Monday, April 25, 2011

Chapter 19 Scouts’ Honor

clip_image001I entered Horace Mann Junior High (Middle school) in September of 1937. I was able to walk from my home, as it was only about eight or ten blocks down Lake Blvd to the school. This is where I met my three best life-long friends, Robert Holzschuher, Bill Kleine and Paul Silber. We were like brothers and pretty much inseparable from this time until we all four went off to WW II in 1942.

Bill, Paul and I were all in the same Boy Scout Troop #66 over at the church. Over time, each of us was elected to be Patrol Leaders. My Patrol was the Rattlesnake Patrol. Medina River Natural Area

One particularly memorable trip we were camped on the Medina River, southwest of San Antonio. It was one of those especially cold weekends. We had built a huge bonfire and had spent the evening around it talking and singing songs. About midnight most of us had rolled up in our blankets (no sleeping bags in those days) as close to the deep bed of hot coals as we could, to try and keep warm. Every once in a while, one of us would get up and throw more wood on the fire. About three in the morning, Ernest Stieler got up to do this and decided he was hungry. He got a can of beans and without opening the can, put it in deep into the hot coals. You know what happened next. After a while, with a loud explosion, the can burst open, spewing beans and hot coals all over clip_image002those of us who were on that side of the fire. Well, you haven’t lived until you have been awakened to hot coals in your bed and a face full of hot beans.

Ernie took off running with a bunch of us chasing him. We caught him and carried him down to the river. We stripped all his clothes off and threw him in the cold water of that river. Well, Ernie swam out and emerged looking not only like a drowned rat but a frozen one as well. He spent the rest of the night piling more and more wood on the fire, wrapped in a blanket trying to get warm.

I had great plans to get Mom and Dad back together again and talked it up whenever I was with each of them every chance I had. Mom had dated a retired Navy Commander named Gene Monagan and about this time he asked her to marry him. Mom asked me what I thought about Gene, who I did like a lot, but I pitched a real fit. I was so focused on getting my parents back together I would not hear of her marrying anyone else. As a result she turned Gene down and he left angry about it and went back to California.

It was not long after this time I was called to the school principals’ office, and my Dad was there. We left in his car and that was when he told me that he and Margaret Morris had gotten married. Her husband Clews had passed away several months earlier. I was very upset because he had promised to talk to me before he ever got married again and I still had dreams of getting my folks back together. All of my visions of reuniting Mom and Dad faded away because Dad and Margaret were already married. They had married on January 4, 1938. When mom heard the news she had sort of a nervous breakdown. Her sister Cot took us over to her house and we were there for about a month while Mom recovered. It was a hard time and I guess I was somewhat depressed myself during that period.

Photo of Horace Mann Jr. High found here.

Photo (and delightful sounds) of Medina River found here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chapter 18 Separate but Eagle

While I was at camp that summer, Mom was busy trying to line up work. Her brother-in-law was on the board of the San Antonio school system and he helped Mom get a job. She couldn’t teach in the San Antonio system because she was his relative, but he helped her get located in the Edgewood School district. His name was Jim Hollers-what a great name for a dentist. He was listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” because of his name. clip_image002

Her new job was in a 100% Hispanic school down in the southwest part of San Antonio. That was okay with Mom; she loved all things about Mexico and soon spoke fluent Spanish. She moved into a tiny little house at 107 Parkmoor Court in San Antonio, which had about 600 square feet-that is not a typo.

clip_image002[4]When I returned to San Antonio in September I was enrolled in the San Antonio Military Academy. I was heavy for my age and  Coach Pierce put me on the line as a tackle on the San Antonio Academy football team.

Mom had moved us into a duplex on Gramercy while I was away during the summer. This duplex was about three houses away from the house her sister Helen bought later, after she was divorced from Jim Hollers. Helen lived in that house for many years and all the family clip_image002[6]lived with her for a while after the war. This was before she remarried and bought the farm at Leon Springs. From our Gramercy home, I walked to school, which was only about eight blocks south, down Lake Blvd.

During the Christmas season in 1936 my Dad was in Eagle Pass. He’d been hired to dig a huge canal that left the Rio Grande above Eagle Pass and went to the east of the town and re-entered the Rio Grande, south of Eagle Pass. It was about 90 miles in length. It was a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that was established in April of 1935 to create jobs for those who had lost their employment in the depression.

In the summer of 1937, Mom put me on the bus which took me to Dilly, TX, where I had to get off and catch a small bus to go on to Eagle Pass. The small bus was what we would call a long stretch limo today-only there was a door on the right side of the bus at the end of each row of seats. Dad was clip_image001[5]living in the Eagle Hotel which was owned by Margaret Myrick Morris and her husband, Clews. They lived in a house behind the hotel. 

Dad would leave me there most every day. I would have a run of the place and everyone who worked there sort of looked after me. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and enjoyed running the elevator, taking people up and down. In those days the elevators were not automatic. If you were on the fourth floor for instance, and wanted to go to the lobby, you pressed the button, and then you had to wait until the elevator operator decided to go up and get you. Some days Dad would take me with him to the job. That’s where I would get to ride on some of the big machines that were digging the canal.

One incident that made quite an impression on me happened at this time out on the job. Dad had an employee named “Rabbit” who had a drinking problem.Dad had kept him on because he was absolutely the best Dragline operator in Texas-when he was sober. One day Dad went out to check the job, and as he arrived he saw the big Dragline swinging around and around. The huge bucket was swinging at the end of the long cable, and all the men around it were diving for cover. The side of one truck had been bashed in and Rabbit was at the controls of the Dragline laughing and having a big time. He was drunk as a skunk.

Dad waited for the bucket to swing past him and he dashed over to the Dragline and climbed on the tracks and then on up to the cab of the machine. He reached over, switched the huge machine off and then drug Rabbit out of the cab. Dad put Rabbit in his ‘36 Ford coupe and took him back to town. Dad had warned him regarding his drinking on the job many times but this time he’d had it-he fired Rabbit.

Photo of Hotel Eagle, Eagle Pass, TX found here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chapter 17 A House Divided

In December 1935 my Mom and Dad separated; Mom took me with her to live with her folks in Austin. I remember that I was particularly clip_image002upset about my parents’ separation and ultimate divorce. From the first, I was determined to get them reconciled and back together. We stayed in Austin less than a year.

I went to Pease School in Austin for the spring semester of 1936. The first part of that summer I went to Camp Stewart at Hunt Texas. There were two individuals I remember well. One was Blair (Bruzzy) Reeves, who was my classmate years later at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. clip_image002[5]The other was a counselor by the name of Sammy Baugh. He was from TCU and known as “Slinging” Sammy Baugh, the football Quarterback super star.

My parents agreed that I would spend the summers with my dad and the rest of the year with my mother. That summer Mom put me on the train for Lubbock. The train went from San Antonio to Ft. Worth and then west to Lubbock. Dad met me at the train station, and I vividly remember a few things from that visit. One was the shock of going to our old house and the only furniture was a bed in my folks’ bedroom. Everything else was gone: no horse, no chickens, no homing pigeons, empty garage, no furniture and empty house. Wow!

Another remembrance was people’s attitudes. Back then, divorce carried a stigma and was considered a really bad thing. At first Dad took me to work with him, but after a day or two he left me at our old house, and I set out to visit my friends in the neighborhood. When I went to George Harold’s his mother said he was not at home. I then went down to the corner to Bennett Brown’s. His mother told me that he was not allowed to play with me. I went back to our yard and had a good cry. Fortunately, Dad and I left for San Angelo the next morning.

clip_image002[14]The rest of the summer went well, and I had a really good time bonding with Dad. Dad had a 1936 Ford coupe, and he showed me it would go almost a 100 miles an hour!! Pretty exciting for a 12 year old boy. Next he let me fire his 45 automatic pistol. He laughed when it kicked back almost over my shoulder when I fired it the first time, but I didn't drop it. We were shooting at a big sign and I am sure I didn’t even come close. We were sailing down the road one day and Dad quickly stopped the car and showed me a coyote up the rise on a railroad track. He had a 30-30 in a rack attached to the front of the front seat. He jacked a shell into it, took aim and shot the coyote. I was very impressed. I have both that pistol and that 30-30 in my possession.

Another time he opened the glove compartment one day and gave me a chew of Red Man chewing tobacco. I did not like that chew and spit it out. I did experience a lot of “man” things that summer. I liked fast cars and guns a lot, but I hated Red Man chews.

Dad and I had some great talks. He asked me a lot about Mom, how she was feeling and what she was doing, etc. He obviously had a lot of concern for her. It was sad because as soon as I got back home after spending the summer with Dad, she would quiz me at great length about how Dad was doing, how he felt, where he was staying, etc. Two hard headed people, each waiting for the other to break and apologize. What a tragedy and I was too young to know what to do. I did spend a lot of time stressing about it though.

Photo of Pease Elementary School found here.

Photo of 1936 Ford coupe found here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chapter 16 Dust and Depression

We were not always desperados with BB guns. Sometimes my best friend, George Harold Graham, and I would go down to visit with an old black woman who lived in a little shack down the alley from us. I have forgotten her name, but I’m sure it was Ruby. One day, she asked George Harold and me if we could shoot any sparrows.

Well, could we! How many did she want? She said to bring her what we could shoot that afternoon. Well, George Harold and I brought her about fifteen or twenty sparrows a few hours later. We asked her what she was going to do with them. She said, “Boys, you are wonderful. I am going to have the best sparrow pie, and I will save some for you.” We declined.

Remember this was in the middle of the great depression, a time when many people would go days without any food to eat. The banks had all failed and the money people had was whatever they had in their pocket when the bank closed. When that ran out, there was none. It was a really tough time, lots of suicides and breaking up of families. My family was lucky because Dad had his own business. In 1933 a program was started called the Works Progress Administration that put people back to work in construction jobs. Dad was able to give men jobs under this program and his company survived.

clip_image002[1]Of course, there was no TV then, but we had a radio. My favorites were The Shadow, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie and Jack Armstrong, the all American boy. I sent off for a secret ring. They would give you a code at the end of each program, and with your secret ring, you could decode the message and find out what the next episode was going to be about.

Dick Tracy had a watch that you could talk to someone else without any wires or anything. Flash Gordon actually blasted off into space, can you imagine that! We knew this stuff was just making believe and nothing like that would ever happen.

The panhandle of Texas was part of the dust bowl of the thirties. The dust storms were staggering and in the fall of 1934 we had a doozer. We were at a polo game out north of town when a huge brown cloud started appearing on the northern horizon. We later learned this one was 8000 feet high and moving at 65 miles per hour. We had already experienced a number of dust storms and everyone knew what was coming. The game ended and everyone started their cars to leave and try to get home before it hit.

Dad’s friend next to us could not get his car started so Dad was pushing his car with clip_image002ours when it hit. It was like God turned the sun off and it was black as night. It was so thick we could not breathe; mom put a wet handkerchief over my mouth and it helped a little. Dad had turned his headlights on and you could not even see the car in front of us that we were pushing. His friend’s car finally started and we crept our way home.

We had a new house with weather stripping but, after one of these storms the sand would be banked up in the corners and of course everything was covered with sand. All the furniture, the bed sheets, the food and dishes, everything was full of sand. Mom put covers over the beds to keep the sand out of the sheets. The atmosphere, even in the house, was sort of hazy. There was no way to get away from it; you just lived with it until it was over.

This storm lasted for three days and we all had grit in our mouth and sand in our eyes. Everyone just had to hunker down until it was over. Finally the sun began reappear and the town came to life again. We must have added about an inch of Oklahoma and Kansas on the ground in Lubbock that week.

Photo of circa 1920 radio found here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 15 The Snitch and the Switch

Someone had been kicking dirt into the entrance of our cave and making holes in the roof, which also caused dirt to fall down into our “Club Room”! George Harold and I suspected a spoiled mama’s boy who lived next door to George Harold. Whenever he saw us do anything that was not exactly right he would run and tell our mom on us. We did not like Mama’s Boy!

One afternoon we were coming out of my barn with our BB guns to do a little hunting and we saw Mama’s Boy out in the lot near our cave. We quietly climbed into the coal bin at the back of our house, which had a good view of the expected action at our cave. Sure enough Mama’s Boy started kicking dirt into the entrance and pulling on one of the supporting boards that held up the top.

We rose up out of the coal bin and cut down on the guy with our BB guns. The first shot caught him under the thumbnail and he screamed and started running for his house. We were shooting for his rear end but he got his thumb in the way. We got off a couple of more shots as he disappeared.

A nine-year-old seldom thinks of consequences until after the fact. (Some grown-ups have the same problem). It was about then that we looked at each other and realized at the same moment we were in big trouble. We bailed out of the bin and headed for a hideout. We ran to my house and into my parent’s bedroom and got under the bed.

In a few minutes someone was banging on our back door and, yes, it was “The Mama”. She was big and mean and if anyone mistreated her angel she would chew him or her up and spit them out. George Harold and I were hardly breathing, frozen in fear under that bed. My poor mother answered the door and received a full blast from that woman with threats of calling the police, etc. We were terrified that Mom would let that monster mom in and she’d come looking for us. Mom assured her she would take proper action.

After the fire eater left Mom came into the bedroom and told me to come out. How did she know I was under there? Mothers have that mysterious gift that I have never understood. (Could it have been the trail of coal dust leading from the back door to the bed? Ed.) George Harold and I crawled out.

She sent George Harold home and then told me to go out to the willow tree in the back yard and get a switch. Can you imagine picking the switch you were going to get whipped with? She then proceeded to switch me on the back of my legs holding one of my arms with one hand and going over my legs real good with the other. That hurt so bad. I would much rather face Dad’s belt on my behind than that switching that burned like fire on my legs. I was then sent to my room for the rest of the afternoon and my hunting days were cancelled for about three weeks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chapter 14 Boys of Summer

We played a lot of baseball in a big vacant area down the alley from our house. Of course, we were barefoot, shirtless, and no parents. Someone would bring a bat, a ball that sometimes had electric tape wrapped around it and, gloves for clip_image002[8]each position. When we changed positions and had our chance to bat, we just threw down the glove we were using so the other team would have gloves to play with.

To choose teams, one captain would pitch the bat up and catch it. The other captain would grab above the first’s hand and so on until they were at the top of the bat. The captain who was the winner would have first pick of the players, then the other side would pick, and so on, until everyone had been picked. So you can see that you never knew which team you were on for the next day. The idea was to let everyone play and have a great time.

We played almost every afternoon when we were not riding our horses or busy with other projects. No uniforms, no schedules, no parents, no commissioners, no select teams; we just all played and had a good time. Playing the game together and having fun was the important thing. Winning the game was fun too but winning was secondary to playing the game. clip_image001

Another project we had in the summer was digging our cave. Of course, the land around Lubbock was as flat as a tabletop, but we would dig a ditch about two feet deep in the vacant lot behind our house. We would dig a room at the end of the ditch, about four by six feet, and then we would put old metal soda water signs over boards to make a top over our cave. Then we would pile dirt all over the top. We would crawl down the ditch and put a candle in a hollowed out place in the wall of the main room and, voilĂ , we had our secret hideout!

Later, we would add additional rooms connected by tunnels; we would work off and on all summer on our cave. One thing I can remember about my childhood in West Texas is that when I woke up every morning I was always in a rush to get out of the house and get busy. We might be digging our cave, riding our horses with friends, hunting or playing baseball. We were always really busy and never without a lot to do.

clip_image001[6]One afternoon, George Harold and I decided to set up my electric train in our garage that had a concrete floor. We washed the floor down good with the water hose and set the train track up. We were ready to hook up the electric transformer but the only outlet was where the overhead light was in the ceiling. George Harold climbed up on Mom’s car and got on my shoulders and, steadying himself with one hand against the ceiling, he edged over to the outlet the light bulb was plugged into.

Of course it was summer and we were both barefoot on the wet floor. A section of the cord from the transformer had little or no insulation on it and George Harold was holding on to that section. When he plugged the cord in, a super shock ran down through George Harold and into me and right on down to the wet floor. I was shaking like it was 40 degrees below zero.

Well, I was facing the garage door and I just took off running as hard as I could down the driveway and left poor old George Harold in mid-air. I guess that was a good thing, though George Harold didn’t think so at the time. He was stuck to the hot cord, and when I took off it broke him loose from the current source as he fell to the concrete floor. We made a strategic decision to not try to hook it up again and waited for my Dad to come home, whereupon I told him there was something wrong with my electric train. He figured it out as soon as he went out to the garage and took a look.

Photo of sandlot boys found here.

Photo of 1930 soda sign found here.

Photo of toy electric train found here.