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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ballad of the Hurricane Hunters

I was 20 when Clyde and I fled from Charleston to ride through the storm headed for Miami.  These few lines came from that trip. It may not make sense but it brought to my mind such strong memories that I wanted to share. I am happy to say that Clyde saved it those many years ago. I wrote it as fun and gave it to him. It's been 50 years. Unbelievable. I hope you enjoy. I did...






Ballad of the Hurricane Hunters


We'd often go drive, just to feel alive
That was my Unc and me
Goin' to a dive and slippin' 'em five
For a Pint—they were never free.

Back in the car aimed for afar
Me and my Uncle Clyde
We'd shoot for a star and open that jar,
A quart of corn inside.

That September morn when all were forlorn
A hurricane dead in our path
All would have sworn twas that bottle of corn
Pointed us into nature's wrath.

It was six hundred miles and many long trials
To reach that storm a ragin'
We set on our dial, listened to music awhile
And everyone was a wagin'

We wouldn't get back to the old home shack
In one piece, or even two,
The seal we did crack without looking back
Pouring us both a toot.

In Savannah town we began to frown
A cop pulled us over the side
The map I threw down to cover that brown
Bottle of Whiskey, I tried

He never saw but the set of his jaw
Showed us that he was not fooled
There was a flaw—the smell in our craw
We might as well have drooled.

But it was a trap for this lawman chap
A camera full on Clyde
The look on that sap, his face you could slap
We were on TV—LIVE!

We said our hello and were ready to go
When we got a little surprise
A cup of J.O.(that's O.J. I know)
And a word of sound advice.

With a smile on his face, he said have a taste
Of our O.J. there in your cup
Saying with grace, and little or no haste,
Be careful, or I'll pick you up.”

We took off quite slow, into third he did throw
The car as we did pick up speed
Waving to show we would not eat crow
From that cop, thank God, we were free.

On down the way we did stop to say
Get in,” to a hitch hikin' man
He offered to pay but we gave him O.J.
With a touch of corn from the can

He said, “What is this?” We said it was piss,
For we were loaded by now.
This I will miss.” We told him to kiss
And what he could eat for chow.

The sailor looked frightened, his face it had whitened,
A hundred miles back to the hour
Then it did brighten, a sandwich to bite in
A hoagy, with great lusty power.

The last line was a fetch, the imagination to stretch,
It gets sluggish after some time
And more, just a tetch, the lines we can catch
more words that're going to rhyme.

Back to the tale of a hoagy gone stale
in the hands of the sailor man.
Now I will not fail to end my portrayal
of the swabby, if ever I can.
He had to be a Chief with whom we'd no beef
But drunk he thought we were.
He thought that he'd see'f for Tampa we'd leave
the road we'd traveled so far.

Drunk as we were, we told him, “No sir!”
And stopped to let him out
You miserable cur, stick it in yer...”
Came the trailing end of his shout.

Who gives a damn about that sailor man
Clyde said to me with a laugh
Not a Tinker's damn nor a codfish ham
Said I, drinking my pint ahalf.

Further our flight into the darkening night
The car a'gainin' speed.
And, Oh what a sight! Lightning did strike!
And my uncle, by gosh, he pee'd!

An oak tree was struck! The force it did pluck
That plant right out of the ground!
A moment of luck did save this young buck
The right word it cannot be found.

We did stop and think how close to the brink
Both of our lives had been.
But nary'd we shrink from pouring a drink
And continue our life of sin.

Now, let us go back to the start of our track
And the reason this trip we're taking.
The hurricane flack promised excitement we lack
A leg to Miami we're shaking.

In an old Spanish town we stopped to look 'roun'
At 'leven or twelve at night.
My old girl had a frown, no longer the crown
Of glory I held in my sight.

I found out she was married, too long have we tarried
On the girl that I lost to a bum.
Having to be carried 'cause the drink I had shar-ed
Was overly filled with rum.

Oh, my life it could end, I hadn't a friend
To lay my sorrows on
No, she couldn't send a letter to end
A love I'd procured on the lawn.

To hell with this strife! She's somebody's wife!”
My uncle he was a sayin'.
You've the rest of your life to be thankful you're sife!”
My accent he was a trayin'.

Forgive me the rhyme but it's approaching the time
For me to hit the sack.
For the present time all the lines look fine
Except for the foreign track.

You'll have to think on if these rhymes seem wrong
Or even if they seem like bunk.
Just remember this song is sung all along
By me and my uncle who're drunk.

The hour is here! Did I hear a cheer?
A few more lines to pen
But now, I fear, I know not where
This rhyme to begin again.

St. Augustine is past, how it could last
I honestly do not know
Clyde, he was smashed, and my eyes were all glassed
But off in the car we did go.

My watch showed three, though it was blurred to me,
The road it flowed beneath.
And we did agree that we were both free
To live by the skin of our teeth.

The story 'tween here and Miami so dear
To the Yankees who come from the North
Is not very clear because of the beer
mellow memories waddling forth.

It was four in the morning, Miami's skies forming
Lighted patterns over the city.
The night was through storming and without any warning
The blip of a blue light—a pity.

Clyde was asleep and in dreams very deep.
The cop rapped on the glass.
This fuzz was a creep who asked to peep
At registration under the dash.

My unc came awake with a startling shake
And asked, “What the hell?”
While the officer spake, the nephew did quake.
Nervous? Yes, you could tell.

The policeman did state that our license plate
Was not a Florida tag.
How well I equate his intelligence great
As a torn piece of gasoline rag.

A person with sense or even a dense
Individual of Southern birth
Would not pull us hence, nor even dispense
Such words, a chuckle worth.

Registration he inspected not having detected
Several bottles on the floor.
Ownership respected, he stood and directed
We drive a little bit slower.

Second scrape with the law and still ne'er saw
All the liquor we had in the car.
Our nerves were all raw so up we did draw
To a motel's open front door.

We slept for an hour, then took a shower
As the sun was breaking the dawn
While others did cower at the hurricane's power
We smiled and then we were gone.

Radio turned on, I searched for a song
To help us on our way
The announcer at dawn said the hurricane was gone
To Charleston, as it may.

Well, son of a bitch!” We near ran in a ditch
As both of us did swear.
Ain't that a switch? We'd have to be rich
To chase the hurricane rare.

So, I cracked a seal as Clyde turned the wheel
Heading back for our town.
The rubber did peel and tires did squeal
As the car came hurtling 'round.

Listening to the radio we never went slow
The ride was faster now.
The blue sky did show as our hopes did go
To be in the hurricane's howl

No exciting event did follow the extent
Of our journey to the Holy City.
We were just bent on finding a hint
Of high powered winds so pretty.

The radio was blaring as we were now nearing
The city limits of our fair town.
Disgustedly hearing the news that was searing
our ears as we were shot down.

Our hurricane had turned—we listened and burned
And both let out a “DAMN!”
It was then that we learned, by our hurricane spurned,
It was heading again for Miam'!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Things from fifty years past come from those days we wish would last...

My cousin just showed me a poem I wrote 50 years ago about the trip Clyde and I took chasing the hurricane in Florida.  I'm excited about reading it since I thought it had been lost to the years.
Fifty years and five pages long. I will copy it here as Clyde's and my song....

Friday, April 1, 2016

Party girl! Like it's 1950

Clyde kicked the car into second as I took a pot shot at a cow in the field.
What are you doing?” he yelled. “Put that gun down! You want some farmer barreling out on to the highway with his shotgun out the widow aimed at us? Jeez, Rick. Sometimes you are really stupid.”
I wasn't aiming at the cow. Besides, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn,” I said as I put the pistol into the glove compartment.
Where are we going?”
Goin' to see an old girlfriend.”
Good grief! Not again. Don't your remember the last time? I nearly tore your car up trying to get us out of the driveway, bobbing up and down. Let's go somewhere else. There's plenty of daylight left.”
Nope. Promised her I'd be there about two and it's almost that now. We won't stay long. Why don't you just mix yourself another drink and enjoy the ride.”
Won't let me shoot a cow. How'm I supposed to enjoy myself? You know every time we go out like this I end up sitting here in the car while you go inside and, uh… what do you do in there? Come to think of it I've never been inside when you drag me along.”
Quit your poutin'. You got plenty of booze there and time with nothin' goin' on in your life. What else you got to do?”
I don't know but I could sure think of something.”
I started to stare out the window at the passing country side. We traveled another twenty minutes and arrived in Elloree, SC. A booming metropolis. L or E, I thought. Some illiterate who didn't know his letters musta named it.
I pulled the bottle from under the seat and poured a stout measure into my cup. A dash of coke and I was ready to wash out the dust of the dirt road we'd bounced onto when he hit a huge bump and my head hit the ceiling. The cup at my mouth jerked upward dousing me with bourbon and a touch o' coke—in those days coke was a cocola as we'ens said in the south, or Coca Cola for those of letters. Whatever it was called it was dripping into my ears and eyes and completely soaking my shirt and pants. The sound filtering through the lake of bourbon and coke in my ears was the laughter of my dear uncle as he hit the break, slid to the side of the road into a fence and collapsed in a fit of hysteria.
That's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time,” he said as he took control of himself and eased the car backward from the fence. He dropped it into first and pulled forward.
That's why I take you along. You make me laugh.”
Only because I'm an idiot.”
Well, yeah, there's that, too. OK. I see her house over there. Now you look relaxed,” he said, laughing again.
Smartass!”
She came to the porch and waved.
Hey, sugah! Hey, Rickey!”
Hey,” I said in my most relaxed tone.
She walked over to the car and leaned on the driver's side. Her eyes went wide when she saw my khakis soaked from belt to mid thigh. The smile crept over her face quickly.
Well, what have you done,” She sniggered. “Clyde didn't you stop at a filling station so that nephew of yours could use the public facilities.”
Fraid not, babe. He never said a word til it was too late and I hit a bump a ways back from here. He just couldn't hold it after that.”
His laughter filled the air. She joined in, slapping the car door.
Indignation swelled in my like a red river.
It's bourbon and coke, dammit! I never peed my pants in my life. This jackass of an uncle hit that bump on purpose just as I filled my cup and was fixin' to drink a slug. He jammed the gas and hit it hard. And here I sit in a puddle. I oughta pee all over his seat.”
She stopped laughing for a minute and said, “Why don't you go inside and get outta those wet things? You could probably find something in the closet to slip into while your clothes are in the washer. . Go on now, go on in and take 'em off and throw 'em in the tub. I'll be in d'rectly to get the washer goin'.”
Oh, all right,” I said and got out. As I headed for the front door she shouted to me.
Go on!”
There was giggling as the screen door slammed to. I found the washer and stripped. The only think I could find in the closet was a red bathrobe. A tad small but in this case it would have to do. I was looking for something to read when I heard them come in.
Now, Sugah, you go on in there while I take care of this young'ns clothes.”
She stopped short, looking at me.
Oooie! Aint't you pretty now? Where'd you find that? I been looking for that for some time.”
She headed toward the washroom. I followed her. She took the soap box from the shelf then tilted it over the open washer. She dropped the lid and turned the switch.
There. That shouldn't take too long. Why don't you go out and sit in the car while Clyde and I talk over old times? I'll call you when your clothes are ready.”
I am not going out of this house dressed like this. This ain't no way for a guy to be wandering around out doors. Nope, I ain't gonna.”
Now honey,” her voice taking a harder timber, “you just head on out there. Not a soul is gonna see you like that. Everybody's at their jobs. Ain't nobody around. You'll be fine. Take this book and go get in that car. I'll let you know when your clothes are dry.”
She snatched a book off the shelf and tossed it at me then patted my behind into the general direction of the car. I grudgingly opened the door and peaked out. It did look deserted. I sprinted to the car, bathrobe flapping in the breeze.
I jumped into the front seat pulling the door shut behind me. I pulled the flimsy bathrobe around me folding the open front over my legs. Settling down, I held the book in front of me. It was a paperback. The title was PARTY GIRL.
What the…
The cover illustration presented a scantily clad young blonde staring out at me. There was a man behind her looking over his shoulder. Articles of clothing draped over a chair that which separated her from the man. There was a bed to the right and next to the man. Hmm…
I'd been reading in a fevered rush for about twenty minutes and was halfway through the book.
The girl on the cover was one of those girls. The ones the guys talked about. She was a high priced girl of the night who only went to the high bidders. It was like nothing I had read before. I was breathing heavy when I got to the part where she was on a yacht.
She was staring down into the water where the man of wealth was bobbing in the wavelets. He was beckoning her to join him. She slipped out of the tightly fitting dress. It dropped to her feet. She popped the clasp of her bra, or brassiere as it was called in the '50's, and it dropped to the deck. She slowly removed her panties allowing the sea air to flow over her naked body. She looked at him again. He watched her edge to the opening of the of the guard rail. The moon light washed over her perfect form. He licked his lips as she leaped into the air and arced smartly into the water in front of him. Her body gracefully slid into the ocean with a small splash.
He watched for her return to the surface. He became agitated when she did not rise from the waves. He called out and began to swim toward her entry into the water. She stopped him with a quiet throaty laugh. As he turned, she moved toward him. Her firm slippery body pressed against his. His smile grew as her face came closer to his. She reflected that smile. Her large firm breasts spread across his as their mouths lingered in a long searching kiss. She encircled him as they joined together in the cool gentle roll of the sea. Their bodies rose with the waves and dipped when they passed. They rode with an easy bouyancy the loving touch of the lapping waves. Their own bodies began a rhythmic undulation of their own. The throaty moans of the party girl came heavier with each thrust…
The book was yanked from my hand. I became aware of laughter on both sides of the car. Clyde and his woman were howling with fits of laughter.
Good gracious! What is that stickin' out of my bathrobe?” She screamed in a fit of glee.
Whoa, honey! What's that book I gave you?”
She looked at the cover.
You're too young to be readin' that,” she said holding the book up in the air.
Maybe not,” said Clyde. He was holding his side.
I covered myself.
Get into the house before the neighbors see that. Especially Ms Fine. She'd have you over for a weiner roast in a skinny minute. Go on! Get into the house. Your clothes are dry now.”
Can I borrow that book?” I asked wrapping the bathrobe around me as best I could. “I'll get Clyde to bring it back. Honest.”
No. I don't think so. Your momma'd beat you good if she found this.” She tossed it on a high shelf as she entered the house. We walked into the washroom.
She pulled my clothes from the dryer and handed them to me.
Now you go put these on and think about your evil ways. You're too young to be drinkin' like that uncle of yours. He ain't gonna come to no good and you'll end up the same way if you continue down that same road. You listen to me, now!”
She patted me on the rump again aiming me in the direction of a small bedroom.
She stayed in the kitchen while I changed into my clothes. Pulling my pants up I began to think about the girl who had jumped into the water and I couldn't zip my pants up. Clyde whistled outside meaning, “ Get a move on.” I managed to get myself together. I walked past the kitchen. She was outside with Clyde. I eyed the book on the shelf near the door. I made a jump for it. My hand made contact. Quickly I pocketed it and walked outside letting the screen slam.
I'm ready,” I said. “Thanks for washing my clothes.”
Happy to do it,” she said. She gave Clyde a peck on the cheek as he opened the car door.
You boys be careful going back,” she said hugging herself.
I waved as we backed out the drive.
Bye, now,” I yelled.

She yelled back at me,” Bye! And you enjoy that book, now, you hear?”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Golden, yeah, that's what they said...

When you retire you will be living in your golden years.”
That's what I heard often. I even began to believe it.
I've been retired now for five years. The only gold I have seen is that stream from my bladder to the porcelain bowl at midnight. Then at 1:30 AM. And again at 3 AM. With 5 AM rounding out the night.
What the heck! At 5 AM I figure I might as well get up for the day and see if there will be a golden sunrise. For the last few weeks that has been denied due to the cloud cover.
How about the gold of eggs sunny side up? I've got time. There's no rush to shower and hit the road just to sit in traffic. I have plenty of time to drop and egg or two into the frying pan. Listen to that sizzle. I'll slip the spatula under neath to flip… Nope. It stuck to the pan. Scrambled will have to do. The crumbly bits are sort of gold, well pale yellow will have to do.
Perhaps the coffee can be coaxed into a golden glow with a splash of half & half. Dammit! Too much! Tan. These will be my tan years.
I'd go out to enjoy the golden sunshine while the air is cool and the humidity is low but for the warning of my doctor.
Always use the highest SPF sunscreen before going outside. Not to mention a hat placed firmly on your noggin.”
The golden tube of SPF sunscreen is crinkled up to the cap, so no help there. The chance to give my skin the golden glow of a healthy suntan has to be forgotten for fear of cancerous growth on the old epidermis. I do have a golden straw hat. Perhaps that is part of the gold of the “Golden Years.”
The figurative gold of Social Security is not delivered in a huge pot but through electrons passing from the federal government to my bank account. The glitter and weight of gold falls far short of that which I surrendered to the Federal Government from each o my paycheck for the entire time I worked. Even that these new politicians say is an entitlement to which I may not be entitled.
Really, I guess it makes no nevermind since I'm at the age when my representatives can slip part of my “entitlement” to which I am not really entitled according to them into one of their favorite pork projects or simply into their own pocket through their entitlements which they voted into effect for themselves over the years. Perhaps I should be content to know that I have made their years after congress and the Senate lushly golden.
I will continue to search out these golden tones over the next few years that I have left. All that time I will wonder where the rest of the money I gave up for my Social Security will go after I pass on to the Pearly Gates. I have often wondered that but it is one of those questions that has no answer.

I have to go to the grocery store now. I see they have golden delicious apples on sale. I better get the gold where I can.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

From Gillingham to Singapore

February 13th it was snowing.  It was 1946 and the snow was piling up.
"It's time!" my mother shouted.
"No need to get so loud," said my dad's mum. "Alf, go get the car warmed up."
My granddad knew better than stall both because of my mother's pained expression and my grandmother's command.
"I wish Al were here," my mother lamented. Having to deal with my decision to be born and my grandmother was more than mom wanted.
"In't no use wishin' for what can't be," said dad's mum. "He's in Singapore. You know it so get control of yourself."
Dad swears he knew when I was coming into the world from the very first pain my mother experienced. He laid up in his hammock with sympathy pains during the entire ordeal or so his story goes.
"Get word to Al, please," my mother called out after a severe pain.
"Don't you be worrying about Alf. You concentrate on birthin' that boy," said dad's mum.
Granddad came in grabbing mom's coat on the way to the bedroom.
"Here.  Put this on. It's snowin' heavy. We have to go if we're going to go."
He winced at her pain.
Dad doubled over with the pain. His hammock trembled at his tightening up. His mate looked at him with a cocked eyebrow.
"You better go see the doc," he said.
"No, it's Helen. She's having our son."
"You can't possibly know that," said his mate with a smile on his face.
"Oh but I do," he said holding his abdomen.
"You're barmy." And with that he left to let the other shipmates know.
"I don't know if this old thing will make it," said granddad. "I'm going to call Tom."
They helped mom back inside while granddad nipped up the road to the call box.
The snow whistled around him as he trudged back to the house.
"Tom's on his way," he said closing the door and stamping his feet.
"Come in by the fire," said dad's mum. "You'll catch your death."
Mom was lying down her face contorting in another contraction.
"Oh, she'll be fine," said dad's mum. "They're too far apart to become concerned."
Mom let out a groan.
"Is there something I can do?' asked granddad. "A glass of water? Some sherry?"
Mom smiled at him.
"Sherry might help," she said.
"That's right, booze it up," said dad's mum.
"A little won't hurt. It might even ease the pain a bit," said granddad.
"Piffle," said dad's mum.
Mom took the glass offered by granddad. She sipped it and smiled again at granddad. His smile was as warm as the sherry.
"Where's Tom? He should have been here by now," said grandmother pulling the curtain aside to look out the window. large fat flakes flew by in a torrent.
"How's it look?" asked granddad.
"Like we won't make it if Tom don't hurry," she said letting the curtain fall back into place.
She turned as mom groaned again. Her face became stern. She opened her mouth to say something when they heard the beep of a car horn.
"That must be Tom," said granddad. He rushed to open the door. As he did Tom came up the step and into the doorway.
"How's she doing?" he asked.
"Groaning and crying," said dad's mum. "Come on let's get her into the car."
Granddad draped her coat over her. She pulled it tight as they helped her through the snow and into the car.
"Be careful, Tom. We want to get there," said grandmother.
"Don't worry, mum. We'll be fine. Just watch Helen." He put the car in gear and plowed through the snow that had settled in front of him.
It was a a good ways to Gillingham and the nursing home. When they arrived it was still snowing.
Tom stopped the car. Mom pulled the heavy coat tight around herself. She stepped from the car into a barrage of fat wet snowflakes. Granddad held onto her. They walked together through the doors into the care of a waiting sister.
"Wha' 'ave we 'ere?" says she.
"A pregnant woman in labor," said my granddad a little louder than he meant.
"Now, now. No need to get upset. Pregnant women 'ave been coming in 'ere for as long as I can remember," she said smiling at mom. "Come on, Dearie. let's find you a nice warm bed and a cuppa tea. That'll fix you up."
It was sometime in the evening hours of February 14th, 1946, aboard ship outside of Singapore my dad began to grimace in bouts of pain.
"Look boys. Alf's pains are getting closer together. What's it going to be Alf? A boy or a girl?" his mate said with a laugh. The others near his hammock joined in the laughter.
"You laugh," said dad. "But I know my wife is in labour."
The laughter continued while a grimace grew on his face. He let out a loud groan. Perspiration beaded across his face and he collapsed.
His mates gathered around him. His face was white. A smile gradually spread across his lips.
"It's a boy!"
"Can I hold him?" asked my mother.
"Let us get him cleaned up and then we'll bring him right back." The sister took me away.
Mom lay back on the bed. Granddad dabbed at her face with a moist flannel.
"A boy. What's 'is name going to be?" asked the sister.
"Alfred Frederick Croucher, after his father," said my mother.
"That will be the third," said granddad smiling.
"How do we get in touch with Al," asked mom. "He needs to know."
"I've contacted the Red Cross," said Tom. "They said they will get the message to him as quickly as they can."
In Singapore a few hours later.
"A message for Alf," said one of his mates.
"Read it," said my dad.
"You are the father of a son born this day February 14. Congratulations."
"Well I'm buggud..." His mates looked at him in disbelief.
Dad smiled.
"What did I tell you? A son."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Leap Year 1944

Yesterday was February 29.  So every four years February becomes doubly important to me. This is the day that it is permitted that a woman may pop the question to her man.  It's not so fashionable these days but it proved quite acceptable to my dad in the year 1944.
His ship was hit by one of the first guided missiles brought into play by those pesky Germans in the last great war.  That fateful day was September 13, 1943. That number 13 played a big role in my dad's life. He was born on a 13th and he died on a 13th.
After a temporary patch job the HMS Uganda limped across the Atlantic and into the port of Charleston, SC.  He spent almost a year in this fair city while his ship underwent repairs. He and his mates enjoyed the hospitality of the South while waiting to sail back into the war action.  He began seeing a young lady her on James Island and used to take the city bus out of the city to visit her.
On one of those bus rides all the seats were taken and he grabbed hold of one of the hanging straps to steady himself as he stood in the moving bus. He told me, many years later, that his eye caught sight of a beautiful brunette sitting by the window. An older woman was sitting beside her. He kept glancing her way as she stared out the window. Eventually their eyes met as he glanced over for the umpteenth time. She smiled. He looked away quickly.
At the next stop the woman beside her got up to leave. Dad looked over as she got up and my mother looked at him with a broad grin on her face. He turned away again.
"You know you are welcome to sit her," she said to him.
"Were you speaking to me?"he said bashfully.
"Yes, you can sit here. I won't bite, you know," she said with that smile he found intoxicating.
A smile lit his face as he sat in the adjoining seat. They began to talk while the bus took him closer to the home of his young lady. The telephone pole with the bus stop sign painted on it came up. He rose to leave the bus. To his shock she stood up as well. When their conveyance stopped he was waiting for the door to open so he could leave. She was right behind him.
"I'm not following you," she said. "This happens to be my stop as well."
"Oh," mumbled my dad. "I guess we part ways here then. I will be heading that way." He pointed up the street.
"So am I," she said. "My house is just around that corner."
"May I accompany you?" he asked, smiling.
"You certainly may."
He walked her to her door.
"Well, here we are," she said turning to him.
"Yes, here we are."
"I certainly have appreciated your company," she said hesitating to open the door.
"Um, may I see you again?" Dad said haltingly.
"What about your lady friend you've come to see?"
"It is not what you think."
"Yes? And what do I think?"
"Uh, well... I don't know. I just know I would very much like to see you again." His eyes ducked to the ground then back to hers.
Her smile captivated him once again.
"I would very much like that, too."
They made plans for a future meeting and she finally after a few minutes of silence broke off the entrancement.
"Well, so long, then," she said reaching for the door knob.
"Yes, until we meet again this weekend."
She went inside. He turned to walk back to the road. He stood at the edge of her yard looking at the door. He snapped his lighter shut taking a long drag on his Players. He stood like that with a silly grin on his face for a full five minutes then turned to head back to the bus stop. His girl would have to forget him.
My mother watched him through the curtain. Her face radiated a happiness she had never felt before.
"What are you doing, daughter?" It was my granddad coming from the kitchen. He was surprised by the smile on her face and the sparkle in her eyes.
"I just met the man I'm going to marry." Her statement was emphatic.
"Oh, you've said that before," he said but he noticed a look he had never seen before. He smiled with acceptance his daughter's pronouncement.
"When are you going to bring him to the house to meet with your mother and me?"
"I don't know, poppa, but I will as soon as I can."
Their lives began to intermingle more with each passing date.  The meeting with the parents came up eventually. My granddad liked him immediately. My grandmother, not so much.
"He's a foreigner, Robbie," she said to my granddad after my mother and dad had left for their movie.
"Yes, but a good man. I can tell. Our daughter could not do any better over here. You've seen the boys she has brought around. Nice kids but no one I'd want her to spend her life with."
"He'll want to take her to England when the war is over. What'll we do then."
"Let's not worry about that now. This war is not over. He has to go back to sea and who knows what will happen between now and then. Don't upset yourself so."
My grandmother agreed but the worry never left her.
February arrived and they were still seeing one another. The fourteenth came with all its Valentine ring. Dad offered my mother a wrapped box. She ripped through the wrapping.
"It's a bag," she said.
"Yes, it is. I made it for you," he said a shy smile on his face.
It was blue with a Union Jack on the flap. Inside it was white satin. The beading around the edge was red, white and blue.
"You made it?"
"Yes."
"It's wonderful. Thank you so much."
They kissed.
"You are so welcome," he mumbled in her ear as the hugged.
The day ended with dad walking her home, then returning to the bus for the trip back to the naval base.
"You know he will be leaving as soon as his ship is finished?" My grandmother met her at the door.
"Yes, I do," answered my mother closing the door. "You have to know that I plan to marry him before he leaves."
"No!" stormed my grandmother. "I forbid it!"
"He is the man I will marry!"
It ended there with my grandmother smoldering at the door. The bedroom door slammed.
The fact that it was leap year was the icing on the cake for my mother.
"It's the one time a woman can ask a man to marry her," she told her friend. "On the 29th I'm going to ask him."
"But he's English, ain't he?"
"So? What's the problem with his being English?" asked my mother.
"You gonna go ta England?"
"When the war is over, maybe."
"So you gettin' married before he goes back to sea?"
"I don't know. We'll figure that our when he says yes."
"How you know he'll say yes."
"Because he has to..." answered my mother.
The 29th arrived. It was another movie date. My mother had been practicing asking in her mind for a long time.
When the movie was over she stopped him on the way out.
"Stand right there for a minute," she said hands on his shoulders as much to steady herself as to stop him moving. She looked at him trying to speak as he pulled a cigarette from a pack and lit it.
"I want to ask you..."
Puzzled, my dad watched her. "Yes?"
"I want to ask..."
"Well go on then..." he pushed her.
"I.."
"For heaven's sake, dear, ask away."
"I want to ask you to marry me," she said then caught her breath.
"Wha,,?"
"It's leap year as you know and I can ask so I'm asking. Will you marry me?"
He looked at her.
"Yes, I most certainly will." He grinned taking her into his arms.  "I most certainly will, my darling."
It was settled. They would marry.
Over the months my mother was making plans. My grandmother was still smoldering and objecting. No notice was taken by my mother. Her life was on track, war or no war, they were going to have a life together.
My dad was sent to Philadelphia during this time. My mother was devastated. Dad stayed drunk the entire time he was there. I came across pictures long after this episode of his time in that city. His eyes drooped in his alcoholic haze. I asked why the pictures were cut. My mother looked at them with distaste in her eyes.
"Your dad was drunk and he was staying at a family's home. Their daughter wanted him for a son-in-law. I cut her out of every picture."
When dad came back my grandmother had practically ended my mother's dream.
L H was a good friend of my mother's. Actually, he was in love with her. She had been very unhappy while dad was away. L H was worried about her. Asking what he could do to make her happy, she had answered, "Help me elope."
He told her that he just wanted her to be happy.
"Then help us."
He did just that. He took her to the bureau to get a license then set up the appointment for marriage and collected them together for the ride over to the office. He stood as best man and handed dad the ring when it was called for.
Hand in hand the left the office, stars in their eyes. L H looking a touch weary drove them to my grandmother's to tell them the good news.
They pulled up in the front of the house.  There were bags piled on the lawn. My granddad came out to meet them.
"Hello daughter. Hello son. No need going inside. Your mother won't see you. She's packed your bags and left them here so she doesn't have to see you."
Dad's face heated with anger.
"Let me go talk.."
"No, son. It will do no good. Let me help you get the bags in the car."
Dad looked at the house then turned to the baggage on the lawn. He picked it up and tossed it into the car.
As they got into L H's car granddad came close to the window.
"I love you daughter. So does your momma. She's just really hurt right now. It'll get better."
"She.." dad started.
"No need, son.  I understand. For me, I want to welcome you to the family. My daughter couldn't have found a better man anywhere. You two make a good life for yourselves."
L H drove off. Granddad, looking tired and sad, waved as the truck pulled away.
My dad had to scramble to get my mother on a ship in a convoy headed for England.  She sailed on a battleship in a huge convoy leaving New York. Dad reported to his next assignment and sailed to the South China Sea where he spent most of the remainder of the war and then some.
My mother was met when the ship docked by my dad's family.  granddad took to her immediately. My grandmother never truly did.
And so ends my tale of Leap Year 1944, a fortuitous year for my parents and in the end for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

You gotta have heart


Clyde slipped the bar through the slot releasing the gate. He climbed on the bottom timber to ride it in its arc from the fence. He hopped off onto the dirt road beyond. I was running to catch up. I ran through the open gap and jumped to the road.
“You born in a barn?” Clyde asked.
“What?”
“You left the gate wide open,” he said. “Last one through always closes it. Everybody knows that.”
I looked back to see the gate was almost flat against the fence. There was a wide open space where it used to be. Chickens had begun to run toward the opening hoping to reach the road beyond. They clucked to let their buddies know there were new pickins waiting for them beyond the usually closed fence.
I headed them off at the pass by slamming the gate against the gate post and sliding the board through the slot on the post closing the gate for good, or at least until we came back. The feathered gathering just beyond the newly closed gate clucked disappointment and began to scratch at the dust under their chicken feet.
“You better watch out for that rooster,” said Clyde.
“Huh? Why?”
“He had his heart set on that patch of grass across the road there,” he said.
“Why should that bother me?”
“You're the one who slammed the gate in his face. He had up a head a steam when you flung that gate at him.”
“I didn't aim for him.”
“He dudn't know that,” said Clyde beginning to smile. That smile always brought a twinkle to his eye.
“Well, I ain't afraid of a chicken.” I said that but remembered the two-holer in back and shivered. There were always chickens scratching around the old outhouse when I was sitting on one of those openings in the board. Come to think of it maybe I was afraid of chickens, at least during such moments.
“Don't say I didn't warn you, nef.” The smile was almost complete now and the twinkle was full blown.
He began to walk up the road. I ran to catch up and fell into step next to him.
“What're we gonna do?” I was thinking probably the branch. It was a tiny stream that flowed under the road through a pipe. It was slow moving water just right for wading.
“We're gonna buss op'n a watermelon,” said Clyde. “We just gotta get out of sight of the house.”
“We can't do that!” I shouted. “Granddaddy said stay out of the watermelon patch. He meant it.”
We had received the warning at the breakfast table just a few minutes ago. I was wiping my mouth and Clyde was running toward the door when granddaddy had told him to stop.
“Clyde Lynn! You and Rickey stay out of the melon patch, you hear?” his voice thundered past me.
“Those melons have a few more days before I can harvest them. They're fetching twenty-five cents a melon right now. So don't you go bussing them up in the field.”
“Yessuh,” said Clyde
Grandaddy looked at me.
“Yes sir.”
“Alright. I'm holding you boys to that.”
I put my napkin by my plate. My mother tousled my hair as I got up to join Clyde.
“Listen to your Granddaddy,” she said with a smile.
“Yes ma'am,” I promised.
Those words were still ringing in my ear when Clyde took off in a run.
I ran to catch up again.
He climbed the fence and began to walk the top timber as if it were a tightrope.
“Be careful!” I shouted.
“Pshaw!” he shouted back. “Bet you can't do this.”
It was a challenge. I figured he was right.
He kept looking back toward the house. The old dirt road that led from the front of the farm house to the branch was wide enough for two cars. It was packed without grass growing in the middle like so many old country roads that were simply double ruts, framing a middle row of grass, through a stand of pines.
“Well?” he said.
“Well what?”
“You going to try it or not?” he asked, arms out stretched and feet sliding along on the narrow board. He wobbled occasionally keeping his balance.
“I don't know...”
“Chicken!”
Reluctantly I sidled over to the fence and grabbed the top board which was about three inches above my head. I pulled up and put my feet on the bottom board then climbed to the second holding on tight.
I wasn't sure how to get up onto the top of the fence so I side stepped to the post on my left. I climbed up awkwardly trying to get my knee onto the post. I looked up to see Clyde had continued on. He was three posts further.
I got my feet under me on the post. My hands were on the top board just beyond the post. I clutched at the board inching back and trying to stand. Success.
“I'm standing!” I yelled at Clyde.
“That ain't walking!” he yelled back. He was four posts further. “Now get your balance and slide those feet out in front of you.”
I looked at the narrowness of the board I was to walk on. Then my eyes took in the rest of my predicament. I was on top of the fence. It was taller than me. I froze.
“Buck buck buck BUCK!” Clyde yelled out.
It was up to me. I looked back toward the house. It was small in the distance. Beyond the fence were acres of watermelons. I looked forward, saw Clyde standing on a post looking at me with accusation.
“You gonna walk it or not?”
I screwed up my face and slid one foot forward. The board was limber. It wasn't the solid footing I was anticipating. I slid my other foot behind me.
“No! You'll never make it like that. You gotta walk,” he yelled at me.
I weaved and wobbled stretching my hands out I moved my foot from behind out and over placing it in front on that slim flimsy fence slat. My knees gave. My body leaned to the left but I caught my balance standing upright once again. A smile crept over my face.
“Not bad!” yelled Clyde. “Keep coming.”
Tentatively, I brought my other foot around. I was still OK. Slowly I began to walk.
“I doing it!” I cried. “I'm walking!”
One foot in front of the other, I reached the next post top.
Not bad, I thought.
With my arms outstretched I began to walk a little more quickly reaching the next post in record time. Clyde was only a couple of posts in front of me now. I moved more quickly to the next one. Then he was just in front of me. I stepped out from the post and weaving a bit moved on. As I got midway the board began to move beneath me. I looked up to see Clyde moving it back and forth with his hands.
“Whoa! What are you doing?” I cried out.
“Making it more of a challenge for you,” he shouted.
My balance became more and more precarious. I couldn't stay any longer. I closed my eyes, gave in, and over I went, falling falling into the field side of the fence. I collided with a hard body beneath me which gave way. I lay in a liquid mess. Opening my eyes I saw green rind and red pulp dotted with black seeds.
“Ow,” I said. “That hurt.”
“Oh, get up, cry baby. Look what you did!” said Clyde smiling. “Move over. The heart's mine.”
“Huh?”
He shoved me off the broken watermelon and rammed his hand into the middle of it.
I brushed the dirt of the field off me and rubbed my arm where I had fallen on it. Clyde was shoving a huge red glob into his mouth. Seeds and red pulpy water dripped from his chin.
“Might as well eat some of that watermelon you busted open,” he said reaching into the soft center once more.
“You did that on purpose,” I said.
He just smiled offering me a dripping hand full of innards from the broken melon.
I took it. There wasn't much use now since it was there leaking into the soil. We ate until there was nothing but green rind left. Our faces were covered in watermelon juice and mud from the field.
“You know what's the best part?” asked Clyde.
“What?”
“The heart. You buss 'em open and dig out the heart with your hand.”
“I never had the heart of a watermelon, “ I said.
“Well, you ain't lived. Come on.”
He jumped up and ran through the filed jumping melons along the way. On the far side of the field long out of sight of the house, he stopped.
In front of him was the biggest watermelon I had ever seen. It was a deep green with zigzag striping along its length. The vine to which it was attached was as big as my wrist..
“That's a beauty,” he said. “It's so big we could both have the heart.'
“How are we going to buss it open? I ain't fallin' on it this time,” I said.
“Lemme show ya, nef.”
Clyde picked it up with a grunt. He struggled to lift it above his head. He pushed it as high as his arms would reach. He was shaking with the weight of it. With a shout he flung it to the ground. It split open with a gushing sound. He reached into one side and ripped out a handful of deep red juicy pulp. He held it in front of me.
“Reach into that side and grab like that.” he ordered.
I did. I plunged my fingers deep into the rich redness and with a sucking sound pulled out a hunk of dripping heart the sweetness of which I savored for what seemed ages. Clyde was right. The heart of the watermelon was the best ever. I sat in the dusty dirt with my eyes closed savoring the fruit of our labors.
With my last bite came the guilt.
I looked at the splattered watermelon broken and dribbling into the dirt and in my mind came the command of my Granddaddy.
“What are we gonna do, Clyde?” I asked. I got no answer. He had slipped away.
Spinning my head in all directions I caught sight of him behind me hightailing it to the fence by the road. He was leaving me to catch the blame. NUH Uh, I thought.
I jumped up and ran as fast as I could after him.
He was ducking through the fence when I reached him.
“Why'd you run out on me?”
“You think I want to get caught eating from a bussed up watermelon? You must be crazy.”
“Is Granddaddy on the way out here or something?”
“I don't know. I just wanted to get away without being seen.”
“What about me? You just gonna leave me like that?”
“You're here ain't ya? So I don't guess I left you, did I?”
“Uh, well...”
“Oh knock it off. Let's go wash up in the branch.”
We started of toward the stream.
“What are we gonna do about those two melons we left in the field?”
“Nuttin',”
“What if Granddaddy finds them.”
“Maybe the pigs got into 'em.”
“You think he'll think that?”
“I don't know. I don't figger he'll get around to seeing them til after we are long gone back home.”
I was reluctant but agreed.
“Mebbe..”
We got to the branch and washed the sticky juices and field dirt from our faces and hands. We took our shoes off and kicked sand and water at each other. We sailed sticks down the current. Our morning went quickly. In the distance we heard the dinner bell.
Grabbing our shoes we pounded feet back up the road to the farm. On the steps we put our shoes back on then ran inside slamming the screen behind us. I worked the handle up and down on the water pump while Clyde washed his hands in the cold stream of water flowing from the spout. He returned the favor for me. All cleaned up we marched into the kitchen to sit at table for our midday meal.
Granddaddy kept eying me as I reached for the ham and the chicken along with the biscuit plate. I poured the heavy cream out of the white porcelain jug over my hand sized biscuit. He looked at me steadily as I reached for the syrup. I poured that over the cream soaking into the thick biscuit. Returning the jug to its place on the table I noticed he was still watching me closely. He wasn't smiling. The guilt began to build inside.
I looked at Clyde. He ignored me.
I leaned over and whispered, “He knows.”
Clyde looked at me, annoyed.
I cut into my biscuit fixin's. What'll I say, I wondered, trying to enjoy the meal.
I stewed in my guilt as I chewed my food.
Granddaddy didn't eat much that day. He looked at Clyde then at me. He rose from the table.
“Chores is waitin',” he said placing his napkin beside is half filled plate.
As he walked toward the door he stopped beside me. His hand touched my shoulder.
“You boys have a good morning?” he asked.
“Yes suh,” said Clyde.
“Um, yes sir,” I seconded.
He picked something off my shirt and dropped it into my plate.
“I'm glad,” he said.
I watched him walk through the door then looked at my plate. My eyes focused on the three watermelon seeds he had place there.