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July 14, 2018

 

Exploring; Dangerous, but Fun

Discovery of new places is nothing new for any of us, I would suppose. It has been a part of my life since I was able to crawl, find forbidden things and get myself into trouble. It is an innate nature of man, is it not?  The first time I remember being exposed to the concept of exploration I was but a young, preschool kid living in a large, first-floor apartment at the Louisa Inn. When I was born my family consisting of my great-grandmother, my great aunt, her two children, and mom and I, lived in a family home behind the Riverview Hospital on Water Street. Later, my great aunt Shirley Chapman and her two children joined up with my mom and took the apartment. Granny moved to what later would be the family home on the corner of Clay and Franklin. The ‘new’ home in the inn was the first to burn lasting memories in my weak, but active ‘toddler’ mind. I was out of diapers but a year or so, but I already had an innate desire to see and learn all I could about this interesting world.

I was blessed to have what has become a life-long friend as a neighbor. He lived at the inn, as well in an apartment on the shared ‘wrap-around’ porch. Billy Elkins, Jr.  was the same age as me and had the same curiosities and urges to seek out life’s answers. We were kindred spirits. I learned that his dad was fresh back from serving in the war, so the Elkins family was adjusting to being back together. It came naturally for Billy and me to run around the big porch and play tirelessly until nap-time.

One morning Billy and I decided to step out on our first exploration. Knowing we had been told to stay off the stairs leading to other apartments, we nonetheless climbed those stairs. They were set back a bit and therefore out of sight between the wings of our respective apartments. Of course, the staircase led to the second-floor apartments, but those were all rented out by people we really didn’t know. (One was a slightly older friend of my mom’s, Ruth Ellen. She moved out, to our sorrow, shortly after this time. I remember some pictures of her with mom and me, and I have reconnected since doing these articles.)

Because the second-floor units were rented, we climbed further to the third-floor level. I remember that we found one those units unlocked. We cracked open the door peaked in to see if it was safe to enter. We could see drop cloths spread on the floor, some paint buckets, and I think a dusty, if broken, chair. We entered on the dusty flooring in hopes of a quiet look around. Frankly, there was little to see but it still thrilled us to be stretching our horizons. I recall that the windows were very dirty, barely allowing us to wipe an area in hopes of seeing the yard far below.

When I looked out of that high window, my mind immediately conjured up the scary thought of falling to our deaths. I, for one, carefully backed away. I think Billy was braver than me, so he looked around longer. As for me, I was ready to descend (scoot on my bottom) back down the stairs to find other safer adventures closer to the ground. Before I could get me out the door, Billy called for me to look at the strange light fixtures. I reluctantly turned to see what he had found. Close study told us that they weren’t electrical lights at all. They were gas lights. Each had a little valve to turn the gas flow up or down. I remembered seeing them later when I was at a historical museum in Detroit. They explained how gas, or kerosene lights were the most popular way for our parents to see at night. While some used carbide lights or candles, many people of that day had gas lamps; that is, until electric lights were finally installed. Apparently, the landlords of the Louisa Inn had converted all the first two floors to the new electric variety, but were still working on rehabilitating the third-floor apartments.

As I mentioned, I was about twelve-years old when I spent part of my summer in Detroit. I had the privilege to visit museums on Woodward Avenue that included a historical museum and a grand fine art museum. I recall that the basement of the historical museum had been set up to represent a town in the nineteenth century. It gave me an opportunity to walk through a main street of an earlier generation. I walked on wooden sidewalks and peered through the distorted glass at hardware stores. I saw a working blacksmith shop, and a wheelwright at work. I saw what a typical home looked like with a wood-burning cook stove, and a half-filled ash bucket. I saw kerosene lamps, and a handpump as part of the sink. Some had to carry water from outside or even fetch it from a creek. The fancier hotel lobby had gas lights. The streets were mud and pictures showed it to be deep enough to entrap a covered wagon. Pulled by oxen, and occasionally a team of horses, it was a rough experience. I left feeling grateful that I lived in a better time.

The issue with small kids of maybe two or three years old, is that they are too much like me. That is, they are very interested in what they don’t know and will wander off in the ‘bat of an eye.’ Most have more curiosity than a sense of fear. I know because I once stuck something in an electrical outlet. I still remember the shock. As humans, the parents, grandparents, or older siblings can be distracted and that’s more than enough time for a pool drowning, even if the pool is four houses down the street. The desire to explore isn’t something that we ever fully purge from our system, but at some point, we start to understand some of the risks.   

I remember that there was a stone house directly behind Billy’s apartment. A couple of older ladies lived there but they had a son who was a little different. I quickly picked up that he wasn’t like everyone else. For one reason he wore his pajamas all day. Even though he was older than me, he seemed to be different, somehow. The ladies and my mom told me never to be alone with him. The rule was that grownups had to be there. I knew by instinct that there was a reason and while I was a little scared, I felt kind of sorry for him. I hoped he would get well. I think his name was Mickie. I never saw him again.

The big house across the street from the inn also was worth exploring. It is situated where the library now sits. I’m told that it was owned by F.T.D. Wallace, who was an attorney and a leading citizen of the day. I read later in life that Mr. Wallace was credited with having the railroad come through town. That surely helped the local economy. His house was a two story Victorian home typical of the period. It had a nice front porch and at least one rain barrel to collect water from the down-spouts. My mom liked to use that water to wash her hair. She thought it had the right degree of softness to make her hair lovely. It did make her hair lovely, but it seemed to me that all water was soft. I could put my hands right in it and experience no resistance. I didn’t understand what she meant for years.

There was a big barn out back near the property line with the depot property. I think I was only back there once or twice. The swinging barn doors were locked, but there were big cracks between some of the boards that allowed me to peer into the darkness to behold all kinds of magical things. I remember looking inside and making out what looked like a riding saddle, a dirty, dusty stage-coach, a smaller buggy, and lots of tools and harnesses, etc., some that were hanging from nails in the big wooden beams.

Because of seeing cowboy movies every Saturday morning at the Garden Theater, I could identify many of the items, but I know that I missed a few. It’s likely I misidentified some, too, because of my young imagination. The barn was not well lit, so aside from a few spots where a bright beam of sunshine leaked through the cracks, I could see nothing. I remember that the streams of light reflected bits of minute dust particulars that were floating in the air, perhaps sent in flight by some random stirring. My memories are dim, for sure, but maybe I saw a barrel, or a sawhorse, and some rope, but I’m sure there was more. There was absolutely no way for me to get in, but I’d still to this day like to have seen all of what was in there. It’s not that I wanted the stuff or would have taken it, but just discovering it was an adventure of discovery.

Except for a book-signing held in the new library nearly eighteen years ago, I have not been back to that property. Before that, while I was still in high school, a small library was opened in a little building on one side of the home site. It was at the grand-opening for the little library when my great-aunt Shirley Chapman introduced me to the Chief Justice Vinson’s sister. She was very nice and looked a bit like her famous brother. I only had a little time to look through some of the books because I had an obligation to attend something else. That little library grew until it apparently took up the whole site, house, barn and all.

When I was still in grade school, some of us boys would take exploration to new levels. I especially remember going into the old, World War II armory along the railroad tracks just north of where my friend Betty Hager Meade (Cooke) lived. The armory was a tall, block building that had been boarded up for some time. Being one hundred percent boys, we found a loose board and slipped through the opening. The lower floor was dark because of the boarded up windows. I remember there was lots of trash including paper, tickets to dances, broken ’78 records, pop bottles, and a little furniture here or there. The steps leading upstairs groaned when we climbed them. They listed to the side away from the outside wall and threatened to dump us onto the floor below. We had not fully inspected that dark lower floor, but we could see it was lighter upstairs. We were careful not to step on the outside half of the stairs and kept our weight as near the block wall as we could while ascending. Now, once out of the dark basement onto the first floor we saw many more of the broken records and paper trash. There were posters of famous bands of the era. This floor had windows that I don’t think were boarded up, because the lighting was so much better. The floor still creaked and so did the next flight of stairs we used to climb higher into the building. We carefully slipped even higher. The two floors we saw were more of the same. I saw lots of musical records scattered all around as if when the building was abandoned they had thrown them just to watch them break. That was well before the new vinyl, non-breakable records (33 1/3) were invented. Birds had built nests inside because of missing window panes so the floors were slick with bird poop. We avoided those areas. The stairs that went up to the highest floor looked as if they had already given way. We decided not to go higher. For that matter, the floors in this building weren’t all that strong either. They felt spongy and creaked as we carefully walked over them. I started thinking we could step in the wrong place and fall through to the floor below. In the end, we lived, but what an adventure! I’m not sure which of my friends went with me, but I’m thinking maybe it was Johnny Bill Boggs. Then again, maybe it was another friend.

Those old ’78 records had labels with names like the Andrew Sisters, Rudy Valley, Tommy Dorsey, and others of the era. They were something my mother knew about and I wouldn’t know about until later. There are barns all over the country that have been closed off for decades. Some hold things we only know about through movies and history books. Simple things like old signs, a tractor, a pull-plow, a mule collar, or a butter churn, perhaps a spoke-shave, or draw knife, are still out there for someone to discover. I’d love to find and maybe buy a ‘model T’ or a ‘model A.’ Any ‘barn-find’ automobile is exciting, especially if it can be restored and driven again.

A friend, Jimmy Young, a year younger, lived one block west on Main Street at his dad’s funeral home just across Clay Street from the Baptist Church. Jimmy and I explored all around the immediate area, including the second-floor back porch of his grandmother’s house on Perry and the fenced back lot of what looked like a ‘junk yard’ for a business near Clay Street and Madison. I think they bought and sold used furniture and other items. This backyard area was full of rusty antiques. We saw lawn decorations and left-over metal from all kinds of places. There were old stoves, bed springs, washing machines, plows, push-mowers, fountains, and loads of other things. There was also a shed that we explored, but we had to be careful because the owner was known to not like boys. If we made any noise we were certain he’d catch as least one of us. One of us might never be seen again or we could have been hurt. I guess we could have been locked up if the sheriff caught us. We were just looking, though. We wouldn’t have stolen anything. Besides, it was nearly all junk.

Even as I got older there was nothing better than finding an abandoned house or barn in an overgrowth of trees and weeds. Finding an old family grave yard was great because we could see the dates and names. Sometimes we would come away with information that would solve a puzzle and connect some dots later in life. I remember once helping clear and burn off a cemetery on the Burns farm just out of town. I think it was just past, or near the area of the new school sites. I haven’t looked for it but it’s highly likely that the cemetery is still there. While we were working on that site one of the workers told Tommy Burns and me about an incident on the high hill just across the Mayo Trail. It seems that years ago someone in town was missing a horse. A posse was formed and they discovered this stranger riding that ridge heading toward Louisa. They assumed he was the horse-thief so they hung the man then and there. The teller of the tale told me that his remains were put in the very cemetery we were cleaning. What’s worse is they found out later than someone else had stolen the horse. Talk about unfair. This man likely had a family and friends that missed him.   

I used to park my bike at the foot of town hill, halfway between Judge Adam’s house and the old grade school. I’d climb that hill until finally I arrived at the very top. I looked at the concrete walls and ruins of what I believed to be Fort Bishop, an old civil war fort. To a non-military mind, the walls made little sense, but later I saw a copy of a map and understood the general idea. I’m not sure the ramparts were ever fully finished before war’s end, but perhaps they were. Now there’s also a new road that cuts through the front of town hill thus making it impossible to climb up the face as before.

Another, easier way to the top was a dirt road that lined up with Madison, which went up behind the grade school to the top of town hill. That road is paved now, but you can’t make the turn-about to the left that in those days would take you to the top. I think that the road to the right is now used mostly to get to the new Methodist Church on the ridge between town hill and Pine Hill.

I remember that on many Sunday’s some of us boys would take our twenty-twos’ rifles to shoot rats in old town ‘dump.’ There’s an old shopping center sitting on that spot today.

I’ve written a couple of stories about exploring the dried banks of the Big Sandy in late summer. I have seen the skeletal remains of boats or barges that were sticking out of sandbars. I doubt there was any Spanish gold down there, but I would have been happy with an Indian head penny, or even an arrowhead. I have a cheap metal detector now, but they didn’t exist back then. I think the army had some for clearing mines in the war, but they weren’t available to the public for hunting artifacts. It is a very popular sport for some and a career for others.

I discovered during grade school that reading was another way to explore. I read stories about Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and other privateers that were so exciting. My imagination would soar. Just think how I would have been pleased if I had seen “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I rarely would pass up a book that promised to shed light on points of history. I also read about Wild Bill Hickock, the invention of the automobile, first flight of an airplane, the Oregon Trail, and many other subjects or famous people featured in ‘Landmark Books.’ I had a collection of those at one time, but I’m afraid they’re gone.   

In those days writers told the stories, but weren’t all about sensationalism. Now many writers focus more on circulation brought on by the intent of destroying the image of famous people. Today, innuendoes will do if facts can’t be found. The thing is, people are people. Everyone has done things at one time or another, for which they are not proud. Also, what’s not acceptable behavior today was the norm in days gone by. Principles change over time. I still prefer books that shed light on the positive accomplishments and gives our hero’s a break. We should respect the privacy of our fellow-men unless doing so create a risks. At one time the press protected the privacy of a crippled president, but now they look for ways to present even the slightest flaw or misstep. They shout that truth should be known, but no man or woman can stand long under that strict measure.   

When I read the details about the discovery of an intact tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, and saw pictures of the wonderful things that had been found buried with King Tut, I was excited. So was that generation of people all around the world. They went crazy decorating their homes with Egyptian motifs that were taken from things found in the tomb. Who could not love this stuff? Going to the Holy Land and finding artifacts of biblical history, or discovering Nazi loot hidden in tunnels and caves still gets my attention. It’s not that I want to find riches, or would even know how to market a bucket of bullion if I found some. It’s the finding that matters and the enlightenment that follows. Yes, I would pan for gold, but for the experience of finding it. Sure, money matters, but that isn’t the central thing.

Today, I still take my wife on what I call ‘explores.’ When the kids were little we dragged them along, too, instilling a love for travel and discovery. My goal was to find new roads never traveled, or a village we hadn’t seen. We have turned onto streets to find the sidewalks of a town lined with crowds of waving people only to find out we were leading a parade we didn’t know was behind us. We’ve discovered community fairs, and special annual events. We have found neat shops, great places to eat, and have even seen bears, Emu’s, camels, and all kinds of animals that surprised us upon going around a curve in the road. It’s always worth the trip and often gives us a happy surprise.

Daniel Boone, Columbus, and Eric the Red, weren’t the only ones who liked to discover. I, for one, still do. I don’t really want to fight bears, circumvent a hurricane, or try to escape an Indian scouting party, but I still love discovery. I enjoy watching the on-going saga of Oak Island, reading about the continuing search for the Lost Dutchman Mine, and the dream of discovery of Cleopatra’s tomb. With each generation a bit of history is lost. Veterans are dying every day and their stories are lost to the world. I love to uncover the past. How about you?        This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

PS: If you enjoyed these stories drop me a line or hit the ‘like’ button. That will give me encouragement to keep on writing. Thanks, and happy exploring.

 

 

 

July 7, 2018

  Hot Times!

As I write this, it is just after the fourth of July. Because the holiday fell on a Wednesday this year, there are those who chose to celebrate on the fourth, the historical Independence Day, while other chose to start up the party on the following Saturday. Therefore, we might have seen the fireworks already, or will see them depending on just when Independence Day will be celebrated. While this means that no long weekend was granted by the tsar of holidays, we are left to suffer on with little chance to recover from this year’s parties and celebrations. Only those who choose to party on Saturday will have a chance to heal and pick up some badly needed sleep. No doubt there are party-animals that will use the excuse to simply celebrate all week!

Because my wife, Suzie, and I are in the process of moving to a newer home, I spent Wednesday all day on my knees; not praying, but replacing grout around the kitchen floor tile. We really need to invent something that will allow us to either stand or sit while working on the floor, rather than crawl around! Please, please at least give me a way to get back up on my feet. Whew!

Our nation’s birthday marks ‘mid-summer’ for many of us. It is when corn and tomatoes are ripening and watermelons are at their sweetest. Summer also meant to me back in the old days, that it was time for canning. Grannie ‘put up’ beans, beets, jellies, apple sauce, sorghum, pickles, jellies and preserves, pickled eggs, and lots of other things.

This may have been hot, heavy, work for the ladies, but often the kids who were too young to help were turned loose to simply run amok through the neighborhoods. For kids, besides all the outdoor games, it was the time when lightning bugs had arrived, easily spotted in the evenings as natural light fades. We all remember collecting those magic bugs in canning jars and continuing the hunt for more. In the end, mom made us release them. June bugs were fun, too, in spite that they were larger, ugly, and a lot noisier. I remember that we would tie a string around their legs and let them fly in undulating circles around our person. Some thought it cruel to do that. If I were a bug I’d likely agree, but in that day, I dismissed those charges saying, “For goodness sake, they’re just bugs!” (Don’t judge me too quickly because somewhere down deep I figured it was wrong. I would have turned my attention to something else.)

neatsfootneatsfoot By the time I was ten years old or so, I had already pulled out my catcher’s mitt and applied generous dollops of Neatsfoot Oil over the stiff leather and rubbed it in, giving it new life and subtleness. I pounded a deep ‘pocket’ in the center of the glove. An older kid suggested I put a baseball in the mitt and then put a rubber band around the whole to make the leather take on the shape of the hard sphere. By July fourth, this had already been done. The mitt and I were already in mid-season. My friends and I played ‘catch’ all around our little town and had already enjoyed a schedule of organized games. The sound of the ball hitting the mitt, and the sound of a wooden bat sending the ball back toward the outfield are sounds of heaven to a youngster. In truth, that sound still registers in my male brain and alerts me to turn and watch the ‘homer.’ When we hit the pitched sphere with the barrel of the bat we knew that the ball would fly away. It had a feel and a sound that told us immediately that this one would sail for hundreds of feet. Our ballfields rarely had fences, but it they had the ball would have easily cleared them for a home run.

Summer also meant lots of ‘bike riding,’ and hopscotch, picnics, a trip to Dreamland to swim, or Camden Park to ride the roller-coaster. Many of us lost our shirts and went around looking like pre-Columbian American Natives. I often wore a fully unbuttoned shirt that flapped in the wind when I was speeding on my bike. I remember that I rolled up the right leg of my jeans to avoid being caught up in the sprocket chain. It was common that the chain guard had been removed and lost in the distant past. If it was not common for my peers, the look of having the one leg rolled up would have looked weird, I’m sure.

We were soon out running around under the hot sun. As it happened, I was naturally dark and slow to sunburn, but I tanned quickly. A few of the boys I knew went without shoes in the summer, but I normally wore worn-out tennis shoes that were often filled with holes. I remember the soles coming off and flapping when I walked. I felt like a clown and likely looked like one. Sometimes holes in the shoes would allow a toe or two to be exposed. It was also aggravating when one of those ‘dang’ shoe-strings broke. I’d have to make repairs that after a time resulted in several knots that would not make it through the eyelets. We didn’t have Velcro in those days, but it would have been nice.

ice cream ice cream  I wrote about camps a couple of weeks ago, but I will mention them again as something we looked forward to year after year. Ice cream is a real treat in the summer, too. We would make some in an ice cream maker for dessert on the 4th of July, or another occasion. The older men would do the cranking. At first, I could add ice chips in layers and sprinkle salt to aid the cooling process. Turning the crank grows harder as the ice cream freezes until it is nearly impossible to turn further. When the men gave up I was teased by them allowing me to try my hand at cranking. Of course, I failed to get more than a turn or two before my energy was spent. I lacked the muscle to do more. The older men laughed. There was nothing left to do but let it sit until the ladies deemed it ready to spoon out.

I remember when someone built a small ice-cream store between Simpson’s Gulf and the Cypress Inn on Madison. Early on, I had one of those swirly cones that was dipped in a waxy chocolate. The trick was to get it eaten before it melted or dripped on your hands or clothing. I remember little bits of the chocolate would float down on the melted ice cream and onto my hand. The handle-bars would be next and they would remain sticky until I could wash them with a garden hose. There came a time when I selected a milk shake, or banana split, instead. At least it would be contained if it melted.

A year or two later Dee put in his Dairy Queen and turned it into a drive-through. It was be several years later when he added the dining room. He hired ‘car hops’ who would put your order on a tray that hooked over the car window. Dee’s added to the menu and did well. They had good onion-rings, hot-dogs, hamburgers, and shakes. They still do. This was, and still is a popular meeting place in our little town.

This late in the season fresh strawberries had already been exhausted, but it was nearing time when lots of blackberries were getting ready for using in cobblers and muffins. Watermelon and cantaloupe were sold at farmer’s markets, stands, and grocery stores. I remember kids having spitting contests to see how far they could spit a watermelon seed. That led to sticky faces and hands, perfect to collect layers of dirty, sticky messes. As sticky as we were it was be best to avoid hugs. Those could lead to a long-term commitment. Wild days, those.

Summer rains and storms were a regular occurrence, and usually brought welcome relief after a day of hot, muggy weather. I played in the overflow of rainwater along the streets gutters. I floated toy boats and played until the water subsided. When I was a teen I rode my bike though those puddles to see how big a splash I could make. For a moment I would see a giant wave break away, but if the water was deep enough, it would sap all my momentum and bring me to a halt. I remember at least one time when I slammed so hard into some deep water that the resistance caused my bike to stop and fall over dumping me into the puddle. We had a laugh and repeated it for the growing crowd of kids running up to join the ruckus.   

Lounging on the porch, sometimes reading comics was a regular summer pastime. The warmth of the weather, and the comfort of the swing often got the best of me. I’d drift off into dreams of grandeur, finally giving way to the sandman. For a short moment I was Batman, or Spiderman, or even a favorite cowboy. I fought World War two all over again in my mind and in the process, took out many machine-gun nests. I liberated villages across Europe. It wasn’t for the medals that I would surely earn, but rather I wanted to save my country so mom would be safe from the evil enemy. She had to be protected as did all those sweet girls waiting at home.

Sickle Sickle  With school out, I was required to mow the grass, cut back weeds on the fences, and to hire out to do the same for the neighbors. Lizzie Shannon was quick to hire me only after her fancy, twisted wire fence was covered in tough honeysuckle vines. I had to dodge bees and find ways to pull the creeping plant and still not pull the fence out of alignment. It was a time of growing blisters from the wooden handles on the push mower, sickle, or rake. I dug flower-beds and cleaned overgrowth. It was hard work, but it gave me pocket change for the movies, or some baseball cards, or even a milkshake. That certainly made the blisters feel better.

I remember staying a week or so on my uncle’s farm and helping with baling hay. My cousins could pick up a bale and toss it up on the flatbed truck with ease, but it sythe sythe was all I could do to use two hands and lift it so another cousin could pitch in to help put it in place. That was very hard work for a skinny town boy. It would likely kill a real city boy, I figured.

Houses and cars did not have air-conditioning unless you were rich. The Garden Theater was the only place I recall that did. By the time I was in high school more and more cars finally had AC, but again, only for those that could afford it. I loved the sweltering, dog-days of summer so much. The other seasons had things I liked, too, but overall, I hated being cold. My house didn’t have insulation unless you counted the wallpaper. In the winter I could see my breath as I walked through the house. In the summer, I just tried to stay as cool as I could. A shady hammock would have been nice, but a porch swing was all I had.

We used oscillating electric fans to try to get a little relief. The older table models had a protective cage but you could still reach in and touch the turning blade and hurt yourself. The old fans we had were also dirty and oily. I would put 3-in-1 oil on them to help them twirl easily, but that also helped them accumulate the dirt. I can still see them in my mind. They were black and had a multiple colored, striped, cotton-insulated cord. Those cords were later replaced by plastic or rubber cords that didn’t fray. You could easily get a shock with those earlier ones. I remember that some stores had big floor models of the fans. It would be later when box fans were sold. Those could be set in windows to either pull fresh air in from the outside, or expel warm air out of the home.  Personally, I wanted the feel of the moving breeze.

Church fan Church fan  I remember everyone at church would sit and fan themselves with those paddles with advertising for funeral homes. I think we had some from Young’s Funeral Home, some from Curtwright’s and some that had religious themes, such as pictures of Christ. With everyone fanning in unison, it was a sight to behold. It reminded me of a symphony orchestra with all the fiddle bows sawing away. I used them sometimes, but it made my arm tired. Besides, they didn’t help anything beyond your face. My trousers would be wet, as would my shirt-tail. Whew!

In those days the town didn’t have a pool, so Dreamland was the only choice we had for safe swimming beyond jumping in a shallow creek somewhere. I think my family made one or two trips each summer to Fallsburg, but mom kept me close from her fear of my drowning. My cousin, George, got washed over the falls once and everyone panicked. Bystanders swore he’d been caught up in a whirlpool. He was perfectly safe when we found him. Later, when I was a high school senior I was washed over the falls on senior skip day. Stanley Brown and Johnny Justice jumped in to save me because I couldn’t swim. Once in the water I swam back to shore without any help, but that was another story that I’m sure I’ve already recounted. Back then it was at least a ten foot drop, but the last time I was by there, it wasn’t much at all. Perhaps the flowing water has cut through the rock and lowered the drop?

 Dreamland Dreamland  Dreamland had two islands in the middle of that large pool. The first was in the shallow end, the other at the deep end. I learned to reach the deep one once I had grown over six feet. I could almost reach bottom on the one side of the deeper island, but the water was well over my head on the other side. Coming back toward the shallow end was easy because I’d dive toward the shallow end and allow the momentum to make me coast. By the time the momentum stopped I could put my feet down stand up without fear if drowning. My mother was grateful. I was pleased over the result, too, else, we wouldn’t be writing this, eh?

I don’t remember if I was with the scouts or another group that took me to Camden Yards one summer. I do remember riding the wooden coaster all day. The first time was exciting and it didn’t wear off. There was a ride (now forgotten) that I wouldn’t take, but I loved the big roller-coaster. The boy scouts did go on camping trips in the summer as well as take hikes, but I can’t pull up any memories of anything I saw or did on those excursions. I guess they were fun. Someone who remembers should write and tell me if I’ve forgotten something.

watermelon seed spitting watermelon seed spitting  I remember a picnic my family once took. There’s a place called ‘Beech Grove’ out toward Wallbridge where we laid out a blanket and ate a good lunch with the neighbor ants. I think we had peanut-butter sandwiches, but I remember the watermelon best. Of course, with no sinks around beech grove, my fingers got so sticky I could barely spread them. Pieces of leaves, ants and dirt clung to them to the point my hands were useless. That was a real mess. My face was sticky too, but it didn’t build up as much of the dirt. For the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to clean up.

If you were there and remember, these were the days of Saturday night baths. I usually faced those with dread as I scrubbed all over with lye soap and a wash cloth. The miracle was that after I did the rinse, I discovered that I was there under all that dirt. I was pink, happy, if a bit reddened from the scrubbing. Another time I enjoyed a bath was after Harry Richard and I played tackle football on the berm outside of Creep Chandler’s house. Harry and I were caked in mud so we went to my house where my aunt hosed us down. Then we were sent dripping upstairs to the tub. We were two laughing, fighting, and splashing boys in a tub. That means there was lots of water on the floor and the dripping ceiling in the room below.

baseball baseball  Playing hide and seek, practicing music, sitting and listening in on porch conversations with the adults after supper, and watching the All-star Game, all made up what I saw as summer. For our family there was no such thing as a ‘vacation.’ Some of the better-to-do families did do some traveling, but we stayed home. Summer meant wool baseball uniforms that were scratchy and hot, and many times worse under catcher’s gear. A walk to Fort Gay for an evening game was hot, both ways. I remember some trips when I caught a slight breeze on the bridge over the river. There was always a chance that I would be washed down by a sudden evening rainstorm.

Today, it’s too hot to sit out on the deck. Heat warnings are keeping many of us home and inside with air conditioning. Flags warn of danger at the beaches. Whether heat-related, rip tides, or upcoming storms it’s helpful to know what the flags mean. It’s easier to stay in our cooled houses. Maybe we are growing soft, eh?    

The good days of summer were often duplicates of the days before and of the days ahead. We tended to slow in our work as well as in our play. The saying, ‘Slow and easy goes long into the day,’ was quoted to me time and again. Slow and easy times are just perfect for a nap. Zzzzzzzzzzz   

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June 30, 2018

 

Strike up the Band!

Those words conjure up memories of my band days and even some from a little further back. My mom was quick to take me to parades and any kind of band performances in hopes that music would become part of my life. After all, she had played trumpet in the good ‘ole LHS marching band. I have movies showing her bringing up the rear of formations marching through town. Mom was easy to spot since she was barely five feet, or at least she claimed to be that tall. The uniform hadn’t changed by the time I joined the group. I loved the sharp look and felt I was carrying on a family tradition when I first got mine. I would become the drum major in my senior year, but that wasn’t sought out at all. It ended up that I had little choice in the matter. Besides my bad attitude about the position, I have to confess I enjoyed the role.

I have written before about the ill-fated grade school band that I joined perhaps in the fourth-grade. I didn’t last long because a cousin damaged the loner trumpet. I was essentially fired. It was just as well as the band itself was doomed to fall apart. I think there was a performance, but I really can’t pull up any specific memories about that.

 Meanwhile, the streets of our little town enjoyed parade after parade in those times just after WWII. Of course, victory celebrations were the reason for many of them, and I know some of the town’s veterans were strong participants. But really, any excuse was reason enough to form the band up in the street in front of the old ‘normal’ high school building, and blow the whistle that directed them to step off. The band had, after all, spent many hours practicing the music and the marching drills. Some were at band camp, and much more was on the football field behind the school. The group had learned the basics and was led, at least until I took the helm, by talented drum majors. We all enjoyed watching the four majorettes twirl their batons and row after row of musicians following behind.

 We practiced on the streets, too. An impromptu parade would march all over town on some occasions. I remember once going to little Italy and playing for band director Dick Wilson’s mother. I think we played a hymn ‘Fairest Lord Jesus.’ Try that today, but back then right wasn’t wrong.

My senior year we marched at Morehead State, the ribbon cutting with Happy Chandler for the new river road, now the main road, and also at the governor’s inauguration in Frankfort. (The picture shows me in white uniform, the majorettes and band in Frankfort) The band had grown in numbers to around 100 members by that time. I don’t think we ever marched for July fourth celebrations because school was out. It was summertime!

Time has made me merge memories of parades to the point that I don’t recall which was which. I see people marching in my mind without being able to tie it to a particular event. I know that sometimes we had floats as well as beauty-queens, various clubs, etc. We always drove the town’s old firetruck complete with streamers. The original one (to my memory) was an open-cab truck that still had a crank for starting. That may have been a backup because I think it also had a battery, but I’m not certain. I had seen older firemen use the crank. These firemen wore leather helmets that were replaced by steel ones during my time. The town bought a new firetruck around nineteen fifty. That was the one I would learn to use when I was a high school senior. Several of us attended fire school through the Mayo Clinic and learned to use the pumps, ladders, hoses, etc.

 I remember one parade when a replica of the ‘liberty bell,’ was put on a flatbed and driven through town. The replica even had the same crack as the one housed in Philadelphia. Another time I remember some of our veterans on a flatbed truck duplicating the image of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. I think Sheepy Queen was one of the actors. Maybe Bill Keaton, and Bill Elkins, Sr., too.

In those days teachers were all keen to teach their charges about Independence Day. Even today we know more details than any of the newer generations. That day signified the declaration of independence, not the day it was won. The Revolutionary War followed with battles up and down the eastern seaboard. I now live minutes from Yorktown, where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to end the war. The earthworks are still there and museums are all about to teach of those days.

 The ‘Fourth of July,’ also meant picnics, hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and home-made ice cream. That is what the kids remember. Playing with the cousins and neighbors, running wild with the wind in our faces, and spitting watermelon seeds was really living. We wore special outfits sometimes, usually with the national colors of red, white and blue. Bikes had flags, streamers, and riders with ‘Uncle Sam’ top hats. It was as if the whole universe was celebrating. Once, when I was in Detroit on the fourth, the SS Britannia was across the Detroit River in Canada. The young Queen Elizabeth was aboard to celebrate Canada Day which is also celebrated on the fourth of July. The fireworks display was huge and exciting for me as I watched. Because the Queen, herself, was present and even got international attention. For days pictures of the fireworks covered the front pages of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. The remarkable thing is the unity that was felt by both Canadians and our people. In fact, the unity of the free world had a certain promise of peace and prosperity that followed the horrors of war seen by the world.

Today, people have marches every day for many causes, some good, some maybe less so. How wonderful it would be if we paused for a moment on this important time and remember the sacrifices of those who stood in the gap to protect our right to demonstrate. For that matter, we can do so under the protection of a government that lives under a hood of mistrust. We must use caution and remember that it is okay to debate issues, but not okay to attack others with a different viewpoint. That clearly isn’t American. Rather, as heirs of many rights, we should instead be more about ‘striking up the band,’ and having fireworks and parades to celebrate our grand old flag and the best country ever known to mankind. If we don’t stand up and teach our children to take pride in this imperfect, but great nation, we may lose what we have.

 When I remember the pride that we had growing up in this nation, I know I believed in my heart that the foundation our nation is right. Despite some tinkering, it still remains the best. We can celebrate regardless of the issues we may feel are wrong, or the fear that we are worse off than other generations. In fact, we are blessed and should be thankful to our forefather’s wisdom and the grace of the Almighty that we live in this great land. Celebrate! Oh, and while you’re at it, ‘strike up the band.’  

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