My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The once and future knight

The pale gold Corvair was my trusty steed as I drove around town.  It belonged to my mother but I was allowed to use it as often as I liked.  Its color reminded me of a palomino much like Roy’s horse, Trigger.  It was a fine ride and suited my driving efforts nicely. 
This particular day I was a Knight on a mission.  My palomino came to a halt in front of my Lady’s castle.  But wait, it’s kind of a long story.  I have to go back a bit.  Bear with me.  It all began….
“You gonna join any clubs this year?”  My buddy asked this as we walked the breezeway to our next class.  Our sophomore year was fraught with decisions.  Joining clubs was one of the biggest we faced.  It was time to be thinking about college.  On our letters to these colleges we had to have a section devoted to our membership in clubs along with extracurricular activity involvement.
“I asked to join Future Health Careers,” I said.  “You know since I want to go to Med School eventually.”
“Yeah, that would be a good choice.  Are you thinking of volunteering in a hospital for experience?”
I stopped. 
“That’s a great idea,” I said.  “It hadn’t crossed my mind but I guess I better check into that.”  Smiling I started back toward class.
“I don’t really know what I want to do yet,” he said. “ I guess I should just join several clubs if I can fit them in.  Maybe I’ll get some idea where my interests lie.” 
For years he’d talked about studying to preach.
“I thought you wanted to preach?”
“I don’t know.  Lately I’ve been unsure.”
“Joining several organizations here should give you some inkling of what is out there. Try FHC with me.”
After class we checked into some of the meeting times for different clubs.  I went to several different ones along with my buddy. The room we entered was for the first meeting of FTA, or Future Teachers of America.  We found a seat near a window and settled in to listen to the pitch.
“Hello everyone.  I see a lot of new faces today and I’d like to welcome you to the first meeting of the year.  My name is Babs and I am the president of FTA.  We have a good year ahead of us.  I have here a printout of the projected meetings of the year which I would like to pass out.  Could you take these please and pass them back?  Thank you.”
She was short. She was cute. She captured my heart immediately.  I became a member of the FTA.  I had absolutely no intention of becoming a teacher.  My decision was made the moment I set eyes on her.  I sat smiling through the meeting.  I decided to introduce myself as she wound it up.
While the other students were exiting the room I walked to the front and stood while she spoke to a straggler.  She turned to me as the other student shook her hand and walked toward the door.
“Hello…”
“Hello…”
We spoke simultaneously.  I gave her my biggest smile.
“You’re new to the meeting,” she said.
“Yes, I am. I’m Rickey and I wanted to see about joining.  I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching.  This seemed like the right place to be for some preparation for the plunge.”
“Well, yes.  We have a good program, I think, to help prepare the prospective teacher.  What subject would you want to teach?”
Uh oh.  I didn’t have a clue.
“Right now I figured it would be good to see the big picture while I settled into my biggest interest.  I like all subjects about the same with a tendency to lean in the direction of English.  Yeah, I think I would like to teach English.”
“What grade?” She kept asking hard questions.  I hadn’t even thought about any of this.  All I wanted was to ask her out.
“Uh, grade?”
“Yeah, you know like grammar school, middle school, high school or even college.  We have program ideas for all of them and you can never be too prepared for the future.”
Huh? The future? I’d always thought med school.  I only wanted to join this one to get to know her.
“It’s all new to me,” I said trying to get beyond this third degree.  “Maybe we could talk about it over a Hardee burger or something?”
“I don’t think so, uh, Rickey? Is that your name?” she looked at me like I was a sophomore and she was a senior, which was actually the way it was.  Seniors had absolutely no truck with sophomores unless it was to give guidance such as she offered through FTA.
“Yes, Rickey.  I’d really like to …”
“Rickey, I’m a senior.” And that was it.  The door was slammed.
“Maybe you will change your mind,” I replied.
She smiled.
“I hardly think so.”  With that I was dismissed.  She gathered her things and departed.  I watched her walk away.  It was mesmerizing.  I decided to change her mind.
The next meeting would be in week.  I would definitely be there.
The week dragged by.  I didn’t bother to attend the Future Health Careers meeting that same week.  I skipped it to attend FTA and its main attraction for me, Babs.
“Are you going to FTA?” I asked my buddy.
“I don’t know.  It doesn’t seem likely I’ll ever teach.”
I looked at him wanting him to go with me.
“Give it another try,” I half begged.
“Might as well,” he said.
We arrived as the meeting was being called to order.  She was at the front of the room again.  Her eyes caught mine.  I smiled.  She didn’t.  I found a chair in the frosty room.  She hardly looked at me the entire time she spoke.  The hour was nearly over.  I grew more discouraged.
“OK, one last thing.  We will have a Donut Sale to raise money for our club.  Next Friday Krispy Kreme will deliver 300 dozen donuts to us here at the school.  That will be ten dozen apiece for each of our thirty members.  They are only fifty cents a dozen of which we will receive twenty cents to put in our koffers.  Please don’t skip that meeting.  We need each of you to sell your ten dozen.  So I repeat, please don’t miss next Friday’s meeting.”
As we began to sidle out the door I nodded to my buddy that I’d follow shortly.  I sidled over to the desk where she was gathering her books.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi. Rickey, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said a little startled she had to ask.  “I thought I’d offer my help if you needed any with the donut drive next week.”
“All you need to do is show up and collect your dozen donuts.” And with that she was out the door.
“Man, she certainly put you in your place,” said my friend.
“I guess she did, but we’ll see about that eventually.”
“She’s a senior.  You don’t have a chance.”
“I don’t count myself out yet.”
The week went by slowly once again.  When Friday came around we made our way to the meeting.  Outside was the Krispy Kreme truck.  The driver was unloading the donuts for us to pick up.
The room was only about three-quarters full when we got there.  She was up front taking a head count as we walked in looking for a seat.
I watched her hoping to catch a glance of a smile, or simply recognition, but she continued counting.  Her frown became more pronounced as she began to realize several members had decided to skip this meeting.
A few others meandered in to take a seat.
“Alright, I guess we had better settle down and begin.  Perhaps the others are just a little late.”
She covered last week’s minutes and launched into the new business.  Every few minutes she would glance toward the door but it remained vacant.
“It appears no one else is coming.  Their decision not to attend makes this difficult.  I’m going to ask each of you to take more than the ten dozen donuts you were to be issued.  We have to pay Krispy Kreme for every dozen stacked on the table on the breezeway.  So I’m asking you to please pick up more than ten each.  I’m sorry to have to ask it.  I’m responsible for all of them so please help me and the club out.”
She dismissed us.  We were to go to the table to collect the boxes we would be selling.
Her anxiety was evident when I moseyed to the front.
“Can I help you with anything?”  I reached for her books which she snatched up.
“Yeah, you want to sell three hundred boxes of donuts?”
Before I could answer she was gone heading for the table to record who took what.
“Come on,” I said to my friend.  “Let’s get the car and collect those donuts.”
We drove around the building to the front breezeway to gather up our boxes.  The table was piled high with green and white containers.
“We’re here to pick up our donuts,” I said leaning the seat forward to make room.
We gathered ten apiece and stacked them in the back seat.  I walked over to her.
“I’ll take another ten,” I said.  “It shouldn’t be too hard to sell them.”
I gathered another ten.  Her face softened and a smile inched across. The other students were lining up behind me to pick up their charges.
“Well, I guess I better go sell these.  I hope the rest are taken care of.”  I smiled as I climbed into the car.  She smiled back.  “I’ll bring the money to your house.”
It was no problem finding her house since I had followed her home one day.  She lived in the Terrace.  I would always remember the house.
My buddy and I circled the neighborhood going door to door selling donuts.  It was Friday afternoon and everyone was happy to buy something for dessert.  I had some who gave the money but refused the donuts after they found out about the organization.  They were always happy to help they would say.
“I finished selling all of mine,” said my buddy.  “Could you drop me off now?”
“Don’t you want to help sell the rest of these?”
“I think twenty boxes apiece is more than our share.” 
“OK.  I’ll take your money since I’m going to her house.”
He handed me ten dollars.
“It won’t do you any good.  She’s a senior.” He shook his head as he got out.
“Thanks but I like her.  I gotta try.”
It was a short ride to her house.  My pocket was weighted down with coins as I jangled to the door.  On her porch sat boxes and boxes of donuts.  I rang the doorbell.
I saw the tears as the door slowly opened. 
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“I don’t know what to do.  I’ve got so many boxes of donuts left.  No one will come to pick them up.  I’ve called every member but they all have excuses.  I don’t know what to do.”  She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
“First of all don’t cry about it.  We’ll get those boxes sold if it takes all weekend.”
I opened the door and surveyed the scene. In my mind I pushed back the visor on my shining chrome helmet, blew the scarlet plume from my eyes and stooped to gather up the boxes of glazed donuts.  My suit of armor clanked as I carried them to my trusty steed.  My joints squeaked as I bent to place the containers in the back seat. I carried all of them to my trusty palomino. The back was stuffed from seat to ceiling with sealed boxes of glazed confections.
 I looked back at my damsel in distress. The silky blue gauze attached to the high   peaked hat waved rhythmically in the breeze.  Her left hand clutched at her heart as her right hand wiped a tear from her eye with the kerchief entwined in her fingers. I blew her a kiss, flipped the visor down and mounted my golden palomino.  We were off to whisk away the fears of our lady fair.
I parked my car, gathered several boxes of donuts from the back seat and marched along the street turning into each driveway determined to sell at least one box at each address.  The work was steady and the sales were good.  The sun was descending behind the trees when I sold the last box.  It was time to return to her house. 
I had placed the proceeds for the sales into one of the empty cartons, one which I had emptied gathering my strength to sell, sell, sell.  The coins and bills might be sticky from the sugary glaze residue but it didn’t matter.  I had sold every box.  If that didn’t impression my lady fair then nothing would.
As I reached for the bell the door opened.  She stood there, eyes no longer over flowing with tears.  Her face lit up with the grandest smile I could have imagined.
“You sold them all? You are my knight in shining armor,” she touched my cheek then kissed that spot.

My face lit up to match the scarlet plume attached to my helmet atop my shoulders.  She did not have to tell me I was her knight in shining armor. I already knew it. Our future was to be rosy in Camelot.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Latin Lover

When I was a fourth grader I decided one day on the playground, “I’m gonna be a doctor.”
Actually it was decided when I wrote an essay about science and what it meant to me.  I wrote that my lust for knowledge would lead me down the path to becoming a doctor. 
“Where did you come across that word?” asked my mother. “How do you know what it means?”
“It means a real strong need to learn about the sciences,” I answered.  “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  I didn’t think you knew what it meant,” she said.
“Yes ma’am.  I’m going to study hard and make sure I get into a medical school.  I want that most of all.”
“It’s a good goal, sweetheart.”
That was my mother’s first inkling of what my future plans would be.  It cropped up again when I got to seventh grade.
I was a seventh grader walking the halls and breezeways of JIHS.  I never considered it to be junior high.  Heck no.  I was attending James Island High School so I was a high school student.  And on top of that I was told I could take first year Latin, a genuine high school course, in seventh grade.  Yeah, I was definitely a high school student because only a bona fide high school student could take Latin since it was normally taken in the ninth grade.
“Mom!”  I yelled when I saw her after school. “They are letting me take my first year of Latin in the seventh grade.  It’s an honor for a student like me to take a ninth grade course.  It’s something I will need in medical school.”
“Oh my,” she said.  “My son, the doctor, is on his way with his first course on the road.  I’m so proud of you. “
Her smile made me burst with pride.
  Latin was not an easy course.  I had to spend a lot of time at home memorizing as well as conjugating verbs and constructing sentences.  It was hard but I stuck to it and learned all I could simply because I felt the honor of the chance.
“Rickey, I’d like to commend you on your hard work.  We decided to try this out with students fresh in from grammar school to see how it would work.  You certainly have applied yourself.  It shows me and those who gave all of you this chance that it was a good idea.”
It was Mrs. Seabrook who was talking to me this way after class.  I was beaming with pride at the praise she gave me.
“It’s my first step toward medical school,” I said, my face flushed.
“It’s a good step.  Your willingness to learn it so well is a good indication of what a good doctor you will make.  But don’t forget to have fun as well.”  She was looking at me as if I was too dedicated.
“I do, Mrs. Seabrook.  I just want to do my best.”  I wasn’t trying to make brownie points.  I was completely sincere.
“Alright,” she said.  “You do know about the Roman Forum coming up at the end of the year don’t you?”
“I heard something about it but don’t really know what it is exactly.”
“It’s the Latin class’s chance to have some fun.  We have the “Roman citizens” made up of the second and third year students and you first year students who will be sold at the forum as slaves.”
I squirmed in my seat.
“Slaves?  That doesn’t sound like much fun for us first year students.”
She saw my frown of concern.
“Oh, no.  It’s nothing to be worried about.  It’s a fun thing we do to get into the minds of our Roman ancestors.  We learn about the culture by play acting.”
“Yes ma’am but slaves?  I don’t really want to be a slave.”
“There is no harm in it.  It is all done in fun.  Nobody takes advantage of it.”
“So we all have to be involved?”
“Yes you do.  It’s part of the grade.”
And there you have, I thought, it isn’t all book learning.  There is participation.  Participation wasn’t something I was good at but I was told I had no choice. 
That afternoon I saw Clyde.
“Hey Clyde,” I yelled at him.
“Hey, nef.  What’s up?”  He was reaching into the refrigerator for a coke.
“Did you take Latin with Mrs. Seabrook?”
“Naah.  What would I take Latin for?  Isn’t that a dead language?” He flopped onto the couch in front of the TV.
“That’s what they say.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just wanted to find out about that Roman Forum thing.”
“Well I don’t know what you are talking about but Carole might.”
 Carole was the girl he was dating.  She was gorgeous.  She reminded me of Barbara Stanwick and I was crazy about her but way too young plus she was Clyde’s girl.
“You think you could ask her about it?  I’m going to be sold as a slave.  I’m not crazy about that idea.”
“How about get some chips from the kitchen for me?  I’ll call Carole and ask her about it.”
I quickly ran to the kitchen to procure the bag of chips.  He was dialing when I got back.  He took the chips.  I hovered over him.
“Hello, baby,” said in his Big Bopper tone.  “Whatcha doin?”
He motioned for me to get him another coke while he listened to her answer.
I scampered off to the kitchen for another coke.  He took it without looking up.
“Uh huh. Yeah. Say, honey, my nef wants to know about the..what was it?...the Roman Forum thing…uh huh.  Aren’t you taking Latin?”
He nodded at me.  She did.  He motioned for me to hand him a pencil and pad.
“Yeah.  He said something about being a slave.”
He nodded at me again.
“Any advice for him?  He seems worried.”
He nodded again. He motioned that the bag of chips was empty then pointed toward the kitchen.  I ran to the cupboard and pulled a second bag of chips out.  He took it from me frowning.  He handed it back with that frown.  I tore it open for him.
“Yeah, he’s right here.  She wants to talk to you,” he said handing me the phone.  He reached into the bag as I took the phone from him.
“Hello, Rickey?”
She was going to talk to me.  I had to sit down.
“Uh…yeah.  Hello,” I stuttered.
“Rickey are you taking Latin?”
“Uh huh.”
“Aren’t you in the seventh grade?”
“Uh huh.”
“You must be pretty smart to be taking Latin in the seventh grade.”
“Uh huh.”  My sparkling wit was definitely impressing her.
“You want to know about the Roman Forum and the slave auction, right?”
“Uh huh.”
“It’s nothing to be afraid of.  It’s actually fun.”
“Uh huh.”
“Can you meet me in the lunch room tomorrow?”
“uh…uh…”
“Hello, Rickey?  Can you hear me?”
“Uh huh,” I gulped. “I..I..I can meet you.”
“Good.  I can tell you all about it.  Maybe we can figure a way so I can buy you as a slave.”
“Uh HUH!”
Clyde was looking at me.
“She wants to talk to you again.”
“About time.  Do you know where the peanuts are?”
“Uh huh,” I said without thinking.  My eyes were filled with visions of being a slave to this beautiful girl.
“Well?” he said.
“Huh?”
“Would you go get the peanuts?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.”  I flew back into the kitchen and opened the cupboard door.  The jar of peanuts was on the shelf.  I grabbed it and floated back into the front room.   Clyde grabbed it. He stayed on the phone while I went to the back to study.
The next day I was a complete bundle of nerves.  How was I going to talk to a Goddess from Mount Olympus.  She was My Roman Goddess who would own me body and soul in the next few weeks.
Lunch time arrived and I walked slowly to the lunchroom.  I wasn’t sure how to approach someone so far above me.  As I opened the door she called out to me.  I waved and hurried over.  She pulled a chair next to her.  I sat down awestruck.
“Rickey I want you to meet my friends,” she said.
She named them all but I only had eyes for her.  Nodding, I told them I was pleased to meet them.
“Rickey is taking Latin.  He’s going to be auctioned off as a slave at the Forum.”
“I want you to buy me,” I mumbled.
She looked at me and smiled.
“Yes, that is the plan,” she said with a laugh.  “The problem is that each slave is brought in covered by a sheet so that no one can know who they are.”
“How will you know it’s me so you can bid?” I began to panic.  There was a chance someone besides the Goddess I worshipped here before me would not know to bid on me.
“I think I have it figured out, Rickey.”  She was smiling directly at me.  I saw her deep green eyes covered partially by a lock of golden hair.  I asked her to repeat what she had just said.
Her plan was a good one.  She asked me to dance with a vigorous swaying of my hips so that she would know that it was me. 
I agreed.
“That will be my sign to bid on you.  We will have fun.”
“Oh boy, Howdy,” I whispered.
The Forum wasn’t for a couple of weeks.  I practiced my hoola hoop swaying so I could not be mistaken for anyone else until the night of the event.  We were told to dress up in togas which meant we used an old sheet that could be cut to size.  I found an old pair of sandals that set off the short sheet toga.  With one last touch, an old rope to cinch up the waste, I was ready.
My mother dropped me off at the school.  The slave auction was to be held in the school library.  I took myself through the chilly evening air to the front entrance.  Inside the doors all of us first year students stood waiting for the auction to begin.  We were all nervous and chilly in our thin short togas so we danced around to keep warm. 
Suddenly Mrs. Seabrook was standing in the door of the library yelling out, “Claudi os!”
The gentle rumble of whisperings and chatter immediately ended.  Everyone’s attention was focused on our Latin teacher.
“I need all of you to line up here at the doorway.  Before you enter to be sold as slaves you will be draped with a sheet to cover your identity.  Someone will lead you into the room and place you before the Romans who will bid on you.  Are there any questions?  If not then please line up.”
We all shuffled over to make a line.  The first person was covered in a sheet and lead inside the library.  There was much shouting as the auctioneer began to bidding.
“The slave is all yours!” said the auctioneer after which there was an evil cackle from the Roman buyer.
The time passed quickly as I made my way to the door.  When I reached the doorway a sheet was thrown over me.  My arm was gripped firmly.  I was lead to the auction block. 
As I walked I decided to put a heavy swing into my step hoping my Goddess would see me.  The person leading me in faced me forward.
“Here is a male of short stature but quick mind.  Who will bid a quarter?”
“Here! I give ten cents!”
It was a male voice.  Panic rose in me.  I began to sway as if I had that hoola hoop rolling on my hip.
“Be still!” ordered the auctioneer.  “Be still I say!”
The Romans began to laugh.
“It appears this specimen is a dancer!  What am I bid for such entertainment?”
I felt a slap on my arm as I began to put my hips into an industrial gyration.
“I’ll bid one dollar!” It was another deep voice, no Goddess that.
That baritone inspired my fanny wiggle to hyper movement for which I received another slap on the arm accompanied with a warning.  “Be still heathen!”
But I could not be still as I heard another bid offered in a gravelly voice decidedly not my Goddess.
This time I produced a wild shaking of my rear end producing a billowing of the sheet from side to side.
The laughter grew making the bidding difficult to hear.  The price was up to two dollars yelled out by voices which came from prominent adams’ apples.
I tried to say something, “It’s me dammit!”
 It was nipped in the bud by the auctioneer.  Then it occurred to me, what if she isn’t even here?  I stopped my movements and stood stone still.  It’s over, I thought.  No Goddess for me.
“I bid three dollars,” said a heavenly voice I recognized.
“SOLD!” said the seller of slaves.  “Take this wiggle worm away!”
The sheet was ripped from me.  I blinked to see my Goddess shell out three dollars for my week’s slavery.  She smiled at me and took the chain attached to my neck leading me out of the Slave Mart.
“I wiggled as hard as I could.  I didn’t think you would ever bid on me.”
“It was that last burst of movement that finally caught my eye, Rickey.  That sheet didn’t sway much with your moving in the beginning.  It was that last sashaying that finally got that sheet to move enough that I knew it was you.”
“So do I owe you three dollars?” I asked thankful to be slave to such a one.
“Heavens no, slave.  You’re going to work it off.”

I followed her around like a puppy with her books, her purse, her lunch and on and on.  I worked hard for my owner.  It was a special time for me.  Never before, nor since, have I enjoyed taking orders so much.  It was all I ever hoped for as a slave. 

SNow 6-1029

“SN 6-1029,” I said.
“Huh? What’s that?”
“That was the first phone number in my parents’ house in the late 50’s.”
“What’s the SN stand for?”
“The number of people wanting phone service increased quickly in the 50’s and it was an attempt to increase the phone numbers from the 5 digits previously used.”
“Why not just increase the numbers? Why letters?”
“I think they wanted to give an idea of certain areas of the tri-county.  SN, or Snow, was James Island and the surrounding area.  There were others but I just cannot remember what they were.  I think GA, or Garden, was one. Initially they had used SO, or South, for James Island but too many people dialed the number zero for the letter O.  So they changed it to Snow.”
“Seems kind of dumb to me that letters were used instead of numbers.”
“Yeah, looking back, I think so too. I guess they had to utilize the letters included with the numbers on the dial so they could justify them. I was a kid of 10 or 12 when my folks got our phone.  It hung on the wall by the window in the kitchen in the cracker-box home we rented on Lindberg Street.  It was painted pink.  A friend once told me that traveling salesmen loved pink houses because inevitably the occupants of a pink house would buy anything.  He never met my dad, however.”
“So why are you telling me this?”
“You mean about the phone number?”
“Yeah.”
“I don’t know.  Probably because I still remember our phone number from nearly 60 years ago. “
“That is weird.  Do you remember what you had for dinner yesterday?”
“Nope.”
“Hmmm.”
“We had rotary dials that made a distinct sound as the wheel returned to its fixed position.  It took a little more time to dial a number.  Incidentally, we still say dial even though we punch the numbers now.”
“I wondered why.”
“Wonder no more, youngster.”
“Ours was a party line up through the early 60’s.  We moved from the cracker box to a newly constructed home my dad had contracted.  We lived there for three years continuing a party line.  Dad had called to order a private line but had never received it.  I called one day when I was home alone, this was right after my voice finally changed, and demanded they send someone to install a private line since it had been ordered two years previously.  It worked because a lineman came out the next day to give us our non-party line service.”
“You called saying you were the man of the house?”
“Yup.  Puberty has its advantages.”
“So you got a telephone that was free of other subscribers?”
“I did.  I called my sweetie right away.  I didn’t realize hers was a long distance number.  I caught it at the end of the month when the bill came in.”
“Didn’t your dad give you some slack since you got the people out to install the private line?”
“Are you kidding me? I never told him I did that.”
“Why not?  I’d think he’d have given you the benefit of providing the new service.”
“Shows how much you know.  He’d have been upset with me because I had pretty much lied to the operator telling them I was him.  Also, he would have had me to blame for the increase in the bill since a party line is cheaper.  I wasn’t about to let him know I called them.”
“Weird.  He’d have punished you?”
“There would have been some form of punishment for sure.  He wouldn’t have considered that creative.  In his view I would had overstepped my bounds.  If he’d known, there would have been a curfew or a grounding.  He’d have found some way to show me I had been wrong.”
“So he never knew?”
“I can’t say that.  He was my dad and he often knew things I would have sworn he could never have known.”
“So if he knew something but it wasn’t you who told him, then he didn’t punish you?”
“Yeah.  Here’s an example.  I hid a bottle of rum in my desk.  My room was mine and he always respected my privacy in my room without my asking.  When I was out one evening he was searching for a church key.  He went into my room to check if I had one.  During his search he found the rum in my desk but never told me that he had.”
“Um…”
“Yes?”
“Why did he need a key to get into a church?”
“No, no.  A church key was the name we gave to a beer can opener.”
“What’s a beer can opener?  There are tabs to pull on beer cans.”
“Yeah, now.  Back then we needed a special opener to cut into the top of beer cans.”
“So why did they call them church keys?”
“Some say because it resembled the look of the old large keys needed to open church doors behind which the monastery brewed the beer.  I don’t really know.  The definition seems to be guess work to most people.  Anyway, he never told me about that.”
“But to get back to the phone that is a steadfast memory, SNow 6-1029, I think, because it was our first phone.  We had to memorize our phone numbers then.  When I committed that thing to memory it was put there to last.  What good it does me now is a mystery but it is embedded.”
“Like so much useless knowledge you carry around.”
“Well, when I was making my way through my world that knowledge was not so useless.  Some things have passed out with the generation before mine and so much will pass with mine.  I kind of think it’s sad.  So much knowledge has come and gone.  Essential stuff when it was needed for life at certain time and age.  Now so much has disappeared as though it had never been.  It is so strange that what was thought to be important then has no bearing on life today.  I wonder what is important to you that will be unimportant to your kid’s generation?”
“Who cares?”

“I do but that is neither here nor there now.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Think of them as littul cabbages

“Can I go, please, mom? Can I?” It wasn’t often I begged like that but this time it was something I wanted very badly.
“I don’t know, sweetheart.  We’ll have to ask your father,” was my mother’s reply.  It was the knell of doom.  All things had to go through my dad.  His was the final word on all things family.  On the average my chances were one-hundred-to-one against or that had been my reckoning.
“That means no,” I said deflated from the high of securing my momentary strongest desire.
“We don’t know that yet.  I’ll ask him.  Perhaps he will surprise you,” she said smiling down at me.
“It’s this Friday, mom.  I need to tell him,” I reminded her.
“I know.  I’ll ask but don’t rush me.  I have to bring it up at the right moment.”
That was it, the right moment, the most propitious moment, a moment seldom found in my short memory.  It was dependent upon dad’s mood or his experience at work or if he was interrupted in his day’s flow.  If he was disturbed while he was doing something or thinking of doing something or just thinking through a problem to complete something  it could spell the death of any plan mom or I might have.
“Maybe I should just let him know I can’t.” The dejection in my voice could not be missed.
“Now don’t say that.  Just give me a chance.”  She was smiling again reaching for the brown hair atop my head.  Giving it a tousle she said, “I have a good feeling about it.”
I shook my head from beneath her hand and walked over to the corner to sulk.  She watched me aware of the numerous disappointments in my brief life.  For me, asking my dad was the stone wall of childhood so I found a book to lose myself in.
I spent some time in my book unaware of the clock’s ticking until I heard dad’s car door slam.  Uh oh, I thought.
“Dad’s home!  Will you ask him now?” I was shouting.
My mother put her finger to her mouth asking me to hush.
“Don’t rush me,” she said.  “All in good time.”
I ran to the door.
“Hey dad!  How was your day at work?” Unintentionally I was yelling in my enthusiasm to find out which way the wind was blowing.
“Not now, son,” he said.  There was no smile on his face.  It was over.  Once again I headed for the corner and my book.
Dad dropped his lunchbox on the table and gave my mother a peck on the cheek.
“Sit down, dear and I’ll make a pot of tea.”  She took his jacket and hung it on the peg by the door.  She handed him the paper which he took with a weak smile.
I was watching him from the corner of my eye as he opened the front section of the News and Courier.  He was hidden from my view now by the paper wall.
“Rough day?” mom ventured into the quiet.
“Mmm,” was my dad’s reply.
The kettle let out a loud whistle to alert everyone to its boiling contents.  My mother lifted the kettle to the tea pot splashing the bubbling water into its empty belly.  She replaced the kettle on the burner.  It immediately screamed its protest as my mother swished the water in the pot around and out into the sink.  She dropped the tea bags into the pot and carried it to the burner where she emptied the contents of the kettle over those fresh tea bags.  Tetley tea bags.  Not those bitter Louisiana tea bags.  That choice had been settled years before.
With the pot ,beneath a brightly colored tea cosie, placed on the table she retrieved the cups and saucers putting them on the table.  She pulled the milk from the fridge and stood it beside the pot.  It was added to the cups before the tea was poured.
“There, all set,” said my mother.  “Rickey, come get a cuppa tea while I put dinner on.”
She waved me over with her hand, closing it except for her index finger which she brushed across her lips.  I knew that was the signal to be quiet.  Not disturbing my dad was of primary importance in our house.  I knew the score and sat quietly waiting for the tea to draw.
When mom had the pots and pans filled with the evening’s supper she slipped over to the table.
“Tea, dear?” she asked in dad’s direction.
“Ta,” came the response from behind the front section of the paper.
My mother splashed a bit of milk in dad’s and my cup.  She poured the tea into our two cups then into her half cup she poured the brown liquid without the aid of milk.  She preferred it black.
I sat watching the paper behind which my dad was in deep thought about the news in the world.
I looked over at my mother knowing what I would see.  She was shaking her head ever so slightly which meant, do not disturb your father.  Knowing this might take a long time I poured my tea into my saucer as I had seen my granddad do with his coffee.  I lifted the saucer blowing on the surface to cool the liquid just enough to sip.  With the saucer levelled at my lips I made a loud slurping sound.  That sound brought the page in front of me to a diagonal opening from which appeared my dad’s face in search of the source of that noise.
“What are you doing, son?” His disapproving look stared at me.
“I was drinking my tea like Granddaddy drinks his coffee.  It cools a lot faster this way.” I said all this hoping it would be an acceptable reason.
“Well don’t.  We don’t drink our tea that way.  It is drunk from the cup.”  With those words he shook the paper back into the paper wall.  I was left with my saucer half full in front of my face.  I tried to drink it without any further noise.  After finishing what was left I slipped my saucer beneath my cup once again.
It was a point against me. I could tell by the look my mother was giving me.
The paper rustled as dad turned the page.
“Could I have a cookie with my tea?” I asked hopefully.
“It’ll spoil your supper.” The words flew from behind the paper curtain.
Again my mother shook her head slowly at me.
I sat forward and drank down my remaining tea so I could slip back to the corner and my book.
A few pages into my story my mother called over to me. 
“Rickey, time to eat.”
I closed my book and quietly returned to the table.  It was left over roast beef, mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts.  I hated brussel sprouts beyond any other green food. 
“I want to see you eat your greens tonight, son,” said my dad folding the paper.
“Do I have to?  I hate brussel sprouts.”
“No matter,” said my dad.  “We all have to do things in this world we hate.  It’s time you realized it and faced up to it.”
Doomed. 
“Yes sir,” I answered automatically.
Mom and dad finished their plates.  I sat there fork in hand swirling the speared chunk of roast beef around and around in the mashed potatoes while staring at the untouched brussel sprouts.
“Don’t forget your greens,” dad said as he got up from the table.
Mom dropped the dishes into the sink.  She opened the tap to pour water over them since she wouldn’t wash the dishes until they were all ready to be cleaned.  She knew I would be a while.
She touched my shoulder as she passed me to go into the other room to be with dad.
I had given up hope that my request would ever be voiced much less approved by my dad. I continued making swirlies in my potatoes as I chewed the reheated roast beef.
The voices in the other room were merely murmurs to me as I stabbed my first “little cabbage” as dad called them.  I scrunched my face as I shoved it into my mouth.  My mouth stayed open until I resolved to bite down into it.  There it was that awful bitter taste squirting across my tongue.  Quickly I reached for the teapot and poured it black into my cup.  Tea poured over my face as I gulped it down.  Even that did not wash away the hated taste fast enough.
The ordeal of the first sprout had kept me from hearing the murmurs from the other room increase in volume.  My mother had broached the subject.  Dad was not in favor, I could tell.
My self-torture could wait I decided.  My fate hung in the balance as the voices grew  ever louder from the other room.
It was my dad that became loud enough for me to hear words distinctly.
“NO.  He has a perfectly good bed here at home.  Why should he want to go to someone else’s house to sleep?”
There it was.  My dad would not let me spend the night at my friend’s house.
“He’s a friend who has invited our son to come over for a night’s sleep over.  It’s what friends do.” My mother’s voice was louder now.
“Not when I was a child!”
“You’re not a child any longer.  Your son is.  You lived in England.  He’s in America and just wants to go over to a friend’s house for the night.  Friends do that these days in America.”
“I’m against it.  I don’t know why he wants to go to a stranger’s house to sleep.”
“I talked to the parents.  They are nice people, no longer strangers.”
“I don’t know them!” yelled dad.
“Of course you don’t.  You’re always wrapped up in your job!”
The house went silent. 
It was a sign that I should finish those horrid little cabbages.  I poured tea into my cup along with milk this time.  I counted six of the dreaded objects.  I popped in three and chewed quickly.  Two gulps of tea washed them down.  I gasped for air.  Only three more.  I poured the last of the tea into my cup and had it at the ready.
I pushed the last ones into my mouth and chewed.  The gag reflex was triggered and they almost flew across the room.  Tea to the rescue!  With two more gulps they were finally forced down into my stomach.  I pushed my plate away and lay my head on the table.
The murmurs began again.  I strained to hear but it was impossible.
I sat in my chair with my head on the table. Thirty minutes passed by.  I was beginning to doze as my mother’s hand touched my shoulder.
“Your dad says you can go,” she said with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes.
“You mean it!” I shouted.
She nodded her head in affirmation.
“You should go thank him,” she said quietly.
“Yes ma’am!” I said jumping up from my chair.
I ran to where dad was sitting in the other room.  He was gazing out the window deep in thought as I approached.
“Thank you, daddy.  Thank you.  I ate all my brussel sprouts!” I added.
He turned to me. His eyes glistened.  I smiled at him for a long time as he just looked at me without a word.
Finally he said, “You’re welcome, son.  I just want you to behave while you are over there.  It’s nice to be asked to someone else’s home.  It’s an honor I never received when I was your age.  We were very poor as all our acquaintances were.  There was never enough room or food…  I…  The times, the conditions…  I’m sorry, son.   I don’t mean to….  Well, you go on to your friend’s.  Enjoy yourself.”
I had no idea what dad was talking about.  I just knew I was going to spend the night at my friend’s house.
“I will!” I yelled and jumped up and down with joy.

“Alright, son.  Calm it down now.”  His smile was different this time.  I tried to understand but the excitement of his saying yes overcame me.  With a hoot I ran to tell my mother I was going to spend the night at my friend’s as if she didn’t know it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Who was that masked man?

I just watched the new LONE RANGER movie.
I shouldn't have.
I think it was supposed to be a comedy.  It might have worked if the hero was some made up doofus.
Clayton Moore's version, I suppose, is square, to use an old term, for this modern world.
As kids we appreciated the Lone Ranger as a standard.
This new generation's idea of that standard shows how much we have changed as a society.  There is no standard to look up to.
It just made me sad.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Life is but a dream

It was a fat cat lying in my arms staring up at me anticipating a tummy rub.  I denied that impulse by lowering her to the ground for release.  As my arms opened for her to slide to the ground she turned away and was no longer a cat but my granddaughter who looked behind me and said, “Grandmommy!”
Kyndall, who suddenly appeared in front of me, looked but grandmommy was not there.  Kyndall cried huge tears. The weight of my granddaughter disappeared as I looked in the direction my mother was supposed to be.
As I turned my body there me sat my parents.
“What happened to the furniture?” I asked noticing that the chairs were gone and the room was nearly bare.
“It’s gone,” said my dad.  “We have had it replaced with these pieces.”
“I don’t want them to be gone!  I liked the room the way it was.  Why wasn’t I consulted?”
Without giving them a chance to answer I kicked the nearest chair with all my might and yelled, “I HATE CHANGE!”
I slammed the door as I hastened through it.
“Wait,” I thought.  I went back to the door and opened it.  Inside the room was silence.  Inside those four walls sat two bare chairs. 
“Why?”  I stood alone in the silence.  “Why, with the chance to see my folks alive and well, did I scream defiance at them?”
  I was consumed with me and what I wanted.  Here was a chance to see my parents and to welcome them back with tears of joy, but I threw it away.

Have I always been this selfish?  It’s a question that has haunted me just as those faces in my dream have done.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

From Rose to Hazel to a summer job

“Eh, What’s up Doc?”
It was my boss speaking to me as he passed by. 
The Charleston Rubber Company had hired me on for another summer.  I was surprised since they had given my dad his walking papers a couple of months before.  The reason they gave was his inability to give his full attention to the job.  The job was over a hundred miles away in Clover, SC.
The move to this new plant was a promotion he was told.  He accepted it but let it be known that he would commute since I was in my senior year in high school.  He refused to uproot his family by moving at this time.  He may have had a premonition that this upgrade was the first step in asking him to leave. 
My dad was a strong willed honest man who gave his all to any task he was given in every job he had ever had. 
When he worked at Armour Star, his boss told a customer that my dad was the only man he knew who was honest.  He added that he could leave a million dollars on his desk over any weekend dad worked without worrying that dad and the money would be gone on Monday.  Honest as the day is long was his final word.  Dad had a reputation for honesty but it was accompanied with his speaking his mind.  This trait often brought trouble around his neck since most men don’t want to hear the truth. 
His work ethic was the reason he was always put on salary.  No one wanted to pay him overtime.  He stayed until his job was done to near perfection.  It meant long hours, which a salaried person could put in, for a fixed payment every week.  They always assured dad this move was a promotion.  He only cared that he was able to do the work to his standard.  Money was not the object. 
At the meat packing plant he was finally put on the night shift because his spoken thoughts about some practices were heard by the wrong people.  On nights he was not liable to meet such people, thus the problem was solved.  He was also told the position of manager at the plant in Winston-Salem, NC, would be his in the near future.  He was happy about that promise and took on the night shift with a forward looking eye.
He promised us we would visit the plant on our way to Ohio for a vacation.  We were going to visit a Navy buddy of his who lived in Cleveland.  Our trip started late on the first day.  We arrived in the city of Winston-Salem long after dark.
“This is it, dear,” said mom.  “Shouldn’t we find a motel so we can visit tomorrow?”
“Yes, we’ll ride a ways out of town so we can get a fresh start tomorrow.  Be on the lookout for a place to stay when we pass the city limits.  After we get settled we’ll drive back to have a look at my plant.”
“Rickey, you can help look,” said my mother looking over the seat back and smiling at me. 
The city was rather large and we drove for some time before we left its limits.  The road we were travelling was what we call a back road these days.  The Interstate highways had only just begun to be built under Eisenhower’s administration so we did not have that luxury.  The road was dark in the night sky and it seemed we were the only ones traveling.
“There’s one!” I yelled.  I pointed at the brightly lit row of motel rooms.
“It says ‘NO Vacancy,’” said Dad.  “We’ll have to go a little further.  Good eye, son.  Keep watch.”
We drove for a good while, the darkness lit only by an occasional car passing in the opposite lane.  Two more motels came into view.  Both had “No Vacancy” signs lit up in bright neon.
“How long will we have to drive before we see a motel with a vacancy, daddy?”  I was getting anxious.  Our driving was taking us further and further from the plant my dad was going to manage.
“Until we find one, son,” he answered.
Another twenty minutes passed when mom pointed to dad’s left.
“There!  It says they have a vacancy.”
Dad slowed waiting for the cars in the other lane to pass.  He pulled into the parking area.  The door to the manager’s office said open.  Dad got out of the car to go register.  We watched him chat with the man behind the counter.  He handed dad a key.  The door slammed behind dad as he came back to the car.
“Is something wrong, dear?” asked mom as dad cranked the engine.
“Winston-Salem is a hundred miles back.  It’s too far to drive back.  We’ll have to stop on our return trip.  I had no idea we had driven so far.  Such a long way for a motel room.”  His disappointment registered in his voice.
“It’ll be something to look forward to on the way home,” said mom, ever the optimist.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said smiling over at her.  She put her hand on his shoulder.  His smile broadened.
We spent the night.  The morning came early. We packed up and got onto the road with the sun just visible behind the tree line to the east.
We spent almost two weeks in Cleveland at the home of dad’s Navy buddy.  He had children about my age but the only one who stands out in my memory is the cute redhead named Rose. 
We spent time at the zoo which was highlighted by some lively penguins shooting out of the ice cold water behind the glass partition like rockets blasting into space.
There was also an amusement park that introduced me to a huge Merry-Go-Round with a brass ring.  I was too small to reach for it. 
We went to a theater to watch THIS ISLAND EARTH which stuck with me for years.  Dad enjoyed science fiction movies, a trait he passed on to me.
When our trip came to an end we spent a long time with our goodbyes.  I was particularly sad to leave Rose behind.  Her memory stayed with me for a long time afterward but we never saw one another again.  It was a childhood crush that faded with time.
“Everything ready?” dad asked mom as he slipped behind the wheel.
“All packed,” mom replied.
“Off we go then.”
“Daddy, don’t forget we are going to see your plant on the way back.”  I was pulling on the seat back.
“I won’t, son.  Please don’t pull on the seat back,” he said.
I let go and slid back into the backseat.
“Yes sir.”  I pulled out my stack of newly acquired comic books and settled in to read as he found the highway leading back to Winston-Salem.
Dad drove into the night.  The radio was playing so he could catch the news.  A reporter was speaking of a Hurricane Hazel.  It was the first we had heard of it.  No one listened to home news while on vacation.  We listened as dad drove into an area that was closed off.  A policeman in a rain slicker advanced toward the car. Dad slowed down.  The policeman rapped on the window with his flashlight.  Dad rolled it down.
“This road is closed down up ahead.  Hurricane Hazel has left a lot of damage so we have an alternate route for all travelers,” said the cop.
“We were planning on going to Winston-Salem in NC,” said dad.
“I’m afraid you are going to have to go another time.  Hazel beat up that area pretty bad.  That detour to your right will take you around the areas shut down. “
“We’re going home to Charleston, South Carolina. Any idea how far out of the way will it take us?” asked dad.
“I’m not sure, mister.  You’re going to go around it all so I’d guess about a day, maybe two, over what you had planned.  Better move on now, so’s I can tell the cars behind you.  You and your family be careful now.”
“Well I’ll be jiggered,” said dad as he turned off the main link to the detour route.  “We won’t see my plant again.”
“It’ll be alright, dear,” said my mother.  “It must be for the best.”
To be truthful my mother never wanted to move from Charleston so it came as a relief to her that we wouldn’t have to check it out.  There would be time enough for that when the move was upon us.
We got back home a couple of days later than expected due to the detour.  My dad went back to his night shift work.  That night shift lasted for several more years.  Dad used to tell me that he was not Dracula though he did sleep all day and get up at night. 
There came a day when he was told the plant in North Carolina was no longer to be his.  This was a huge disappointment for him.  It was not long after that he turned in his resignation.  His boss tried to dissuade him by offering him a job on the dayshift but three years of working nights for a promise was enough.  He said no and walked out.
Charleston Rubber Company was advertising for a position.  He applied.  Though he had no clue about the work he began digging into it as he always did to be more learned than some of the old timers there.  His reputation became well established in this new environment.  He was accepted as honest to a fault expecting everyone else to be similarly inclined. 
As before, he was put in a position of management with the salaried payment plan.  His outspokenness once again brought him to the night shift.  A new plant was being built in Clover, SC.  It was hinted he could be the manager when it was finished. 
Dad could not allow a product under his management to be of inferior quality.  His job was to make rubber gloves for electrical linemen.  There were china forms made in the shape of human hands.  They had to be dipped into a solution of liquid rubber in thirty or forty layers. 
The forms were placed on a rack, twenty at a time, which had to be lowered into the solution by a hand crank.  It had to be done slowly so that no bubbles formed on the gradual layering of the glove.  His job was to train the laborers to acquire that finesse with the crank and the liquid.  The rubber was kept in the liquid state through dissolution in chemicals which were later found to cause cancer.  Their immediate action was drunkenness.
Those he taught realized they could simply watch him do the job because he wanted the job done right.  All they had to do was crank the rack in too fast or turn the rack too slowly so that the liquid dripped producing runs ruining output.  Instead of making certain they did the work correctly, dad would take over to insure the best product.  Those who worked under him laughed when he was not around.
At home I remember dad working on formulas to produce a better glove.  He did not have what would be termed a high school education over here having left school at sixteen in England.  He spent much time researching and formulating the rubber soup that the china forms were lowered into.  After months of this he produced a formula which he took to the boss of the company.
His formula was implemented.  With it the company began to produce a much better product for which my dad was given an “attaboy” along with a small monetary bonus.  Though he was an asset to the company his tendency to voice opinions, though correct, was not popular.  Clover was dangled in front of his eyes.
Dad took the promotion and began his commute to and from Clover.  He would stay at the plant Monday through Friday and drive home on the weekends.  This was not what the management wanted.  They wanted him settled in Clover with his family.
One Friday night on his way to Charleston he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bridge abutment.  His brand new 1962 Ford was totaled in the crash.  He was taken to the local hospital.
“Wake up, Ricky,” cried my mother that night.
“Huh? What’s wrong?” I said still asleep.
“Your dad has been in a wreck.  We have to go get him.”
I got dressed and we hurried to the little town halfway between here and Columbia.  He was hurt but not seriously.  We didn’t realize how fortunate he was until we saw the car.  How he wasn’t killed is a mystery.
“It’s a miracle, dad,” I said as we walked around the wreckage.  Dad had wanted to get his tools from the back so we had driven to the junkyard to which it had been taken.
“Yes, it is,” he said taking the damage.  He stood for a while like that then walked to the trunk.
“Damn!” he said.  “Some bugger has taken my tools.”
His tools were sacrosanct.  That someone would take another’s belongings from a wreck without checking with the owner was completely foreign to him.
“They can be replaced, dad.  You can’t be.  We’re simply glad you are alive after that.’
“Yeah, you’re right.  It’s just that I took a long time getting those tools together.”
“Now you can start a new set.”
We walked back to the car.  As I got in I watched him as he looked back at the pile of junk that used to be his beloved Ford.
“I’ll never buy another brand new car,” he said as he closed the door.  Since 1950 he had bought a brand new Ford every two years.  This was a statement of finality I would never have expected.
Shortly after this wreck he was asked to leave Charleston Rubber Company because he had shown his heart was not in his job.  It did not come as a surprise to dad.  He had seen the writing on the wall, as he said, and was ready to leave. 
My graduation from high school was only a few weeks after that.  Dad had taken a job selling insurance but found that was not for him.  It was blatantly corrupt in his view.  This trainer was taking him to houses to sell insurance.
“He sells insurance to people who can’t afford it.  He collects a commission on each sale and then the people he sold to cannot keep up the payments and lose the coverage.  It’s wrong.  I can’t do it.”  And he didn’t after a week.

So I was surprised when I applied for my annual summer job with Charleston Rubber Company that they hired me but it was the very last time. College loomed on my horizon after this summer and I never went back working this summer job.