime location.  I had been stationed in Connecticut for “Sub” school.  My recollections of my “stay” there wasn’t exactly favorable.  I couldn’t order food in a restaurant because no one could understand my accent.  I had a tough time understanding them too.

Thinking back on the times, I can’t say for sure that the folks up there are unfriendly to southerners.  I believe that it’s just they way they are brought up.  They pretty much don’t like anybody.  Everywhere else, our southern accent was our best selling tool.  Up there, I was told to take the grits out of my mouth before I speak.

At a sandwich shop I tried to order a “Poor Boy” sandwich.  They looked at me like I was Gomer Pyle or something.  I tried another tack and asked for a “Submarine sandwich” to no avail, no one seemed to know what that was.  Okay, how about a “Hoagie” or a “Cuban”?  No luck.  Finally I started describing the bread and the ingredients that did the trick, “Oh you mean a Grinder.”  Just hearing the name killed my appetite, I think I got a “pretzel” about the size of a horseshoe but not as tasty.  Like who ever heard of eating a pretzel with mustard on it?

Gary was in charge of the operation, it was his call, he was anxious to see New England.  My nephew Whistle and I started north with my jack truck pulling a U-Haul trailer with three loads of equipment inside to hold us over until our equipment arrived.  Gary and Marty Abernathy sidetracked by way of Pulaski, Tennessee where Buford Pusser lived, to pay respects to the family of Terry Hoeffer.        Terry was one of the old Red Arrow tool men that had joined our crew when we went to sell the leftovers in Tampa.  Terry was eat up with cirrosis he died not long afterwards, his family needed money and we needed another truck.  Gary and Marty went to his funeral and offer to buy Terry’s truckfrom his widow.

Whistle and I enjoyed our trip, twelve hundred miles, no real mishaps, though we had a time going through New York City first thing in the morning.  We manage to fight our way through the traffic, Good Lord how do those people stand it?  When were at the foot of the George Washington Bridge and saw six lanes of traffic, going each way, bumper to bumper, with upper and lower decks, it amazed us.

Whistle’s brother Glen and I had rolled two trucks on the Golden State Bridge in San Francisco a couple of years before.  We got out of the wrecked trucks and peed off the side of the bridge in the pouring down rain like nobody’s business, while we were waiting for one of our comrades to come behind us and give us a lift.  The Golden Gate wasn’t that intimidating, no big deal.  The George Washington Bridge was different.  Just look at all of those cars and trucks, taxis everywhere.  Everyone was honking their horns, cutting each other off, waving fists and plenty of noise.

The Ford F100 we were driving had performed well for the trip, we usually disconnected the four barrel for every day driving but not this trip.  Once we got near New York City it started spitting and sputtering.  The same way my VW acted when I first drove up to the naval base in New London, years before.  Whistle was only 17 at the time but he was a fair hand at mechanicking.  At the foot of the bridge we pulled over in the emergency lane, raised the hood of the truck, got the plug wrench out and started cleaning the spark plugs.

We didn’t let the foggy air or the noise pollution scare us, we were just cleaning the plugs like it was an every day thing.  It didn’t take us much longer than thirty minutes.  Like I said, Whistle was pretty good at twisting wrenches.  During that thirty minute period we must have had six wreckers pull over wanting to tow us off of the bridge.  When we told them that we were just cleaning our spark plugs and thanks but we didn’t need a tow, they looked at us like we were crazy.  It was like “Yuse guys are stopped in the emergency lane of the George Washington Bridge just to clean your spark plugs?”  Once we got back on the road, the old Ford pulled like nobody’s business, we were on our way.  The only thing we had to stop for after that was toll booths, about one every 4 or 5 miles.

It was a long trip, we were glad to finally get there.  First thing to do was find an inexpensive motel near the Interstate, with a restaurant.  There weren’t any.  We took I-495 bypass and got off in Winchester.  The motel we picked was right next to a cemetery, an old cemetery and it was packed.  Somebody said that folks were just dying to get in.  Some of the grave markers were dated back to the 1600’s. One tombstone bore the name “Ichabod Crane.”  It seems like we were always running into famous people. Natick was just a couple of miles down the road. We were hoping that we might accidently run in to Doug Flutie.

Gary and Marty showed up with Terry’s old truck.  They were able to buy it from his widow.  We hunkered down, four of us in one room, with a roll away bed, nobody want to share a bed with Marty, that boy could snore.  It was miserable weather; we shared each other’s company to fight the misery.  We rented movies ordered pizza and waited for Carolina to send us our tools.

On Saturday morning, we road out to Nantucket to check out the “beach.”  Not what we were use to.  Oh it was pretty enough, plenty of seagulls but people were digging holes in the sand big enough to lie down in, to keep the wind off of them while they tried to get some sun.  The amusing part of it to me, was watching these folks lay down in these “pits” holding aluminum foil covered cardboard under their necks trying to catch some “rays.”

We wanted to go walk in the park to stretch our legs and get some fresh air, so we asked directions to the park.  Every one told us that the park was “Common.”  Heck it didn’t have to be anything special for us, a common park would be just fine.  Come to find out, that’s what they call a park up there, “the Common.”

We did have three loads of tools with us.  Whistle and I decided we were going stir crazy and mighty tired of that motel, so we headed out to go “drop us a load.”  Cold calling in Massachusetts, going door to door ain’t no joke, it fact it can be down right negative.  Whistle and I started looking for something to fire us up, a sign of some kind to pump us up.  It’s hard to sell with a negative attitude.

We came up on a sign that named the neighborhood we were entering “Gristmill Pond.”  We may have been grasping at straws but even though they spelled “Grits” wrong we took it as a positive sign that something “good” was going to happen to us.  “PMA,” Positive mental Attitude, we needed that.  Next thing you know, we sold our load at a place called “The Grist Mill.”  Has that for a sign?  We enjoyed ourselves for the first time since we’d been up there.  We didn’t make that much money but were sure glad to get rid of a load of tools before we forgot how.

Our way of selling was like this.  We acted like country bumpkin truck drivers that were sent to do an inventory and then told by our boss to load up everything in the ware house and go find some body that would call the home office and make a reasonable offer.  Then the closer would bump them up on the price and then ask us if that was okay before she’d give her approval.

We acted like “Hicks from the sticks.”  I guess folks up there figured we must have fell off the bean truck.  We would tell our “mullet,” to back us up and give us $20 bucks for beer and we’ll tell the boss that the roof on the warehouse leaked, the tools are rusty, don’t get us fired and we’ll help you get it cheap.  It was funny alright, we laughed all the way to the bank.

After our drop, getting sick of pizza, we drove over to Gloucester, hoping to find a nice seafood restaurant just to get out of the motel.  What we call flounder; they call haddock, kind of confusing.  It was like that everywhere we went.  Hard to order food, seems like we were always hungry because no one could understand us enough to take our order.

To pass the time while we waited for our tools to be shipped to us, Gary rented that movie “Bernie’s Vacation” and I ordered some take out Chinese food over the phone.  The guy taking the order couldn’t understand me either.  I got across to him, we wanted some “flied lice, flied shrimp, egg rolls, won ton soup and some flied chicken,”……he stops me and says “Oh you want the Foo Foo Platter, velly good.”  Finally I got someone to understand me, that’s great, yeah, okay, the “Foo Foo Platter” it is.

Whistle went with me to pick up our order.  The restaurant wasn’t far from the motel.  When we got there the Chinese people working there seemed nice, we explained who we were, that we came to pick up our order.  To my surprise the man demanded seventy something dollars for the food.  I asked him if he was crazy, “$70.00 for Chinese food for four people, that’s outrageous.”

This guy got indignant with me, he said “You order Foo Foo platter, must pay seventy dollah.”  Just about that time , a guy wearing white pajamas with a black belt walks over to the door and locks it, then he was joined by four more of those fish eyed fools wearing the same “get up,” white pajamas with a little black cloth belt.  They surrounded us and took a stance that looked like they meant business.

I could see the situation was fixing to get out of hand.  I held up both hands in an act of surrender and said “Wait, wait, we don’t even know what a “Foo Foo Platter” is.  We got four men that are hungry and want to eat, we don’t mind paying but where we’re from, four guys can eat Chinese food for about twenty bucks.”

That statement caused some instant relief.  Master San said, “Oh you got twenty bucks?”  I said “Yeah, can we get some rice and some eggrolls and whatever you got to go with it, to feed four men?” He jumped into action, they dumped the same food from the Foo Foo platter into little card board containers, charged us twenty dollars, then Master San told number one son to unlock the door.

Gary and Marty didn’t like the cold weather much either, they stayed at the motel and let me and Whistle sell the two loads of tools while they waited for Carolina to ship us our equipment.  After we sold our last load of equipment out of the U-Haul trailer, Gary wanted me to go drop off the U-Haul trailer somewhere.  We hadn’t paid the rent on it for a month or so and he didn’t want to get caught with the overdue trailer and be forced to pay up.

Since Whistle and I sold all of the tools and we were the ones that hauled the trailer up from Tampa, we were the chosen ones to go drop it off.

I was driving the truck.  Whistle guided me back to the U-Haul trailer.  I didn’t think to get out and check, to make sure it was hitched down right or if Whistle had hooked up the safety chains, after all, this wasn’t our first rodeo, but I should have.

We drove out on I-495 heading north on the bypass.  We drove past a few exits when coming down a hill at a pretty good clip, I noticed a U-Haul trailer without any vehicle in front of it, pass us by.  I got to looking at that trailer and it had the same scenery painted on the side of it as ours did.  I looked over my shoulder and our trailer was gone.  “Oh shit,” that was our damn trailer, it had come off the hitch and was racing past us, downhill at full speed.

My first inclination was to tap the brakes and just slow down.  Let that trailer pass us by and run off the road.  Looking over the terrain in front of us, I quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea.  Both sides of the road were boxed in by guard rails.  At the bottom of the steep hill was a bridge crossing over a gorge.  On both sides of the road around the bridge were about thirty people wearing orange vest, like community service or something.  They were picking up trash off the side of the road.  There was no telling how it would turn out, but with that trailer bearing down on them better than 65 miles an hour, their only chance to escape harm’s way, was to jump off of the bridge into the gorge about sixty feet below.

The scenerio quickly played out in my head, any way you looked at it, I didn’t see a happy ending.  I told Whistle that we had to catch that trailer and stop it before some gets killed at the bottom of the hill.  I gunned the truck downhill to catch the run away trailer while Whistle climbed out of the passenger window into the back of the truck.

It just took a few seconds, we didn’t have time to be scared.  I caught up with the trailer, got in front of it while doing in more than 70 miles an hour.  Whistle guided me with one hand up in the air to slow down enough for the trailer to catch up with us enough so that he could reach down with a garden hoe that was in the back of the truck and grab a hold of a safety chain that was dragging from the tow hitch of the trailer.  After he got a grip on the safety chain, he bent over the tailgate and wrapped the chain around the trailer hitch good enough so that I could ease down on the brakes gently, slowly bringing the truck and the trailer to a stop, right at the beginning of the bridge.

Wow, that was a close one; it could have ended in tragedy.  No sooner did we stop and get out to lock down the trailer properly we were surrounded by happy laughing voices, people clapping us on the back.  Each one telling us that if they hadn’t of seen it, they never would have believed it.  I looked over the bridge rail, that gorge was deep; it gave me cause to shudder.

Maybe, just maybe we left those community service people with a different opinion about people from the south.  I tell Whistle that I still get Christmas cards from them folks.

I have a couple words of advice for anyone going to New England for a visit.  Be prepared to be misunderstood and what ever you do, if you go out to eat, make sure you don’t order that “Foo, Foo Platter.”

“He Lives”

I spent my preteen age years living with my family on a Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  We live there, 4 years.  From 1960 to 1964.  My first year at Victory Hill Elementary, the classes were held in “Espanol,” in the mornings.  I don’t think the temperature ever got below 90 degrees.  No one had A/C in those days, so at 11:00 am every one went home for a two hour lunch.  In the afternoon, our class was held in English, by the same teacher, Miss Espinosa.  Miss Espinosa was a pleasure to look at.  A young dark, Hispanic gal that made me look forward to learning.  It didn’t take me long to pick up the lingo.  She smelled pretty good too.  Because I had blond hair, I played “Goldilocks” in the school play.

 

Across Sherman Avenue and up the hill, was W.T. Sampson High School, beyond that, over looking the bay, was the all denominational church.  In the church, Jewish services were held on Saturday, afterwards catechism would be conducted in the Sunday School building, next door.

 

Church services for Catholics and Protestants were in held in the same church, but on rotating Sundays.  On Protestant Sundays, the Catholic services would be held in the evening.  Protestants were welcome to attend the Catholic service, many of us did.

 

Radio Point is where we lived, located on a half mile long peninsular.  Officers and there families lived on Radio Point.  Their homes faced the bay.  The Admiral and the Captain’s house were at the very end of the point, ending in tall coral cliffs facing the bay.

 

Down below the cliffs, leading out into the ocean, was a man made reef, to serve as a breaker, for incoming ships, berthing on nearby docks and piers.  At low tide, the reef served as a constant source of interest to three young boys.  We would try to capture what ever fish or other sea creatures that were left in tidal pools of the reef and look for the treasure that the high tide would bring us.

 

The homes on Radio Point peninsula faced the ocean but, on the strip of land in between the two rows of homes was a large field containing the radio communications tower.  The field surrounding this area was our ball field.  Since there wasn’t that many kids to choose from to pick up a team, the neighborhood girls were a part of the team too.  The term “Sand Lot” would apply because the sparse crabgrass on the base paths and parts of the infield, revealed nothing else but sand.  Running in the sand would slow you down, so if you wanted to get on base, you’d better get a good hit to the outfield.

 

Diane Le Masters was in my class, she played ball too.  Her family lived in front of the park.  Her Dad, Lt. Le Masters would sometimes come out to tend to some one that got hurt, show us how swing the bat, make a throw, all that kind of stuff.  Lt. Le Masters was also the base chaplain.

 

Chaplain Le Masters had the arduous task of dictating the services to all three divisions of faith, on the naval base.  He conducted the Jewish services in Hebrew, at least I think it was in Hebrew.  That amazed me, because I knew he could speak Cuban and American too.

After catechism, one Saturday, I went to the confessional to confess my sins.  I knew that I was in trouble for setting fire to the Navy Exchange, (accidentally).  I had been told that if you go to confessional to confess your sins, that you won’t be punished.  It was worth a try.  After entering the confessional booth, I was feeling uncomfortable at first, I told the Chaplain that I didn’t really know what to say or do, because I had always been a Protestant.

 

He told me to relax and just tell him what happened.  I told him that my brothers and I had been shown by some sailors that worked for my Dad, how to make Molotov cocktails.  We snuck out of the bedroom one night, ending up behind the Navy Exchange, where we had stashed our bottles of gasoline.

 

My youngest brother Duane wanted to light one, I told him okay but just toss it on the pavement and run.  Just as Duane lit the rag, gas on his hands burst aflame just as he was drawing his arm back to throw it.  He ended up dropping it and the flames crawled up the side of the dumpster, eventually causing the blaze that burned the Navy Exchange to the ground.  It was the only store on base and we weren’t allowed off base.  I knew it was my fault, I was the ring leader.  I feared the consequences of my actions and was hoping to find some outside help, when it came to my Dad.  He was the Discipline Office on the base.  I guess you can say he brought his work home with him sometimes.

 

Chaplain Le Masters did have a talk with my Dad, they did work out a penance for me.  Every week, I would help the chaplain with doing lawn services around the church and Sunday school buildings.  Back in those days the power mower was a kid pushing a rotary mower.  I remember carrying a big file to sharpen the blades.  These afternoons gave me lots of chances to find out about religion and politics.

 

The church was located on the tip of Hospital Hill, where the peninsula faces the bay.  I believe it was called Hospital Hill because the old hospital had been located there.  The name must have stuck, because when they built the new hospital somewhere else, they still called it Hospital Hill.

 

The Church grounds sloped downhill towards the cliffs.  I pushed the rotary blade lawnmower back and forth and while mowing, I would longingly steal glances across the channel at Radio Point at our little Shangri-la playground, the reef.

 

I pointed out the best places to get Longusta and catch Red Snapper in tidal pools after the tide goes out.  The next Saturday we let the grass go.  We spent the afternoon out on the reef.  I asked the Chaplain why there were so many different religions.  It seemed funny to me and a waste of a lot of time, to have three different church services to worship the same god.

 

He told me that people go to church for different reasons.  He told me that some religions are more strict than others and that some people may prefer the discipline and structure of the Catholic Church, they go to confessional to ask God to absolve them of their sins, while some people may want to enjoy the freedoms that Protestant Churches provide, where you can do as you like during the week but come Sunday if you put money in the offering plate and ask for forgiveness, you are good to go for another week.

 

He told me that the Jewish faith believes in One God, they believe Jesus was a mortal man, no more the son of God, than any of us.  He also said that the Jewish faith is steep in traditions and do not believe in the New Testament.

 

Then I asked him “What about Republicans and Democrats?  I had to help him up, because it looked like he stumbled over that one.  I asked again, “What religion are Republicans and Democrats?  How often do they go to church?”

 

The Chaplain grinned at me and rubbed his hand over my crew cut and told me that “they only go to church, every four years.  Thank God.”  He said that Republicans and Democrats were political parties.  I asked him if they worshipped the same God or different Gods.  He told me that they both worship the same God, the almighty dollar and then he pulled out a one dollar bill to show me in print, “In God We Trust.”  He told me that the Republicans and the Democrats were two different factions that attend the same party.  The ones to the right are conservatives that call themselves Republicans and the ones to the left are more liberal and are called Democrats .

 

I explained how Mom and Dad had been arguing back and forth about who they wanted to be the next president.  Dad said he was pulling for the Republican candidate Nixon to win.  Mom was from South Georgia.  She was on the other side of the fence; she said that the Democrat, Kennedy was going to win.  Mom then went on the tell Dad that Nixon had better not win, because if he did she would make his life miserable.  No more friend chicken for supper I imagined but heck, I liked soup and sandwiches.

Miss Espinosa explained to us in class that Richard Nixon had been the vice president the past 8 years under President Eisenhower.  She said that she thought that he had done a good job serving the country.  She also said that John Kennedy had been a military war hero.  He had been a naval officer during the war and had saved his men after his ship was sunk in enemy waters.

I asked my Dad why he preferred Nixon over Kennedy if both men had been naval officers.  I mentioned that Kennedy was a war hero.  Dad poo pooed the thought saying that a PT boat wasn’t a ship and he wouldn’t have been in command of it if his dad hadn’t been a rich man and US Ambassador.  His way of thinking was a PT boat shouldn’t have been run over by a destroyer to start with.

Sour grapes I think.  Dad was full of ambition.  He was a line officer that came up through the ranks as a “Mustanger.”  He could command a ship but so far had yet to be appointed to one.

The summers in Cuba all run together.  The tropic of Cancer doesn’t recognize winter other than monsoon season.  I eventually worked off my penance.  The Chaplain and I became good friends and fishing buddies.  When he saw my brothers and I on the reef from across the canal, he would wave and sometimes ring the Church bell.

We were evacuated from the base during the Missile Crisis.  Mom, my brothers and I lived with relatives in Jacksonville until we got the all clear to come back.  Not all the families returned however, the Mc Masters were one of the families that didn’t come back.  I missed Diane, she was a good clean up hitter and a great catcher.

I enlisted in the Navy myself in November of ’69.  I wanted to follow my heroes to the next level.  I was in boot camp when Mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse, I was called to the Chaplain’s Office to hear the news.  To my surprise I was greeted by an old friend.  It was now Lt. Commander Mc Masters.

He was now the base Chaplain at Recruit Training Center, Orlando.  I can’t think of a better man for the job.  We sat down in his office and joked about old times.  Then we got around to talking about Mom.  Even though she had been sick for a while, I wasn’t prepared for bad news.  He counseled me, telling me that her death was imminent.  I told him the Mom was a good Christian.  I had sat at the head of her bed holding her hand and singing hymns.  Sometimes scratching her ankle on the leg that had been amputated.

He asked me if I wanted to go see her now while she was still alive or wait a little longer and be present for her funeral.  I was in boot camp at the time, if you miss any time for a prolonged period, you get set back two weeks.  Boot Camp is brutal,  I don’t care what you hear.  I didn’t want to get set back but wanted to see my Mom, even if it was for just one last time.

Chaplain Le Masters always a friend, came up with a plan.  I would fill out the leave request for “Emergency Leave.”  He would give temporary approval and sit on my request until I got back.  I was to return in three days.  If I left on a Friday and returned on Monday he wouldn’t have to process the papers.  In the Navy that’s called “Basket Leave.”  I got to go visit with my Mom for a few days, hold hands again and sing a few more gospel songs.  The last song we sang will be forever on my mind.  “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.”

I made it back to boot camp without being set back.  Mom was tough, even though she suffered every day, she made it to March.  I was in Submarine School in New London, Conn. at the time.  I came home for her funeral, missing the last few days of a cold New England winter.  My scores were good enough that I passed my class without being setback.

After we laid Mom to rest, I realized that it was good that the time for her pain and suffering had finally ended, the chaplain told me that she has gone on to a better place.  I didn’t argue with him but I beg to differ.  She hasn’t gone anywhere.  Her voice is behind my right ear, even 50 years later.  I hear her voice every day, counseling me to know the difference between right and wrong.  I can’t still hear her singing, “He lives.”

Ding ding, Ding ding

What’s that noise?  It sounds familiar, wow, I almost forgot.  Has it been that long.  It must have been a long winter.  It’s the Ice Cream Man, driving up the road ringing the bell on his truck to attract customers.  I wonder if it’s the same one.

If it is, I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten me or Bug Moore, my brother in law. Nobody is that dumb.

Many years ago Bug and I went to go do a repair job early one Saturday morning.  It was a spring holiday, maybe Memorial Day or something.  We wanted to get our job done early.  Our plans were to finish up get paid and go buy a watermelon, some hot dogs and cold drinks, maybe some chips for the kids and a slab of ribs for us adults.

We built a porch that morning.  It came out nice and square, level and centered with the door.  The steps and hand rail were picture perfect.  As we built the porch we kept in mind to cut the lumber in such a way that we would have enough scraps left over to build a picnic table when we got home.

Our customer was very happy, we even got a tip.  We stopped on the way home at the Banner Food grocery store.  Our plan was spend our pay on the goodies for our picnic.  I say that with a caveat because we planned on holding back our bonus money to buy a case or two of beer and ice.

We loaded up on everything to feed his family and mine, between us we had about nine kids, not to mention their neighborhood friends.

When we got home we put the cold drinks on ice, got the charcoal going in the grill and told the kids to go play while we built the picnic table in the back yard.  The back yard was accessible to the street that ran beind the house.  In the shade of a big old live oak tree, Bug and I started building our picnic table.  A holiday cookout just isn’t the same without a picnic table.   Bug was eating sawdust, he was the cut man.  The only noise you couldhear was the whining noise of the skill saw made as it cut it’s path down the chalkline.  Me, I was swinging that hammer, sinking 12 penny nails just as fast as Bug could cut the wood to fit.  If you ever built a picnic table, you don’t need a blueprint, kinda basic.

We were about 15 minutes into our job.  Our thinking was that just as soon as we finished building the table we would drive down to the ice house to buy the beer.  Having a cold beer in the cooler was just too tempting and were were using an electric skill saw around kids.  That’s why we didn’t get the beer first.  We didn’t want to give our wives any cause to get on our case.

Then, there it was.  “Ding ding, Ding ding.”  As we looked up there at the back gate was parked an ice cream truck, with a swarm of kids buzzing like bees.  We both heard, “Daddy, Daddy buy us an ice cream.”  So innocent, how do you ignore that?

Bug and I had been busting our can all morning to get this show on the road.  Our reward was the cold beer waiting for us at the end of the rainbow.  The pleas of the kids got to us though, we stopped what we were doing and strolled over to the ice cream truck thinking, “how much can a couple of popsicles be?”  No one wanted a popsicle though, it was all fudgesicles and ice cream cones or put up with the frowns and tears.  His six kids and my three made nine, plus a couple more rug rats that weren’t ours.  We couldn’t just get our kids a treat and ignore the others, so we did our best to make everyone happy.  Afterall, we had that fifty dollar bonus in our pocket.  That stop cost us eighteen dollars.  After a little bit of quick math, we decided we could still buy a couple cases of Old Milwaukee or two 12 packs of Michelob, with a dollar or two to spare.

We went back to work.  I was sweating bullets.  We were suppose to be enjoying ourselves.  It was time to get the party started.  We were almost finished with the picnic table.  It was still upside down while I was putting on the braces when we heard that same noise.  Here it came again, “Ding ding, Ding ding.”  Looking up I wanted to say, “Not again,” but yep, there it was, the same guy coming back for another run.  Looks like he just circled the block on us.

It the back of my mind I kept thinking, “This guy is playing with fire, he don’t know Bug.”  Just in case y’all don’t remember Bug, he was the guy that got busted on US 1 for fighting dogs at his house.  He had taken the second story floor out of the house to make an arena and a pit for dog fighting.  It was big business at the time.  Front page news back in ’67 or was it ’68?  Anyway the police had to call in a bus to haul everyone to jail.  Over a hundred people went to  jail that day.  The big bettor was  Howard Walker, his wife wife Louise, was a county judge.

Bug use to carry a pair of pliers in his back pocket to adjust the controls on the paint sprayer.  Once while we were sitting at the bar at the fish camp enjoying a cold one, that durn crazy Charley Workman came up drunk behind Bug and slapped him in the back of the head saying, “C’mon Bug, you ain’t so bad.”  I almost fell off my stool.  He was that bad.  This was before Junior Bullard’s day.  Bug was a man’s man. Just like Leroy Brown, you didn’t mess around with Bug.  Without getting up off of the stool, Bug back handed Charley so hard that he fell backwards out the front door.  When Bug got up to face him, Charley crawled up under a car to hide.  Bug reached under the car with one hand and grabbed Charley by the foot.  He reached into his back pocket with the other hand and grabbed his pliers.  Then he started pulling Charley’s toenails off with those pliers, one by one.  He got all five before he let Charley go.

Walking out to the road beside of Bug, I thought about all of this, kinda glancing over to see if he had anything in his back pocket. As we got to the road and approached the truck, my fears were for naught.  This time, there weren’t as many kids and we talked them into getting a popsicle.  The good news for us was the damage was only about eleven dollars.  No sweat, that still left us enough for two or three six packs of Budweisers.

Holidays can be rough on people, in more ways than one.  We flipped the table over and nailed on the “two bys,” for seats on both sides.  Voila, finished.  By this time the coals were ready for the hotdogs and the ribs.  We got my sister Glenda to watch the grill while we got in the truck to go to the ice house down the street for our beer and ice.

Bug has done a lot of dumb thigs in his life, but he wasn’t stupid.  Before we drove off, he parked the truck in the shade and waited.  It didn’t take long.  Pretty soon we could hear, “Ding ding, Ding ding,” from about two blocks away.  Bug drove down the street and flagged the ice cream truck down before he could get to us.  He got out of the truck and reached through the window of the ice cream truck.  He grabbed the driver by the ear with one hand and then pinched his nose with his forefingers in the other.  The driver was in pain and couldn’t move.  Bug had his full attention.  Bug told him, “Listen here, the first time you come by I spent eighteen damn dollars buying all the kids in the neighborhood a treat.  The second time, it cost me eleven dollars.  You must think I’m a sucker, but let me tell you this, the last time, was the last time.  Do you hear me?  It’s a holiday and you got most of our drinking money, you won’t get another dime.”

The next sound I heard was the four barrel kicking in as that ice cream truck was getting on the on ramp to the interstate.  I can’t be positive but I’m pretty sure that can’t be the same guy.

Nickels and Dimes

It just don’t make sense.  Why am I always broke?  I make better than average money, most of the time.  I’m tight with a quarter, just like my Dad and he had plenty.  He use to tell me, “take care of the nickels and dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

I pulled into the Florida National Bank one day to cash a fat check after finishing a big job.  I noticed a Green Jaguar that looked a lot my Dad’s, so I parked next to it.  I had my crew with me, we were all hungry for some cold cash.  Just as the boys and I were entering the bank, my Dad came walking out.  We all noticed him right off, but before we could greet him, Dad bent over and picked up a dime off of the side walk.  Big Dave that worked with me at the time said, “You don’t need that dime, do you Mr. Frailey?”  Dad just smiled as he straightened up, putting the dime in his pocket and said, “Not anymore I don’t.”

Feeling the urge to write and not being able to pick a subject, I decided to flip a coin.  As luck would have it, I dropped the quarter and it rolled under the desk.  As I reached for it I bumped my head on the bottom of the desk, ooh that smarts.  Looking at the quarter it was on heads and it made me smile.  I put it on top of my desk so that I could use it for motivation.  I leaned back in my chair and thought about my Dad, my Mom and what they taught me about having respect for small change.

My parents bought a trailer park on a wing and a prayer.  Each month they had a tough time to make ends meet after paying the bills.  Mom would round off the dollar amount of each check she wrote to pay bills with, to he next highest dollar.  She did it that way just so there would always be more money in the bank than it showed on the books, just in case we needed it.

With three sons to raise, with me being the oldest, I was the one that got the new clothes and my brothers got the “hand me downs.”  Of course that meant I had to wear what ever the Navy Exchange had on sale.  Usually that meant striped shirts and checked pants.  Dad would say if you don’t like it, get out and earn enough money to buy your own.   That’s what I did.  I mowed grass and did chores on the week ends.  In the late summer, I baled hay.  When it came time for school clothes, I bought my own.  I worked for Mr. Johnson at Dinsmore Dairy to earn money to take my girlfriend to the Fair.  Two weeks was all I could stand of that, but since I went to church with the Johnsons and Mrs Johnson was not only my Sunday School teacher but my math teacher as well,  I couldn’t say no when Mr. Charles would come by to get me to pull an evening shift when one of his workers didn’t show up.  I made a dollar and a nickel an hour.

Dad did more than his share.  He was a full time Naval Officer, Full time owner of a mobile home park and he started selling water softners for Culligan part time.  Sales must have been pretty good.  He made enough to start buying a few second hand vending machines and coin operated washers and dryers.  That must have turned a light on in his head because soon after that we got a coke machine and a pay phone.

The coke man came by the trailer park on Thursdays.  On Wednesdays my brothers and I went door to door asking for the empty drink bottles so that we wouldn’t have to pay the extra deposit.

I don’t know if it was kids or whom ever but Dad started noticing slugs and strange coins when he collected the money out of the machines.  He did that on Wednesdays.  After supper, he would pull out a old paint bucket that he collected the change in.  Our family sat around the table and Dad would dump the contents of the can on top of the table.

Our job was to sort through the coins and pull out the slugs and foreign coins.  Dad would count them and Mom would roll them up and put them in the petty cash box to pay the drink man with.  Soon we started finding half dimes and Indian head pennies from the gum machine.

Dad bought a coin book and he started looking up the value of some of the old coins we’d find.  What a gold mine.  Who knew?  The US treasurt Dept. had just started making alloy coins out of zinc and copper.  That meant that the older silver coins had gained in value.  Buffalo nickels were stopped in 1938, they were easy to spot.   The thin Mercury head dimes from 1916 to 1945 were easier to see than the Roosevelt dimes but harder to pick up of the table top, because they were more worn.  Quarters made after 1965 were copper/nickel and not worth as much but the older ones were 95 % silver.

Mom brought out a large magnifying glass and my brothers and I would take turns examing the coins.  We looked for mint marks, misprints or broadstrikes.  War time nickels were highly collectable.  Duane was born in 1955, he looked for coins with that date and would ask Dad if he could have ’em.  Dad said okay until Duane asked him how come this penny had two dates on it and sure enough it did. 1955 stamped twice.

Dad would save the extra money he made on the coins to put $500 down on a new Buddy Trailer, 12′ by 50′ with 2 BRs, 1 bath.  He rented these new trailers out for $65 dollars a week, I remember the payments were $59.00 a month.  With the penny that Duane found he paid down on 3 trailers.

When the telephone man came around to collect, Dad would write him a check for the phone bill and just keep the change.  When the Gypsies came and stayed overnight in the campground, Dad would lock up the laundry mat and the vending machine area before he went to bed.

Dad figured that the money he made off of the vending machines and the odd ball coins was his.  For him it was undeclared income.  He didn’t pay taxes on it and didn’t report it to anyone. He kept an old WWII ammo box full of rolled up quarters, nickels and dimes.  If I expected money from him for any work that I wanted to get paid for, I’d better accept the fact that I was gonna get paid in change.  He started out giving me a two dollar roll of nickels but when I told him I wasn’t a kid any more, that I expected more than two dollars, he upgraded me to dimes.  Yep, instead of two dollars, I got five.  He would say, “I ain’t made out of money, if you plan on going out on Friday night and Saturday night, you might want hold some of that back.”  When Dad died he left me 6 very large wooden ammo boxes about 2 feet wide and three feet long full of rolled up quarters.

All of this runs through my mind as I look at that quarter on top of my desk.  I wouldn’t swear to it, but it almost seems as if Old George Washington is smiling at me, like he knows something I don’t.