Old Sam


Old Sam, Bentonville, Arkansas

One day I was looking back through my collection of old business cards that I had accumulated over the years, one brought back a story to mind. My brother Gary and his wife Rae lived in Hardy, Arkansas (You have probably seen Erik Estrada on TV doing commercials). It was a good central location to work out of. You could leave out in any direction, headed somewhere to go work and if your luck was any good, you would be bound to hit a prosperous area, sooner or later
Every time we drove up from Kansas City, heading home, we usually went through Bentonville. Most of the time, we were either empty (without a load to sell) or it was after dark, too late to “pitch.”
As we headed out one morning to go work, we drove towards Dallas. Gary had bought a hand accordion over the week end and as I drove, he practiced. Lovely, just lovely, I’ve got to drive all the way to Dallas, listening to this? We drove through Ash Flats, down towards Pocahontas. I was driving and gritting my teeth, when I came up with the idea to go work Bentonville. It wasn’t that far and I could sure use a break from all of that screeching.
Gary was wearing a pair of overalls that day. We noticed a sign that read “Andy’s WELDING.” The door was opened to the shop, the house was next door and the yard was full of grazing goats. Gary got out of the truck and trying to be funny, he imitated Aunt Bee, from Andy of Mayberry. He hollered out, imitating her voice, “Andeeee, Andy.” I almost split a gut, it was so funny. No one answered, no one came to the door, no dogs barking, just the wail of the radio, coming from the shop.
We were kind of leery about the situation. It seemed like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie or something. We both walked to the open door of the shop, not seeing anybody, I hollered out “Hey, anybody home?” One of those darn goats had climbed atop the hood of my truck and was licking dead bugs off of the windshield. The old goat turned to look at me and he bleated out “Naaaahhhhhhhhh!”
Right around the corner from the welding shop, located on the main drag through Bentonville, was the Bentonville Casket Company. Since we were here already, we figured “Why not? Let’s pitch ‘em. When we pulled in, the main boss wasn’t there, the one that signs the checks. We told the foreman that “we had a truck load of brand new tools and machinery that we had to dispose of for our boss, back in Carolina. Repo’d, brand new, selling it for cheap, just call ’em and make an offer.”
The foreman told us that his boss wasn’t in but he had a friend named Sam that owned a five and dime store nearby and that he was building a new store because business was so good. He thought that his friend Sam would be interested in our stuff and he had the money, he could write our boss a check for all of it and the check would be good. All he wanted out of the deal was one of those brand new socket sets.
Hearing that, we got excited. No, we didn’t mind waiting. The foreman called his buddy Sam, who said he’d be with us in a few minutes, he was trying to open a new store. He was just down the street, right next to his Five and Dime Store. While we were waiting for him, the main boss to the casket company returned. He showed some interest, we put him through the book, but when his foreman told him that he had called Sam and that Sam was on his way to take a look, the boss of the casket company deferred his interest to Sam. Let Sam take a look and see what he has to say.
A white box truck pulled up to the place and an older gentleman got out. He was wearing a straw hat, the kind with the green visor built into the brim, a sweaty white shirt with a pocket protector full of pens and pencils. The foreman introduced us; he told me that if Ole Sam was to buy this stuff, he wanted us to make sure that he got that socket set for a “Bird Dog Fee.” I asked him which truck was his. I would lay it on the floorboard when no one was looking.
Mr. Sam looked our truck load of tools over, he spoke with the foreman and the business owner and then he came back to us. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he asked us “Do y’all work for Bobby or do y’all work for Billy?” Shocked as we were, I tried to stay in character, “Oh no, we work for their sister Miss Francis. She owns the company now.”
Sam said “That figures, I told them boys not to spend all their money on race cars, that they would loose their ass.” We told him that Miss Francis sponsors David Pearson (Race car Driver) over in Greer, that Billy was “Jet setting’ and that Bobby was raising Beefalos and building car dollies.” Sam looked at the ground and spit, while he was leaning against the truck. He told us that he had been in the Army with their Dad Clint back in the war. I said “Do you mean Mr. Flint?” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I was just checking you out.”
We got back to talking about the tools at hand; I asked him if he could write our boss out a check for these tools? Sam said “Goodness no. I can barely write a check for a hundred dollars. Sure, I own a lot of stores and buy and sell a lot of merchandise, but my wife don’t trust me with no check book. If I buy something it’s either cash or send me a bill and I never carry more than a hundred.”
About this time old Sam pulled a card out of his pocket protector and started scribbling on back. He said that he was drawing a map to his warehouse, he even wrote down his personal phone number. He told us that “This guy here won’t buy nothing, his business is so bad he can’t pay attention and that his foreman is so dumb, he can’t poor piss out of a boot, without getting his feet wet. He told us that he wanted all of the little tools, like the wrenches and grinder and the vise etc. He wanted us to meet back at his place in about an hour. He gave me the card, got back in his box truck and drove off. The faded letters on the side of his truck read “WALTON’S Five and Dime.”
As he drove off, I was holding Sam’s card in my hand, when the owner of the casket company walked up to us and said, “Well, what happened, what did he say?” The foreman was right behind him, all ears, I guess he had his mind on that free socket set. I showed the boss man old Sam’s business card and told him “You must have friends like I got. He said that you don’t have the money to be able to afford this stuff. He wants us to meet him back at his “wareroom” in an hour. He wrote down directions for us on the back of his card, just in case we get lost, he gave us his personal phone number.” Then I handed the card to the business owner to read for himself.
The man took a look at the card, turned it over and read the back of it. He hesitated then said “Yeah, you’re right. That does it, back the truck up over there and unload it and I’ll get you a check.”
So, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty good day. We dropped our load. I guess you could say we dropped on our first pitch, because the two old goats don’t count. I’ve thought about it a few times and I sure would have liked to see the expression on the foreman’s face when he opened the door to his pickup and instead of finding the half inch socket set like I promised, he got a slightly used, second hand accordion.

Grandpa’s Rain Barrel

Mom had been promising me and my brothers all summer that we were going to Grandpa’s farm up in Alston, Georgia to stay for a couple of weeks.  My sister Glenda had been visiting all summer.  We just knew she was having lots of fun without us.

We pulled into the yard just in time to see Glenda running across the pigpen with our cousin Jackie right behind her.  Glenda was crying, her freckled face flowing with tears when she stopped and picked up a clod of something to throw at Jackie.  Manure of some kind or at least that’s what it looked like from the backseat of Mom’s car.

Come to find out, that’s just what it was.  Glenda ran to the ladder leaning up against the barn and raced up to the top of the barn.  Jackie stopped at the bottom of the ladder, first looking up and then turning around to squint at Granny who was standing right behind her, holding a willow switch.

Jackie and Glenda had been told to sweep the front  yard, company was coming.  The chickens saw to it that there wasn’t even a blade of grass, but their poop and countless mouthfuls of tobacco spit of the front porch had littered the entrance way to Grandpa’s front door.  Jackie was a teenager, Glenda not quite.  When Jackie didn’t think Glenda was working fast enough, she bent over and pinched her.  Glenda recoiled, still smarting, responded by calling Jackie a “bitch.”

Granny always pretended to be deaf, hearing just what she wanted to hear but she heard that and grabbed a switch off of the front porch, chasing my big sister across the yard while screaming at Jackie to catch  a hold of her.

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Granny told Jackie that if she didn’t climb up the ladder to get Glenda, she was going to set fire to her ass with that switch.  Red faces must run in the family because all three of them had bright red freckled faces that day.  When Jackie climbed to the top of the ladder, Glenda pulled a wooden shingle loose from the roof and tossed at Jackie, hitting her in the cheek.  Jackie began a retreat from the top of the ladder, a few ginger steps at a time, only to be met by Granny a couple of rungs from the bottom.  “What did I tell you,”  Granny said as she applied the switch.  “You don’t come down without her.”

I could tell from my safe spot in the back seat of the car that Jackie didn’t want no part of climbing back up that ladder but she knew better than to climb down.  She climbed up a couple of rungs, just out of Granny’s reach.  Glenda had pulled another shingle loose and she had her arm drawn back, ready to chuck another if need be.

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Grandpa Sharpe came around the corner of the barn by the edge of the pig pen carrying a washtub full of what looked like mason jars, covered with mud.  He shooed Granny and her switch away, telling her to go heat up some water on top of the stove.  Then he turned to face Jackie, reaching up to help her back down the rickety old ladder.  He turned to look up at Glenda, talking soothingly and calmly to her as he climbed the ladder asking her what was wrong, be careful don’t fall, tell me all about it.

Glenda said “Jackie pinched me and when I called her a bitch, Granny said she was gonna whoop me.”  Grandpa kinda chuckled, I think he had seen this act play out before.  He reached out his hand for Glenda to grab and told her that he wasn’t going to let that happen, climb on down.

Jackie still had a red mark on her cheek.  She looked like she was seething but she helped Granny by grabbing one side of the wash tub while Granny held the other and they both disappeared with the tub, into the house.

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Grandpa’s house consisted of a big kitchen and table while the rest of the house was wall to wall beds.  The front porch was the living room.  The bath room was an outhouse in the back yard.  Mom had 7 brothers and sisters.  Farm life needed lots of labor, Grandpa and Granny had raised their own.

A truce was called, Mom brought us up to the front porch to reintroduce us to our Grandpa.  He hadn’t seen us since we were wee tykes and I’m pretty sure he had forgotten out names.  Mom had pulled up while Grandpa was in the middle of counting his moonshine money that he had buried.  It seem that the money had mildewed in the jars.  He and Granny were fixing to wash the money and clean the jars.  It seems like the bank and local stores wouldn’t accept mildewed money.

Mom gave us a hug and a kiss goodbye, saying that she would be back in a couple of weeks to pick us up in time to start school.  I was going to be in the first grade this year.  I was a little apprehensive, not knowing what to expect.  Then she told Jackie that if she pinched any of her children why she was gone, that she would take her ass down to the creek and wear it out.

While Granny busied herself at the stove, first stirring a pot of collards, then a soapy boiling pot of mixed bills, ones, fives, tens and twenties.  Jackie strung a clothesline across the front of the fireplace to hang money from, with clothespins, just like it was laundry.  While she was doing this Grandpa went to the pump to draw more water to wash the empty jars in.

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The pump was old and rusty, the handle had been broken halfway up, many years before.  Grandpa had slid a piece of pipe over the broken handle to make it usable.  Now the handle was so long that it was unwieldy, he was the only one that could use it.  To make life easier for Granny, he had put an old pickle barrel next to the drain spout from the roof, so that it would fill up with rain water for Granny’s kitchen use.  He had rolled a log over to stand up against it, so us shorties could fetch Granny a pot of water when needed.

Granny’s kitchen was always hot.  The fire in the wood burning stove was always lit. It kept the whole house hot.  That’s why the front porch was considered the living room.  When she wasn’t washing Grandpa’s money or boiling mason jars she was cooking greens, peas, corn or cornbread and such.  My favorite was the pan style cornbread that she cooked on top of the stove like pancakes.

Most of the evenings were spent on the front porch, taking turns either rocking or swinging.  When Granny or Grandpa were rocking they would sit close to the edge of the porch so that they could lean over and spit when the need occurred, chewing either tobacco or dipping snuff.  Grandpa favored Beechnut while Granny seemed to like Navy’s peach brand.  Grandpa would try to teach us our numbers with an old domino set. He told us that we needed to learn our numbers just in case he needed help counting  his money.

Grandpa had a few field hands that lived with him.  In the summer, they slept under the porch, in the winter, on top.  When he needed extra help, neighbors would mysteriously appear like magic.  Grandpa needed help picking his cotton or cutting his sugarcane, bringing in the hay, plowing up his peanuts then cutting his tobacco and hanging it in his barn.

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After he put is hay up, Grandpa parked his wooden wagon under the loft so us kids could jump from the loft onto a pile of hay.  That would keep us busy for hours while Grandpa was working on his moonshine still down by the creek.  Jackie had put an old croaker sack under the big pile of hay when Glenda was climbing up the ladder.  When Glenda jumped and was still in the air, Jackie jerked that croaker sack out from the back of the wagon, bringing with it most of the hay.  Glenda said that when she landed she it so hard that it made her teeth hurt.  She went crying to Grandpa down by the creek to see if he would give her a nickel to tell him what Jackie had done to her.

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Grandpa whittled us some guns out of dead tree limbs and then made us a bow and arrow set one night while we were swinging on the porch so we could play cowboys and Indians while we enjoyed the breeze as he told us his stories every night.

“I remember one time, I won’t ever forget.”  Is how they usually started out, telling us about the stories he heard when he was a boy, just about our size.  He would show us his arrow head collection, most of which he said he found behind the barn, down by the creek. He talked about the depression, he said that ’bout the time he heard there was one,  it was over.

 

When it came time to cut the sugarcane and make he syrup, Grandpa started a big bonfire and let it burn for a couple of days to get the coals red hot, just the way he wanted them.  Then he set up a tripod to hold a big  deep dish metal pan about five feet wide, hanging from three,  five foot long chains over the coals.  My brothers, Gary, Duane and I would take turns leading one of Grandpa’s two mules in a circle to power the cane press.  He would then collect the juice and put into the heated pan, letting it simmer, when it came to a boil, he would add more juice to cool it down.  After hours and hours the simmering juice would start to thicken.  That’s when the neighbors started to appear out of the woods to “help.”  It seems to me that everyone brought their own cup to sample the sweet juice with.  Grandpa would cook it ’til it thickened and pour it into mason jars and empty liquor bottles.

On Friday night Grandpa must have been expecting more company.  Us kids swept the yard.  We kept a wary eye to make sure that Jackie kept her distance.  He put the chickens in the coop and a butchered hog on the spit.  After he did that, he put his RCA radio in the kitchen window facing the barn and turned the volume all the way up.  It wasn’t too long after that, cars started to pull into the yard and parked facing the barn.

Grandpa got his fiddle out and played along with the music on the radio.  It wasn’t long before some one else joined in with a harmonica and another started keeping time with an old washboard.  After the dancing started,  I watched him bring out jars of moonshine, trading them for cash to his friends.  The headlights from the cars lit up the yard for dancing, in front of the barn.

It wasn’t full dark yet but us kids were told to stay on the porch.  In the twilight we played mumbly peg and checkers to pass the time.  We listened to our uncles tell ghost stories and watched Granny fuming, running in and out of the house to check on Grandpa.

The dancing, hooting and hollering went on ’til the late hours of the night, way past our bedtime.  Grandpa would come in every once in a while and place a mason jar stuffed full of cash, rice and soda crackers on the dresser.  Our bed was under Granny and Grandpa’s, slid out at night and pushed back during the light of day.  I can remember looking up, I won’t never forget, that in the glow of a kerosene lamp I could see more than a dozen jars  on top of the old mahogany dresser.  Sitting in front of an old round mirror, instead of dozens, they looked to be more than a hundred in the reflection.  When Grandpa stumbled and tried to crawl in bed, Granny made a fuss and shooed Grandpa out of the bed, telling him to go sleep on the porch with the rest of the “dogs.”

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The next morning Grandpa was still sawing logs on the front porch cuddled up to his old hound “Sambo.”  Glenda witnessed Granny bend over, reach into Grandpa’s top overall pocket and take a roll of bills that he had forgot to put in a jar.  The she started hitting him with her broom, telling him to get up, calling him all kinds of names.  The she said she was going to get a bucket of water out of the rain barrel.

Glenda rushed over to Grandpa to tell him he’d better get up quick or else he was fixing to get doused.  Grandpa still in a stupor sat up, scratching his head trying to gather his thoughts.  Glenda held her hand out, palm up asked him if he would give her a nickel.  When he asked her what for, she told him that she saw Granny take a wad of money out of his pocket.  He laughed at this, started scratching, like maybe old Sambo had fleas or something, then he laughed.  He started reaching for his pockets, pulling out rolls of wadded up cash.  He told Glenda that she ain’t hurt me, I got money in every pocket.  If I had more pockets, I’d have more money.  Glenda told me later that for all the nickels Grandpa ever gave her, she never got to spend the first one.  She said she didn’t know if Jackie waited for her to fall asleep and took ’em or she just forgot where she hid them, because whenever she woke up, they were gone.  Jacky was always full of meanness.  Glenda told us that Jackie would pee the bed on purpose and tell Granny that she did it, Just “sos” she’d get a whooping.

Grandpa had an old truck, but to get away from Granny, he hitched up his mules to his old wagon and took us for a ride into town, six miles away.  He bought some supplies, got Granny a couple of tins of snuff.  The he got himself some chewing tobacco and two blocks of ice wrapped in sawdust, for a quarter apiece.  On the way home he joked about his mules being like his sons, one being lazier than the other.  Once we got close enough to the house, one of the mules started pulling at the traces, anxious to get home, ready to start eating some grain.  The other lag behind, letting the lead mule do most of the work.  I asked Grandpa if the one mule was faster than the other.  He leaned over the wagon and spit a mouthful of tobacco juice at a Georgia Cracker grasshopper sitting on a barbed wire fence and said, “Oh, I don’t know about that, here we’ve come about 10 miles and he ain’t no more’n six inches ahead of t’other.”

When we got home, Grandpa surprised Granny with a couple of lemons he bought in town and a jar of dandelion wine.  Then told her he bought the extra block of ice to make ice cream with, then he shooed us boys off to the creek to look for arrowheads while he took a snooze on the swing.

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My brothers and I soon tired of hunting arrowheads in the muddy creek bank.  Gary and I started playing cowboys and Indians with the make believe weapons Grandpa had made us.  Duane, the youngest said he was hungry and he left us and headed back toward the house.  It wasn’t too long after that, we heard Granny calling us, like she was hollering “sooey” for the pigs.

When we got to the house we found Grandpa busy churning the handle on the ice cream bucket.  He had cut up a watermelon and had the slices stacked along the edge of the porch, like a smorgasbord.  He brought out some more  jars and filled them with rolls of cash, rice and soda crackers.  They were sitting on the other side of the porch.  Granny got a bucket of water out of the rain barrel and made some ice cold lemonade.  Grandpa drunk his down in two big gulps while Granny sipped hers as she rocked.

My brothers and I took our turns spinning the crank on the ice cream churn, Grandpa took his jars and disappeared around the back of the barn only to return quickly, his face red as I don’t know what.  Someone had overturned the pig trough exposing his hiding spot for the mason jars.  The money was still in the jars but the soda crackers were missing.  Duane started brushing the crumbs from his mouth, to escape Grandpa’s wrath, but somehow Grandpa knew who the culprit was.  He asked Duane why he opened them jars.  Duane said, “I couldn’t help it, I was hungry.”  When Grandpa asked him how he knew where they were, Duane said, “It’s all your fault, when you tried to climb in the bed with Granny, the pig shit sprinkled all in our face from your dirty feet.”

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This brought a smile to his face and he leaned back for a minute.  When my brothers and I went back to spitting watermelon seeds at the chickens he noticed that Duane’s feet were clean, while Gary’s and mine were still covered with mud.  He asked Duane, “I know you can’t work that pump boy, how’d you clean them feet?”

Duane looked back at him and said, “In the rain barrel.”

 

 

CattyKisms 112

Adventure has followed me my entire life.  I have been here and done that.  Now that Father Time is finally catching up with me, so has Mother Nature.

 

In my later years I have come to appreciate God’s own creations that have surround me.  I love my cats and kittens.  Who would have thunk it?  They are the center of my universe.  They keep my life interesting, fill it with joy and beauty.  The appreciation I get from the good folks that get kittens from me makes my chest swell.

 

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I lived in southern Georgia for many years, with my wife and four sons.  The job I had paid $8.00 an hour, my travel time to and from work every day was one to two hours, each way.  The future didn’t look good.  The prospects for my son’s looked bleak.  I prayed for economic relief for me and my family.  We didn’t prosper, but we survived.  Then, I started getting letters in the mail, once a month.  A pastor that remained anonymous told me that he knew me from my past.  He knew that I desired more than what I had.  He encouraged me, telling me that I had in me what it took to achieve success.  At first, I just thought he was fishing for a donation,  but no, he never asked.  I kept getting the letters filled with a positive message, trust in the Lord have faith, sometimes the letters contained a couple of pennies taped inside, as a hint of what lay in store.  One day I get a letter with an ignition key to what he said was a 1957 Lincoln.  In the letter he said that many years before some one sent him this same key.  It was the key to his success, he wanted to be a traveling Evangelist, all he needed then, was a car.  In his letter, he said that what worked for him could work for me.  All I had to do was go look for the lock that it fit.  I took this as a sign from God.  I loaded up my boys and went 3 hours away to Jacksonville.   We slept on the floor of my nephew’s house, printed up some business cards and went searching for work.

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At Home Depot, I was passing out business cards.  I ran into a fellow that asked me if we could put up a privacy fence to block out his neighbors junky yard.  He lived in Beauclerc a very nice section of town.  His neighbor’s yard was cluttered up, it was across the street from his house.  Working hard, my sons and I put the fence up in less than half a day.  The home owner’s neighbor watched us work.  His name was Mike Miller.  He owned Jacksonville Waterproofing Company.  He watched us work and was impressed.  He asked if we would like to work for him.  He offered to pay our motel room bill every week, a generous salary and to have our pay check ready on Thursday every week, so that we could leave early on Fridays to travel back home to Georgia.  This was great, we loved it.  We worked on the improvements to Alltell Stadium where the Jaguars play football.  We met the owner, Wayne Weaver.  Mr. Weaver gave us an autographed football.  Then we worked on the new Wolfson Stadium Baseball Park, after that the new  “Veterans” auditorium.  The special privileges that we enjoyed didn’t sit well with Mr. Miller’s original employees.  The other workers didn’t like being “showed” up.  The foreman split us up to work on separate crews.  Telling us that it was to get more work out of the other guys.  Then the book keeper started complaining about the trouble it caused her to have our payroll done on a different day than everyone else.  Soon their grumblings made us feel uneasy.  We started passing out more business cards.

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We met a fellow by the name of Dwayne Williams, a roofing contractor.  Dwayne paid us $320.00 per roof to nail on 24 square of shingles on brand new Habijax houses. We worked for months doing over 60 houses off of Golfair and throughout the Northside of town.  We tried to do two a day.  After each job, by carefully conserving the materials, we would end up with a couple bundles of shingles and some left over materials which we saved.  By the end of the week, we had enough materials saved up to go do a small roof.  People that lived in these old neighborhoods were always in dire need for a new roof or a roof repair.  We made other contacts and after a few jobs for Ricky Blaylock, I bought two dump trucks from him.  We were in business for ourselves then, as sub contractors.

 

One day we gave a card to Jack Blaze, he was the foreman for Mr. John that owned Jax Bargain Plywood.  They bought and sold houses on the side.  Soon we did all of their roofs and some repairs.  They gave me a discount on the materials and if any one asked the name of a good roofer, they passed them of one of our business cards.

 

 

 

 

My income as a contractor for many years was in the six figures.  I didn’t set anything aside because I thought I was still relatively young and had many more years to enjoy success.  But after 10 hernias and 3 operations, old age caught up with me.  It took me 3 years to get my disability claim approved.  I had to sell both of my dump trucks and all of the equipment that I had accumulated.  Living below the poverty level is hard to get use to.  After my disability was approved I didn’t qualify for any government help.

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Once again God intervened, through my grand daughter Claire’s love for kittens, the good Lord opened my eyes.  Just like the letters I received from the unknown preacher, the kittens she loved so much, opened my eyes.  They provided me with the opportunity to provide for my family.  Now I breed Rag Dolls and sell them via the internet all across America.  I don’t miss the dump trucks or the hernias.

 

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No, I don’t earn the six figure income anymore, but I have had a taste of it.  The Lord has provided for me through thick and thin.  We all hold the keys to our own success, we just have to unlock whatever it is that’s holding us back.

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CattyKisms 111

Surprises?  My cats and kittens never fail to surprise me.  They are such wonderful creatures.  If you observe them on a daily basis like I do, you’ll notice that they have expressions and personalities so much like humans, it’s heartwarming.

The cartoons and memes that you see and read on the internet, brighten my day.  If you have to have a fault, then being a kitty person is one you can grow old with.

Cats can add humor to an otherwise dull world.  Just when I  think I’ve seen it all, heard it all or just get disgusted and say I’m through with it all, I notice a kitten playing with the blinds or turning the pages on an opened book.  They can distract us from the everyday realities that can be so depressing if you let them.

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They keep me from being lonely, they brighten my world.  I spend my time and money providing for them, to give them back what they do for me.

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Just when I think I’ve seen it all.  I find out that they aren’t through yet with finding ways to entertain me.

Pretty Boy, my doll faced Persian, hates getting a bath.  Every time I try to clean his long white fur, it ends up costing me a trip to the ER.

But once I see the results, it’s well worth the trouble.

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How do you put a price on happiness?  Because that’s what my cats do, they make me happy.  I can’t put a price on what there presence does for me.  Their value is so much more than I can ever repay.  What do they demand in return?  Your love, your time and your loving care .

 

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I don’t mind their surprises so much any more, in fact I look forward to them.  Just as long as they don’t leave it in my shoe.

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CattyKisms 110

Tiger had her babies in Bonnie’s garden.  She was watering her flowers and saw a bush moving.

 

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The little kittens acted like they were terrified.  I don’t think it had anything to do with us, because they were acting scared before we got there.

We watched them for a few minutes, they kept staring at the sky.  I looked but I didn’t see any Hawks flying around.

Cowboy here, he kept coming out into the open, like he was trying to show how brave he was.

Tiger left Rose in charge, she’s telling Cowboy that he’d better come back and hide

until Momma gets back.

 

Norma Jean is staying put.  She’s a follower not a leader.  If Rose says “Momma said stay put”, she’s staying put.

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Bonnie took them a basket.  Just to see if they would crawl in it.  They did, what kitten can refuse a box or a basket?

The kittens wanted to go look for Momma, but Rose thought she saw an owl and told everyone to get back in the basket.

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Do you think Momma’s ever coming back?

Just when things look like they can’t get any worse, here’s Momma to save the day.

 

 

Puerto Rico

As I start this story, I have no idea where it’s going or how it will end.  Bits and pieces come to my mind like flashbacks into my past.

Of all places to begin, I have to start this story in New London, Connecticut or to be more exact, Groton.  Groton is the home the Navy’s Submarine School.  I went through sub school in the winter of 1970.  The weather didn’t permit ever lasting memories.  I spent more time slipping on ice and shoveling snow than I care to admit.sub9

My first duty station was the USNS Sea Robin, a diesel pig boat.  I was TAD (Temporary assigned duty), until my permanent duty station, the USBNS Thomas Jefferson came back into port.

I was to be assigned as a sonar striker.  I went to school in Orlando.  After 4 weeks and completion of the training, sent back to New London.  My first cruise out, the yeoman (the Captain’s clerk) suffered appendicitis and had an emergency transfer at sea.  Boomers endure 90 day cruises underwater, destinations unknown, top secret.  His transfer was done at night under the cover of darkness to a sub tender, the USS Orion at sea.

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His transfer created a void that needed filling.  My billet as a sonar tech wasn’t that glorious of a job.  I had to keep fighting the tendency to fall asleep, while pinging and waiting for the ping to bounce back.  Since I had taken typing classes two years in high school, I felt qualified to mention to my chief that I could temporarily step in if needed.

There is so much work that falls on the shoulders of a yeomen that the backlog of work demanded my services.  Every report has to be typed.  All of the Captain’s correspondences, duty transfers, pay chits, leave requests, liberty passes, fitness reports, the Plan of the Day, menus for the galley, just on and on.  It was just piling up.  My offer was quickly accepted.

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Part of my duties involved communications.  Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.  Every communique sent out by the Navy, crossed my desk.  When our cruise was nearing the end of our deployment, I didn’t cherish the thought of going back to being a laborer for the next 90 days.  When a nuclear sub comes back into port with the “Gold” crew, it immediately restocks and redeploys with the “Blue” crew.  The first week or so the crew that just came in gets R & R, then it’s back to “training.”  For guys in the lower ranks like me, training meant working for the First Lieutenant.  Chipping paint, grinding rust, applying red lead and then after inspection apply another coat of gray paint on a rusting hulk that sole purpose of existence before retirement into mothballs was for “training” purposes.

I knew that the yeoman should be coming back to work and that I would be assigned to the First Lieutenant’s squad.  One day I saw a list of names of men that were to be sent to Roosevelt Roads Naval Base for “Survival” school.  In the Navy, the continuous training exercises exist to keep idle hands busy and to prepare you for what may lay in store.

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Even though we had completed training in school, we constantly practiced making escapes from a hundred feet deep.  The day time training exercises were bad enough, but the night time “escapes” were terrifying, especially in freezing temperatures.  Just the thought of going to Puerto Rico, the warm climate, clear blue oceans and the thought of tropical breezes was enough for me to add my name to the bottom of the list of men being sent to Survival School.  I put it in front of the Captain without explanation, he signed it without reading it and off I went.

Survival School was a four week training period.  Men that were sent to UDT (Underwater Demolition Training) school had to complete it first, we became a part of that class too.

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Our uniform of the day consisted of green boxer shorts with a button fly, a pair of rubber flip flops and blacked out dog tags.  We spent so much time in the water training, that anything else would have rotted off of our backs.  Before the sun rose in the east, we swam as a group of 50 men to Viaques, an island 2 miles off the coast.  Viaques was also used as an artillery range for the big guns on base.  During our swim every morning, the artillery wasn’t suppose to fire over our heads but they did at the tail end of our swim, just to get us use to the sounds of gunfire, the plumes of smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder.

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Words just can’t describe how rigorous the training was, we had to swim as a group to keep from being targets for the sharks and barracuda.  The chief and a bosun’s mate rowed beside us in a boat, with an M-1 to ward of any uninvited intruders.  Salt filled every pore.  It caked around our ears and between our fingers.  When we weren’t swimming, we were running, barefoot across miles and miles of sand, just knowing that the further you went only meant the further you had to run back.

Push ups, chin ups, jumping jacks, tug of war.  All part of the Navy’s plan to transform young men into hard, physically fit, well trained, disciplined sailors.  My last two days of training were spent on a life raft.  Me and another sailor were dropped off by helicopter many miles off the coast with an eight foot life raft.  This was an oval shaped, hard fibered, orange colored raft, with webbing for the bottom.  This meant that for the next 48 hours, we were sitting in at least 6 inches of water.

The raft could accommodate more than 2 men, but for me, two were enough.  The first few hours aren’t too bad.  It’s more like an adventure than anything else.  We had a compass, a survival knife, that included fishing gear in the handle, a tube of zinc oxide to cover our noses with, plus our Navy dungaree uniform that we were trained to use as flotation devices if need be.

The constant motion of the waves, the up and down part was nerve racking if you let it.  Up and down with the cresting of each wave.  One moment you could see the across the horizon, nothing but more waves as far as the eye could see, then the next second you were in a trough, with the walls of a wave, pushing you from side to side.  All of that water and nothing to drink, until we broke out the desalinization packs.  These were little plastic containers that we use to turn salt water into drinking water.  You just tear open a package, fill it with salt water and hold it up until the water drains through the chemicals.  We had a total of four packages, two apiece.  The idea was to only use it, if you had to have it.  In the rough seas, it really wasn’t that easy to do.

My companion was a few years older than I was, our relationship was like “oil and vinegar.”  I was optimistic, my glass was half full.  He was a pessimist, his glass was half empty.  He spoke about the downside of everything.  It was constant, “Oh we aren’t going to make it,” or “I bet we get swamped and turn over.”  Then it got worse.  The sun can do things to you that you can’t plan for, or do anything about.

I would pass the time thinking about my girlfriend that I had in high school.  If I mentioned her name or said anything about her to my shipmate, I would suffer through a barrage of comments like, “She’s  bending over for the fleet since you’ve been gone,” or “she giving it to your best friends now.”  Just on and on, I think the Navy feels like that’s part of your training too.  You have to grow up sometime.  No time like the present.

When he came time for my buddy to talk, all he wanted to talk about was the women at the Black Angus.  The Black Angus is a famous bar, known world wide for its casino on one side and it’s bar/hotel combination on the other.  The bar consisted of mirrored walls that the prostitutes would line up against.  The patrons, most always sailors ashore from a recent voyage, would sit at a circular bar.  This bar was also a carousel that rotated, round and round.  As you drank, you could get glimpses of some of the most beautiful women in the world, all lined up against the wall for the sole purpose of catching your fancy.

If you made eye contact with any of them, they would take it as a signal that you fancied them and sashshay over to start a conversation.  Then the next move was to suggest to you that there were rooms available upstairs for privacy.

Well, out in the middle of a sea of madness is not where I wanted to hear this conversation.  The sun bore down on us, I was hot and cold at the same time.  The sun would blister me and the waves would cool me down.  I spent most of the time chattering my teeth while holding on with both hands to keep from being washed away.

It turned out that we didn’t need the fishing kit.  Flying fish would jump into the raft.  They told us that eating raw fish was good for you.  To me, it just made me thirsty.  The seagulls flying over head were pests.  They kept us company and used us for target practice.  I kept wishing that I was back in a nice warm, dry sub.

The raft had a beacon, a little flashing red light that also transmitted a radio signal.  After 48 hours, just when I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore, a little dragon fly appeared on the horizon.  It turned out be our rescue Chopper.  Good ole “U.S. Navy” painted on the side.  They wouldn’t help us aboard until we secure lines to our raft, so that it could be retrieved.  I had a hard time trying to stand up, my legs were weak, the skin on my hands and feet were wrinkled and shriveled up so bad that I couldn’t use them.  We spent the next 24 hours in the base dispensary under observation, then we were discharged, only to be sent back to our permanent duty station.

Before being sent to Survival school, I had applied for a hardship transfer.  My mom had cancer and wasn’t expected to live.  In my absence, my request was approved.  No sooner did I arrive back in New London, than I was transferred back to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to VW-4 WEARECONRON FOUR, a weather reconnaissance squadron based at NAS.

A weather reconnaissance squadron didn’t need a sonar tech, my new assignment was working as the Captain’s yeoman, a real cushy job if the Navy has one, this was it.  Within 24 hours, our squadron was sent to of all places, to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

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We were assigned there to perform during project “Storm Fury.”  During hurricane season we were to provide up to date aerographer information to the fleet.  Did you know that at sea you can see lightning for 40 to 50 miles away?  Well in flight, you can see it further than that.  While in flight you can feel lightning strikes when it hits the plane.  It can be terrifying.  The static electricity in the air will make the hair on your head stand straight up.  My job was to keep the Commander Marsh, our captain happy, record data and transfer oral radio communications to a written record.  To be honest with you, I stayed strapped in my bunk as much as possible, right next to the cockpit, near the Captain, he was the number one pilot, getting his flight time in order to draw flight pay.

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The planes we flew in,were “Super Connies.”  The Super Constellations  were World War II vintage aircraft.  WC-121- N’s.  At the time, the largest aircraft the military flew, perfect for weather recon.  The wings on the aircraft would actually flap, at least six feet in times of stress.  Now a days they fly P-3s, a much smaller plane.

Okay, back to my story.  After 3 months at sea on a boomer submarine, then being sent TAD to Survival school for 4 weeks, I hadn’t received a paycheck in over 4 months.  I had received some TAD money, living expenses, that was it.  In the Navy, you don’t really need money if you are a single enlisted man.  I didn’t smoke,  chow was free, uniforms free, barracks and a bunk, free.  There is always coffee and donuts available, plus at the chow hall, there’s “mid-rats,” served all hours of the night in case you get hungry.  One good thing about the Navy, the chow was always good.

When my squadron got to Puerto Rico, the Captain saw to it, that my pay request received immediate attention, after I was there about 24 hours, I got some per diem money.  Now before you start adding it up, when I enlisted, I got 98 dollars a month, plus after sub school, I received a 50 dollar a month hazardous duty pay.  While I was in Survival school, Admiral Zumwalt had gotten pay increases approved for all military personnel.  My monthly pay check doubled from $98 per month to $198.  My first week in Puerto Rico, the Navy owed me close to a thousand dollars.  I was still only 17 years old at the time.  My first liberty after getting my per diem money, where did I go?  No, I didn’t go to the Black Angus, not yet.  I didn’t have any friends at my new duty station.  When some of the older guys found out that I had some payola, they invited me to go to the “Green Door,” in Ceiba, just off base.

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I did take my whole wad, it was about 150 bucks.  After drinking a couple “White Russians,” I started buying drinks for my new found friends.  I didn’t realize at the time that they were just using me to buy drinks.  After they got what they wanted from me, they found my company to be rather annoying.  Like who wants to be around a 17 year old drunk?

I had grown up on a Naval base in Gitmo.  For a gringo, my Spanish wasn’t that bad.  If you are going to “hablo espanol,” you need to learn how to roll your “r’s.”  While drinking that night at the Green Door, I met a gal named Lydia that could converse in both Spanish and English.  I found that intriguing.  She and I struck up an acquaintance.  We moved from the bar to a booth.  Not the kid of booth you are thinking of probably.  This booth was missing the table.  Just a little cube with a small juke box on the wall.  She and I started dancing together, she was selecting the songs, while I provided the quarters and a few drinks.

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When I went to the bar to get us another drink, one of my “buddies” whispered in my ear, that my new girlfriend Lydia was the bar owner’s wife.  He was a retired sailor that had married a local gal and opened up a bar off base to provide military personnel a friendly atmosphere to blow some steam.  I didn’t pay this skuttlebutt no never mind.  I was just interested in dancing and practicing my Spanish.

Soon, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that someone wanted to talk to me outside.  This didn’t raise any hairs on the back of my neck.  I was thinking that Puerto Rico is one heck of a nice place, everybody seems to be super friendly.  My curiosity got the better of me, I had to go see who it was and what they wanted.  Big mistake.  Just as I opened the “Green Door” to step outside, someone grabbed the front of my shirt and jerked me out of the door way.  Then I was hit in the mouth with a 2 by 4.  After that I got a couple of face fulls of fist.  Before my eyes started to swell, I could tell there was a large group of men in the alley that they were dragging me to.  I tried to resist and holler out to my shipmates.  The Airedale Navy must be different from the Blackshoe Navy because my cries fell on deaf ears.  There were more than a dozen of them coming at me.   I guess the bar owner was a jealous man and had some clout.

To my salvation, two Shore Patrolmen entered the alley.  One of them grabbed me by the back of my uniform, trying to tug me away from my attackers.  Once the guys in the alley saw the two Shore Patrol, they came out from behind their cover.  These guys were members of the “Los Macheteros.”  A gang that makes MS-13 look like the Mickey Mouse Club.  They are so feared, that if you Google them, I bet you can’t find any pictures.

The Shore Patrol recognized the group, vanity being the better part of valor, they turned and ran, leaving me in the grasp of this group of killers.  Looking back, I don’t blame my buddies at the bar.  There were too many to fight and I don’t blame the Shore Patrol for tucking tail and running.  Because just as soon as I saw the two Shore Patrol guys get in the their white van and lock the doors, I pulled free and ran  too.

I couldn’t get them to open the door to the van, no matter how hard I banged. They were pulling out with at least a couple dozen guys in the mob chasing behind us.  I couldn’t think of anything to do, I just reacted.  The van was on the verge of leaving the alley but before it did, I got a grip on the rear view mirror and swung my leg over the top.  I was riding along with them, even if was hanging on, straddling the mirror, on side of the van, upside down with my face looking at the ground as it sped past.

We made it or I should say, I made it.  I spent the next week in the infirmary.  My face was smashed in, nose broken and a about a dozen stitches in my face where I caught a blade to the cheek.  Those Macheteros don’t play.  My Captain was a little perturbed, I don’t know if it was entirely with me or my comrades that deserted me.  Any way, for the next few days, he had to make his own coffee, he had to hunt and peck his own reports.

The next pay period, I finally got my back pay.  It was a wad too.  I was making plans to go check out San Juan and the Castille de San Cristobal that I had heard so much about.  Since San Juan was a good 50 miles away, I called a cab to start my journey.  When the older guys in the barracks heard that I had gotten all of my back pay and had called for a cab to San Juan, they all wanted to go with me.  Funny how after pay day you can always find friends.

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I was young and naive.  When we got to San Juan, they let me pay the cab fare, fifteen dollars.  Then after we got there, they told me that the castle had been there for over 300 years.  It wasn’t going anywhere, but while I was in town and had some money, we needed to go to the Black Angus and try our luck at the casino.

At the door we found out about the dress code.  I was the only one in uniform, I was wearing my dress whites.  The others were wearing civilian clothes.  They had to buy a tie to get inside. Me?  My uniform came with a kerchief, a suitable tie.  Now I kept a roll of dimes rolled up in my kerchief, held in place with rubber bands.  Just in case I needed a weapon in an emergency, I could use it as a club or a sling.  Plus the five dollars worth of dimes could come in handy too.

The drinks were free as long as we were gambling.  I took it easy on the rum, drinking cokes or seven up off of the tray as the refreshment girl came by.  My companions were soon separated from their money.  Their pockets turned into “elephant ears.”  Me, beginner’s luck I guess.  I soon won over three hundred dollars playing Blackjack.  Since my buddies didn’t have any money left to gamble with, I let them talk me into buying them a drink next door at the bar.  I had been hearing all about the world famous Black Angus.  My girlfriend back home had stopped writing me, she seemed like a thousand miles away.  I was a man of the world now, I figured why not, it doesn’t cost anything to take a look, besides it was my birthday.  If I needed any more reason to celebrate, that was good enough.

The bar at the Black Angus was dazzling to say the least.  The casino was exciting yes but paled in comparison to the rotating bar, the mirrored walls and the round mirrored globe chandelier that hung over the rotating bar.

I had just turned 18 that day.  I was virtually just a babe in the woods.  My experiences with girls, yes girls not women, was pretty much limited to the back seat of my Volkswagen at the drive-in theater.  Here were at least a hundred of the most glamorous women that I had ever seen in my life.  The lingerie section of the J.C. Penny’s catalogue had never prepared me for anything like this.  Their revealing outfits left nothing to the imagination. With just a single button or clasp, they could completely disrobe.

How does an eighteen year old boy, recently self declared man of the world, react to all of the bright lights, beautiful women and the intrigue of being in a tropical setting?  I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink.  “Hey, let me try one of those White Russians.”  I turned my stool around a ogled the girls as the bar rotated in a circle, drinking it all in as the room swirled around me.

When I say beautiful, that word doesn’t say enough, I would have been proud to take any one of these gals back home to show off to my buddies from school.  If you make eye contact, that shows that you are interested, then the girl saunters over and makes casual conversation.  My buddies were all pestering me to loan them some money ’til payday.  Yeah, the same guys that watched me get my ass beat, two weeks before.  It could have been the liquor, the glamour or just the sheer excitement of the moment.  I let bygones be bygones and doled out the cash.  I mean these girls just charged five dollars a shot, why not?  They would come over and whisper what they would do with you, to you or what ever, for just five bucks.  If you decided to go upstairs and get a hotel room, you paid the bartender six more dollars and he would give you the key to a room.  The elevator ride was short and sweet.  In a few moments you left the world behind and entered “Shangri’la.”

I was going, oh yes, I really couldn’t wait, but first I wanted to be flirted with by everyone of the women before I made my choice.  That night, I forgot about every girl that I had met before.  I made so many trips up the elevator that night I lost count.  I was disappointed in the fact that you had to pay for another room again each time.  Soon, I said to hell with the room.  I would turn off the power switch to the elevator and just took care of my business there. There’s something to be said about having sex with all the bells and whistles, the red lights flashing overhead and hearing that emergency bell clanging just a few feet from your ears.

After I made about my 5th or 6th trip upstairs, I met Josefina at the bar.  It was her birthday too.  She told me and to anyone that was listening that for the rest of the night, anytime I wanted to go upstairs it would free, no charge.

The taxi drooped me and my shipmates off at the front gate.  We were all hung over.  I don’t remember all the money I spent, but I do remember that I spent it all.  Josefina had a mouth full of gold teeth.  I wonder now, just how many military pay days it took to pay for all of that gold?

I was back to being broke again.  Aw heck, I was use to it.  The next week end, I didn’t have the money to see the glamour of the island as a tourista.  I just took off walking and hitch hiking.  I was really enjoying the weather and the beautiful scenery when a light blue Volkswagen (just like mine back home) pulled over to give me a ride.  Guess who?  It was Lydia driving, she recognized me and gave me a ride.  I know what you are thinking.  I should of had enough of Lydia already, but my problem wasn’t with her, it was with her husband.  She suggested I see Laquio Beach.  When we got there she told me that I owed her two dollars.  Turns out she drove her car as a publico or public transportation.  She and her husband were fighting, she had left him and was doing her thing.

Laquio Beach is beautiful beyond description.  Clear, aqua blue waters, white sand, tall graceful palm trees sprinkled above the high water mark.  People were skiing in the shallow waters of the lagoon.  Most of the women swam topless, some nude.  Every one in Puerto Rico is well tanned and I can see why, so much beautiful warm sun.  I never wanted to go back to Connecticut again.

After giving Lydia my last two dollars, I was broke.  When it was time to leave the beach she drove me to see El Yanqui, a beautiful, spectacular 1,500 foot waterfall. What a spectacle.  I told Lydia that I didn’t have any more money but that didn’t kill her interest in me.  We left El Yanqui and drove to a fishing village about an hour away.  Sure wish I could remember the name of the place.  It was on the leeward side of the island or the southern side, farthest away from the Atlantic Ocean facing the Caribbean.

When we got out of her bug, she was greeted by her family members.  They owned a fishing boat.  I was able to go out with them and check logustino traps. A Caribbean lobster.  We made a pretty good haul, when we got back the women folk were preparing a feast, fried oysters, shrimp, crab legs, baked red snapper, with a variety of tropical fruits for decoration.  Every one danced on the beach, a typical Saturday night celebration of life.

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The beach was sprinkled with little “Cabanas,” straw huts, basically a roof of palm fronds and partially enclosed sides.   That’s where we spent the night, sleeping in a swinging hammock.  The ocean breeze was strong enough to keep the screaming “meemees”  or “no see-ums” at bay.  After a couple of Henikens, I slept like a baby.

Lydia’s Dad was a dentist in Philadelphia, he would come back to Puerto Rico six months out of the year to be a priest.  After meeting Los Macheteros and a hundred or so prostitutes, it was nice to meet what I call decent people.  I got to admit that my first impressions of the people I met down there left a lot to be desired.  Puerto Rico is a beautiful place.  It’s temptations are great, if you want to be led down the wrong path, it isn’t hard to find company.  After spending the weekend with Lydia and her wonderful family, I was happy that my glass was only “half full.”

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I could probably add some more to this story, but right now, in my mind I’m swinging in the breeze in a hammock strung between two palms, looking at the white clouds an blue skies, watching the folks skiing across the blue waters of Laquio Beach.

Hasta Luego!

 

 

CattyKisms 110

Stocking Stuffers

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I yust go nuts at Christmas.

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I really have lots of fun.

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If the powers that powers that be,

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Would listen to me,

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they would put under the tree,

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A kitten for every one.

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Merry Christmas.