Still figuring out the Audio Editing software, but it's getting easier. Glad my aging brain is still capable of learning. For what it's worth, Episode Two will be going up on Our Salon Radio on Friday July 24 at 10:30am and will repeat on Wednesday July 29 at 10:30 as well. It will repeat in the Our Salon Radio Schedule through the first week of August. If you've got a spare half hour and you're interested in hearing the tale told bymy croaking old man voice you can tune in or wait a couple of weeks and check it out on Our Salon Radio Archives in the Google Drive Cloud. Episode One is there as well.
Anyhow this is the transcript which is a bit of a re-post from JMac1949 Memories:
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
And welcome back to JMac’s Palace of Memory. That slice of bitter resignation comes from Macbeth, Act Five, Scene Five wherein the mad Scots King responds to the news of Lady Macbeth’s suicide.
Any number of psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, clerics, shamans and other spiritual guides subscribe to the notion that most of us shape our memories so that we are cast as the protagonists of our individual life scripts. Some smaller percentage of us view ourselves as victims, while an even smaller percentage of us become sociopaths, inflicting pain in retribution for perceived injury, and seldom understand why other people regard them as evil. A tiny number of us become psychopaths who become the manifestation of evil of its own sake. I always try to cast myself in the role of a reporter or historian in that I consciously edit my memories down to who did what to whom, when, where, how and if I can figure it out: why.
Unfortunately my middle class Midwestern brain stores most of my memories in the dusty attic of an abandoned three story brick farmhouse with a leaky roof which is modeled after my father’s family home in rural Indiana.
We’ll be getting to that in a minute so bear with me while I dig through that attic and try to come up with what’s next. In a post that I wrote for Our Salon I titled this bit as Chasing Headless Chickens and other Delights. It’s all wrapped around the summers we spent on my grandfather’s farm in Indiana.
By Cold War Standards 1956 was almost a mellow year: The Korean War Truce held firm for it’s second year, the People’s Republic of China and Chairman Mao were more or less minding their own business, the last French soldiers were scheduled to leave Vietnam in April, and in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev went after old line Stalinists as a "cult of personality". Most of the news that year was entertainment, new media and politics and sports. Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin, was restaged on NBC-TV, Laurence Olivier's film, Richard III, adapted from Shakespeare's play, premiered in theatres and on NBC on the same day. Ampex introduced the first practical and commercial videotape format 2" Quadruplex, IBM invented the hard disk drive, a 30 inch monster the size of a big refrigerator, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 500 for the first time at 500.24.
The Republicans re-nominated President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrats chose Adlai E. Stevenson again, and of course Ike kicked his ass in November. Grace Kelly married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, Marilyn Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller, and Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yankee pitcher Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers for the umpteenth time. Rocky Marciano retired undefeated and Floyd Patterson became the world light heavyweight champion.
The shit hit the fan in the last week of October when: behind the Iron Curtain the Hungarian revolution broke out, the Soviet Red Army invaded Hungary, Israel invaded Egypt through the Sinai Peninsula and the UK and France bombed Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal. The Huntley-Brinkley Report debuted on NBC-TV to cover it all and after he won re-election Ike settled it all quickly by ignoring the Red Army as it crushed the revolution in Hungary and blackmailing the Israeli, British and French economies with his threat to allow their currency to float against the US dollar - which now for the first time in American History carried the official motto of the United States, "In God We Trust" as authorized by an act of Congress. By the end of the year Ike had everything under control.
In the meantime I was chasing chickens with their heads cut off. In 1956 my father, who was nicknamed “Mac,” took a pay cut to accept a secure civil service job with the Department of Defense as a quality assurance inspector and they transferred him to Miami. The family sold the house in Acton and while ‘Mac’ looked for a place in Florida, we spent that summer with my mother’s family on Pop’s farm.
It was heaven!!! Swimming in the pond, roaming up the creek catching crawfish and tadpoles, playing hide and seek in the woods and up in the hayloft in the barn, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, picking vegetables from the garden, slopping the hogs and riding with ‘Pop’ on the tractor out in the fields… playing with our cousins and our dog, catching lightning bugs and making ice cream on the front porch until we all got tossed into a galvanized steel washtub and finally fell asleep in one big bed… I’m sure we drove my mother crazy, but it was the best summer I can remember.
Three things stand out in my memory from that summer: Sometime in June, I was up in the attic with Mom and she was making herself crazy looking for some sheet music. Even though I had no idea where to find it, I got a weird sense of Déjà vu, opened up a cedar chest, lifted out a pile of sheet music and asked, “Is this it?”
“Yes,” she said with a relived smile, “How did you know it was in there?”
“I didn’t,” I said, “It just felt like the right place to look.”
That was the first time I exhibited my twisted psychic talent for finding lost stuff. Through the years I found all kinds of stuff that other people have lost, but it never works for stuff that I’ve lost and that’s why I carry my wallet in my front pocket, clip my keys to my belt and own more than one pair of glasses.
On Sunday mornings after breakfast, it was my job to go down into the chicken yard and chase down and catch the fat fryer that my grandmother picked out for lunch. I’d eventually grab the damn flapping thing and carry it up the hill where she reached out with her right hand firmly gripping it by the head, and with a quick flip of her wrist, she’d wring its neck. I’d run after the headless body as it flipped and scratched its blind path down the hill and bring it back to her. She’d soak it in boiling water and together we would pluck its feathers, gut it and cut it up for the frying pan.
With that accomplished she’d get us all washed up and dressed for services at the Laughrey Creek Community Church. I didn’t like getting dressed up, but I loved riding in the back of Pop’s 1949 Dodge pickup truck and listening to the congregants sing those “Old Time Religion” hymns.
Once a month, a circuit preacher arrived at the tiny clapboard church where he’d deliver a “for real down home” sermon. I looked forward to that because he also conducted the ceremony of communion, which consisted of saltine crackers and Welch’s grape juice and I really liked that sip of grape juice. After church we went into Osgood for supplies: Wonder bread, peanut butter, maple syrup and chewing tobacco for Pop; Nehi strawberry soda, Beeman’s clove chewing gum and black licorice ropes for me.
Fried chicken, fresh vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, Angel food cake and cold sweet iced tea for lunch, followed by a good nap and another free afternoon running amuck with our cousins and by the time the sun went down, we were all ready for bed. Sundays were always the best days on the farm.
While I loved the time we spent on ‘Pop’s’ farm, I was ambivalent about our visits to my father’s clan which comprise my second outstanding memory of that summer. Mac’s large extended family owned a rocky scrap of hard scrabble land not very far from the church, where they lived in an old ramshackle brick farmhouse peopled with several very old decrepit people, visited by adult cousins and no kids to play with. It had limited electricity, no central source of heat and no indoor plumbing. The entire roost was run by a short, round, very pleasant mother hen, Dad’s sister-in-law Aunt Martha, who took care of her disabled husband, my grandparents and just about anyone else who showed up at the door.
Martha was my favorite from ‘Mac’s’ family. She made the best chocolate pie and chocolate peanut butter cake I’ve ever eaten and I always showed my appreciation by eating two pieces. She cherished this recognition of her culinary talents and for that reason she doted on me.
With no indoor plumbing, nature’s call was answered by peeing in the bushes until it was time to poop, which required a trip to the outhouse and for me that was a short journey into hell. I always tried to hold it until we got back to Pop’s house, but when we stayed overnight that wasn’t always possible. The outhouse was a single-hole affair with a dirt floor and an open pit filled with the stench of shit and lime. It was dark even during the day, my feet dangled as I sat on the wooden bench over the hole and worst of all… that dark dank interior was draped with the dusty silken webs of spiders!!!! They scrambled out of sight when you opened the door and sunlight pierced their den, but if you had to sit for any length of time, the eight legged beasties would crawl out onto their webs. I held them off with a long switch, but it’s difficult for a kid to go poop when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder for that dangling poisonous monster that you may have overlooked. Where the hell was Tarzan when you needed him?
My third great memory of that summer of 1956 was a long day in mid August. “Mac” had returned to Indiana, supervised the move of the furniture and household goods from the house in Acton and arrived at Pop’s farm to pack us up for the drive to Miami. We were crazy happy to see him and we spent that day getting ready for the big trip south. The next morning we woke up to a house in crisis: ‘Pop’ had mowed his hay and alfalfa four days before and the weather report over the radio at breakfast predicted a cold front with major league thunderstorms for the evening hours. ‘Pop’s’ friends and neighbors who owned the farms adjacent to his land had planned come together to bale his hay and put it up that weekend, but now they had to do it all today before it rained.
The crew gathered by eight that morning, “Mac” and my older brother Bill pitched in and by eight-thirty all the men were in the field.
My cousins and I did what we could to help Grandma, Mom and Aunt Edna prepare food for a dozen men. I chased chickens, my cousins picked and cleaned vegetables while the women prepared and cooked a mountain of food. The women and children ate quickly at one in the afternoon. At two, half a dozen dusty sweating men washed up with well water and Ivory bar soap before they sat down at the make shift plank table in the side yard to eat their fill. At three, the second wave came in from the fields and they too feasted. By sunset fat drops of rain had just begun to fall and as the wind picked up, the whole crew arrived with the last wagon of baled hay which they hauled directly into the barn without unhitching the tractor. Within ten minutes lightning and thunder tore through dark purple, orange and black clouds on the northern horizon of the radiant dusk sky and as sheets of wind driven rain blew onto the front porch, everyone went into the house to seek cover from the storm.
It was a quick moving front and the big booming thunderstorms only lasted for a couple of hours. Everybody ate sandwiches and drank coffee or iced tea until it passed. Some of the men stood while others sat around the living room and dining room table where we witnessed the true American Dream: Neighbors and friends, many of whom never graduated high school, had come together to work together to help my grandfather. With that done they now talked together, coming to consensus as to what they needed for the future and how they could work together to help one another meet those needs.
I was only seven years old and did not fully understand the priceless social value of their discussion and planning; but, I could feel it in the air, hear it in their jokes and laughter, and see it in their weary smiles. Though none of them spoke Latin, they understood “E Pluribus Unum” and “out of many they became one.” They all “trusted in God,” and didn’t need politicians to approve an official national motto to advertise their devotion or their understanding of that Latin platitude, because they were the men and women who built the United States of America and they lived through its promise.
Now let’s take a break and I’ll come back with another tale.
Welcome back. The next morning we climbed into ‘Mac’s’ 1954 Ford sedan and drove south to a suburb of Miami called Hialeah, Florida. We moved into a three bedroom tract house in August of 1956. As I remember it was painted green stucco with white trim, jalousie windows and a cool terrazzo floor. Outside the house Florida was a whole new subtropical world with St. Augustine grass, banana trees, a race track with a flock of pink flamingos and even the occasional small alligator. It was an incredibly green place where it rained for twenty minutes every other afternoon and you had to wear flip-flops so that you wouldn’t accidentally step on a scorpion when you walked down the sidewalk at night.
I was quickly enrolled in the second grade and after Labor Day my mother walked me over to local elementary school on a bright morning in the first week of September. Around two-thirty or three I walked out of the entrance of the school building and turned right instead of left. I walked up the sidewalk and tried to remember how to get to our new house. I probably walked a mile or so in the wrong direction before I came to the irrevocable conclusion that I was hopelessly lost.
I was crying when I rang the door bell of some stranger’s house. A nice lady answered the door and took me inside where after a few moments of calming me down, I remembered that my mother had written our new phone number and address on the inside of the red cover of my Big Chief tablet. After a phone call and a cold Coke I sat down on the front porch with the nice lady to wait for Mom.
Our across the street neighbors were a family of Polish and German immigrants who loved drinking beer, playing music and eating spaghetti or pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs or boiled shrimp while we played shuffleboard on their driveway long into the night. On some Saturday night during that fall the movie Twelve O'Clock High showed on local TV and the Savitch family threw a pizza party to watch it with ‘Mac’. After it ended we all went outside to sit and talk in the cool evening breeze. Charlie and Lottie told stories about life on the ground under Hitler’s Germany and their Aunt Helen snorted and spat in her complete disgust for “…dat crazy lil’ houze painter from Austria.”
It was around midnight when Charlie asked Mac about the movie. Dad took a pull on his cigar and after a long moment he said, “It was pretty good except for the mission over Schweinfurt. We took off on that second raid on Black Thursday in October of ’43 and that was the worst mission I ever flew – completely FUBAR from the get go. We lost our fighter escort going in and we came into our bomb runs in two different flights strung out over a half hour, so the Germans got to refuel and reload and hit us again on the way back home. The flak was so thick over the target you could barely see the planes off your wingtip and whenever you could see the sky there was another plane going down. If you weren’t a believer when you took off that morning, you were praying to get back alive that afternoon…”
After finishing his beer he continued… “The Germans claimed they shot down over a hundred, and the papers in London printed that we lost sixty in the air and another seventeen crash landed in England. I think it had to be worse than that. I know the head count in our group was short by nearly a hundred and the 305th lost 85%.
They gave us all medals for that mission and our crew got shipped back home to help sell War Bonds. Maybe the only reason I got out of England alive, I guess somebody upstairs was lookin’ out for me.”
Although the family photo albums were filled with pictures from the forties including shots that Dad took during his twenty odd missions with the Eighth Army Air Force, he kept his medals in his sock drawer and as I remember that was only time that he every talked about the war.
Some months later the Savitch clan were all over at our house and everybody was doing their thing preparing to sit down to a spaghetti and meatball dinner when the phone rang. In 1957, unless it was a wrong number, any phone call after 5:00pm usually wasn’t good news; so while everybody stopped what they were doing, my Dad picked it up and after talking for a minute he turned to my mother and said, “Juanita, it’s your brother Bill for you.”
‘Mac’ never called my mother Juanita, and a long distance call from Indiana couldn’t be good. After he handed over the receiver to Mom, he stood next to her until she screamed, “Oh nooo!” and collapsed to the terrazzo floor next to the couch into incoherent shrieks and sobs. Lottie Savitch scurried over to comfort her and Mac announced to the gathering, “Her mother died.”
He took the phone and spoke with our Uncle Bill for a few moments while my little brother Rick began crying. None of us kids had ever seen anything like this and it understandably frightened us. ‘Mac’ put my older brother Bill in charge and told him to get us packed for an emergency trip to Indiana. I clearly remember that Bill dropped a suitcase on my bed and told me to get packed. I pulled out socks and underwear from the dresser, gathered up some shirts and jeans and then realized that it would be winter up north. I lost track of what I was doing and why and sat down on the edge of the bed and started to cry. Just after he got Mom into their bedroom and my little brother Rick settled down, Mac came up the hall to check on our progress to find me sobbing.
He did what he could to comfort me and finally set me straight on what I needed to pack for the trip. Although we’d lost an older Great uncle, my Grandfather’s brother we were too young to really understand what that was all about. This was our first comprehensible experience with the death of a loved one.
I have no concrete recollection of our trip north except we borrowed Charlie Savitch’s new car a 1956 Buick Special and ‘Mac’ drove the entire trip stopping only for gas, coffee and food. We had traveled south to Florida in a used Ford sedan that was notoriously unreliable and I remember that we were involved in an accident with a police car on our way to the beach. It probably still needed repair and I think that Dad was nursing it along until he could afford to buy a new car. We left before dawn and drove straight through, three boys asleep in the back seat, with Mom riding in the passenger seat in her nearly catatonic grief while Mac smoked his cigar at the wheel.
I vaguely remember our arrival at Pop’s farmhouse. It was miserably cold and wet and the corn field across the road was nothing but winter stalk stubble. It rained throughout our stay including the day of the funeral and except for Pop and my older brother Bill who went out to perform the never ending farm chores, we were trapped inside the house. My mother cooked, washed dishes and clothes, vacuumed, dusted and polished silver - all the things that Grandma would have done. I tried to help when and how I could but my primary responsibility was playing quietly with my younger brother, a nearly impossible task. We all wanted to be outside or anywhere but trapped inside that house.
Grandma Nickell was born Dorothy Ellen Wells in 1900 in Kentucky which made her fifty-six or fifty-seven when she passed. Her hair was thin and white and her lightly freckled face was pale, weathered and worn. From my earliest memory she looked to be in her sixties or early seventies. I guess we shared those genes because my hair and beard went white in my early fifties. I’m not sure what caused her death. I have a vague recollection of the mention of a heart attack, but I clearly remember my Aunt Edna specifically blaming Pop because, “… he let that poor woman work herself to death!”
She did work from before sunrise to after sunset nearly everyday of her life. Awake at four in the morning, she prepared breakfast while Pop did his morning chores. After breakfast she washed dishes and went out to feed the chickens and collect eggs – not a few but dozens of eggs from the hen house and barn. They sold eggs to supplement the farm’s income. She planted and weeded the vegetable garden. She harvested and canned fruits and vegetables and made jellies and jam.
She cooked, she baked, and she did laundry in a galvanized wash tub, scrubbing clothes and sheets with a wash board, wringing them out, rinsing them twice and hanging them on the clotheslines in the yard to dry in the sun. This was done with water hand pumped from the cistern and the well and carried in buckets.
She knitted, crocheted, quilted, made her own clothes on a pedal driven Singer sewing machine and carried lunch out into the fields. She swept the floor with a broom, mopped and dusted and dragged the carpets out into the yard to whip out clouds of dirt and dust with a rattan beater. She even churned butter, I know this; because feeding chickens, collecting eggs, weeding, picking fruit and vegetables, beating carpets and churning butter were some of the things I tried to do to help her. There was no electric washing machine, no gas dryer, and for years not even a vacuum cleaner so all of these tasks were accomplished by hand, with a minimum of mechanical assistance.
Even though I had no way of really understanding it, I could sense that her life was an iconic transition from the America of the 19th Century into the 20th Century. Whenever ‘Pop’ and my brother Bill came back from hunting in the woods, I clearly remember her hugs in the warm kitchen where the faint scent of Ivory soap on her skin mingled with the odors of fried squirrel and sassafras root tea. To this day the scent of Ivory soap reminds me of her smile, soft laugh and how I always tried to do whatever I could to please her. Those memories came up throughout the time we stayed in ‘Pop’s’ house. I’m not sure about how it worked out but on the morning of the funeral, it was decided that older brother Bill would stay to baby sit me and our little brother Rick.
I suspect we were so antsy that Mom just couldn’t handle the idea of dealing with us at the church and graveyard. In any case she got ‘Pop’ and ‘Mac’ dressed in their black suits and they drove off into the rain leaving us alone at home.
Bill wasn’t particularly pleased and as the hours passed, he grew more sullen while Rick and I became more raucous in our play. We were literally running amok playing tag and jumping over the furniture in the living room when we knocked a lamp over. Bill jumped across the room and caught it just before it crashed to the floor. His quiet disappointment and frustration exploded into rage and profane threats of what would happen when our parents returned. Fortunately Bill let it all slide and during the wake Rick and I were occupied with play with our cousins.
We left before dawn on the following day and I remember almost nothing of our trip back to Florida or the weeks and months that followed except that for some reason Mom had a hysterectomy, and ‘Mac’ bought a brand new 1958 Chevrolet Bellaire which became Mom’s car.
I wish that I could come up with some funny anecdote to close this out, but we were in a period of transition and so I’m just going to have to leave you hanging there with my promise that there’s some funny stuff coming up next time around. Let’s go out with this bit of music history that I heard from the back seat as we drove through The Great Smoky Mountains in the middle of the night: