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Growing up in Louisa – Smile and Say Cheese! 

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

When writing articles for this column, I often need to revisit some of those foggy memories that resist being pried loose, at least with any resemblance of facts. That puts me at high risk to share things that simply weren’t, but please understand that my efforts are honest. To avoid these pitfalls, I have found that the past can be better understood if I can dig out recollections that relate or support what I believe is the truth. I’ve found that a very helpful resource is old snapshots either shared with me by friends, or maybe discovered in a storage box long relegated to survive alone in the corner of my attic from the past. 

Without this pictorial support, all I have are some old stiffly-posed images of ancestors we display in our home as if we had actually known the individuals. For example, we display portraits of my wife’s long-dead ancestor’s in our foyer. I presume that is out of loyalty for family, or that visitors may at once see our stock and breeding. I recall that when he was younger, one of my sons thought the pictures to be of horrific, scary-looking zombies. I recently learned that he avoided the foyer when he could and used another door to avoid exposure of the frightening, ancestral portraits. It was popular in the day to look serious and avoid smiles, but I expect in truth, these folks had a sense of humor and may have actually been likeable. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of leaving the old relatives pics to my son so he’ll have the means to torture his offspring. What’s fair is fair, after all.  

I remember an old photo from when I was a barefoot kid wearing rolled up, ragged jeans, with an unbuttoned shirt that exposed my poor, skinny ribcage. I wore a cockeyed baseball cap that covered only part of an overgrowth of unkempt hair. Tall and very skinny, that was me. That’s clearly what the pictures show, too. I had friends suggest that I was too thin to cast a shadow. Could have been right, but things have changed in that regard. During those ‘lean years’ I grew even taller, but could not gain weight. That made the gap between my jeans and my ankle greater. These became the first ‘Capri’ pants in the nation. Well, peddle-pushers, at least. My shirt barely reached down to my droopy waistband, but thank goodness it wasn’t the fashion in those days to expose underwear. I’m sure I would have lost it all if I had tried to wear them that low since I had no hips, per se. In any case, I was a sight to behold and one that only my sweet mother and grandmother could love. 

 Most of the time in those early days, I wore high-rise tennis shoes that had the little circular, rubber anklebone protectors. I usually had worn at least one hole through the top of the shoe and occasionally even the rubber toe had found fresh air. It was normal that I had to make efforts to keep them tied, especially when the string would break and I’d have to tie them in a knot. I discovered that it wouldn’t fit through the metal ‘eyes,’ with those knots, so I had to replace them. That is, when I could find any news ones around the house. That could take weeks. Once, I remember that I stopped in the ‘Corner Store’ and paid a dime or so for new laces. Of course, I had to make two trips because the first ones were too short. 

In those days, tennis shoes came in basic black, but by the time I was in the 5th or 6th grade, mom came home with a pair of high-rise red shoes. Man! It was something to have the school colors right there on my feet. Of course, I would soon enough run through mud and would have scrapped them on the ground while riding my bike. Out of boredom, I would sometimes pry off the round ankle protectors and then try to reaffix them. I found that they would flap, so that annoyed me. I only ruined one pair that I recall, but I took satisfaction in that. 

All my pants, whether the described ‘too short’ blue jeans, or my Sunday best trousers, nearly always were frayed on the inside of my right leg. Somehow it didn’t matter whether there was a ‘chain-guard’ on my bike because I’d still get my britches leg caught up in the ‘sprocket chain.’ I remember my friends tearing out ahead of me while I had to stop and work my pant leg loose. I’d rotate the pedals and pull it lose and then try to catch up with the gang. As sure as I did, I’d get hung up again. The only thing I considered worse was to have those dumb roller skates come off my shoe. That could be dangerous! Life was tough, you know. We had to keep up with skate keys and watch out for trouser-eating bikes. Life was rough for a kid back then dealing with life’s problems.  

Let’s face it. As kids, we were seldom about looking pretty. Yes, there were ‘dress-up’ occasions, but even in that we were limited in our wardrobes and in our understanding of what looks good. Mostly, we played baseball in the dust, washed off in the creek, slid down the hill, rode our bikes through the mud, tackled a friend, and spilled our drinks all over the same ‘outfit’ we’d later wear to the movies. I had a couple of friends that dressed better, but they were either ‘momma’s boys or ‘Casanovas.’ We rough and tuff ‘regular’ guys and gals usually didn’t dress up until we were made to by an adult.

I was pleased when a long-time friend recently sent me a photo of the two of us taken together at a summer camp. Human nature required that I look at me first. Upon doing so I saw that same skinny, unkempt kid, but I looked happy. Then I looked at my friend, a young lady that I remember as a raving beauty. She was attractive, to be sure, but to my surprise she was just a normal pretty girl. The thing I remember most about her was her happy, bubbly personality, her kindness, and a spirit that saw the good in everything and everybody. She was very positive and encouraging and was truly excited in every new undertaking. She was confident and full of hope for the future. Those are the things that count and they don’t show up in pictures. I was so grateful she had sent the snapshot. I have it displayed in my home and enjoy it still. 

As I have explained, looking like a street urchin was something that I was especially skilled at, given what I now see in the few pictures I have of those early days. Sadly, we didn’t take many pictures. Maybe it was the cost of film, or having to pay to have them developed. Do you remember when you’d turn in the used film one day and get a promise you’d have the pictures back in three days? When that day arrived, I would show up at the store to claim the prize. I would be excited and anxious to see them. I would reach into the yellow envelope with all that advertising and pull out the long-expected prints. I ignored the negatives, sometimes spilling them on the floor. I would rush through the whole lot of photos, usually looking to see my face, or a special photo I wanted. 

 I wasn’t that old when Eastman Kodak’s Instamatic Polaroid camera came on the scene! Would you believe, you could now take a picture and have the results within one or two minutes! Like magic this piece of paper would emerge from underneath the camera and would change into a photograph right in front of your very eyes. Wow! Isn’t progress fun? I wonder what would the kids of today think? The truth is they wouldn’t believe how far behind we were. Today’s kids are out producing selfies, celebrities, and recording for posterity everything they see. Further, they send the results out to the whole world at the same time they snap the picture. It just ‘makes your head swim,’ as granny used to say. 

We don’t use cameras so much these days. Our pics are all done on our phones, or even with our laptops and tablets. We can elect to record videos, too. ‘Skyping’ allows us to have live video conversations and gives us the opportunity to store it in the ‘cloud.’ These new kinds of images will outlive us all should anyone care to look. That would be handy for someone like me who’s trying to recall things from back in the day. Like the pictures of our ancestors, some may find these newer ones scary, too. We would see that the grass wasn’t trimmed, that the porch needed painting, and the picturesque little village of our memories, wasn’t. Worse yet, fashions change, so we might look stupid, or comical, when the context isn’t understood. Maybe on the other hand we shouldn’t worry. We are so cool! 

I remember that our family had one of those ‘brownie’ cameras prior to my school days, and later had another fancier kind of instamatic, self-adjusting, user-friendly camera. In my life, I’ve run through several, including movie cameras, and big heavy camcorders. Most of them stayed in a drawer or closet somewhere and were very rarely used. I had a habit of not remembering to take them when we went on vacation. Today’s small hand-held smart phones incorporate even better features. They have high digital quality, can be given a zoom lens, and will likely only get better. We call them smart phones, but it must be the camera that’s smart. It isn’t me. I have trouble understanding all the functions. They have more features than I can fathom or have time to learn. For this codger, these techie gadgets can be too complex. Over time, that will change, too. One day they’ll make something that even an adult will be able to use.  

Based on what I see on the internet, nearly everything today is filmed. In fact, we often see too much. We have easy access to things our parents would have gone to war to prevent us seeing, or even knowing about for that matter. Many people today discuss openly what used to be private. That isn’t the point of this article, so I’ll leave it here.  

Just think, photography came into professional use back during the time just before the Civil War. This event gave mankind the first opportunity to practice a new craft that has since become a tool for the masses. No doubt that it’s an exciting time we live in, but it can also be scary and even sometimes a little disgusting. Nonetheless, millions of images are building the archives that will become our legacy. Today, they are more than just a means to remember the past. They are a statement of who we are. Whether good or bad, it will be ‘out there.’ A paper snapshot can always be put away, or burned, but once a digital image sent to the cloud, it is a lasting record. It could even go ‘viral.’ With the internet and the newer tools constantly being developed, every record created will be ‘out there’ to tell your story. So, for goodness sake, remember to smile and say ‘cheese!’            

  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

Growing up in Louisa – Father’s Day!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

What can a person write about Father’s Day when they grew up without one? I suppose I could lament about what I missed, although at the time I didn’t feel an absence. It would be decades later that I would realize that having one would have at least given me a head start in life. It wasn’t that I was stupid, but rather I didn’t get certain levels of understanding that might have benefitted me. For example, choices in careers and the steps I would have to take to set and accomplish goals. I was left to figure that out on my own. Lessons came from the costly mistakes a novice cannot help but make. Aside from that, and some potential financial support, I didn’t have my own male model to emulate other than some great fathers that my friends had. These shortcomings were eventually overcome, but not without some luck and determination. 

So why would I celebrate Father’s Day? Well, to start with there are many wonderful fathers out there that work hard providing for their families, and doing the best they can. As I matured, I was surprised how important fathers are to their sons and daughters. Never having one, I simply didn’t see them as relevant or necessary. After all, there are many fathers out there that aren’t all that relevant. Some spend their lives developing their careers and spend very little time interacting with their families. Many bring wrong attitudes or are not models of good behavior. Some promise and don’t deliver. Others just refuse to take responsibility and walk out leaving mom and the kids to deal with life as best they can. 

 But there is a point to writing this article. I want to honor those dads who accept that role and refuse to ‘buy into’ the misleading dogma that society teaches. Men are so susceptible to those lies that cause them to turn their backs. I know that from my own mistakes early in life that this is true. If I had a model of a real dad when I was growing up it may have saved me from errors in judgment that gave me regret instead of joy. After all, dads are subject to the pressures to grab all they can out of life. Sadly, many give up and walk away from their responsibilities to try to live the fantasy life portrayed on television and movies. By doing so, they seek out momentary pleasures and lose out on those things that are truly fulfilling and worthwhile. The stronger fathers, usually trained by a real dad, pass this gift on to other generations. These dads deserve to be honored. 

Nearly any man can become a father. It takes a real man to be a ‘dad.’ It is a smart father that devotes himself to his family. I’m talking about the guy that remembers his pledge to the wife of his youth and refuses to stray. It is this guy who makes a difference in how his children see life, and later follows his example. Kids will follow their dad’s example long before they obey his rules. It’s isn’t what he says, or enforces, but how he, himself, behaves. That can be best taught by a father in the home. 

When I took some psychology classes nearly fifty years ago, I learned about studies that showed that daughters grow up happier when they have their father in their home and active in their lives. Those positive dads go to the recitals, ballgames, concerts, plays and special events. They teach their daughters how to be ladies and to honor themselves. Those dads protect their daughters and give examples of wisdom and support. Many times, the model dad is the daughter’s ‘first love,’ as she sees herself as a princess, but her dad as king. 

The boys who have their dad in their home benefits, too. They learn not only skills and techniques in sports, but also learn lessons about winning and losing. They see how working as a team brings better results, and how to always be dependable and faithful. They see the model of a dad protecting the family and providing income, but being there to comfort, and overcome problems. They discover working hard to achieve goals and to build character. They also learn to respect women and to have integrity in all he does. He learns about trust and the importance of fellowship and charity.  

 As I said earlier, in my life I was a bad influence, but later a better one. It took me a while to learn that lesson, but it still has value because it tells me that not having a father figure matters. Now, I have been blessed with six wonderful children who are now adults themselves. They are different in many ways, but also very much alike. I see my behaviors reflected in them, even down to our humor and interests. They are living good lives and are good parents to our 13 grandchildren. This is my reward and believe me, that is better than anything this sometimes silly, but always hectic world can offer. 

It is from this hard-earned experience I can sit back, look at the love reflected in my family’s eyes, and celebrate ‘Father’s Day’ this week. Twice I have been given a pillow that I use daily that is embroidered with the saying, “A father is someone you look up to, regardless of how tall you get.” That’s a good thing, for even at 6’2” I am the shortest of the adult men in my family. That comment is part of my reward. 

Even deprived from having that model dad in my home, I benefited from seeing other people’s dad. I’m not just talking about ‘Father Knows Best,’ types of television shows, but better yet, the real fathers of best friends, like Eddie Boggs, and from teachers that I saw in school and at church. Of course, there were likely behaviors that I didn’t see, some good, and maybe some not so good. After all, they were just men trying to do their best, but altogether human. I did see their love and dedication to their families and the respect they showed others. I’ve written of stories in this column where Eddie stepped into my life to provide guidance, discipline, and tons of encouragement. Even those few times made my life better and I’ll always be grateful to him. 

A happy Father’s Day is not about the gifts or cards, or even a visit, or a phone call. It is the honor of being remembered and the affirmation that I have mattered in the lives of my family and that my children and grandchildren have benefitted from my being there. Sometimes, as men, we are not as verbal or as deeply involved in the details of family life as are those wonderful moms. It would be easy for us men to feel we are not relevant, but trust me, we are. The fruits of being there to teach, discipline, encourage, pray, and to share advice when asked, is far and away worth more than anything the world can offer us. Life is short and isn’t about one’s rank in life. It isn’t about how many toys we’ve collected, or titles, what others think about us, or how much money we have in the bank. It’s about love and that manifests itself best in the family. When we purpose to dedicate ourselves to our family and the next generations to follow, we can truly think in terms of having a “Happy Father’s Day.” I’m still trying and won’t give up.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

THE SEARCH FOR SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT WWII  

This is a story about how a young 18 year old teenager, Betty Jo Bartram met Alvin Waltz, the love of her life and her life long companion. It was a hot August day in 1943, when a special troop train was traveling east (on the N&W Rail Road) from Indian Town Gap Pa. to Camp Picket Va. We would all go down near the RR tracks and wave at the soldiers when the troop trains passed through. I remember them being so long. They would be taking the soldiers to training camps and to the East & West coast for debarkation to the European & Pacific Theaters. It was WWII and we were fighting the Japanese and the Germans at the same time. The logistics would have been enormous moving so many troops and equipment.

On this particular day, Betty, her sister Garnet, cousins Margaret and Juanita Bartram and good friend Thelma Lynch were down by the rail road waving to the troops. This young soldier Alvin Waltz threw from the train a stick of Wrigley's Chewing Gum with his address. Betty picked up his address and gum. Letters began to flow between them and love blossomed. She kept all his love letters and the gum. Betty jokingly told the girls, she would, "someday waltz him home."

Alvin was from a farming community in Southern Ill. Betty was living on Sunnyside (Tug River) 2 miles south of Fort Gay, WV near the N&W Rail Road Tracks. Betty like so many sweethearts, wives, sisters and even mothers went to work in factories. They had all been retooled as defense plants to make war materials, tanks, guns, air plains etc. to fight with. Betty went to work for Dominion Electric in Mansfield, OH. She was making smoke bomb casings. The ladies were referred to by some as "Rosie the Riveters". Many young people do not realize that there were no automobiles made in the years 1943, 44 or 45 due to the war.

Betty's Father, Harlan Bartram was concerned about his daughter and this soldier that no one had ever seen. He ask his niece, Carnas (Bartram) Branham to write to the Post Master in Alvin's home town (Eldorado Ill.) and inquire as to Alvin's character. She did, and the Postmaster responded, giving Alvin and his family high marks. (Things sure have changed).

Before being shipped overseas, Alvin got a furlough and came to Mansfield to visit Betty, where they met for the first time, while she was working at Dominion Electric. Later, Betty and her Sister- in-Law Lena Mae took a trip to Ill. to visit Alvin's parents and extended family.

Alvin was then shipped to England. One of his initial duties was being a driver for generals. He even drove for the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Alvin was in HQ. Btry. 54th Armored Battalion, Third Armored Division. Alvin was in a lot of combat and survived many battles. He made the Normandy Landing. He drove across France in a ammunition truck named "Patsy" and was in the Battle of the Bulge. During his service he suffered a ruptured appendix and had yellow fever causing him to lose his hair. He had 4 brothers that were within just a few miles of each other, but never crossed paths. They all 5 came home safely. The war ended in Europe on May 8, and in Japan on September, 2 1945. Alvin was discharged on October 3, 1945. Alvin had served 2 years prior to Pearl Harbor, from 1939 to 1941. He had been home only 1 month before being called back into service.

Betty and Alvin were married October 12, 1945 only 9 days after his discharge, by the Rev. J. C. Hager, in Louisa, KY. She had waltzed him to the altar as she had predicted. They lived on Sunnyside and for a brief time in Ill. before moving to Louisa. He worked for Lee Hinkle, in his furniture store. They then moved to Mansfield, OH and he worked at Westinghouse before being laid off. He then worked for Mansfield Plumbing Products until his retirement in 1976.

Betty and Alvin had two Children. Sherry (Earl) "Butch" Smith and Frank (Deborah Dotson) "Debbie" Waltz. The Waltz family bought and lived on an 82 acre farm reliving similar experience they had grown up in. This was in the Lucas-Bellville, OH area. Betty enjoyed quilting, sewing and gardening. Alvin enjoyed woodworking, gardening, fishing and camping. Alvin born April 5, 1913 was 101 years old when he passed away on February 3, 2015. Alvin was from a family of 11 children. Betty born November 26, 1924 passed away 5 months later on July 7, at age 90. She was from a family of 6 children. Betty and Alvin were married for 69 years and lived in the Colonial Manor together the last 5 years of their lives.

As described above, WWII changed so many lives. Some for the better and some not so good. I recently wrote a story about Betty's 1st cousin Jerry Bartram that was killed August 9, 1944 in Saint-Lo, France in WWII. That story, unlike Betty's, revealed the ravages of war and the affect on so many lives.

--John Jarrett Peters, President WCGHS