Saturday, June 17, 2017

So long for now....

I'm a story teller. I've always told stories and many years ago I decided to write some of them down for my future grandchildren. In the beginning I shared the stories with co-workers and then started showing them to my wife, Debbie. After a while she convinced me to compile the stories into a book for my siblings as a Christmas present. I printed off enough copies to give one to Glenn, my three sisters, my parents, and a copy for my cousin, Mike Cooper. They all seemed to enjoy the book so I started a blog to write more stories to share. I am a bit of a procrastinator and let several months go by (about twenty-four of them) without posting anything on my blog. Because of this I completely forgot my password and due to my procrastination I hadn't yet gotten around to writing the password down. That particular blog is now somewhere out there in cyberland full of forgotten stories.

I started this blog a few years ago and tried to stay somewhat regular in posting to it. I also wrote down my password which is something I highly recommend to everyone.

The stories I've written are just that....stories! All of them are based on true events but have never been intended as historical fact. Historical fact is usually boring. I've tried to enliven the past with humor. Hopefully the humor added has always been at my expense....oh sure, I have used Debbie as the victim on occasion but that was covered under the marriage vows, "Do you promise to not get mad at Russell when he tells stories about you?" "I do".

These stories are about the past as seen through my eyes. I'm not interested in writing anything to be published. I don't think any of my stories will ever be used at future reunions...."this is the way it happened according to our great ancestor Rusty Mihills". They are just stories, written mainly for my grandchildren to know what it was like when I grew up. I would rather they read a colorful story than thumb through a box full of dusty old photographs.

If I've recorded an event incorrectly I'm sorry. It wasn't intended to be offensive to anyone.

For now, I will write down my memories and store them away in a file for eight blessings in my life: Gracie, Nathan, Andy, Sam, Lily, Carter, Charlee, and Claire.

Thank you all for reading!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Case of the Drowning Cousins....

When I was about seven I loved to hang around my cousins Mary Wayne and Peggy. They were older than me but rarely chased me off. Peggy used to read to me and Mary Wayne was just cool. She was funny and never seemed to get tired of a snotty-nosed little cousin following her around like a shadow. I also liked all of their friends and always tried to be a part of things.

One day Mary Wayne, Peggy, and their friends decided to go swimming at Lake Worth. I got all excited and told my brother Glenn and cousin Bruce (Mary Wayne and Peggy's lanky little brother) to "Go get your swim suits. We're going to the lake!" Now this is why Mary Wayne was so cool. She had not invited us to go with them but since I assumed we were included she never said a word. She acted like that had been her plan all along.

As we left the house aunt Cricket reminded Mary Wayne and Peggy to keep an eye on those boys since they didn't know how to swim. Silly talk...we were nearly grown. We could take care of ourselves just fine.

If you are familiar with the area you know Lake Worth is a very old lake. The history around its shores is varied and colorful. What used to be Carswell Air Force base was a Strategic Air Command base throughout the Cold War and fighter pilots got their touch and go hours in constantly, flying just over the lake. Convair, now Lockheed Martin, tested fighters over the lake daily. There were rumors the Mafia had people working out of a floating restaurant/bar on the lake with tales of unsolved mysteries buried deep in the silt.

When we were kids there were a few slabs of old buildings beneath the surface of the lake and fishermen loved to work their lures along the slabs. We liked to walk on the slabs because the water came to our knees and there were no "surprises" to step on from below.

On the day I invited Glenn, Bruce, and myself along on the girls outing the three of us were walking along one of these slabs while the rest of the group swam out to a floating pier. I was in front with Glenn and Bruce following close behind. We were having a grand old time wading around while Mary Wayne and Peggy had a grand old time completely forgetting about us. As we walked the slab playing follow the leader I suddenly took a step off the slab into deep water. Taking follow the leader to an extreme, Glenn and Bruce followed me into the deep. I never saw or felt Glenn fall in but Bruce fell right on top of me. I grabbed him and pushed up to the surface. I quickly told him I would hold him up and he should scream and wave for help. I then slipped back down until my feet touched the bottom. I didn't know if Bruce's head was above water or not...if it wasn't he didn't have a prayer of saving himself because I wasn't letting go of him. I pushed myself up two or three times to gulp down some air then went back down. Eventually one of the girls looked over and realized we were gone. I feel like one of them saw Bruce and they all swam over faster than I'm sure they've ever done since. Bruce was grabbed and then me. No one saw Glenn until Peggy got a glimpse of his curly hair come to the surface. She grabbed his hair and yanked him up. They saved our lives without a doubt.

The water we fell into was probably only five or six feet deep but when you are four feet tall that's a lot of water. I've been afraid of the water ever since and didn't learn to swim until I was a sophomore in college. To this day I avoid swimming in a lake or the ocean. I try to stay away from pools but occasionally peer pressure....and avid swimming grandkids causes me to venture in.


Friday, June 9, 2017

What to do, what to do......

Here's how the day was supposed to happen: I would get up around six, drive over to borrow Cody's post hole digger, dig four holes in the backyard, place four posts in pre-selected spots, and build a small deck to hold our backyard swing....complete job in one day.

Here's how the day actually happened: I got a text late last night from my daughter-in-law Cayce asking that since I was coming over so early the next morning could I sit with two of the grandkids while she took a third to a speech therapy session. A small delay but quality time with grandchildren. Debbie offered to keep the kids here so I could keep my schedule (taskmaster that she is). We woke up to rain which voided my schedule so I called Cayce to tell her I would make the trip over there....too late, the kids were loaded and she was on the way. While we watched Sesame Street Claire got sleepy and went down for a nap. Carter wanted to pal around with me so we "worked" in the garage and watched the rain. Eventually Cayce came back and while waiting for Claire to wake up fell asleep herself. When she fell asleep Debbie and I both got sleepy. I drifted off while Debbie kept Carter and Charlee in check. After I woke up Debbie fell asleep. I thought for a minute I should check for gas leaks but figured that would be wasted time.....we have an all electric house. Around 11:30 everyone was awake so Cayce took the kids home......and I fell back asleep.

During all this sleeping the rain stopped. Our house is built on a hill so the drainage is great. An hour after a rain I can mow the lawn if I need to do such a silly thing. I could have gone out and dug those holes and started the project. That would have saved a portion of the day. Instead Debbie and I decided to watch reruns on Netflix.....and snack. We also decided since we had experienced such a difficult and taxing day we deserved a night out. We haven't had Tex-Mex in well over a week and that isn't looked on favorably in Texas.

All in all the day was non-productive. I got absolutely nothing done I had planned but sometimes a person just has to stop and listen to the rain...or smell the roses.....or toss it all out the window and play with the grandkids. Cayce complimented us wonderfully by feeling close enough to us to fall asleep in our home and dream away two hours in carefree abandon.

I am well known as a dyed in the wool procrastinator and I may find good reasons for not finishing that deck for another week or two but today....ah, today was bliss.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Scarborough Fair

I was about to write about the woes of owning a twenty-one year old pickup when I sat down at my desk this morning. As I turned on Pandora the speakers on my desk poured out the Simon Garfunkel canticle, Scarborough Fair. All of a sudden memories flooded back to my senior year in high school, graduation, and the summer before starting a college career that would last years longer than I originally imagined.

I heard this song for the first time when I watched the movie, "The Graduate" with Dustin Hoffman. I identified with the main character in so many ways....other than his graduation was from college, mine from high school; he was rich, I didn't have two nickels to rub together; and of course, his neighbor was Mrs. Robinson, mine an old widower named Mr. Smith....he absolutely did not try to seduce me at any time whatsoever. What we did have in common was having no idea what to do with our futures. He needed to find a career and a wife. I needed to find a major and a plan for my future. He found a wife although it was the bride of another man. The last scene of the movie was of him and the wayward bride sitting on the back seat of a bus headed nowhere with the realization of what they had done, and what they faced etched on their faces. Actually, I guess I had nothing whatsoever in common with Hoffman's character except graduating at about the same time.

I try to not think back to my senior year in high school. It wasn't a good time for me. I do remember vividly the day I drove away from LD Bell for the last time. It was a beautiful late spring day, all the windows were down on my Chevy, the 8-track tape deck had the Beach Boys blasting from it, and I felt as free as one seventeen year old can feel. I knew I was starting college in the fall so I didn't have to worry about the jungles of Vietnam for a few more years, I had graduation money in my pocket, and I didn't have to show up for work for two more days! Boy oh boy, those were some mighty fine days of freedom and they lasted all of two days. Then I had to go back to work and start packing money away for college.

Throughout the summer I struggled with what I would do in the fall. I really wanted to be an architect but several "educators" had advised me to find a nice quiet degree with as little math required as possible...maybe Old English Lit. or, how about a nice degree in Philosophy? (As a side note, I didn't discover until late into my college years that I was very good at math. All it took was an excellent Business Analysis professor to eradicate the fear I had of it....fear instilled by countless math teachers who were too quick to judge based on comparison with "talented" students. I could sure fill a blog page on this subject but I won't.) As a default I took a major in business management. I wouldn't be the architect I dreamed of...thank you Mrs. Thrasher and a host of others.

That summer was filled with news reports of war demonstrations, days at the lake getting sunburned, and of course girls....lots and lots of girls. Even though I knew in my heart the love of my life was still in the process of growing up I dated a lot of girls that summer. I met them at my job at Six Flags....a wonderful idea formed by rich people to create an atmosphere for high school and college kids to meet and fall in....like, or in some cases, lust....not me though, I kept it at like. It was during this summer I discovered that dancing would in fact not send you straight to hell as I had been taught. This false information had been a bane throughout my junior high and high school years.

It was toward the end of this wonderful summer that one of my dearest cousins was killed in Vietnam. Reality hit me right up the side of the head. Jamie had been so full of life and loved every minute of every day. The sadness and subsequent depression following his death haunts me to this day but his short life was a lesson to me. There are no promises about the future. I tried, and succeeded somewhat to stop worrying about the future so much. I tried to start living in the present and life got better...even with a crummy degree in business management.

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 way....like 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 person...at 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, jumped....it 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.