Saturday, May 13, 2017

Aunt Dovie...

I'm not sure if its the noise coming from the kitchen or the smell of frying bacon that wakes me up on this particular Sunday morning. As anyone in the family can attest, a Sunday morning at the Wardlow's is a much loved memory. My mom is with Dovie scrambling around trying to get a huge breakfast set while JD shaves and sings "Bringing In The Sheaves" or some other hymn as loud as he can. All seven kids are trying to avoid getting ready for church while my dad sits nervously in the living room, hiding behind the Sunday paper, hoping against hope that JD wont light into him for not going to church. Its a wonderful experience and the breakfast....ah, the breakfast...biscuits, more bacon than we ever see at home, and all the fried eggs you can eat. Of course we can only eat one because "that's enough, don't be rude". The eggs are courtesy of the hardworking chickens wandering around outside and the bacon is courtesy of an unlucky hog who met his maker the year before.

The Wardlow's lived on a few acres outside of Belton, Texas. To us "city kids" it was paradise. They had chickens, hogs, woods to one side and open fields to the other. A large front yard with thick St. Augustine grass was shaded by huge oak trees. All this and the added bonus of cousins, Jamie and Donny, who taught Glenn and me more corny jokes over the years than all the other cousins combined.

Our home today is known as "Mammy's House" because Debbie is 'Mammy' to our grandchildren and she is the one who has made our home so special for them. The Wardlow home should have been known as "Dovie's House" because she was the one who created what we all so lovingly remember. She didn't get out and roam the fields and woods with us or play ball with us in the front yard. She got tired easily because she had a severely damaged leg from a childhood injury and had to get around with a cane. Her temper was short on occasion because her two sons gave her a real run for the money, hence the piercing "DONNY RAY's" that sometimes filled the airwaves. She was hands down the best cook I've ever known and ruled her kitchen like a kingdom. Hours and hours were spent sitting around the kitchen table snacking on things she had made. One thing that was so special was the constant variety of foods and desserts available. She just kept on making stuff and it was never off limits. We could have anything we wanted any time we wanted it. She even made her own peanut butter which amazed this always hungry ten year old. She kept a loaded shotgun leaning in one corner of the kitchen. Jamie told us it was to chase us kids off when we got in the way but I don't think that's true....I hope that's not true. We used to sneak off with it and wander the fields shooting anything dumb enough to get in our cactus, leaves, or the occasional snake.

I loved to eat fried chicken at Dovie's house. I was used to having one piece of chicken at home for any given meal but when Dovie fried chicken it was a feast. It broke my heart when I found out where those chickens came from though. Glenn and I were chasing some nervous hens around the yard one day when Donny warned us not to let Dovie catch us. She was about to come outside to "select" dinner and she didn't want us making the inventory all skittish. Good old Donny also offered to let us wring their heads off if we asked real nice. I think I ate vegetarian that night.

Aunt Dovie was beautiful....just like all my aunts. My mom loved her older sister and told us kids more stories about growing up with her than I can remember. I hope future generations have the joy of remembering a special place and a special least one. I'm blessed with many.

Dovie was a wonderful aunt and I loved her dearly. She was the first aunt I lost to cancer. She died too young but in a way she was blessed with an early death. She died a year before her oldest son, Jamie, was killed in Vietnam. She didn't have to suffer the terrible loss experienced by JD, Donny, and all the family and friends who loved Jamie so much.

I think back on all our visits to the Wardlow's with warm and happy memories. Sometimes when life gets stressful my mind wanders back to the hectic Sunday mornings and the smell of breakfast in the kitchen and JD singing "When We All Get To Heaven". At times it seemed like we were already there.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Two tiny flaws....

....that's all they were. I painted my house about a year ago and shortly afterwards scratched a couple of places on the porch....hardly noticeable. They bothered me though and I promised myself I would touch them up "next weekend". Debbie has guests coming today for a baby shower and as I swept the porch I decided I would touch up those spots. You know, I should realize by now that nothing goes easy for me. It is a giveaway when neighbors gather in my yard when they see me start a project. They sip coffee and eagerly wait for the disaster to occur.

I found a small paintbrush and looked around for the partially used paint I had left over from the house painting project. (Side note: This project resulted in a week's stay in the hospital.) I found the can, dusted it off, and shook it like crazy to mix up the old paint. I set the can on my workbench and carefully opened it. The paint was still good but while checking it the lid slipped from my fingers and landed upside down on my garage floor. I said, "Oh ____!" (insert your own 4 letter word here cause I don't use profanity), and bent to pick it up. Here is where I dropped the paintbrush out of my pocket and into the paint puddle. Forgetting the mess on the floor I grabbed the brush and wiped it down. I decided I would go ahead and paint those spots before cleaning the mess on the floor.

After touching up the porch walls I complimented myself on being a really good homeowner and walked back to the garage. I got the lid off the floor and put it on the can. I took my hammer and gave the lid a good whack to seal it and shot paint all over my very favorite Hawaiian shirt. In a panic I ran inside so Debbie could save my shirt.....I did not know I had stepped in the paint puddle but Debbie pointed it out to me. Thankfully the trip through the laundry room, down the hall, and into the kitchen took off most of the paint on my feet. By the time I got to the carpet in the den all was well.

After discussing the brevity of life with Debbie for a few moments I went back out to clean up the paint puddle. I have taken physics in college but I"m pretty sure we never had a lecture on paint puddles. There should be a formula for it....X = diameter of puddle, multiplied by Y = amount of time scrubbing it, equals Z = extended diameter of X. The spot just grows and grows until you give up and place a mat over it.

Project done, I stepped out of the garage and after thanking the neighbors for their generous applause, came inside for a well-deserved nap.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dancin' Julie

When we moved to Hurst there wasn't much there. It's only bragging right was having better bad roads than Bedford's bad roads. One thing we liked though was the ability to light it up on July 4th without worrying over city ordinances. My dad loved the Fourth. We may not get to wear PF Flyers because Sears had a cheaper alternative but by golly no expense was spared at the firecracker stand on the Fourth. He put on such a show the neighbors stopped buying their own fireworks so they could watch ours. We were so proud of him! He would smoke his one cigar of the year and light off the fireworks with the hot ash. He would buy us those little round things that popped when you threw them to the ground and always included a batch of sparklers for the little girls. Good times indeed.

As we grew older Glenn and I would talk him into a few packages of Black Cats. He bought little sticks which would stay lit for an hour or so and we would light off our Black Cats one at a time. He wouldn't let us have a cigar which was probably a good decision on his part. We would blow up anything we could find with those Black Cats. Sadly, as is the case with most good things, the city decided explosives in the hands of the general public was not a good idea. Ordinances were passed and the good times almost ended. Our dad was not happy with this decision and blamed the Communists. However, he did follow the new rules....partially. He still took us to the fireworks stand but bought only the sparklers and those wimpy throw down thingies. What a let down.

The next year we talked him into some Black Cats but his warning to us included arrest and probable prison time if we got caught setting them off in the city limits. We obliged him by walking out into the street to set them off thinking they wouldn't arrest two little boys...and since we weren't on our property they wouldn't know which set of parents to imprison. We were cautious. Every time a firecracker went off we would hide and watch for the police to show up. My mistake was the decision to set off a complete package of fifty firecrackers at one time. Glenn's mistake was to launch a used tomato can into space.

I had a huge bag of Black Cats. There was no way I could go through all of them in one night if I set them off one at a time. I opened up a package of fifty and adjusted out the wick so I could set them all off at once. Using the wisdom only a twelve year old boy can muster, I lit the package off in my hands. The hiss of the wick and the speed of the burn toward the package scared me half to death. I immediately tossed the whole thing behind me and ran. Unfortunately for my little sister Julie, the package landed right at her feet. Fifty powerful Black Cats started going off as she jumped and danced in a feeble attempt to get away. I discovered that fifty firecrackers tend to dance around when they go off simultaneously and they went everywhere Julie tried to go. Julie was a skinny, and somewhat clumsy little thing and she put on quite a show. She jumped, waved her arms in all directions, screamed, just went on and on and on. I couldn't help it. I started laughing. Then Glenn started laughing. We laughed so hard and just couldn't stop. The parents heard the commotion and tried to get to Julie's rescue. Their faces were contorted in what can only be described as hilarious mad. They were trying so hard not to laugh. When they arrived on the scene Glenn and I adopted the same expressions on our faces. There we were. Four people with skewered up faces staring at each other while Julie finished her performance. I never enjoyed a better Fourth.....AND I didn't even get spanked for it. I was banned from ever touching another firecracker but it was well worth it. Julie forgave me a few years ago so all is well between us.

As this show began to cool down, Glenn slipped back into the street to light off his remaining firecrackers before they were confiscated. He put a used tomato can over the load and lit it off. It sailed high, hovered in the air for a second or two, then began its rapid descent back into the atmosphere....and landed right on the hood of the police car that had pulled up due to a call in about firecrackers going off in the city limits. To Glenn's credit, he walked right up and told the policeman he was the guilty party. Even so, my dad was the one receiving the lecture and promise of a fine if it happened again. Our days of celebrating the Fourth the way the founding fathers intended had just come to an end.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The rest of the story....

We eventually left River Oaks and moved to Lake Worth. We lived at 6101 Graham Street. It was a corner lot and a good sized yard. Daddy always kept the yard so nice and had rose bushes. He was very proud of his yard. We moved there at the end of my fourth grade in school. If my math is right, and that’s questionable due to memory lapses and not math skills, I was eleven years old. Peggy would have been nine and Milton almost fifteen.

When daddy bought the house it was a prefabricated house. It was basically nothing but a shell. Everything had to be finished out and daddy, Ed, and Milton did most of the work. If daddy was working on something, Ed and Milton would be pitching in on anything he wanted including digging lateral lines for a septic tank drainage. Ed and Milton could have their room any way they wanted and, as you remember, they painted the room a light brown with two walls decorated with dark brown cow brands. The brands were worked into the texture before it dried. Grandpa Walker had an old radio the boys inherited and they built it into one wall….sure wish we had thought to remove it when we sold the house.

Peggy and I decided...well, I decided because I was older to paint our room Paprika!! It was really the color of paprika spice, loud!! (I just now stopped writing this to go to the kitchen. I can’t believe they were allowed to paint their room that color!!)

Milton and I used to get in trouble for dancing on the old hardwood floors. We loved to dance to rock and roll. It was called something else by adults back then. (I felt it prudent to leave that name out of print.) Mother would make us stop only to get far enough out of earshot so we could crank it up again.

When Milton was a teenager he was friends with a young man in school that was responsible for Milton going to church and being baptized. That led to mother going back to church and daddy going with her to eventually being baptized himself. (Years later uncle Wayne would serve as an elder in the church.)

I will insert a bit of information on Ed now because it falls in place before Mary Wayne’s next memory. Ed married Mary Lynn. I was their ring bearer. I was told by my mom I had no desire to be anyone’s ring bearer. She said I made the comment, “I don’t wanna go to no marryin’”. I did have a terrible crush on Mary Lynn though so I went through the process without too much urging. I have a brief memory of being pushed down the aisle at the actual wedding but that is all I remember of that ceremony.

Milton married at a very young age and fathered two beautiful children. He and Linda divorced and Milton married one more time. Her name was Judy. He and Judy had a little girl, Gloria, about the same age as my Kevin. (Milton was killed in a car accident when Gloria was an infant.) I communicate with her through Facebook. I rarely get to talk to her or see her. She has two beautiful daughters and I can see Milton in all of his children.

This ends Mary Wayne’s wonderful story. I’m so glad she put her memories into words. You may notice more information was included on Milton than the other sibs. This is because his son, Don Walker, asked for as much information as I could gather about his dad. He was just a little boy when Milton died. He wants to know as much about him as anyone can provide so cousins, pass your memories on!

I told Don all I could remember about Milton and my favorite memory was of seeing him drive down River Oaks Blvd one day in his 1950-ish Ford coupe. It was white with red wheels, chrome rims and baby moons. I was about six and waiting in the car for my mom. I saw Milton and leaned as far as possible out of the car window and started yelling at him as loud as I could. Even though he was stopped at a red light right in front of the parking lot where I sat, he did not hear me. I mean I yelled his name, I waved my arms...he never even moved. Even his friends in the car heard me and punched Milton over and over while pointing me out. He continued to stare at that red light and never heard me. I’m pretty sure he had hearing problems.

I could tell more memories but I guess this has gone on long enough. I will tell the story about Mary Wayne and Peggy trying to drown my brother Glenn, Bruce, and me on a later post.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Now, where was I?

About a month ago I mentioned it wasn't wise for me to write when I was depressed. Then I promised I would get back to work soon. I also begged for more followers. Well, I haven't been depressed all this time. I have been too busy knocking things off the to-do list and playing with my grandchildren to sit down and concentrate long enough to write. I told Debbie this morning I had to spend some time writing today or my head was going to explode. It probably wouldn't actually explode but who wants to risk something like that. It could get messy and Debbie would make me clean it up.

Many of my memories are 'warm and fuzzies' about growing up around a slew of wonderful, yet crazy family members. I wanted to write a story about aunt Cricket's kids because they are a product of the woman herself. She was so much fun to be around and her daughters grew up just like her. She had two daughters, Mary Wayne and Peggy. Three boys rounded out the family. They were, in order of age, Edwin Lee, Milton, and Bruce. Sadly, I don't have too many memories of Ed or Milton because they were so much older than me. I will tell what I know over time but most of what I know comes from a series of letters I received from Mary Wayne. She and Bruce are all that remain of the family and I hope they are both around to attend my funeral 40 or 50 years from now.

I wrote Mary Wayne and asked a few questions about the past so I could get some facts about the early years. Instead of simply replying to my questions she wrote a series of stories which were a delight to read. Warm memories flooded my heart as I read and things I had completely forgotten came back to me in a rush. I don't expect any of you to have that same feeling as I pass these memories on. I do hope you enjoy the tale. It is written from Mary Wayne's perspective and I edited slightly to make the story flow in the proper sequence. I also added information in italics. Otherwise, the words are her own.

Mary Wayne's story:

We moved to River Oaks from Temple a few months after Peggy was born. That would make me two years old. Mother told me that one day I came down the short hallway to the kitchen carrying Peggy on my outstretched arms. Mother was afraid I would drop her and being startled, she screamed. I promptly dropped Peggy on the floor. Mother scared me when she screamed. What else would a two year old do?

We lived nine houses down from aunt Blanche and uncle Leroy and three doors from the city park. Milton and Ed would go to the park and play on the swings. They would swing so high they would go over the top. That always scared me! They weren't afraid though and would do it over and over again. On Friday nights a local company would set up a large screen on one end of the park to show movies. We would take our blankets and sit on the ground watching movies....much cheaper than going to the theater! Occasionally mother would give Peggy and me each a dime to go to the movies at the theater on River Oaks Boulevard. We would walk there and cross that busy road to get there. We paid five cents each for the movie and had a nickel each for a candy bar. Of course I was in charge of Peggy. I guess our parents thought it was safe. (One of my earliest memories was being invited to go on one of these hair-raising trips. I was sure we were going to die crossing the road and couldn't enjoy the movie for fear of the return trip.)

While living in River Oaks mother developed a mild case of polio. She had to be in the hospital so Peggy and I were sent to your house (aunt Blanche and uncle Leroy's) to stay. Being a small child, I didn't know if mother would come home or not but I knew I wasn't going to stay there! After everyone was asleep I slipped out the backdoor and went home. Daddy didn't make me go back.

When I was in the first grade daddy fell off a bridge in Mineral Wells where he was working. He crushed his lower leg. I guess we were on workman's comp or something. It was near Christmas and I overheard mother and daddy saying we weren't going to have Christmas. This was serious stuff to a seven year old! The next day I sat on my teacher's lap crying as I told her what I had heard. As all sweet, caring teachers do, she leaked the news to the fire department. On Christmas Eve, while we were off getting our free tree, men from the fire department came bringing presents for all of us. Mother was so embarrassed but I loved that old cracked face porcelain doll more than the one mother and daddy had bought me! Let me explain. There were only two bedrooms in that old house so when mother and daddy talked at night I could hear everything they said. I think they talked much softer after that.

It's hard to have a lot of memories when you are so young but I do remember a few things mother shared with me. Apparently aunt Blanche helped mother out with things a lot. One story I remember is one mother recalled about going grocery shopping with aunt Blanche helping with the boys. Aunt Blanche was supposed to keep Milton in tow but he proved to be too much for her. At one point he got away from her and ran through the store hollering "high ho Silver". As he ran past the candy counter he grabbed some candy and yelled to the clerk, "Mudder will pay for it". Aunt Blanche was quiet and shy so this horrified and embarrassed her. Milton was a happy, smiling little boy but very mischievous.

Here's another memory told to me about Milton. The city bus ran on our street daily. One day some balloons were floating across our yard just out of Milton's reach. He started chasing them, ran into the street, and was hit by the bus. Mother grabbed him up and ran to the doctor's house at the end of our street. He wasn't hurt all that bad but to be cautious he was confined to bed. That poor bus driver came by our house every day bearing comic books for Milton. We all thought that was wonderful. Later on, some kids were playing "pop the whip" up the hill from us. A young child was popped out into the street. That same bus driver couldn't stop and hit the child, killing him. The bus route was changed after that and no longer came down our street.

Tomorrow I will finish Mary Wayne's story and include a few memories of my own. I just realized the story ended on a sad note. It is a good place to stop though so until then....

Friday, March 24, 2017

Where are you from and where have you been?

I met a guy the other day and as we began to talk he asked me where I was from. My immediate response was, “Right here in Fort Worth, Texas”. My thoughts were much deeper though and for the past few days I’ve pondered that question. We are all from much more than the town in which we were born. When I consider my own weird yet oddly socially acceptable personality I see that I am from a diverse combination of family traits and consequences.

When I write about family members most of those memories are about loved ones on my mom’s side of the family. The obvious reason is our location. My dad graciously left everyone in his family behind to move to Texas after he met this good-looking girl working the counter at the Fort Hood, Texas laundry at the close of World War II. Although he had left his home in South Dakota rather quickly to volunteer for the war effort his lure became Texas and this new woman rather than the return he had dreamed of while defending himself from Japanese soldiers. After returning to his home from the war, by way of processing out through Fort Hood, he introduced the woman he had met, married her in South Dakota, then left family and friends to return to Texas to build a home and family of his own. What he brought with him from South Dakota were the cultures, traditions, and training he had obtained while growing up.

If you can imagine the surprise and stress created for the Mihills’ family in South Dakota to find out their youngest son was bringing home a woman from Texas who had probably been raised by wolves or wild Indians, think about the shock in the Hallmark family to discover the baby sister had been stolen by some crazy Yankee. The images brought to mind for a large group of older brothers was enough to create a storm of vicious activity. Had they known my dad’s strict propriety and proper adherence to rules, both written and assumed, they wouldn’t have been quite as upset at my future dad. Instead, they waited for my parents return to Texas with anger, clubs, hammers, and probably a few loaded rifles. It took a long, long time for the families on both sides of this new Mihills’ home to accept and appreciate what had been created.

So you see, it’s a combination of very different cultures and personalities that brought about me and my four much loved siblings.

I’ve been working on a book “off and on” for over three years. The book covers the life stories of my mom and dad. I doubt I’ll ever finish it but if I do it will be a gift for my sibs, my sons, and my grandchildren. Until then I’ll continue to write short stories about the memories I have of growing up in this world I know as “my life”.

I hope you will continue to follow this blog. I also hope you will continue to forgive and accept my prolonged absences when they occur. I have a tendency to allow myself to drift into a pretty dark funk on occasion. When this happens it’s best that I not write. I’ve tried before and the general reaction is, “Please don’t write when you’re depressed”...and so I don’t. I’m not depressed now and hope it won’t come back anytime soon. Thank you for your patience.

Friday, February 3, 2017

My name is Wayne...John Wayne...

I've mentioned in the past about a community just north of ours where the citizens ride in Lexus chariots and truly believe their human waste hath no odor. They shun those who don't live in their community yet would be aghast if one of us decided to actually move in next door to become one of them. They rarely consider anything outside their gates worth the effort to leave their boundaries save an occasional Cowboys football game or a fund raising event worthy of their attendance. There is an exception to all of this and that is the Bacon's Restaurant located in my hometown of Hurst. There is no better place to go for breakfast and the crowds are typically large with waits up to 45 minutes. Sundays are always the worst. Seems like those who don't attend church like to sit at the Bacon's tables and sip coffee while reading the morning paper. Those who do go to church show up en masse (catch the pun?) right after the last "amen".

Debbie and I like to go to Bacon's during the week. The crowd isn't as bad and the wait is typically ten minutes or so at worst. Yesterday while waiting to be seated, one of those from north of us came in, looked around, and yelled "Crap! Is it Sunday?" All of us waiting chose to ignore the man. He rudely addressed the waitress and advised her he was in a hurry and needed to be seated. After a few minutes he yelled out to the staff that he was "STILL WAITING". At this, I got up from my seat, walked up to the man and said, "Excuse me sir but we are all waiting. Why don't you have a seat and wait your turn." He looked me up and down, knocked my hat off my head and asked if me and what army were going to make him sit down. I very calmly tossed my cane into the air, caught it at the tip and made aim. He threw his hands over his head to protect himself from the coming if I would actually hit him on the head with my cane of all things...absolutely not! I swung my cane at a low arc as hard as I could and slammed it against his shins. He cried out and bent over to grab his shins. When he did this I hit him over the head with the handle of my cane sending him sprawling to the floor. Then I placed the cane tip to his neck and pressed down. I quietly suggested that since he was on the floor anyway he should pick up my hat, dust it off, and hand it to me in his best imitation of a gentleman. He picked up my hat, dusted it off, and then.....

Well, that's when they called our name for a table so the daydream ended.

With thanks and apologies to my cousin, Mike Cooper, who actually went to Bacon's and told me about the incident.