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31 October, 2015

The Kid My Folks Should Have Drowned!

                Here's a funny story about some of the rotten things a kid can do, including stealing horses...      

                The reason I'd say such a thing is because, I know, honestly, as a parent, (and you do too, go on ... admit it! )  there are TIMES you really want to KILL your kids!

Doesn't everybody have a nerd photo like this?
               My parents were not saints.  I KNOW they had these thoughts, about ME!  Yeah, give I them a lot of credit, they NEVER said it, but the LOOKS they gave me sometimes.  YOU know those LOOKS, don't all of you?  They gave me plenty of those LOOKS.  And Mom cried a lot.

               I gave them a plethora of reasons, too, as a teenager.  However, long before I ever got to that "I-feel-like-wringing-your-nasty-unwashed-little-mouthy-neck" teenage stage, I was a terror at home.  And I was pretty young to be a terror.  I terrorized with words and wild critters ....

              The words were any cuss words I heard Dad say when he hit his thumb with his hammer, or when he and Mom got into a bad fight. The immediate reaction was Mom's open mouth, astonishment, really.... for a few seconds, then the soap came out and I got my mouth washed out or my butt swatted really hard.. HARD.  If I didn't get a spanking EVERY day, it was not a normal day.   Even at a young age, I could cuss like a sailor.   I  know, I married one later.

Me at a couple weeks old with mom and dad

Mom and me at about 7 months or so
                    Sure, I started out as a sweet, very hairy baby.  (My mom said when they brought me in to her, I was a "curly-mopped, thick black hair-crowned" critter. I was some "other lady's kid".   She said her eyes bugged out at the sight of me!)

                    "THAT'S not MY baby!  That can't be MY baby!" 
No kidding.   She really said those words! (She is the one who told me.) 

                      I am sure she felt that way years later, too.  She probably wondered which Honey Wagon I had fallen off of!  Or wished she could have given me back!

                     Well, they made her take me home and I guess I grew on her. 

Me at about a year. Don't you hate me for having naturally curly hair?
                    I only weighed about 5 lbs.  That is because she smoked like a chimney, and drank Coca-Cola which, in those days, contained small amounts of cocaine, believe it or not! 
                    She told me that she put me in a shoe box full of cotton and put me on the oven door with the heat on to keep me warm.  Poor Mom.

                   She made me a gingerbread baby. The heat must have cooked my brain.  (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

                   She also never learned you can't leave a baby on its back ALL the time, so my head is nice and flat there.  Also, in panicked response to a ringing doorbell one day, she left me on the kitchen counter while giving me a bath.  I fell off on my head.   Twice.  (This kind of episode happened again a week later.)
                            That explains a lot, doesn't it?

                     When Dad left for overseas again before the end of  WW ll, she was up in Gull Lake, Michigan, near Battle Creek, on some base near there.  His pay chit didn't arrive for 2 months, their furniture was lost and she ended up in an empty apartment on base with only a dresser,  a table and chair.  She got those out of a dumpster.  

                      She put me in the dresser drawers as my "crib", since she also did not have a baby bed.  Mom said she was so embarrassed and also afraid of those "damn Yankees"  (she was an Alabama girl, with no friends up North) and worried what they'd think of her, so she didn't ask for help.

                      She said that times were really desperate.  Fishing in the lake and cooking the fish for me to eat, plus sharing her Coke and mashed peanuts was mostly my diet, and milk when she could afford it.  Yeah, that probably accounts for my citrus and fish allergies I had growing up.  I was under a year, but Mom didn't know any better.  She didn't have a phone and her mom was over a thousand miles away. 

                        I guess in her defense, she did the best she could.

                      Well, one day some other officer's wives had heard she was there, and came knocking to visit her.  In a panic again, she put the armful of laundry she had been folding, on top of me in the dresser and shut the drawer!   She ran to answer the door, and tried to get rid of those nosy ladies.  They weren't having it and pushed themselves in the door, chattering all the time, looking for "the new baby."

                    I wasn't having being buried under towels in a dresser drawer in the dark!!   I let out a series of ear-splitting shrieks like a good little banshee from the depths of the dresser.  They ran all over until they found me!  They must have thought she was totally bonkers. 

                     Instead of judging her, they helped her.  Got a crib, furniture, and a bed for her, until they could locate her furniture for her, and figure out why Dad's pay chit for her was lost. They also got us cash, groceries and some clothes for me.  Up til then I was wearing socks with arm holes cut in them.  Like I said, Mom was desperate.

                   So, the Yankees saved the day.  And me.  I like Yankees.  My Dad was one.  Sometimes just to annoy her, I'd say she was a Southern Belle - a "real ding dong."  See what I mean?  They should have killed me for saying stuff like that.
Me at about three in VA. I was a terror even then.
                        I grew up without incident for a couple more years; except when I was a year old I had Roseola Infantum, like measles, only worse.   She rocked a screaming, itching, feverish me for two solid weeks, day and night.   She said I almost died except for the team of doctors that slaved over me and revived me several times.  Maybe dramatic, but scary for her.  She didn't "know from nothin"  in those days. 

Can't you just see the attitude even then?

                          My very first terror attack on Mom was to bring a baby rattler to her, right into the house. 
                          I was three or four and it scared the "beejeebers" out of my half sister Carol and Mom.  

                          They ran screaming into the living room and then Mom realized I was alone with a snake in my hand!

Me and sister Carol. She passed last year.
                   She grabbed the broom and briskly whacked both of us -me and the snake!   Then she proceeded to make a pancake out of the snake while I stood there and screamed my head off. 

                  She'd vaporized my cool snake PET!  I pouted for days.

                   The next incident was another snake, and I was five then.  I put it in my closet.  
                  It was a big King snake, and when Mom went in to get my laundry, it was in the basket.  She about blew a lung screeching till she got that broom again and whacked my PET to death. 
                  After the snake followed a succession over the years of baby guinea pigs, many, many baby birds, turtles, mice, and lizards.  Each was hidden in the same FATAL place - my closet.  Mom learned fast.  She used to go in there carrying a broom and was ready for action.  They all died horrible deaths at Mom's hands, except Dad "rescued" some baby birds from her.  

               He threw them over the fence into the VA Hospital grounds so I wouldn't bring them back.   The tractor lawnmower ran over them.   Oh, well, he didn't know I KNEW.  Parents think they can fool their kids, but I KNEW.

     I graduated from those mundane critters to stealing horses. 
                 I stole one full grown not tame horse when I was about five.  Got right up on that bugger from climbing the fence where it was tied and pulled the reins loose, and took right off.   The astonished owner jumped on another other horse tied there, and a wild chase ensued. 

                   The horse, (named Lily) and I, squealing happily, bouncing along in the saddle,  made it back to the corral at a dead run, all lathered up.   Lily got oats and a rub down.

                   I got a spanking.  It's a wonder I never fell off and killed myself.  But I loved horses.  So stealing them came naturally after that.

If it had four legs and looked like a horse, I was on it.
                    When I was about 8, a rent-a -horse with a saddle still on it,  happened to be running through our neighborhood.  It had tossed it's rider, escaped, and stopped to eat our nice lawn.  In MY mind, that was the opportunity of a lifetime. 

                    You see, every kid wants HIS or HER own horse.  There it was, munching on our lawn, resting from it's getaway.  I stealthily caught MY horse by its hanging bridle. I ensconced it in a vacant garage up by the nurses' quarters at the VA hospital near where we lived.  Nobody saw me.  

       Not any adult that is.  Only my "gang" knew what I was up to.
                   My cronies and I ripped up tons of grass for the horse by hand,  until our fingers were stained green.  We swiped carrots, apples and all the "horsey" foods we would never touch ourselves to eat.    That should have been a giveaway to our parents, but they were clueless and missed the signs.  We carried the food to our hideout and even found a bucket to put water in for our captive "community" horse.   We dubbed "it" Horsey.  (We couldn't tell what the sex was at our ages.)

Our horse then lived in the dark garage for a WEEK!!
                      None of us had the guts to try to ride it, because it was OUR horse, and so amazingly precious.  Besides, some parent would surely see us.  So we kept OUR HORSEY hidden!   It was the pinnacle of our days to see, feed and pet this wonderful critter.

                    Yeah, the owners came looking for it, and of course, they asked us kids about the horse.  WE HAD NOT SEEN ANY HORSE.  

                    That was OUR story and we stuck to it.  They left and didn't return.  
                   We had a horse now, OUR horse!   Well, the poor horse was still saddled, still bridled and the garage was filling up with you know what.  The flies were thick on the outside like a blanket.  You could smell the sh_t a mile away. 
                                         Still no parents figured things out.

                   Looking back, as a horse lover, and former horse owner as an adult, I feel sorry for that nag. It must have been miserable.  But it ate every thing we kids brought and it pooped it all out, too.  Finally, one day, a passing student nurse noticed the "fly blanket" and thought something had died in there.  She made a panicked call.  It happened to be to MY DAD.

Me with cousin Bill about the age I stole the horse. He had nothing to do with it all.
                      Dear old Dad happened to be the Chief Engineer of the VA Hospital where we lived on the staff post.  He was the MAN. If something went wrong, he was the one to call. 

                     So he went over there with the fire engine and the post police and found our horse. 

                       Nothing dead, but it sure smelled worse than death.  "Horsey" was returned to the owners and we never saw it again.
                        I never admitted to stealing the horse.
                        I wasn't the oldest kid on the block and was certainly not the biggest villain, so I never actually got caught.  We kids, my gang, if you will, mourned the loss of OUR horse.  Nobody talked about it and we all got away with it.  (At least I think we got away with it.)   We denied any involvement, but I KNOW my Dad suspected ME.    

                      You never know when some aging, angry horse owner, now rolling weakly along in his wheel chair is going to show up on my doorstep and simply pound me into oblivion.
                      I guess you would think that cured me.  It didn't. 

                     The next thing I did was "adopt" an old work mule down the road from where we lived. I'd brush the dirt out of the stinking mule's coat, feed it treats, and baby its tired hooves.  Then I'd get help mounting from an old stump, riding bareback with just a rope around it's jaw.  That was heaven to a 12 yr-old horse-loving girl.  It didn't matter to me if the ears were too long and the back was swayed.

                      Since I kept disappearing a lot, I told my Dad I was "exercising" a neighbor's "Thoroughbred" horse for them.  One day he was driving his station wagon down that road and passed right by me.   
I saw his brake lights go on and I knew the "gig was up."  I waited for censure.
                    At dinner that night, all he said was, "That was some THOROUGHBRED!"  Then he smirked and ate another roll.  That was MY dad.

It didn't matter if the horse was dead as a doornail - I'd still ride it.

                   But he let me go on riding that dirty old mule for years.  I rode that thing all over the Blue Ridge Mountains, even came upon some Moonshiners and could have been shot.  I didn't even have a saddle or bridle.

                   It's amazing I didn't fall off and crack my thick skull, or get kidnapped or worse.  Anything for a horse or something close to one.

                   The last thing I ever did to terrorize my mom or dad was when I was in Advanced Biology in High School.   I had this huge dead frog I was supposed to boil down to bones and assemble as a frog skeleton.  I planned how to do it.

                    I waited until my folks were gone, got a big pot and stuck MR. FROG in it and put it on to boil.  I was going to de-meat his dead bones and then dry and glue them back together.  A+  was going to be MY grade.

                   Well, as Fate would have it,  Mom had forgotten her purse and they came home just as the pot was doing a really hard boil.  Let me tell you the sh_t hit the fan when they walked in the door!

                  The odor was nothing short of intense.   Mom walked in with her mouth going as usual,  and got a throat full of formaldehyde and frog.  It happened to be her best NEW pot, too.  See, I'd burn the old one trying to make a cheese sauce by myself and had set the kitchen on fire. 

                   Well, I got the A+.  But it wasn't from HER!

Mom, me and nieces.  See, I could even screw up a good photo! You can see what she had to put up with.
So, that was the LAST straw.  

             NO more cooking in the house, for me, no more pets, wild or otherwise, and no more bringing Biology projects home.  I was banished to the basement with an old pot of Dad's and completed the project, Mr. Frog, in absolute solitude, with fans going and all the windows open the rest of the day.   

              To this day,  I still smile at the memory of the look on her face when she saw those frog legs sticking out of her BEST pot ...

Like I said, hasn't every parent wished
they'd drowned their kid at birth, even once in a while?

Me at the age when I stole my first horse. Still proud of it. I was definitely "Intrepid."

30 October, 2015

My Ole Smokey!

                 Most American kids get their very first car when they turn 16.  Mine was at age 20!  Dad went out, shopped the used car lots and came home with a real "duezzy" of a car for me.  This was not any ordinary car and wait till you find out what I mean!  and...why were the cops looking for it?
My first car, Ole Smokey, a 1957 Olds sedan.
                    The dealer was a friend of his and he told Dad that he had "just the car" for his daughter, lil' ole me.   It supposedly belonged to a deceased farmer and his widow had said it was too much car for her, and she sold it to him.   Boy, was she right, and in more than one way!

                    When I walked out of our house to view my new "first car" I about died of happiness!    My Dad had it delivered to us and was standing there with his hands on his hips, grinning from ear to ear.   It was just what Momma had ordered him to choose: something solid, that would protect me in case of an accident, not too flashy and mechanically sound.    She also watched my shocked and surprised face as I got my first look at the car.

                  Sitting before me, in all its glory was a huge, gun metal gray, four door sedan, white leather interior, with huge white wall tires!    It had sleek fins and no dents or huge scratches.   It was a 1958 Oldsmobile, only a couple years old at the time!

                    You can't imagine my excitement as Dad backed it down the drive way and pointed it nose uphill on our road.   The road ahead was pretty steep, so he put on the parking brake.    I slithered joyfully into the front seat, grinning at the dingy, but white leather seats and the roomy interior.  It was a "tank", it was so big and solid, with steel "eye" beams in the doors and was a real beauty of a car.

                   My father, proud of my reaction and his good buy, (only $500) took the passenger seat and leaned casually back, arm on the open window edge.   He said, "Let's see how it drives!"  Grinning from ear to ear,  I GUNNED IT, punching the gas pedal to the floor!

                  The next thing that happened was my Dad FLYING over the front seat into the back seat!   He started screaming, "STOP! STOP!" as he gasped for air.  That Olds had leaped forward like a JET rocket, propelling his too-proud butt right over the slick leather seat and into the back seats!

                   Agast, I slammed on the brakes, set the handbrake and turned off the engine.   We were sitting right in the middle of the road, on a hill just by our driveway!    Not exactly a good place to stop.   What was going on?  I hadn't meant that to happen.  I knew how to drive, but this car had just leaped when I floored the pedal.  I had never experienced such power under my foot!  My heart was thundering a "tatoo" in my chest.

It was here, right in the middle of the road by our driveway that I floored the pedal!

                  Dad jumped out of the back seat, threw the door open and yelled at me to release the hood latch.   I did.    He ran around to the front of my car and lifted up the hood of my sleek gray monster.   His mouth popped open and he CURSED LOUDLY!   Uh oh.....  My Dad was not one to curse.

                   Having NO idea what he was seeing that he was CUSSING at, I got out and ran to the front of the car.  Well, I do KNOW a little about cars, BECAUSE DAD TAUGHT ME.  It was HIS job in life he felt, so had I learned powder puff mechanics.   I knew my basic engine parts.    What I saw, that he SAW, was this:

                  Like the evil triangular head of a venomous snake, there sat a HUGE air cleaner, astride what must have been a bunch of carburetors!  That meant this was NOT a "going for a Sunday drive", old farmer's kind of car at all!

                 "Old Farmer's wife, my a_ _!" Dad muttered under his breath as he unscrewed the air cleaner wing nut...  and exposed THREE smoking hot (but very cool) TWO BARREL CARBURETORS!   OMG!!  That meant it had tons of power!  No wonder my car had taken off like a rocket!!

                  For those of you who didn't have a father who taught you how to work on cars like mine did, that was a big A_ _ deal.    It meant that my car was POURING gas into the engine every time I accelerated, lots of it!   No wonder when I floored the gas pedal my car had vaulted forward, tossing my father like a leaf into the back seat!

                    This was NOT a lady's car, a young girl's car -- I had me a HOT ROD!!    And I mean H-O-T  R-O-D!!!   This was the kind of car that teenage boys love, dream of owning and love to show off in!

                   Turns out that I, in fact, now owned a Oldsmobile with a J-2 engine and three "duces" (3 two-barreled carburetors)!!    That meant this sucker could haul some butt on the road!!   My chest swelled out as I imagined me impressing all the boys my age and older with MY CAR!

                   My Dad did NOT want ME to have this kind of mean machine.

                  But, he knew he could not take it back, because he'd paid cash for it and got the title already and it was there, gleaming, purring and beautiful, locked into my heart and sight.    I would have killed anybody who tried to take MY first car away.  And he knew it.

                              Just looking at my face, told him that much.

Me back in the days when I owned my first car.

                   So, Dad had me "gingerly" start up the car and "ease" it up the hill and "gently" apply gas as I drove around the neighborhood, all the time, getting a LECTURE on the merits of NOT driving MY hot rod like one!  He threatened.   He warned.   He cajoled.   He said in fact, that if I got even ONE ticket for speeding, he'd take the car away from me.  

                                  That did the trick!

                    Over the next week I babied my new Olds.   I named it "Ole Smokey."  I used a toothbrush to clean the white leather upholstery so clean you could have seen your face in the shine on those seats.  I detailed out the whole car, doing little a touchup painting on any rock chips on the body...  I washed, I waxed, BY HAND, every inch of my chrome and steel monster car.  I adored it.  IT WAS READY TO SHOW THE WORLD!

                    I had scrubbed those huge white walls (tires) until they gleamed. I blacked up the rubber black tire part so shiny you could go blind looking at them.  I was ready.  My best girlfriend Linda, and I took a ride down to Buck's, the local teen hangout.  She had a steady boyfriend and I knew they'd probably get married in the fall, but WE were single as long as we were in MY CAR!

This was Buck's and the action was in the drive-in out back.
                     In no short order, I had FANS!  First thing I had done when I pulled into a slot at the drive-in restaurant, was to pop the hood!  That, of course, brought swarms of guys over to see if I had car trouble.  Once my "victims" looked under the hood, their mouths dropped open in envy!

                     Of course, every single one of the boys wanted to get behind the wheel and take Ole Smokey for a spin, but I said NO!  Only I was to drive my car, but they could come along for a ride.   Well, that really made me popular!

The driveway of our house, where Ole Smokey was parked every day.
                    Over the next few months, I really enjoyed driving Ole Smokey everywhere.  The gas was cheap in those days, probably under a dollar, maybe even less than 50 cents a gallon!  I took "road trips" out of town to dances down by Lake Lure, a place I had wanted to go for ages.  I was unafraid to take any long trip because of Dad's excellent training.  My folks didn't know where I went but they sure knew I was gone a LOT.

                  Old Smokey rolled hard around curves, squealing tires, and I didn't mind that much.   I grinned and felt like a queen as it roared up steep hills and passed other cars with ease.  What a powerhouse that car had!

                    Smokey got washed and cleaned every week, so it shined like a sparkling coin.   My girlfriend loved to come over and help, because she earned a ride every time I took it out.  I had her TRAINED!

                   One day Dad came out of the garage at  home, stopped short, and took a hard look at Ole Smokey.  He noticed something alarming.  The white walls were getting WORN off the tires!    He immediately went inside and pinned me against the fridge and interrogated me.  "Are you taking the curves too fast?"  "Are you yanking on the steering wheel and cornering too hard?"

Yeah, he had that look as he examined my worn white walls.
                    I WASN'T!  Listen, my Dad was the one who taught me to drive at 16.    I learned in the treacherous snow and ice in North Carolina, in the mountains.    Excellent driving was what I had been taught.    No accidents, no close calls, no speeding tickets.    I was a perfect driver.  I had heeded his strict warnings about reckless driving and I did not deliberately take the curves hard.  My car was just heavy, big and that's why I thought it cornered hard.

                     Heck!  Losing my first car was at stake.   I was not an idiot. I told him I WAS NOT driving like that. That Smokey just seemed heavy going around curves.  He listened and "harrumpfhed."

                    So, dear old Dad took Smokey for a drive himself, with me riding shotgun.   He seemed to find the car difficult to corner and an increasing frown began to spread across his face, the more he drove.  Uh oh, that was NOT GOOD...

                   "There's something wrong with the suspension or the steering," he diagnosed officially.   "I am going to take this down to my mechanic in Oteen and have him put it up on the lift so we can see if you have bad tie rods or some other problem."  (Okay, as long as I didn't have to pay for it....)  So we did.

                   At the mechanic's,  Dad drove my car up on the rails of the car lift and got out.  The mechanic pulled the lever that was supposed to raise Ole Smokey up in the air....  but something shocking happened.

                   Groaning like an old man trying to squeeze into pants that were too small, the lift struggled to raise my car, making alarming creaking noises.   My Dad's frown deepened and he "harrumphed" again!  That was NOT good.

                   Charlie, the mechanic, seemed puzzled that the lift was not working right.  When Ole Smokey got half way off the ground, not as far as it should, the lift totally quit.    The mechanic was NOT A HAPPY CAMPER, either.

                   Well, all three of us bent over, and climbed under the car (after the mechanic put a strong jack to keep the lift from dropping.)   I didn't see anything amiss.  The tie rods and suspension mechanisms seemed fine.  The mechanic walked around making noises and my Dad followed.  I was getting a feeling they were seeing something NOT GOOD....

                  Charlie, the mechanic, pulled a wrench out of his back pocket and banged on the wheel well area.   It sounded funny.   He was banging  on something solid that wasn't supposed to be there.   Suddenly I realized what I was looking at and what THEY were looking at -  solid metal TANKS! 

                    Tanks welded into the wheel wells!!  Where there should have been open space, there were these metal welded tanks with spigots!!   And the tanks were FULL!  Charlie turned a spigot and clear liquid poured out.  He shut it off quickly and turned, grinning at my Dad!

                  Sure enough, Charlie and my Dad decided right then and there that I had a MOONSHINE RUNNER!!!   (Moonshine is bootleg illegally made alcohol, about 200 proof, made in mash stills up in the back woods of western North Carolina.   It was carried illegally from one state to another in cars just like mine, and sold for a lot of money, because no duty or tax was ever paid.)  My mouth got chin burn as it fell open.  This was an illegal vehicle, loaded with very ILLEGAL cargo.

It was back up in these mountains where the moonshine stills were hidden.
                           MY OLD SMOKEY was LOADED WITH MOONSHINE liquor!

                    My Dad shook his head and chuckled.  Charlie looked at him like he was about to be given a nice juicy steak and a keg of beer.  Yeah, that's when my Dad pulled out a couple of twenty dollar bills, took ole Charlie over in the corner where they whispered and conspired.    Then Dad came back, and took me over to the other corner.  

                   "It seems to me that the farmer's SON was a moonshine runner, Melinda, and that's why this car IS a  REAL hot rod!"  He whispered, pinching my arm and holding me steady about five inches from his face.  "Now you are NOT to tell your MOTHER a thing about this, and nobody else either, do you understand?  DO YOU???"

                    I managed to croak a feeble "Yes, Daddy."   I gulped.   My mind raced.   Not only did I have a real HOT ROD but I had me a NOTORIOUS MOONSHINE RUNNER!!     That little fact was a popularity JACKPOT!!  Then I remembered I had just promised NOT to share this amazing discovery with ANYONE, not even the popular boys or my girlfriend.   DANG!

                    Dad and Charlie chuckled some more, and it was time to take Old Smokey home.    We got into Ole Smokey and drove back to the house to get Dad's car.     I drove my Ole Smokey car back to the mechanic's while Dad followed me in his Cadillac.  We left my precious hot rod car in Charlie's care and I rode home with Dad in his car, not a bit happy that I was without my precious car for a few days.   Even LESS happy that I couldn't share the juicy history of MY notorious car with anybody!

                  I never knew what Charlie did with the 80 to 100 gallons of bootleg moonshine that my car held in four deep, well-disguised wheel well tanks.    Dad never said any more about it, except that he was going to have to get me NEW tires.  I'd worn half the white walls off trying to corner with a car that weighted about 1,100 pounds MORE than it should have!    No wonder my tires squealed on every sharp curve!

                   Ole Smokey sure drove better after being "drained" (or having the "suspension fixed" as we told MOM.)    When I moved to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall to take my first job away from home, (I was often driving back and forth from there to Asheville to visit)  I got STOPPED by the Highway Patrol going each way, EVERY TIME.   I wasn't even speeding or driving recklessly.  But I KNEW why they were stopping me all the time.  I had to bite my lip not to smile.

                  They ran my driver's license, and the tags on the car and some of them even crawled under my car and tapped on the tanks.  Of course those former moonshine bearing tanks were EMPTY!

My favorite photo of me and my Dad in 1972
                    I pretended to be totally innocent, COMPLETELY unaware of Ole Smokey's sinister history.  They were looking for THAT car, expecting to catch it with a load of moonshine.  My car was on every state hit list in the South!   You know what would have happened to me if I had been caught driving that car with its load of illegal liquor?   I would have been arrested and gone to jail.  Whew!!!

                                 It was all funny to me.  Very funny.   My Dad had bought me an illegal moonshine runner, thinking it was a lady's car.  
                                It figures.  Only I could end up with something like that. Here is the corny poem I wrote about my car on my birthday in 1965; (my best girlfriend and I cleaned up my car and this is about that day). Don't laugh, I was only 20!!
                  She's ready to roll, this coach of mine, 
She's all bossed up with spit and  shine,
                  We washed her, waxed her, even wooed her, 
Why there ain't nothin' we aint "dood" her!
                  With sweat and soap we scrubbed away, 
All neglect of a long past day.
                  She's down right handsome and she's tough, 
With 300 horses and that's enough,
                To beat'em all around our town. 
If they don't move, we'll mow 'em down!
                She's white as snow inside her now. 
We scrubbed her clean, Man, and how!
               And her skin, she's charcoal gray. 
Mighty sharp I think you'd say.
               Her growl is deep and solid mean.
Rev her mill, see what a queen!
               She goes like fire, stops like, well...
If you stomp her, it's smoke you'll smell!
               I'm gonna treat her as good as I can.  
She's more to me than any man.
               I'll drive her like she were solid gold, 
And feed her all the love she'll hold.
               She'll stick by me through thick and thin,
No matter what weather it happens we're in.
               We worked so hard to make her prime,
For the celebration and now's the time.
              Give me the keys and off we'll go, 
There's a special place we both know.
              Where her dream was bred and born, 
Where Mom's Chevy's tires got very worn!
             Circling once, circling twice,
Hunting and dreaming of shoes and rice.
             Buck's is the name of the place,
And for her there's a parking space,
             For my rocket Olds 88. 
Come on Linda, let's not wait!
            Over good old times we'll reminisce, 
The "raisin'" days we soon will miss,
            And ride the range, and act real "hokey",
In my first car, my Grand Ole Smokey!

25 October, 2015

The Ham Story

         My wacky parents put on a dinner party to celebrate the completion of their new house.  But things couldn't have gone more wrong...

The home my folks built near Asheville, NC, in the late 50s -early 60s. "Scene of the crime".

    Here is the funniest of all my family stories that we tell.

My Mom, the Dictator.
    My father was an Army man.  After serving for 35 years, both in World War l and ll, he retired as a Colonel.  My Mom, on the other hand, was the “GENERAL.”  At least of our home.  She was a fanatic, a true dictator. 

 My dear mother was a clean freak, especially when it came to food.  I am not talking here about a normal person.  Her battlefield was our fridge.  If a tasty leftover casserole, a remaining bit of creamy fruit salad, or a luscious piece of extra meat was in there, it didn’t survive long under my Mom’s watchful eye. Germs were the enemy.  “Old” food was executed immediately.
Her mantra was Ben Franklin’s:  “Guests and fish grow old after three days.”  Well, it didn’t have to be fish.  We were lucky if fish lasted that long, under her scrutiny.  She considered ANY leftovers toxic after only TWO days! 
The living room. Dad was an engineer - he designed and built it.
Mom would carefully reconnoiter the fridge, moving stuff about, checking her mental inventory for when it had been put in there.  I can still see her in my mind, in her house dress and apron, glasses on, squinting in the fridge, her butt sticking out.   

 If an item didn’t pass muster, it was marshaled into the garbage!  She’d “harrumph”, and feel proud that she’d defended us from what she called, “ptomaine poisoning.”  I don’t even know if that was a real thing.  It was her arch villain.

Dad and I had a solution: his second fridge.  We sneaked leftovers into there, pilfered when she was absent from the upstairs kitchen. He had this relic of a fridge camped in the basement.   It was there, in which he kept his stockpile of vodka, scotch, and our spare half gallons of milk.  (Lurking beside them were also other milk cartons … of WORMS in dirt and moss for fishing bait!)   Mom would never assault his fridge.  That bastion was strictly under HIS command.   She also never marched in there because of her repugnance for THOSE worms.  So, if she needed more milk, Dad or I were sent to downstairs to commandeer it.

Once I accidentally brought the WRONG carton upstairs to our regular fridge.  That day Mom poured a nice, cold glass of WORMS and dirt out to drink. She about barfed up a kidney!  (Smile.)  Well, maybe it wasn’t an accident.

As a result, our fridge was promptly emptied and disinfected.   Our still-good food was evacuated and tossed!  She “sent in” the troops: Clorox and Pine Sol disinfectant to wipe out the “enemy.”  When it was all over, she sat, surveying the empty battlefield.  She’d conquered. 

Dad and I had watched glumly.  We knew her Lemon Meringue pie, a nice beef roast, and some of her famous “Heavenly Hash” Cool Whip fruit salad were in there. Those, among other treasures, were battlefield casualties.  Sigh…  Mom should have stood for a Court Martial instead.

Dad would eat most leftovers if she’d let him. Still, he was careful about food, too.  Being a military man his whole life, he was impeccably neat, clean and orderly.  You could bounce a dime off his bed sheets.  His dresser drawers and his closet would have passed the strictest inspection.  His clothes were folded in crisply aligned formations.  He was always showered, well groomed and clean shaven.  He dressed immaculately.  My parents were very clean people, careful people.  Why do I tell you this?

What happened during a dinner party one evening at our newly-built home, SHOCKED the pants right off me.  Let me tell you about it.

My folks always bought food in quantity:  not just one roast, not one chicken, not one ham, but several, or at least two of everything.  They had a freezer downstairs the size of Texas.  It was always fortified with food, along with a smaller one upstairs in the family room.   In both of those they stashed everything they’d bought on sale, frozen fresh produce, or what Mom had baked.  They froze extra bread bought on sale, Mom’s casseroles, homemade applesauce, corn on the cob, (and even once, by accident, a pair of my washed canvas sneakers.)  Didn’t find them until four months later, when I unwrapped them.   I could have sworn they were corn on the cob in that white waxed paper. 
Dad's cherry table in the background. He made the coffee table too.
Well, in anticipation of a dinner party they were planning, my folks had bought TWO big hams.  Mom, being ever the careful chef, baked one to taste, to be sure it was going to come out great for her party.  It was magnificent, as were most of her mouth-watering Southern recipes.  We gobbled it right up.  Satisfied, they invited the guests and planned to cook the second ham for their party.

Here's the view looking down the house's front steps.  Beautifully landscaped it was!

It was also to be the unveiling of my Dad’s finest achievement: next to our large, well-appointed house which he’d designed, built with his own hands (and a little help) there was this -  our new dining table, his pride and joy.  My Dad loved woodworking.  He'd worked on this piece for five years.

My Dad made tables of all kinds as gifts and for our own use.  His pinnacle of prowess was a 7-foot long, 5-foot wide,  (with leaves extended) hand waxed, solid cherry drop-leaf table.  It sat gleaming and heavy at one end of our formal living room.  My folks had built their dream house over six long years. They managed to finish most of it by themselves.  They had saved for years to pay for it and they were busting a gut to show off their fancy home.

The house was almost complete, except for the champagne-colored plush carpet, which was on backorder… and the floor sill molding.  That was supposed to cover the small gap between our linoleum kitchen floor and the plywood base floor in the living/dining room.  

This tiny piece of metal covering was a great source of contention.  Mom said if Dad didn’t put SOMETHING over that gap between the floors, somebody could catch their foot and fall.  There would surely be a lawsuit.  However, it WAS left uncovered, thanks to Dad’s insistence, because he couldn’t find exactly what he wanted.   He would regret that.  Mom would make sure of it.

Even though the carpet was not in yet, they went ahead with the party invitations and preparations.  On the day of the dinner, Mom cooked herself into a frenzy. 

The tantalizing fragrances of her notable fluffy Southern biscuits, fresh green beans, corn on the cob (right off the stalk), butter and brown sugar-glazed fresh carrots wafted in the air.  She’d made two delectable pies (apple and pecan), four kinds of fruit and veggie salads, too.   The best scent of all was our meal “masterpiece”, her sugar-glazed, pineapple-ring-adorned ham. The rings were punctuated with red maraschino cherries in the centers.  This mouth-watering prize was to be carried to the table by my father, while the guests observed his grand procession.  That was their plan.

After our friends and family had arrived, were greeted and seated, Mom sat down at the table with them.  She was dressed in her finery, ensconced at the head of the table, her back to a freshly painted off-white wall in the room.  Her best silver bowls and serving utensils gleamed.  Fine china sparkled.  Crisp linens adorned the table.  Crystal goblets perched, twinkling at each place setting.  A nice floral centerpiece reigned over the scene.  

Guests, including my older Sister Bobby, who had driven 200 miles to come, lined the table sides.  Everybody was eager to begin devouring Mom’s laudable meal.  Everything was ready.    Almost. 
Dad's feat of engineering - a curved sloping walkway.
Our hungry eyes were glued to the kitchen doors, watching for Dad’s entrance.  He would be coming through the folding wooden shutter doors there.   He’d installed those between the kitchen and the formal dining area.  (Mom had insisted that NO guest of hers was going to sit, looking into the kitchen while they ate.  “Good restaurants didn’t let people look into their kitchens!”  Nobody was ever to see the counters messy, the clutter that was a hot meal being produced in her kitchen.) Thus the doors hid everything from view where we all sat.

The GRAND moment arrived.   Elbowing the shutter doors open carefully, Dad appeared, holding the steaming ham on a big platter.   He stepped through the door and proceeded to carry the succulent meat to the table.  Guests “oohhed and aahhed” at the sight of Mom’s ham. I could hardly wait!
Well, Dad never made it to the table.  Neither did the ham.

That (...blankety-blank) open floor seam got him!  (The one he didn’t cover with sill molding yet. Yeah, Mom was seldom right about anything -- but he’d never live that down.) 
Dad caught his toe on the edge of it.  He pitched wildly forward with a yelp.  He struggled to hold onto her precious antique platter, almost spinning in place.  The ham became AIRBORNE!  Mom’s face froze in disbelief.  As she saw her prize ham LAUNCH itself off that platter toward the table of guests, her mouth dropped, and she half-rose with a cry.

That MEAT MISSLE didn’t hit the table.  Instead it shot down, streaming ham juices, toward the floor.  It hit with a loud SMACK, and slid the full length UNDER the table!   Instinctively, the guests leaped from their chairs, to clear its path. 
 That big ole’ ham slid all the way across the floor.  It went straight between Mom’s feet, and then HIT THE WALL!  Ham juice and grease exploded six feet up in the air, staining the wall with dripping muck.   Stunned for only a second, my Mom instantly whipped in to action!

“I’ll get dish towels! Toss your napkins into that mess!” she yelled to all of us.  Dad, meantime, ran over and speared the escapee ham with the big table serving fork. He got it off the floor and put it back on the platter.  Dad disappeared into the kitchen, shutting the folding doors tight behind him.  Mom was on his heels, throwing her expensive linen napkins under the table to staunch the flow of grease.  Once inside the kitchen she held those doors shut TIGHT.

 I scurried around, grabbing the dish towels she tossed out the doors to us. She was apologizing profusely, the whole time.  The guests were on their hands and knees, speaking consoling words to her across the shuttered doors.  They were preoccupied with mopping up the ham dregs.  Mom motioned to me through the half-opened shutter door.
I got into the kitchen FAST.  What I saw there caused instant CHIN burn.  As long as I live, I will not forget what I witnessed.  My big mouth dropped open. 

My parents were going to re-use that floor-flopped ham!

Knowing full well there was NO SECOND ham,  my Mom yelled out the closed shutter doors, “Don’t worry, we have ANOTHER ham!  It’ll be out as fast as we can warm it up.”  (WAIT…. What “OTHER” HAM?  We had eaten that one!)      My Clean queen Mom was going to do what?
Scene of the crime. Our kitchen in the new house.
She glared at me.   Leaning very close, in a low, harsh whisper, as quiet as a mouse but mad as a hornet, she said to me, “Don’t you say a WORD!  Guard the doors!  DON’T open those doors no matter WHAT!”   She meant business.  When the GENERAL commanded, you obeyed!  More dumbfounding, was that my Dad was going along with her!

What shocked me most was this: They always had tons of arguments.  They almost NEVER agreed on anything.  Never worked together, unless it was a creative project like making gifts for Christmas, or blanching and freezing produce.  Above all they were honest.  What they were doing was unthinkable!  Completely out of character!

 Here they were, lying sacks of sh_t, joint culprits quickly removing the pineapple rings and cherries on that ham (after washing it under the faucet. ) They were carving that disgraceful thing into a different shape!  They REALLY were going to PASS THAT ham off as a NEW one!  Speedily they re-applied the pineapple rings and cherries.  Mom slopped some golden red juice over it from the roasting pan.  

It was ready AGAIN to make an entrance.  (What were they thinking?)   I could NOT believe they were doing this.  MY parents? My clean freak Mom?

This time, Mom, holding the doors open for Dad, let him pass gingerly OVER that treacherous floor seam.  Our guests and my Sister Bobby had seated themselves again.  To pass the time, they had been talking about Mom’s wisdom in making TWO hams, and what a mess that spill had made on the floor. (snort.)  Nobody knew it was the SAME ham.  I almost bit off my tongue to stop from grinning!
Me in the 70s in that living room of this home.

They served and carved the ham.  Dinner went on without a hiccup after that.  The food was delicious; the company was genial and very talkative.   Mom and Dad kept glancing at each other, breathing a bit tensely until they were convinced NOBODY KNEW...  

Guests stuffed their faces, then later sat around having coffee in the living room and chatting.   They listened while Dad regaled them with his always great, funny stories.  Everybody loved Dad’s stories.  Well, this was going to make a spectacular one.

 Mom and I cleaned up the table and put the food away.  In our kitchen she pinned me against the fridge with a glare.  “Do NOT ever tell anybody what happened with that ham, or I…..”  (I KNEW what the penalty was.  Dad did, too.  You never wanted to cross Mom.  She was a terror when mad.)   I just zipped my lip.

 After company left, Mom and I did dishes in silence.  Dad and Bobby scrubbed the greasy, ham splattered wall.  He later repainted it.  My folks got away with it, using that slider of a ham.  We never talked about it.  Ever.

Except, that Mom had HER “I told you so” day with Dad.  Up to the very day I left home for good, if you stood a certain way in the light … well, you could see in the new paint, a shine where that ham blasted the wall.  I think it's still there.

Even Sister Bobby, didn’t say much the next day before she left for home in Maxton.  I think she was still embarrassed for Dad, dropping the ham in front of all those people.  
Sisters: Bobby -center. Mary Lou (L) Carol on Rt.

Little did she know what else had happened.  Nobody did.  Or so we thought.
Carpet came in a week later and got installed.  It erased the hash mark of a greasy ham slide on the floor. 

The seam between the kitchen sill and living room was quickly covered with Dad’s stubbornly anticipated metal strip.  It hid the scene of the crime.  We all sighed in relief.
  One day six months after that debacle, Dad and I were stunned to discover somebody KNEW.  

We were reading Readers Digest Magazine, in our own rooms, separately.  There, in print a brief capsule of this hilarious event, minus names, appeared under the “Only in America” HUMOR section!  Only Dad and I saw it.  We rushed together and whispered.  “Somebody knows!”

Mom was never told.  My Sister Bobby never said one word to us in the future, if she saw that story in her Readers Digest.  We thought nobody knew, not even her.  We both blamed her, though.  

Bobby happened to work for a newspaper as a reporter.   Uh, huh.  I smelled a rat in the family.  We never asked her. 

 Better to leave toppled ham lying… in the "garbage"... where it should have been.

This funny story became a legend, passed down by me to my sons, who still enjoy the telling of it.  Okay, sons, this one you asked me for, and here it is.