The one year anniversary of the death of my best bud Rick Baker has at last arrived. It was going to arrive no matter what, so I’ll deal with it. His passing was the impetus to begin the ramblings on this blog as we have so many adventures in life worth remembering, at least to me, and I believe many of his close friends as well. We all have our “Rick Stories” to tell, I hope you tell some of your own.
As I reflect on the stories I have posted so far, it started me thinking about the many I have yet to put words to. I jot disjointed thoughts and notes down as they come, prompted by anything and everything. At some point of critical mass, I gather the thoughts together and try to assemble them into something resembling the spirit they were lived at the time.
I have at least a half dozen efforts mostly written, gathering dust in various forms of meditation, percolation and rumination.I have another half dozen or more that are more of a trip report I used to do after each outing recording tidbits for future use as well as a brief summary of the trip. These need to be fleshed out into full stories, but the structure is there.
Most of them sit in story purgatory for a while because they are waiting to have photos added. I am an extremely visual person and believe they all must be gloriously embellished to bring the reader into the story. This means digging through folders and files of digital images, organizing and scanning and cleaning piles of many more slides and photos that haven’t yet been digitized.
Some stories rattle around in my head for weeks or months, trying to coax the memory to think back 40 some years to remember the details, funny bits or items that was particularly meaningful.
The writing then flows comparatively easily as my mind then meanders back and forth like an old river, reliving well remembered memories that help pull the less remembered ones to rise to the top to see daylight once again. I do like to let the stories simmer a while, as I have a dread that more memories will pop up later that absolutely have to be included for a complete story.
The photos allow me to stand once more behind the lens as I thought about taking the photo, composing and adjusting the camera to make the photo come out like I wanted to see it. I can feel the swamp heat in the air, smell the earthy scent of an old growth forest or the sterileness of a sharp crisp breeze on a glacier. I can hear Rick crack an old joke or something else not explicit in the photo.
As a story teller it does cause me some pain deciding the right image to help the story. Often it is a compromise as we didn’t all have a camera in our pocket constantly 30 years ago. It also causes much delight when the image fits my words or the image in my mind.
Of course, the stories would be fine with no pictures, maybe better, allowing the reader to fill their mind with their own images of what it might have been like. But they are not just stories for me. My tag line “Stories I Don’t Want to Forget” carries much weight with me. They are memories that for some reason have stuck in my craw and want to do them right. I know I have forgotten many more than I remember, and fear losing them altogether as I grow older.
Being my adventure partner for 45 years, Rick and I had our own style of re-telling a well-worn tale, especially when well lubricated with bourbon. Anyone who was around us for more than a minute was typically subjected to one or a dozen stories between shots of whiskey.
In my stories with him involved, I do try to include bits and pieces of his perspective, at least my interpretation of it, as he had his own way of doing and saying things that was uniquely “Rick”. A lot of this is from listening to him tell his version of our stories for so many years…we could tell a story together without missing a beat, often filling in for each other as a swig of whiskey was taken by the other to keep the cadence up.
We could keep up a repartee that probably drove many a prospective climbing partner on to other, less loquacious and dark humored prospects. We did this rather constantly when it was just the two of us, but introducing an audience, particularly someone that hadn’t heard our tales a thousand times, tended to turn the amp up to 11 (for you Spinal Tap fans).
While the pile of memories is rich with material including Rick, I have also tried to not make this blog about him alone. Including memories from family and other past adventures varies it up a bit and offers welcome breaks, it turns out to be emotionally exhausting reliving our past life, but rest assured, there will be many more tales of the shenanigans of our years together.
I wrote this story on Facebook a year ago and it showed up on my “Memories” this morning. It was just a quick little blip that popped into my head back then and I jotted it down for Facebook. I smiled over the memory then read through the old comments.
The post didn’t get much notice as posts go, 7 Likes and 6 Comments, but two of the comments were from my life-long buddy Rick. “Man, that looks like fun!” and “Those wool pants can take a beating!”. Very short and simple, but just the kind of thing that sets off a hundred memories.
He was referring to the photo at the top that shows Beckey on an easy flake doing a layback move. We had been on climbs like that many times. Each one flashed through my head and they were all fun indeed, even the nasty, chossy, dirt pile Beckey death routes no one had been on in years.
He knew that wool pants can take a beating because we had both worn them for many years before all the new-fangled synthetic stuff came out. I had given him a pair of my dad’s old wool Army pants back in high school and we both wore them until we got too old and fat, replaced by nice comfy fleece.
But the thing that stung was that it is coming up June 17th, the day he died a year ago. I’ve been reading his comments from the last ten years coming back from the past in those Facebook memories for the past year thinking “he was still with us a year ago”. I don’t know why a year is meaningful, but it is.
Maybe because it still seems like it was just yesterday. Maybe it’s simply a calendar year has an implied meaning. Or maybe because the memory is the first time it has popped up…we have had plenty of fun re-commenting on these old FB memories from 2, 5, 8 years ago, but his voice is now gone from them.
In a few days none of the comments will be “new” memories. Each would have been seen at least once before as a memory and repeated year after year like a scene in the “Ground Hog’s Day” movie. I suppose all very appropriate for the boy born on February 2nd.
In the early 90’s we stopped in to check out some routes in Squamish BC that were right next to a residential area overlooking the main highway. They were just beginning some home construction there and we figured we should bag the climbs before they closed it off from climbers.
We took the short walk over to the cliffs and were scoping the routes and noticed a group on a nice, classic looking crack. Most of them were young but there was an old dude on lead, dressed in long wool pants and a flannel shirt while everyone else was in shorts and t shirts.
The old dude would work his way up the crack with pretty good run-out and then do an odd layback that I can only describe as a “butt smear” so he could get a nut or stopper in. He was actually smearing the full length of the wool pants for added friction while he worked the stopper in. He could almost no hands it!
He turned to look down at us and I immediately saw it was Fred from his photos on his climbing guides. He must have been about 72 at the time. Here was our alpine messiah, whose words we poured over in his Cascade Alpine Guides to find some glimmer of how to find a route on some crazy “Beckey variation” doing a single pitch 5.6 fifty feet from a construction zone. Very surreal.
We immediately added the “Beckey Butt Smear” into our quiver of climbing moves…if it was good enough for the Master it was good enough for us. Photo (not mine) of the Legend on another climb, looks like up Icicle Creek in Leavenworth.
I know most of my brothers and sisters and older cousins can relate to the activities in this story, because we did them together many times back in the 60’s and early 70’s. Like many things from our past, I’m afraid this experience is all but gone now. I’m talking about that classic kid activity: Going to the corner store for Penny Candy.
This is my recollection of something that went on constantly over 50 years ago…your mileage may vary. Please let me know in the comments what you remember.
First of all, you would be hard pressed to find anything for sale for a penny these days. In fact, a penny even costs more than a penny to make. It costs the U.S. Mint 1.55 cents per penny in 2016, even though all pennies since 1982 only have 2.5 percent copper, the rest being zinc. That means that the U.S. government loses around $50 million a year making a coin that many people just toss in a jar or that is absorbed by their couch.
The poor penny is just not worth the trouble any more. Now, you might get lucky and find a 1943 1c Lincoln penny worth $5,450.00. Wouldn’t that be sweet (see what I did there?). I shudder to think how many collectible, high-value pennies and coins we mindlessly tossed on the counter for our sugar highs.
Wait a minute you say, I saw an item on eBay or Amazon that only costs a penny. Sure you did…was it Amazon Prime, with free shipping? Nope. Not at that price. That one penny item will cost you $5.01 with shipping. Such a deal.
Even when a penny was worth something you still needed to get those pennies into your hot little hand. So, if you wanted to get some penny candy the first thing you needed to do was conjure up some cold hard cash.
We were basically slave labor as children at my parent’s house. We didn’t get an allowance no matter how many chores we did.
Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, rake the leaves, wash the dishes, hoe the garden, clean the garage, weed the flower beds, watch your brothers and sisters… (mom) “You want an allowance? Your allowance is food in your belly and a warm place to sleep, now get back to work!”.
So fund raising was key. And you had to be crafty. You couldn’t just beg from mom because she would ask “why do you need money?” Candy was not the right answer. We weren’t even allowed to go all the way to Ridges Carryout when we were young, even though we walked to school every day to Harry Russell elementary, which was right across the street from Ridges.
So still being stealthy, the first stop was to check all the furniture cushions. Everyone else had this idea as well, so it was not typically a big money maker. If you were really jonesing for a sugar fix, you might check out your brothers and sisters piggy banks, but these were usually well hidden or empty anyway.
Not mentioning any names, but some of the clan may have stooped to pulling a Jesse James robbery by getting into the old metal cash box my parents kept in the back of their closet.
This is where they “hid” (we all knew where it was) things like bonds, insurance forms, souvenir money from Germany, Italy, Vietnam, Korea and so on, along with my 2 dollar silver certificate papaw gave me and so on.
There was also a collection of dad’s blue coin collection folders for nickels, dimes and quarters. These folders were the kind that had a place for a coin for each year, so trying to not get caught you might just take one or two from each folder and other assorted loose change that included buffalo head nickels, wheat pennies, and other old coins.
The problem was that there were 6 kids, so 2 or 3 might have the same idea over time without thinking that others are doing it as well. The next time mom or dad looked into the cash box it might have been robbed blind. The end result was tanned hides for all, as no one ever fessed-up. Snitches may get stitches, but justice always prevails in the underworld of the sibling mafia.
The surest way to get your stake was to actually work for it and search the neighborhood for pop bottles. You could make 2 cents a bottle for returning them to the same place they came from…the stores selling the penny candy. What a racket. It reminds me of the Hudson Bay Company, where they sold the trappers the flour, beans and other trade goods to live on, so they could bring back the furs and exchange them for flour, beans and trade goods to do it all over again.
Of course, every kid in the neighborhood was in on this secret and was doing the same thing…unless they were snotty rich kids whose parents simply gave them money or the poor, deprived, only-child that had no siblings to compete with. Does anyone even say only-child anymore?
Every kid had their own secret methods to track down bottles, kind of like the trapper had his trap-line. You didn’t tell anyone your bottle route and if you ran across another kid on your line there might be a turf war over the bottles.
In those days you didn’t pull out a Glock or AK to fight, you just yelled or threw dirt clods at each other until someone gave in or their mother called them for dinner. When I say called, there were no cell phones, they just yelled at the top of their lungs. When’s the last time you thought of a dirt-clod fight?
I liked walking the creek bed right along Gibbons road as it was on the way to Ridges. People would drink their cold pop on the way back to their house, and finished up, huck them over into the creek so they didn’t have to carry the empty bottle any longer.
Some broke as they hit rocks in the creek bed, but bottles were thick and substantial back then as they were used over and over. Some would miss the rocks, hitting the water, mud or grass.
If I didn’t have enough by the time I got to Ridges I would scour the dumpster or go into the neighborhood side streets, checking trashcans and other places where people leave trash. Often down at the paper mill workers would leave a few empties behind where they had lunch.
Depending on your mood…whether you just wanted a quick fix or a full bag of candy, it might take an hour or just a few minutes. You might already have a start with a bit of birthday money or a quarter from papaw, or maybe you squirreled away some lunch money…who wanted to eat a deviled ham sandwich and succotash anyway?
So with your pocket jangling with coinage or your wagon rattling with bottles, you had to make it to your local penny candy emporium to redeem them.
Back in the days before corporate bean counters created “fun-size”, candy was very cheap…people actually handed out full size candy bars on Halloween. Every neighborhood or small town had a pharmacy, five-and-dime or small neighborhood market on the corner that sold penny candy.
We had a penny candy dealer staked out in every neighborhood, waiting for us like a corner drug pusher to show us their multi-flavored wares to give us that sugar rush we couldn’t live without.
Closest to our house in West Carrollton was Ridges Carryout, at the corner of Gibbons and Elm. Today it is named Lynn’s but it is now a Trophy shop after several name changes over the years.
This was a classic old wooden building that was raised up above the typical flood range of the creek along Gibbons road. The local creeks used to flood several times a summer back then. Sounds like they have fixed that with better engineering.
I see on Google Maps that it has had a face lift with vinyl siding, and missing all the old metal signs (and charm). Probably sold them for a nice profit as they became rare and more valuable.
I actually played on Ridges little league team for a year or two and after each game the team stopped in for some free candy and a coke.
You would walk up the wooden steps to the covered porch, past all the metal signs for Coca-Cola, 7-Up, RC Cola, beer and cigarettes and pull open the screen door, hopping inside before it snapped shut on your butt if you weren’t fast enough.
Once inside, it was like you had entered Willy Wonka’s factory, albeit on a much less grand scale and with a worn wooden floor that squeaked. There you would gaze at the counter full of glass jars full of gumballs, jaw breakers and peppermint sticks.
There were wax root beer bottles, cherry lips and mustaches…
candy cigarettes, Atomic Fireballs, Black Jack Taffy, Dum Dum suckers, Bull’s Eye caramel creams with that weird white creamy stuff in the middle, gum drops, taffy, Necco wafers,
Caramel cubes, root beer barrels, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Bottle Caps, Chuckles, various flavors of stick candy and the ever popular candy necklace…you just stretch it around your neck and chew a button off whenever you want, sticky neck be damned!
We had the usual spot figured out. If we wanted to range a little further afield from Ridge’s we might go to Reeds Drug Store or Bob’s Carryout.
Bob was always super friendly but Reed’s had a “newer” more upscale vibe since it was a pharmacy, not like the old-school mom and pop stores with the humming and squeaking fan-belt refrigerators, old reach-in Coke coolers that you could barely see into and shelves crammed so full the aisles felt like canyons.
Find yourself over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house on Miami Chapel in West Dayton? There was The Moraine Market, caddy-corner to Delco Moraine and across from George’s barbershop.
This was one of the first local markets to close down, I don’t remember going here as much as the other places.
Going to Miami Shores to visit Aunt Jean and Uncle Jim? Before they rebuilt the Sellars Rd bridge, our favorite place for candy was the Tradin Post
You had to make a quick dog leg to the right as you came over the Shores bridge on Sellars Rd. The Benson’s house was right around the corner to the left.
When the new bridge came in they expanded the road on both sides and renamed Sellars Rd Main Street.
It was a sad day for everyone when the Tradin Post was torn down to make room for all the construction.
But we are talking candy so we easily switched our allegiances to the store down the road a block, called the Family Market.
Today, after a tear down and rebuild, and a remodel or two, it’s called K&R Supermarket.
In between was also Buck’s, who moved here after Woody’s success chased him away from West Carrollton. I don’t remember going here very much either.
If we were over at Aunt Janice and Uncle Ronnie’s when they lived on Orange Ave? We had to hoof it 3 blocks or so over on South Dixie to Speaks Market.
The hardest part of the whole process, and the most fun, was choosing what candy you wanted in your sack. So many choices. You had to balance quantity and quality for the change in your pocket. You might get several items for a penny, like simple hard candies, or 1 item might cost 2 or 3 cents, like chocolates.
I can only imagine how much patience it took being a clerk waiting for a group of 6-8 year olds to get done picking candy.
But no matter what, you could fill a small paper sack for a quarter.
Decisions made, we would all go running out to play with our cousins and ruin our appetites for supper. If we were at the Tradin’ Post we might grab some cardboard from the back and go up on the levee to sled down the dry grass to the river bank.
I remember sliding down and having a piece of broken glass slice through my cardboard like it was a devilish set-up to kill James Bond…the glass slicing closer and closer to the family jewels until I rolled off. I was careful to clear my slide path after that.
Where ever we were, high on sugar, we would run wild with our many cousins around whatever neighborhood we were in, playing tag, red rover or 4 square, chasing firebugs, climbing trees or playing hide and seek well after the street lights came on.
As the penny’s purchasing power was reduced to nothing, a lot of the mom-and-pop stores also disappeared as they were run out of business by the big chain grocery stores like Kroger super stores, Cub’s and Mega this and that. Penny candy just seemed to fade away, tucked away in our dusty memory banks as we grew older.
In researching this story, I do see that there are candy companies selling bulk bags of old-fashioned taffies, wax-coated root beer bottles, Smarties and Dum Dum suckers. Can you buy any of this retro candy for a penny? Nope. Even if you buy in bulk you need to bust out the nickels, dimes and quarters for each piece. Plus shipping.
But if you ask me, the most important thing missing today is the experience of running into that corner store a sweaty mess with grass stained bare feet, with a handful of pennies, looking at all the incredible choices and picking exactly what your pleasure was for that exact moment in time.
As you recited each item you wanted with meticulous care and laid that sweaty money on the counter for the clerk to count out, you felt like a million bucks, all for a few pennies.
Ronald Clayton Crider was born 85 years ago on the 21st of March, 1934, in the tiny coal town of Coxton, in Harlan County, Kentucky. Hardly a town, Coxton is a Census Designated Place, or CDP. As a CDP, it has no real legal status. This means it isn’t really a town, but just a place that most of the residents agreed, at some point, to call the area they lived in. I don’t know how many people lived there in 1934, but there are only 258 today, so maybe it wasn’t too hard to agree on a name unless there was some family feuding going on.
Out of the 540 Kentucky cities, towns and CDP’s, Coxton is rated 535 in per capita income, and 452 in population. Median income is $16,407. There will not be a quiz, just a bit of data to show this is a very small place that is one of many dying coal towns in Appalachia. The only cultural feature noted in Coxton was the old post office, which is now closed.
In looking for notable births and deaths, the only person listed for Coxton is a guy named Wallace Clayton ”Wah Wah” Jones. He was born in Harlan on July 14, 1926 and died July 27, 2014 at the age of 88. He played for the University of Kentucky where he played varsity football, basketball, baseball and track. He was twice All-SEC in football, his coach, by the way, was Bear Bryant when he coached for UK. In basketball, he was a three time All-American and four time All-SEC. He led the Wildcats to 2 NCAA Championships, in 1948 and 1949.
Wallace Clayton Jones was also a member of the 1948 Olympic Gold medal winning team with coach Adolph Rupp’s “Fabulous Five”, the same 5 guys than ran the table at UK. During his four years at Kentucky, the basketball team had a combined record of 130-10 and won the SEC championship every year…Most believe him to be the greatest athlete to ever come out of UK. Now, I know that is something Uncle Ronnie would love to see repeated again today.
Yes, yes, I hear you, Harlan is not Coxton, but it is only four miles away and I’m telling the story, you knew I was going to sneak a little history in here. Harlan was the big city and during the heyday of coal mining, had a whole 4,000 people living there in the 30’s. Today there are only around 1,600.
I know that was a long winded way to work in UK basketball and another guy named Clayton, a Clayton that to our family is much more famous and important than old Wah Wah. They both came from a tiny, out of the way place in the Appalachian mountains and both made their marks, one as an athlete and one as a family man that provided far more than just food for the table.
Uncle Ronnie was noted as being called Clayton in the 1940 census. Clayton must have been the favorite name for babies in the 30’s, like Jackson or Liam today. (Clayton was actually the 188th most favorite name back then…you knew I would look it up). The family was living in Harlan/Brookside, another small camp town a bit further east of Coxton.
His father Bony, (I don’t know why he went by Bony when he had such a cool name like Carlos Bonaparte Crider, but that’s another tale), is noted as working as a miner and made a whole $600 in 1939 working in the mine. I’ll guess it all went back into the pocket of the mining company that provided their home to rent and the camp store to buy groceries and other necessities so you pretty much just borrowed the mine company’s money and gave it right back.
As a little comparison, a neighbor, John Hayes, made $884 working as a gas station attendant. Of course Bony only worked 35 weeks that year, while John worked all 52. I did the math for you; John made $17 a week and Bony made $17.14 a week. How’s that for a big incentive for spending all day down in a dark, damp, explosive hole working on your black lung portfolio. Bony made it to 92 though, so there must be some good genes there.
In any case, the Crider’s of Harlan County were in no immediate danger of pushing the Rockefeller’s or Vanderbilt’s off the list of richest families in America back then. Back in those days, coal miners fought hard, bled and even died to unionize for better wages and safer working conditions.
Harlan County was known as “Bloody Harlan” for many years, with long, deadly strikes into the 70’s and even 80’s. Today there are no union mines operating in Kentucky, the last one shut down in 2015 after 100 years of mine workers striving to make their lives better. Watch the movies Coal Miners Daughter, Matewan or Harlan County War to get an idea of what went on the in mining communities of the past. Or just ask Uncle Ronnie.
While Kentucky is beautiful, in looking at a future like that, it may be no surprise that the Crider’s, like many other families in Kentucky including mine, began migrating north to find better jobs and pay for a better way of life than coal and tobacco farming could offer.
I remember Ronnie telling some stories about finding trouble in Frenchburg (Janice Profitt), but I don’t know exactly when he moved there, that’s a good question for Uncle Ronnie…he’s sitting right over there, go ahead, ask…and make a note for me. I know they were still in Harlan in 1947, as that is when his brother Charles was born.
I do know he married the love of his life, my wonderful Aunt Janice, whom he was married to for 62 years, in the mid-fifties. Then along came my Crider 1st cousins; Rhonda, Jeff, and Tonya.
By 1959 Ronnie and Janice are listed in the Dayton Ohio phone directory with him working at Specialty Paper as a helper and living at 1033 Miami Chapel. Same with 1960, but they had moved to 1011 Miami Chapel, so they lived right next door to Janice’s mother and father at 1010 Miami Chapel.
A lot of my memories with the Crider’s are from when they lived on Orange Ave in Moraine. Almost every Saturday night was spent either there or over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house with the adults playing cards…I should say the men folk played cards. The women were only invited to the main table when the men folk were down a person. They spent their time chatting, crocheting and trying to ignore their children for a few precious minutes.
I always think of Uncle Ronnie as the quiet uncle…unless he was in the middle of a card game or apparently when watching the UK Wildcats…I saw the Facebook video Uncle Ronnie. Then all bets were off and he was as loud as a wildcat himself. I guess he had to be to be in order to be heard in the middle of the loud mouths of the Profitt’s, Benson’s and Little’s. I won’t even get into the Egelston’s. For the life of me I couldn’t understand what was so exciting about winning a hand of 500 rummy that would make the whole dining room erupt like the Browns won a Superbowl.
When he was hunting or fishing though, he was as quiet as a church mouse. He’d give you the stink eye if you happened to be hunting close to him and snapped a twig or rustled a leaf. The military should have done a scientific study on him before they came up with their stealth technology, they could have saved a lot of money.
There was always competition out hunting. It seemed like it was always some combination of dad, Ronnie, one of his brothers, Charles I think, Densil, Jeff and me. While everyone had their day from time to time, Ronnie set the bar, if nothing else by his sheer determination. He just wasn’t going to come out of the woods or off the river if he knew someone had him beat.
I remember one time squirrel hunting with dad, Densil and Ronnie. I had managed to get 3 out of one big hickory and Uncle Ronnie only had a couple. I was standing next to Densil at the bottom of a draw as it was getting late for finding squirrels, we went out before the break of dawn and waited for them to wake up and start feeding. It was getting towards mid-day and we were kind of done for the day.
Densil’s cracking jokes and instructing me in the manly arts when he looks up on a ridge and see’s Ronnie bent over in a squat, his shotgun at the ready in front of him. Densil points and says “look at that Ronnie up there, he knows you have him beat and he’s not going to quit until he at least gets one more.”
If you know Densil, you know what was next. He picks up some rocks and starts hucking them up towards Ronnie. One hits high in a tree and dribbles down through the branches, like the sound a squirrel makes when he is “cutting”, or chewing bits of a nuts shell off. Ronnie jerks just his head towards the sound of the noise and freezes, scanning every square inch for signs of a squirrel.
Densil is cracking up, and hucks another rock in another direction. Ronnie swirls around and freezes, head moving slowly back and forth, scanning. Densil is almost in tears, trying to be quiet, stifling his laugh but sounding like Muttley, the cartoon dog from the 60’s. He hucks one more up the ridge and the jig is up, Ronnie’s too savvy a hunter to believe the same kind of noise is coming from 3 different directions. He looks down towards the bottom of the draw and spots us, pointing a finger at us like “I see you shit heads down there” and just gave up and headed down towards us.
He always wanted one more squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, channel cat, bass, red eye…whatever we were going after. If he didn’t limit-out he simply felt like he wasn’t done yet. The thing to understand is that he wasn’t a sore loser or wished poor hunting on anyone else…he was just the Energizer Bunny of hunting and fishing and didn’t know how to quit.
Those are a few things that stood out and impressed me about Uncle Ronnie as a boy and young man. The thing that most impresses me after just shy of 60 years of looking back on Ronnie and his gang of Criders is his quiet, unconditional love for his family. The love for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is obvious and returned by them all.
I’m convinced he has the patience of Job just by remaining married to Aunt Janice for over 6 decades. After all, she had both Egelston AND Profitt in her just to start with. Add to that her own special blend of practical jokes and orneriness offset by her wonderful sense of humor and love for her family.
Some of my very favorite moments are sitting around with Ronnie and the rest of the family telling stories about the good old days during my all too short trips back to Ohio. I love to watch him get animated in the middle of a good tale and get to laughing so hard he can barely finish.
Of all the uncles I was in fairly regular contact with, he was the quiet, gentle one. Now, that bar might be another one you could just step across with very little effort when Uncle Densil is cracking a bawdy joke or Uncle Bob is flexing his Hula Girl tattoo while revving his Harley, but I seldom heard him cuss and yell as much as my dad, a trained professional.
Now, I’m not saying he was an angel and didn’t have his moments like every father does. If we were all running wild around the house or neighborhood and I heard a “Jeffery Keith Crider” I was running for cover to keep away from any collateral damage from a hide-tanning gone wild. In my family you ran and hid anytime you heard a full given name, even if it wasn’t yours.
Uncle Ronnie, you are a wonderful example of a man, husband, father and uncle. I hope if Kentucky is still in it today you have a big screen TV to watch during this interminable happy birthday tale. I hope to hear many more stories, Happy 85th!
My younger brother Greg and I used to get into some real “two men enter, one leaves” cage style fights when we were growing up. It was pretty much classic sibling rivalry between a suave, sophisticated older brother and a younger, bull-headed brute of a younger brother. It’s my story and I’m sticking to that.
Most of our dust-ups started out innocently enough, as sibling brawls go…the Saturday morning cartoons are over, mom and dad are out grocery shopping… we switch over to old school “Big Time Wrestling” on the TV. After a few drop kicks from Flying Fred Curry, a coco-butt from Bobo Brazil and a stomach claw from Killer Kowalski, one of us would wind up doing a flying elbow drop onto the other from the back of the couch and it was on.
Our fracases generally started out as merely intense wrestling matches, but as we grew tired the moves got more more and more desperate… eye gouging, biting, nard punching, and even the odd wet-willy were all a fairly standard repertoire of moves. As we advanced to back-flip reversals and moves learned about during real wrestling from elementary school gym class, everything intensified.
If you really wanted to escalate you would act like you were going to spit in the other guys face while you were holding him down…seeing how far you could let a spit goober ooze out before sucking it back in two or three times would drive the other to go full clobbering time Hulk. The goal was to make the other guy cry uncle or tap out, and with two hardheaded Profitt’s, bones would have to come close to snapping for that to happen. These death matches could be brutal and go on for 20 or 30 minutes, with no bell to save you. Big Time Wrestling, the 3 Stooges and Looney Tunes cartoons showed us the way.
Dad had more or less encouraged this rough-housing among us boys from an early age. It was all fun and games until someone got hurt and mom got involved. When we got to the point of breaking furniture and each other too bad he did the classic old-school dad thing and bought us 2 pairs of boxing gloves.
I think he figured this would at least cut down on the eye gouging and finger biting since he could referee. However, having spent 20 years in the Army, where personal issues were settled with gloves, Pugil sticks or in a bear pit, he got a real kick out of us going at it until one of us cried uncle or got a bloody nose. I can still picture him giggling like Dick Dastardly’s dog Muttley as we pummeled the snot out of each other.
While he tried to explain the basics of keeping up your guard, jabs, hooks and uppercuts, we always rapidly devolved to a school-yard free for all with us rolling around on the ground…except with boxing gloves on.
As the oldest, I had more of psychological advantage than a physical one. Greg is a year and a half younger but was on the husky side compared to me, so he was pretty close to my size. Our blood would get to boiling until we were like two jacked-up pit bulls waiting to be released at a dog fight. I can’t remember for the life of me what started one of these incidents, but it ended up with me speeding through the house after Greg and out the back door.
This happened in the mid 60’s while dad was still in Vietnam. We had just moved into a brand new house in West Carrollton and the back porch was more a six foot tall set of steps leading down from the 2nd story than the porch it would become years later.
Greg had a bit of a lead on me as he ran down the steps, so I thought I’d outsmart him by diving off the top of the porch and landing on him cowboy style like all the westerns show. I timed it just right as he cut right, gave a mighty leap and landed…right on a tomato stake.
Stunned, I found I was not on my brothers back ready to pummel but impaled in the back of my upper right thigh deep enough that I couldn’t pull myself free. The force of my jump jammed the stake even further into the ground. My left foot could barely touch the ground as I stood on my tippy-toes to help relieve the pressure of the stake that was nearly up my ass.
Laurie and Phil had run out the door behind us, always wanting to participate as audience rather than being “in the ring” themselves. Mom was inside the house and they started yelling loudly that I had a stick up my butt and to hurry out before I died.
Mom tried valiantly, but could not manage to lift me off by herself without doing more damage. This was before 911 and dad was off fighting the war, so she called Aunt Janice, our father’s baby sister that was our chauffeur and 2nd mother while dad was gone.
Janice wasn’t sure that even together, they could pull me up and off the stake high enough, so she called her brother, Uncle Densil, to come over as well. They got there about the same time, and after Densil cracked a few jokes about sticks and asses, stopped laughing and pulled me off the stick with an awful sucking sound.
Then it was off to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth since mom thought it was too deep for her standard nurse treatment of flooding it with peroxide and slapping on a butterfly bandage. When the doc came into the treatment room I’m almost sure I remember Densil saying something like “Doc, the boy got a stick up his ass and needs you to pull it out”.
He put me belly down on his examination table and poked around a bit, making me wince. He gave me several shots of local anesthetic, again making me wince. Everything numbed up back there and he really went to town. Poking and prodding, describing everything he was seeing as he went. “This is pretty deep, I’ll probe to see if I can find any splinters or dirt…this is just fat protruding out of the wound, no muscle, that’s good…oh, what is that…poke, poke, poke”
Meanwhile I’m listening to all of this face down, bare butt open to everyone in the room, unable to see what is going on with my leg. This being my first experience with a local anesthetic, I’m thinking “oh my god, I can’t feel anything, my leg is dying” and expressed that to the Doc.
He reassured me that was a good thing, otherwise I would feel intense pain. I relaxed a bit and assumed playing the role of a morbidly fascinated sub-teenage boy, asking “what did it look like, was it gross, how much blood”, etc., and the Doc played along, describing what he saw and what he was doing.
It felt very weird when I felt the tugging of each stich, yet nothing else. “How many stiches” I asked, trying to determine how much neighborhood street cred I was going to get out of this. “Only 4?” I replied when the Doc told me. I knew I needed to pump those numbers up if I was going to compete with some of the local kids.
“It’s not a very big hole” he said, “it is just very deep”. “OK, good”, I thought, “I’ll go with the very deep thing.” After all, mom would have just put a butterfly on it and called it good, and I had a score to settle with little brother.
This started as just a small part of a story concerning Mamaw and Papaw’s old house on Miami Chapel, but as I kept adding details, it gathered a life of its own and wound up being too long for inclusion, so while waiting for the album I thought I’d release it as a single.
Mamaw and Papaw slept in a bedroom situated at the front of their old house on Miami Chapel. You entered it through big double doors to see the tall four poster bed right in the middle of the room, high off the floor. In my mind it was up that high to keep the mice off of you while you were sleeping, as the old house had plenty of mice running around. When playing hide and seek, we could crawl under it on our knees and still have plenty of headroom.
Just to the right of the bed there was a tall dresser. While I could barely see into the top drawer, one day I was snooping around while everyone was outside and found a tiny little toy cowboy pistol in the top drawer. It looked like a cap gun to me so I pulled it out and drew a bead on a picture on the front wall and pulled the trigger…and just about crapped my pants as it loudly went off in the quiet bedroom…
It, of course, was not a toy, but a small caliber revolver that Papaw kept loaded in his sock drawer for protection. It scared me to death and, in shock, I quickly tossed it back in the drawer, covered it with handkerchiefs and socks and took off running through the house and out the back door as fast as I could.
The adults were all sitting out on the front porch at the time, so as I ran out the back door I lurched to a stop, took some deep breaths, tried to compose myself and, being as nonchalant as I possibly could, started walking around to the front of the house where everyone else was. I ran into my mom about half way, as they were all running around the house to see what had happened.
She asked me what I had been up to and I said the standard answer of all Profitt kids when challenged with being up to no good: “I didn’t do anything”. She just stared at me while a cold sweat broke out all over my little body. She told me I was as white as a ghost and shaking and told me I was not in trouble, I just needed to tell her the truth. Not in trouble? This, to a kid in our family at least, meant you had done something tragically wrong since we might get spanked just for dipping a finger in an icing bowl.
I immediately started crying and trying to get the story out between sobs about how I-found-a-sob-cap-gun-sob-that-sob-wasn’t-a-cap-gun-sob-and-I’m-really-sorry-sob-and-will-never-sob-do-it-again. Dad was rapidly walking up behind her from the front of the house with “that look” on his face.
This was surely an offense that required maximum punishment. I was expecting dad to pull off his belt and fold it or even cut a switch off the huckleberry tree. But mom gave him a look and hand signal to back-off and he stopped in his tracks. Oh lord, I thought, this is so bad they are going to take me to jail and don’t want to leave any switch marks. I resigned myself to wait for the police and take whatever I deserved for being a naughty seven year old. I was going to juvie for sure.
Mom led me back to the scene of the crime and had me re-enact my transgression on humanity. Dad was standing over by the front wall with his pen knife blade poked into the bullet hole like he was a forensic investigator getting the trajectory angle just right. The hole was, in fact, only a few feet above where Papaw was rocking on the front porch. The entire family had been sitting out there.
Still waiting on the cops to arrive and handcuff me, I explained in great detail what had occurred, taking pains to show her how the tiny gun looked just like our cap guns at home. It really did, it was one of those cheap pot-metal looking things that were called Saturday Night Specials back then. Papaw probably picked it up down at the local bar for twenty bucks.
If I may, in defense of my my youthful, dumb-ass self: “The legal definition of a Saturday Night Special, or “junk gun”, usually specifies the materials that used in the manufacture of the gun, targeting zinc castings, low melting point (usually 800 degrees Fahrenheit, powder metallurgy, and other low-cost manufacturing techniques. Nearly all guns made this way are chambered for low-pressure cartridges, such as .22 long, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP . which allows these techniques to provide sufficient strength and desirable weight while still keeping a low cost. The low-strength materials and cheap construction result in poor durability and marginal accuracy at longer ranges, but as most of these guns are designed for use in self-defense, accuracy and durability are not primary design goals.”
Mom explained that, while it did in fact look like our cap guns; A) I should not have been snooping in Papaw’s drawers to begin with. B) That I had nearly shot Papaw sitting on the front porch and could have easily shot any of them or even myself. C) I was now going to have to wait until I was old enough to understand how to safely handle firearms before I would get a gun of my own, or in other words,”You’ll shoot your eye out kid”. (I had been begging for a gun of my own to go hunting with dad forever, which to a seven year old, was about a year. It would be a few more years before that would happen.)
As I sipped some water and calmed down, I could hear Mamaw out in the kitchen giving Papaw an ass-chewing using words I had never heard come out of her mouth before. Hmmm I thought, why is Papaw getting yelled at and I am not getting my hide tanned?
It felt like something out of the Twilight Zone show to me. It was not until later that I found out from mom that Mamaw had been warning him about that gun being loaded with all the grandchildren coming to the house all the time.
It was a hard, scary lesson, and one of those moments in life that never really leave you. I did get a pellet gun the next year, with warnings not to shoot at any living thing and detailed instructions from my drill sergeant father about how to properly handle guns of all descriptions.
While written in a humorous manner, this could have easily been yet another tragic story. They always seem to start with “I didn’t think…” especially concerning improperly handled firearms around children. Please get proper training and treat your firearms with the respect they deserve.
I have the “We’re Related” app on my iPhone more for fun than anything else. It is an app that compares your family tree with other trees on Ancestry.com to come up with possible matches to famous people.
I say possible because to prove the connection you have to do the work in your tree and back down the other line to see if it is really true. I’ve seen some folks take whatever the app says as gospel, probably due more to the novelty of being connected to a famous person than anything, but I have traced a number of them back and could not find the connection.
A new “connection” pops into the app every so often and I’ll take a look to see if it is one I might pursue a bit deeper. Since my family goes back hundreds of years in America, I’m not too surprised to learn I might be the 10th cousin, 3 times removed, of some notable politician or actor…but you still have to research to prove it.
A few days ago Judy Garland happened to pop up as a 7th cousin, 2x removed. “Hmmm”, I thought, “Judy Garland… might have to dig on this one”, remembering the many, many times that my mother told me Judy was my grandmother’s favorite singer and how Over the Rainbow was her favorite song of all times, which kind of made it her favorite song as well.
“Over the Rainbow” was, of course, written for the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, with Judy in her starring role as Dorothy and became Garland’s signature song. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1939. It was entered in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as music that is “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”.
The Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts ranked it number one on their Songs of the Century list and The American Film Institute named it best movie song on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list, so it has an impeccable pedigree for being a favorite song.
A major part of the tale from my mother was that Betty Jane, my grandmother, strongly related and empathized with Judy and how she had struggled in her personal life from an early age. The pressures of early stardom affected her physical and mental health from the time she was a teenager.
Into her adulthood, Judy was plagued by alcohol and substance abuse, as well as financial instability; she often owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. Her lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol ultimately led to her death in London from a barbiturate overdose at age 47.
Betty Jane had a similar tale…she was born in 1908 and as a one or two year old infant was adopted from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in Columbus. She came to her adoptive parents Ada and Millard Brake very sick, with some kind of growth on her neck. Ada named her Bessie after her younger sister that had died at ten years old, but Bessie began using Betty later in life.
Bessie’s life was tough. Her parents ran a boarding house to try and make ends meet, with Milliard working as a stonemason at the time they adopted her. A few years later he was working for the railroad and fell underneath a moving railcar. Both of his legs were severed and he died from blood loss at the age of 41. Betty Jane was only 9 years old and they went to live with Ada’s 63 year old, widowed father, Albert Benedict.
Married in 1926 at the age of 18 to Carl Clemans, she had Carlotta, her first child, at 19, followed by Gene in 1931 and my mother Ellen in 1934.
In 1929, the Great Crash of Wall Street happened, beginning the Great Depression that lasted 12 long years. Carl had been working as a clerk for the Smith Brothers Hardware Company, but as the Depression dragged on the family was back living with Ada in 1933, who ran a café, with Betty working the café and Carl working the companion gas station.
Carl was back working for the same hardware store by 1935, but he and Betty were legally separated in 1940, Carl having moved out prior to that, according to mom because of Betty’s heavy drinking.
In 1941, as WWII began, Betty had a fourth child, Shirley, with a married railway worker, Marvin Wickersham. By all appearances, Marvin ignored the fact he had a daughter, concentrating on his existing family. With Betty still drinking, my mother was the one that took care of Shirley while Betty worked as a clerk at the Columbus Motor Car Company.
The divorce with Carl was complete in 1942. Betty married again in 1950, to Wayne Rush. According to my mother he was a good, hard working man, but after years of drinking, Betty died in 1954, at the young age of 46, one year younger than her idol Judy Garland.
As she died five years before I was born, I never knew my grandmother other than through the stories my mother told. I can surely see why Betty would have felt a deep connection to Judy Garland with their similar struggles in life.
So, I started digging, trying to see if the connection was more than just emotional. As it turns out, the familial connection is from my father’s side, going back four generations to Preston Proffitt’s wife, Martha Wright. Then back three generations of Wright’s to Thomas Wright’s wife Frances Moore, my 7thGreat Grandmother from Ireland.
Things are a little squishy records-wise after that point, but until I do some deeper digging I’ll stop there, as it makes a nice tale on this St. Patrick’s Day weekend to have an Irish Great Grandmother from the 1600’s connected by a song dreaming about a better life over the rainbow, to my grandmother in the 1900’s who never found her Leprechaun with a pot of gold at the other end.
I never know what memory might happen to pop into my head at any given time. While I used to just ruminate and ponder on them for a few minutes and move on, these days I try to at least make a few notes on my iPhone for a story idea to be developed later.
The older I get the less I am able to run easily through my memory banks with total recall…it takes some more pondering and work to coax the memories back. These playing cards popped into my head the other day and the first thing I did was go to eBay to see if I could find one of the cards to add to my small bookcase of dad’s military mementos. I found they were very rare, but I did find some information I was unaware of.
When dad came back from Vietnam in the summer of 1966 he brought several duffle bags and a foot locker back with him. These were filled with the paraphernalia of a soldier and stored away along with another 20 years worth of soldiering in an area underneath the stairs that was commonly called “The Cave”, as it was not easily accessed and you had to crawl in on your hands and knees.
Naturally, this was attractive to us kids as we could grab a flashlight and secretly dig through all kinds of cool stuff we weren’t supposed to touch. One of the things in the footlocker was a number of playing card decks like the one below. Having skulls, we naturally thought they were very cool and swiped a deck or two to play with. We thought it was weird that some of the decks only had 52 aces of spades, but some were just regular playing cards.
When dad starting finding them spread all over the house we got a spanking and told that the cards were special and we needed to leave them where they were.
We didn’t know why they were special, we just thought they were cards and there were several decks. As we got a little older the story came out that these were “Death Cards” from Vietnam used by soldiers as calling cards and left on dead enemy soldiers to let the Viet Cong know who they were up against. Well, that only made them more desirable since we constantly playing Army all over the neighborhood… so we started leaving a card on enemy neighbor kids as we “killed” them.
Most of my life I just assumed these cards were used by the entire 1st Cavalry Division and were probably still very common. I have learned since the cards were designed by Captain Mozey, the commander of Charlie Company, my dads unit, and were unique to the men in the 8th Cavalry “Jumping Mustangs”, which were an Airborne/Air Assault unit, hence the “Death From Above”.
Here is some historic information I discovered while researching the cards written by retired Sergeant Major Herb Friedman, who researches and collects death cards:
There is a confirmed report that this card was designed by Captain Mozey of C Company, 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment “The Jumping Mustangs” during his Vietnam tour of 1965-1966. A member of the unit told me that:
The calling card was placed on the chest or tucked, slightly, in the shirt pocket. But as I said before we did not use it except to say “We were here.” The actual “Death From Above” saying was a WWII phrase. As of August 1966 the 1st & 2nd of the 8th “Jumping Mustangs” were all carrying a deck of “Death From Above” cards.
Specialist 4 Kevan Mynderup, a former member of “Charlie” Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1968 adds:
I can confirm that the “Death From Above” card was designed by Captain William B Mozey in either late 1965 or early 1966. When Bill took over the company the nickname was changed to “Death From Above” and the unit members got a full deck of the playing cards along with a Black Silk scarf with the “Death From Above” and airborne Skull on it. The phrase was banned in the Battalion Area, so the guys said “DFA” until the brass figured that out. It was an Article 15 offense to say either. The company was broken up at least 2 times because of “DFA” and the cards and scarves disappeared, but returned in 1968 when I was with the company. Only Charlie 1/8th Cavalry was known as “Death From Above” at this time. The other companies had their own nicknames as did all the companies in the 1st Air Cavalry Division.
Although Mozey has been credited with designing the cards, it appears that he had them printed in the United States. One complete deck was found in an old foot locker and the cards turn out to have been printed by: Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul, Minn., U.S.A. Text on the actual deck adds the following information: The Business builders, 55164, A Saxon Industrial Company.
Brown & Bigelow of St Paul, Minnesota, was a leading producer of playing cards in the U.S. from the late 1920s to the 1980s. Brown & Bigelow manufactured playing cards under several brand names, as well as novelty and advertising decks. There seems to be no record of them producing Death Cards, so perhaps because of the political situation in the United States the company chose to keep their participation in the production of these cards quiet.
Former Specialist Fourth Class Vic Castle told me that when he arrived in Vietnam as a member of the 1/8th Cavalry on 1 May 1967 they showed him the death cards and black silk scarf and told him their use was prohibited. He says:
The clerk calls out my name. I get in Jeep for short ride to 1/8th Cavalry. There is a large sign that says, “1/8th Cavalry: Airborne, Air Assault, Air Mobile.” Out walks this Sergeant who greets us. I tell him I think there has been a mistake. I haven’t had Jump training. He says, “Don’t worry about it; we don’t give you a damn parachute anyway. He assigns me to A Company. He shows me the Death card and the “Death From Above” black scarf and tells me if I get caught with either it is an Article 15.
He remembers that some unit members were court-martialed while using the cards. He said:
I was told that the men were carving a Cavalry patch on a dead Viet Cong’s chest and stuck the playing card in his mouth. There was a soldier from an engineer outfit there and he took some pictures. He sent them back to his father who apparently was not amused. An investigation followed and then a trial of a First Lieutenant and a buck Sergeant. I think the trial was held in St. Louis and both men were sent to Ft. Leavenworth.
It seems to me that the two men were tried for abusing the body of the dead Viet Cong rather than the use of the death cards. Such charges have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems perfectly acceptable to shoot a terrorist a dozen times or hack him to death with a bayonet, but abuse the body in any way afterwards and it is a criminal act. How strange.
Curiously, the “Death from Above” death cards reappeared again 30+ years later when American troops were sent to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.”
From Ron Doyler:
“There exists another form of these cards. Brown and Bigelow out of Minnesota produced them. William Mosey had them made when he was with the CAV in VN. The cards were done in full decks of regular suits and also ace of spades only. I have two of which were gifts from the Colonel when I was a boy. The cards are all black background with a winged skull and DEATH from ABOVE. The Colonel coined this phrase and had a unit flag also made. If I remember correctly from my conversation with him the director of Apocalypse Now had to gain permission to use this in the film from Col Mosey. Over the years the Col. has given all the cards away.”
I find the background of all this fascinating, as it has been part of my life for over 50 years now. I even wrote “Death From Above” on my climbing helmet back in the 90’s as a sort of karmic dare to the powers that be, as rocks falling from above was one of the more common dangers we encountered while climbing.
While these were just playing cards, I shudder to think how many of mom and dad’s mementos we destroyed over the years when we were kids. After a while all the cards had been lost or destroyed, but there was much more.
There were some cool old suitcases that had stickers of where they had traveled stuffed full of cool stuff they had stashed away, like mom’s old brown army boots, both their uniforms and patches, medals and other hard won awards, post cards and various souvenirs, leaded crystal from Austria, and on and on. We were a half dozen destroying locusts devouring everything in the house. At least the internet allows us to reclaim some some of the bits and pieces of our history.
One fine spring day back in the mid 70’s I heard a terrible racket over at the three story apartment building right behind our house. I looked over towards the parking lot where the noise was coming from, and saw a bunch of kids yelling and screaming and slapping at something on the ground with sticks.
The noise included a fierce, high-pitched scream which was very strange, so I jumped the back fence to go see exactly what was going on. It turned out to be a raggedy looking gang of neighborhood youngsters, maybe five to 10 years old, complete with dirty bare feet, torn play clothes and Kool-aid rings around their mouths.
They had surrounded a young hawk and were taking turns whacking and poking at it with sticks. The poor hawk was putting up a good fight. He had his back against the apartment building and was clawing and pecking for all he was worth. His feathers were all ruffled, mangled and bent every which direction. Judging from all the feathers on the ground, they had all been at it for a while.
I immediately grabbed a stick out of one of the kids hands and, waving it around like a sword, pointing at each one, threatened them all with immediate bodily harm if they didn’t stop at once. There may have been some colorful language used as well.
They started yelling back that the wicked hawk was trying to kill their poor cat and they were just protecting it from certain death from the sharp beak and talons of the hawk. The cat was still sitting there watching, blinking and taking a swipe at the bird now and then from between the kids legs.
I suspect the baby hawk fell or was pushed out of the nest high up on the building and the cat had found it hopping around on the ground, unable to fly yet. The kids had noticed the commotion of the hawk and cat fighting and joined the fight.
As things calmed a bit I explained it was just a poor baby bird that fell out of it’s nest and couldn’t even fly. I told them to guard the bird and keep the cat away from the hawk and then ran to the house to grab some towels and a cardboard box. The kids instantly went from beating the hell out of the bird to becoming a ring of protectors to prevent any further harm.
I figured I could at least keep him free from more harm and maybe let it heal up before letting him go…totally oblivious that it was protected by state and federal laws along with the US Migratory Bird Act.
I arrived back on the scene, tossing towels on top of the bird to try and calm it down. That didn’t work very well…the little guy was fired up and going to go down fighting after the thrashing he had already suffered.
Staying wary of his talons, I tangled him up in the towels and maneuvered the box up close to him and pushed him into the box. I’m pretty sure I saw a disappointed look on the cat’s face as I headed to the house looking like the Pied Piper with the motley gang behind me.
Getting him back home, I carried him into the garage and closed all the doors, as I knew mom would not welcome an angry bird into the house. While we had quite the menagerie over the years, she drew the line at snakes, wild rodents and anything else that might bite her.
We had an old bird cage from the days when we had parakeets, so I managed to dump the wad of towels and bird into the cage and shake him out, using a stick to get his talons out of the towels. He was one pissed off chicken hawk! I didn’t see any bleeding, just a lot of torn up feathers.
I chased everyone out of the garage to let him calm down and immediately went to the set of Encyclopedia Britannica in the house to read all about him (there was no internet to Google anything back then). From the bright red tail I had already determined he (or she) was a Red Tailed Hawk. I had seen them many times perched in the trees watching for mice in the large grassy fields of White Villa.
I discovered they were frequently used by falconers, as they adapted easily to training. While it sounded very cool to have my own hunting hawk, I decided it was best to return the hawk to the wilds…even if it was a suburban neighborhood filled with houses, apartment buildings and wild gangs of cats and kids.
First though, I had to rehabilitate the poor little thing so he could mend his feathers, fly and fend for himself. Of course, he needed a name, so I named him Bahala Na, from an adventure novel I was reading and fascinated with at the time, I think it was one of Trevanian’s novels of international intrigue, maybe the Eiger Sanction or Loo Sanction.
The novel said Bahala Na was a Filipino saying that meant “Come what may”, which I felt was appropriate at the time. Googling it today, it can be translated to mean “whatever happens, happens,” or “things will turn out fine,” or as “I’ll take care of things.” All of these were perfect for this little guy’s life at the time so I think I chose a pretty good name since I had no idea if he would survive and be released.
I had seen enough National Geographic Specials and other nature shows to know that I shouldn’t turn him into a pet if I was going release him. I didn’t want to be imprinted as his parent. Hoping to keep him in a somewhat wild state, I made a feeding prop out of cardboard and painted a hawk on it, glued some feathers on it with a hole where the beak was so I could use a stick to offer food to him indirectly and not from my hand.
Then I had to figure out what the hell I going to feed this dude. I wasn’t going to try trapping field mice every day so I checked the basement freezer to see what might work. We always got a full side of beef from my Aunt Shirley’s farm, there had to be something in there.
There were always odd bits and pieces from internal organs…some were given to our grand parents, as Papaw loved the brains, liver and tongue as well as oxtail soup. But the heart, no one ever seemed to claim that. Perfect! It was huge, could be cut into little bloody strips…just what a hungry little hawk would love to see on his menu!
However, as with most youngsters, Bahala Na turned out to be picky about his food. He refused to eat anything. I would open the cage door with fake daddy bird (the males do most of the hunting while they are in the nest with momma protecting the babies) and he would go nuts, screeching and scrambling to the back of the cage. I would leave a chunk in the cage and leave, but he wouldn’t touch it.
After several days of refusal I thought there might not be any hope for the little guy, but one day I opened the door, stuck the “beak” in with a bit of bloody heart meat on it and he inched forward and took it. Success! He ate it up and screeched for more! I fed him until he stopped feeding and felt like there was hope for the little dude.
I learned later that hawks should only be fed whole animals to maintain their health, including their blood, guts, organs, bones and everything else. They need this yak or more properly “casting” as the casting material cleans their crop before it’s expelled, like an owl pellet.
Luckily I had enlisted the neighborhood kids to be on the prowl for mice, small snakes and other critters for additional chow. It was practically a religious experience for them to bring me roadkill of all descriptions, like they were the family cat bringing a mouse home for master. Today I cringe to think of them scouring the neighborhood killing any small critters they could find.
Melody and Paul in particular were still very young and fascinated by Bahala Na and I would often find them standing in the garage with some kind of offering and a screaming bird begging for dinner. I don’t know for sure, but they might have also been charging their neighborhood friends for a peek to get money for candy.
I then discovered the next issue…food going in meant nastier material coming back out. This consisted of the previously described casting from his crop and something called a mute, which is a poo containing a combination of fecal matter from digested food, urine and urate, which is crystalline uric acid.
Now, parakeet messes as bad as they are were mostly just a bunch of seeds and petite little seed poos. A hawk eating raw meat leaves a hawk size pile of poo and yak, and if not cleaned up in a timely manner becomes a spa yak-bath for a crazy little hawk to roll and flap around in.
Luckily the cage was one of the types that had a slide-out false bottom for cleaning, although sometimes the yak piles were too large to fit through the narrow slot and I’d have to go in through the door with a heavily gloved hand being pecked at by that sharp beak.
Feeding him and cleaning his cage in the mornings and afternoons became a major part of my summer schedule. After a while just opening the side door to the garage meant the dinner bell had rung and Bahala Na would start screeching immediately at the top of his lungs until fake bird daddy fed him.
I fell into a pattern of feeding, watering and cleaning and Bahala Na continued growing, as the main cow heart food supply kept shrinking. His feathers started coming back in and he started making the cage look smaller. I gave up on the cardboard prop after a while and just used a long stick since it didn’t seem like I was fooling him…as soon as I walked into the garage he knew dinner was nigh.
As summer was drawing to a close and fall started I worried a bit as I had read that Red Tails migrated south in the fall, so I wanted to make sure he had time to fly south. he was looking very healthy. He had grown quite large and his feathers were mostly back in place. The cage was growing smaller and messing with his tail feathers.
After school started back up, I discovered dad had been feeding Bahala Na extra meals while I was at school. No wonder his size seemed to be doubling! I caught him hand feeding him like he was a little puppy. He had even bought some meat at the grocery store so he wouldn’t get caught. As much crap as he gave me about keeping the bird in his garage, he was nothing but a big softie after having him there all summer.
Eventually, the day came when it was time to set him free, for better or worse. The family gathered outside as I carried his cage to the back yard. I set the cage down, opened up the door and stepped back to let him leave on his own. He didn’t seem to know what to do at first, but eventually he inched to the door and hopped out.
He flapped his wings around like he was stretching them out and hopped on top of the cage. He flapped a few more times and then managed to fly a few more feet up to a grapevine trellis. He did some more flapping and stretching and then did a big jump off the trellis and off into the sky he went. We all watched him fly until we couldn’t see him anymore and we thought that was it.
The next morning I looked out and he was perched on top of the telephone pole in our back yard, waiting for breakfast. He stuck around for a few more days and suddenly he was gone…until the next spring.
He would come sit on that same spot on the telephone pole every now and then for the next couple of years, probably until he developed his own territory and had a family of his (or her) own as they reach maturity at two years and begin breeding at three years old.
I think of him every time I see a red tail perched high in a tree or sitting on a fence post along the highway.
I happened to channel surf past an episode of the PBS series “We’ll Meet Again” that is named “Korean War Brothers In Arms”. This title caught my eye as I did a tour of duty up near the Korean DMZ and often think of my brothers in arms from that wild tour.
I also happen to admin a Facebook Group dedicated to the small garrison where I was stationed in Korea, Camp Stanley. This camp was in constant use from 1957 until it was closed for good November of 2017.
I ride herd over a couple of thousand soldiers representing 5 decades of service that have year-long hardship tours at that camp in common. They now reminisce together on a daily basis and find old buddies they haven’t talked to in years. It is truly gratifying to see a couple of old soldiers take up where they left off, as only those that have shared hardship together can.
So, I decided to park the remote and see if there was anything interesting about the show to share with my buddies.
I hadn’t seen or heard of the documentary series that describes itself like so:
We’ll Meet Again is a documentary series reported and executive produced by Ann Curry. Each episode introduces us to two people who were affected by momentous events in American history. We follow them on a journey of detection as they look for a long-lost friend, family member or significant stranger.
I got a little more interested as I began understanding where the show was going…looking up long lost friends or others that had an impact on their life that they have lost contact with.
That played into another passion I have, which is family history and genealogy. I can’t get enough of shows like “Who Do You Think You Are”, “Finding Your Roots” and “Long Lost Family”. I spend an inordinate amount of time researching my family’s history on various genealogy related sites and find our stories extremely fascinating.
But that’s not what made me decide to put these words together. One of the stories in the show reminded me of a similar situation concerning my father. The story on TV was about a man whose life had been heavily influenced by the heroic actions of two of his lieutenants during a period of heavy combat during the Korean War.
To briefly summarize the story, the young marine was from a very broken home whose mother was in the service and had left him several times, and he had never known his father. Essentially an orphan, he joined the Marines to feel like he was a part of something bigger and to serve his country.
He was sent to war in Korea and on one particular occasion his artillery unit came under very heavy enemy artillery bombardment. All communications had been completely cut off. This went on all day as part of a major Chinese offensive.
His unit, as well as many others, was in chaos and taking heavy losses. With no communications with HQ they were in danger of being routed…until these two lieutenants started making their way to each of his artillery unit’s gun positions, giving firing instructions and encouragement all around.
This young Marine was incredulous that these two officers were willingly placing their lives in extreme danger by moving from position to position, with no cover, and talking to each gun crew to calm them down and get them back in the fight. This is of course how the Marines want all their officers and NCOs to behave, but in real life the instinct to stay alive often keeps ordinary men hunkering down in their foxholes, which was the case for the young Marine.
That left such a huge impression on him as a young man that he never forgot it. He determined to live his life with the example set by these two brave men that were dedicated to getting the mission accomplished and caring for their men, no matter the risk to themselves. It affected him so deeply that after living most of his life, he wanted to reconnect with these men that had meant so much to him and let them know he viewed them as heroes and as examples to pattern his life. While he found both men to have passed on, he did eventually connect with their families to express to them how he felt about their loved ones.
It was at this point in the show that I remembered a phone call that occurred just after my father had passed away in 2006. I had flown back to Ohio for my father’s funeral and to help get the estate settled. One day we happened to be gathered around my parent’s dining room table, spread with insurance forms, bank account info, hospital bills and all the other various “important” paperwork from 80 years of life.
The phone rang and my sister Melody answered and chatted briefly trying to answer someone’s questions before waving me over and handing the phone to me and said it was someone that knew dad. It turned out the call was from one of my father’s brothers in arms from Vietnam. He had served as a Platoon Leader, with my dad serving as his Platoon Sergeant.
They served together in Charlie Company, 1st Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. They were nicknamed the Jumping Mustangs as they were an airborne unit. As a reference, they were a sister unit to the 1/7th Cavalry Regiment depicted in the Movie “We were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson and went through identical training. Both units traveled by ship together as the first divisional unit to arrive in Vietnam as the war heated up in 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) based at An Khé in the Central Highlands.
Back in 1965 Vietnam, the man on the phone was a very green 2nd lieutenant, right out of college, that had suddenly been put in charge of leading 50 or so young infantrymen into combat. A platoon’s leadership was typically a 1st or 2nd Lieutenant, the lowest of the officer ranks, known as the Platoon Leader, and a senior non-commissioned officer or NCO known as the Platoon Sergeant.
The NCO’s always have much more experience than a butter-bar, a nickname given for the single gold bar denoting their rank. The senior NCOs, having spent years attaining their rank, had much more experience and had typically served in combat. The Platoon Sergeants ranks were usually Staff Sgt. (E-6), or Sgt. First Class (E-7). There are then 4-6 Staff Sgt’s (E-6), or Sgt’s (E-5) that serve as Squad Leaders for teams of 8-10 men.
My dad was a career soldier with 20 years in the Army, having joined in 1943 and fought in terrible conditions against the Japanese in the Pacific theater in WWII, held the Yugoslavian General Tito’s communist aggression at bay in the Free Territory of Trieste just after WWII and held the line against Chinese and North Koreans on the 38th parallel during the Korean War. Vietnam was to be his final war before he retired in 1966.
This lieutenant was calling, it turned out, because he had been thinking about dad and how, in his words, “he was a real old-school hard-ass, but SFC Profitt saved my dumb, green ass so many times over there”.
He just wanted to touch base to see how he was doing after all those years and shoot the shit. I could hear the sadness and loss in his voice after finding out dad had passed away only a few days before his call.
It was jarring that he would suddenly call after so much time had passed and dad had just died. When I looked back at calendar dates though, it was a only a couple of weeks past the 40th anniversary of when they would have last seen each other in Vietnam.
So he may have just been reminiscing on the 40 year milestone or there may have been some unexplainable cosmic energy at work, or a TV show may have just tickled his memory, as it has mine. It certainly brought tears to my eyes to hear a total stranger speak of my father in such reverent terms.
Similar to the guy in the TV show, after his service he had just gone on living his life for decades, dealing with all the immediate needs that come up with work and family, as we all do. But over time, and with age and experience, it became more important to reconnect with one of the more meaningful people in his life.
He reminisced how the tough old Airborne Ranger and veteran of multiple wars had taken a young kid (he was probably only 21-22, dad was 40) under his wing and showed him how the real Army worked and how to keep his men alive in combat.
He said it was frightening for him when dad’s 40 year old warrior knees finally got too torn up for him to go on field operations into the jungle and he had to get a less experienced Platoon Sgt. to take over.
But he said dad had trained him well, and he made it through OK. I can’t remember all the details of the conversation as this was over 12 years ago. At the time I thought I could never forget, but I do remember hearing true respect and sadness in his voice.
A few months previously, after showing dad the videos I made of some of his Army service, including Vietnam, on Memorial Day that year, I remember him saying “Hell, you know more about what I did than I do”. But that was after I had spent months digging through his old orders and records and researching tons of info in books and on the internet.
I loved seeing the pride in his face as he watched the videos and added details he remembered to the stories, trying to put names to his men’s faces on the screen gave me immeasurable joy to be able to honor him that way.
I am at a point in my life where it has now been 40 years since last seeing my own brothers in arms, and can now easily empathize with how time has a way of peeling away layers of memory and leaving only the highlights…the people, places and points in time that get indelibly stamped into your memory.
I continued talking with the old soldier for a while longer and then gave him my contact information as I had a number of dad’s photos I wanted to share with him as well as the video that I had edited together from the photos. He sounded excited about that and promised that he would dig through the back of his closet to see what pictures he still had.
Time passed, and I suspect with dad gone the urge to reconnect was dampened as the demands of life caught back up. I have never heard from him again and, over time, I have lost, misplaced or simply can’t remember where I stashed his contact info, but the memory of that call is one of those memories stamped in my brain that I hope I never forget.