I have found out more information on the sword dad brought back from WWII. I have previously described it as an Imperial Japanese Naval Officer’s sword, as that is as close as I could get from researching similar looking swords.
After much additional research, and purchase of a rather expensive, out of print book on Japanese military swords, I have found that the sword originated from the Japanese occupation of Korea. These swords were authorized for military officials of the colonial government of Korea from 1911 to the end of the WW II in 1945.
Dad’s sword was issued to a Hannin, or junior-level officer in the Japanese Army that was assigned to occupation duty in Korea prior to, or during World War II. It is in great shape overall, with a beautiful ray skin covered handle and brass fittings.
The style of the sword is kyu-gunto (roughly “old”, or “first” pattern military sword). Starting in 1875, a new sword was developed that became the first standard issue for the new army. It is a hybrid of European ideas and Japanese sword traditions. If you’ve seen the rather fictionalized “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise, you know the time period this sword was originally designed in.
At the start of the Meiji Restoration, the Samurai were disenfranchised and the Japanese government began creating an imperial army along European lines, changing their military swords from the traditional Samurai style, to a more European style.
The hilt is very European with its guard and knuckle bow, with the sacred Imperial Chrysanthemum, or kiku, incorporated on the pommel. The chrysanthemum is the emblem of the Imperial Family. According to historical records, Emperor Gotoba and his three succeeding emperors enjoyed using chrysanthemums as a pattern. Although this crest was reserved to the Imperial Family, it was also awarded by the imperial court to other people who had shown excellence in service to the imperial household.
The sides of the backstrap have a Kiri emblem of the Paulownia Imperialis flower bloom, with a main 7 floret bud arrangement with 5 smaller florets on either side, signifying government service in Korea.
The Paulownia is a deciduous tree that is widely cultivated in Japan. It belongs to the figwort family Paulowniaceae and it is also known as the “princess tree” or “emperor tree”.
This tree was adopted as a crest motif because it symbolizes good fortune. In China, people consider it a lucky tree where phoenixes reside. It was also believed that these phoenixes sing “long live the king!” in the high, blooming branches of the tree.
Because of this belief, the paulownia tree became a pattern used in the emperor’s clothes and then later became a crest during the end of the Kamakura period. This crest is awarded by the imperial court to retainers. The retainers also awarded the crest to vassals who had performed exemplary deeds.
The blade itself is in the style of a katana, with an edge that turns up abruptly just before the tip.
Like older, traditional Japanese swords, the blade passes through a rectangular collar (habaki) which appears to be made of copper, and a flat spacer with a rippled edge (seppa) before entering the guard.
The grip is traditional Japanese same-kawa, white ray skin, wrapped in typical European style with a triple strand of wire.
The sword also has a folding leaf that is part of the cross guard that serves as a catch for securing the sword in the scabbard.
The blade is just a little under 26 inches long. It has a blood groove, more properly known as a fuller, running almost the entire length of the blade.
The scabbard is constructed of wood, with a thin lacquered shark skin covering.
This has three nice brass fittings, two at the top that serve as hangers, and one at the bottom to protect the tip.
In the definitive (and expensive!) Fuller and Gregory book “Military Swords of Japan 1868-1945”, they call the sword a “1911 pattern Hannin (Junior) Officials sword of the Government General of Korea”. They go on the say that the sword should be considered rare, and is considered a purely ceremonial sword.
The description in the book:
Japanese Chosen Hannin Level Official Dress Sword
This is a rare example of a Japanese Chosen (Korea) Hannin Level Official’s Sword that would have been carried by Japanese Officials assigned to the occupational Government. It is mounted with a machine-made blade that has a cutting edge measuring 25 3/4 inches in length. The sword is 31 inches overall. The plain brass frames a beautiful white Same-kawa, a ray skin wrapping of the hilt, with its original twisted wire wrap still tightly in place.
How dad came to be in possession of this sword is a mystery, and most likely will always be a mystery. It is very possible he picked it up somewhere on the battlefields of the Philippines or Okinawa where he was subjected to a number of banzai charges as the Japanese grew more desperate.
A Banzai charge is the term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks mounted by their infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry “Tenno Heika Banzai” for “Long live the Emperor”, and shortened to banzai, and it specifically refers to a tactic used by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War.
Banzai was born of the militaristic government of Japan that had again adopted the concepts of Bushido to condition the country’s population to be ideologically obedient to the emperor. Impressed with how samurai were trained to commit suicide when a great humiliation was about to befall them, the government educated troops that it was a greater humiliation to surrender to the enemy than to die.
During the war period, the Japanese government began disseminating propaganda that romanticized suicide attack, using one of the virtues of Bushido as the basis for the campaign. The Japanese government presented war as purifying, with death defined as a duty. By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai, literally “100 million shattered jewels”, for the purpose of resisting opposition forces until the surrender.
Often, banzai participants drank large quantities of sake and beer to work themselves into a frenzy and give themselves additional courage to charge headlong into overpowering firepower. It had to be terrifying on both sides of such a charge.
As children, we, at least I, imagined exactly this type of situation occurring with this symbol of the most frightening kind of hand to hand combat…a crazed enemy emerging out of the darkness screaming banzai and swinging a three foot, razor sharp blade with a total disregard to whether he lived or died.
Holding the sword, I imagined dad coming face to face with a wild-eyed Japanese soldier intent on running him through, surviving the melee, then collecting the sword as a trophy of battle. It wouldn’t have been the first time in that war, as he had narrowly escaped a face to face run-in inside a Japanese bunker.
Although I asked dad how he acquired the sword several times, I never got a real answer. “During the war” or “Off a dead Jap” were typical responses. He never elaborated, perhaps for good reason. It may well have been on the battlefield from an officer that had served in Korea prior to being posted in the Pacific But it may be just as likely that he picked it up wheeling and dealing after the surrender of Japan.
Dad was posted to occupy Korea right from the battle in Okinawa to help keep the Japanese under control and prevent the Russians from moving beyond the 38th Parallel.
So, he might also have picked the sword up from a Japanese POW in Korea, or from a pile of surrendered weapons, or he might have just traded a few cartons of smokes to another GI for a cool officer’s sword.
It wouldn’t have been easy packing a sword around in the jungles of the Philippines or the horrific monsoons of Okinawa. While they kept non-combat essential gear in rear areas, they were constantly on the move.
What I am sure of is that dad saw more than his share of charging Japanese infantrymen brandishing swords, bayonets and grenades, as witnessed by the shrapnel he carried in his body his entire life.
They were all trying to send him, as he wrote in the pages of his war diary, “to go see his honorable ancestors” before they saw theirs. I’m glad it took him eighty years to see them instead of just nineteen.
Like most of us, the Covid quarantine has kept me home a great deal more than I have been used to. All that time at home has “allowed” me to give more attention to the yard and gardening. The title of this article is more tongue in cheek than anything else…I saw it on a t-shirt on Facebook and thought about the simplicity of it all, but built on a lot of experience.
Growing things is not all that hard if you just let nature have her way. I can declare I’m going to grow the best crop of dandelions ever, do nothing, and my yard will fill with them…but figuring out how to bend nature to your will does take some knowledge and a bit of voodoo when dealing with picking seeds (surprisingly hard this year!), spacing, pruning, watering, fertilizing, powdery mildew, end blossom rot and all the other plant diseases, worms, bugs, beetles and critters, poor soil, and on and on.
As the oldest child, I spent so much time doing yard work in the horticultural chain gangs of my mother and father that some of it was bound to rub off, no matter how much I resisted. Whether by osmosis or having it beat into me, I picked up some “stuff” over the years.
Now, I have always had a love/hate relationship with yard work and gardening. Like many, I grew up being an indentured servant, doing yard and garden work for my parents for the proverbial room and board. This of course turned it into a chore rather than an enjoyable past time. I have had full gardens, herbs in pots and boxes and everything in between, but I have always, at the least, thrown a few tomato plants in the ground.
I am not suggesting I am a master gardener by any means, and the incremental knowledge gained over time was almost imperceptible…but just how much I do know started coming into sharp focus after I joined several “garden groups” on Facebook, well, because that’s what you do on Facebook.
As I read through the various posts I became aware that I know a great deal about “growing things”, in no small part due to the influence of my parents. I would read a post and think: “good grief, any idiot knows how to do that”, but it became apparent just how much I had picked up from mom and dad over the years, as well as my own experience. Much of this I have taken for granted, because “you just do it” without much thought, as it has become a part of me.
As with all of my long-winded stories, I’ll start from the beginning. Both my parents were avid gardeners. Dad on the practical side with vegetables, and mom loving her flowers and decorative plants. Even while he was in the Army with our temporary housing, dad would grow at least a few tomato and onion plants.
I remember dad coming home one night at Ft. Benning after a neighbor had hacked his tomato plants all to bits chasing a black snake off our patio. “It’s not even poisonous!” (with a few more colorful words thrown in) he said after seeing the decapitated snake. “We told him dad, but he wouldn’t listen” we said…dad had, by then, explained the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes to us many times.
With our backyard bordering a swamp, we knew most of the local snakes already anyway. We thought dad was going to kill the poor guy because we got a butt whooping if a ball bounced into his ‘mater patch, causing damage or not.
My earliest memories of doing actual yardwork begin when I was six years old in 1965. We had just moved to Ohio from Georgia when dad was sent off to fight in Vietnam, leaving mom, me and my two brothers and sister in a brand new house, in a brand new development, mostly still under construction.
Being brand spanking new, the yard was a blank canvas…well more like a clay and limestone moonscape where nothing was growing. Mom made it her mission…our mission, to whip the yard into shape and make things grow by the time dad got back.
Making anything grow entailed having many dump trucks of topsoil delivered, to be spread on top of the insufferable bare clay left by the builders. Mom had me and my brother out there with shovels, rakes, and wheel barrows distributing the massive piles of topsoil evenly over the front and back yards.
I’m not sure how helpful we actually were, but I remember it being real exhausting work. This took many days in the hot Ohio summer of 1965…which then led to painful sunburns for all of us.
I still can’t stand the smell of vinegar as my mother’s homegrown prescription was to slap strips of vinegar soaked brown paper grocery sacks all over our backs and tell us not to move. We had blisters on our backs and blisters on our hands, but we eventually got all the dirt moved, spread with grass seed, and covered with straw to help it grow.
Mom then created her first flower bed, a small round one, bordered with broken bricks we snuck from the apartment building going up behind us. Greg and I had befriended a construction worker over there and he told us it would be “alright as long as you don’t get caught by the boss-man”.
The bare clay yard was “landscaped” by the builder with a few minuscule Arborvitae shrubs against the house and two Silver Maple twigs in the front yard…just like every other house in the development.
Of course, the servitude did not stop with getting grass to grow…when dad got back from Vietnam, my parents decided the house needed a hedge around the entire front yard. This required digging a trench a couple of feet deep in that same limestone filled clay. Since the dirt was so hard, dad’s preferred tools were Army entrenching tools, which he was very familiar with.
These could have the blade bent 90 degrees to get into the narrow trench. One of them even had a pick on it for levering the large hunks of limestone out of the trench. Little did I realize then that my experience digging that long trench would come back to serve me well digging foxholes in the Army years later.
After the trench was dug it had to be lined with peat moss, manure and top soil as the native gray clay was terrible for plants. Then all the hedge shrubs had to be planted. This hedge was to be my bane for as long as I lived there, as not only did I inherit cutting the lawn as soon as I was deemed able, but also trimming the hedge. I’m not sure what kid assumed those duties when I went off to the Army.
Dad trimmed the hedges himself for many years, as he demanded that they were perfectly level and flat and didn’t trust me to get it right when young. He accomplished this topiary perfection by pulling a string tight, from one end to the other, with a string level on it to use as a guide for his hedge trimmer. The corners and openings had to have square-cut raised platforms to set them off.
He sounded like the father working on the furnace in “A Christmas Story” when he found the neighbor kid and mailman were cutting through the hedge as a short cut and making unsightly gaps. Using his military training, he strung some hidden barb wire booby traps inside the hedge to thwart the hedge violators. After a few years though, the novelty of a perfect hedge wore off and it was handed off to me. Yippee.
In the meantime, mom was still on her mission to beautify the landscape. She absolutely loved flowers and plants and had already filled the house with Violets, Begonias, Spider plants, Dieffenbachia, Philodendrons, Rubber plants, Calatheas, Air plants, Jade plants, Aloe, Dragon trees, Bromeliads, Snake plants, cactus, Hens and Chicks and numerous other succulents, and especially ferns…of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. If she could beg, borrow or steal a start she stuck it in a jar to root and coaxed it to grow.
But she had more space outside, so she ordered the crew (me and dad) out to cut up the grass along the entire perimeter of the yard and driveway to make flower beds. Again, the entrenching tools were perfect for cutting up the sod and rolling it up to go somewhere else.
She filled these to overflowing with every plant imaginable. Canna lilies, Day Lilies, Black-eyed Susans, Daisies, Oxeye Daisies, Peonies, Primrose, Poppies, Dahlias, Marigolds, Hyacinth, Sweet pea, Petunias, Snapdragons, Honeysuckle, Crocus, Daffodils, Tulips, Phlox, shrubs like Lilac, Pussy Willow, Forsythia, you name it…but especially her beloved roses that reminded her of her mother.
Some of my personal favorites back then were Snap Dragons and 4 O’Clocks. Snap Dragons simply because they had a cool name and looked like tiny skulls when they went to seed.
The 4 O’clocks I liked not so much because they looked pretty and colorful mind you, but because the seeds were perfect for using as GI Joe hand grenades.
When the perimeter beds got full, she had us widen them a foot or two here and there…eventually adding large triangles to double the square footage. Of course, all these flower beds needed weeding, so I got double my usual rate of nothing to keep these under control. The yard had become a jungle.
Growing up a farm boy, dad’s focus was always food related. In the meager space that mom allowed him around the house, he planted apple, pear and plum trees, a Concord grapevine, Rhubarb and even transplanted a Poke plant he found out in the woods for Poke Salat (caution, you need to know how to prepare this as it can be poisonous). Every year mom put up grape jelly and jam, frozen apples, apple butter, apple jelly, and pears…but dad could never get a good crop off the plum tree. He would go down to old homesteads by the river and cut off flowering plum branches to help the bees cross pollinate, but what we got back looked more like prunes than plums.
He also liked Willow trees, and cut a small branch down by the Miami river, stuck it in the ground and soon it was a big tree in the front yard. Of course, seeing this wizardry, I started sticking Willow branches in the ground all over the neighborhood…until I learned that they make great switches to swat misbehaving butts.
Dad’s main focus for decades though, was his vegetable garden. With a family of eight, keeping food on the table was no small task. Around the house, he only had room for a small garden with a few tomato plants, a row or two of table onions, lettuce, a cucumber plant or two, a few bean plants and various herbs.
But he always managed to find a place for a big garden from a relative that had extra space and bartered back with the produce he grew. Whether it was over at the Shores by Aunt Jeans or behind my Aunt Gladys’ house, he planted every vegetable known to me and many I had never heard of, and in such quantities that the season’s bounty would tide us over until the next year with all the canning and freezing mom did.
Unfortunately for posterity, the big garden was a place to grow food and hard work and there was no phone cameras or Facebook, so I can’t find any photos.
He would buy seed packets that filled his old ammo cans and started the finicky ones off from scratch in the house when it was still cold out. He used egg cartons, butter tubs, cottage cheese containers…anything that could hold a dab of dirt to poke a seed in and filled the window sills down in the basement.
As soon as the ground wasn’t frozen I would help him load his big rototiller in the back of the station wagon and haul it over to the “big” garden.
Then he would spend several days tilling up the soil to make nice, straight rows. I got to run it once in a while, but it was a beast for a small boy and would try to run off with me. He wore out the tines and broke metal bits on it all the time.
Dad would get the cold weather crops seeded…lettuce, peas, spinach, carrots, radishes, cabbage, beets, turnips, garlic, leeks, onions, broccoli, collards, and so on. Then, when he was sure the frosts were done, he would plant row after row of corn, beans of all kinds, squash, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkin, cantaloupe, tomatoes…all of many varieties.
Then he had stuff that I didn’t even know what you did with it, until I saw mom do something with it and she had to learn from Mamaw for some of it as well. Plants like okra, dill, mustard, chard and horseradish. What the heck is an okra? Something that mamaw and mom put in vegetable soup and pickled, that’s what.
Dad also had his failures, but they were few and far between, except for two crops. Watermelon and peanuts. He tried them many times, but always to disappointing results compared to the rich bottomland results he knew as a boy.
The watermelons turned out the size of grapefruit and he would barely get enough peanuts to put in a box of Crackerjacks. I remember him dumping bags of sand in the peanut rows to loosen up that clay, but nothing seemed to help.
Once all of this was in the ground it was a daily grind to go to the garden and hoe each row for weeds, pull the horn worms off the tomatoes and dust the cabbage and broccoli to keep the cabbage worms off of them.
In the driest parts of the summer he would haul water over in 5 gallon army jerry cans and dole the precious water out like it was gold to each plant. If I got sloppy with the hoe or water dipper I got chewed out, so I learned quickly that our food was serious business and to be respected.
As veggies grew to a pickable size there was a continuous flow of them while in season. Every night for dinner there was a bowl of cucumbers and onion slices in vinegar water, a plate of sliced tomatoes and another dish of small table onions and radishes.
This was in addition to the ever present giant green Tupperware bowl salad of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, radishes and whatever else was good that day. You could have any flavor Italian dressing you wanted…and this was always already mixed in… kids couldn’t be trusted to dole out their own.
Once the crops started coming in in large numbers mom was soon overloaded with all the work involved with canning and freezing all that produce. Stuff piled up in the kitchen everywhere: hundreds of pint and quart Ball-Mason and Kerr jars, torn paper sacks full of jar rings and lids, pressure cookers and giant pots for cooking and blanching, paraffin and pectin for the jelly jars…it happened every summer.
Tomatoes were probably the king crop…dad would bring home bushels and bushels of them, so many we ate them like apples with one of those big silver salt shakers.
They would soon be covered with zillions of gnats, driving everyone crazy. The ‘maters were processed whole, turned into sauce or paste and fried up green before they turned red and after the frost hit the vines.
They were the foundation of the ever-present kid food: elbow macaroni with tomato sauce and hamburger that seemed to be served every other day.
Greenbeans were probably second in stature…they accompanied almost every meal during the winter from the jars mom put up. It was a typical chore in the summer to be sitting watching TV and snapping beans in the big Tupperware bowls. If they had runners you’d have to have a paring knife to slice the end enough to pull the runner off and then snap them into bite size pieces.
Green beans were canned and also frozen in quart freezer bags. Once you had a big bowl or two they would be dumped into the big blanching pot for a quick dunk then either put into the freezer bags or jarred up to put in the pressure cooker. It was a common and reassuring sound to hear that pressure cooker relief valve dancing around all day long…it meant we would be eating that winter.
While I liked green beans, especially with a hunk of bacon or pork in them, I liked other types of beans as well…kidney beans meant big pots of chili, so I wanted as many jars of these put up as possible. But there were also white beans, lima beans, pinto beans, black beans and so on.
These dry beans were easier to work than snapping green beans: you just ran your thumb up the dry hull and spilled them into your bowl, you didn’t even need to look away from the TV.
A pot of soup beans with a ham bone might have been my dad’s favorite food. He would pour some pepper juice in them from a jar and be in heaven with a big hunk of buttered corn bread.
While I ate them just fine, I was not a fan of sauerkraut and pickling season. As mentioned, I had a negative Pavlovian reaction to the smell of vinegar from mom’s sunburn treatments, still do. And the entire house smelled like vinegar for days when mom processed the dozens and dozens of cabbage heads into Kraut. I still have nightmares about shredding the skin off my knuckles and fingertips from grating the cabbage for kraut.
Cucumbers were turned into every kind of pickle mom could find a recipe for from mamaw or other relatives. Dad provided all the dill and other pickling spices from the garden. Mom then made the cukes into brine pickles, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, sweet pickles, relish, you name it.
She left them whole, hacked them into spears, sliced them into chips and other ways. Add to this pickled corn and okra, pickled peppers and beets and assorted other pickled vegetables and I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible…to avoid the work as well as the smell. But I did enjoy eating them, except for the beets and sweet pickles…blecht!
With a big family, we always had two freezers down in the basement: one filled with a side of beef and a whole hog from Uncle Chet and Aunt Shirley’s farm, and the other filled with all the frozen produce and store bought stuff. If there was a power outage you were not to open the freezers under penalty of death lest all the food thaw out and spoil.
We also had a pantry room in the basement to serve as a root cellar. It was full of shelving for all the jars of produce, empty jars and canning equipment as well as cool storage for potatoes, onions and squash.
Thinking back on it all, our primary sources of food were relatively unprocessed, but hardly entirely organic. While he did use a lot of manure and composted everything, I remember dad powdering tomato, cabbage and broccoli plants with Sevin, but he probably also used other insecticides to combat the various types of pestilence that descended on his precious plants. Hornworms were the devil…they could chew an entire tomato plant to dust overnight.
You knew when he found one as he would cuss up a storm and graphically squish the daylights out of it. One of my early tasks was to systematically go down each row and check closely for these spawn of satan, but while I was a dead-eye on these vermin I was also prone to putting one or two of them in a jar to see if they turned into moths, which grow quite large.
This of course, was consorting with the enemy in dad’s eyes, after all, he was raised in the tobacco fields of Kentucky where these things took money from the family’s pockets and food from their mouths. His decree was “show no mercy”. After all, it was about feeding his large brood, not feeding the critters.
Whew, that took a while...so?
That long-winded summary is an explanation of how gardening seems to come fairly naturally and makes sense to me, even as I have studiously avoided it over the years for more adventurous pursuits.
Whether by repetition by watching my parents, unconsciously by gradual osmosis, or perhaps there really is a genetic element from so many years of ancestors growing their own food, I somehow know what to do to coax life out of the earth, and it still brings much satisfaction.
As mentioned, I joined a number of Facebook groups having to do with gardening, partly out of boredom, and I have realized just how much I do know by watching the endless hordes of new gardeners failing to get anything to grow and the amazing amount of bad information given out on social media.
Some of this researching and navel gazing over gardening was also caused by not being able to buy seeds and plant starts from the usual suspects this year due to Covid. Everyone seemed to be sold out or on a huge delay by people doing the same thing I was.
Wanting to get plants going sooner rather than later, I bought some seeds on Amazon. One set of seeds was supposed to be for an entire garden of 20 different vegetables for $18.00. Open-pollinated, heirloom, non-GMO…such a deal!.
I was not thinking for a moment that every Amazon seed pack I got would come from China. Most of these arrived with all the information written in Chinese, or with no information at all. Some I still have not received, even though I paid for them.
Not to be thwarted, I got out my trusty iPhone and Google translate app to decipher this mess. Some of them were straight forward translations:
Other translations were a bit more concerning…I decided maybe I wouldn’t plant this one:
Others intrigued me, but not enough to plant them…at least not yet:
In any case I ordered them all in March and April and they didn’t start showing up until late May. I was pretty sure my season was a bust until a friend (thanks Terri P!) offered up some tomato, pepper and pumpkin starts. I hastily accepted and I’m very grateful. I did plant a bunch of starts from the Chinese seeds though, as I didn’t have many options at the time.
Meanwhile, among many other Covid projects, I had wanted to build some new raised beds for several years. The ones I had were rotting out and it so happened I had a pile of cedar 2×14’s that have sat unused since I decided on a gazebo rather than a pergola for my deck.
It took no time at all to cobble 4 big raised beds together, but getting them filled with soil took over a month for delivery due to Covid. I ordered the topsoil/mushroom compost mix and waited. And waited.
I wasted no time in planting my starts once I filled the beds up.
While gardening is, at its most basic, a straight forward and relatively simple endeavor, toss seeds in dirt, water, weed…I am a nerd at heart and need to reach the Nth degree with most things I do. I read voraciously on whatever subject or glittery object has caught my eye…every single time.
So where dad just piled everything in a heap, called it compost and turned it once in a while, I bought one of those “fancy” compost tumblers to keep the critters away from my inviting kitchen scraps and recycled Liam’s old playpens into compost bins. Very colorful.
But that wasn’t enough of course…if I’m going to do it I’m jumping in with both feet. These tomatoes are going to cost $100 a pound by the time I’m through.
So I also bought soil test kits, PH test meter, watering timers, more soaker hoses, hose manifolds and splitters. Doing my part to support Amazon, FedEX, UPS and the Postal Service.
I have long looked at yard work and gardening simply as necessary work, something you just do to maintain your property or get some better tasting produce, or because that’s “just what our family does”…but the situation this year has given me the time, wanted or not, to get back to my gardening roots and again find enjoyment from simply watching all of it grow.
I have never bothered to take photos of my garden in the past, and neither did my parents. It was just part of life. It seems crazy to me that so much of my parents time was devoted to growing things, and there is so little record of it other than these memories.
So snapping photos of my efforts along the way to serve as a record of what happened for next year has been a bonus…it’s pretty cool to look back and watch it all come together and compare then and now pics. Maybe it will serve as motivation for next season when this pandemic is over and life returns to “normal”…whatever that might look like. If nothing else I have done more than my part to feed the bees and squirrels.
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!