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, 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 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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bad Friend...

Everyone needs a friend. Hopefully, everyone has more than one friend but if you have only one you are still blessed with a special relationship. Over the years, and there have been many, I've had more friends than I deserve. Some have been good, one or two I've considered "best", and unfortunately one or two have been bad.

There's an old joke that describes the difference between being just a friend and being a good friend. It goes, "A good friend is someone who will visit you when you are in jail after a wild night of partying. A best friend is someone who will be sitting there next to you saying, 'Wasn't that fun?'".

I've never had to test my friendships in this way and hopefully never will. My few hospital stays over the past five years have given me a glimpse of the many good friends I have. That is enough of a test for me. However, once upon a time I had the unique experience of having a good, good friend who was also a bad friend. Since I don't know where this bad friend is incarcerated today and feel I shouldn't use his name I will refer to him only as Bad Friend. One of my good friends, Billy Taylor, will be able to figure out the identity of Bad Friend from the story I'm about to tell.

I met Bad Friend at church. He was popular with all the girls because of his confidence and smooth personality. Bad Friend was just in the eighth grade and already wearing a letter jacket in football. He attended a private school while the rest of us losers were in public. We didn't know at the time the reason he was in private school was because he had already been asked to leave the public school system. Bad Friend was indeed.

When we all moved up to ninth grade and started classes I saw Bad Friend in one of my classes. I walked up to him and asked what was going on. He told me his parents decided he needed to be in public school so he could experience real life with his peers. This translated to, "My suspension was up so they had to let me back in public school". Bad Friend and I started hanging out together and I found him to be a great guy. We had all kinds of things in common and enjoyed each others company.

Bad Friend introduced me to things I had never experienced in my guarded earlier years. He invited me to go fishing with him and his dad. I had never been fishing. I liked it. There is another story there in itself but I will save it for another time. He introduced me to "flipping". Flipping was a form of tossing your hard-earned allowance in the air for heads or tails. Bad Friend was very good at, not so much. Bad Friend usually wound up with my total allowance every week but boy oh boy, was it fun!! Bad Friend taught me new ways to have fun at the roller rink. We would target good looking girls and impress them by knocking them down as we played "Roller Derby". This led to my introduction of being tossed out of the roller rink with instructions to never return. I learned from Bad Friend how to scare the beejeebers out of movie viewers by stomping on a soda cup during the scary part of the movie. This also led to an early dismissal with instructions to never return.

By the close of the ninth grade my dad had tolerated all he was going to tolerate of Bad Friend. He told me I could not go anywhere else with him and should consider our friendship a thing of the past. That was hard to do. Bad Friend was pretty much my best friend! Besides that, Bad Friend had already been given a car from his dad. It was an old Willis which was ugly by design and made uglier with Bad Friend's decision to paint it dark green with a brush and old house paint. Bad Friend would drive over to my house when my dad was at work. Although I knew I wasn't supposed to go anywhere with him, my mom would allow me to go "just around the block" for a few minutes of freedom. Those were mighty long blocks. One Sunday I asked my mom if I could get a ride home from church with Bad Friend. It was less than a mile and how much trouble could I get into in less than a mile? Evidently, quite a bit as it turned out. It was a beautiful day and the feel of fresh air flowing though the open windows cleared the terrible odors coming from the old Willis. Bad Friend thought it would be great to take a short ride before dropping me off at home. I disagreed for at least a second or two before going ahead with Bad Friend's plan. Our short ride lasted over two hours and included a stop at the local airport to watch the planes take off and land. When we finally made it back to my home on Elm Street my dad was sitting in the shade of the front yard. A Kodak moment for sure but the look on his face told me all I needed to know. Bad Friend was able to make the wheels on the old Willis squeal for the first and last time when he took off. I bravely walked across the yard to hear these fateful words, "You are grounded until further notice!". Bad Friend had just introduced me to another new experience.

My grounding lasted all the way through my sophomore year in high school. This effectively ended my friendship with Bad Friend....and all other friendships I may have had at the time. That was a long, long year and I felt the punishment was far greater than the crime. However, I'm thankful today for the way my dad handled the situation. Who knows where I might be today if Bad Friend had stayed around a while longer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Debbie Does Demolition...

I’ve never been much of a car person. I don’t remember ever being concerned too much about style or speed. As long as what I drove was neat, clean, and dependable I was happy. As I’ve grown older I’ve pretty much given up the “neat and clean” part and settled with dependable. I did own one nice car once. When Debbie and I started dating I bought a really cool Pontiac Tempest LeMans. It was seafoam green, black interior, baby moons with chrome rims on Goodyear red stripe tires. Whoo-wee did I ever look good in that car! It was the car we used well into our marriage. It had a manual transmission so Debbie never drove it. When we were expecting Jamie we found out our medical insurance didn’t cover maternity. When our doctor found out this little fact he insisted on payment up front for Debbie’s care. The only thing of value I owned was my sweet Pontiac. I had to sell it to pay the doctor. I stood in my front yard and cried as I watched the new owner drive away. I bought an old Chevy junker to get us through the pregnancy and it served us well.

After Jamie was born I sold the old Chevy and bought a Chevy Malibu. It was pretty plain but in great shape. I was proud of it and happy we could go places without embarrassment. It too was a manual transmission so I was the sole driver…..until the dawning of Debbie’s Demolition.

One night Debbie asked me to teach her how to work a clutch so she could use the car when she needed it. After minutes and minutes of stressful training I calmly screamed, “Pull over and let me drive before you ruin this car!”. She pulled over and I swung the passenger side door open to storm out. I did not know she had pulled over next to a drainage ditch. As I disappeared from sight I heard Debbie laughing. I am pretty sure she did that on purpose.

After a week or so Debbie asked me to take her to the mall for some shopping. I didn’t want to go shopping so much that I decided to sacrifice the Malibu. I suggested to Deb that the only way to learn to work a stick shift would be to get in the car alone and make it work. She agreed and left for the mall by herself. I still remember the sound of grinding gears and the sight of repeated lurching as she drove away. When she came home she was pleased with herself but worried that she may have damaged a light pole. She had started to turn left at an intersection when she realized she should have turned right. Rather than make the block she put the car in reverse and ran into the pole while turning. I ran out to check the car and found the back bumper caved in and the trunk lid dented. I wasn’t too concerned about the light pole.

On her next solo trip she brought the car back with elongated dents all along both sides of the car. When I asked her about it she told me she had pulled into a really tight spot. She knew she would have to find another place to park when she noticed the cars on both sides of her slowly rising. She was scraping along the door handles of both cars.

Her third trip resulted in a large rip on one of the fenders above the wheel. As I beat the jagged metal back into place I decided I wouldn’t bother to ask her how she had done it.

I finally decided it was time to stop driving cars that were the least bit stylish and buy something more family oriented. I bought us a big old boring Ford LTD. There was more chrome on this car than any I had ever dreamed of owning. The phrase that came to mind was “more metal for the money” and I figured Debbie would have a hard time destroying it. Boy oh boy was I wrong. It did take a week or two for the demolition to start but when it did it was historic. She pulled out of the garage one day and ripped all the chrome off the passenger side of the car. I screamed and yelled and gave all kinds of helpful hints like “Don’t get so close to that side of the garage ever again!” She took this lesson to heart and drove for several days before ripping all the chrome off the driver’s side.

I did my best to replace the missing chrome and polish out the scratches on the car without bothering the insurance company. A year passed before more damage came our way. It was a rainy day and Debbie was running late getting home from a baby shower. She pulled into the driveway a little too fast and hit the brake hard as she entered the garage. Since the garage floor had a smooth surface the car slid right into my workbench destroying it and everything on and around it. As I fixed the grill and beat the dents out of the hood I asked Deb to stop just a bit short of my workbench the next time she pulled into the garage. She listened to this advice and used great care to leave plenty of space between the car and workbench. When she pulled the garage door down she caved in the trunk lid. This ended the systematic destruction of all four sides of her car.

During all this work Debbie was doing on her Ford I had bought a 1972 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop from my dad. He knew how to take care of a car and this old Chevy was in mint condition. I planned to keep it forever since Detroit was going downhill and the classics were getting to be rare. I foolishly came down with a stomach virus during one of the times Debbie’s car was out of commission. I was feeling really bad and Deb decided I needed medicine. I knew she would have to drive my Chevy to the drugstore so I told her I was fine and didn’t need a thing from the store. In her compassion and need to get out of the house, she insisted on going and took off in my last of a kind, mint, really cool Chevy. I heard the garage door come up and wanted to stop her but my stomach decided I needed to run to the bathroom instead. Within seconds I heard strange noises coming from the garage. I worried what the noise could be until Debbie got home. She came straight to the bedroom apologizing. She had run the car up next to the garage door opening and scratched the front fender. In her haste to correct herself, she threw the car into drive and ran it forward scratching up the passenger side door. She finally got the car out of the garage and was so upset and worried she failed to check her rearview mirror and ran into a car also pulling out of its driveway. This caved in the driver side  thus ruining both sides on my mint Chevy in less than five minutes.

Now you would think this couldn’t possibly get any worse. Well, of course it could. I “punished” Debbie by telling her the wrecked Chevy was now hers. I sold the wrecked Ford to some poor soul and bought myself a new Ford pickup. It was a beauty. To make a long story a bit shorter I’ll just say this. Debbie took my new pickup to drive the boys to school one morning. She wrapped it around a bridge embankment. I am very glad she and the boys didn’t get hurt but my truck was totaled. This was the last time I ever tried to have a nice vehicle. I took the old Chevy back from Debbie and bought her a new Oldsmobile. She drove it for twelve years without putting so much as a scratch on it.

Since Deb had done so well with the Olds I figured the answer to her bad driving had to be in buying her a new car. This led me to buy her another new car. This one was her choice and she chose a new Chevy Malibu. She wrecked it three times. After the first wreck our insurance became so expensive I cancelled all but liability. I tried to repair the last two wrecks by myself. The last repair involved duct tape and baling wire….I’m not kidding.

I gave Debbie one more chance and bought her another new car….keep in mind, I’m still driving old wrecks to work. She still owns this last car and has wrecked it three times. Each time the insurance company provided excellent repairs but the last wreck caused a huge adjustment in our insurance rates. I dropped it down to liability again so who knows what her car will look like in the coming months. She did choose a light silver paint this time which will blend nicely with duct tape.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mama's Other Big Brother...

My mother was a storyteller. If I had been smart, and I wasn't, I would have written down every story she ever told us kids as we grew up on Elm Street. I would have stories to pass on for the rest of my life. I remember a few with fondness. The fondness comes from the stories themselves but also in the memory of the nights we spent listening to her relive her own childhood for us. She loved her brothers and sisters so much. I've written about her sister Cricket, and two of her brothers, Leland and Frog. Someday I will get around to telling about the rest of the sisters but right now I wanted to write a bit more about her brother Bill.

Mama's earliest memory of Bill was his coming to the rescue when she and Frog were both little. It was winter and a bad virus was working its way through the valley. Mama and Frog were both critically ill and things were looking worse by the hour. They lived miles from town with no real road leading out to their place. They got a call in to the doctor who said he would come out if someone would meet him where the road ended. Bill volunteered. He saddled up two horses and started out in the middle of the cold and windy night. He met the doctor and led him back to the house. The doctor was able to give the kids medicine to improve their chances and spent that night with the family. The next day the fever broke and both my mom and Frog improved quickly. The doctor told my grandparents if he hadn't come both kids would have died. Bill rode the doctor back to his car after that and never told the story again. I mentioned it to Bill a few months ago and he just smiled and said, "Yep, I reckon that's pretty accurate.".

My mom and her siblings were far enough out that walking to school wasn't an option. The family had only one vehicle, a flatbed farm truck, so rides to school were only a dream. They rode horses. Older siblings rode and younger sibs hitched a ride on back. My mom was generally riding on back since she was next to the youngest. On one occasion though she had a horse for herself. She was thrilled and felt all grown up until they got out of sight of the corral. That old mare did not want to go to school that day. My mom kicked and yelled and slapped and yelled and that old horse just stood there on the side of a hill. She finally yelled, "Bill, my horse wont go!" Bill told her to give her a good slap. The mare didn't move so my mom complained again. Bill told her to give her a kick in the ribs. My mom's legs were so short the mare just snickered. Finally Bill dismounted, gathered up some dry weeds, tied them to the tail of the horse and set the weeds on fire. My mom was the first one to school that day.

Bill was a horseman. He preferred his horse to any of those old gasoline engine things flitting around. His older brother Leland bought a car when he got older and was mighty proud of it. My mom and her sister Ramona "borrowed" it one morning to drive to school. They thought they could get away with it because Leland was riding fence that day and would be gone til dark. They had themselves a time getting to school since neither of them knew how to drive. When they finally worked their way through the gears they were flying down the old dirt road. That was a real thrill until they got to the school yard and didn't have a clue how to stop. They knew to stop feeding it gas so it finally came to a stop....but not before making about four trips around the school house scattering children in all directions. The car finally stopped completely when they ran into the school house. I'm sorry....I got off the subject of talking about Bill. His experience with Leland's car wasn't as much fun. I don't remember the details but for some reason Leland took Bill's horse on a trip out of town. When it was time for him to return he got word to Bill to bring the car to him. Bill drove the car to him and had all kinds of problems getting it there. He wasn't much of a driver either! Leland offered to give Bill a ride back and let the horse come back on its own. Bill said, "No sir! You take your car and I'll take my horse." Leland told him it would take two days on horseback and Bill didn't know the way cross country. Bill told him if the horse could find its way home alone it could sure find its way home with him on its back.

Bill was evidently pretty popular with the ladies as he got older. He would go on dates when my mom and Ramona were old enough to want to date but too young to actually do it. They enjoyed Bill's love life though because they would wait up for him every time he went out. When he got home he would strum his guitar, sing, and tell them every detail about his evening. My mama never forgot those times and said they were some of the best parts of her childhood.

Bill went off to war along with the majority of his generation during World War II. He served in the Navy. One of his kids will have to tell you about his experiences during the war. Any one of them is invited to post here and fill us all in if they want! When he returned home he married aunt Adelaide and they started manufacturing lots of children. They eventually bought a little place at the end of College Street in Llano, Texas and that is still home today. Every time a new kid was born another room was added to the existing structure. What started out about the size of a two car garage is now a rambling ranch house with large windows looking out over the beauty of the Texas hill country. Bill's workshop is in the backyard of this old house and he spends several hours in it six days a week.

Bill is a master craftsman. He designs and builds his own creations. His furniture is functional, sturdy, and always a work of art. He has built everything from complete homes down to footstools. His creations are in most of the homes of family members and lots of lucky family friends. I personally have two of his stools and a full length swinging mirror he made for my mom. Other's have pie safes, hope chests, book shelf sectionals, game tables with intricate inlaid detail...the list goes on and on. He has even designed and built his own coffin. Its beautiful and a real shame it will someday be placed in the ground. He taught his sons and daughters how to work with wood and how to keep their old cars up and running. He has taught me a lot about woodworking and I hope to pass it on to my boys. I asked Bill one day where he bought his plans for his many projects. He looked at me and smiled. He had never bought a plan in his life. He thought about it and built it. That has rarely worked for me.

My mama died a little over a year ago. Only Bill is left from a family of nine children. Bill has set at the side of each of his brothers and sisters' graves to say goodbye. It seems sad at times and yet the blessings are overflowing. Someday our uncle Bill will be gone and so will end a grand era but his, and the Hallmark family legacy lives on. One time when I was growing up I told my mama I had met a couple of girls at a ballgame in Llano. She told me to be careful because those girls were probably related to me. She said you couldn't throw a rock around Llano or Burnet without hitting a Hallmark on the head.