I have had more than a few people ask why I seem to have a preoccupation with Pirates. The simple fact is, like many an actual pirate, I was shanghaied from a very young age into the life. The port of call I grew up in, West Carrollton, had the pirate as their mascot. So it was that I were a pirate from the first grade all through the receipt of my parchment.
12 years before the mast as a pirate, at such an impressionable young age, leaves a lasting black spot upon your soul. Alas, it would be many a king tide until I commandeered a vessel of me own, the noble Rogue.
The waxy seal of fate on my salty preoccupation though, may have been the first chance I had to earn my own chest of gold while still in school. Me closest swabs, Bald Rick and Nod-off Steve, had signed on to crew at Long John Silver’s, a shady pirate establishment known for vast platters of seafood, peg legs and planks.
They put in a good word to the captain of the Shoppe, although they may have told a crusty tale or two…and soon I was deep frying with the best of them. The crew uniform of the day was right out of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which would not be filmed for another 6 years.
The look started with a stylish white polyester smock, big and baggy with a corrugated finish to better hold onto crusty batter and grease, and fitted with a horizontal striped dickey to give it a proper salty appearance. These were tossed at you still smelling of fish, grease, malt vinegar and the last unfortunate crewman that had walked the plank.
Black pants of your own supply were de rigueur of course, so that every speck of batter and dirt was highlighted admirably. This lovely haute couture was topped off with classic pirate haberdashery…the finest cardboard pirate hat money could buy. I am truly sorry to not have an image of us in our finery, but alas, iPhones were still decades away.
The vittles were grand…the Big Catch platter was more than an able bodied seaman could (or should) stomach in one sitting. It started with codfish fillets, with onion rings or fries, and crispy hushpuppies — all deep-fried, of course, with a garnish of coleslaw and topping out at 1,320 calories. Slather that with Long John’s own malt vinegar and you had yerself a proper salty meal…I’m not kidding, there was over 3,700 milligrams of sodium in it.
The competition for first mate was fierce…we had crew battles to see who could drop the most cod into the vats of whale oil the fastest, without damaging the batter. A right proper gun drill it were.
To do this right, you needed to have a thick coating of batter on your hands, so you could dip your fingers into the 350 degree oil and let each fillet slide in without splashing the batter off. Only the bravest and most daring swabs could pull off this feat without scorching the hide off their digits.
But we did it all for the pretty wenches and little swabs…it did our black hearts a world of good to see them shoveling all that deep fried deliciousness down their gullets and wait for them to ring the bell.
There were always long lines well out the door on Fridays and especially during Lent. We endeavored to give each passenger a meal fit for a King…or at least a King’s crew. We lived to hear the peal of the ships bell when each party disembarked, but cursed their black hearts when they did not ease our torment.
The quartermasters were the overseers of every watch…each one carefully trained at his majesty’s elite “Cod College” down in Lexington. There they learned their trade in cutting the cod just so, weighing each slab and slice, keeping the crew from mutiny and ensuring all the gold was carefully scribed in the ships log as to make the King of the Pirates rich beyond compare.
The special booty was kept track of very closely, lest the captain break out the cat o’ nine tails and commence flogging. These treasures included shrimp and the wee pecan pies. These delicacies seemed to vanish into thin air faster than a mug of grog on a Friday night.
You see, it was not unknown for a crewman to suddenly hear a siren’s call for an order of shrimp to be put down in the fryer, only to find a patron lacking to cover such an expense when piping hot and ready. We gladly ate them to keep them from going to waste and saved the Quartermaster the embarrassment of logging the transgression.
But all was not sweating and slaving away in the galley. When the last bell had rung and we locked the hatches down, we filled our Super-size grog cups up with the finest ale we had on tap, and merrily drank it through a straw lest the quartermaster find we were imbibing on watch.
This often caused more merriment, whence we would pull the cutlasses and pistols off the wall and begin sword fighting across the tops of the dining tables…much to the dining wenches dismay, as they had already scrubbed the planks down. But we were pirates with our pirate ways, and not to be denied the pleasures of the wicked after a long watch.
It was a glorious time and seemed to last forever, but our service with Long John’s was only a matter of a couple years, as Nod-off Steve and I were conscripted to serve in the Kings forces after schooling, and Bald Rick was off to fry the souls of the infirm with X-Rays.
But it wasn’t long before I once again heard the call of the pirate from Captain James Buffett…Bald Rick and I listened to his shanty’s and tropical sounds of the Caribbean and were lulled back to the brotherhood of piracy, our theme song became a Pirate Looks at Forty.
Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder I’m an over-forty victim of fate Arriving too late, arriving too late…
But not too late to go to sea! A score of years after schooling I tasted saltwater and felt the snap of sail in a fresh breeze and knew in my blood I was still a pirate…and have flown the Jolly Roger ever since, pillaging, plundering, and swashbuckling along the way…captaining ever more powerful vessels until I had enough gold to gain my flagship Rogue…I’ve salt in my veins, and it didn’t all come from those Captain’s Platters.
My great grandfather, William Floyd Proffitt, known as Floyd, was the son of Jacob Floyd Proffitt, my great-great grandfather, who went by Jake, and his wife Martha Corena Dennis.
Floyd was born on January 12, 1882 when Chester A. Arthur was the 21st president and the outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back of the head and killed by Robert Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri,
To set the stage of the times a bit more, here are a few other notable things that happened that same year; polygamy was made a felony, the world’s first trolleybus began operation in Berlin, Roderick Maclean failed in his attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison flips the switch to the first commercial electrical power plant in the United States, and The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant law that restricted immigration into the United States.
While Floyd had no brothers, he did have six sisters… an older sister named Martha, and five younger sisters; Linnie, Ida Mae, Liela Lee Rowe (who died at 25), Mittie and Mary.
In their rural farming lifestyle of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, being the sole son would have put a lot of hard physical work on him and his father.
I remember my father talking about how, as a young man, he and his family used to plow tobacco fields behind mules, and Floyd would have been two generations earlier, in even more primitive conditions.
I remember traveling to Frenchburg for family reunions in the 60’s and having my delicate suburban values challenged by relatives still using outhouses, as they still hadn’t “brought the plumbing inside”. I was sure spiders, snakes and rats were going to attack any hanging meat and often tried to stave off bowl movements until the last second.
In the 1900 census, at the age of 18, Floyd is noted as being a laborer for the railroad.At this time he was still living with his mother and father in Rothwell, a few miles west of Frenchburg proper, in their rented house.
Looking at old documents, it looks like a rail line was extended about that time from the Mt Sterling Coal Road line to McCausey Ridge, where many Proffitt’s lived.
During the time that further expansion of the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy RR was delayed in 1872, another railroad, the Mt. Sterling Coal Road, was built between Mt Sterling and Rothwell in Menifee County. It was originally built as a narrow gauge railroad to bring lumber and coal to market. It opened in 1875.
From Mt. Sterling, the Mt. Sterling Coal Road ran southeast through Gatewoods, Coons, Spencer, Oggs, Walkers, and Johnsons Station (Hope). It continued on through Menifee County with stops at Clay Lick, Cedar Grove, Chambers Station (Means), Sentinel, Cornwell, and Rothwell. Around 1898 it was extended to McCausey Ridge and Appearson.
A man by the name of McCausey had a large lumber camp there and employed many loggers. Local farmers in that area shipped hides, ginseng, snakeroot and chickens back to Mt. Sterling.
In 1882 the line came under the ownership of the Kentucky & South Atlantic Railway and later the C & O Railroad. The line was discontinued in 1911 when standing timber in that area had been depleted. Source: Ghost Railroads of Kentucky By Elmer Griffith Sulzer
At the age of 19, he married Nancy Jane Clair, known as Nanny, when she was 17.Nanny was the 4th child born to parents Thomas R Clair and Suphrona Elizabeth Coldiron on November 3rd, 1884. Several census’ report she only went to school through the 4th grade, but could read and write…something it was noted that her parents could not do. We take so much for granted these days.
By the 1910 census, Floyd is shown as owning his own home in Menifee County in Leatherwood.Today, Leatherwood is no longer recognized as a town, but as an “historical place name”…it was made extinct by the damming of the Licking River to form Cave Run Lake, northwest of Frenchburg. Although many farms and homes were displaced, this didn’t take place until 1965, with the lake filled by 1973.
In 1910, Floyd and Nanny are farming, with 3 children; Maezella, the oldest at 7, John M, my grandfather, who was 5, and 1 year old baby Dolly, aunt Dot.
In the 1920 census, 37-year-old Floyd is still farming in Leatherwood.By now, Maezella was 16, John M 14, Dolly was 10 and there were 4 more children; Obie 8, William 6, Claude 5, and Ray 2.
Floyd died on July 20th, 1923 at the age of 41. My father was born 2 years later on the very same day…July 20, 1925, so he never knew his grandfather Floyd.
Tax records show land that was owned or farmed by “William Floyd heirs” through the 20’s and into the 30’s.This consisted of farmland on Indian Creek as well as the family farm plot.
The 1930 census shows 45-year-old Nanny as the widowed head of a rented household.They are listed as farmers living on Scranton Road in Frenchburg.Children remaining at home were Obie 19, Clay 17, Claude 15, Ray 12 and Shelby 8.
Curiously, they are listed as having no radio set, so entertainment must have been pretty simple on the farm.
Floyd’s mother Corena died in 1930 at the age of 70, his father Jake died in 1938 at the age of 81.
Nanny re-married to a man named George Snodgrass after 1930 but before 1935 sometime. Later in life, they went by “Mammie and Daddy George”
George had been married previously to Clara Armitage. George and Clara had at least 5 children of their own: Albert Courtney, John Chester, Lilian M, Garner Clay and Elmer Roger. Clara had another daughter, Doris, born about 1923.The 1930 census shows that Clara moved back to Indiana before 1930 with Elmer and Doris.She remarried to a man named John L Alexander before 1935.She died in April of 1978.
By 1940, the census shows 55-year-old Nanny and 64 year old George living alone together on McCausey Ridge, just south of Frenchburg.
Another interesting tidbit is that at the turn of the century, oil was being discovered in Menifee and the surrounding area.Many oil companies were in competition to buy oil and gas rights all over the county.
In 1942, this notarized document transferred oil rights on 125 acres on Meyers Branch, part of Indian Creek, from the heirs of William Floyd to a Detroit oilman named Joseph Thomas for $45. Note that Asa Little, another relative, was the Sheriff at the time. The notary, Zella Wells, is probably related to the Wells in our family also.
I remember a number of family reunions down in Frenchburg…Nanny was of course the matriarch that gathered everyone together there, as many of her children had migrated to Ohio in search of work.
George died on December 31st, 1968.Nanny died a year later, November 21st, 1969, at the age of 85.
Great grandma’s passing was the first death of someone close to me.I vividly remember walking up to her casket at the service and thinking she looked like a doll or mannequin.
Way back in the 60’s and early 70’s, when my Mamaw and Papaw lived on the Westside of Dayton on Miami Chapel road, there was a small strip of blue-collar bar & grills just down the block, right across from the large Delco Moraine plant and caddy-corner to George’s Barber Shop.
My cousin Rhonda reminded me what the names might be, and I managed to find them in old Dayton City Directories and Newspapers. Mamaw and Papaw lived at 1010 Miami Chapel, and Matty’s Tavern was right on the corner at 1100 Miami Chapel, and The Sportsman Bar and Grill was next door at 1116 Miami Chapel.
A number of my relatives frequented these watering holes, along with many other factory workers, as they were close to their employment at Specialty Paper and Delco.
In those days, it was not unusual to have a couple of beers for lunch along with a nice greasy burger or patty melt.
My memory doesn’t allow me to fairly rate which was the nicer of the two, but judging by newspaper accounts, the Sportsman seemed to be in the news more for being robbed and robberies performed right outside their premises. These joints could easily be called dive bars, but they were a second home and family for many.
Here’s a shooting in their back parking lot:
They also got shut down:
Both of them advertised for Bar Maids and Porters on a regular basis.
Darkly lit, with multiple neon and spinning bar signs for locally made brews like Bavarian, Wiedemann, Hudepohl, Burger and Schoenling.
TV ads back then were full of beer slogans that made their way to these signs on the walls of the bars. These included:
“Vas You Efer in Zinzinnati? (Burger)
“It’s Too Good To Be Beer” (Little Kings Cream Ale)
“All the Way with 14K” (Hudepohl)
“It’s registered pure” (Wiedemann)
“Bound to Be Better” (Schoenling)
“A Man’s Beer” (Bavarian)
“It’s Happy Hudy Time” (Hudepohl)
Tax returns even show that Mamaw worked at Matty’s for several years, at least from 1956-1959…she may have quit when the owner she knew decided to sell the bar in ’59:
Papaw was one of the grand patrons of both bars after Mamaw stopped working at Matty’s. I think his allegiance may have varied based on where his tab was lower or whichever bar maid was being nicer to him at the moment.
After retiring from Specialty Paper, he was at one or the other quite often, as a man of leisure. As grandchildren of some of their best customers we were fawned over by the bar maids each time we went in, either with papaw or my parents, getting a bottomless fountain coke full of maraschino cherries to spear one at a time with a swizzle stick.
We usually got scooted away from the serious bar talk by being bribed with a few coins to go play the electric shuffle board bowling game or pinball machines in the back. These are the type of games you only see in old “retro” arcades these days, but they were king back in the 60’s.
One time I remember thinking that if a little corn meal made the puck slide better, a whole can should be just the thing to create a rocket-speed puck slide. The bar maids did not agree.
Food was typical greasy-spoon bar food consisting of burgers and patty melts, with maybe a roast beef sandwich and some kind of daily special like meatloaf with a soup of the day. A particular kid favorite was just a big plate of french-fries covered with ketchup.
There were also the usual displays of beef jerky, pretzels & chips, Slim Jims and big jars of pickled eggs and sausages that somehow became appetizing when you were drinking…as long as you didn’t think of how many hands had dipped into the jar.
As times changed, bringing kids into smoky bars became much less socially acceptable, if not illegal, not to mention that we had gotten older and more adventurous and there were a lot more of us to keep watch over.
We were then condemned to sit out in the old blue Chevy station wagon on the street, waiting for mom and dad to finish having their fun. Can you imagine leaving a car full of unsupervised kids outside a bar in West Dayton these days?
The West side eventually got too racially charged and dangerous for the rest of the family to allow mamaw and papaw to continue living there. Pawpaw was mugged walking between the bars and his house, at least twice that I remember, getting beat up pretty bad and hospitalized in one instance, so they eventually moved back down to Moraine, in Miami Shores, where they lived until they both passed away.
Growing up in the small town of West Carrollton as free-range wildlings in the 60’s-70’s, it never occurred to me at the time how truly lucky we were to be able to wander around our neighborhood without fear or being subjected to the long parental leash of a cell phone, not to mention the seduction of video games. We weren’t as crazy as the Lord of the Flies, but we were left to our own devices and would be gone the entire day, coming back in time to avoid a spanking for missing supper and then head back out to play hide and seek or catch fireflies.
There were no hovering parents in my family…quite the contrary. Dad was always working and mom preferred us not to be underfoot. On a non-school day when the weather was nice or on summer vacation, we got chased out of the house and were on our own as soon as we woke up.
Breakfast? Get your own bowl, typically a recycled margarine tub and fill it with Trix, Apple Crisp or Cap’n Crunch after rummaging through the box to see if there was a prize.
The prize is how we picked out our cereal, as long as it was sweet we would eat it. Dinosaurs, super balls, glow in the dark stuff, submarines, you name it…prizes ruled! There were even records on the back of the box you could cut out and play on the old Close and Play. The Archies “Sugar Sugar” comes to mind.
Of course, the tooth-rotting amount of sugar already in the cereal was not nearly enough, so we emptied the sugar bowl into our Jethro Bodine size bowls (Beverly Hillbillies reference for y’all young-uns) to the point where it wouldn’t even dissolve, leaving big spoonfuls of milky sugar at the bottom as dessert.
With six kids, food in my family was done on a military scale. The main food groups us kids were in control of, beyond our morning cereal, were milk, bread, peanut butter and jelly and baloney and cheese…and it was always baloney, not bologna. And there was always a big basket of tomatoes for snacks once they started coming in from the garden.
Milk was delivered by an actual Borden milkman in glass bottles and left in a galvanized box on the front porch to keep it cool. 4 gallons of milk were delivered every couple of days, along with butter, cottage cheese, butter milk for dad and other assorted dairy products. Elsie the cow even made the glue we used at school!
When they came out with those 2.5 gallon plastic dispensers there were always at least 2 of them in the fridge. We helped keep dairy farms in business as dad still might have to pick up a gallon or 2 on his way home from work to tide us over.
The bread was typically whatever white bread was on sale the cheapest at Woody’s, but if we got Wonder Bread we thought we were farting through silk and would immediately sacrifice a piece slathered with peanut butter to the dog.
The peanut butter served as the glue to stick to the roof of the dog’s mouth, and the soft Wonder Bread made an almost impermeable barrier once compressed and licked by the dog, who would spend the next 15 minutes trying to lick through the bread shield to the delicious peanut butter hidden beneath. Cheap entertainment.
The peanut butter came in 5 lb plastic buckets, bought at least 2 at a time. These buckets then became cheap utility Tupperware. Arguments over whether the next bucket was going to be smooth or crunchy style were fought with the gusto of an MMA fight. Jellies, jams and preserves were made by mom and in a seemingly endless supply from our cellar pantry.
Apple, grape, strawberry and rhubarb were standard as we had those fruit trees and plants… maybe some peach, plum if dad picked up a few flats at a roadside stand. Wild blackberry, mulberry and raspberry depended on us kids getting out and picking peanut butter tubs full of them…usually paying dearly with days of suffering relentless chigger scratching.
Making a PB&J entailed slathering peanut butter on as thick as possible and dumping jelly out of the jar so it would ooze out of the bread every time you took a bite. You had to eat it like an ice cream sandwich…licking the sides after each bite.
There were no Ziplock bags in those days, you used a sheet of wax paper or foil to wrap it up or if you were lucky mom bought some of those new-fangled sandwich bags that you had to fold a flap back over the sandwich and pull the top of the bag inside out to form a loose seal. Which leaked if you fell in the creek. We ate a lot of soggy sandwiches.
Lunch meat was just baloney, and was named Oscar Mayer. Mom bought it by the cart load in the 1 lb packages and our family could decimate several packages a day like locusts.
Cheese (and I use the term loosely) was a box of Velveeta. Seriously, we thought that’s what cheese was for many years. At some point after Kraft invented the individually wrapped American Cheese slices, they became the standard, as it was not unusual for a kid to cut hunks of Velveeta an inch thick to put on a sandwich. After all, American Cheese is really just Velveeta squeezed thinly into a sheet of plastic, right?
You would slather that with yellow mustard and what we commonly called mayonnaise, but was actually Miracle Whip, a cheaper version of mayonnaise full of fructose, soybean oil, sugar and other nasties. I remember tasting Hellman’s for the first time and feeling cheated all those years…thanks for fooling us again mom!
Thus invigorated with a bowl of sugar fortified cereal and maybe a sandwich crammed in our pocket, we were good for a full day of exploration and adventure.
The first order of business was to try and sneak off without the younger kids noticing or receiving a mandate from mom to “watch you brothers and sisters”. This was not an easy task, the youngsters were on to us and stuck to us like white on rice. Sometimes we employed the “outrun them on our bikes” method until they gave up or simply tried to lull them into boredom, as if we weren’t going to do anything and then creep off. It really depended on how adventurous we felt, creek walking was open to anyone.
One of the first adventures I remember was exploring the new 3 story apartment building going up behind the house. What was formerly just an empty field, suddenly sprouted into a building site, with heavy equipment, excavation, framing and so on. As soon as the workers left for the day we would climb all over the bulldozers and trucks, checking out the construction and playing in the endless mud puddles.
We soon became a little braver and made friends during the work day with one of the construction guys. I can feel moms everywhere shuddering with the notion of “a friendly stranger”, but at least it seemed a bit more innocent in those days and the worker turned out to just be a friendly guy.
He would share bits of his lunch, sugar packets from his coffee breaks and so on. We would climb up and around everywhere in the 3 story building, watching the workers do their thing, fetching boards or tools or just getting in the way. No one seemed to care and OSHA had a low profile in those days.
But more typically, a good day of adventuring started in the nearest creek, which happened to be about 2 houses away if we cut through neighbor’s yards. We always cut through the neighbor’s yards. Fences, dogs and gates were just obstacles to be negotiated like we were on American Ninja.
Once in the creek we were in our natural element. We tried to stay clean and dry for about 5 minutes…until we saw our first crawdad or frog and all bets were off as we splashed right in after our prey. We would then wander up the middle of the creek, stopping to build a dam to make the water deeper and then wandering on, flipping rocks and poking in holes to see what was hidden away.
Down towards the old Kimberly- Clark paper mill, in the creek along Gibbons that ran in-between White Villa, there was a retention pond that settled out some of the solids before being discharged into the creek from a big pipe. You could tell what color paper they were making due to what color the creek water was that day. You could dig into a sand bank and see multiple layers of colors in the sand, like someone made a colorful cake. We thought it was cool at the time but who knows what chemicals we were wading around in.
In that part of Ohio limestone is the dominant geology, and it was so full of fossils that we became immune to the commonplace seafloor fossils, with seashells by the millions. Reading my fossil books, I was always on the prowl for a cool T-Rex tooth or mastodon tusk. It took a while to understand they did not walk around on the ancient seafloor of Ohio.
I really got into collecting rocks and minerals along with fossils. Pardon while I nerd out for a minute…I found brachiopods, crinoids, cephalopods, gastropods, cool horn corrals that I first imagined as dinosaur teeth, and eventually a trilobite or two.
I had boxes and boxes of all these rocks in my closet, many mounted and named on cardboard, in little sectioned boxes and just loose in bags. I still can’t help picking up cool rocks but I try to limit them to one or two per trip as a memento rather than trying to find one of everything possible. When we were selling off mom and dad’s house and cleaning it out, there was still a couple hundred pounds of rocks down in my old bedroom in the basement. I kept a few just for old times’ sake.
We also collected every form of fresh water critter found in southwest Ohio. Mom was into tropical fish for a while and had collected many fish tanks and paraphernalia of varying sizes. As her interest faded, we took control of the tanks and created terrariums and aquatic re-creations of the creeks and ponds, filled with frogs, toads, turtles, mud puppies, snails, tadpoles, crawdads, fresh water clams, hellgrammites and any other unusual insect larvae…everything but snakes. Oh, we caught them alright, but we had to hide them in the garage, as mom drew a hard line at snakes in the house. There may have been a death penalty involved.
As we wandered up the creeks, we often got side tracked by various woodlands around our area, many of which have been developed these days. One that hasn’t, was the woods right next to our elementary school, Harry Russell. I believe it was part of the school property and classes occasionally went up into the woods on field trips to study nature.
There was a house that had a long, private drive just off of Bishop Drive that wound to the top of the hill right next to the Russell woods. I used to remember the name of the folks that lived there, but it seems to elude me at the moment. In any case, as kids we of course placed a sinister reason for them living in their relative seclusion. They had to be rich and evil, as they had their own bridge across the creek and long driveway with acreage. Worst of all, they had no trespassing signs, the nerve!, so who knows what kind of sorcery went on in there and which were as good as a blinking neon sign saying “enter here”.
We would sneak up the drive, cautious for any sign of approaching cars or guards. We knew they had to have guards at such a house. We would dive and roll into the bushes at any indication of danger, which might be noise from a bird or cicada or just a giggle. I don’t think I ever saw any people, cars or activity of any kind from that house.
We would stealthily creep our way past the house, along old animal and kid trails, through what is today called Hintermeister Park (maybe the Hintermeister’s are the ones that owned the property and house?) at the top of Mayrose Drive, to enter the school woods proper. This woods was a playground for kids around the entire area, but we thought of it as our own. After all, when we first moved to our brand new house there were no other houses past the creek bridge on Primrose and they had just opened Harry Russell my first year there in first grade. We obviously had seniority.
It was a wonderful little woods filled with all kinds of possibilities for adventure. It was situated up the side of a hill, so it had gullies and ravines with little water courses to wander up. There were the more or less official trails through the woods, and then there were the “secret” trails…these were the more interesting ones of course.
They might take you to the edge of one of the ravines where kids had trimmed back the undergrowth to clear a path for swinging on a big vine out over the ravine.
There were a lot of wild grape vines in the woods so when one dried up or got ripped down a new one would be created somewhere else.
The trails would also lead to makeshift clubhouses, tree houses and secret clearings in the woods. You could tell the hangouts of the older kids by the stash of playboy’s, beer cans and cigarette butts littering the area.
We knew to tread cautiously in these places so we didn’t get into a turf war. That didn’t stop us from climbing tree houses and ransacking clubhouses for usable booty, that all seemed to be part of the game.
At the very top of the hill, along the property line, there was a fence enclosing a large meadow where the owners kept horses. The horses were always happy to see visitors and would come trotting over to say hi. In a little suburban town, this seemed like we were a world away in the country, in a place where we could call the horses, pet their heads and feed them grass or maybe even a carrot or apple if we had thought to bring them.
A couple of the creeks had steep dirt cliffs, where we became mountain climbers for the day. We had an old army rope of dad’s that we would coil up and use to act like Sir Edmund Hillary. The cliffs were eroding and dangerous as they were just clay and dirt, but that didn’t stop us from scaling them and getting into precarious situations where we were afraid to go up or back down.
This was made all the more exciting by throwing dirt clods at the person already in meltdown mode on the cliff to break them even further. I have no idea why we didn’t have more broken bones and injuries.
We didn’t limit ourselves to above ground either. When they were building out the then new Sherwood Forest development, they had built the sewer infrastructure but hadn’t yet built any houses. I thought this was a great opportunity for becoming cavers and exploring the subterranean.
The storm sewers were still clean and new, so we didn’t need to worry about nasty surprises like dead animals or people dumping nasties down the drains.
We would gather a collection of candles, matches, flashlights and string each time. We accessed them from an outfall pipe in the creek and would walk in as far as possible, then crawl on hands and knees, eventually traveling through even smaller pipes on our bellies with no way to turn around.
Claustrophobia was always in the back of our minds down in the black depths of the pipe, and we inched forward with a hopeful wish that there would be a manhole station at some point ahead where we could gather our courage and continue on or turn around.
I ended up mapping the entire system with drawings of the size of the pipe, where the manhole access points were and which ones made good clubhouses to stash candles and booty.
Occasionally a summer thunder storm would come up and begin flooding the pipes, but this again we didn’t really acknowledge as real danger, just heightening the adventure a bit more.
Over along the now buried creek under Liberty Lane next to White Villa, by a chigger filled raspberry patch, there was an old tree house notable for how high up in the tree it was and how rickety the steps were to climb to the top. When we “acquired” it, the past builders had, by all appearances abandoned it for some time. There was rotten wood, rusty nails, loose boards and so on. Maybe someone fell, or parents got wind of it and banished them from such a dangerous place, or maybe they just got older and pursued other interests, who knows.
In any case, we planted a flag and claimed it as our own. We began the rehabilitation by dragging more building material from dad’s stash of second hand lumber and banging in yet more rusty, bent nails into all of the many loose boards creating a ladder going up the tree trunk. Old school tree house ladders were just boards nailed onto the trunk. They loosened up regularly as the still living tree grew. We figured if 2 nails were good, 10 nails were great.
I recall there were a couple of places that had extended sections where you had to climb the tree, possibly to keep the squeamish from continuing to the top. This thing was easily 50-60 feet up in the tree…any fall would be a broken bone or worse. We continued adding nails, rails and new boards until we eventually lost interest as well, leaving it for other kids to discover.
As we all got older, adventures took us farther afield on our bikes, perhaps fishing at a pond or walking out on the dilapidated spillway on the Miami River. Eventually, I started hanging out more with my school buddies rather than my brothers and sisters and they had to create their own new adventures as I began stretching my teenage wings…but that is a different set of tales.
Adult orphan, senior orphan, next in line to die…these are some phrases and ideas I have run across the past few months that resonated or at least tickled my fancy enough to prompt some thoughts. First, I apologize to actual orphans that never had the support of your biological parents from a young age…I hope you found some love and support at some point in your life.
Second, this rumination started from seeing others in the family dealing with the passing of their parents and loved ones and me wanting to offer some hope that it gets better. I had thoughts on being, at least theoretically, the next one in my family to be in line to die…but as usual I meandered into a stream of consciousness over dealing with the death of parents, coping and getting through it all. This message has sat for several months with me wondering if I even wanted to publish it, as I am by no means a therapist or sage, and cannot even begin to imagine ever going to a therapist being as independent and bull-headed as I am. So, please think of this as entertainment with a smattering of hope if you are a member of the Dead Parents Club.
Senior Adult Orphan Reporting Sir!
My mother passed away in 2004, dad following her 2 years later in 2006. It seems to be the time in my life where friends, cousins and acquaintances all start working through the process of dealing with the loss of their own parents.
I have had some time to process my parent’s deaths over the last fifteen years, but memories still flood back all the time. I think you continue working things out until you give up the ghost yourself.
People that still have their parents may believe they understand the loss of a parent, but they really have no way to personally understand until it happens. They may offer you their sympathies and kindnesses for a few weeks or months, but after more time goes by they seem to just want you to get over it, which I think is human nature and I can’t blame them.
But you won’t get over it. Your parents are the ones that gave you life, your name, sustenance, really everything you needed until you developed into an individual that can exist on your own.
Initially, you are consumed with dealing with the mechanics of their deaths, especially after the last one passes and you have to deal with settling their estate (estate seems too grandiose a word for what my parents had remaining at the end of their lives). Things like selling the home you may have lived in all of your life, the months or even years dealing with lawyers, insurance companies and settling medical bills.
After the initial shock of their deaths, all of this bureaucratic stuff steals time away from the thoughts of your parents, yet the thoughts still manage to sneak through when you have a spare minute, or when prompted by a scene in a movie or even just a stupid Barry Manilow song (mom loved Barry). They come to you in your dreams, some dreams reassuring you everything is well, some leaving you wishing you had just another moment or two with them.
I hope you don’t have any unresolved issues that needed to be cleared up before they pass away, that has to make it even more difficult. I think I was in a pretty good place… I just want more info about specific points and places in time as documenting family history has become more important to me.
After a while, perhaps years, the sadness of their loss gradually loses its sharp edge and dulls a bit. But it always remains present, easily set off by the emotional booby traps of long standing family habits, rituals and certain words used by the family that have been there for a lifetime.
No matter how independent you are, and again, I am independent with a capitol “I”, the loss of the home you grew up in and all the “stuff” that surrounded you, stuff that felt like it was always there and filled with the memories they evoke, unanswered questions, not having them there for the milestones of your own family, all add to the chipping away of the solidity of your life and begin creating an enduring sense of loss. One at a time, maybe not such a big deal, but over time they just keep accumulating.
Unless you have been very unfortunate, your parents could always be counted on to be in your corner no matter what. I distinctly remember my mother telling me (many times) when I was a little feller and had gotten into trouble over something not even important enough to recall, “I will always be your mother and I will love you no matter what”. I think this is what she typically said after she busted my butt for some transgression. Dad’s wisdom was “if you wind up in jail, don’t call me to bail you out, but you’re still my son”.
Now, mom may have deemed it necessary to beat you within an inch of your life at the time but she still loved you and supported you no matter what…to give you a few bucks to help you pay rent. To send a box of food from home on a holiday when you are thousands of miles away. To give you a place to stay to get back on your feet and so many other things.
The list becomes endless over the years, but most of all, they were that lifeline to talk you in off the ledge when life seemed hopeless, or to be your biggest cheerleader to listen at the moments you feel most proud of your accomplishments. You knew they would be as proud or even prouder than you are. Then all of a sudden your cheerleaders have suddenly left the game…and are not coming back. You wonder who will ever care as much as they did. And the honest truth is, probably no one.
Now, when I was young I thought I was a being a good son to call home once a month, not counting holidays, so it was not unusual to build up a list of stuff to talk to mom about, and check the weather back in Ohio so I had something to talk to dad about…he was not a big conversationalist until he got older. So when they first died I can’t even count the number of times I would think “I need to call mom and dad to tell them…” and remember half way through my thought that they were not there to call anymore. That is a very lonely feeling.
The void that is created when they die is like a massive black hole…emotions and feelings get sucked right in and you can feel alone even with all your family, friends and loved ones still around you. It feels like nothing you do matters much anymore, that the forces that have always mattered the most and served as your compass through life are gone.
The compass needle starts swinging wildly (can’t help the compass metaphors, I was an Eagle Scout, Cavalry Scout, mountaineer and sailor, I like knowing where I am!). You aren’t sure if North still points North and even if it does, what direction should I go now?
It gradually dawned on me that “I have become the senior adult orphan of 5 other adult orphans.” I am the next one “in line” to die in my family if the rules of life were fair. They aren’t fair of course, and I actually hope that I am the next one up and that myself and all of my brothers and sisters have long and happy lives.
That is how life should play out. I’m really not one to get lost too deeply in an existential crisis, and the irony of my choice to write all this is not lost, I just hope to show that I stared this situation in the eye for a while and managed to climb over it as we all must, and do eventually. Your needs and your path will differ from mine, but it is a path we must all travel. Your route and mileage may vary.
At some point you have to do what every child has always had to do…go on living. You think back to how your parents reacted when their parents died (although I never knew my mother’s mom) and what they did. So you go on being the wise one for your children, giving meaning to your life by providing and sharing things that are important to you.
I do know that when your parents die you become part of “the club”. It’s not a club you want to be a part of, but eventually you will. It’s a club where you hopefully try to take care of the other club members a little more, even though your own loss, at times, can be as painful as it ever was. It’s a club where when a conversation comes up concerning parents passing away, members cast a knowing glance to other members without a need to explain.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to not let myself forget the stories that are important to me as well as to prompt other family to create their own stories. As the years pass it becomes harder to recall all the memories of them. The stories begin to fade a little more every year.
I scour the internet looking for stories, documents and connections to previous family members that all have stories to continue telling I don’t want them to be forgotten, and I want to create new stories, a record, that can be passed down so grand children don’t have to wonder what tragedy and suffering as well as joy great great grandmaw experienced building her big family.
I want future family to know that great grandad didn’t just serve his country from this year to that year…that there are many stories showing he was tough and brave, a hero in every sense of the word, not only the school bus driver and janitor that some know him as.
Hopefully you can get to the point, as I feel I have, where you can remember the good stuff and laugh at the bad stuff. Maybe you’ll write stories like I do, where you see holidays, birthdays or other milestones as a chance to remember and celebrate their part in your life. Or maybe you’ll be able to sit around with your friends and family telling the stories, laughing about how crazy it used to be without the stabs of pain.
I take after my father in the sense of being the strong, tough, silent, self-reliant type, not the kind of guy that plasters good thoughts of the day all over Facebook. But I am rather sentimental. I try to bring meaning by helping my friends and family when they need it or when they can just use a hand. By sharing the things I have found value in, whether it is discovering family stories, building or making things, fostering adventure in the mountains, sailing or simply sharing a good bottle of whiskey.
I try by remembering and telling the stories of my family, if for no other reason than some person down the line may be like me, looking at names and wondering “who were those people, what were they like?”
While I am not ready to hand the reins over to the next-in-line senior orphan yet, I have seen and done things I could never imagine as a young boy growing up in a tiny mid-western town named West Carrollton. I’m not done yet, I hope I have a few more good chapters to write. To quote Jimmy Buffet (there’s a Jimmy quote for everything), “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way…” You do the same.
The image above is from one of dad’s personal notebooks. It was what he expected of his men, and at least for a few years, his children. Growing up in my parent’s house in the 60’s and 70’s meant you were always surrounded by various artifacts and memories of their military service. My mother served as a Women’s Army Corp (WAC) nurse from 1954-1956. My father served for over twenty years and three wars, from 1943 WWII to the beginning of the build-up of the Vietnam War in 1966. This circumstance was pretty much taken for granted by us kids…didn’t everyone’s parents serve in the military? It had simply been the way things were since the day I was born.
For the older kids at least, it was part of our very being…watching dad go off to work every morning in uniform, constantly moving to a new place to live, in different states, even different countries, seemed normal. It did not feel unusual to follow dad around when he was training his troops, attend various military events, and finally to watch Walter Cronkite at dinner every single night to see if you might catch a glimpse of your father on the TV, even if it was just to look for his name on the list of casualties that scrolled by at the end of the newscast.
Mom would let us pull the TV cart over to the dinner table so we could eat while watching…a distinct change from when dad came home for dinner most of the time and the TV was turned off. We wanted to see him so bad, some kind of proof that he was OK, that we were positive we saw him a time or two in the news footage, especially if there were helicopters.
We had seen them flying over our house every day when we lived at Fort Benning and connected them directly to dad as that is where we last saw him before he went to Vietnam with the 1st Air Cav Division.
Connecting the dots to my mother being a soldier took a bit more imagination. Her service was over several years before I was even born. Serving three years, there were far fewer bits and bobs for her, and more hidden away. While dad was a world champion packrat of, well, everything, she was not a fan of anything “old”. She used to explain that having lived a good deal of the time with her grandmother, everything around her when she was growing up all was old.
She liked “new” and was determined to purge, or at least hide, the “old” stuff. This trait must skip back and forth every other generation, as I dearly love almost anything “old” with the implicit stories and history attached to any old items. The irony is that many of her then “new” belongings have now become old, cherished things. But hide it away she did, in old boxes, trunks and closets.
“Curiosity killed the cat” has been uttered by poets, playwrights and prognosticators through the generations…but cats have nothing on a Profitt child. Like a cat, the more trouble taken to hide something, the more effort we expended trying to get into it, and also like a cat, we may have lost a few lives, or at least a few layers of skin off our behinds, when we were discovered having found and messed around with them.
In the 60’s I remember jimmying the locks on an old green suitcase with stickers pasted on it from all over the place. This suitcase cost more today on Etsy as a “Vintage Samsonite” than a full set cost brand new in the 50’s.
Overpowered by the smell of mothballs, digging inside I found some knick-knacks and personal effects along with some olive drab woolen clothing…skirt, jacket, blouse, light-brown stockings, a cap and some shoes and a pair of old brown, over the ankle boots tied together. Well now. My mother wore combat boots.
The classic curse “Ah, your mama wears combat boots” from Bugs Bunny and the Little Rascal’s was no longer as funny as it used to be. Now it had a whole new meaning, and rather than used for belittling, it became something to be proud of. From then on if someone tossed that phrase at me on the playground, the retort would become, “that’s right, she did wear combat boots, what did your mom do”?
Now, I knew my mother had been a WAC nurse, there were several photos around the house and I had been patched-up with untold butterfly bandages, but holding the physical proof of her service in my hands was somehow more real.
Looking at the patches on the sleeve, I quickly identified the uniform to be the one in the classic set of photographs of her and dad from when they met at the Presidio of San Francisco. That feeling of confirmation and validation of knowledge that she “wasn’t always just a mom” was worth every layer of skin I lost on that venture. The stories were true!
Of course, dad had trunks and footlockers with decades of stuff everywhere. He didn’t have just one uniform, he had dozens of them. Fatigues, Class B khakis, Class A dress uniforms, cold weather gear, jungle gear, he had it all… field jackets, field caps, dress caps, garrison caps, belts, socks, skivvies, field pants, wool pants and shirts. I wore it for Halloween for years and it never got old. I wore it to school and camping and playing Army around the neighborhood.
It didn’t stop with clothing items everyone gets to keep, he had stuff you typically had to turn in (SFC Packrat at your service). There were steel helmets, helmet liners, web gear with ammo pouches and canteens, compasses, entrenching tools, ponchos, snap links and climbing rope, wet weather gear, camouflage stick, shelter halves, pole and pegs for a tent, cots, Mickey Mouse Boots for extreme cold, ammo cans, dud rockets and rifle training grenades, brass from cannons.
When we deep cleaned the house after he passed away we found a live, 40 year old CS grenade (extra strong tear gas). If that thing had rusted out or gone off it would have cleared the entire neighborhood.
He had bookshelves of Army training manuals for everything from building a field expedient latrine to Ranger training, mountain training and setting field expedient booby-traps. I had used the gear and read all the books many times before I joined the Army so I had a pretty good leg up on the other guys. Hell, I could have showed some of the instructors how to use the stuff.
One of the more unique items was a full crate of expended LAW rockets (Light Antitank Weapon)…they can only be fired once and then disposed of. I knew how to deploy and target an enemy vehicle by the time I was seven. We would take these very real rocket launchers out into the neighborhood and play army with them, fully outfitted in actual combat gear.
My brothers and I would be fully outfitted with real gear, camo’d faces, complete with antitank weapons…matched up against the neighborhood kids with a stick for a weapon. Can you imagine if someone’s kids were found running around like this today? SWAT would probably take out the squad of enemy midgets and ask questions later.
Along with all the militaria (an eBay word), much of which I still have, there were also dad’s war souvenirs. They held a special reverence as they had been brought back from the battlefield. Having been a GI myself, I now know these items could have been bought or traded from other GI’s, won in a card game or peddled by ambitious locals just as likely as dad gathering them off a fallen enemy soldier.
But as a kid, I was convinced they were pulled from the hands of a less able warrior than my father after honorable, heroic, hand to hand combat and taken as a trophy of war.
One of these items was a Japanese drafting set. It was cool because just to open it you had to find the secret button hidden on the side of the case. The case was covered with thin, black leather, with gold Japanese characters.
Opening the fitted case, you glanced over the mysterious contents…many bits and pieces that somehow fit together to make all kinds of odd devices. Silver plated, some had ivory handles and all had their special cutout place in the deep blue velvet lining. It just looked impressive even if you had no clue what they did.
Having watched every war movie I could find, I imagined a map maker or artilleryman hiding away in a cave HQ, plotting out American targets to be shelled that night as my dad heroically charged in single-handedly with his big Browning Automatic Rifle and wiped out the HQ, saving dozens of lives.
We were expressly forbidden to touch it for fear of losing parts, which of course made it that much more desirable. Over the years, pieces were lost, the case was broken and it was ultimately tossed. Kids can be such assholes.
Another favorite is a Japanese Naval Officer’s Sword. While not the more desired Samurai sword every GI wanted, it is impressive none the less.
The pommel, back strap, guard, and scabbard fittings are all brass with the traditional chrysanthemum flower decoration.
The handle is made of very rough ray skin for a good grip. The gray, shark skin scabbard is heavily lacquered so it is shiny.
The blade itself is extremely sharp, with what used to be called the “blood groove”, ostensibly there to allow blood to flow easier so the blade goes in and out easier.
Again, expressly off-limits to us kids, when mom and dad were gone we would get it out and marvel over the steel blood, imagining marks and tarnished spots to be where the sword had been used to kill or maim someone, leaving marks from the bone and blood.
Still in remarkably good condition for 75 years of abuse, it is only missing the tassel that used to hang from the handle. Mom or someone added an old tassel from a hamper we used to have to replace it, but I removed it as it felt like it somehow discredited the history of the sword. I never heard the story from dad how he came to acquire it.
There is also a silk Japanese flag…as a kid I again imagined the flag flying over a strategic enemy position, with dad and his squad as conquering heroes pulling the flag down and raising the stars and stripes in victory.
It is signed by all of the men that were in his unit back then, the C Company, 184th Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division.
A number of years ago when dad was still with us, I transcribed all of the names and tried to find each of them on-line, trying to connect dad with some old buddies. I spent a great deal of time looking, but this turned up no results, as most of them have probably passed on or simply have no internet footprint.
This style WWII flag is commonly known in collector circles as a “meatball” flag, as it only depicts the sun, rather than the rising sun flag, with its 16 rays surrounding the sun. The rising sun flag was the war flag of the Imperial Japanese Army, if the sun is centered, and the war ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy if it was off center.
The Japanese call their country’s flag hinomaru, which translates literally to “sun’s circle”, referencing the red circle on a white field. When the hinomaru was signed, the Japanese characters were usually written vertically, and radiated outward from the edge of the red circle. This practice is referenced in the second term, yosegaki, meaning “collection of writing”. The phrase hinomaru-yosegaki can be interpreted as “Collection of writing around the red sun”, describing the appearance of the signed flag.
Dads’ flag also has some Japanese characters written on it. I have since discovered these flags are known as a Good Luck Flag, known as yosegaki hinomaru in the Japanese language.
It was a traditional gift for Japanese soldiers when they deployed during a Japanese military campaign of the Empire of Japan, but most notably during WWII. This national flag was given to a soldier and signed by friends and family, often with short messages wishing the soldier victory, safety, and good luck.
As children, we again added our own story to the flag. Every brown spot was a dried blood stain or mud from the battle field. Dad did say that he pulled the flag off a dead soldier, and had all his buddies sign it as they passed around their own flags to be signed. While this sounds rather morbid today, the war in the Pacific was horrific, fought against an enemy that seldom gave quarter or expected it in return. I am just glad my father survived to give me a place in this world.
There is also a camera, a German Zeiss Icon Iconta 520 camera made in the mid to late 30’s. The unique part about it is that it had a bullet shot completely through it.
Of all the items, this one created some of the more fanciful imagined stories. I’m sure you can think of a few of your own. “The guy was taking a picture at the time and the bullet went through the camera into his eye”, or “the photographer stuck the camera above his fox hole to take a picture and a sniper shot it out of his hand” and so on.
I would have loved to see the roll of film that was in the camera at the time, but I’m sure it was spoiled by the light of the bullet entry or turned over to the intel boys to try and get some information on the enemy.
Dad or someone tried to pound the aluminum from the bullet hole back in place…I can imagine the great scrounger trying to fix it so he could use it again. Zeiss did make the sharpest lenses for many years.
Finally, there is the Nambu Type 94 pistol. It was chambered in 8mm Nambu, which is an extinct and obsolete cartridge.
While the Nambu Type 14 was a sexy looking weapon that looked like a Japanese Luger, and every GI wanted to score, the Type 94 has been called the worst service pistol ever made.
It was a very crudely made pistol produced by Japan towards the end of the war, when they were pumping out the “last ditch weapons” as the US was closing in on the homeland.
It is extremely poor quality, as most late war Japanese weapons were, this one having very rough machine marks and poor tolerances. It was just as dangerous to the owner as the person it was pointed at. The reason for this is that it has an exposed sear bar on the side. If this sear gets touched, it fires the gun. Yup, if you touch the side of the gun, not the trigger, it will fire.
So, it could go off when holstered, handling it, dropping it, handing it to someone, etc. There are stories of Japanese officers handing the pistol over when “surrendering” and then pressing the sear bar to get off one last suicide shot. It is still known as a desirable collectible…as the worst service pistol ever made.
Moving to the Vietnam era, dad brought back a Montagnard spear tip. The Montagnards are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, where dad was stationed in the 1st Cav Division.
The term Montagnard means “people of the mountain” in French, and is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam. Dad took a number of pictures of the Montagnards.
Originally inhabitants of the coastal areas of the region, they were driven to the uninhabited mountainous areas by invading Vietnamese and Cambodians beginning prior to the 9th century.
Having no love for the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese regulars, they were allies and trained by US Special Forces as guerilla fighters. They used spears, crossbows and other primitive weapons as well as move conventional firearms.
He also brought back a Viet Cong flag.
Here is a VC belt buckle. It used to have a black leather belt, but it long ago rotted away under the care of the Profitt children.
When we used it to play Army, the enemy forces got to wear it and as everyone knows, the VC popped up out of rice paddies and rivers so it was often wet and dried and left out in the yard to the point where the leather rotted. I don’t know how we all lived to adulthood other than they would have to kill us all and someone would notice 6 kids missing.
Here is a photo of dad with a photo captioned as “captured VC souvenirs”. I’m sure he thought about how he could get that bicycle back to the states somehow.
From the local shops around the An Khê, dad also sent back jackets for the boys and Vietnamese dresses for mom and Laurie.
I’m not sure if any of the dresses still exist, but here is dad wearing my mother’s dress in Vietnam.
As far as I know there is only one remaining jacket left. I outgrew it by about the 4th grade. He was actually there 65-66, but bought them in ’66 just before he left.
My favorites though, are the photographs he took in many of the places he went. They are rare in number compared to today with the endless selfies and photos of what we had for lunch enabled by cell phone cameras, so I cherish each one and take care to restore as many as I can to share with the family.
From WWII there are very few photos. Maybe a couple from Korean occupation after WWII along with a couple from R&R in Japan, quite a few from when he served in the Free Territory of Trieste for three years, a few more from the Korean War, and a number from Vietnam.
It amazes me that there are only these few remnants of their military careers, a good part of dad’s life really, but I am grateful for what remains. To me they are memories I have been surrounded with for 60 years and key aspects of who my parents were.
I know most of my brothers and sisters and older cousins can relate to the activities in this story, because we did them together many times back in the 60’s and early 70’s. Like many things from our past, I’m afraid this experience is all but gone now. I’m talking about that classic kid activity: Going to the corner store for Penny Candy.
This is my recollection of something that went on constantly over 50 years ago…your mileage may vary. Please let me know in the comments what you remember.
First of all, you would be hard pressed to find anything for sale for a penny these days. In fact, a penny even costs more than a penny to make. It costs the U.S. Mint 1.55 cents per penny in 2016, even though all pennies since 1982 only have 2.5 percent copper, the rest being zinc. That means that the U.S. government loses around $50 million a year making a coin that many people just toss in a jar or that is absorbed by their couch.
The poor penny is just not worth the trouble any more. Now, you might get lucky and find a 1943 1c Lincoln penny worth $5,450.00. Wouldn’t that be sweet (see what I did there?). I shudder to think how many collectible, high-value pennies and coins we mindlessly tossed on the counter for our sugar highs.
Wait a minute you say, I saw an item on eBay or Amazon that only costs a penny. Sure you did…was it Amazon Prime, with free shipping? Nope. Not at that price. That one penny item will cost you $5.01 with shipping. Such a deal.
Even when a penny was worth something you still needed to get those pennies into your hot little hand. So, if you wanted to get some penny candy the first thing you needed to do was conjure up some cold hard cash.
We were basically slave labor as children at my parent’s house. We didn’t get an allowance no matter how many chores we did.
Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, rake the leaves, wash the dishes, hoe the garden, clean the garage, weed the flower beds, watch your brothers and sisters… (mom) “You want an allowance? Your allowance is food in your belly and a warm place to sleep, now get back to work!”.
So fund raising was key. And you had to be crafty. You couldn’t just beg from mom because she would ask “why do you need money?” Candy was not the right answer. We weren’t even allowed to go all the way to Ridges Carryout when we were young, even though we walked to school every day to Harry Russell elementary, which was right across the street from Ridges.
So still being stealthy, the first stop was to check all the furniture cushions. Everyone else had this idea as well, so it was not typically a big money maker. If you were really jonesing for a sugar fix, you might check out your brothers and sisters piggy banks, but these were usually well hidden or empty anyway.
Not mentioning any names, but some of the clan may have stooped to pulling a Jesse James robbery by getting into the old metal cash box my parents kept in the back of their closet.
This is where they “hid” (we all knew where it was) things like bonds, insurance forms, souvenir money from Germany, Italy, Vietnam, Korea and so on, along with my 2 dollar silver certificate papaw gave me and so on.
There was also a collection of dad’s blue coin collection folders for nickels, dimes and quarters. These folders were the kind that had a place for a coin for each year, so trying to not get caught you might just take one or two from each folder and other assorted loose change that included buffalo head nickels, wheat pennies, and other old coins.
The problem was that there were 6 kids, so 2 or 3 might have the same idea over time without thinking that others are doing it as well. The next time mom or dad looked into the cash box it might have been robbed blind. The end result was tanned hides for all, as no one ever fessed-up. Snitches may get stitches, but justice always prevails in the underworld of the sibling mafia.
The surest way to get your stake was to actually work for it and search the neighborhood for pop bottles. You could make 2 cents a bottle for returning them to the same place they came from…the stores selling the penny candy. What a racket. It reminds me of the Hudson Bay Company, where they sold the trappers the flour, beans and other trade goods to live on, so they could bring back the furs and exchange them for flour, beans and trade goods to do it all over again.
Of course, every kid in the neighborhood was in on this secret and was doing the same thing…unless they were snotty rich kids whose parents simply gave them money or the poor, deprived, only-child that had no siblings to compete with. Does anyone even say only-child anymore?
Every kid had their own secret methods to track down bottles, kind of like the trapper had his trap-line. You didn’t tell anyone your bottle route and if you ran across another kid on your line there might be a turf war over the bottles.
In those days you didn’t pull out a Glock or AK to fight, you just yelled or threw dirt clods at each other until someone gave in or their mother called them for dinner. When I say called, there were no cell phones, they just yelled at the top of their lungs. When’s the last time you thought of a dirt-clod fight?
I liked walking the creek bed right along Gibbons road as it was on the way to Ridges. People would drink their cold pop on the way back to their house, and finished up, huck them over into the creek so they didn’t have to carry the empty bottle any longer.
Some broke as they hit rocks in the creek bed, but bottles were thick and substantial back then as they were used over and over. Some would miss the rocks, hitting the water, mud or grass.
If I didn’t have enough by the time I got to Ridges I would scour the dumpster or go into the neighborhood side streets, checking trashcans and other places where people leave trash. Often down at the paper mill workers would leave a few empties behind where they had lunch.
Depending on your mood…whether you just wanted a quick fix or a full bag of candy, it might take an hour or just a few minutes. You might already have a start with a bit of birthday money or a quarter from papaw, or maybe you squirreled away some lunch money…who wanted to eat a deviled ham sandwich and succotash anyway?
So with your pocket jangling with coinage or your wagon rattling with bottles, you had to make it to your local penny candy emporium to redeem them.
Back in the days before corporate bean counters created “fun-size”, candy was very cheap…people actually handed out full size candy bars on Halloween. Every neighborhood or small town had a pharmacy, five-and-dime or small neighborhood market on the corner that sold penny candy.
We had a penny candy dealer staked out in every neighborhood, waiting for us like a corner drug pusher to show us their multi-flavored wares to give us that sugar rush we couldn’t live without.
Closest to our house in West Carrollton was Ridges Carryout, at the corner of Gibbons and Elm. Today it is named Lynn’s but it is now a Trophy shop after several name changes over the years.
This was a classic old wooden building that was raised up above the typical flood range of the creek along Gibbons road. The local creeks used to flood several times a summer back then. Sounds like they have fixed that with better engineering.
I see on Google Maps that it has had a face lift with vinyl siding, and missing all the old metal signs (and charm). Probably sold them for a nice profit as they became rare and more valuable.
I actually played on Ridges little league team for a year or two and after each game the team stopped in for some free candy and a coke.
You would walk up the wooden steps to the covered porch, past all the metal signs for Coca-Cola, 7-Up, RC Cola, beer and cigarettes and pull open the screen door, hopping inside before it snapped shut on your butt if you weren’t fast enough.
Once inside, it was like you had entered Willy Wonka’s factory, albeit on a much less grand scale and with a worn wooden floor that squeaked. There you would gaze at the counter full of glass jars full of gumballs, jaw breakers and peppermint sticks.
There were wax root beer bottles, cherry lips and mustaches…
candy cigarettes, Atomic Fireballs, Black Jack Taffy, Dum Dum suckers, Bull’s Eye caramel creams with that weird white creamy stuff in the middle, gum drops, taffy, Necco wafers,
Caramel cubes, root beer barrels, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Bottle Caps, Chuckles, various flavors of stick candy and the ever popular candy necklace…you just stretch it around your neck and chew a button off whenever you want, sticky neck be damned!
We had the usual spot figured out. If we wanted to range a little further afield from Ridge’s we might go to Reeds Drug Store or Bob’s Carryout.
Bob was always super friendly but Reed’s had a “newer” more upscale vibe since it was a pharmacy, not like the old-school mom and pop stores with the humming and squeaking fan-belt refrigerators, old reach-in Coke coolers that you could barely see into and shelves crammed so full the aisles felt like canyons.
Find yourself over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house on Miami Chapel in West Dayton? There was The Moraine Market, caddy-corner to Delco Moraine and across from George’s barbershop.
This was one of the first local markets to close down, I don’t remember going here as much as the other places.
Going to Miami Shores to visit Aunt Jean and Uncle Jim? Before they rebuilt the Sellars Rd bridge, our favorite place for candy was the Tradin Post
You had to make a quick dog leg to the right as you came over the Shores bridge on Sellars Rd. The Benson’s house was right around the corner to the left.
When the new bridge came in they expanded the road on both sides and renamed Sellars Rd Main Street.
It was a sad day for everyone when the Tradin Post was torn down to make room for all the construction.
But we are talking candy so we easily switched our allegiances to the store down the road a block, called the Family Market.
Today, after a tear down and rebuild, and a remodel or two, it’s called K&R Supermarket.
In between was also Buck’s, who moved here after Woody’s success chased him away from West Carrollton. I don’t remember going here very much either.
If we were over at Aunt Janice and Uncle Ronnie’s when they lived on Orange Ave? We had to hoof it 3 blocks or so over on South Dixie to Speaks Market.
The hardest part of the whole process, and the most fun, was choosing what candy you wanted in your sack. So many choices. You had to balance quantity and quality for the change in your pocket. You might get several items for a penny, like simple hard candies, or 1 item might cost 2 or 3 cents, like chocolates.
I can only imagine how much patience it took being a clerk waiting for a group of 6-8 year olds to get done picking candy.
But no matter what, you could fill a small paper sack for a quarter.
Decisions made, we would all go running out to play with our cousins and ruin our appetites for supper. If we were at the Tradin’ Post we might grab some cardboard from the back and go up on the levee to sled down the dry grass to the river bank.
I remember sliding down and having a piece of broken glass slice through my cardboard like it was a devilish set-up to kill James Bond…the glass slicing closer and closer to the family jewels until I rolled off. I was careful to clear my slide path after that.
Where ever we were, high on sugar, we would run wild with our many cousins around whatever neighborhood we were in, playing tag, red rover or 4 square, chasing firebugs, climbing trees or playing hide and seek well after the street lights came on.
As the penny’s purchasing power was reduced to nothing, a lot of the mom-and-pop stores also disappeared as they were run out of business by the big chain grocery stores like Kroger super stores, Cub’s and Mega this and that. Penny candy just seemed to fade away, tucked away in our dusty memory banks as we grew older.
In researching this story, I do see that there are candy companies selling bulk bags of old-fashioned taffies, wax-coated root beer bottles, Smarties and Dum Dum suckers. Can you buy any of this retro candy for a penny? Nope. Even if you buy in bulk you need to bust out the nickels, dimes and quarters for each piece. Plus shipping.
But if you ask me, the most important thing missing today is the experience of running into that corner store a sweaty mess with grass stained bare feet, with a handful of pennies, looking at all the incredible choices and picking exactly what your pleasure was for that exact moment in time.
As you recited each item you wanted with meticulous care and laid that sweaty money on the counter for the clerk to count out, you felt like a million bucks, all for a few pennies.
Ronald Clayton Crider was born 85 years ago on the 21st of March, 1934, in the tiny coal town of Coxton, in Harlan County, Kentucky. Hardly a town, Coxton is a Census Designated Place, or CDP. As a CDP, it has no real legal status. This means it isn’t really a town, but just a place that most of the residents agreed, at some point, to call the area they lived in. I don’t know how many people lived there in 1934, but there are only 258 today, so maybe it wasn’t too hard to agree on a name unless there was some family feuding going on.
Out of the 540 Kentucky cities, towns and CDP’s, Coxton is rated 535 in per capita income, and 452 in population. Median income is $16,407. There will not be a quiz, just a bit of data to show this is a very small place that is one of many dying coal towns in Appalachia. The only cultural feature noted in Coxton was the old post office, which is now closed.
In looking for notable births and deaths, the only person listed for Coxton is a guy named Wallace Clayton ”Wah Wah” Jones. He was born in Harlan on July 14, 1926 and died July 27, 2014 at the age of 88. He played for the University of Kentucky where he played varsity football, basketball, baseball and track. He was twice All-SEC in football, his coach, by the way, was Bear Bryant when he coached for UK. In basketball, he was a three time All-American and four time All-SEC. He led the Wildcats to 2 NCAA Championships, in 1948 and 1949.
Wallace Clayton Jones was also a member of the 1948 Olympic Gold medal winning team with coach Adolph Rupp’s “Fabulous Five”, the same 5 guys than ran the table at UK. During his four years at Kentucky, the basketball team had a combined record of 130-10 and won the SEC championship every year…Most believe him to be the greatest athlete to ever come out of UK. Now, I know that is something Uncle Ronnie would love to see repeated again today.
Yes, yes, I hear you, Harlan is not Coxton, but it is only four miles away and I’m telling the story, you knew I was going to sneak a little history in here. Harlan was the big city and during the heyday of coal mining, had a whole 4,000 people living there in the 30’s. Today there are only around 1,600.
I know that was a long winded way to work in UK basketball and another guy named Clayton, a Clayton that to our family is much more famous and important than old Wah Wah. They both came from a tiny, out of the way place in the Appalachian mountains and both made their marks, one as an athlete and one as a family man that provided far more than just food for the table.
Uncle Ronnie was noted as being called Clayton in the 1940 census. Clayton must have been the favorite name for babies in the 30’s, like Jackson or Liam today. (Clayton was actually the 188th most favorite name back then…you knew I would look it up). The family was living in Harlan/Brookside, another small camp town a bit further east of Coxton.
His father Bony, (I don’t know why he went by Bony when he had such a cool name like Carlos Bonaparte Crider, but that’s another tale), is noted as working as a miner and made a whole $600 in 1939 working in the mine. I’ll guess it all went back into the pocket of the mining company that provided their home to rent and the camp store to buy groceries and other necessities so you pretty much just borrowed the mine company’s money and gave it right back.
As a little comparison, a neighbor, John Hayes, made $884 working as a gas station attendant. Of course Bony only worked 35 weeks that year, while John worked all 52. I did the math for you; John made $17 a week and Bony made $17.14 a week. How’s that for a big incentive for spending all day down in a dark, damp, explosive hole working on your black lung portfolio. Bony made it to 92 though, so there must be some good genes there.
In any case, the Crider’s of Harlan County were in no immediate danger of pushing the Rockefeller’s or Vanderbilt’s off the list of richest families in America back then. Back in those days, coal miners fought hard, bled and even died to unionize for better wages and safer working conditions.
Harlan County was known as “Bloody Harlan” for many years, with long, deadly strikes into the 70’s and even 80’s. Today there are no union mines operating in Kentucky, the last one shut down in 2015 after 100 years of mine workers striving to make their lives better. Watch the movies Coal Miners Daughter, Matewan or Harlan County War to get an idea of what went on the in mining communities of the past. Or just ask Uncle Ronnie.
While Kentucky is beautiful, in looking at a future like that, it may be no surprise that the Crider’s, like many other families in Kentucky including mine, began migrating north to find better jobs and pay for a better way of life than coal and tobacco farming could offer.
I remember Ronnie telling some stories about finding trouble in Frenchburg (Janice Profitt), but I don’t know exactly when he moved there, that’s a good question for Uncle Ronnie…he’s sitting right over there, go ahead, ask…and make a note for me. I know they were still in Harlan in 1947, as that is when his brother Charles was born.
I do know he married the love of his life, my wonderful Aunt Janice, whom he was married to for 62 years, in the mid-fifties. Then along came my Crider 1st cousins; Rhonda, Jeff, and Tonya.
By 1959 Ronnie and Janice are listed in the Dayton Ohio phone directory with him working at Specialty Paper as a helper and living at 1033 Miami Chapel. Same with 1960, but they had moved to 1011 Miami Chapel, so they lived right next door to Janice’s mother and father at 1010 Miami Chapel.
A lot of my memories with the Crider’s are from when they lived on Orange Ave in Moraine. Almost every Saturday night was spent either there or over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house with the adults playing cards…I should say the men folk played cards. The women were only invited to the main table when the men folk were down a person. They spent their time chatting, crocheting and trying to ignore their children for a few precious minutes.
I always think of Uncle Ronnie as the quiet uncle…unless he was in the middle of a card game or apparently when watching the UK Wildcats…I saw the Facebook video Uncle Ronnie. Then all bets were off and he was as loud as a wildcat himself. I guess he had to be to be in order to be heard in the middle of the loud mouths of the Profitt’s, Benson’s and Little’s. I won’t even get into the Egelston’s. For the life of me I couldn’t understand what was so exciting about winning a hand of 500 rummy that would make the whole dining room erupt like the Browns won a Superbowl.
When he was hunting or fishing though, he was as quiet as a church mouse. He’d give you the stink eye if you happened to be hunting close to him and snapped a twig or rustled a leaf. The military should have done a scientific study on him before they came up with their stealth technology, they could have saved a lot of money.
There was always competition out hunting. It seemed like it was always some combination of dad, Ronnie, one of his brothers, Charles I think, Densil, Jeff and me. While everyone had their day from time to time, Ronnie set the bar, if nothing else by his sheer determination. He just wasn’t going to come out of the woods or off the river if he knew someone had him beat.
I remember one time squirrel hunting with dad, Densil and Ronnie. I had managed to get 3 out of one big hickory and Uncle Ronnie only had a couple. I was standing next to Densil at the bottom of a draw as it was getting late for finding squirrels, we went out before the break of dawn and waited for them to wake up and start feeding. It was getting towards mid-day and we were kind of done for the day.
Densil’s cracking jokes and instructing me in the manly arts when he looks up on a ridge and see’s Ronnie bent over in a squat, his shotgun at the ready in front of him. Densil points and says “look at that Ronnie up there, he knows you have him beat and he’s not going to quit until he at least gets one more.”
If you know Densil, you know what was next. He picks up some rocks and starts hucking them up towards Ronnie. One hits high in a tree and dribbles down through the branches, like the sound a squirrel makes when he is “cutting”, or chewing bits of a nuts shell off. Ronnie jerks just his head towards the sound of the noise and freezes, scanning every square inch for signs of a squirrel.
Densil is cracking up, and hucks another rock in another direction. Ronnie swirls around and freezes, head moving slowly back and forth, scanning. Densil is almost in tears, trying to be quiet, stifling his laugh but sounding like Muttley, the cartoon dog from the 60’s. He hucks one more up the ridge and the jig is up, Ronnie’s too savvy a hunter to believe the same kind of noise is coming from 3 different directions. He looks down towards the bottom of the draw and spots us, pointing a finger at us like “I see you shit heads down there” and just gave up and headed down towards us.
He always wanted one more squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, channel cat, bass, red eye…whatever we were going after. If he didn’t limit-out he simply felt like he wasn’t done yet. The thing to understand is that he wasn’t a sore loser or wished poor hunting on anyone else…he was just the Energizer Bunny of hunting and fishing and didn’t know how to quit.
Those are a few things that stood out and impressed me about Uncle Ronnie as a boy and young man. The thing that most impresses me after just shy of 60 years of looking back on Ronnie and his gang of Criders is his quiet, unconditional love for his family. The love for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is obvious and returned by them all.
I’m convinced he has the patience of Job just by remaining married to Aunt Janice for over 6 decades. After all, she had both Egelston AND Profitt in her just to start with. Add to that her own special blend of practical jokes and orneriness offset by her wonderful sense of humor and love for her family.
Some of my very favorite moments are sitting around with Ronnie and the rest of the family telling stories about the good old days during my all too short trips back to Ohio. I love to watch him get animated in the middle of a good tale and get to laughing so hard he can barely finish.
Of all the uncles I was in fairly regular contact with, he was the quiet, gentle one. Now, that bar might be another one you could just step across with very little effort when Uncle Densil is cracking a bawdy joke or Uncle Bob is flexing his Hula Girl tattoo while revving his Harley, but I seldom heard him cuss and yell as much as my dad, a trained professional.
Now, I’m not saying he was an angel and didn’t have his moments like every father does. If we were all running wild around the house or neighborhood and I heard a “Jeffery Keith Crider” I was running for cover to keep away from any collateral damage from a hide-tanning gone wild. In my family you ran and hid anytime you heard a full given name, even if it wasn’t yours.
Uncle Ronnie, you are a wonderful example of a man, husband, father and uncle. I hope if Kentucky is still in it today you have a big screen TV to watch during this interminable happy birthday tale. I hope to hear many more stories, Happy 85th!
My younger brother Greg and I used to get into some real “two men enter, one leaves” cage style fights when we were growing up. It was pretty much classic sibling rivalry between a suave, sophisticated older brother and a younger, bull-headed brute of a younger brother. It’s my story and I’m sticking to that.
Most of our dust-ups started out innocently enough, as sibling brawls go…the Saturday morning cartoons are over, mom and dad are out grocery shopping… we switch over to old school “Big Time Wrestling” on the TV. After a few drop kicks from Flying Fred Curry, a coco-butt from Bobo Brazil and a stomach claw from Killer Kowalski, one of us would wind up doing a flying elbow drop onto the other from the back of the couch and it was on.
Our fracases generally started out as merely intense wrestling matches, but as we grew tired the moves got more more and more desperate… eye gouging, biting, nard punching, and even the odd wet-willy were all a fairly standard repertoire of moves. As we advanced to back-flip reversals and moves learned about during real wrestling from elementary school gym class, everything intensified.
If you really wanted to escalate you would act like you were going to spit in the other guys face while you were holding him down…seeing how far you could let a spit goober ooze out before sucking it back in two or three times would drive the other to go full clobbering time Hulk. The goal was to make the other guy cry uncle or tap out, and with two hardheaded Profitt’s, bones would have to come close to snapping for that to happen. These death matches could be brutal and go on for 20 or 30 minutes, with no bell to save you. Big Time Wrestling, the 3 Stooges and Looney Tunes cartoons showed us the way.
Dad had more or less encouraged this rough-housing among us boys from an early age. It was all fun and games until someone got hurt and mom got involved. When we got to the point of breaking furniture and each other too bad he did the classic old-school dad thing and bought us 2 pairs of boxing gloves.
I think he figured this would at least cut down on the eye gouging and finger biting since he could referee. However, having spent 20 years in the Army, where personal issues were settled with gloves, Pugil sticks or in a bear pit, he got a real kick out of us going at it until one of us cried uncle or got a bloody nose. I can still picture him giggling like Dick Dastardly’s dog Muttley as we pummeled the snot out of each other.
While he tried to explain the basics of keeping up your guard, jabs, hooks and uppercuts, we always rapidly devolved to a school-yard free for all with us rolling around on the ground…except with boxing gloves on.
As the oldest, I had more of psychological advantage than a physical one. Greg is a year and a half younger but was on the husky side compared to me, so he was pretty close to my size. Our blood would get to boiling until we were like two jacked-up pit bulls waiting to be released at a dog fight. I can’t remember for the life of me what started one of these incidents, but it ended up with me speeding through the house after Greg and out the back door.
This happened in the mid 60’s while dad was still in Vietnam. We had just moved into a brand new house in West Carrollton and the back porch was more a six foot tall set of steps leading down from the 2nd story than the porch it would become years later.
Greg had a bit of a lead on me as he ran down the steps, so I thought I’d outsmart him by diving off the top of the porch and landing on him cowboy style like all the westerns show. I timed it just right as he cut right, gave a mighty leap and landed…right on a tomato stake.
Stunned, I found I was not on my brothers back ready to pummel but impaled in the back of my upper right thigh deep enough that I couldn’t pull myself free. The force of my jump jammed the stake even further into the ground. My left foot could barely touch the ground as I stood on my tippy-toes to help relieve the pressure of the stake that was nearly up my ass.
Laurie and Phil had run out the door behind us, always wanting to participate as audience rather than being “in the ring” themselves. Mom was inside the house and they started yelling loudly that I had a stick up my butt and to hurry out before I died.
Mom tried valiantly, but could not manage to lift me off by herself without doing more damage. This was before 911 and dad was off fighting the war, so she called Aunt Janice, our father’s baby sister that was our chauffeur and 2nd mother while dad was gone.
Janice wasn’t sure that even together, they could pull me up and off the stake high enough, so she called her brother, Uncle Densil, to come over as well. They got there about the same time, and after Densil cracked a few jokes about sticks and asses, stopped laughing and pulled me off the stick with an awful sucking sound.
Then it was off to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth since mom thought it was too deep for her standard nurse treatment of flooding it with peroxide and slapping on a butterfly bandage. When the doc came into the treatment room I’m almost sure I remember Densil saying something like “Doc, the boy got a stick up his ass and needs you to pull it out”.
He put me belly down on his examination table and poked around a bit, making me wince. He gave me several shots of local anesthetic, again making me wince. Everything numbed up back there and he really went to town. Poking and prodding, describing everything he was seeing as he went. “This is pretty deep, I’ll probe to see if I can find any splinters or dirt…this is just fat protruding out of the wound, no muscle, that’s good…oh, what is that…poke, poke, poke”
Meanwhile I’m listening to all of this face down, bare butt open to everyone in the room, unable to see what is going on with my leg. This being my first experience with a local anesthetic, I’m thinking “oh my god, I can’t feel anything, my leg is dying” and expressed that to the Doc.
He reassured me that was a good thing, otherwise I would feel intense pain. I relaxed a bit and assumed playing the role of a morbidly fascinated sub-teenage boy, asking “what did it look like, was it gross, how much blood”, etc., and the Doc played along, describing what he saw and what he was doing.
It felt very weird when I felt the tugging of each stich, yet nothing else. “How many stiches” I asked, trying to determine how much neighborhood street cred I was going to get out of this. “Only 4?” I replied when the Doc told me. I knew I needed to pump those numbers up if I was going to compete with some of the local kids.
“It’s not a very big hole” he said, “it is just very deep”. “OK, good”, I thought, “I’ll go with the very deep thing.” After all, mom would have just put a butterfly on it and called it good, and I had a score to settle with little brother.
This started as just a small part of a story concerning Mamaw and Papaw’s old house on Miami Chapel, but as I kept adding details, it gathered a life of its own and wound up being too long for inclusion, so while waiting for the album I thought I’d release it as a single.
Mamaw and Papaw slept in a bedroom situated at the front of their old house on Miami Chapel. You entered it through big double doors to see the tall four poster bed right in the middle of the room, high off the floor. In my mind it was up that high to keep the mice off of you while you were sleeping, as the old house had plenty of mice running around. When playing hide and seek, we could crawl under it on our knees and still have plenty of headroom.
Just to the right of the bed there was a tall dresser. While I could barely see into the top drawer, one day I was snooping around while everyone was outside and found a tiny little toy cowboy pistol in the top drawer. It looked like a cap gun to me so I pulled it out and drew a bead on a picture on the front wall and pulled the trigger…and just about crapped my pants as it loudly went off in the quiet bedroom…
It, of course, was not a toy, but a small caliber revolver that Papaw kept loaded in his sock drawer for protection. It scared me to death and, in shock, I quickly tossed it back in the drawer, covered it with handkerchiefs and socks and took off running through the house and out the back door as fast as I could.
The adults were all sitting out on the front porch at the time, so as I ran out the back door I lurched to a stop, took some deep breaths, tried to compose myself and, being as nonchalant as I possibly could, started walking around to the front of the house where everyone else was. I ran into my mom about half way, as they were all running around the house to see what had happened.
She asked me what I had been up to and I said the standard answer of all Profitt kids when challenged with being up to no good: “I didn’t do anything”. She just stared at me while a cold sweat broke out all over my little body. She told me I was as white as a ghost and shaking and told me I was not in trouble, I just needed to tell her the truth. Not in trouble? This, to a kid in our family at least, meant you had done something tragically wrong since we might get spanked just for dipping a finger in an icing bowl.
I immediately started crying and trying to get the story out between sobs about how I-found-a-sob-cap-gun-sob-that-sob-wasn’t-a-cap-gun-sob-and-I’m-really-sorry-sob-and-will-never-sob-do-it-again. Dad was rapidly walking up behind her from the front of the house with “that look” on his face.
This was surely an offense that required maximum punishment. I was expecting dad to pull off his belt and fold it or even cut a switch off the huckleberry tree. But mom gave him a look and hand signal to back-off and he stopped in his tracks. Oh lord, I thought, this is so bad they are going to take me to jail and don’t want to leave any switch marks. I resigned myself to wait for the police and take whatever I deserved for being a naughty seven year old. I was going to juvie for sure.
Mom led me back to the scene of the crime and had me re-enact my transgression on humanity. Dad was standing over by the front wall with his pen knife blade poked into the bullet hole like he was a forensic investigator getting the trajectory angle just right. The hole was, in fact, only a few feet above where Papaw was rocking on the front porch. The entire family had been sitting out there.
Still waiting on the cops to arrive and handcuff me, I explained in great detail what had occurred, taking pains to show her how the tiny gun looked just like our cap guns at home. It really did, it was one of those cheap pot-metal looking things that were called Saturday Night Specials back then. Papaw probably picked it up down at the local bar for twenty bucks.
If I may, in defense of my my youthful, dumb-ass self: “The legal definition of a Saturday Night Special, or “junk gun”, usually specifies the materials that used in the manufacture of the gun, targeting zinc castings, low melting point (usually 800 degrees Fahrenheit, powder metallurgy, and other low-cost manufacturing techniques. Nearly all guns made this way are chambered for low-pressure cartridges, such as .22 long, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP . which allows these techniques to provide sufficient strength and desirable weight while still keeping a low cost. The low-strength materials and cheap construction result in poor durability and marginal accuracy at longer ranges, but as most of these guns are designed for use in self-defense, accuracy and durability are not primary design goals.”
Mom explained that, while it did in fact look like our cap guns; A) I should not have been snooping in Papaw’s drawers to begin with. B) That I had nearly shot Papaw sitting on the front porch and could have easily shot any of them or even myself. C) I was now going to have to wait until I was old enough to understand how to safely handle firearms before I would get a gun of my own, or in other words,”You’ll shoot your eye out kid”. (I had been begging for a gun of my own to go hunting with dad forever, which to a seven year old, was about a year. It would be a few more years before that would happen.)
As I sipped some water and calmed down, I could hear Mamaw out in the kitchen giving Papaw an ass-chewing using words I had never heard come out of her mouth before. Hmmm I thought, why is Papaw getting yelled at and I am not getting my hide tanned?
It felt like something out of the Twilight Zone show to me. It was not until later that I found out from mom that Mamaw had been warning him about that gun being loaded with all the grandchildren coming to the house all the time.
It was a hard, scary lesson, and one of those moments in life that never really leave you. I did get a pellet gun the next year, with warnings not to shoot at any living thing and detailed instructions from my drill sergeant father about how to properly handle guns of all descriptions.
While written in a humorous manner, this could have easily been yet another tragic story. They always seem to start with “I didn’t think…” especially concerning improperly handled firearms around children. Please get proper training and treat your firearms with the respect they deserve.