PODIUMS OF HONOR LARGE AND SMALL

PODIUMS OF HONOR BIG AND SMALL

The Chatterbox always has some kind of great display on this big platform that stands in the middle of the big round dining room. I like to call it the Podium of Honor. In truth, it is an honor to get whatever you’ve done placed there for a month or so. Mostly, you’ll often see a great hot rod or classic car on display. Everything from a Deuce Coupe to a 1940’s army jeep have graced the podium with their presence. At Christmas time a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of the podium stands guard over hundreds of toys that have been donated to less fortunate local kids in the county. To be sure, the platform honors the creativity and goodness within us all.

One way you can be sure that the podium is a shrine to all that is good is to watch the little kids head straight for it with arms outstretched. The average toddler can’t stay away from it. They’re always getting yanked off the second step by mom or dad. Before you know it, they’re on their way back for a second try for the glory. This is especially true at the moment. There’s quite a compelling collection on the podium right now. The kids are going nuts, drawn like moths to a flame, or like me to a chili dog, to four or five large remote control model airplanes.

These aren’t your usual Revel plastic model planes out of a cardboard box. No, these babies are in many cases, way bigger than two or three four year olds put together. I would guess that the smallest one is around six or seven feet long with a wing span of a good eight feet. What’s even wilder is that each model is a replica of one kind or another World War II American fighter plane. I know I saw a P- 41, and a P- 58. There’s a Flying Tiger for sure. Hanging from the ceiling is a smaller replica of a Corsair. That’s the plane my father flew. They’ve got its nose pointed down as if it were on a staffing run. The kids are going nuts looking at all this. Me too.

Funny, but, as I played records from my control booth, I just couldn’t take my gaze of the display. It had such a hold on me. This or that daydream filled my mind. In each one the plane in question was revving up at the end of a runway. Or, maybe it was banking into a hard dive to attack a hostile target in the mountain pass below. Some of my daydreams were fantasy. Others were based on quite real stories of WW II that I’ve heard over the decades.

Here’s one of those stories. I got it just the other day from an old timer at a Senior Care Center. Let’s call this fellow Bob. Bob had joined the service when the United States was about one year into the conflict. He joined to fly. He wanted to be in bombers. He passed flight school and was sent to train to pilot one bomber or another. I think he went for B-19’s. Bob was very game and trained just fine. Sadly, the top brass found that he was a bit too short to be a bomber pilot. It turns out that a four engine plane like a B-19 could lose the power in three out of its four engines. The engines could break down or be damaged from hostile fire. If that were to happen, the B-19 could limp home with one engine running. The pilot would have to literally stand on the rudder pedal of the opposite side from the working engine.   Or was it stand on the rudder pedal on the same side of the operating engine? I’m not sure but, rest assured Bob knew what to do for that emergency. Still, the brass said that Bob’s legs were too short to get the pedal into the right spot. Bob protested and said if his plane was down to one engine and was about to start spinning like a boomerang, you can bet damned well that he’d see to it personally that his leg would grow much longer in a big hurry.

The top brass at the hearing had deaf ears for Bob’s plea and went thumbs down on him being a bomber pilot. They told Bob that he could be a flight engineer instead. Bob was ok with that and figured he could always butter up his planes pilot for a little time at the controls. He also figured that his flight crew would feel a little better knowing that there were two pilots on board. Bob went off to B-29 flight engineers school and did just fine.

When, he graduated, Bob was put into a squadron of fifty Super Fortress B-29’s. The war was getting near its end. Germany was on the ropes. Imperial Japan’s army was mostly in retreat. Most of Japans navy was in flames and sliding into the Pacific. B-29’s were over Japan night and day. Still, Japan’s forces fought on as hard as they could. Suicide missions aimed at soft and large targets were the normal plan. The island of Japan was getting ready for the allied invasion. All citizens were expected to fight to the death. This was the stuff nightmares are made of. Bob was ready to be part of it if the orders came. His unit trained as often as possible. They moved the whole unit to California as newspaper headlines screamed accounts of one grisly battle after another. Almost every person in America was gritting their teeth and looking to the land of our enemy across the Pacific. The future wasn’t looking pretty.

Bob’s squadron got its orders one day. They were to fly to a base on the island of Guam and, prepare for the onslaught. I’ve heard that by this time Kamakazi planes would not even engage fighter pilots but would careen through the escort fighters bomber screens and, ram smack into the middle of the first B-29 they saw. Crew and enemy would drop together from the sky in a whirling fireball.  The B-29’s carried incendiaries to set Japans cities ablaze with firestorms. This was not going to be a vacation.

Departure day came and Bob’s plane was number 50 on the flight orders.   The silver B-29’s lined up on the tarmac. They were to take off one at a time and stay dispersed on the trip from the states to Guam. Bomber number one got its signal to go and it did just that. Soon, it was gone from sight. After a minute or two, the second flight hit the air. Being the flight engineer Bob was busy charting the course and looking at the gauges. He and the rest of his crew were probably in on the banter back and forth over the radio between the tower and the outgoing flights. I’m sure some of the talk was encouraging and just a tad spicy at the same time. I’m also sure some of the outbound flight crews looked back as the land disappeared and wondered if they’d ever see home again. Some, I’m sure didn’t think about that and wondered if there were any girls on Guam. It would have been interesting to be one of Gods thought recorders that day. The delete button would have been busy.   Plane 49 got its orders and flicked it’s rudder at Plane 50 as it went for the end of the runway.

As Plane 49 was just getting its wheels up and making some altitude, a message came over the speaker in Plane 50. Bob figured this was it. He was checking his dials one more time as a message came in.  He thought, “This is it. Finally!”

But this time a different message came through. You could hear back ground noise of cheering in the control tower background. The guys in the tower sounded like it was New Years Eve. “Attention Flight 50. Taxi back to the hangar. Repeat, taxi back to the hangar! Japan has surrendered. The war is over. Repeat, Stand Down!!”

I’m not saying and, I know it’s against regulations but, the flight crew on Flight 50 was probably pretty darn drunk by the time they got to the hangar. If they weren’t drunk in the plane, they sure soon would be once they got to the hangar. It was a good day for sure. Some of the flights closest to the states turned around and headed back to base. I’m sure some of them were coming in upside down. The earlier flights had passed the halfway point and had to hit their party in Guam. Either way didn’t matter much. The damn war was over.

I’m sure that the next day if you were to fly over that airport, you would have seen all sorts of war planes parked here and there on the tarmac. From above, it would have looked like a bigger version of the display of model war planes that were on the podium of honor in the middle of the Chatterbox.

 

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY

BIRTHDAY PARTY

Last Sunday afternoon, I was starting my oldies show from the Chatterbox. People were just starting to file in looking for their weekly dose of Double Dog Baskets and fries. It wasn’t crowded yet but, it soon would be. As a dee jay, I like it when the Chatterbox is beginning to fill up.   The folks can hear me talking. Usually, once the dining room gets full, you can hear the tunes just fine but, I get kind of lost in the roar.

I also love to people watch. I think it’s my favorite hobby. So, you can imagine my pleasure when a family entered the dining room walking right behind the hostess. There, passing by, was a young married couple in their late twenties. With them was the prettiest little girl of maybe four or five years old. The little girl had really curly light hair. She had that hairdo the little girls often wear when their hair is mostly tight little curls. The style must have a name. If it does, I don’t know what it is. It’s enough to say that it makes a kid look like they have teddy bear ears. Whatever it’s called, it’s cute as pie on a little girl. She was wearing the prettiest party dress and holding onto a string tied to a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY balloon. She had her best big girl dress up shoes on. The coolest thing to me was the wide ear to ear smile with her head held high like a movie star. I would guess her to be the happiest little girl on earth as she skipped by my control booth. Under my breath, I wished her happy birthday.

Making a mental note to give them time to settle in and then maybe play Sixteen Candles by the Crests, I went on with my shtick. Some shtick I’ve got. I was so busy watching this happy family walk by that I forgot to set up the next record. Of course that’s nothing new.

Time passed and the family was almost through with their appetizers. I think maybe it was a platter of curly fries they were nibbling at. I couldn’t really tell. Smelled good though. In any case, I felt it was now time to do the Birthday Dedication. I set up my good copy of Sixteen Candles to play next. I took a deep breath and began. PT Barnhum would have been proud of me.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! May I have your attention please! Your attention please! Thank You! I just want to say that we have a very important birthday dedication to do this Sunday here at The Chatterbox Drive In. I call your attention to this pretty little girl about five booths to my left.”

The little girl and her Mom and Dad along with everyone else, looked my way. I was on a roll. Pointing to the family I went on. “This wonderful Mom and Dad I’m sure would love it if we take a moment and wish this lovely young lady, their daughter, a very Happy Birthday. How about a round of applause for this wonderful family?!” People started to clap and cheer.

Funny though, the family just looked at each other and then at me. Mom was trying to say something but, I couldn’t hear her over the noise. Finally, the applause died down. You could hardly blame people for clapping. This smiling little girl was such a Shirley Temple kind of cutie. But, she and her Mom were both trying to be heard. They hollered louder something to the effect of that it wasn’t the little girls birthday!

Oooops! I was in it pretty deep now. I wiped the egg off my face and tried to figure things out.

“But, you’ve got that pretty birthday balloon and you’re all dressed up. Isn’t it your birthday? If not you, whose birthday is it?” The little girl and her folks were laughing out loud. The little girl hollered out to me.

“It’s Daddy’s birthday!!! Mommy and I are treating him to whatever he wants.” They both laughed some more.

I was still in a bit of a pickle and explained to Dad and the crowd.

“Sir, Dad, Uh, happy birthday. I’ve got this song to help you celebrate your, uh, big day. I can’t change it now and, I hope you don’t take offense. I thought it was going to be for your daughter as a birthday celebration on her special day.” Dad just looked at me. “Well, I guess I better play it.” There was no turning back now. “Here’s the Crests for dear old Dad with…. 16 Candles.”

The Crests and Johnny Maestro let it rip with perhaps the world greatest birthday song….for young girls. Dad just looked at me with his head to one side. I was squirming. The little girl and her Mom were in stitches. Many of the other diners joined them in their merriment. Finally, dear old Dad started out with a nice smile which went to laughter thank Heaven. I was off the hook. Breathing once again, I searched for something, anything by Johnny Cash.

When the Crests finished the tune with a flourish, I wished Dad Happy Birthday and said how sorry I was. He smiled back and waved the ok sign. Before anything else could happen, I got the man in black out there singing. The bullet was dodged.

As Johnny sang One Piece at a Time, I got to thinking about that family and realized what threw me off. It was that little girl. She was so happy with her good fortune of being at the Chatterbox and having a party. Her beautiful smile never faltered. In fact, it just got bigger as the party continued. I just assumed that she was happy because it was all for her. But, you see, it wasn’t for her. Better than anything could be, it was a party that she and her Mommy planned just for her Daddy. To that wonderful little girl, it was the best time ever.
 

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO TODAY?

WHAT SHOULD I DO TODAY?

I think many of you have heard me say how, now and then, I like to just lay still in the early almost predawn twilight and throw a question out to the powers that be. Then, I just lay there and wait for an answer. Sometimes, they don’t come.   Sometimes they do.

Last night was a doozy. The rain and wind woke me up and, that was that. I started dwelling on problems with my station, my book sales, my money or lack of it, my no shortage of bills to pay. We all get those nights. Well, last night was my turn. To add to the fun, my back hurt something awful from sitting. I wouldn’t mind if it hurt from working too hard or, getting whacked in the back. But this time, it hurt from sitting too much from playing records all weekend. How do you go to a doctor with a back ache and tell him you think you got it from dee jaying oldies?   I was also going nuts over and over in my head from webcasting royalty red tape. You just name the problem and it was bothering me there in the dark.  I must have done the same math problems over and over in my head for at least an hour and getting a different answer each time. Then, thankfully, I fell sort of asleep and had a night mare about doing my taxes. It would have been better to had one of those pleasant nightmares where some kind of monster gobbles me up alive. At least there’s an end to the torture having one of those dreams. But, dreaming about taxes, heck I went from state tax to income tax to sales tax. Oh the madness and all this with a back ache. Oh, and my teeth itched too.

So, I noticed that the back felt better when I laid on my back and faced the ceiling. I fluffed up my pillow and just calmed down in the dark. I said a prayer or two to get my head in the right place. I said two prayers because I messed up the words to the first prayer and figured I’d better not goof around with God. The last thing I needed was to have Him mad at me too. Then I took a deep breath and spoke very low. “God, I’ve got a lot of nothing on my mind. Still, it’s all got to get done. What should be my priority? What should I do first?” With that, I closed my eyes and got all floatish as I waited to get an answer. I didn’t have long to wait.

Almost instantly, my bedroom door seemed to blow open. It opened with a vengeance. I kept my eyes closed and laid real still. Something was walking my way. It stopped right up near my head.

It turns out it was my basset hound Millie. She let out a friendly little greeting whine. I put my hand down to her snoot and she nuzzled my hand and licked my thumb. I petted her knobby head as she whined a bit louder. Then, like most dogs she started pushing on my hand for more pats on the head.

I spoke to her.

“Millie you just interrupted me. I was trying to get some advice here for the day. Now look. You messed me up.”

Then, it hit me. You know, if you hold the word DOG up to a mirror and aren’t too fussy about the direction of the letters, you get the word GOD!

I realized that I had my question had an answer. Millie ran around my legs as I got my trousers on and then my shoes, and my sweatshirt. We found her leash and it was the start of a very nice day. A day full of first things first. I expect to sleep very well tonight.

 

 

SANTA CLONES (A CHRISTMAS BLURP)

SANTA CLONES

 

I don’t think I know of a more energetic family than my brother Ed and his hearty crew, Helen, Nitza, and Blake.   They exist in a world of constant hyper drive. I’m thinking that on a good night, if you were to add up all their combined sleep time, it would add up to maybe an hour. That’s fifteen minutes each. You know how in Star Wars Hans Solo throws a switch and phooof the Millenium Falcon bugs out from dead still to just a receding glow of light? That’s Ed and the wife and kids two microseconds after their feet hit the floor in the morning. Twenty three hours and forty five minutes later, the light beams flash into the room from the far off horizon and solidify into human form. They hop into bed, kiss goodnight and get a good fifteen minutes worth of solid rest before the next light cycle almost instantly evolves.

I’ve never actually observed this phenomenon but, this has got to be how this family gets all the stuff done that they do in a single day.   I’m beginning to think that the whole bunch of them somehow got too close to a well hidden atomic pile and it pushed them into a world of warp drive. Didn’t something like this happen to the Flash? You know, I’ve never looked into the bedroom closets at their house to see if there’s capes on the rack and tights in the dresser drawers. Ed’s been a little under the weather lately so, he gets to work an hour away from home a bit late, at 5am. Then, he drives all over Pennsylvania and, New Jersey selling and delivering 55 gallon drums of lubrication products. Helen, is able to prepare a turkey dinner in the morning before she’s on the road as a realtor. She once was an activity director with a huge senior care center but, she was so active that she wore everyone out. Ed loved cliff climbing until he hurt his foot so, now, on weekends, he just hikes and lets cliff rescue teams lower him off ledges. Don’t get me started on Nitza and Blake. Nitza teaches kids in Brooklyn and puts Da Vinci to shame with her art work. Blake served in the Marines and now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia. He and his sister both drag race motorcycles. In his spare time Blake likes to split firewood. I think he has an acre of it piled high in his back yard and side yard too.

Ed and Helen are the only ones I’ve ever known who never have a problem with Christmas. Let me put this another way. If Christmas were to be foolish enough to be a problem to those two, I would pity Christmas. There’s no Christmas tree too tall and, no window ledge too high or rickety to get a string or two of Christmas lights on it. To hear Helen tell it, there is no present too large or oddly shaped to not get properly wrapped. Helen could gift wrap a live moose and have enough ribbons and gift wrap left over to wrap a canoe. Don’t stand still near her a week before Christmas. You’ll get wrapped.

Did I mention Christmas dinner?   Both Ed and Helen get in on this project. Oh, and it’s such a feast. They start planning for next years Christmas dinner while doing the dishes from the Christmas dinner we all just ate. Ed sees to the ham. He travels to a far away and secret meat market in the far off western mountains of New Jersey. They actually get the hogs to smoke hickory scented tobacco on the farm so that the smoke flavor permeates the ham shank from deep within. This ham is also sliced wafer thin. There’s a wafer thin pineapple slice placed in with the ham every ten slices. This gives it a tropical yet smoky bouquet. My wife Sandy usually eats a yam for supper at our house. Me, I’ll have spaghetti with butter and cheese. I’ve checked. Sandy and I eat about eight pounds of ham and pineapples at Helens Christmas feast. That’s eight pounds each. Doctors tell us it’s some kind of feeding frenzy that hits us. Sometimes I eat so much ham and macaroni and cheese that I black out. I’m out cold but wearing this contented grin. This meal is childs play for Ed and Helen. I don’t get it. There’s even place setting, and napkins, and extra spoons. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of leftovers except for what might fit in my pockets.

The meal would be present enough but, Ed and Helen go out of their way in the gift department too. They gave us a patio set once. Did I say that included the patio too? Ed and Helen built it one afternoon while I was dee jaying at the Chatterbox. Rainy weather kept them from painting the house and putting in a brick barbeque along the river.

Gosh, they’re such a nice and very busy family.   That goes double at Christmas time.   Actually, that goes double any old time. The whole family lives in a Christmas kind of way all year long.   I wonder if they’re Santa Clones?   You know? They just might be.

THE CHRISTMAS SHIRT (A CHRISTMAS BLURP FOR NEW CASTLE)

THE CHRISTMAS SHIRT

My kid brother Ed and I could hardly contain ourselves. The big Christmas box from the family out in New Castle, PA just came in the mail and, it sure was huge. Now, most of it wasn’t just for us. There was probably a thing or two in there for the folks. Still, it always worked out that the bulk of this huge box sitting on the kitchen floor in front of us was mostly ours and, life was good. Christmas was just two weeks away. Grandma Gribben, Aunt Barbie, Aunt Alice, Aunt Colette never disappointed at Christmas time. Their Christmas gifts were the stuff legends were made of.

Heck, once about five years earlier, they all pitched in and got my brother and me this giant civil war battle set. It had everything. Hundreds of infantry and cavalry toy soldiers from both North and South. There were authentic miniature cannons and mortars that actually shot real plastic cannon balls. The set had an exploding bridge just like the one at Antitiem. There was a ruined Southern Mansion made of tin and plastic that we could surround with busted up trees and picket fences. When we’d have it all set up it could easily take up a whole eight by ten rug. There was even a plastic Jefferson Davis and Abe Lincoln. We’d get to playing so hard with that set that we might not even hear the folks screaming for us to come get supper. Even on meatloaf night, there’d be a good chance that we miss the first two calls to the table. It was that good of a set. Ed, to this day, still has some of the pieces.

The folks told us to take the box upstairs to the living room and just place it near the sofa. We were under strict orders to leave the box intact. Of course that didn’t mean we couldn’t try our best at deductive reasoning and simple analysis. We put the big box on the coffee table and put on our thinking caps. The box weighed thirty five pounds. That was a good sign. Thirty five pounds of clothes wouldn’t fit in a box that size. Oh, there might be a shirt or a few socks in the big box but, this box held mostly hard goods.   That meant toys and lots of them.

Ed got his toy doctors set out from under the bed and whipped out the stethoscope. He attached it to his ears and placed the sound pickup cup on the box as I shook the package. He listened carefully and stroked his chin. He was lost in thought.   He moved his hand for me to shake the box one more time.   His eyes lit up. “I hear metal. It might be an Erector Set. Shake it again.” I shook the box ever so slightly. Ed spoke like one of those detectives on TV. “I’m sure. This is definitely an Erector Set. Let me heft this side of the box. Yes! It’s a model 6.5. Here you try.” I did just that and had to agree with Ed’s premise.   For further proof, we found a magnet and it stuck like chewing gum to the side of the big box. BINGO!

I could also hear, thanks to the stethoscope, a dense mass to the left of the Erector Set that sounded a lot like it might be a book of some sort. I told Ed of this finding. This had us stumped. Grandma and her daughters never sent books, unless, unless, this was perhaps a stamp album. Only time would tell. We both decided that we’d only know for sure on Christmas morning. That would be soon enough. We bounded downstairs to the kitchen. It was spaghetti night and rumor had it that Mom may have put sausage into the sauce and was last seen making garlic bread too.

Christmas morning came. Both Ed and I didn’t sleep a lick. There were so many boxes for us that came out of the New Castle load. The shipping box was almost like one of those clown cars you see at the circus. The gifts just kept falling out of the crate. We were forbidden to shake any of the gift boxes. Of course no one said anything about an accidental foot tap to hear if there was a rattle sound coming from within. Rattles meant toys and, there were good toys to be had from the folks in New Castle.

The alarm rang at six sharp. Actually, it was 5:30 am. Ed and I set the clocks ahead a little bit every day from Thanksgiving on. No one seemed to notice. After Christmas, we’d slowly set them back. By the end of January the house was back on regular time.   Mom later in life, told me that she was on to our trick and she would wait till we were at school and move the clocks back to normal and then some. So, I guess in truth we were really starting Christmas at 6:30. Mom said it was her gift to our father.

The family bedrooms were above the living room.   I guess Ed and I awakened first. In the dim morning light I’d whisper loudly to see it he was awake. He was. In fact, he had already gotten into his bathrobe. I slept in mine. We both wore our slippers to bed. We double checked the clock and bolted across the freezing wood floor and barged into our parent’s bedroom. Ed jumped in between Mom and Dad. I stood there on the floor and hollered that it was six. Ed and I were told to go downstairs but, to not start messing with the gifts. We didn’t have to be threatened.   Whatever the folks wanted was just fine with us. All we asked was that they’d just hurry up with getting on those bathrobes.

From the top of the steps, we could easily overlook the living room in the morning light. We had a huge living room. You could play a small game of basketball in it and have room left for a bowling alley. In the middle of the floor sat our Christmas tree. The tree lights were out but, the tinsel amplified the morning light nicely. Earlier Christmas week, I had used some kind of pink window cleaner spray along with stencils to create this huge flock of angels on all the living room windows. I think the window cleaner stuff was called Glass Wax. The morning sun made the angels glow with an odd grey light. The angels flew in a holding pattern over two kids wearing pajamas and praying.   Ed and I knew that our prayers were answered. On the floor spreading out from and around the tree we saw that there were even more presents on hand than there were the night before. The folks must have put them there. Ed and I looked the scene over. We had hit pay dirt. We did a minutes worth of gawking and then the cold air in the living room caught up to us. We ran into the bathroom as fast as we could. There was no time to waste.

Ed and I ran out of the John and down the hallway to the living room. We probably looked like sailors running down a gangway for battle stations. We ran past our Father who was going the other way heading for the bathroom. Mom was right behind him. They both went in and shut the door behind them. Heck, we thought, they were going to be in there for hours. We pounded on the bathroom door and, yelling for them both to hurry up. Mom told us to mind our own business and get in the living room and plug in the tree lights. Our Father hollered that we better not open anything till they got there. We turned and flew into the living room. Of course he didn’t say anything about shaking anything.

We could hear the toilet flush and then the bathroom door opening. The folks were about to make their entrance. I was always a bit of a showman. I waited for them to walk into the living room. The second they came through the door and, at just the right moment, I stuffed the tree light plug into the socket and the tree cut the morning darkness to pieces. The folks hollered Merry Christmas and gave each other a smooch. My father hollered, “One! Two!! Three!!! Go!!!!” The feeding frenzy commenced.

To describe the way it looked when Ed and I opened presents on Christmas morning, it would be best to refer you to any movie or documentary you may have seen pertaining to the Amazonian jungle. We’ve all seen scenes in these movies when perhaps the bad guy in the movie comes to a shallow stream that blocks the jungle trail. The villain stands on the shore and instructs one of his newer henchmen to cross the water and report what’s on the other shore. The new guy gets to about midstream and is about waist deep in the muddy water and gets his boot stuck in the mud as curious little rivulets in the water approach. This is a Christmas story I’m telling so, I’m not going to tell you what happens next. Suffice to say that it’s not the stuff visions of sugar plums are made of.   All I will say is that starving piranha fish had nothing on my brother Ed and me.

The giant pile of presents were expertly decimated in five minutes at the most. Mom was in charge of keeping track of the gift tags. It was a thankless job. Still, she did it well. Sitting under the tree with us she’d snag the gift card and tape it to the present as fast as she could. Heaven help us if we didn’t send out thank you letters to all the family. I’m afraid that her pleas for us to slow down and quit ripping the, to and from, tags apart fell on deaf ears. It would be like asking a blood crazed aligator to pause and say grace. On a good Christmas morning, mom would go through at least two rolls of scotch tape. She kept it all under control.

Mom would also take a look at the gifts and size them up as we jumped on and tore apart the next victim. A chemistry set would bring a plea to only play with it in the basement and don’t blow up the house. A bike would get a, now you ride this carefully and don’t ride your friends on the handle bars. You get the idea. It seemed that every gift came with a forecast of doom. Usually, the prediction was very well founded. Mom, I think liked it when we got clothes.

In fact, Mom was rather happy with a shirt I got from my Aunt Alice out in New Castle. I didn’t even notice it during the frenzy. I saw the gift was a shirt and handed it to Mom while ripping a ribbon off the next gift with my teeth. I hardly even noticed when Mom stretched the shirt along my shoulders to see if it would fit. According to her, it would do just nicely. She mentioned how pretty it was. I didn’t even hear her. Grandma Gribben had sent me a huge stamp album and a big box of stamps of the world. All that I remember was Mom saying how the shirt would be perfect for school.

Later that day, we were getting ready to go to my Fathers parents house in Elizabeth for a big turkey dinner. Life was so good. My brother Ed did get an Erector Set. It had already cut him in a few places. I had already found a few good stamps from that Stamps of the World box and put them proudly into my new album from Grandma. But, now we had to put all that aside to get dressed for the trip to Granddad and Grandmas house. It wasn’t like we had to wear a suit or anything. The dress code was for Christmas casual. Mom hollered up the steps for me to wear that nice shirt Aunt Alice sent me. I figured why not and hunted for the box.

The box was easy enough to find. I had used it to prop up the far end of my stamp album. I grabbed the box and pulled out the shirt. New shirts always seem to have pins in them and I’d been stuck before. I looked the shirt over just for safety’s sake. That’s when I really noticed the shirt for the first time. My jaw dropped as I unfolded it.

Let me see if I can describe what I saw. It was a long sleeve pullover winter time shirt. It had no collar. There were side slits on the bottom that would line up over my hip bones left and right. The sleeves ended somewhere between my elbow and wrist. There was no collar. There wasn’t even the kind of collar that a tee shirt had. The shirt didn’t have a pocket to its name. There might have been tiny cloth belts over the side waist slits. The shirt had vertical half inch multi colored bands that covered the shirt front, back, and on both sides. Not one color was duplicated. Not one. I didn’t know there were that many colors to where you could even do that kind of thing. I had never seen a shirt like this one before in my entire life. I ran to the Sears Catalog to see if it was in there. It wasn’t. Friends, it wasn’t even in the Sears Catalog. We got all our clothes from there. What was Aunt Alice thinking? I could I wear this to Grandmas and Granddads house. But, worse than that, how could I wear this shirt to school? I was doomed.

My one hope that Mom would hate it too was shattered when Mom came upstairs to see how I was doing. She looked me over and got that look like she was a TV Mom. You know the look. She folded her hands together and tucked them under her ear as she tilted her head to one side smiling and said “AWWW! That shirt looks so good on you! Your Aunt Alice sure has a way with picking just the right thing for you to wear.” Oh, I was so doomed. I dragged my feet to the car like a man to the gallows and went to Granddads house like a man. With a little luck maybe I’d be lucky and spill gravy on the darn thing. Then, I noticed on the label that the shirt was stain proof. Oh, I was so doomed.

At the Grandparents, no one said anything about my new shirt. But, it must have been a topic of conversation among the men in the family. Though Grandma and Aunt Jean liked it a lot, none of the grownup men thought much of it. I could hear them snickering. Aunt Jean made a point of getting me aside and saying how handsome I was and that the shirt made me look just like a movie star. Uncle Don, who was pretty much blind, got me aside and said how he heard the shirt was pretty wild. He showed me a few good punches I could throw if anyone gave me grief at school. That’s when it hit me. School was opening again in just a few days. I was going to have to wear this thing to school. The thought of that almost made me lose my Christmas cookies if you know what I mean.

I know one of the favorite scenes in Jean Sheppard’s Christmas Story is when Ralphy had to put on the bunny suit for his family. To this day that scene still gives me the sympathy shakes. I know how that poor kid feels. But at least after the family had a good laugh, he could run upstairs and take it off and then go outside and shoot his eye out. No one asked Ralphy to wear the bunny suit to school. But, not me. When the sun rose on the next school day, when Christmas vacation was over, and it would eventually end, I would have to walk into class wearing that dog gone shirt. Worse, there was no way out. I could whine and cry, argue, fight, but sooner or later, that shirt would go on and I’d have walk into Mr. Bragg’s eighth grade class room and take my coat off. It would have been better for me if I went to school in my underpants. At least, if I did that, I’d get sent to the principal or maybe the nurse. Soon, I’d be home and getting therapy. But, no with this shirt on my back, I’d have to stay all day living under the cruel glare of my fellow students.   The playground was going to be living hell.

School opened as it always will and I tried one more plea for mercy. Actually, I threw a fit at the breakfast table. I really looked especially stupid screaming and yelling with that darn shirt on. I was kind of new to throwing fits so, it really wasn’t the best one I ever threw. Pretty much, it made Mom cry and got me pulled out of the kitchen and into the dining room by my Father. He was usually pretty lenient but, not this time. Making Mom cry was probably not the greatest thing I ever did. When my father got me into the dining room, he let go of me and put it rather plainly that when Mom starts crying, all bets are off. He said that I had no choice in the matter anymore. I was going to school with that shirt on my back or, I was going to die trying. Then, in a whisper, he said that he didn’t like the shirt either. He also said that some day when I get married, I’ll understand. My father was in the Marines as a pilot. He mentioned something about hitting the biggest guy right in the mouth and don’t stop punching till either he or you go down and out. He also said he’d get me out of reform school as quick as he could. Then he told me to go kiss Mom and say I’m sorry and go to school. I had no choice in the matter. As I left the house Mom was wiping her tears and saying how I looked just like Dick Powell. I had no idea who Dick Powell was. I just left the house figuring there’d be one less plate at the dinner table and it was meat loaf night too. At least if I lived through the day I could gum meatloaf. That was something to cheer me up I guess.

I hatched a plan on my last mile walk to school. All I had to do was say I was cold and leave my jacket on. Yeah, that would work just swell. Sure, I’d be sweaty but safe. Then I got to thinking that the teachers wouldn’t go for it. They were pretty good at smelling a rat.

I walked into class figuring that I may as well rip off my jacket and stand there sort of naked to the glares, giggle, and scorn of my friends. I didn’t have that many friends anyway. I figured that I may as well just resign myself to being a teenage hermit. I looked around the classroom. All the guys were wearing their new Christmas finery. They had flannel shirts on mostly. A lot of them were western style. It looked like I was in the dressing room for the Gene Autry Show. I cussed under my breath and took off my jacket.

The silence was quite loud as I walked to the coat room. A few of the bigger kids were elbowing each other and pointing at me. Mr. Bragg stopped in midsentence.   My few friends looked around the room wondering how my end would come. Me, I was in a state of blacked out limbo. Everything was getting kind of swirly. Funny though, the girls were quiet for a change. That was rare. When I came out of the coatroom the girls were kind of smiling at me. I waited for the first of what I thought would be many catcalls but, nothing came. Mr. Bragg spoke first. “Mr. South, where did you get that shirt? It’s amazing. I didn’t know they were available yet.” The girls started screaming like I was Elvis. The guys were looking at me like I was sitting in a 57 Chevy. It turns out that some rock star, wore this shirt a few weeks before on Ed Sullivan or American Bandstand and they’ve been all the rage ever since. They were also very hard to find in stores. I had the only one in school. It turns out that all the high school guys were buying them up and wearing them to high school and college. For once in my life I was in style.

At class break all the girls wanted to dance with me. They were touching my shirt and swooning. I didn’t realize that girls had such mysterious ways of being so nice. God love a duck but, was I ever having fun. There was even talk of my going steady with Betty Lynn the prettiest girl in class. Usually, she’d slug me sooner than look at me. But, for some reason, I had some kind of charm to me all of a sudden. I was a celebrity look alike and, I owed it all to Aunt Alice back in New Castle who somehow dove into a pile of screaming kids and snatched one of those shirts just for me. Aunt Alice was pretty dan good at thinking on her feet.

By the way, it never really worked out for Betty Lynn and me. Our relationship was doomed from the start. By the next day after my debut, the clothing stores got massive emergency shipments of that shirt.   Soon, even Mr. Bragg was wearing one and the janitor too. Every guy in school had one or two at least.  Back home our German Sheppard Candy chewed my original shirt to just tattered ribbons. I went back to teenage obscurity and polo shirts. But, for one glorious day, thanks to Aunt Alice, and that great Christmas gift, I was a star.

 

 

 

MY OWN PRIVATE NIGHTMARE

MY OWN PRIVATE NIGHTMARE

I was doing OK and sleeping pretty good last night until my wife Sandy decided to check the computer at 4:00 AM.   I really didn’t mind. In fact, before I went to bed, I made sure she knew it was OK to fire the thing up if she felt she had to check the weather forecast before she headed off to sell at a nearby flea market.   I didn’t want her to be all set up and ready to sell and then look over her shoulder and see a twister coming out of the West. That kind of thing could be bad for sales. Plus, Sandy isn’t that heavy. I didn’t want to get word that the last anyone saw of her, she was sailing about one hundred feet over Point Mountain clutching an antique flower vase.

Well, the light from the computer screen woke me up. She apologized. I grunted back that there was no apology needed. Then, I just grabbed a dirty sweat shirt from on top of the bedspread and pulled it over my eyes and rolled onto my side away from the glare. Sandy said the forecast didn’t look too bad so, she was going to head out after she loaded her truck. I offered to help. Truthfully, I was glad when she said she could take care of it all herself. So, I laid in bed feeling like a loafer. It was 4:05 and my own dear wife was outside loading her truck while I laid in bed tucked in all nice and warm and cozy.

Guilt kept me squirming for at least twenty minutes. In a fit of macho, I’d throw the covers back and put one foot on the floor next to the bed. I was fired up and ready to go out and help my poor belabored and dear wife. A John Wayne determination etched all over my face until my bare foot hit the cold floor.   Oh God, it was cold. With that, I’d wimp out and get back under the covers shivering. I’d tell myself something like I needed to get my sleep because I’m an author and I’ve got to get some serious writing done later in the day. Besides I want to lay here and go over some dialog in my head.

It was about 4:45 AM now. The essential dialog I was going over in my head drifted into thoughts of a sandwich I was going to make for breakfast and did I have any coffee in the fridge. I forgot about breakfast when I realized I had to do what most men my age have to do at 5:00 AM. Remind me to increase my daily dosage of saw palmetto.   I got up and, headed for the bathroom but, Sandy was already in there and wanted a bit of privacy. So, I went back to bed and laid there telling myself that I really didn’t have to go that bad and that I could certainly wait till morning. I tried so hard to get myself to believe that lie but, I just couldn’t. I think the male bladder has a direct link to the sleep nodes in our heads. I was squirming and far from asleep when Sandy got out of the bathroom. My mind kept telling me that I’d be OK under the covers and everything could wait till morning. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and threw off the covers and galloped to the privy. On the way back to bed, I stubbed my toe on an oak table leg. I hopped into bed. It was 5:05 AM.

Sandy was in the kitchen frying an egg and making herself some toast.  She usually has an egg sandwich in the truck as she heads to the sale. “Good,” I thought to myself, “She’ll be gone soon and the house will get back to normal. Then I can get some sleep.” With that, I rolled into my wonderful pillow, gave it a fluff or two and closed my eyes. Two seconds later I heard the muffled cries of an infant demon. I don’t like demons and they don’t like me. Actually, I don’t think demons like anyone.

It turns out that Sandy was in the next room watching TV while she ate her egg sandwich. Her flea market wasn’t a real early bird place so she had a bit of time to relax and enjoy a movie about an infant baby demon bleeding to death in the arms of a crazed psychiatrist whose trying to save it by wrapping it up in swaddling clothes as it hisses orders to him. The doctor is being chased by police as he lugs the devil kid into the sewers of Los Angeles. The cops are firing everything they got at the guy but can’t seem to hit him. Holy crud! What an awful movie. I had to get up and see who the heck was crazy enough to be in it. I got into the living room just as the bewitched doctor gets winged by a ricocheting bullet and drops the baby into a puddle. At that moment eighteen cops open up on the baby as it hisses obscenities in pig latin. They fill the kid full of lead as the puddle catches fire. In the next scene, the chief of detectives and a very pretty girl reporter are locked in a passionate kiss and the credits roll. I turned to go back to bed and stubbed my toe again on that darn table leg.

It was a loose table leg from an old square oak table. I ran my toe into the big bolt that’s used to attach the leg to the table top. I moved the leg out of my night time path to the bed and turned to head for the sack. I got about two steps down the path and hit the same toe on a box of records. The crate didn’t move an inch. Then and there I vowed that if I ever get rich, the first thing I’m going to do is to build a ten acre storage center across the river from the house. I’ll have a sturdy bridge built that can hold multi ton semi trucks loaded with our junk as they cross the river to our well paid storage crews. Still, I can guarantee that even with all those acres of storage, it will only be about ten weeks or so before I’ll be tripping over and stubbing my toe on more junk as I walk to bed in the dark. It won’t take long at all. By the way I wouldn’t worry about my ten acre storage center being erected in the wet lands if I were you. I doubt that I’ll ever be that rich.

My poor toe was really throbbing as I pulled the covers up to my shoulder. That’s when I noticed that the top sheet came untucked from the foot of the bed. I hate when that happens. It ruins the whole blanket arrangement and really messes up the warmth pattern. Cold air starts leaking into the bottom of the bed. As that happens, precious hot air leaks out. I laid in bed and kept telling myself that it wouldn’t be that bad and that it really wasn’t that cold in the bedroom. I kept saying to myself to just forget it and take care of it in the morning. It can wait. It can wait. It’s 5:45 AM and it can wait. Just close your eyes and relax. Friends, I tried but, all of a sudden I could feel just the slightest whiff of cold air hit my feet. That was it. Like a mad man I jumped out of bed and redid the sheet. I must have looked like blood crazed fiend as I tore at the blankets and sheets stuffing them into their proper order. “SLEEP”! I hollered. “MUST HAVE SLEEP!!!!   SLEEEEEEEEP!!!!” The sheet was back in its rightful spot. I jumped into bed and hit my head on the head board. At least the collision made me drowsy. I reached for my special sleepy time ski mask but, it was nowhere to be found.

Did I tell you about my ski mask? It’s my very special sleep aid. Kids have their teddy bears. I got my ski mask. It’s a ratty old brown wool cap with eye and mouth holes. It was woven out of brown yarn and it used to have elastic around the neck areas for tight fit. I wear it to keep my head from getting chilly. I also wear it to keep unwanted light out of my eyes at night. Sandy was still in the living room watching the weather now, so I needed a bit of dark. The mask which was just there minutes ago was now missing. It was sitting right next to my ear minutes before and made my ear kind of itchy. Now, it was gone and nowhere to be seen. I started digging between the pillows. Nope, not there. I reached into the pillow cases. Nope, not there either. Maybe between the covers? No! I gave up and grabbed my second choice, the ratty old sweatshirt. It wasn’t what I wanted but, it would have to do. Days later I would find that the ski mask was trapped inside one of the sweatshirt sleeves.

I’m no guru by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I thought how I might be able to conk out if I just got on my back and took a few deep breaths and with the ratty old sweatshirt blocking out this earthly realm from my eyes, perhaps I could wander into a pleasant realm. Once there, in a state of peace maybe I would be met with blissful sleep. It was worth a try.

I said a calming prayer and did my best to relax. I did my best to ignore my throbbing toe. I was just getting my right arm relaxed when I felt this lump under my pillow. It was getting me right in the neck. I tried to ignore it. The trouble is that any guru knows you’re not going into a state of inner peace with a lump sticking you in the neck.   It turns out that there was a sock ball under the pillow. Well, now it’s a sock ball on the other side of the room. I grumbled my way through the calming prayer again. Frankly, if I was God, by now I’d give me a calming dose of poison ivy just for laughs. I can hear them now at heavens prayer central. “Hey Gabe! Come here and listen to this jerk. Want to give him a leg cramp? Ok! Here goes.   I couldn’t understand why my leg hurt so much. I did my best to ignore it.

It took about an hour but soon, I was floating in a dream like vision. Sure, my leg hurt but, I had gotten used to it. So, I’m floating over this wonderful mountain valley. Oh I’d say I was up about a thousand feet or so just sailing along like a sailplane. Friends, it was beautiful. Farms and little towns stretched out as far as the eye could see. I saw my old boy hood home on a hilltop just below me. I swooped down and sat on the ledge just outside my old bedroom window. My feet were dangling off the ledge. It wasn’t long before I found myself floating through the upstairs window into my old bedroom on the third floor. I always slept really well in that bed. Soon, I’d be out cold. All I had to do was just pull back the covers and………did I mention that old house of ours was haunted?

Well, it sure as heck was. Actually, my whole old home town was haunted. Soon as I got into the bedroom, I heard thunder. I looked out the window to see this wild storm approaching across the valley. My mom ran into the room hollering for me to help her shut the windows. The wind was picking up something awful. You had to shout above the blasts of thunder. Laundry from the clothes line was sailing into the sky. Summer leaves were being ripped from the tree branches. Funny though, the sky was still nice day blue. Mom hollered. “Look! Across the valley! Look! What’s THAT!!!!!!”

I stuck my head out the window and across the valley heading our way was this giant ball of utter blackness. It was so black that it was shiny. It must have been a mile or two in diameter. It was totally dark but sparks and lightning shot from it. A strange kind of bluish glow acted as a kind of halo around it. But, mostly it was black. It hissed as it rolled over the landscape. Everything it touched disappeared with a blast of agony. Behind the orb, there was nothing. NOTHING!!!! It was heading our way. Mom hollered to close the windows. She ran downstairs to bring in the laundry. That’s the last I ever saw of her.

Something was licking my hand. It was Millie our Basset Hound. She was waking me up. I guess my sweaty hand tasted good to her. Mostly, she had to go puppy squat. I shook my head back into consciousness. I looked at the clock. It was 8:30 and a new day. I made sure there were no giant orbs around and Millie and I went walking.

 

 

 

 

RICE PUDDING FOR DESSERT (CHRISTMAS BLURP)

RICE PUDDING FOR DESSERT

My mother was one of the smartest people I ever knew and certainly one of the kindest. She suffered a long lingering death from Alzheimer’s disease. It took four or five years for her to die. Through it all my father, bless his soul, took very good care of her. He tried everything he could think of to either find help for her. When he finally realized that nothing could be done to save her, he switched plans and did all he could to make her comfortable. For a while, he had Mom in a care center. We would all visit even though it was hard to do. One day, after Mom had been in the home for about three months, he called me and said how he wasn’t happy with the way Mom was being treated.   I could tell he was getting pretty steamed with the nursing staff. A day or two later he called to tell me that he had hired a home nursing aide and Mom was back at home. He made it clear that Mom was home to stay. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to tell him no. He stayed with her night and day until one day she passed.

Mom had been dead for a few short months when one day I got this call from my father. The pressure was off for him and he was slowly starting to get back to his old self.   He was one of those people who would make it his business to call every day. He always had a new way to win at craps or, maybe he had a hot stock tip.   There was always a project to work on. Sometimes my brother and I were the project. Sometimes it was getting the car detailed. Often, he’d just call to rave about the senior citizen early bird special at the diner. That special would be all the better if rice pudding was offered for dessert. His calls were always interesting to say the least. But, this particular call on this particular day kind of took me by surprise. It sounded like he was about to be starting on a new project and passion.

“You know something.” He was starting slowly and choosing his words. “When your Mom was in the nursing home, there was this lady there. Her husband had cancer real bad. We used to sit in the hallway and talk. She was such a nice lady. Well, I heard that her husband died a week or two ago. Do you think it would be wrong for me to call her up and see if she wanted to go to lunch? I’m not sure it would be the right thing to do but, it sure would be nice to have someone to go out with now and then. What do you think?”

Truth be known, I didn’t know what to say. I mean, there was my Father wanting advice about women and dating. I’m sure not the expert when it comes to such things. It was nothing short of a miracle that I was able to get Sandy to even go out with me at first. I’m still not sure how I stumbled upon the good fortune to get her to be my wife.

My Father always gave out with the answers now, it was my turn. I had to think of something to say. I tried to be worldly but, failed.  “I don’t see what it would hurt.   There’s nothing wrong with going to a diner together or even the casino.   I mean, who would care?”

My Father was never one to beat around the bush.   “Would you or your brother care?” He asked.

Sometimes I don’t mince words either. “Heck no!!!” I answered. “If you can find someone to go out with, that would be fantastic! You took such great care of Mom all those years and, you deserve some fun after what you went through. Don’t be silly. Give that woman a call. She’d probably love to hear from you.” I think I heard a sigh of relief on the other end of the line.   I asked him what her name was. He said her name was Dorothy.   He said goodbye and hung up.

Just for fun, I tried calling back right away. I probably, had his number punched out in three or maybe four seconds tops. His line was already busy. I kept trying his line. It was busy for at least an hour. I just smiled each time I got the busy signal. I knew something good was afoot. It would be great to see the old boy smiling again.

To make a long story short, about a year later, I got another call. It was a very happy call indeed. My Father and Dorothy had just gotten married and they were on their way to the casino for a honeymoon. I just smiled. It’s funny how Dorothy was so much like Mom.

Some might ask how my Mom would feel about all this. Without even the slightest of doubt, I’m sure she’s fine with what happened. Had she known Dorothy in this life, they would have been the best of friends. In the next life, they’ll have a ball together.

I hope I’m saying this right and, no one takes offence. Dorothy and my Father had a great time together right up till the day he passed away. Their time together was kind of like rice pudding for dessert.

THE LONG RIDE HOME (CHRISTMAS BLURP FOR ED)

THE LONG RIDE HOME

 

Ahh, but it was going to be a long ride home from the restaurant. We had had a good meal at Ye Olde Cottage Inn down in Keyport. No, make that a great meal.   Granddad announced that now that I was ten and growing, I could graduate from the Kiddie Menu and now join the grownups. I was glad to get away from the kiddie menu. I mean, what if my friends saw me reading the darn thing and ordering the circus clown meal. Sure, it was a great meal to order. It was roasted turkey with all the trimmings but, why did they have to call it the Circus Clown? The Giraffe was a nice filet of flounder with lemon and French Fries. It’s just that the older kids at the table next to us would snicker. At least they’d snicker till their mom or dad said they’d have the hand puppet dinner. I liked the kids menu when I was five but, heck, I could read now.   Anyway, I ordered turkey straight up the manliest voice I could muster. I was a bit too squeaky. I guess the hormones hadn’t kicked in just yet. At least going to the grown up menu was a start.

Maybe I ate too much turkey and the tryptophan kicked in. Boy, I sure was sleepy on the way home. My father was driving. There were eleven of us in granddads car. My brother Ed, me, our folks, Uncle Don, and then, Grandma and Granddad.   There was also cousins Johnny and Ricky along with their parents Jean and Wendell. No one was talking. For some reason we were all mad at one another. Us kids were in trouble because we didn’t hold Grandmas chair for her. One of us saw something funny and laughed while drinking milk. Whoever it was couldn’t help it but, milk squirted out of their nose into the rolls and butter. The grownups got into a fight about something President Eisenhower did and Uncle Don was mad that the Yankees lost their game at the last minute. He was ahead in his bet right up till then. I don’t imagine that all the Old Fashions everybody drank, helped at all. It was also pretty cramped in the car. At least it was a four door and the windows worked.

We had gone about fifteen miles in dead silence. One of the grownups tried to get a light hearted conversation going.   That ended when Uncle Don got yelled at for lighting up a Camel. He threw it out the window and got a lecture for littering. The silenced continued. We just kind of were in a stew or a shroud of quiet with each of us thinking our own dreary thoughts. When all of a sudden, my kid brother Ed broke the ice. It was a brilliant move on his part and it did the trick.

There in the back seat squashed between two grownups, Ed looked around the car. He was in heavy thought for a three year old. Suddenly, out of the blue, he spoke.

“Did you know that there are ten bellybuttons in this car?” He then sat back and let it sink in. I think Mon Snickered first followed by Uncle Don and then Me. Soon, we were all dying of laughter. I was laughing so hard I almost had to ask my father to pull over and let me run into the bushes. Ed turned the tables and set ‘em up real nice and pretty.

The thing is, we were all being belly buttons in Granddads car. Belly buttons tried and true. It took Ed to see the situation for what it was and make the right commentary.

 

THE BURGESS SUNRISE DANCE (CHRISTMAS BLURP)

THE BURGESS SUNRISE DANCE

Gosh, it was years ago. The whole family was sound asleep on a quiet Sunday morning. There was my kids, Sunshine, Burgess and, me. I seem to remember that my brother Ed and his family were there too. My mother and father had the bedroom that faced the beach. It was winter and we were all spending the weekend in a beach house down at the Jersey Shore.   One of my fathers customers owned the place and was nice enough to let us stay there for the weekend.

Swimming was out but, we got in a bit of surf fishing. We also went on those long walks on the beach that the girls like so much. The shell gathering went pretty good. My son Burgess found a cool moldy horseshoe crab for his collection. The restaurants were open and cooking good too. All in all, it was a great family weekend. Plans to sleep in on Sunday morning made it even better.

The sun was just breaking over the Eastern horizon when Burgess woke up the neighborhood and half the county. Actually, I think his yelling tripped off alarms in a bungalow or two down the street. He was yelling, “Grand dad! Grand Dad! Wake up! It’s happening!  It’s HAPPENING!!!!!   You said it would and it’s HAPPENING!!! “

I bolted out of bed and ran down the hallway stepping on that dead horseshoe crab he found. I could hear my parents stirring a little. Burgess decided the night before that he wanted to sleep between my folks in the ocean side bedroom. He was about four or five then. I guess he just marched into the room, climbed into bed between them and after a bit of talk, conked out. Ed and I used to do the same thing. My parents were pros with kids that age.

As I came into the room I saw Burgess jumping up and down between my mom and dad. They were trying hard to gather their wits. Burgess was pointing out the window at the ocean. The kid had flipped.

About all I could say was, “God, Messer calm down! What are you yelling about?”

Burgess, kept on jumping up and down. “Grand dad was right!   Look!!!” Again, he pointed out the window. All’s that was out there was the sunrise. Just the sunrise. Nothing else.

My father finally sat up and took a look too. He had a different point of view. He gently punched Burgess in the arm and said, “Of course it happened. I told you it would didn’t I?”

“You did granddad. You did, and there it is now!”

I needed a coffee bad. I sure wasn’t getting it. My father saw my confusion and spoke. Burgess spoke too. It was pretty confusing with the two of them blabbing away. I figured they both needed the net but, between whoops and jumping, I finally got the lowdown.

It turns out that the night before as Burgess was slowly falling asleep, my father told him how the Sun, which we all watched go down in the West, was going to travel all the way around the world and come up on the other side right over the ocean and shine right into the bedroom to wake us up. Maybe he should have tried to tell Messer that the Earth actually spins and the Sun stands relatively still and only looks like it moves around our planet but, heck, Burgess was only a kid. There’d be time enough for true facts some other day. Burgess was all ears.

I don’t know for sure but, I’ll bet Burgess probably like a kid in bed on Christmas Eve, willed himself to wake up a bit before dawn just to see if Granddad was right. He saw those first rays of light and wisdom break the darkness as they grew and expanded. It wasn’t long before he was jumping up and down.

Later that day, we gave the horseshoe crab a burial at sea and then went to eat pancakes and bacon.

 

 

MY TWO BOILER GIRLS (CHRISTMAS BLURP)

MY TWO BOILER GIRLS

My granddaughter Sadie was wearing her best pink fuzzy coat. It was the perfect coat for a little girl to wear on a cold October morning. She had on her wool white mittens and a pink and white little girl wool hat. She looked as pretty as pie. I was kind of worried that she’d get it all real dirty as I helped her climb up into the cab of a fired up and ready to go steam locomotive.

We were at a nearby Halloween excursion train along the Delaware River. The train was going to run south along the Delaware and make a stop at a kind of haunted pumpkin patch. The kids would be able to mess around and take a pumpkin back with them for the return trip.   Some of the train crew were guests on one of my radio shows so, we got invited to take a look around the cab before departure.

There’s only one way to get into a locomotives cab. You grab the ladder and don’t look down. Sadie went first with me right behind her just in case she found a loose rung. That kid climbed right up the side like a grease monkey. I had trouble keeping up with her but, I did.

At the top of the ladder, Sadie was greeted by one of the train crew who grabbed her free hand. He was wearing a scary Halloween mask. In fact, the whole crew was masked. There wasn’t a friendly mask on the platform. Sadie didn’t seem to mind. She just plopped her feet onto the dusty floor of the cab and said, “Hi guys!”   She was already looking around as I came off the ladder and got my feet on the floor and said hello to the crew as they removed their masks. I guess they figured Sadie wasn’t the kind to scare easily. They were right. She wasn’t.

I was pointing out the different pipes and instruments that I could recognize. I even tried my hand at explaining the power of superheated steam. For a young kid Sadie was pretty much getting it. She knew we were on something much bigger than a tea kettle. Here and there steam would hiss out of a pipe or valve. I showed her how the first rule of boilers is that you should always keep your eye on the boilers sight glass to be sure the boiler is properly full of water. From then on she checked every few minutes. She was so in line for her black seal license.

The fireman asked if I would mind if he showed Sadie the interior of the firebox. I figured why not. Most kids would be terrified to see the fire inside a boiler. It’s very hot with flames everywhere. Truth be known, it’s like looking at the devils living room. Oh, is it ever hot too. We explained the firebox to Sadie and told her to not be afraid. With that, we opened the twin doors. I could feel the heat and was much farther away than she was. Sadie looked it over and said something like “Kool!” With that she took off her fuzzy white mittens and walked closer to the fire to warm her hands. The crew cheered as she rubbed her fingers and soaked up the heat.

Soon, after handshakes, it was time for us to climb back down and get into the coaches. The guys said that Sadie could come back anytime. She wanted to run the train pretty bad. They tooted the steam whistle in her honor as we climbed back down to the platform. I was pretty proud and thanked the crew for their kindness.

As we were about halfway down the stepladder, I got to thinking. I found myself asking where have I done this before. Then, it hit me as my mind wandered back about thirty years to Pennsylvania.   I remembered escorting yet another little girl down a ladder. The little girl was my daughter Sunshine.

It got to be a problem with Sunny.   I often had work to do on the roof or the side of the three story house we lived in up in Forksville.   I swear, every time I’d be up about ten feet or more working away, I’d feel the slightest of little thumps through my work boots.   I’d look over my shoulder and down the rungs and there’d she be coming up to help. I’m not the greatest fan of being on a ladder in the first place. So, it kind of made me a little queezy to have a three year old little girl worming her way between my legs and climbing up to my belly to see what I was doing.   No, she wasn’t about to climb back down until the job was done. If I had to go up needing one screw driver, I soon found it best to take two screwdrivers instead. We’d be up there for hours it seemed.

When Sadie and I got down to the station platform, she said something about how cool it was to be up in the engines cab. With that comment, I went again back in time to good old Pennsy and a grade schools boiler room up in Towanda.

Towanda wasn’t too far from my home and my first wife was kind enough to drop by and bring me a sandwich for lunch. Sunny came along of course. She was Sadies age then, about four years old. I don’t think I knew they were coming. I was inside the firebox of the school boiler cutting sooty old boiler tubes off the steel tube sheet when my coworker Jackson stuck his oily head through the firebox door. “You got visitors. Two pretty girls are here to see you.” He said with a grin. With that, Sunny sticks her head into the side firebox access door and says, “Hi daddy. We brought you a sandwich for lunch.”

Sunny looked me over. I was black from oil soot and was wearing cutting goggles. She was impressed and I knew what her next question would be. “Hey, you’re all smoky!   Can I come in there with you? I want to help.”

I told her that the inside of a boiler wasn’t the greatest place for a little girl to be and that just about started the water works. “But, I want to get all smoky too. I want to help.” I looked at Jackson who was laughing and getting ready to put in his two cents.

Jackson put his hands on his hips and thought a bit. “I’m thinking she’d be a better worker than most of the guys on the crew. We’d get fired if we got caught letting her be in there but, we’d get hired right back the next day. Let the kid climb in there. What could go wrong? Nothin! I didn’t see a thing.”   With that Jackson gave Sunny a boost and in she climbed.

I made her a seat out of sooty old firebricks as Jackson gave her his cutting goggles and showed her how to wear them. He also gave her his cutting gloves. Soon, Sunny was holding the cool end of the boiler tubes as I cut the ends out of the tube sheet. The showers of sparks didn’t bother her a bit. Sunny was getting just as black as the rest of us as the oil soot worked its magic. Showers of soot rained down on us every time Jackson hit the boilers water jacket with a sledge hammer.   Jackson was singing one of his boiler songs. He kept it clean with ladies present.

After a while, it was time for lunch. Sunny climbed out first and ran to a mirror. We all sat on milk crates and boiler bricks. After lunch, Sunny and her mom left for the supermarket. Sunny was a sight believe me. I climbed back into the firebox.

I was shaken out of my daydream by the howl of the trains steam whistle.   Some kids on the platform were scared and started to cry but not Sadie.   It was a very loud whistle but, it was like candy for Sadie’s ears. I thought it was a shame that Sunny was back home doing dishes. She would have liked to hear the screaming whistle too.