Little Spies

It must have been a challenge for parents to hide Christmas presents. Some things were more difficult than others–for example new bicycles, sleds.

As adults, our children confessed to finding hidden Christmas presents, unwrapping, and carefully rewrapping them. My parents several decades before, had different options.

They hid presents at grandma and grandpa’s large, two-story house. The most sneaky, was when mom hid presents at one of her teacher friend’s homes, ten miles away.

Mother’s sense of humor came through one Christmas. Our family had a tradition of letting us kids break the wishbone of turkeys or chickens. We happened to raise chickens.

Gathering eggs from setting hens could be hazardous. They guarded their eggs, at all costs, and pecked anything that came their direction.

Freshly killed frying chickens were a real treat in summer. It was crowning point of a home-grown feast, presented when the local pastor came for a visit.

Wishbone breaking rules: The participant with the shortest piece, after both sides of the wishbone bent to the breaking point, was the loser. My older brother incessantly protested his lack of participation opportunities in the contests

It must have tried mother’s patience one too many times that summer. That Christmas, carefully wrapped, box within a box, within a box was a wishbone, marked with my older brother’s name. It was all in good fun, but my brother missed the point.

Double Bubble/Double Trouble

Continuing on with posts about Mother’s Day week.  This time about bubblegum.  I still remember how sore my jaw muscles got from chewing big wads of bubblegum.

#########################

Bubblegum was a childhood delight.  It had to be Fleer’s “Dubble Bubble” bubblegum.  Other brands were almost as good–“Bazooka” and gum with baseball cards.  Baseball card gum was thin and flat–somewhat brittle.

Inside the wrapper was a folded up cartoon strip, “Fleer’s Funnies,” featuring a chubby young chap “Pud” and friends.  There’s a moniker you won’t hear in the twenty-first century.  The stories were lame–meant to sell more bubblegum.  A quarter or fifty cents bought a sack full of candy in those days–which was a typical weekly allowance.

Experts could easily blow bubblers as big as their heads.  This was imitated by little brothers and sisters, who eventually got gum all over their faces.  Double Bubble tasted so good, that one piece wasn’t enough.  About four pieces made a fist-sized wad–enough to make jaw muscles ache.

Adults hated bubblegum–especially parents and teachers.  Gum smacking was almost as irritating as fingernails on a chalkboard.  Gum got disposed of under desks and chairs.  Gum got stepped on, ended up on the bottoms of dress shoes on the way to church or school.

“Don’t swallow that gum.  Where is it?”  Asked moms and dads.  “It’s too late–I already swallowed it,” Was the usual reply.  “Don’t do that.  You’ll clog up your insides and I’ll have to take you to the doctor,”  Mom warned.  I don’t know if it ever happened to anybody.

“Take your bubblegum out of your mouth before going to bed,”  Mom advised.  The next morning, gobs of gum were stuck everywhere in my hair.  Mom got the dullest pair of scissors she could find;  cut and pulled the gum globs out.

The worst part was next day at school.  “What happened to your hair?  Eww–do you have ringworm?  Who cut your hair?  …The Three Blind Mice?”  Hair grew back fast–it was off to new adventures.

Little Pitchers

He “saids,” she “saids”

Without the “shes” or the “hes”

Yes

Yes–as in flabbergasted

Who?

No–as in disbelief

You don’t say

Didn’t that just beat everything?

Didn’t make sense

To little pitchers with big ears

Big ears–radar beacons

Searched for tidbits of truth

He said, she said

Meant, more to come later

Cheap Labor Days

My father was a busy man.  At one time, responsible for three livestock and grain farms, at three different locations.  He was also active in the church.

With three sons, cheap labor was readily available.  Routine tasks weren’t that bad–feeding, watering chickens, and other livestock.

Down the hill to the barn, transistor radio in hand.  The hogs ate ear corn, thrown on the ground.  Cattle ate from a trough, standing up.  Sometimes deer feasted with the cattle.

Music eased the drudgery of pumping water.  The whole process couldn’t have taken much more than an hour.  When it was cold or rainy, it seemed like forever.  “If I’d gotten struck by lightning, then they’d be sorry”–went through my mind more than once.

What I despised, were tasks associated with removal of animal or human waste.  Worst of all, cleaning out the outhouse.  The stench was horrible, and it seemed to stay with you.  Chicken coops and barn stalls weren’t nearly as bad.  Although, chicken manure had an overpowering ammonia smell.

The beginning of September was high harvest season for corn and soybeans.  Labor Day, spent helping with related tasks.  That’s why it became Cheap Labor Day.

I guess this made up for some of the mischief I caused.  Taught me the value of hard work; the perils of disobedience, and an innate desire to find better ways to make a living.

BEDWETTER HALL

jane01

Bedwetting–Primary Nocturnal Enuresis or (PNE) is a recognized medical condition.  One of my childhood friends was troubled by PNE.  It had to be embarrassing for him.  Perhaps, the worst incident occurred at summer camp.  The shame couldn’t be hidden.  He was allowed to stay–which didn’t always happen.

There were several devices advertised in the back of magazines to stop bedwetting.  One was an alarm, triggered by electronic circuits, in a pad placed over the mattress under the sheets.  The idea was to teach the offender to get up before the damage was done.

Of course there were rubber sheets and rubber pants.  Older boys didn’t want to wear rubber pants.  Rubber pants were for babies and toddlers.  One thing was for sure–then the same as now; shaming a person over bedwetting never worked.

Some fathers threatened to put their sons back in diapers as punishment–the cloth ones, because that was all there was.  That did absolutely no good.  Some kids took longer to gain control of urinary functions at night–especially boys.

The real name was Ledbetter Hall, twisted by college boy smart-alecks to Bedwetter Hall in the late sixties.  A crazy college boy dorm prank was to immerse the hand of a sound sleeper in warm water.  It was supposed to relax muscles and induce bedwetting; the unsuspecting would be embarrassed, and jocularity would ensue.

It never worked, and subsequently the victim was doused with remaining warm water.  “Hey, what are you guys doing here?” was one of the nicer responses.  That was just one of many college pranks done for cheap laughs.

The worst part–the prank played to shaming surrounding a serious medical condition.  Incontinence is not a popular discussion topic.  Those affected should not be subjected to ridicule.  There are better, more sensitive ways to deal with such issues.

Image, http://www.mac.edu (Not Ledbetter Hall)

SITTING STILL IN CHURCH

DSCN0377

I was a fidgety skinny kid–couldn’t sit still.  When I tried, my legs would swing.  Since they didn’t yet reach the floor.  I may have had ADD–who knows?  When the good reverend’s Sunday sermons ran long there were always kid games; done discreetly of course.

Even with windows opened it was miserable in summer.  That’s when the paper fans came out–compliments of local funeral homes.  It seemed to me–the effort taken to waggle fans back-and-forth, cancelled out the benefits.  The two front doors were left open.  Bugs and birds often joined the proceedings.

Father was a strict disciplinarian; his firm fingers turned my buzz cut head around in an instant with a firm warning.  “Turn around.  Sit still and pay attention.”  Fear of the coal shed hung over my head like the sword of Damocles.  I was convinced it was used as a whipping shed for unruly children.

Our little, white clapboard country church, was heated by two pot-bellied “Round Oak” stoves–manufactured in Dowagiac, Michigan.  There were oak leaf embossed silver trim rails below the stove doors.  Were the rails, foot rests?  I didn’t really know.

Brother Harold kept the stoves stoked for Sunday services.  Church faithful were addressed as brothers or sisters in Christ. Brother Harold also worked as custodian at a local high school.

An oak “regulator” schoolhouse clock went tick-tock on one wall; a table, up front, near the piano, had an antique Tammany Hall bank.  When coins were deposited, the cast iron, brightly painted man in a suit, bowed his head in thanks.

My parents seemed old.  The rest of the church members were older still.  We four children were the youngest in attendance–unless there were visitors.

Sister Eunice was a sweet old soul, and mentally challenged.  She had episodes of jealousy and suspicion–which made others avoid her.  Her ill-fitting dentures, clicked like castanets, added to communication difficulties.

Once, when mother was going to be away for teacher’s institute, Sister Eunice volunteered to babysit the four of us.  Mom had misgivings, but Sister Eunice insisted.  Mom relented and hoped for the best.

I hope when I reach the Pearly Gates of Heaven, the mayhem of that day has been long forgotten.  Things got completely out of hand.  Away from church, we weren’t the little darlings, she expected us to be.  i deserved to be sent to the coal shed.

Sister Eunice was upset the entire day, until mom returned.  We apologized, but the damage had been done.  Sister Eunice never volunteered for babysitting duty ever again.

“FIERY FARTS OF THE WICKED”

DSCN0270

A Bible verse that was often parodied by wiseacres, symbolized the plight of two adolescent boys; and a day packed with extreme emotional highs and lows.

We were too big to cry–but not for pouting.  “Just wait till I grow up–I’ll show him,” Said my little brother.  “I’m going to be bigger and stronger.’

I internalized my dissatisfaction.  I’m going to do this if it kills me.  If I get stepped on by a cow and get killed–then he’ll be sorry.

Dad’s words stung worse than the whipping we got with switches from a front yard tree.  For what it’s worth–it was a Kentucky coffee tree.

“I told you two, to go down to the barn, bed down the cattle, and have it done before I got back.  You guys deliberately disobeyed me.  Go cut me some switches.  Don’t get little ones either!  I’m going to teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget.”

Dad was a delegate to church conference, in a town two hours away.  It lasted all day.  My brother and I decided to blow dad off.  Our priorities were elsewhere.  After all, he wouldn’t be home till after dark.  What were the chances he’d go to the barn and check?

The tension built.  Dad’s car was in the drive.  That meant he was home.  Where was he?  He knew us better than we realized.  The jig was up.

“For disobeying, you guys are going down to the barn in the dark, and do what you were supposed to have done in the first place.  Take these two flashlights–and do the job right!  I’ll be checking your work.”

Surprisingly, the flashlights provided enough light to work.  One of us climbed into the loft, tossed down bales of straw. Then we cut baling wire ties and spread the straw.

Some of the cattle were lying down–others were standing.  They milled around after being awakened.  We worked around them.  Some cows expelled gas as they stood, in explosions of flatulence.  Then more, still more in a symphony of flatulence.

One of us mock directed Johann Strauss waltzes to flatulent accompaniment.  It was hilarious.  We laughed uncontrollably. The night’s misery was broken; not just broken–shattered to pieces.  Nobody could ever know the tale of two disobedient boys and, “The Fiery Farts of Wicked Bovine.”

A PIANO THAT HAD TO BE

piano

An old piano–scarred, and battered
Sat abandoned under a canopy
That ran along the front of businesses
Near a city park, replete with
Pleasant fountains, footpaths
Fragrant flowers, whimsical statues
Brought together under live oak shade

Working people passed by
Paid the old piano no mind
Enjoyed pastries, ice cream
From local merchants
Discussed water cooler gossip
In their, lucky to escape
From the cubicle, sylvan setting

It was astounding, how
The broken-down old piano
Spared from a landfill
Was still making musical
Memories–reflected in the eyes
Of curious children on field trips
Allowed to bang on the keys
Tourists recalled piano lessons
Recitals, searches for middle “C”
For these many reasons
The old piano had to be

HERE’S TO CLEAN AND COLORFUL EXPRESSIONS

Where have “Aw Shucks”
“Fiddlesticks,” “Dad Gum Its,”
“Dag Nab Its,” “Ding-Dang Its,”
“Doggone Its,” “Cockamamies”
And, “Oh, Fudges” gone?

“For the Love of Pete,”
They could be anywhere
“Crying Out Loud in a Bucket”
Playing “Horse Hockey”
Pulling “Shenanigans”
With other “Hooligans”

“Catching flies with honey
Instead of vinegar”
“Tending watched pots
That never boiled”
“Chasing rolling stones
That gathered no moss”

“Gott im Himmel”
“Ach du Lieber Gott”
“Criminetly”, or “For Criminy Sakes”
When were the “Lolligaggers”
And “Fussbudgets,” going to stop
Their “Tomfoolery” and “Clippity-Clap?”

“Dink Fods,” “Rat Finks,”
And “Dinkledorfs” hung out
With other “Goofuses”
“Doofuses, “Dip Sticks”
“Lazy Bones,” and “Bone Heads”

Watched evening news
With “Hardly Reasonable”
And “Wally Crankcase”
Sported scented “Stink Pretties”
Old Spice, Aqua Velva, and Hai Karate

“Jumping Jiminies,” “Jehosaphats”
Were “Slower Than Smoke”
“Nuttier than Fruitcakes”
But, they didn’t let
Any of it, go to their heads.
Except–when they had
The “Molygrumps” and
Couldn’t get their
“Lard Butts” out of bed

EVERY PARLOR NEEDS AN UNCLE BUBBA

victorian 3

When Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bubba came to visit, the women went to the kitchen and talked about families, childbirth, and homemaking.  Uncle Bubba went to the parlor with Dad.  My sister, Grace and I, wandered between both settings.

Our parlor was Uncle Bubba’s debate forum.  There, surrounded by lace curtains, furnishings frozen in time from the Victorian era, Uncle Bubba held forth–starting with an inquiry as to the availability of home-baked delicacies.

Uncle Bubba was a big, guffawing, hulk of a man.  Aunt Gertrude was a prim and proper wisp of a woman–quiet and reserved.  Her salt-and-pepper hair was usually fixed in a bun.  Unlike her husband, Aunt Gertrude always saw the good in everything.

“It was on Merv Griffin yesterday–people depressed at Christmas, after Christmas, during winter, spring, and every other time of year.  Christmas blues, Post-Holiday blues, the “Boo-Hoo” blues, the “You and Me” blues–who believes that crap?  It’s just another excuse for people to not work and get on the public dole,” Uncle Bubba said.

“What’s everybody looking at me for?  Pardon me for being slow on the uptake. I get it, now.  If it was any of your dad gum business–which it ain’t; I injured my back at the meat-packing plant.  That’s why I can’t work anymore.”

“Nobody’s singling you out,” Dad said defensively.  “Uncle Bubba, who’s Merv Griffin?” Grace asked.  Dad’s stern expression said, “keep quiet.” But Grace went on, anyway.  “Depression is a serious mental illness.  Sometimes people fall into dark holes and can’t climb out without help.”  Grace was like mom–spoke what was on her mind.

“Drug companies are always looking for ways to make more money–that’s all I was saying.  Pretty soon, everybody’s going to be on feel-good pills.  Well, whatever–it was on one of them talk shows.  I don’t even try to keep up.  They’re all the same.  I mean, what other job is there–where you get paid for talking, and don’t have to know anything?”

Dinner guests meant kid shenanigans at the table.  Grace would stick a spoon on her nose; then I’d eat peas with my knife, until Mom or Dad gave us the “stink eye.”  We knew when and where, to not cross the line.  Then, Uncle Bubba concealed amusement with fake coughing attacks, excused himself from the table.

Uncle Bubba’s passion and rage was everywhere.  His lack of discernible skills, made drudgery last as long as possible.  It didn’t stop him from offering opinions on just about everything.  At least, it seemed that way to me, back then.

“Cream rises to the top.  Dregs sink to the bottom.  It’s that simple.”  Was I cream or dregs?  I always thought Uncle Bubba was talking about me.  Especially on the day, my foot slipped off the clutch of his old GMC pickup.  I hit a pothole so hard, the old truck bounced–Uncle Bubba’s head banged into the roof.  “Damn it, Son–you gotta’ be more careful,” was all he had to say.

He was my father’s brother.  They couldn’t have been more different.  My father was quiet and reserved.  Uncle Bubba was seldom, if ever, quiet.  My father was of average height and weight with a full shock of hair.  Uncle Bubba was portly, and bald as a billiard ball.  Could there have been a mix-up at the hospital when he was born?

I loathed working for him.  He was obstinate, stubborn, opinionated–couldn’t (or wouldn’t) communicate.  The only emotions expressed were frustration and rage.  I could never live up to his expectations.  It seemed, as if there were always better ways to do everything.  However, Aunt Gertrude was nice.  How had she ended up with him?

Sometimes the silence between dramatic pauses was too much to bear.  Then, I’d talk about anything and everything, just to break the silence.  Uncle Bubba never said anything about me being a “motor mouth.”  On those days, maybe he just didn’t feel like talking?

“You look like a polecat–with that white stripe in your hair.”  Uncle Bubba said, once, on Halloween.  I don’t think he ever knew or cared–that I was supposed to be Eddie Munster.

“Son, do you know Jesus?”  Uncle Bubba asked one day, right out of the blue.  “Yes, I learned about Jesus in Mrs. Hampton’s Sunday school class,” I answered.  I’d never known Uncle Bubba to be a religious man.  He threw around a few “damns” and “hells,” but never took the Lord’s name in vain.

“I want you to promise me that you’ll ask Jesus to forgive your sins.”  I’d never seen him so sincere–so, I promised that I would.  Was it because he never had a son?  He never said those exact words, but I think it was true.

George Henry Walsh was Uncle Bubba’s real name.  He was Grandma Mary’s son by another man.  The man’s name was never mentioned.  People in those days didn’t talk about such things.  Grandpa Joe raised him as if he were his own flesh and blood.

Uncle Bubba passed away on a gray November day in 1999.  There it was–inscribed in polished granite, plain as day: “George Henry ‘Bubba’ Walsh, Beloved Adopted Son of Joseph M. & Mary R. Walsh.”