For Sam, Thoughts and Memories of an Old Man Sitting Here at Night

i am sitting here in my non-reclining chair because recliners do not match our decor…according to Maureen. It’s a comfortable chair. But it’s not a recliner.

It is the evening after a nice meal at a new Japanese restaurant. i had gyoza, fried of course, octopus fritters with a long Japanese word beginning in with “T” i cannot pronounce nor spell but means pickled ginger, and with it, i enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay.

Our younger daughter is off to Orange County to spend time with friends from Austin. We are alone except for Maureen’s two cats and Sarah’s Catahoula hound. The pets have eaten and are quiet, lying in the family room in funny poses. Maureen is taking her bath. i have sworn off television for the evening.

i am drinking a pleasant red wine. i’m not going to get up and read the label just to record it here. i am eating my final dessert, a good hard cheese, something my son-in-law, Jason Gander taught me to appreciate. i miss him. We don’t see each other enough.

i am at peace…almost. There is a nagging sense of guilt that creeps in almost every evening about this time because i didn’t come close to doing all the things i planned to do during the day.

You see, i am writing this post instead of taking another chunk out of reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome, The Bully Pulpit. i blew off writing more on my book today so i could take care of some immediate business and continue my honey-do task of prepping, painting, and putting a sunshade on top of the trellis outside our bedroom. So i got a lot done, but never enough, never enough. But i did take my nap.

The trellis is really not a honey-do. It’s my priority. Daddy built this thing in the mid-1990’s with a few ideas and a bit of assistance from me. He was 80 and hadn’t slowed down a bit. It was more a nice piece of artwork than really functional, but we liked it and kept it as is. Termites and wood rot have taken their toll. i’ve replaced a couple of beams and the sun shade screen will allow us to sit out there more than we have. So that feels good.

While painting and thinking of Daddy, i wondered why. Why?

It seems looking back, recalling what i can, i was one lucky man.

i grew up, protected from the bad things in this world, even the bad things in my backyard. My parents, my friends’ parents, my teachers, and my church taught me good things. They even taught me, sometimes i wonder if it was unknowingly, that people are people, created equal. Notice there was not caveat on skin tone, origins, race, religion.

They taught me ends do not justify the means. To do things right. The Golden Rule.

They taught me i had to earn my living with them. There was not an allowance, but they gave me what they thought i earned. i vividly remember when i was around ten, we went out to dinner to Maple Hill Court, home of some of the best hamburgers and malted milks known to man. In the back corner, there was a pinball machine, not the payoff variety with no flickers like the ones i paid nickels to and played at Rotier’s, Linebaugh’s at Fourth and Broadway, and Mac’s, the working man’s restaurant on Broadway near Division while i was at Vandy. No, Maple Hill Court sported a pin  ball machine with flashing lights and bumpers and flickers and a scoreboard, and my father sternly said “no” to my request for a dime. A waste of money he explained.

And it seemed, er, happy. i remember it being happy for all of us. My parents worked their tales off. Daddy worked from around seven until five unless something needed fixing that day or someone came in late and he was the backup wrecker man if there was a wreck in the middle of the night, and later he opened up the business in the morning and closed it down at night. He filled the coke machine, the old glass bottle coke machine, red, where you put your dime in and slid the bottle down the row to the release point, pulled it out, and popped the top on the opener designed to let the metal top fall into the basket. And until i and then Joe were old enough to mow (that happened around nine years old), Daddy would come home and mow the yard in his blue working outfit, sleeves rolled up, smoking his Lucky Strike, as the sun set. Then, we would eat supper (What the hell? Dinner was the noonday meal, even if it was sandwiches; old habits die hard). He usually worked a half day or more Saturdays.

My mother? Well, while she was the mother at home, she was taking jobs at various businesses like the credit union, the hardware stores, and others to keep their books or get their taxes ready. When Joe started school, she went back to full time work as the secretary of the city school’s superintendent. But she was more than that. She kept all the records. She kept all of the financial records. She paid the bills. She submitted the taxes and prepared the budget reports and financial planning reports. While that was going on, she took care of the children who somehow ended up in her office like they were her own children.  And her pay was piddling.

Then she would come home and fix supper, wash and iron the clothes, do what cleaning was necessary, see the kids to bed, wake us up, fix breakfast, make sure we all got off to school. She went to all of our special functions, ball games, plays, recitals, and for eight years, she washed and ironed Castle Heights uniforms, mine and then Joe’s, every night.

On Saturdays, she and her children would do deep cleaning. Sundays, she got us all ready for church, ensured we got to Sunday School, monitored all three of us during the morning service and made sure we got back for the evening youth fellowship.  On a regular basis, which seemed like every Sunday night, she and other ladies would cook and serve the men’s choir before their practice, and, of course, we all went to the evening service and mostly sang gospel songs.

In retrospect, it seems we lived in damn close to a perfect world. We were isolated. If John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley didn’t report it; or the afternoon newspaper, the Nashville Banner; or the local weekly, the Lebanon Democrat didn’t print it, it didn’t happen in our world.

We grew up thinking there were heroes. We wished to follow in those footsteps and become heroes. The cowboys wore white hats. The bad guys wore black hats. Good guys would fight fair, not pull any punches or use dirty tricks, and beat the bad guys who tried all sorts of chicanery, including lying, to win, but always, always lost to the good guys. The good guys would shoot the guns out of the bad guys hands. The bad guys shot good, innocent folks in the back.  The good guys would win the girl’s heart, say “Thank you, ma’am,” doff their caps and ride off into the sunset. Not once would they take advantage of any woman. A kiss was about as far as those cowboys got, if that.

We dressed up for any occasion other than playing. We played outside until they invented television, but even then, we watched the Sealtest Big Top, and the Buster Brown Show on Saturday morning; the Howdy Doody Show and “Ruffin’ Ready’s oater on weekday afternoons.  We weren’t exposed to violence, real violence. Even in the gunfights in the oaters, there was a shot and a guy falls down, only a little blood where the bullet supposedly entered, and they closed their eyes and rolled their heads over when they died, like going to sleep.

We thought if we didn’t lie, didn’t cheat, did what was right, treated others well, and combed our hair and brushed our teeth, we would succeed.

We didn’t know about the dark side. And where i come from, there was a dark side. Prejudice. Jim Crow. Even lynchings. Segregation everywhere. The movie theater had a balcony, the only place the other group could sit and i remember wondering why. But that bigotry, that hatred did not invade my world. Oh, i wondered about it. Seemed strange. But it was far away, even though the other side of my town, the dark side, was only about two miles east of my home.

There was no”women’s lib.” There was no special effort to include other sexual preferences outside of heterosexual. There was no real effort to accommodate people with special needs. But i don’t think we ever treated anyone different because they had special needs.

And we went to our doctor without  any kind of “insurance” or health program. We had operations, the women gave birth, we had wrecks and other accidents. The docs were paid well, and we didn’t gripe about it. Sometimes, Dr. Lowe would come to our home to tend to me, most often to give me a penicillin shot in my rear. Other times, we would go to his house on West Spring Street for that dreaded moment when i would pull down my pants, lean over his knee, and receive the buttock pain.

And the boys wore jeans and collared shirts at school. Shorts were worn in the summer outside. That was all. Girls wore shorts and halter tops in the summer and one piece swimming suits. The rest of the time, they wore skirts and dresses — There is still nothing prettier than a young woman in a sun dress.

We got chicken pox; measles; mumps. Some got polio. It was bad. Otherwise, they put us in the guest bedroom downstairs, fed us soup, let us ride it out listening to the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Boston Blackie, and Gangbusters on the radio at night, and the Sons of the Pioneers during the day. We were miserable, but we were mollified because we were missing school.

We suffered mosquito bites. bee and wasp stings, cuts, bruises, burns, sunburn and the other kind, and poison ivy and poison oak. They gave us iodine, mercurochrome, and  calamine lotion. Butter was one application for burns. Daddy blew his cigarette smoke in my ear when i had an earache. It helped.

Then we went right back outside and played.

We rode one-speed bicycles with a basket on the front. At breakneck speeds, with no special gear, no helmet. But not to school. In fact, the only helmet i remember being around was the football helmet, a badge of honor with no face-guard until my sophomore year. We played pickup basketball everywhere we could; football, touch and tackle, sometimes in graveled lots. And we played baseball, inventing games when there wasn’t enough yard. There was stickball, where a small hard rubber ball was the ball and a broomstick was the bat; and used a whiffle ball to learn to hit curves and knuckleballs.

And we grew up with those principles, those morals, those ethics we learned and believed.

And then we met the world, the big cities, news, inventions, and we found our beliefs, our morals, our ethics was not the way it really was. Some of us adapted and became smaller, bitter, fearful of differences, hateful for anything not our own, protective, insular.

Some didn’t. i believe those that didn’t are happier, maybe not as successful financially, or politically, or in business pursuits, or as famous, but happier because they answer to themselves, they try to consider all sides of an arguments without bias, they try to listen.

i do not knock this new world with its technology. i keep trying to keep up with all of the sophisticated change, and the new way of doing things like no repairing stuff that breaks but go get a new one.

Not only did the Navy give me the opportunity to see a lot of this world i would have never seen. My career also allowed me to be with all sorts of people of different backgrounds, different religions, different ethnicity. It seems to me, each group is similar in many ways.

There are good people. In fact, there are mostly good people. There are bad people, even evil, who wish to dominate and hurt others for their own gain. The bad ones like to motivate folks to do their bidding, and surprisingly, there are a lot of lemming-like folks who will buy in to what the bad guys are selling. They become converts who refuse to listen to anyone else. They buy stuff, protest, do all sorts of strange things to abet the manipulators.

It’s been that way for a long, long time, way longer than my time around here.

But i grew up in a little slice of heaven. Oh yeh, we were isolated from the real world. We didn’t know a lot of things.

And i am glad. i wish others could have had that time of blissful ignorance growing up. Oh, it wasn’t perfect, not by any means.

But i think it taught me the right things.

1 thought on “For Sam, Thoughts and Memories of an Old Man Sitting Here at Night

  1. Dave grew up in Los Altos and San Bruno and had similar experiences as you. It was definitely a simpler time no matter where you lived. His father was always seeking those times again as he moved to Oregon after the boys were out of the house. Thanks for the memories.

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