Posts Tagged ‘the fifties’

Moving from the old year to the New Year

December 31, 2011

I have been neglecting this blog for quite some time now.  It isn’t that I’ve been busy – quite the opposite.  I guess I haven’t been busy enough.  I’ve written several blog entries, but owing to one reason or another just never posted them.  Here is one of them:

When I was lying flat on my back while recovering from a fall a while back, I honed my hearing enough to find out many things about my house that I didn’t know.  For instance, the water softener makes a gurgling sound that normally takes place around three in the morning.  With my odd hours of waking and sleep, I kept hearing it and wondering what it was

Pretty much every night, there appears to be some sort of small animal that roams around our back yard.  As soon as the dog behind us starts to bark, our cat springs into action.  She goes completely bonkers (an animal medical term meaning ‘taken leave of its senses’) and runs around the house with a tail the size of a large zucchini.  Everything (and I mean everything) in that cat’s path gets shredded; including anyone (me) lying on a bed in the living room.  It’s not that she jumps up on me but more that she allows herself to slowly move down the wall as she’s making the rounds of the living room.  Much the same as those old motorcycle daredevils that roared around “The Wall of Death”.  The hearing part of this rambling is her making noises like a chipmunk of steroids.  Sort of an Ekk-Ekk sound, but only when she’s got her nose within two inches of my ear AND I’m asleep

The toilet in the master bathroom needs a new valve seal as it will occasionally run for ten seconds and then shut back down

The clock above the television ticks very loudly when the TV isn’t on

The rest of the sounds in and around the house have been catalogued at least enough to keep me from wondering that they are

= =

All this is leading up to the substance of this post: What were the sounds you liked best about each season when you were in your childhood – say from eight to fourteen.  In my case, that would have been from 1950 to 1956.  I’ll start with summer

Summertime, especially in Washington, D.C., can, to be charitable, be rather hot.  From dawn, or shortly before it, the first things I heard were the chirring of the locusts in the trees surrounding the house.  That noise would continue throughout the day, providing background to everything you did outside.  Next would come the cawing of crows as they soared over those same trees trying to wake their brethren for another day.  Since school was out, kids would begin their shouting and running about.  In the late afternoon, there would be the tinkling of the ice cream truck as it made it’s rounds.  Finally, as it grew dark, more kid sounds as they played their games until the call for a late dinner

Towards fall, other sounds would begin to appear.  In the woods not too far away, chain saws would begin to snort and bellow their way through fallen trees.  The wind, which usually stayed away during the summer, would begin to blow and sigh through treetops and rattle shutters.  Soon, that sound would be augmented by the rustling of leaves as they try to infiltrate the back porch, only to slide down the screening.  The end of summer was always signaled over at my neighbor’s house by the running of a water pump as it drained their pool for yet another year.  A sad sound which usually ran for nearly a complete day because the pump was small and he didn’t want to create a swamp in his back yard.  Once school started, busses would blat and fart around corners to halt and pick up glum-looking kids dressed in sweaters and, later, parkas.

The crystal-clear cold of winter was almost a non-sound.  Only when it is a very early morning with no wind can you hear the scurry of snow as it rattles across the surface of older snow which has crusted overnight.  Leaves, those that stubbornly remained on trees, begin falling and rattling dryly against windows.  On weekends, the shouts, taunts, and general noise created by what seems to be hundreds of kids on a nearby sledding hill would invade the white countryside.  An occasional car can be heard passing by, slipping and sliding, on the unplowed tar road in front of the house.  Dusk falls early during this season and, soon after doing so, I could hear the measured crunch of my father’s footsteps as he walked from car to house.

Perhaps my favorite audio time of the year is spring.  This is when the cold, snippy winds of winter give way to an equal, but opposite, wind of promise.  If a person is outside, he will hear the sounds of birds in the trees after their long absence.  First comes the hardy birds, no songbirds, but steady, workaholic birds who are scouting places to raise their families.  As leaves begin to sprout, more colorful birds appear.  These you can hear simply by lying on the ground in your front yard and closing your eyes.  They make small skittering sounds as they hop to and fro, testing each fork on the limb for nest suitability.  Once found, they call to mates “come look, come look – I’ve found the perfect place!”  They say it in chirps and tweedles, but you understand them anyway.  On the last day of school, the expectant chatter of my friends as they jump off the bus for the last time this year makes me take heart that there really is a life after Suitland Elementary School.

Now, as a new year creeps up on me in less than five hours, I wish everyone good tidings in the upcoming year.

T.O.M

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Fort Possum, Part 2

November 4, 2010

We met again the next afternoon.  Fired up once more with the spirit of adventure we rushed around like demented squirrels gathering up bits of board, pipe, nails, string, cardboard, and other items to make our fort a home.  My brother’s wagon was piled high with goodies so we had to be doubly careful not to dump the stuff on the ground.  Oops, too late.

Once again we piled items on my brother’s wagon and set forth – again – into the woods.  We would do the picking up thing several more times on the way there.  Each time we pondered the necessity of this or that item.  We were leaving a trail of discarded things a blind person could follow into our secret location.

Finally, we arrived and unloaded.  Well, actually, it was unloaded for us because when we stopped the wagon lost a wheel and the whole load dumped yet again.  “Just leave that crap on the ground.  We’ll get it if we need it.”  Sage advice from an anonymous voice in the group.

We spent the next few hours hammering, sawing, grumbling, and making an occasional profane shout when a finger get between the hammer and the nail.  The whole fort was taking shape now and really looking good.  We had three side up as tall as the tallest one of us and as soon as we finished the roof poles we’d begin putting pieces of plywood and thick cardboard on top.  We had some of the younger guys out in the surrounding woods gathering pine boughs to help hide the fort from casual view.

It was inevitable that we were finally finished.  In our view it was a finely crafted, very good looking fort.  In reality, it was probably very leaky, and a Big Bad Wolf could huff and/or puff it right down.  But what the heck, we were proud of it.  This time, before we left, we all gathered inside and took our solemn oath never to divulge the location of this secret place.  Never mind that probably every kid in the neighborhood knew where it was.

Wearily, we trudged back to my place, tools only in the little red wagon this time.  We had exhausted all the building supplies we brought.  Also included were numerous pine branches which would no doubt turn brown and un-hide our fort.  I had to admit, as I looked back from down the trail a ways, it did seem to blend right into the side of the cliff.

All week long we took about an hour each afternoon after school and drug items of comfort down to the fort.  An old camp chair appeared.  A very threadbare (and stinky, from Tad’s dog) rug was tried, convicted and sentenced to stand guard ten feet away from the front door.  A small two-shelf bookcase was assembled into which we put all our rations, comic books, tin cans with assorted goodies in them, and other things that interested pre-teen boys.  Nobody claimed to know where the smutty magazine came from, but we all agreed that it was probably okay to keep it around for a while.  At least until we needed glasses.

Due to the inconsistencies of parents, only five of us guys got to sleep out in the fort the first weekend it was ready.  My brother and I were two of them.  A nice fellow named Bert, a rather mouthy kid named Benny, and a very quiet kid named Xavier made up the fearless five who would initiate the fort.  We packed up for the trip (all 1 mile of it) like we were attempting to scale Everest.  My mother spotted my brother and I sneaking all sorts of stuff out of the house.  She reclaimed three packages of hot dogs, one of the tins of cocoa, a huge bag of marshmallows, and a box of firecrackers that had somehow gotten mixed in with them.  “Gosh, mom, I haven’t a clue where those came from.  No, I won’t set the woods on fire.  Well, okay, I’ll put them aside.”  Poop!  Nothing is more exciting than blowing up hot dogs and marshmallows with ladyfingers.

We arrived, arranged our sleeping gear on the ground and built a very small fire on the ground in the middle of the fort.  Upon reflection, after the place filled with smoke almost immediately, we decided that we should probably have put in a stove pipe.  Motion carried.  We hacked a hole in one wall and another in the opposite wall.  After twenty minutes or so we could go back in.  The smell of smoke permeated everything.  We didn’t notice it much.  The size of the fire was carefully regulated after that.  Put a stovepipe on the list.

I had brought a tiny little solid pellet fueled stove with me and a metal canteen cup so I decided to make cocoa.  Now, the cocoa that my mom confiscated was the one that had the sugar in it so when I slurped down a huge mouthful of the awful brew I barely made it to the door blowing it out with compressed air.  “Wahg!  Ick!  Where’s the sugar,” I asked; rhetorically, it seemed.  Nobody had brought any.  Add sugar to the list.

Candles were lit when it got so dark we couldn’t discern the colors of Superman’s cape.  Errant puffs of wind through our supposedly tight walls kept putting them out, or making the flame burn off-center enough to have a half-candle standing tall with the other half melted down to the base.  Matches were dwindling pretty fast.  Add them to the list.

By nightfall proper, we had exhausted all our jokes and were down the bodily noises in the dark.  Benny entertained us with an amazingly loud medley of burps and belches.  This act was followed by Xavier who managed to bring tears to our eyes – with his exhaust fumes.  “Sorry, guys.  Hot dogs just make me fart.”  Take hot dogs off the list.

Somewhere around midnight, I guess, Bert got up and wandered around outside stubbing his toes at least six times trying to find a place to pee.  He didn’t want to turn on his flashlight because then we ‘could see him pee’ and that just wasn’t acceptable.  He had taken a candle, but it blew out and he hadn’t taken any matches with him.  He finally found a spot.  The sound of falling water affected the rest of us predictably so we all files out and created a small tsunami which flooded out at least one anthill.

Back inside, after whispering ghost stories to each other for a while we began to drop off one by one.  I think that Benny was still talking when I drifted off to sleep.

I came awake suddenly for some reason.  I couldn’t put a motivation to it, but my eyes just popped open.  I lay silent, breathing very slowly listening for whatever it was that woke me.  Bert, who was lying next to me, started pushing against my leg with his leg.  I pushed back, but he kept bumping and pushing at me.  With no warning, he began rolling over onto my stomach.  “Hey!  Dammit Bert.  Move back over, whydontcha?”  I said, and pushed back again.

“It’s not me, Tom.  I’m over here.”  His voice answered from across the fort.  “Benny!  Get your hairy arm off my face!”

“Whatd’ya mean me?  I’m still in my sack.  Kick Xavier instead.”

“It’s not me guys.”  Said Xavier.  “So who the hell is it?”

The only flashlight in the place flicked on and highlighted a huge apparition of an animal as it stood on it’s hind legs, transfixed and still, in the middle of five guys who were in the process of levitating.   “AHHHHGH!  What the fuckzat?”  Screamed someone – who sounded remarkably like me.

All six of us tried to get out the door at the same time, which solved the problem of enough ventilation since the entire wall fell with a crash.  The poor Opossum that had started all this carefully looked at us, snorted, and ambled down the path.  We gathered all our bedding, which had been sucked out the door in the vacuum behind us as we left, and peeked into the fort to see if any more  possums were forthcoming.  None were found, but the hole we had noticed before and plugged with a rock was now rock-less.  We figured he had to have come out of that hole and found we’d built a fort over him.

We decided that henceforth the fort would be known as Fort Possum.

T.O.M.

Fort Possum, Part 1

October 21, 2010

One of the cool things that pretty much every kid, the males as least, got to do was build forts.  Big forts, small forts, one-man forts, snow forts, tree forts, and the most grand fort of all: the dugout fort.  Fort building was an art form practiced by pretty much all us guys that lived within our housing area in Maryland.

The very first thing you have to do is carefully select your crew.  You have to have the right mix, or any fort building activity will be negated by squabbling among the members.  I had to start with my brother.  This was mainly because I’d enlisted him to help me spirit away a few boards, nails, a small hammer, and (for some reason) a three-legged stool from our basement.  I didn’t really want him with me, but he was a certified squealer and this was going to be a secret fort.

Several of my normal cronies volunteered to help.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  The one person we needed was Ralph.  His dad owned the local hardware store.  Nothing got built in our neighborhood (by grown-ups or kids) without materials from him.  Ralph was a whiner though.  Nothing grated on your nerves worse than a kid who constantly whined about this or that – usually in a high-pitched, nasal voice.  We’d just have to figure out how to exclude Ralph when it came time to select officers in the club.

Our survey team started out one sunny Saturday morning.  We loaded up our trusty bicycle baskets with lunch goodies and bottled soda.  Pedaling though the neighborhood, we gathered up our crew.  Eventually there were seven of us rolling down the hill towards the stream that ran between the last houses and the woods.  This particular set of woods was called the Big Woods.  It went back roughly two or three miles over pretty hilly ground and ended up against the security fence of Andrews Air Force Base.  At it’s widest point, it was perhaps four or five miles long.

There were several trails worn down from the travel of kids in search of fun.  We followed the main one for a bit and then veered off onto a lesser trail.  Soon, we were pushing our bikes through shrubbery that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.  As I was more-or-less the leader, I had to, er, lead.  This meant I got to pick the wrong little trail and end up right at the edge of the cliff overlooking the gravel pit.

“Whoops,” I declared as I shuddered to a stop.  “Wrong turn.”

“Hey!  Dipshit.  This here’s the quarry.”  A chorus of agreement followed his carefully worded remark.  “Come on, guys.  Let’s go back this way.”

The outspoken second-in-command (by virtue of his keen insight as to my leadership abilities) backed up, turned around, and forked off in another direction.  Eventually we located a very nice place at the base of a small cliff.  There were tiny caves in the cliffside but none big enough to be of much use to us.  We did some extensive surveying work (walked back and forth and estimated how big the area was), made some notes on a paper bag (we had forgotten paper) with a pen that skipped (provided by my brother).

Some discussion followed as to the actual suitability of this spot as opposed to a different spot but it was quickly tamped down by a comment from one of the bystanders: “What the hey?  So build already!”  This from Mr. Moshwitcz.

“Let’s eat.”  This from our most rotund buddy.  He grabbed at the food bag and ripped it open.  He had to be slightly restrained from pulling everything out and stuffing it in his mouth.  I say ‘slightly’ only if you consider wrestling him to the ground and sitting on him ‘slight’.  Benny made the mistake of opening a bottle of Coke by putting the lip of the cap on the bolt in the center of his handle bars and slamming his hand down.  Classic bottle opening technique.  What he’d forgotten was that the Coke had been out in the sun, not to mention been bounced along in a bike basket for hundreds of miles, and it literally exploded out of the neck and all over us.

“HEY!”

“Fathead!”

(Expletive deleted)

(Ditto)

After cleaning hot, sticky Coke from most of us we unloaded some of the preliminary building materials and pushed them back into one of the holes.  A suitable sized rock was located which we pushed into the hole as a plug.  On our way back to the housing area, we made sure to take our bearings although there probably wasn’t a single kid for miles around that couldn’t have navigated anywhere inside those woods with a blindfold on.  What we did do was make the approach path deceptively vague.  We added obfusticating notes like ‘go 792 paces from the big dead tree towards the hill with the big rock on it and then crawl on all fours down the game trail through the blackberry bushes’; stuff like that.  We figured that if any kid could count up to 792 they were welcome to join our merry band.

Back at the house, we drew up a list of contents we might need.  Some things were written down and others were laughed out of existence.  For instance, who needed a bathtub?  In just over 1000 paces, we could walk over the cliff and fall into the water-filled gravel pit.  Sheesh!  Candles.  Candles were good.  We’d need a lot of them.  One of the guys said he could get some so we told him to do so.  We’d need lots of boards, but getting them down to the fort was going to be a problem.

We ended up gathering all the stuff and stashing it under my back porch.  The cave under our back porch usually ended up being the staging grounds for loads of my nefarious and clandestine projects.  That is until the time that we’d found that small canister of sulfur in the trash behind the high school it was very secure.  But, as they say, that’s another story.

It was an impressive pile of goodies we’d gathered.  Some almost new two by fours, three rather large hunks of plywood, a big jar of nails, two rusted hammers, a pot of glue (glue?), and a short-handled shovel.  Looking like a line of castaways moving camp, we trudged towards the site of our new fort.  At about the halfway mark, we had our first mutiny.  “I’m not carrying this damn board one more inch!”  Peewee declared, throwing it to the ground.  In all fairness, he was the smallest of the group and he had picked the longest board to carry.  That didn’t say much towards his intelligence and, when this was pointed out, his answer was a simply “Up yours, asshole!”

We redistributed the load somewhat and continued.  I don’t know how long it actually took us but by the time we finally dropped the stuff at the site we were tuckered out.  Lunch immediately followed.  Leo was not allowed near the Coke.  Soon the clatter of hammer and the ragged sound of a saw torturing wood filled the little glade.  Big rocks were put to play driving stakes into the ground so that we would actually have something to nail the boards to.  About halfway through the lower level a sane voice spoke up.  “Hey, wait.  Where’s the door going to be?”

We had run boards all the way around the three sides (the fourth being the side of the cliff) and left no opening for any kind of door.  “Well, poop.”  A voice sounded from the rear of our group.  A half hour was wasted while we argued just where the door was going to be.

“Over here, so we can look downhill.”

“Over here, so we can look uphill.”

“Over here so we don’t have to run through blackberry bushes every time we have to pee.”  Spoke the voice of reason.  We all voted for that answer and modified our stake pounding to include a doorway facing the ‘pee area’.

We ran out of lumber and stamina at about the same time and decided to quit for the day.  Wearily, we stashed most of our leftover goods up against the hillside and departed for home.  Most of us were headed to church the next day (except Abe) so we agreed to meet at around noon at my house.

T.O.M.

 

The subject is: bullying

October 9, 2010

When I read this article in the San Francisco newspaper I was appalled.

Article:

Then I remembered that this is really nothing new.  Bullying has been around for a lot longer than just recently.  My own experiences in the mid-fifties with bullying were just as bad as these four souls, but I took some good advice from – of all people – my parents.  I sought out my dad and, surprisingly, he came through with some pretty sage advice.

His thoughts were along the lines of  ‘don’t react to the taunting’ and ‘just walk away’.  And, he added, ‘if that doesn’t work, take a first, and aggressive, step.  hit first and keep hitting’.

Well, that is all well and good if you are faced with only one bully.  In my case, this particular bully had ancillary bullies that liked to hang around with this lug and add to the general taunting and other activities.  One of them would initially corner me and, like magic, the rest would appear in a circle around me.  This was performed in places where being seen by anyone in authority was just not going to happen.  Bus stops, either in the morning or the evening, were a favorite.

Due to school rules, we had to board and exit the bus at designated stops.  This was enforced by the driver who made sure that we only got on or off at our stops.  Unfortunately, most of the bullies got off at the stop before me and would hit the street running.  They would run through back yards and emerge on my street ready for me as I got off the bus.  The familiar circle would form and things would begin.

First, it was great fun to grab all my books and fling them across the street.  Then, as I tried to pick them up and gather papers that began to blow away, the group of them would trip me, push me, and generally keep me from getting to the papers.  This would go on for a while until the main bully would take a swing at me and, usually, connect.  This was never done where I could see it coming, but, instead, the blow would usually be in my back or on the back of my head.  Many is the time I finally made it home with blood running down into my shirt collar.

My mom would get severely pissed off and go raging around the house yelling and making threats of her own against ‘those bastards’.  I suspect that most of her rage was directed mainly at me as she tried to get the blood out of the material. ‘Why can’t you just fight back?’  she would ask.  She didn’t really have a clue about the social significances of ‘fighting back’ when faced with more than one person.  I’d get killed.

My dad finally came through one evening.  He told me he’d signed me up for boxing lessons at the base gym twice a week.  In his college days, he’d been a football player and was still pretty beefy for an old guy (mid-30’s).  He said he’d get in some gym time while I was taking the lessons.  We both decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone I was doing this.  Mostly this was for self-preservation because if the bullies heard they’d only escalate before I was ready.

I suffered through weeks of hell.  I was taunted, kicked, pushed, hit, and body-slammed into many walls for the next few weeks.  Finally, about two months later, I felt that I was ready to at least try and make a stand.

I would look in the mirror and see a skinny, slightly freckled face, adolescent staring back at me.  My arms were pencil thin and I had to admit to myself I hardly presented a fierce demeanor.  I would strike a pose, fists up, and then almost break into laughter at how silly I looked.  I hardly looked menacing.

The big day arrived.  I was as ready as I ever would get.  Today had been an especially bad day because one of the hangers-on managed to trip me into a wall and I’d split my lip.  I was already in a bit of pain so I figured ‘what the hell’ and sat down on the homeward bus.  Moving around on the bus was strictly forbidden and, as I said, the driver enforced rules harshly.  This meant that the ‘Wild Bunch’, as I called them, would leave me alone until the dropped off the bus and began their run to meet me.

Sure enough, we rounded the corner to my street and arrayed nearby, but not enough to cause concern to the driver, was the circle of bullies.  I stepped off the bus and, hidden by the side of the bus where the driver couldn’t see him, I got smacked in the back of my head with a hardback book.  I stumbled, unprepared, and dropped to one knee.  He moved in closer as the bus went on down the road.  With one hand down on the ground to help me get back up, I curled my other hand into a fist and rose up.  In one swift move I clocked him right behind the ear.  He got this shocked look on his face and I added another tap right on his cheek then fell back into a defensive posture.

He was so shocked that he just stood there until the main bully got into the act.  I heard him coming across the gravel at the side of the road and pivoted to meet him.  Without thinking, my right fist shot out and banged him right on the nose.  He halted in his tracks and just stood there.  His buddies took a step back, knowing he would probably begin to wipe me out, as usual.

Before he even moved again, I hit him with a one, two:  a fast punch to the ribs and another one to the side of his face.  Then I backed up and scanned from face to face looking for any movement on their part.  They didn’t move an inch.  They were all looking at their hero, who now had blood dripping from his nose, trying to clear his head and breathe.

“Enough?”  I shouted.  “Have you had enough?”

He answered by stepping towards me and flailing away with hands curled into fists.  The fight was on.  He tried several face shots which I blocked very well.  He got in one hit on my shoulder that caused my arm to tingle, but it was still functional.  Two more attempts to hit me in the stomach were blocked also.  Then he decided to kick me.  That was a big mistake.

As his foot rose I reached down and caught his heel.  With a grunt I flipped him over and he fell to the ground on his back.  All the air whooshed out of his lungs and I decided he was out of action.  I was wrong.  He managed to get back on his feet but as soon as he did, I hit him on the jaw – twice – very hard.  The first one split the skin on his cheekbone and the second one widened it even more.

He was getting groggy now and tried to rally his buddies by egging them on and into the fight.  They, thank goodness, decided that seeing what he was getting was not something they wanted any part of.  Two of them drifted away and the others just stood there.  The head bully, however, had regained some composure and moved in closer to me.  I stepped back smartly and popped him a good one in the middle of his chest.  That took all the fight out of him and he just dropped his arms and tried his best to gather in enough air to sustain life.  He was done.

I said something like “now that I have your attention: leave me the hell alone.  You got that?”

He nodded and turned away snuffling blood and spitting onto the ground.  I watched him walk away, weaving a bit, until he was down the block.  I massaged my knuckles, worked my jaw back and forth a couple of times, gathered my books and papers, and walked home.  I felt a whole lot better even though I had just beaten up a guy.  I had a feeling I’d seen the last of him.

I was right.  The next two years of school passed with no hassle at all from anyone – especially the main bully.  I don’t recommend this for everyone but sometimes the only good defense is a great offense.  Strike first, and strike hard is sometimes the only option.

T.O.M.

It was a dark and stormy night…

September 22, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night…

All really bad literature starts out that way.  There is even a yearly contest that celebrates this genre of writing.  The basic rule of the contest is that the first (and, usually the only) paragraph start with those seven words.  Then, the aim is to tack on as many words and phrases as you can while remaining semantically and syntactically correct.  There is a Wikipedia entry here describing this contest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulwer%E2%80%93Lytton_Fiction_Contest

Here is my entry:

It was a dark and stormy night and, while my brother and I eagerly awaited the coming dawn hoping for an announcement on the radio about our specific schools closing, we dreaded that we would hear no word of our school; unless the snow got so heavy that power lines snapped or were brought down by heavily laden tree branches giving way under the pressing weight of snow – not to mention the numbing cold which would cause objects outside to freeze into brittle shapes that would shatter at the first touch of a strong wind – to fall heavily over frost-tightened transmission lines running through the neighborhood.

There!  Pant, pant.  My contribution for posterity.  But, seriously, folks, here’s what happened in January of the year 1954 to the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.  The storm dropped an official eleven point three inches, but my little community got almost seventeen inches.  We did, in fact, get four snow days off from school.  Two of them were endured with no road traffic on any of the streets in our area.  This, of course, was celebrated joyously by every kid in the neighborhood – bar none.

When we had gone to sleep, there were vague warnings on television that a bit of snow would come our way.  My dad, being a meteorologist on base, and savvy to the ways of weather, said, and I quote, “bull”.  There was an added syllable to that statement, but I shan’t repeat it here.  He added that “it’s going to snow like hell and they’re not admitting it”.

As my brother and I bedded down we could hear the wind rising and the beginnings of snow pellets smacking against the window panes.  In the darkness, I smiled to myself.

We awoke the next morning to a murky dawn.  Light from the sun was very dim owing to the huge flakes of snow falling down in whirling eddies to land on the eight inches already on the ground.  When I heard my dad’s voice, I knew we (and he) were right:  it was a blizzard and we were free!  If he couldn’t get to work, I knew for certain the bus’s couldn’t get through.

Amid cries of joy, my brother and I practically burst into song as we washed up, dressed, and bounced out into the dining room for breakfast.  It was probably a record-breaking performance in terms of getting ready to meet the day.  After all, why would we want to waste a single minute of not having to go to school?

After breakfast, the two of us dashed down into the basement and began dragging various snow-traversing implements out of the pile at the back wall.  First, and foremost, our mukluks.  These had survived, and still fit us, from our stay in Alaska and were probably the warmest foot coverings on the planet in that day and age.  They consisted of actual seal skin and bear hide.  The seal skin was turned inside out so that the slick outer layer (when it was on the seal) was turned against our woolen socks.  Then you laced up the bearskin (fur outside) with thongs made of Caribou.  The ones that I and my brother wore were gifts presented to us by the old trapper who lived next to us in Fairbanks – bless him.  Believe it or not, Wikipedia even has an entry on this type of footwear.)

Next, we located our two sleds.  Mine was brand new the year before and was called a Flexible Flyer.  It was too, flexible, that is.  It could be steered by means of a “T” bar across the nose.  When you twisted it, the runners curved and you went the way you steered.  Of course, many factors had a bearing on whether or not you actually turned; ice, being one, and other kids being another.

I laid my sled upside down on the workbench and proceeded to touch up the runners with a little file.  Dings, burrs, and other faults which would slow progress downhill were filed off and what resulted was a knife-edge of perfection.  Hah!  I thought.  If this one ran over a foot I should expect to see severed toes at least.

A huge box of snow clothing almost fell on us as we yanked various items from the pile.  I found my pair of snowshoes and set them aside in the hope that it would snow long enough for me to use them.  Little did I know.

Soon, we had everything we needed and struggled to haul them upstairs and into the back porch for staging our assault on the yard.  We looked out into the slowly brightening scene to find that the snow was now over the lower bar on the fence.  That meant it was nine inches deep – and it was still snowing.  Insisting on forcing us to have something hot inside, my mom pulled us back into the kitchen for hot cocoa; not that much forcing was needed.  She made the best cocoa in the neighborhood and kids came from miles around to get a steaming cup of it.  Drop in a few marshmallows and instant brown, furry, upper lip.

Back on the porch now.  Mukluks are easy to put on – if you have three arms.  You definitely need two to hold the top while you push your foot into it.  The third is necessary to keep the inner skin from compacting under your foot.  Since my brother and I were old hands at donning mukluks, we just helped each other.  Once fitted, we wrapped the thongs tightly in a cris-cross pattern from the base to the top and tied them off.  Adding a thick coat with muffler wrapped around the collar and gloves we were ready for some fun.

Snow on the East Coast, especially near large bodies of water, can come in several graduations of ‘wetness’.  If the wind is blowing pretty hard (like, enough to blow your cap off) the snow turns into hard little pellets that sting when they hit.  All morning, the wind had been dropping so that by the time we ventured out snow was falling in much larger flakes.  These tended to be a little wetter and when you tried to slog through drifts it felt like walking in molasses.  This time we were lucky.  The snow was pretty dry and the sled pulled nicely behind us.

We were headed for the hill on the road behind our house one block over.  It was called Boxwood and it went down very steeply to a cross street.  This would have been a perfect sledding hill but for one flaw:  there was no street on the other side of the bottom junction, just someone’s house.  In an effort to stop or at least slow kids from zipping across their yard to crash into their front porch, the owners had installed a line of small pine trees with a trunk about three inches in diameter.

Any kid can tell you that pine trees may be nice, but they will not stop a good sledder at speed.  When you hit the tree – and you WILL hit the tree – the front of your sled rides up the trunk, bends it over, and thumps rhythmically on the underside of your sled as you pass over it.  It will, however, slow you down to below the sound barrier.  Not the official sound barrier of around 768 miles per hour but the kid sound barrier of AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  I’M OUTTA CONTROL!!!!!!!!!

I have no idea how many times the owners had to add shingles to the lower portion of their house after sleds have come to a stop against them.

Anyway, as my brother and I slogged around the block, pulling our sleds behind us, we were joined by other hardy adventurers with their sleds.  By the time we all got to the top of the hill there was a crowd of maybe twenty kids of all sizes and downhill capabilities.  First things first.  A chain of kids was formed (chosen mostly by boot size) to walk in a line across the hill and move downwards.  This packed the snow down so that we had a good base.

Packing a good base is important because if you don’t, the very first time you take a flying leap and plop down on your sled, you’re going to eat yards of snow coming over the front bar.  When it is packed, what you have then is a glistening, slightly icy, surface suitable for supersonic power-sledding

Finally, the packing is complete and the hill is ready for trial runs.  Testers are democratically chosen by their size (“I’m bigger than you so I go first”).  They will make the first couple of runs in a sitting position so they can slam their boots down in an effort to stop if anything gets in their way.  This method is mostly psychological because nothing can stop on this hill.  The best that you can hope for is managing a slight turn.  To top it off, turning too much will guarantee that your runners will dig into the snow/ice and you’ll end up doing barrel rolls all the way down.

The hill is declared ready for business and by now there are hordes (maybe fifty) of kids ready to zip down the slope.  The hill itself starts very step and levels out about halfway down and then steepens for the final drop to the cross street.  There is a small drainage gully at the bottom which, if you aren’t prepared for, will launch you into the air.  How far depends on many things.  For instance, your weight, your speed, your intestinal fortitude, and the like.  Most of us like to hit this jump by hanging on to the sides of the sled (if seated) and hanging on the sides of the sled (if prone).  The main difference is that if you are seated you stand a good chance of retaining your seat on the sled, otherwise you’re gonna take a fall.

It is now time for my first run.  I stand a ways back from the crest, adjust everything I can adjust so that my legs are unencumbered by excess cloth (or loose mukluk strings), and I take off running.  In three steps or sometimes four I end up crouch-running lower and lower to the ground.  I hold the sled out in front of me slightly, making sure that the runners are in line with my direction of travel, and prepare for the controlled crash when I finally hit the snow and flop on the sled.

A note here on sled alignment.  If you don’t get the runners exactly aligned it is possible to either miss your sled partially (or completely) and end up on your stomach whizzing down the hill and feeling bits of cloth, buttons, zippers, and gloves ripping off to trail after you; or, the sled will stop dead and you will trip over it and complete the very same trip also sans sled.  The good news about the second scenario is that your sled will be waiting for you when the medics bring you back up to the top of the hill.

It is still snowing hard so the bottom of the hill is shrouded in swirling mistiness.  There are unofficial “hill criers” that will shot that the coast is clear so when you hear that call it is presumed safe to take off.  I do.

A perfect launch.  Feet propelling me swiftly from behind the crest to the very top of the hill, a neat drop of the sled to the snow, and a belly-flop that whooshes air out of my lungs.  I make sure I don’t drag my toes behind me, which is considered ‘chicken’ by the hard core sledders.  It also screws up the take off zone by making grooves.

In no time, I am halfway down the hill and slowing slightly as the grade flattens out.  The bottom clears a lot here at the halfway point and I see that my intended target zone is clear of anything fauna.  Flora are another matter.  I see, too late, that the trees that I was able to slip between last year have now grown branches that stretch from on to another.  This tends to hide anything behind them.  I vow to make a small turn.  Just enough to pass around in a great arc from one side of the hill and end up running perpendicular to the hill on the cross street.

Things don’t work out quite as I planned and my turn is cut short at about the halfway point by a small patch of snow which hasn’t been stamped flat yet.  I hit it dead center and am blinded by the snow I scooped up over the front bar.  Since I wear glasses, this is not a good thing and I spend precious moments frantically trying to clear them.  I can see again, but only to get a really close view of a garbage can before I smack into it with my shoulder.

Like a bowling ball against pins, I topple the cans (there were two of them) and scatter trash around.  My speed has been cut down to practically nothing but when a discarded magazine slips under my runner, it and the sled attached, comes to a dead halt.  Unfortunately, I don’t, and I end up flying forward off the sled and into a scooped up ridge of snow from the guy’s driveway.

“Yahoooo!”  I shout as I turn and contemplate climbing back up the slope for another run.  My brother and I spend most of the day on this hill.  By the time noon rolls around there must have been a hundred kids whooshing down the hill.  It is barely controlled mayhem on the slope.  Established corridors for travel back up to the top are demarked, and for the most part obeyed, but occasionally a downhill sledder picks up a passenger.

When lunchtime arrives, my brother and I troop back to our house, gobble down sandwiches, and head back to the hill.  It continues to snow the rest of the afternoon until we have a base coat that is around six to seven inches deep.  Very prime sledding conditions for sure.  Finally, tired, sore, and ready for a rest, we go back to our house for the last time.  It continues to snow all night long until the next morning arrives with the aforementioned seventeen inches.  School is forgotten and for those four days we live it up.

T.O.M.

What goes down must surely come up?

September 14, 2010

In my last post, I waxed nostalgic about a picture of me and my buddies standing in front of our newly constructed submarine.  The fact that the nearest water of any size was the swimming hole in the creek about a quarter mile away didn’t deter us one whit.  What mattered was that we’d created it.  My mom agreed to take the picture because, I am sure, she didn’t think it would ever be launched.  Little did she know.

The idea of building – something – was conceived one very hot summer Saturday morning in my back yard.  It was one of those days that dawns brassy and stays that way all day until you feel your eyeballs begin to boil.  Washington, D.C. can do that to you; and does every summer.  A bunch of us guys (no girls) were hanging around the little gazebo in the back yard that my dad had finally finished.  There were all sorts of boards, nails, glue pots, little metal thingies, and empty (or nearly so) paint cans.

We’d become really exhausted from jumping over boards placed on paint cans with our bikes and were now relaxing around an upturned washtub with cold water and a few ice cubes in it.  Warm bottles of Coke were trying their best to cool themselves in the tepid water.  I’m not sure which of us got the original idea, but suddenly we were all talking about how the paint cans would hold water.  We carried that even further to the end that they would also hold air and support a board placed in water.

This got us thinking along the lines of a raft or something like that.  We listlessly kicked around all sorts of wild schemes until one guys says “what about a submarine?”  There was the usual jeering but then died out as we thought harder about it.  We discusses all sorts of ways to make something like that work, but couldn’t come up with anything that satisfied the actual working premise of a submarine: it sinks, and then it comes back up.

The actual sinking was no problem at all.  Pull the plug and down you’d go.  It was the coming back up that had us stumped.  We must have sat around that galvanized tub for most of the afternoon before my brother, of all people, suggested that we use a hose and blow air back into whatever we use for flotation.  That idea had merit.

Over the rest of the afternoon we sketched plans on a pad of paper I brought out.  Some of them were pretty far out there, but a couple of them just might work.  Basically, we settled on a design with a frame of wood resting over tubs with paint cans for extra buoyancy.  We all trooped up into our bathroom to weigh ourselves so we’d know how much weight it was expected to carry.  My mom was concerned that some sort of mass hysteria had gripped us and we all had to pee at the same time, but we reassured her that all was well.  Mystified, she went along on her way doing mom stuff.

With absolutely no thought about how we were going to get this thing all the way down to the creek, we began construction.  One of us had found a really nice oval copper horse trough in a field.  It looked abandoned, so we appropriated it.  That became our central tank.  A couple more were liberated from their normal spots and pressed into service also until we had the big one in the middle and two further towards the pointy end and one somewhat larger one at the other end.

Disaster struck almost at once.  One guy, who shall remain nameless (not me, of course), began nailing boards across the 2×4 and used nails a bit too long.  Two of them pierced the tub.  After a little discussion (and a knuckle sandwich) it was determined that pine sap, melted and dripped into the little holes, would seal them.  We scattered into the little woods next to my house and brought home sappy sticks to melt.  Darned if it didn’t work.

Once the basic flooring was placed, we formed two oarlocks, one on each side, with huge spikes driven in at an angle to enclose the oars we’d filched from one of the guy’s dad’s rowboat (“aw, he never goes fishing any more anyway”).  Another guy’s dad was a plumber.  This was what we needed from him: some copper pipe, a shut-off valve, and some way to solder the pipes up.  He’d been watching his dad for years so he volunteered to do the soldering.  We watched in awe as he pumped up his dad’s blowtorch and drew a flame about three feet long when he first fired it up.  “Heh, heh, it’s a bit tricky at first.  Heh, heh” was all he said.

With only minor burns, and acid holes in our jeans, we finished the delicate piping that we would rely on for our submergence (and, hopefully, reemergence) gear.  It was also mentioned, and jeered at, that we may need some sort of air pump to get air back under the tubs (which were inverted).  This suggestion was pooh-poohed and he quietly slunk away.

Instead of a conning tower, we just stuck five 2×4’s vertically upward from the frame to hold on to.  During our planning stage, we went down to the creek and measured the depth of the hole itself.  At the most, it was twelve feet deep; and this hole extended approximately 40 feet in one direction and 60 feet in another.  A fine briny deep.  Since I was the tallest, we calculated that even if we grounded on the bottom, as least I would be able to hold my head up out of the water.  The others could chin themselves on the crossbars we put on the conning boards.

By now, my mom was pretty sure the two of us had gotten involved in yet another reason why she was finding grey hairs in her head every day.  We could see her watching us in the back yard while doing dishes or just tidying up the kitchen.  I think one of the reasons I am like I am today is that neither one of my parents really forbade us kids to do anything; at least things that weren’t really dangerous.  I’m sure that today, parents would have worried at the first hammer falling on a nail and rushed outside to ‘give us pointers’ on construction.  Maybe we were just lucky she was out shopping when Greg shot that flame across the yard.

Finally, we had completed the submarine.  It didn’t look like much, but, then, It really didn’t have to go anywhere either.  The creek current would provide the muscle to move us and we’d just guide it.  We have now arrived at the point at which my mom clicked the shutter.  When she walked back into the house there was a soft voice saying “hey, how are we going to get this down to the creek?”

“Ummm, that’s a really good question since I also see that the yard is enclosed by a picket fence and our sub is too wide to go through the gate.”  Opined another.

We kicked this around a while until I remembered that one section of the fence was removable.  My dad had done that so the tree guy could back his truck into the yard to plant a tree.  My brother and I went down into the basement and grabbed some tools.  Soon, a wide gap appeared in the fence.  Now, all we had to do was move the stupid thing.

This was accomplished by several guys running home and getting their wagons.  We managed to lift each edge of the sub and get a wagon under it.  Finally, we began pushing the whole contraption towards the creek.  Wagons, since they have steering wheels, tend to go whichever way they want to.  Amid cries of “wait a minute”, “hold up”, and “ARRRRRGHHH!” the beast was manhandled (actually, kidhandled) out of my yard, down the side of the little street, across a big field of grass, and deposited on the bank of the creek.  It only took us two hours to go about three of four hundred yards.

On our way down, we attracted the attention of other kids so, by the time we’d finally reached the hole, a crowd had formed.  We had a little help lifting it off the wagons and pushing it down the slope to the water.  Amazingly, it actually floated.  Dressed in our trunks/shorts/jeans we waded out with our last bottle of Coke.  When swung against the front 2×4, it exploded in a brown spray which cover all of us.  I’m not sure who got christened – us or it.

It was now time to try things out.  We pushed the sub out into deeper water until we were paddling along with it.  The slight current was taking us downstream, but not at an overly fast pace.  We hopped aboard and took our stations for diving.

Bernie popped the plug out of his aft tub and we could hear the air whooshing out.  We started going down by the stern.  My brother had a bit of trouble with his in the central tub but managed to finally free it.  We began to sink much more rapidly now.  When Peter pulled his two plugs on the bow we really dropped.  Soon, the entire sub was awash with the exception of the five 2×4’s sticking out from the deck.  We hung on to those as the deck sank below the surface of the pool.

Cheering rose up from the peanut gallery that had formed on the bank.  We all took a bow and then prepared to surface.  None of us had ever taken into account the physical fact that pressure increases when you go underwater so when we uncapped the tubes meant for us to blow air into the tubs we were immediately hit in the face with a blast of air as they released the last vestiges of trapped air below.

We huffed, puffed, and turned blue trying to get any air down those hoses and into the inverted tubs.  Nothing worked.  Finally, heads spinning, and gasping for air, we decided to give up.  The submerged craft rose slightly as each of us hopped off and into the water.  As it did, it also was pushed further downstream by the current until it lodged hard aground against the shore.  It was still underwater, but at least it wasn’t moving.

The crowd had thinned out to just a few kids with nothing better to do than watch a bunch of wet guys standing around holding a post mortem examination of what went wrong.  We managed to drag it higher on the bank and left it there while we went back to my house.  We never did come up with a way to force air down those hoses though.  About a week later, one of those huge thunderstorms that usually hit Washington in the high summer struck with a vengeance.  The creek began to rise and took our sub with it.  It floated down until it hit rocks which broke it up into small pieces.  All we found later was the four tubs and they were pretty bent up.

The owner of the horse trough was pretty bent up too and made us pay for it.

T.O.M.

Fun with simple household items

July 31, 2010

Back in the Fifties – long before the invention of Nintendo and the like, kids had to make do with things at hand in order to have fun.  How much fun depended on what you had at hand – and how crafty you were.  Now, I don’t mean ‘crafty’ in the sense of being able to build a shopping area from a set of Lincoln Logs, but ‘crafty’ in the sense of sneaky.  I liked my sneakiness to actually be called creativity.

Rubber cement was a really neat invention.  It allowed you to stick papers together and pull them apart at a later time.  It had a heady aroma that would make you momentarily dizzy when inhaled.  This was long before glue sniffing became the rage and was closely aligned to receiving a test or classwork that had just been mimeographed.  They used ether in that process and sometimes it was so strong that just sitting in the class would get you high.

Anyway, my primary use of a small can of rubber cement started about a week earlier.  I began to complain of a pain on either side of my nose.  My mom would press here and there and ask me where it hurt.  I managed to fake a few groans and winced convincingly enough so that she pronounced that I had a sinus infection.

This went on for several days until I was getting ready to come down for breakfast one morning.  I loaded up my cupped hand with most of a can of rubber cement and allowed it to thicken slightly.  On the way down the stairs, I rubbed it under my nose until my eyes watered.  When I turned the corner into the dining room, I fake a huge sneeze that made everyone jump and turn to look at me.

I triumphantly allowed my hands to fall from my face and let the dripping rubber cement string out all down the front of my shirt.  As I held out my hands, happily making cat’s cradles of the gooey mess, I said “Hey!  Maybe this is what was blocking my nose up!”

Way back before matches were made so safe that you can hardly even get one going now, there used to be what were known as ‘kitchen matches’.  They also went by the name of ‘strike-anywhere matches’.  They were about as long as a toothpick and had a nice red head topped with a white phosphorus tip.

If one was careful, you could slit the empty end with a razor blade and slide a small square piece of paper into it to act as a stabilizer.  Before doing the surgery though, you first needed a tiny square of aluminum foil.  Applying the foil to the business end of the match you rolled the head into a tube and twisted the tip into a point.  This helped the aerodynamics of the match and, along with the tail “feathers” it would shoot across the room when you held another match under the foil and waited for the wrapped tip to catch fire.

We kids called these Zappers.  I don’t know why, we just did.  Shooting them off the edge of the table was fun – for about five minutes – and then you started looking for other targets of opportunity.  Sisters sitting quietly in the living room reading were one good target.  Brothers not paying attention to the direction a Zapper was aimed was another.

Zapper escalation occurred when one ill-aimed Zapper managed to hit said brother on his bare chest one summer afternoon.  It was a perfectly aimed shot that landed a direct hit on his navel.  Now, the significant thing one has to remember about this whole Zapper thing is that when the foil-tipped match ignites it gets HOT.  This Zapper hit him, as I said, in the navel and stuck there, rapidly burning a hole in him.

After beating at it, and running inside to grab an ice cube to apply on the burn, the rocket attack escalated almost immediately.  Soon the two of us were lobbing flaming matches at each other with vigor.  To this very day I still have a small, white scar on my shoulder where one of his Zappers landed.

We were always on the lookout for things we could do and when the pirate movies began to show up we kids began to emulate them.  Most notably were the sword fights.  Now, none of us had a sword, but that really didn’t matter.  It was the jumping around on various pieces of furniture (until mom’s declared “OUTSIDE!”) and stomping our feet in preparation for a charge.

My brother and I were out in the garage one day and located our camp kit.  Sticking out of the basket were four wooden handles that were attached to weenie roast sticks.  This was the type of stick that had a central spike and contained a push/pull lever that you could use to push the hot weenie off the end and onto your plate.  They would also make excellent swords.

We each grabbed one and began slashing and hacking at each other.  He landed a blow across my nose that brought tears to my eyes so I replied in turn – WHACK – right across his shoulder.  With much clanging and stomping we re-engaged and fought across the garage floor and out the door.  He stepped through the door and disappeared.  Aha!  I thought to my self.  He’s on the other side in ambush.

I prepared to leap through the door and continue the fight.  He apparently tired of waiting for me to appear and began coming back through the door at En Garde.  The point of his ween…, er, sword, caught me right in the ribs.  It took three stitches to close the gash.  The edict that followed was “Thou Shalt NOT Play Swords With Sharp Objects!”

I may have mentioned this already, but it is a very funny story.  Somehow my dad came up with a small can of luminescent paint.  In the dark it glowed with an ethereal green hue.  He used it on every light switch in the house so they could be found in the dark.  A really good idea, by the way as night lights were deemed “too costly in electricity” by my dad.  He also put some in several other places so that objects could be located in the dark.  My brother and I found one more use for it.

Outside my brother’s and my bedroom and opposite my sister’s room there was a comical cat clock.  It was made up in the shape of Felix the Cat of funny paper and cartoon fame.  His tail would flick back and forth, his whiskers would tilt up and down, and lastly his eyes would move to and fro with each tick and tock.

Grabbing his tail one afternoon, my brother and I painted small dots of the paint over the pupils of Felix’s eyes.  Thus, when night fell, all you could see was the glow of two green dots moving back and forth.  It was very impressive until the glow wore off.

That night, we waited until it was just about time for my sister to be taken to the bathroom (she had a slight tendency to wet the bed).  While she was in the bathroom, I got out my trusty Boy Scout flashlight and shined it directly into the cat’s eyes for a full charge of light.  When I turned it off, they really stood out.

My sister came out of the bathroom and neither he nor my mom noticed the eyes until about ten minutes later when there sounded a growing moaning scream from my sister’s room.  It built and built until it sounded like an air raid siren in an old World War Two movie.

“Mom.  MOM!  The cat’s gonna get MEEEEEEE!”  She screamed.

I heard my mom come down the stairs and down the hall to her room.  Some muffled consoling occurred and then quiet returned.  I don’t think our “sleeping” fooled my mom very much when she poked her head into our room.  The next day, the clock was moved so that those two glowing eyeballs clicked back and forth in front of our room.

I was always a tinkerer.  I loved to find out how things worked.  Sometimes I was good at it, and other times I sucked.  I took apart a clock once and when it went back together it always ran a twice the time – two minutes for every one.  I never did find that little wheeled sprocket that fell on the floor.

I never admitted to anyone until now that the reason my dad’s grinding wheel in the basement workshop was down to half it’s size was that I used it to try and shape a piece of tungsten steel.  Nobody told me that it couldn’t be ground down.

I even fixed the television when one of the tubes blew and didn’t light up.  My dad spent at least two dollars in telephone time calling up television repair shops hunting for the cheapest price on a new tube.  He was like that.

Perhaps my biggest achievement was fixing the toaster.  For weeks my mom had been nagging my dad to fix the toaster.  I would either stay down until the toast was incinerated or it would pop up before the bread was even warm.  Finally, I told her I could fix it.  Well, that’s not strictly true; I told her afterwards.

I waited until she went to the store, unplugged the toaster, and took it downstairs to the workbench.  Unscrewing the top wasn’t so bad and I finally lifted it off and set it aside.  The innards were caked with left over toast which was probably why it didn’t function properly.  I grabbed a brush and began flicking it as all the crumbs.  By the time I finished, there was a respectable pile of them on the bench.  Note to ones self:  NEVER blow at a pile of breadcrumbs when there is a back to the workbench to launch them right back at you.

Anyway, I decided that the spring tension wasn’t quite right either so I used a pair of needle-nose pliers to carefully lift the spring from it’s connection point annnnnnd eeeeeeasy now —- SPOING!  It launched itself across the basement and I distinctly heard it hit the water in the sump with a slight ‘bloosh’.  Rats!

I must have looked through every cigar box and drawer in the basement trying to find a replacement spring.  Finally I located one that looked about right.  It was a little stronger it seemed, but once I stretched it from the lever to the little hole in the side of the toaster it appeared good to me.  I reassembled the toaster and carried it back up to the kitchen.

The next morning, I watched carefully as my mom loaded up the toaster and pushed the lever down.  It latched into place and she turned to other mom-things.  I was distracted for a little while eating my cereal (I really hate oatmeal with raisins) until there was a mighty CLICK-BAM!  Two slices of nicely burnt toast shot out and smacked against the ceiling.  They promptly shattered like a couple of clay pigeons and showered all of us with shrapnel.

“What the hell?”  My mom said as she took in the shattered remains of two valiant pieces of toast sacrificed themselves as a testament to my ingenuity.

Why was my mom looking significantly at me?

The local five and dime (remember those?) got in a supply of jokes and treats for all occasions.  I coughed up fifty cents of my hard-earned dough and bought two items:  a plastic block that looked like an ice cube and had a fly trapped in it, and a pack of gum that was really laced with pepper and was supposed to be really hot.

In the evenings, my dad would come home from the base really beat.  I guess it was fighting with all those isobars, thermographs, and upper-level charts.  He liked to have a drink after dinner and so I was able to use my first item.  He grabbed a couple of ice cubes from the icebox, splashed in his scotch, and relaxed in the living room to watch some television.  When he got up to change the channel I managed to slip the fake cube into his drink.

Throughout the entire television program I was bursting with suppressed laughter but he never seemed to notice.  He drained his drink, took the glass into the kitchen, and washed it out.  I was devastated that he didn’t even see the fly.

Two days later, I found that one of the cubes of ice in my soda had a fly in it.

My brother was the target of the hot gum.  He is naturally suspicious of everything I do and say to him so it was a wonder I got him to try it at all.  Even so, he made me take a stick before he would.  It was a good thing I doctored one stick with regular gum before offering him the hot one.

T.O.M.

New School Jitters

July 14, 2010

Note:  I kind of got this one bass-ackwards from my previous blog post.  I apologize.

Moving from one school to another is always traumatic.  No matter how good (or bad) you were doing in your old school, there is always the wondering if you will fit into the hierarchy at the new school.  I knew my move from the US school in Germany to the new school in California was going to be an eye-opening experience.

The major difference in schools was that every kid in my old school was a dependent of military parents.  In my new school there would be very few dependent kids – if any.  The nearest base, which was Hamilton AFB, was about twelve miles south of Petaluma and had quarters on base for most of its personnel.  My dad just wanted to live off base this time so we bought a house in a new subdivision in Petaluma.

While we were moving in, it was decided that we didn’t have to go to school so but we had to pitch in and arrange the household as desired.  This only took a week to do properly so by the time the next Monday came around we were off to school.

I was entering senior high school in the middle of my junior year right before the Thanksgiving break.  I’d have two weeks of school and then a week off for the holiday.  As it turned out, this was a good thing because I was able to figuratively dip my toe into the water before jumping in feet first.

My first day did not go well.  I had to stop at the office and make sure I was registered.  As I suspected, someone had made an assumption and changed my name from Tom to Thomas.  This was usually the first thing I noticed every time I looked at an official form with my name on it.  My parents, not being dummies, figured that if they named me Thomas that everyone would call me Tom anyway, so they just made the shortcut and named me Tom.

Fortunately, I had a copy of my birth certificate with me.  It didn’t cut any ice with the stern-faced desk person who insisted that I give her my “real” name despite being shown a copy of my birth certificate.  This escalated into a virtual shouting match which me, as a lowly almost-student, was destined to lose.  My parents were called.  The office troll’s disposition was not improved by my mother’s response to her (which, fortunately, I did not hear).  Exuding extreme displeasure towards me, she signed me in as a student and handed me a class schedule and a map with a huge smirk.

My locker was way the hell and gone down a dead-end hallway and had no relationship anywhere near any of my classes.  I could imagine the glee at which the office troll assigned me this locker.  If I wanted to use it I would have to sprint (No RUNNING in the HALLS!) to and from it in the thirty seconds allowed between classes.  I resigned myself to being forced to carry a book satchel.  This would guarantee me nerd status in seconds.

Speaking of which, I was tentatively placed in the ‘nerd’ subdivision of official outcasts.  This was due mainly to my ability to say or do something wrong no matter what I said or did.  It didn’t help one bit that I had been a high-B or low-A student in Germany; in fact, it just dug a deeper hole.  I managed to enroll in German class and, while the teacher was a good one, she just didn’t have the total grasp of a native German speaker and would occasionally say something that caused me to suppress a snort.  In one memorable instance, I didn’t suppress it enough and she heard me.

As punishment, she assigned me a little extra homework – translating a seven-paragraph chapter from German to English.  I guess it really didn’t help my case that I did it in class that afternoon and handed it to her when class let out.  She asked me what it was and I told her.  Now she was the one that snorted.  By the time she read my translation she was pretty ticked off.  Word spread rapidly around that I was a wise ass.  In some groups this was a good thing and in others a handicap.

There were possibly seven or eight major cliques in school.  Most notably were the jocks, the nerds, the cool guys, the cool girls, and the surfers.  I tried my best to steer clear of the jocks because they liked to run over people in the halls and generally make everyone’s lives miserable.  I don’t think they really did this out of spite, but more because they just wanted to, or were too big to be expected to move.

Some of the cool girls were merged with the jocks, especially the cheerleaders.  As a whole, the cheerleaders were very, um, wholesome.  With their hair just so, wearing short dresses and tight sweaters, and hanging on every grunt of a jock they defied anyone’s attempt to pry them away.  The rest of the cool girls made life miserable for the uncool girls.

There were three major hangouts in town for teens.  The first one, located only a block from school, sold everything from pencils to sodas.  There was a short fountain area behind which were various siphons for water, Coke, and three or four flavors of ‘sweet gunk’.  The rage at the time was a lime-Coke.  First you took some Coke syrup, spritzed in some lime gunk, and then added sparkling water.  It would foam up and over the sides of the glass before it ever got to you.  It had it’s unique flavor though and, after several of them, you got used to it.

The other two places were out near the highway.  One was called The Burger Barn even though it looked nothing like a barn and the other was named the Dog ‘n’ Suds.  The latter was affiliated with A&W Root Beer.  This was the place I hung out mostly because for fifty cents you would get a huge mug of almost frozen root beer and a fat hot dog on a bun.  For a quarter more, you could get a huge tub of French fries.  Pretty much every girl I got to ride in my car wanted to go the Dog ‘n’ Suds because of the root beer.  I was not popular because most of the time I showed up because I usually had more than one girl in my car.

They loved to ride in my convertible.  I’ve had as many a six kids in the car at one time; mostly girls.  They thought it was “cute” which I exploited to the max.  With the short-throw stick shift resting between the front seats, I almost always managed to run my hands along a thigh when I hit third or fourth gear.

Eventually, I got settled in and found my niche.  At first I was a niche of one, but after six weeks or so I built it up to ten or twelve of us.  We were the ones that didn’t fit into any other category so we started one of our own.  We called ourselves The Group.  Pretty catchy, eh?

It was through a backyard pool party with The Group that I talked with a couple of my neighbors who were with the Surf group.  They both lived within a few houses of me and I’d seen them around a few times so I just invited them.  This is probably how the surf bug bit me.  It sounded way cool to be able to ride waves to shore and I wanted to try it.  The fact that surfing required the girls to wear swim suits didn’t enter into it at all.

T.O.M.

How to surf – NOT!

June 28, 2010

Following my sometimes painful introduction to life back in the States, things settled down to a daily drudge.  I was out across an arterial highway (US101) so I had to ride the school bus to school.  There was many reasons why this was considered to be the ultimate in agony for a high school junior.  The primary question always being ‘why don’t you have a car’?  My standard answer, which was considered akin to “the check’s in the mail” was ‘my car is still on it’s way from Germany’.  Hoots of derision usually followed this pronouncement.

November morphed into December, dragged onward into January, February, and March and finally, after several centuries, crawled into April.  April in California signals a real change from dirty brown grass, thunderstorms that don’t pass out much rain and winds whipping the fog up from the bay.  Rain falls, but at a softer, more soaking, rate.  Flowers, grass, and leaves begin to absorb it and turn green.

Girls start planning their spring wardrobes, with bright colors, lighter materials, and other eye-catching items.  Guys begin dividing into three groups:  1) The car guys; 2) the health nuts; and, 3) the surfers.  There is a fourth group consisting of both girls and guys that simply continue onwards with their lives.

I couldn’t join the first group – no car.  The second group was appealing to me, but they spent a lot of time working up to grueling marathons by running down to San Francisco and back in a morning wearing nothing but a really thin pair of running shorts, a running jumper with the number of calories per second they were burning pinned to the back, and running shoes that cost more than my car.  That only left the third group.  They seemed an interesting bunch to me, if one discounted the fact that they had their own language.  I’d give them a try.

Last year, in the Bavarian Alps, I’d tried skiing.  I was passably good at it.  I had two boards strapped to my feet, a long downhill grade, and nothing to cushion me except some pretty unforgiving snow over a very terra firma.  So, I figured, how hard can it be to stand on a one huge board, being pushed by a wave, with nice soft water as a cushion in case of the unlikely event I would fall.

I had a couple of the surfer crowd that lived nearby so I initiated contact with one of them.  His name appeared to be ‘Fuzzy’.  That was what everyone called him.  I think his actual name was Phil, but Fuzzy is what they knew him by.  Like me, he was a junior, had his own car, and had a really large surfboard done up in lime green with yellow lightning bolts down the length.

We were chatting out in front of his house one afternoon when he mentioned that his friend, Tomcat, was coming by.  He added that Tomcat had a woodie.  Now, I’m not prudish by any means, but something like that just seemed to be an overload of information.  Before I inserted my foot and chewed it off at the dotted line, Tomcat drove by in his Ford station wagon with actual wooden panels down the side and a surfboard rack on top.  Fuzzy asked me if that wasn’t the greatest woody I’d ever seen.  Um, yup; the greatest.  Actually, it was the first one I’d seen.

They were going out so Point Reyes to see how the surf looked.  Having to head back home soon, I had to decline, but asked to go another time.  They assured me I could go next time and zoomed out of sight.  Judging by the amount of blue smoke, Tomcat’s woody actually burned wood also.

Part two of my quest to be a surfer consisted of nudging a request for either a surfboard, or money to buy one towards my dad.  This was going to be very difficult as my dad was hard to get any money out of.  I was totally surprised when he mulled it over and said he’d see what he could do.  Not wanting to push my luck, I let the matter simmer right there.

He gave me the bad news the next day.  He was under the impression that a surfboard was something you slid on across incoming surf.  That actually being a ‘boogie board’, and was not very expensive.  When he pronounced an actual surfboard as being completely out of the realm of possibility I was crestfallen.  He went on to say that if I agreed to mow our lawn, trim shrubbery, wash the car, and balance the national budget, for the rest of my life he’d buy me a surfboard.  Sign right here son, in blood please.

Well, it was a thought.  Now I’d have to figure out a way to get one myself.  Back over to Fuzzy’s house I went and explained my predicament.  He had me follow him to his garage and stand under the trap door while he rummaged in the attic.  Eventually, amid grunts, groans, and an enormous bang, the nose of a surfboard emerged from the hole in the ceiling.  Fuzzy told me to catch the board and let it go.

Fortunately his brother’s plastic pool toy was where the tip of the board hit.  It bounced once and clattered to the floor.  Fuzzy admonished me to be more careful so I wouldn’t get it dingy.  It looked pretty dusty to me already so when I asked what he meant he just repeated what he’d said before, but emphasized the last part:  ‘get A dingy’.  Ah, now I understood, not “din-gey” but “ding-ie”.  I had a lot to learn.

Covered in cobwebs, Fuzzy dropped from the ceiling and explained that this was his old board and I was welcome to use it but I had to refinish it.  Currently, the finish was a cross between apple red and moldy cheese.  Large areas of the board were devoid of any finish at all, mainly the underside.  On one edge there appeared to be a small shark bite.  When asked, Fuzzy explained that he’d hit a rock.  What a relief as I figured his toes would have been very close to that particular spot.

I spent the next month working very hard at making the surfboard presentable.  This particular model was made of balsa wood.  It was very light and had a nice shape to it.  The tail fin had the tip broken off so I made a new fin in wood shop.  I had to do that surreptitiously because any project had to be approved by the shop Gestapo and mine wasn’t.  For ease of handling, I left the fin off until last.

My knuckles were wrapped with bandages, my fingers abounded with blisters, and my dad’s garage was completely taken over by my refinishing efforts.  Two sawhorses held the board while I sanded.  I was told by both Fuzzy and Tomcat that to use an electric sander was not a good idea because it took too much of a bite; hand sanding only.

Finally, I pronounced the board ready and began the task of spreading hot, melted, epoxy resin all over it uniformly.  It was very difficult, and on two occasions, I had to wait until it was dry and re-sand it off because it was too thick.  I slaved though the rest of May before it was done.  I had a small party consisting of Fuzzy, Tomcat, and I when I attached the fin.  The surfboard was done.

The three of us were pretty fast friend now and had taken a few trips out to see how the surf was.  On every occasion, it didn’t seem very good conditions.  Waves were listless, somewhat flat, and crossed each other regularly – a sure sign of a rip tide.  Not a good thing for surfing, or a surfer.  I watched from the shore as they tried their boards.  I saw how well they managed their boards and thought I could do at least as well.  Fuzzy promised that June was always a good month.

In the process of entering the world of surfing and surfers I acquired a huge amount of new, and incomprehensible, vocabulary.  Suffice it to say that I now got the same puzzled looks I once gave when I spoke Surfer.  I also was introduced to girl surfers.  Who knew!  I kind of hung out with one in particular who went by the name of Stringbean.  Her real name was Susan.  She was spare and tall enough to look me in the eye barefooted.

The movie “Gidget” had just come out this April and all sorts of things like beach parties, nighttime fires on the beach, and necking were foremost in my mind as the real surfing season approached.  The official start of the season was to be the first weekend after school let out.  Even non-surfers were going to be at the huge beach party planned.  I invited Susan.  Oh, by the way, my new name was simply “Newguy”.

In the meantime, while I was slaving away on my surfboard, my car arrived from Germany down at the Oakland Army dock.  Tomcat drove me down to pick it up.  Aside from a dead battery, it looked just fine to me.  I checked the level of gas in the tank because I had been told they sometimes drain the gas out.  I had barely enough to get to the gas station we’d seen outside the gate.  I fired it up with the assistance of jumper cables and back north we went.

I didn’t need a rack for the surfboard because I had a convertible.  One just stuck it in back, hooked under the front seat, and drove away.  Since it would hold two boards, Susan usually had me drive her anywhere.

The afternoon of the big party arrived and we wound our way through the hills to the shore.  One whole area had been taken up with racks big enough for ten boards each.  Two ‘weenie huts’ had been set up to dispense hot dogs and hamburgers with all the fixings.  A solemn line of porta-potties were set up for our use as the actual park rest rooms were almost a half-mile down the beach.  Jessie Owens couldn’t have made it in time.

There were several dudes out sitting on their boards waiting to see how the surf ran.  Fuzzy was one of them, but his cohort Tomcat was sitting down eating a hot dog.  Susan and I joined him.  We talked and pointed out at the ocean taking note of where the kelp beds were.  Nobody wanted to be surfing along and run afoul of a kelp bed.  Your fin would hit the stringy mass and the board would stop dead – you wouldn’t – and before you could shout ‘Cowabunga!’ you were not only walking the nose, but about two feet past it.

Despite my snazzy dress (rubber sandals, long legged swim suit (called ‘jammers’), tank top, and shades, I had never actually been in the water aboard a surfboard.  I could talk the talk, but I hadn’t as yet walked the walk (or swum the swim??).  That was going to change today for sure.

Around noon, the wave action began to pick up and more surfers joined the early crowd.  I casually walked over to the rack and hefted my board, only to drop it very close to the feet of an enormous senior who had muscles on top of all his other muscles.  “Hot dog?” no thanks, I’ve already eaten.

I eased the board out in front of me and paddled out to the group.  Nervously, I awaited my first wave.  Chatter began to wane as I felt the rise and fall of a couple of decent swells.  First one, and then many more, began paddling like crazy for the beach, preparing to stand up.  I followed slowly, but with increasing speed as I began to go downhill.  I was back to skiing!  Oh no!

I was saved this time by my board.  It overbalanced when I leaned forward, and dug the nose into the water.  I was unceremoniously dumped to the side and into the water.  I captured my board as it went past.  I had missed the wave.  I swam back to the starting point and waited some more.

My next attempt was a little better.  I managed to kneel on the board as it picked up speed.  By leaning back a little I found that I could slow it down, leaning forward made it speed up.  That was fine but now there was someone directly ahead of me.  I sure wish I knew how to turn.  I faked a good one though by grabbing the rail and lifting myself completely over on one side.  This, of course, put the board riding me which is not exactly proper.  Back to the starting point.

A large wave began forming behind me and I joined the already furiously paddling throng.  Before I really knew what had happened, I was actually standing on the board.  With arms flailing the air, and knees bent, I rushed directly at the beach which seemed very close but wasn’t.  Concentrating on my major feat of not falling down, I kept my delicate balance until the wave broke over me.  This, in my case, was called a wipeout and would probably rate a minus three from any judges there may have been.  Unfortunately, the only person who saw me was Susan.  She was rolling all over the blanket, pounding her fists into the sand and laughing loudly – even after I pulled my head out of my ass.

Where is the snow when you need it?

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (7)

June 21, 2010

It was so much nicer the next morning to wake up to the tapping on my door instead of rain tapping on the roof of my tent.  By the luck of the draw I managed to get a single room this time so I was sleepily intrigued by who might be tapping on my door at oh six hundred.  I rose, rearranged my morning woodie and opened the door a crack.

Virginia peered back at me with one eye to the narrow slit.  I whispered that we had agreed to the no hanky-panky rule, but stopped when I saw tears in her eyes.  I opened the door and let her in; taking a fast glance around the hallway to see if she had been detected.  She went and sat on my bed and grimaced.  I knew it was serious when she didn’t make some sort of ribald comment on my erection.

She told me she had woken up with a huge cramp in her calf.  According to her it pulsed with pain every time she tried to straighten her leg.  I came over, took her leg in my hands, and examined it.  She had a huge knot of muscle that tightened when I pulled the leg out towards me.  She bit her lip but still gave a small cry of pain.  I let her leg go and went to my shaving kit for some sports cream I kept there.

I told her to roll over on her stomach and bend her knee to elevate her calf.  It wasn’t until that very moment that I realized that she only had on her nightgown and nothing else.  Oops!  So much for our vow of chastity and non-panky.  I did my best to concentrate on applying the cream to her calf but my attention span there was measured in microseconds.

I used my thumbs over the tendon while holding my fingers around her ankle and working them upwards towards the bunched muscle.  I massaged as carefully as I could until slowly the knot went away.  A red place was left, but she reported that it felt much better.

She flipped over on her back, which made the hem of her nightgown ride up dangerously high and held out her arms.  I leaned down for a chaste kiss, but was pulled over into a really great smooch.  She stuck her tongue up against my lips until I opened them to admit her.  Several seconds of this brought me to a rolling boil but the fates intervened.  About the time I was ready to throw caution to the winds and jump into bed beside her, we heard a door slam and footfalls down the corridor.  I lifted my watch from the bed stand and saw that it was now oh six thirty – the time we had all agreed on to get up.  What a bummer.

I sprang back to the vertical (and, believe me, everything was vertical) and pulled her to her feet.  We held each other, kissed, and then I reluctantly opened the door a crack and reconnoitered.  The coast was clear so she pecked me on the cheek as she passed out the door.  Great!  Here I was all dressed up so to speak, and nowhere to go.  Fortunately, the shower was cold as the boiler hadn’t been fired up yet.

Breakfast was the usual Continental breakfast of various small rolls, pieces of lunchmeat, jams and jellies, and assorted sticky buns.  Coffee was plentiful and tasty, but I decided to have tea this morning just to be different.  Today was the day we would pedal all the way home.  It was a longish run but if we left early enough and didn’t dawdle too much we’d be home by late afternoon.

The one place I intended to poke around was along the Kyll River because the train tracks followed both banks.  It was possible to get some really spectacular shots of steam trains while standing on bridges over the tracks or on paths beside them.  Both of which we would be using today.

Virginia and Cleo, her roommate, showed up on time and descended on the food laden table hungrily.  For as light and somewhat thin as Virginia was, she ate food like a ranch hand.  Today was no exception: two rolls loaded down with some sort of smelly cheese and a piece of bacon, a big sticky bun slathered in butter, and two cups of coffee.  While we were eating, Cleo sidled up to me and asked if everything came out all right; meaning, of course, the kink in Virginia’s calf.  I smiled and told her everything was just fine and to mind her own business (while stuffing a half-roll into her mouth).  She smiled back at me.

With a quick check of equipment we began our final day.  The air was cool at that time of morning but promised to become hotter as the day wore on.  Sunscreen was definitely going to be used if the clouds went away.  They showed signs of fading right now so I predicted they’d be gone by noon.

Almost immediately we entered and left Herforst.  This village was also surrounded by a low Roman wall, which we pedaled along for quite some time.  Soon it gave way to field after field of various cultivated crops.  There were trucks, tractors, and horse-drawn trailers spotted all over the place.  Some were laden with bags of what appeared to be fertilizer which indicated that the fields were probably owned by some major company.  Most German farmers fertilized their fields with left over animal fluids which they kept stored in wheeled tanks called ‘honey wagons’.  It was for this reason that most Americans wouldn’t eat anything bought at a farmer’s market.  Me?  I loved fresh tomatoes and stuff like that.  A little washing and after two gulps it was gone.

Speicher was a larger town with well laid out streets and nice little squares interspersed with older buildings.  The Ratzkeller was a true work of art that begged to be explored, but we didn’t have the time.  We pressed onward towards what our topographical map showed as a series of descending switchbacks to the Kyll River.

We paused at the crest of the hill and followed our road down through four huge loops as it dropped to Philippsheim.  Past the town we could also see two climbing switchbacks which we knew we would be walking up.  Oh well.

With gay abandon (with great care, really) we swooped down the curves at a stately pace.  We wanted no repeat of the disaster we had a few days earlier.  One crashed bike and banged body was all we needed this trip.  The urge was to fly down, but the turns were very tight and had loose gravel at the sides of the paving.  A sure accident in the making.

As we entered Philippsheim we heard the musical whoot of a steam engine.  As we made our way down the last bit of hill we came out above the tracks.  I stopped and took some pictures of the short passenger train while it stopped at the station for a few moments and then made off into the distance.  A glance at our trusty map showed that we would rejoin the tracks after passing though Hüttingen an Der Kyll.

Once again we climbed out of the valley on foot, pushing our bikes.  We reached the top and paused for a drink of water and a couple of buns we’d liberated from the breakfast bar.  They were delicious.

Continuing onwards, we cruised the flats, went through Gondorf, a sleepy farming town, and through even more fields of produce.  We entered the woods on the crest of the hillside over the Kyll River valley.  Through the trees we could make out sections of river glinting under the sun.  It was a long, slow drop into Hüttingen an Der Kyll.  We paused on the south bank of the river near the railroad tracks and waited.  Within ten minutes we could hear the short honks of a diesel engine as it entered town and signaled for a stop at the station.  We had hoped for a steam train, but diesels were rapidly replacing steam engines for short milk runs.  Steam was still used to great advantage on long passenger runs though which was much more to my liking.

We tried waiting for another ten minutes, but felt the press of time and moved onwards.  A very long uphill grade was taken in low gear as we climbed back out of the valley temporarily.  We would re-enter it again just past the headlands before us.  Across the valley was the road we had ascended on our outward-bound trip days ago.  We would join with it at the town of Albach and make our way home from there using the same road we left from.

Soon the air was split by another flight of jets, also F-100’s, as they took off from the base.  They weren’t overhead this time but they were still impressive.  We slowed our pace until we were barely moving.  Taking a little-used side road through the fields we weren’t bothered by traffic and remained in a bunch swapping talk, laughs, and plans for another trip.  This time, we vowed, we would just take the train.

Slightly earlier than our forecast time of arrival, we pulled into the school parking lot.  Our faithful chaperones met us there, passed out our dried tents and cold drinks.  Both were welcome.  I rode next to Virginia to her house and then peeled off towards mine.  Luckily, our bike storage was down in the basement because I was so tired I couldn’t have carried my bike up a flight of stairs.

All in all it was a great trip.  There is nothing better than the satisfaction of doing something like this with friends you really like and feel comfortable with.  There was some good-natured bantering but no harsh words were ever spoken; at least to each other, but the weather was something yet again.

NOTES:  As I go over the route we took in Google Earth, I am saddened to note that most of the rail lines we crossed or paralleled are now gone.  Ripped up in the name of progress I guess.  Major rail lines still exist in Germany, and huge amounts of passengers and goods are transported, but steam is a thing of the past.  I am sorry to see it go.

As far as Bitburg Air Base goes, the runway still exists, but there appears to be a dirt bike track near the end of runway 06, and part of the apron where jets warmed up has been converted to a go-cart track.  The taxiway that ran to the “hot standby” area from the 24 end where jets fully laden with weapons to fight the Soviet menace waited on alert has been closed.  It appears that many of the original buildings on the base are in the process of being torn down for some project or another.  The housing area still exists, but only with about half the buildings present.  My old living quarters are still visible, but Virginia’s has gone.

In many ways I really grew up on that base.  I changed from a little kid to a young man while I lived there, fell in love, made love, and had love depart from there.  I think it would sadden me greatly to go back for a visit now.

T.O.M.