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SUSAN JOHNSTON OWEN-JAZZ  /  SITE OWNER/MUSICIAN, WRITER,ARTIST, ELEMENTARY AND SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER (RETIRED)

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DENNIS SALEK-HOPPY

STORIES BY DENNIS SALEK-A.K.A. HOPPY

A NATURAL BORN STORYTELLER


The Bomb Incident

My fascination with things that go “BANG” probably started with my introduction to movies. At any rate, by the time I was eight years old I was well on my way. That was the year I earned the nickname “boomer” for the rest of that school year of 1948. From one source or another I had acquired a toy metal cap bomb. The kind that you loaded with a paper cap pistol cap. When thrown, the fins and weighted head would guide it to a nose first landing, exploding the cap with a “bang”. Just minutes before our noon hour recess, I loaded my bomb with several caps for a louder bang and placed the bomb on my desk. HORRORS! The bomb rolled off my desk, hit the floor nose first with a most satisfying “KABAM”. Never before nor since have I seen a nun jump and squeal so high and loud. I’ll wager she wet herself at least a little. She looked over the class, summoned Nancy, a classmate, and the both of them stepped out into the hall. Nun returned, dismissed for noon everyone, but hop. I was made to sit at my desk and write on a sheet of paper, “I will not explode things in class”, until noon hour was over. Worse, she sat there and watched the whole time, so I had to write constantly. And I never saw my cap bomb again.

The Maytag Story-NEW 12/18/2012

This is a true story of a Maytag wringer type electric powered washing machine. No names have been changed to protect anyone. No animals have been injured, abused or killed, and no humans maimed or arrested. At some point in the late 1940’s it was determined I was big enough to help mom with her wash day chores. I think it was about the same time dad decided I was fit enough to push the old iron wheeled, boy powered lawn mower back and forth over our farmhouse lawn, about 500,000 times each week. Dad also noticed that a hand sickle fit my hand really well. Now mom, bless her heart, always did our laundry on Saturdays. During the war she worked in a factory all week and only had Saturday and Sunday off. So, every Saturday bright and early, was wash day. I think, wherever she is now, if she has laundry she will wash it on Saturday. There was a large room attached to the back of our kitchen. That’s where the Maytag lived. Right beside the laundry tub sink on the wall. We had no hot water so it all had to be heated on the kitchen stove, then carried out and dumped into the washer, along with the soap powder. Clothes were tossed in, lid closed and motor turned on. Then mom would busy herself with something until she decided the clothes had sloshed around long enough. Besides helping fill the washer, my job was to fish the dripping clothes out of the washer and run them through the wringer attached to the washer and let them fall into a tub of clean rinse water. Then, back through the wringer and into a basket. Start another load of wash and hang the wet items on the outdoor clothesline. Later, I would drain the tubs, wash out the machine and only then, go out and start mowing our 500 acre lawn. And that was my Saturday routine. Where did the hand sickle come in? Well, one day dad saw me idly hitting at some weeds with a stick. Dad reasoned I could be chopping weeds with a sickle, and a few minutes later, I was. Weeds around the barns and sheds, along the yard fences, and weeds in the orchard. Tell you what, no kid was ever happier to see cold weather than I was. As near as I can tell, the old Maytag was made in the late 1930’s. I was married in 1960 and moved into a house in 1962. Dad bought mom a new automatic washer and dryer so I got the old Maytag. We used it until I could buy a new washer and dryer, retiring the old machine. It was taken to an auction barn and never seen again. But, it still ran as well as ever. A fitting testimony to the quality of American made products of a bygone age.


My World at Age 4
When I was about 4 years of age, my dad was away in WW2, like many other dads then. We lived in a rental house smack in the middle of the block. Mom worked in a factory all day so she had an older lady live in with us to keep an eye on me and help with the household chores.
I was allowed to wander the street from one end of our block to the other, but only the block. A girl about my age lived on one side of us and two boys, one my age and one older, lived in the house on the other side. They were the only kids on my block so we became best friends.
At the West end of my street lived a nice old man who, except for his white hair, looked like Abe Lincoln. He lived alone in a big old house and welcomed visits from neighborhood kids. I seemed to be the only one who visited him much. I would knock on his door and he would welcome me inside. He only lived in his kitchen and slept in what was once a dining room. There was a chair by his kitchen table that he said was my chair. If I arrived while he was eating, he would fetch me a plate and insisted I share his meal. Then he would talk to me, telling me stories of his past, answering my questions and sometimes showing me old photos of his dead wife and the family who never visited him.
Once, two of my friends and I visited him. He took us to the old barn behind his house. Inside the cluttered building, he hauled a large box off a shelf and said we could have it. Inside was a large old canvas wall tent. We set it up in one of the other boys back yard and had a great time "camping out" that summer.
One day he was sitting alone under a tree in his yard and just keeled over, dead.
At the East end of my street, in a big old house, lived an old man and woman. I visited them even more often. Sometimes the old lady would give me a thick slice of home baked bread with real butter spread on it, sprinkled with sugar. I thought that was better than any candy bar I ever had.
The old man owned an old Ford Model "A" car. About once a week or so, he would drive to a farm a few miles away, to buy fresh milk and eggs. He always drove past my house and if he saw me out he would stop and take me with him. I enjoyed these rides a great deal.
Once, on the way to this farm, we stopped at a tavern on the edge of town. The old man took me in with him and bought me a glass of soda pop and himself a big mug of beer. There, at the end of the bar, was the most fascinating and beautiful thing I ever saw. A juke box, all lit up with colored bands of light that seemed to flow along the sides, was playing music. I sat spellbound and bug eyed the whole time.
When we got to the farm, another treat was in store. The farmer wanted to show the old man something out in a back pasture. So, they boarded the farmer's pickup truck, putting me in the back, and we went bouncing down the lanes between fields to the back of the farm. I'd never rode in the back of a truck before so it was a real adventure for me at 4 years of age. When we got home, I couldn't wait to tell my mom about my great day. Big mistake. When I told her about the tavern, jukebox and riding in the back of a truck, she forbid me going anywhere with the old man again.
But, I was still allowed to visit them. One day I wandered into their kitchen through the back door. Near a wall sat a coal/wood burning cook stove. Beside the stove was a box of wood and old newspapers, used to start fires in the stove with. The wood box was ablaze. I ran into the parlor and there the two were, both sitting in their chairs, sound asleep. I woke them and they quickly doused the fire. It did a bit of damage to the wall and floor, but nothing too serious. A few days later, the old woman baked a chocolate cake for me as a reward.
Another time I entered their kitchen in time to see the old man drop two white tablets into a glass of water. The tablets started bubbling furiously as I watched, fascinated. When they stopped, I asked the old man what he was going to do with it. He said it's to drink because it's good for the stomach. I asked for a taste and he let me have a sip. To this day, when I have to take a handful of pills, I wash 'em down with an Alka Seltzer.
When dad came home from the war, he bought the house the old man and woman owned. They moved away and I never saw them again. We only lived there one or two years, then moved to a farm.
The neighborhood still looks much like it did back then. All the old houses are still there. The street is now paved. It was just a dirt street in the '40's.
That's how it was in the early 1940's.


 

Summer, 1954
One summer morning in 1954 found me in the workshop. I had just finished oiling the old iron monster lawn mower and sat down in one of the old chairs to let the dew dry off the grass a bit. Dad had gone off in the truck earlier. I must have dozed off. It seemed someone was calling my name. Was I only dreaming? A loud "Hop, get yer butt out here and help me unload this thing", jarred me awake.
Walking out of the shop, I noticed dad standing beside the truck. What was noteworthy was, he was grinning. Dad never grinned, except when he was fishing. I was immediately suspicious. As I approached the truck, I looked in the back and there sat the most eye popping, heart stopping sight I ever saw. A brand new, shiny red and black, rubber tired, gas powered lawn mower with a genuine black cast iron Briggs and Stratton motor. Did I mention, it was brand new? We hardly ever bought anything like that new but it still had all the tags attached, fluttering in the breeze. The new mower was a reel type, like our old mower but had a motor and was self propelled.
I must have been giggling as I helped dad unload it and sit it gently on the ground. I was still giggling as dad started telling me how to care for and maintain the machine. "Shut up with the giggling and listen", he growled. Then dad went into his litany of instructions.
"This lever here on the left side of the handlebars is the clutch. Pull it back to take the mower out of gear, so to speak. Throttle is on the right. Open it a bit to start. That tab on the motor is a choke. Pull out to start, push in after motor runs a bit. On the front of the motor is a spigot. The top plug is for checking and adding the oil. The bottom plug is for draining the oil to change. Check the oil every use and change it every third use. Keep the air filter clean too". I already knew about all that stuff from hanging around big brother Ike since I was old enough to crawl, but I politely listened.
We gassed the mower up and I pulled the recoil starter rope a few times. The motor sputtered to life. Pushing the clutch lever forward, I started mowing laps around the back yard. I think I was giggling again when mom and sister Angel came out of the back door and stood by dad watching. Angel said something to dad and he waved me over.
"Let Angel try it awhile", said dad.
Angel opened the throttle and was jogging around the back yard, grinning like a possum as she guided the machine.
"Hop, I want you to show Angel everything I showed you about care and maintaining that thing. You'll need to do a tune-up and change the drive belt occasionally for her. I want you to see if she'll take over your mowing chores. I need you for other things, with gramps gone and Ike in the army". It slowly dawned on me how ironic this was. All my mowing life I dreamed of a gas powered lawnmower and now that we finally got one, I had to give it up to Angel. Last I heard, she still had it.
There was no problem getting Angel to take over my mowing chore. Angel was what you would call a well fed farm girl. That's what you would say if you were smart. Because, if Angel heard the words "chubby" or "fat", you would have to fight her. Angel knew she could easily have a weight problem, but she worked hard at keeping her weight down within acceptable limits. She looked on lawn mowing as an exercise session.
Our old ancient iron wheeled much hated boy powered push lawn mower was retired to a corner of the shop, where it sat until dad sold the farm and bought a house in town. A date was set for a farm auction. It lasted two days. A church sold lunch and drinks to those attending the sale. The mower was drug out and sold along with a couple shovels and an old axe, for fifty cents. Some nerdy looking guy from town bought it. He sand blasted it, painted it colors no mower was ever painted and sat it beside a flag pole in his front yard. But that was not the end of the old machine. A few years later I visited my younger brother Daryl. He said he had something to show me. There, in the back of his garage behind a sheet of plywood, sat the old iron wheeled monster. Daryl had stolen it from the nerd's front yard. My lil' brother was one of us after all.
We blasted off all the hideous paint, varnished the wooden handle and painted the metal parts with a flat black paint. Daryl agreed to keep it for me. He still has it as far as I know.

 


My Old Radio
In about my eighth year I inherited great wealth. An old uncle, Robert was his name, had to give up his hunting and fishing cabin due to old age. When Robert's wife, aunt May, died uncle sold his house in town and moved to his cabin. It had electricity but no running water, just a hand pump and was heated with mostly wood.
My dad used to visit uncle Robert whenever he could get away and I went along on these trips. In the summer dad would take unc some garden produce or a load of cut firewood and unc would give dad some fresh fish. Well, old age caught up with unc and he could no longer stay at his cabin alone and had to move to a nursing home in town.
One autumn afternoon I arrived home from school and went to work on any chores I had to do. Supper wasn't ready yet so I went up to my room to do any homework I had. And there sat my inheritance. Three big boxes from uncle Robert's cabin. Two boxes contained outdoor magazines and sporting goods catalogs. These dated from 1919 to 1946. My heart went into it's jackhammer mode. I thought I was in heaven. The third box contained a large old wooden cased Zenith table radio. Lifting it from the box, I sat it on a chair beside my bed. I could hardly wait to try it but my hands were shaking so bad I had to use both hands to plug it in.
When the tubes warmed up the radio came to life. The dial lit up and had stations and countries printed on it. What really tripped my imagination was, IT HAD A SHORTWAVE BAND.
That winter was a happy time for me. The days at school just couldn't pass fast enough. I just wanted to be home with my radio and magazines. I still remember how excited I got the first time I picked up a foreign broadcast. I must have been yelling because big brother Ike came out of his room down the hall to see what was going on. Ike listened awhile then said "that's French".
"You mean I got France"?
"Or Canada. Some of them speak French too".
All that winter I never tired of tuning in to police and fire calls, airplanes, barge traffic on the Mississippi River a few miles East of our place, foreign news and other programs. I had an atlas full of nicely detailed maps. My nights were spent with my radio, magazines and studying my maps, planning imaginary trips to remote mountain chains and deserts.
One afternoon in early spring, I arrived home as usual, hurried through my chores and ran up to my room. I felt as though my heart fell to the floor and broke. My beloved radio was gone. My door to another world was no longer there. Rushing back down to the kitchen, I asked mom what happened to my radio. She just said to ask dad when he comes in for supper.
Well, it seems dad had a visitor that day. A gun collector came out to look over dad's firearms and purchased quite a few for his own collection. This fellow saw gramps' table radio in his corner of the kitchen and tried to buy it too. He said he also collected old radios. Gramps told him flat out, "You stay the hell away from my radio". So, they got around to my radio and the guy offered dad less than ten bucks for it and dad accepted it. Dad did give me the money though.
Still, I was crushed. I couldn't eat my supper. My world seemed much darker and smaller. But, that's how dad was. Everything on the place was for sale, for a profit.
About a week later I came home, did my chores and went up to my room. My heart must have hit the top of my skull. There beside my bed sat a big, beautiful wood floor model radio. It had more knobs than my old radio, a huge round lighted dial with stations and countries printed around it. At supper I learned dad and gramps went to a farm and household auction that day. Seeing the radio and knowing how bad I felt, dad asked the auctioneer if they could group the radio with some other stuff he wanted. They agreed and he bought the lot. The sun was shinning again in my world.



Job Hunting  

Because of my constant job hopping in search of the perfect career choice, I spent a lot of time being interviewed. And some of those interviewers were mind boggling. There was Hilda the Hun. She did the hiring at a large tractor manufacturing plant 30 miles from my home. There I was, sitting in a waiting room with about a dozen other guys after filling out several pages of application form. An older, hefty looking woman in a dark women’s business suit came to the door and called my name. I noted she’s even wearing a neck tie, for crissakes. This can’t be a good sign. She was all businesslike, barking out questions rapid fire, never once the hint of a smile. Then she was silent and frowning as she shuffled through my pages of forms. “You’ll start next Monday at 11 PM, third floor machine shop your boss will be expecting you don’t be late leave now”. At another plant I was interviewed by some attractive young lady wearing a nice dress, short on the bottom and low enough on the top to hint at her finer points. At some time during the interview, she dropped her pen. It rolled a few feet away so she stood up to pick it up, facing me. I swear, I could see down her dress to her belly button. She sat back down and continued on, eventually hiring me. I said a silent prayer that I could get out of there without embarrassing myself. Hiring was simple and uncomplicated back then. I remember when I got hired at a small steel fabricating company. The owner and boss’s name was Bill. At the time I was unemployed because of a layoff and heard that Bill was going to take on a few men because of a large contract he had. Bill gave me an application with just a few basic questions on it. After I filled it out and he looked at it, he said “I see your from the next town downriver”. Then Bill went to his office door and yelled “Benny, come here”. A guy I presumed to be Benny came in. Bill spoke to Benny, “You know this guy”? Benny-“Never saw him before”. Bill- “Why not? He’s from your town”? Benny-“Bill, there’s 20,000 people in my town and I only know maybe a few hundred and he ain’t one of ‘em”. Benny and I both had a laugh and I got hired anyway. Somewhere along the way job applications got longer and more complicated. Some were downright silly. Why would they need to know my mother’s maiden name? One company wanted to know what wage I would need to live on. I left that blank. I was asked why I left it so and I said I needed to know what the job pays, then I’ll tell you if I can live on that. I didn’t get that job. In those days I had a “go to” job. We have a major food processing plant in my town. If I was temporarily unemployed, I would apply there. In the summer they were always very busy and I always got hired. Now, I’m happily retired and glad I don’t have to go through all the application forms, waiting and interviews.

Do-It-Myself  

The day I entered grade school my Saturdays became more complicated. Before I went to school for my first day, my mom insisted dad take me to the barber shop. So, come Saturday morning, off we went for my introduction to Ed the barber and my first professional hair cut. Little did I know then that this ritual would be repeated every other Saturday morning, without fail. Even during summer vacations. Mom was overly concerned about appearance, in my opinion. School and church clothes had to always be clean and neatly pressed. Face well scrubbed and hair neatly cut and combed. Any shortcuts I attempted always met the same put down. “What will people think”? I saw all this as an assault on my personal freedom. During the school year, I was in school all day five days a week, came home and did any chores or homework I had. Sundays I was in church most of the morning. That only left Saturday as my only full day to myself and I had to sacrifice half of one of those every other week for a haircut. Summer vacation in my 7th year, I decided I had enough. I would cut my own hair. I would do such a good job, I would never have to see Ed the barber ever again. That evening at bed time, I shut my bedroom door, seated myself in front of the mirror over my dresser then went to work with a pair of scissors. Putting my cap on, I snipped away everything that hung out below it. I had to guess at the back, since I couldn’t see back there. On taking off my cap and inspecting my work, I saw the need for a little evening up. A snip here, a snip there and, well, if I leave my cap on no one will see the bare spots and tufts of hair sticking up. The next morning, I came down to breakfast with my cap on, and seated myself at the table. Mom asked “ What did I tell you about the cap”? and knocked it off my head. Her mouth dropped open as she sucked in air. Dad broke out in a loud “Haw, Haw”. Between all the laughter I heard mom say, “Thank God it’s summer vacation Hop you ain’t leaving the place ‘till Saturday morning you hear”? Sounding like one long word. So, Saturday morning dad and I headed for Ed’s barber shop. We were the first customers, so I climbed up into the chair. Ed took off my cap and gave out a “what the hell happened to you”? Dad told Ed the story while Ed inspected the damage. “I don’t think even I can save this”. Dad said just buzz it all off, it’ll grow out by the time school starts anyway. As we were leaving Ed said “Better keep anything that cuts away from Hop”, haw haw. Arriving home, I had to endure even more insults as dad pulled off my cap when we entered the kitchen. Mom started with, “I sent you to town with a boy and you brought back one of those Mexican mutts with the bug eyes and big ears” ? So, that summer I was known in the neighborhood as The Cisco Kid, after one of my cowboy radio hero’s. Ed's barber shop used to be under the YMCA building in my town. Ed's long gone and the old YMCA building is now a homeless shelter.

Guns ‘n Stuff  

All my life, from lil’ snothood to now, dirty ol’ manhood, I’ve been addicted to cowboy movies. I think in my mind, I considered myself a reincarnation of Wyatt Earp, Clay Allison and John Wesley Hardin all in one. Worse, I tried to duplicate some of their feats. Some of my childhood stunts with my trusty Red Ryder Daisy 1000 shot BB gun were still talked about far into my adult years, dying out only when my parents left this world. As an adult my obsession with western movies was stronger than ever. I bought “cowboy” style guns. One night I drove through fog so thick I had to creep along looking for the centerline, all the way to the next town, just to buy a used model 94 Winchester .30/30 lever action carbine. Later, a friend of mine was selling his guns to buy ham radio stuff. From him I acquired a Ruger .22 single action western style revolver. But, I wasn’t satisfied with just that. The old man running the gun shop in my town was only too happy to sell me both a .357 and a .45 single action,  plow handled, thumb buster western type revolvers. After also buying some empty brass cartridge cases, reloading tools, bullet molds, powder and primers, I was about ready for action. Many a happy hour was spent scrounging up all the lead I would ever need, from the backstops at several shooting spots near town. These places were high sand banks or old levees. It was easy to dig the spent bullets out of the bank. Then, when I had a five gallon bucket full of bullets, I would melt them down and pour the molten lead into one pound ingot molds. At one time I had 500 lead ingots. Later, I would melt the ingots and cast bullets. Working the midnight shift at that time, I was able to practice every day. On rainy days, I just practiced my quick draw indoors.  On nice days, I went to an isolated stretch of river and practiced quick drawing and shooting at objects. When I was satisfied at my skill doing that, I started shooting at objects thrown into the air, in a safe place of course. By then I was hunting small game with my handguns. In the past I wrote about carrying my .357 in my hip pocket because it fit well and was out of the way until needed. While quick drawing from my hip pocket one day, something caused the gun to hang up or catch in my pocket, causing my thumb to slip from the hammer and the trigger to be tripped. In short, the gun fired while still in my pocket, blowing it off. The bullet clipped the heel of the rubber boot I was wearing, rendering it no longer waterproof, and my right butt cheek hurt like hell. A quick check showed no damage to butt other than just muzzle blast. One rainy day I was reloading ammo when mom asked if there was anything she could do. Most household chores were too much for her by then. She would get bored just sitting around. So, I showed her how to remove the spent primer from fired cases. There were hundreds of them and it kept her busy that afternoon. It rained again the next day so I showed her how to re-prime empty cases. I had a tool that worked by inserting the empty cartridge case and pressing a lever. She was doing fine, chatting away about past times until BANG! Scream, her eyes big as eggs. She wasn’t hurt but had wet herself. To this day I don’t know what happened. I’ve loaded many thousands of rounds and never had that happen. Must have just been a sensitive primer. So, here sits the old wannabe cowboy, sipping beer while watching old western shows, longing for the days when my legs would still carry me down trails, my hands were still quick and steady and my eyes still sharp.

The Rifle  

When I was about 10 years old and beginning to think my parents were getting senile, I near got the thrashing of my life. And a crow started it all. A schoolmate was showing off his pet crow at the school one day. I thought that was the most awesome pet ever. It would fly to him, perch on his shoulder and was just...awesome. I had to have him. “What ya take fer him”? “He ain’t fer sale”. “Trade”? “Nope”. This wasn’t getting me anywhere. I’ll just have to get my own crow. My dad’s outdoor magazines provided me the answer. An article in one of them was about crow hunting. It showed some guy using a live owl to lure crows into range. The owl so infuriated crows that they kept attacking the owl while the guy shot the crap out of them. I had to get an owl. I didn’t then know about plastic owl crow decoys, but I did know that Andy Klack, another schoolmate, had a stuffed owl. My plan was simple. Buy or trade for that owl. Andy was tough to deal with. It went something like this. “What ya take fer your stuffed owl”? “What ya got”? “$3.12”. “Not ‘nuff”. “A good pocket knife with 3 blades”. “Got one”. “Big box a comic books”. “Nah”. “One of dad’s girlie magazines”. “Naw. I got’s a big sister. See the real thing sometimes”. “.22 rifle”? “Wut kinda rifle”? “A pumper. Holds lotsa shells”. I showed it to him when the folks were away, and the deal was on. My dad must have had a hundred guns stashed in a closet. He bought them at farm auctions and God knows where else. Most were rusty old single shot shotguns, a few doubles and .22 bolt action rifles. This one pump action .22 was way in the back of the pile. Dad probably didn’t even remember he had it. My plan to trap a crow alive was simple. Set my stuffed owl under a big wooden box propped up with a stick. A string was tied to the stick held by me in a hiding spot near by. Crows attack owl, I pull  the string as soon as one gets under the box. Well, my plan never got that far. Dad was trying to make a trade with someone involving that particular rifle, but couldn’t find it. Gee dad, wonder where it went? Andy’s dad showed up at our house a few days later with Andy and the rifle. He told dad the whole story and gave dad back the rifle and I had to give Andy back his owl. I was sent to my room. Dad showed up a few minutes later and took off his belt. I started crying, really gushing tears. I guess dad felt sorry for me and put his belt back on but grounded me for two weekends. No fishing, bike riding, nothing. Just chores and back to room.

Job Hunting  

Because of my constant job hopping in search of the perfect career choice, I spent a lot of time being interviewed. And some of those interviewers were mind boggling. There was Hilda the Hun. She did the hiring at a large tractor manufacturing plant 30 miles from my home. There I was, sitting in a waiting room with about a dozen other guys after filling out several pages of application form. An older, hefty looking woman in a dark women’s business suit came to the door and called my name. I noted she’s even wearing a neck tie, for crissakes. This can’t be a good sign. She was all businesslike, barking out questions rapid fire, never once the hint of a smile. Then she was silent and frowning as she shuffled through my pages of forms. “You’ll start next Monday at 11 PM, third floor machine shop your boss will be expecting you don’t be late leave now”. At another plant I was interviewed by some attractive young lady wearing a nice dress, short on the bottom and low enough on the top to hint at her finer points. At some time during the interview, she dropped her pen. It rolled a few feet away so she stood up to pick it up, facing me. I swear, I could see down her dress to her belly button. She sat back down and continued on, eventually hiring me. I said a silent prayer that I could get out of there without embarrassing myself. Hiring was simple and uncomplicated back then. I remember when I got hired at a small steel fabricating company. The owner and boss’s name was Bill. At the time I was unemployed because of a layoff and heard that Bill was going to take on a few men because of a large contract he had. Bill gave me an application with just a few basic questions on it. After I filled it out and he looked at it, he said “I see your from the next town downriver”. Then Bill went to his office door and yelled “Benny, come here”. A guy I presumed to be Benny came in. Bill spoke to Benny, “You know this guy”? Benny-“Never saw him before”. Bill- “Why not? He’s from your town”? Benny-“Bill, there’s 20,000 people in my town and I only know maybe a few hundred and he ain’t one of ‘em”. Benny and I both had a laugh and I got hired anyway. Somewhere along the way job applications got longer and more complicated. Some were downright silly. Why would they need to know my mother’s maiden name? One company wanted to know what wage I would need to live on. I left that blank. I was asked why I left it so and I said I needed to know what the job pays, then I’ll tell you if I can live on that. I didn’t get that job. In those days I had a “go to” job. We have a major food processing plant in my town. If I was temporarily unemployed, I would apply there. In the summer they were always very busy and I always got hired. Now, I’m happily retired and glad I don’t have to go through all the application forms, waiting and interviews.

Do-It-Myself  

The day I entered grade school my Saturdays became more complicated. Before I went to school for my first day, my mom insisted dad take me to the barber shop. So, come Saturday morning, off we went for my introduction to Ed the barber and my first professional hair cut. Little did I know then that this ritual would be repeated every other Saturday morning, without fail. Even during summer vacations. Mom was overly concerned about appearance, in my opinion. School and church clothes had to always be clean and neatly pressed. Face well scrubbed and hair neatly cut and combed. Any shortcuts I attempted always met the same put down. “What will people think”? I saw all this as an assault on my personal freedom. During the school year, I was in school all day five days a week, came home and did any chores or homework I had. Sundays I was in church most of the morning. That only left Saturday as my only full day to myself and I had to sacrifice half of one of those every other week for a haircut. Summer vacation in my 7th year, I decided I had enough. I would cut my own hair. I would do such a good job, I would never have to see Ed the barber ever again. That evening at bed time, I shut my bedroom door, seated myself in front of the mirror over my dresser then went to work with a pair of scissors. Putting my cap on, I snipped away everything that hung out below it. I had to guess at the back, since I couldn’t see back there. On taking off my cap and inspecting my work, I saw the need for a little evening up. A snip here, a snip there and, well, if I leave my cap on no one will see the bare spots and tufts of hair sticking up. The next morning, I came down to breakfast with my cap on, and seated myself at the table. Mom asked “ What did I tell you about the cap”? and knocked it off my head. Her mouth dropped open as she sucked in air. Dad broke out in a loud “Haw, Haw”. Between all the laughter I heard mom say, “Thank God it’s summer vacation Hop you ain’t leaving the place ‘till Saturday morning you hear”? Sounding like one long word. So, Saturday morning dad and I headed for Ed’s barber shop. We were the first customers, so I climbed up into the chair. Ed took off my cap and gave out a “what the hell happened to you”? Dad told Ed the story while Ed inspected the damage. “I don’t think even I can save this”. Dad said just buzz it all off, it’ll grow out by the time school starts anyway. As we were leaving Ed said “Better keep anything that cuts away from Hop”, haw haw. Arriving home, I had to endure even more insults as dad pulled off my cap when we entered the kitchen. Mom started with, “I sent you to town with a boy and you brought back one of those Mexican mutts with the bug eyes and big ears” ? So, that summer I was known in the neighborhood as The Cisco Kid, after one of my cowboy radio hero’s. Ed's barber shop used to be under the YMCA building in my town. Ed's long gone and the old YMCA building is now a homeless shelter.

Guns ‘n Stuff  

All my life, from lil’ snothood to now, dirty ol’ manhood, I’ve been addicted to cowboy movies. I think in my mind, I considered myself a reincarnation of Wyatt Earp, Clay Allison and John Wesley Hardin all in one. Worse, I tried to duplicate some of their feats. Some of my childhood stunts with my trusty Red Ryder Daisy 1000 shot BB gun were still talked about far into my adult years, dying out only when my parents left this world. As an adult my obsession with western movies was stronger than ever. I bought “cowboy” style guns. One night I drove through fog so thick I had to creep along looking for the centerline, all the way to the next town, just to buy a used model 94 Winchester .30/30 lever action carbine. Later, a friend of mine was selling his guns to buy ham radio stuff. From him I acquired a Ruger .22 single action western style revolver. But, I wasn’t satisfied with just that. The old man running the gun shop in my town was only too happy to sell me both a .357 and a .45 single action,  plow handled, thumb buster western type revolvers. After also buying some empty brass cartridge cases, reloading tools, bullet molds, powder and primers, I was about ready for action. Many a happy hour was spent scrounging up all the lead I would ever need, from the backstops at several shooting spots near town. These places were high sand banks or old levees. It was easy to dig the spent bullets out of the bank. Then, when I had a five gallon bucket full of bullets, I would melt them down and pour the molten lead into one pound ingot molds. At one time I had 500 lead ingots. Later, I would melt the ingots and cast bullets. Working the midnight shift at that time, I was able to practice every day. On rainy days, I just practiced my quick draw indoors.  On nice days, I went to an isolated stretch of river and practiced quick drawing and shooting at objects. When I was satisfied at my skill doing that, I started shooting at objects thrown into the air, in a safe place of course. By then I was hunting small game with my handguns. In the past I wrote about carrying my .357 in my hip pocket because it fit well and was out of the way until needed. While quick drawing from my hip pocket one day, something caused the gun to hang up or catch in my pocket, causing my thumb to slip from the hammer and the trigger to be tripped. In short, the gun fired while still in my pocket, blowing it off. The bullet clipped the heel of the rubber boot I was wearing, rendering it no longer waterproof, and my right butt cheek hurt like hell. A quick check showed no damage to butt other than just muzzle blast. One rainy day I was reloading ammo when mom asked if there was anything she could do. Most household chores were too much for her by then. She would get bored just sitting around. So, I showed her how to remove the spent primer from fired cases. There were hundreds of them and it kept her busy that afternoon. It rained again the next day so I showed her how to re-prime empty cases. I had a tool that worked by inserting the empty cartridge case and pressing a lever. She was doing fine, chatting away about past times until BANG! Scream, her eyes big as eggs. She wasn’t hurt but had wet herself. To this day I don’t know what happened. I’ve loaded many thousands of rounds and never had that happen. Must have just been a sensitive primer. So, here sits the old wannabe cowboy, sipping beer while watching old western shows, longing for the days when my legs would still carry me down trails, my hands were still quick and steady and my eyes still sharp.

The Rifle  

When I was about 10 years old and beginning to think my parents were getting senile, I near got the thrashing of my life. And a crow started it all. A schoolmate was showing off his pet crow at the school one day. I thought that was the most awesome pet ever. It would fly to him, perch on his shoulder and was just...awesome. I had to have him. “What ya take fer him”? “He ain’t fer sale”. “Trade”? “Nope”. This wasn’t getting me anywhere. I’ll just have to get my own crow. My dad’s outdoor magazines provided me the answer. An article in one of them was about crow hunting. It showed some guy using a live owl to lure crows into range. The owl so infuriated crows that they kept attacking the owl while the guy shot the crap out of them. I had to get an owl. I didn’t then know about plastic owl crow decoys, but I did know that Andy Klack, another schoolmate, had a stuffed owl. My plan was simple. Buy or trade for that owl. Andy was tough to deal with. It went something like this. “What ya take fer your stuffed owl”? “What ya got”? “$3.12”. “Not ‘nuff”. “A good pocket knife with 3 blades”. “Got one”. “Big box a comic books”. “Nah”. “One of dad’s girlie magazines”. “Naw. I got’s a big sister. See the real thing sometimes”. “.22 rifle”? “Wut kinda rifle”? “A pumper. Holds lotsa shells”. I showed it to him when the folks were away, and the deal was on. My dad must have had a hundred guns stashed in a closet. He bought them at farm auctions and God knows where else. Most were rusty old single shot shotguns, a few doubles and .22 bolt action rifles. This one pump action .22 was way in the back of the pile. Dad probably didn’t even remember he had it. My plan to trap a crow alive was simple. Set my stuffed owl under a big wooden box propped up with a stick. A string was tied to the stick held by me in a hiding spot near by. Crows attack owl, I pull  the string as soon as one gets under the box. Well, my plan never got that far. Dad was trying to make a trade with someone involving that particular rifle, but couldn’t find it. Gee dad, wonder where it went? Andy’s dad showed up at our house a few days later with Andy and the rifle. He told dad the whole story and gave dad back the rifle and I had to give Andy back his owl. I was sent to my room. Dad showed up a few minutes later and took off his belt. I started crying, really gushing tears. I guess dad felt sorry for me and put his belt back on but grounded me for two weekends. No fishing, bike riding, nothing. Just chores and back to room.


THEY NEVER END THE WAY YOU THINK THEY WILL

The Sniper

Finding a bit of shade on the steamy hillside, I settled down to watch the jungle clearing. Below me baking in the afternoon sun, was a rather large area bare of any foliage. My orders were simple. For as long as I could, I was to keep anyone from reaching the base of the hill on which I was concealed while my unit retreated across the valley beyond my hill.
Pointing my rifle toward the clearing, I got into a comfortable position for the long wait. Sweat soaked my clothing and ran into my eyes. With as little movement as possible, I tied a bandana around my forehead as insects buzzed around me adding to my misery. My thoughts were on Carlos Hathcock, the famous Marine sniper and his 90+ confirmed kills. I wondered if my score would ever reach that high. I waited a lifetime. Then another. Then....wait.
On the far side of the clearing, near the edge of the jungle, I thought I saw movement. All my concentration was on that tiny spot. There! It was movement. Slowly a dark figure emerged from the tall grass. It stopped, surveying the clearing ahead. Finally, satisfied all was well, it scurried out into the clearing, hoping to get across as fast as possible.
Nestling my cheek into it's familiar position against the stock of my rifle and lining up the sights, I took up the slack in the trigger. The blast was deafening but I barely noticed. My attention was riveted on my quarry, now lying crumpled in the dirt below. Another shot, another kill. That was number 6.
In the distance I could hear voices. Angry sounding voices. Getting close. They were behind me. I quickly realized my escape was cut off. I could not move safely in any direction. Capture seemed inevitable.
The screen door behind me flung open and my wife stomped out onto the back porch. " What you gonna do, sit out here all day and shoot bugs with that damn BB gun? Didn't you hear me calling for you? I need you to help me move the sofa".

 

 

A Dumb Kid's First Duck Hunt
 By about my twelfth year, I was devouring every outdoor publication I could get my hands on. Magazines like ‘Outdoor Life, Field and Stream’ and ‘Sports Afield’ littered my room. The more I read about about duck hunting, the more I pestered dad to take me duck hunting. “We already got a boat and motor”, I mentioned. “All we need is a bunch of decoys, and a dog to retrieve all the shot ducks. We should get started building our blind”.
Dad patiently pointed out that he couldn’t afford the dozens of decoys or the dog and had no time for blind building. He must have seen the disappointment on my face, because he quickly replied with, “I’ll ask your uncle John. He hunts everything that flies. He’ll take you, I bet'”.
So, dad took me to town and made me buy a duck stamp and some heavy shotgun loads, with my own money. My savings were wiped out, but I didn’t care, because my first duck hunt was scheduled for the next weekend.
When the appointed Saturday morning arrived, I was up, fed, dressed and sitting on the front porch in the early morning darkness when uncle John drove up. I climbed into the back of the station wagon with my gun and with ‘Yugo’ the retriever, wagging and sniffing all over the place. Uncle John introduced me to Bill, his longtime hunting partner.
As we approached the river, it was still dark. The river was a spooky place in the dark to a kid, but we boarded an aluminum boat and shoved off. The long boat ride was over when uncle John turned into a shallow pond and expertly slid the boat under a brush covered blind.
On climbing into the blind, I thought out loud, “wow, a guy could live here”. The front part was the shooting platform and the back part could be closed to the weather. Inside the little room was a bunk with some blankets, a couple stools and a small table with a camp stove and coffee pot. The decoys had been set out earlier so we settled down to watch the sun come up and wait for the ducks to leisurely fly by and fall from the sky as we shot them.
That morning I learned many things. The first was, when ducks were low and viewed against the backdrop of trees, I couldn’t see them. This became apparent when uncle John excitedly pointed in a direction and said, “there, shoot”. I pointed there and fired, at what I didn’t know. “Not there, I meant there” said uncle John, pointing in a slightly different direction. I pointed my gun there and was about to shoot, not wanting to just stand there like a dumb kid. “Not now, they’re gone”. Bill had turned his back to us and his shoulders were shaking and he was making funny noises. I didn’t know if it was from sobbing, laughing or the cold. Uncle John then asked, “You can’t see ‘em, can you? Look at those trees over there. Can you see the branches, or just a blur”? I admitted, everything was a blur.
Uncle John and Bill got their limit that morning. We loaded back into the boat and headed home. As we came up to the river bank, uncle John stepped over the side of the boat, standing in knee deep water. He told me to get out the other side and help slide the boat up the bank a bit. I stepped out the other side, right into water over my waist. Uncle John and Bill couldn’t stand upright for all the laughing, as I thrashed about in the icy water. Turned out, Uncle John was standing on a huge sunken log.
Both men offered me a duck but I declined. I had to shoot ‘em myself, I said. Uncle John told dad I was near blind and the next week I had my first of many, pair of glasses, or cheaters, as some people called them. I never went duck hunting again.

 

 

 

A dumb kids struggle to stay armed
 At age 5 I received my first gun A Red Ryder BB gun. It was my most cherished possession. It was an on and off love affair though. At first I was content to shoot BB’s out of it. Then my dad’s workshop window somehow got broke and my BB gun disappeared awhile. Eventually I got it back only to lose it again when dad noticed all the glass balls on all the lightning rods were gone. Gun gone. It was returned later but It seemed I was always out of BB’s. My quest for a substitute ammunition took me into some interesting directions, as did my need to know “what will happen if”?
For example, I learned that a ‘strike anywhere’ kitchen match would fit into the bore of my BB gun, up to the match head. When fired at a hard object at close range, such as a rock or wall, the match head would make a most satisfying ‘pop’ and burst into flame. Needless to say, I whiled away many an hour popping matches this way, until I started a grass fire. Gun gone.
After a short absence my gun was returned to me, but my BB shortage continued. I tried small pebbles that fit the bore but they would curve in flight because of their irregular shape. Then one day, I noticed my mom had left her sewing stuff out. She had many pin cushions and these cushions were bristling with pins, many of which had bead heads. Best yet, some of these pins nicely fit the bore of my BB gun. Mom briefly mentioned thinking she had more pins but nothing further was said until dad climbed into the loft of our barn and saw target bulls eyes drawn with a crayon on a wall, with pins sticking out of them. Gun gone again. When I got it back, all the interior parts were missing, never to be seen again.
So, I went primitive and made a sling shot. Ammo was plentiful. However, pebbles made poor projectiles. Their irregular shape made them curve in flight. Glass marbles however, worked great but It didn’t take me long to go through my marble stash. So, I spent more time searching for the smoothest pebbles than I did shooting. Then I tried putting as many pebbles as I could in the pouch, like a shotgun. It still was no substitute for a gun.
Now, my dad had many guns, cartridges, cans of black gunpowder and other fascinating goodies. He kept it all in a closet which he usually locked. But one day, as you can probably guess, the folks were gone and the closet was unlocked. Rummaging through the closet’s treasures, I found a coffee can near full of lead balls. They fit a muzzleloader dad sometimes shot. Perfect slingshot ammo. Filling my pockets with lead balls, I hid them away knowing dad wouldn’t miss them for a long while. He only fired his old front loader on the fourth of July. And this was still June. Dad won’t remember how many he had, I reasoned.
Well, dad did remember and I lost the use of my sling shot and was forbidden the making of another. However, one of the neighbor boys had an old wooden target bow. I managed to trade for it by giving up an old pocket knife. No arrows came with it but I reasoned I could easily overcome that obstacle. In dad’s workshop I noticed a bundle of long wooden dowels, just the right thickness. Pulling one out of the bundle, I saw I could get at least two arrows, maybe more. Cut to the right length, whittle a point on one end, cut a notch in the other and presto, an arrow.
So far, no one knew I had the bow. That ended the day I was behind the barn and took a shot at a pigeon perched on the roof. For you animal huggers, I missed the pigeon, but the arrow sailed over the barn and thunked into the ground right at my mom’s feet as she weeded some of her flowers. My bow was taken away and cut in two.
My determination to stay armed took me out to the back pasture in search of a proper sapling from which to fashion a spear of sorts. Finding a long, straight sapling, I cut it down, trimmed it and whittled a point on one end. Dad saw me practice throwing it at empty one gallon oil cans but must have thought “what harm can that do”? At some point I found a large, rusty nut half buried in the barnyard mud. Cramming it onto the point of my spear, I hoped the added weight would do some good. It didn’t. So, whipping the shaft in a forward motion in an effort to dislodge the nut, sent it sailing clear out into our pasture.
WOW! Ideas were flooding into my mind one after another. I imagined a longer, whippy shaft with a cup on the end to hold the missile. Another trip to the back pasture yielded just the right shaft. A raid on the kitchen provided a wire strainer with a handle. A bit of baling wire lashed the strainer to the shaft. Awesome. I could now throw objects much farther than by hand, with a little practice. And practice I did. Ammunition was everywhere. Stones, dirt clods, almost anything that fit in the strainer could be lobbed great distances.
One day I was in our orchard lobbing apples about. Our barn had one missing window on that side, so I was using the opening as a target. Tiring of that, I began tossing apples at our neighbor’s barn, next to our orchard. A wild throw sent an apple over his barn and into his garden striking his wife smack in the middle of her back as she pulled weeds.
It got a bit ugly after that for awhile. I was made to apologize and worse yet, had to help the neighbors  with chores for a week. Tell you what, when that old fart sent me home at the end of each day, I couldn’t stay awake through supper.

A Hill, a Bike and a 

DUMB KID


It was winter when I turned 6. So, I had to wait until summer to get my first 2 wheel bike. No training wheels then. You got on and fell off until you learned to stay up. And learn I did, at the expense of denting a neighbor's parked car when I fell over into it. But, by the time my accumulation of bruises and scrapes healed, I was the most skillful bike rider in my neighborhood, in my mind, anyway.
Now, I was supposed to stay pretty much on my own block. And I did, until Clinton street hill was newly paved. All the kids from my block went over there, only 4 blocks away, to try the hill. They came back with stories about how smooth it was and how fast you could go and you could coast for blocks after speeding down the 1 block long but steep hill.
At first opportunity a neighbor girl and I rode over to the hill, pushed our bikes to the top, and sat there looking down the steep slope. We shoved off as soon as we both got our courage up. It was great. The wind rushing by as our speed picked up. I thought we must have been going 100 MPH. I was squinting my eyes to keep them from watering, when it happened.
There was a small patch of loose gravel on the paving and naturally, I hit it. I felt myself going down, a sliding and grinding sensation, the bike on top of me, and pain.
Well, the girl pedaled for home, leaving me to pick my sobbing self up, climb back on my battered bike and ride home. The girl did tell her mommy though, who met me and cleaned and bandaged my wounds, since my folks were both at work.
When my dad got home from work he took me to the doc. Gravel and cinders were picked out of my whole right side, and fresh bandages were applied. Worse yet, doc and dad seem to find the whole thing amusing. They joked and giggled like schoolgirls at my distress.
So, my bike was locked up for a while and I was pretty much confined to our yard.

 

 

ANOTHER DUMB KID# 2

My pappy came home from WW2 in 1945, when I was 5 years old. I have no memory of him before then. He enlisted before my memory kicked in, I guess. Anyway, one of his first big purchases on his return was an old Ford model ‘A’ truck. I remember it had a flat bed. Later he bought a second one just like it. I loved playing on that truck. My neighbor friend and I would climb in the wood bed and pretend it was the deck of our ship. Other times, we mounted the front fenders and rode our trusty steeds into battles with the dangerous Jesse James gang, our cap pistols blazing. Other days, we were in the cab piloting our bomber on missions or winning big races on a track.
One fine afternoon dad parked the truck in the yard to do some work on it. On finishing that, he told me, “get a coffee can, fill it with water and fill the radiator. The cap is easy to unscrew. Fill it to the top”, and went in the house to clean up and change clothes, promising to take me to town with him later. That dad would entrust such an important job to me, a mere 5 1/2 year old kid, made me feel all grown up. I picked an empty coffee can from our can stash, (we saved everything in those days) and filled it with water from our outside tap. This is where the trouble began.
Those of you familiar with Ford ‘A’s’ know that there are 2 caps. The front one for the radiator, the one in front of the windshield for the gas tank. In my defense, let me explain that at 5 1/2 years of age, I didn’t know squat about cars, or much of anything. No one in my close family had a car until after the war, and the few neighbors that did seldom drove them because of wartime rationing.
So me being a dumb kid, confused by such a choice, I chose the wrong cap. Can after can of water and it still wasn’t full. A yell from the back door so startled me, I dropped the can of water and slid off the fender I was standing on. I heard mom say, “Chet, don’t hit him”.  Dad didn’t hit me. He didn't even yell at me anymore. He commenced draining the gas tank, gave me fifty cents and told me to see if I could take my wagon and a five gallon gas can over to the station three blocks away and have them give me some gas. Needless to say, there was no trip to town that day.

 

Another Dumb Kid Story

School was one giant struggle for me, starting with Kindergarten at a public school two blocks from our home. Seems I wouldn't?t stop talking. So much so that the teacher lost her patience with me and put tape across my mouth. Well, it made my parents furious but had an effect on me. From then on I was reluctant to speak in class. About anything.
My parents yanked me from the public school system and sent me to a catholic school nearly a mile away, for my first grade. Worse yet, I had to walk to and from school. My first week there a nun asked me a question. I had to stand, even though I had no idea what she was talking about. She walked up to me and repeated the question. No answer. Repeat. No answer. WHAM! She slapped me across the chops while yelling something about paying attention. WTF? In one school I learned to keep my mouth shut. In this school, I just learned, when asked a question of which I had no idea of the answer, just say anything. It would keep me from getting hit.
Later that same nun went around the classroom asking each pupil what their middle name was. Now, I didn’t even know if I had one, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to sound like a dumb kid and say nothing. When my turn came, I stood up and said the only thing I ever heard myself called, besides my name. “Butch” I said. She looked at me with a frown as I thought, ‘oh-oh, here it comes’. “Your name isn’t Butch. I’ll ask you again tomorrow and you better know”. Well, my middle name is John and the next day when she asked, I told her so. “That’s better”, she says.
It was only a few days later this same nun was asking what nationality we were. “What’s she doing, writing a book”? My dad asked. But, I was always told mom was German, dad was Czech and my first name was Irish. Well, the next day when this nun asked, me being a dumb kid, told her I was Irish.
“You’re not Irish. Your last name is Polish or Russian maybe, but you’re not Irish. Sit down and shut up”.
The old two story brick schoolhouse had the boys restroom in the basement. Next to the restroom was the janitor’s shop. It was kept padlocked unless the janitor was in there. One janitor we had was named Wendell. He was a yeller. He yelled at us kids, he yelled at the nuns and even yelled at the priests. He was retired and worked cheap, was the only reason the school put up with him, my dad said. A lot of the congregation didn’t like him either.
One day during noon recess, I visited the restroom. No one else was there but on passing the workshop, I saw Wendell standing at a workbench with his back to the door. The padlock was just hanging there open. The temptation was too great. With lightning speed, I pulled the door closed and snapped the padlock closed, then got out of there without being seen, as fast as my fat little legs would carry me.
Wendell yelled and pounded up a storm, until someone released him. It took awhile because noon hour the playground was full of screaming, yelling kids and no one paid any attention to Wendell's yells. He continued his tirade about what he would do when he found out who did it. He never found out. The next year Wendell was replaced by a much more pleasant and friendly old man.
And that’s how it went, all through grade school and into high school.

 

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