Monday, February 28, 2011

The Wild Ride

As a boy growing up in Crockett I was around horses on a regular basis.  We didn't own an oat burner ourselves, but a lot of my friends did.  Many times one of my buddies would ride up on a horse, leading another, and ask me to go riding.  I never turned down an invitation.

My most memorable experience occurred the summer I turned twelve years old.  Dawn Rials, a close friend of the family and truly my second mother, invited me to accompany her to visit her parents.  They lived on a small piece of property several miles out  in the country.  They were getting on up in years and in failing health, so family members paid regular visits to tend to their needs.  I'd been there many times and always looked forward to seeing them.

That afternoon some of their relatives from Houston were also visiting.  Dawn's niece and nephew were there and taking turns riding their grandparents' horse around the property.  They were two and four years older than me and I had met them on several occasions.  After greeting their Aunt Dawn they invited me to take a few turns on the horse.  I thanked them, mounted the horse and made my away along the fence.

The horse was well on up in years and moved at the speed of a thousand pound snail.  I gave him a couple of light kicks to get into the next gear, but it had no effect.  The adults were standing by the fence visiting and paid no attention and we flew by at a slow walk.  I decided if things didn't pick up after another round I was going to get down and call it a day.

As we passed by I heard Dawn's mother say, "Maybe this should be his last ride.  You know how he gets when he has had enough."

I didn't know what she meant, but the only thing I could imagine that slug doing when he'd had enough was stop, fart, and lay down for a nap.  In about two minutes I was going to find out.

Apparently the horse had a built in sense that picked up some kind of demonic signal.  The message he received was always the same; "Whatever you are doing, stop, run directly for the barn and to hell with all the obstacles in your way. NOW GO!"

About a second before the horse got the command from the devil, I decided to kick him one more time.  We were across the yard from the barn, so he was about to cover a lot of ground, unknown to me.  As soon as I kicked he raised up on his hind legs, spun completely around, and  took off for the barn like he was leaving the gate at the Kentucky Derby.   He lined up with the barn and took off at a dead run.

The first thing I saw that might present a problem was a three strand clothesline. We were approaching fast and gaining speed with every step.  In the moment I had to assess my predicament I noticed the wires were about six inches higher that the saddle horn.  The horse was moving too fast for me to jump off, so I leaned back in the saddle as far as I could and hoped we would pass under the wires.  The first wire caught me just above the belt, traveled along my stomach, under my chin and clipped my nose for good measure.  A layer of skin was removed during the ordeal.  This was repeated when wires number two and three made the same journey.  I was in pain.

I sat up in the saddle just in time to see the tree.  I don't remember what kind of tree it was, but it did have thorns.  The horse picked up the pace as he lowered his head and passed under the lowest limbs.  The resistance of my broken and bloody body passing through limbs and thorns finally made him slow up a little bit.  As he came out the other side I flew off the back of the saddle and hit the ground, stomach first.

I was flat on my face in the dirt and gasping for air.  When the adults helped me to my feet I looked down at my shirt, or what was left of it.  I had cuts and scrapes from my waist to the top of my head.  The sweat from the one hundred degree heat wasn't adding to my comfort level either.  Someone brought some water to wash the cuts and some ointment and bandages to dress the wounds.  I didn't care.  I had shown those wimps from Houston how a stud from Crockett could handle a stallion.  I think of that horse each time I see a bottle of glue or a can of dog food.  It always brings a smile to my face.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fun With Fire

From my earliest memories, I have had a fascination with fire. According to my mother, my talent for setting things on fire surfaced at a very young age. From what I'm told, my parents must have lived in constant fear of me burning down the house. I could expertly strike a match before I could go mining in my nose.
Apparently I could always seem to find a match somewhere, no matter how hard my parents tried to keep them hidden. My father smoked cigarettes, so there were matches in the house all the time. I could grab a long wooden kitchen match, strike it and have it blazing before anyone could make a move to stop me. After numerous scoldings and a butt whipping or two, I still didn't seem to be getting the message. Actually, I did get the message not to do it in the open and get a spanking; rather I would hide in the closet or under the bed. When my parents smelled smoke and tracked down the source I would be in trouble again. It became apparent that lectures and spankings weren't getting through, so another approach was warranted.
One afternoon, my father came home with a package of the long, strike-on-anything kitchen matches. A package contained three large boxes, so there were several hundred matches in a pack. He and my mother made me sit on the floor, and they placed a pan of water and a small trash can beside me. I was told to strike every match in the package, let each one burn most of the way down, dunk it in the water and throw it in the can.
To a three-year-old pyromaniac, that was the greatest day of my life up to that point. I loved it! A kitchen match gives off a lot of sulfur when it is ignited. We lived in a small garage
apartment, so after a couple of hundred strikes the odor got pretty intense. My parents were getting teary eyed and nauseous, but I couldn't have been happier. When I finally dropped the last match in the can, they looked at me and asked, "Did you get your fill of playing with matches?"
I looked at them through the smoky haze and said, "Can I have some more?"
They knew at that point their lives were going to be in constant peril as long as I could get my hands on a source of fire. Fortunately I never did any serious damage, at least not until I was old enough to know better.
A few weeks prior to my fifth birthday, my father was killed in an automobile accident. My mother and I moved in with my grandparents, so I was able to ply my talents in a bigger place with many more places to hide and fire things up. My grandparents learned quickly to keep a sharp eye and a keen nose during all of my waking hours.
By the time I was eight years old and playing with other kids in the neighborhood, I was king when it came to burning up toys, model airplanes and other things. Charlie Jackson was visiting one Sunday afternoon when we decided to see how far a paper airplane could fly with its tail on fire. We launched several in a matter of a minute, and each one had landed on the roof of our house and all were burning brightly. We were admiring our accomplishment when my mother stepped out the backdoor to see what we were so interested in on top of the house. I can't tell you how upset and scared she was. She yelled something about me not having the sense God gave something, then grabbed the water hose and put out the flaming airplanes. Charlie decided to go home about the time my mother stepped out the door, so I was standing there alone when she
extinguished the flames. She attempted to yell at me, but she was having trouble coming up with words to adequately express her anger. She finally pulled me inside the house and whipped my ass. That was a small price to pay for seeing all those paper airplanes ablaze on the roof of our house. A great artist sometimes has to endure pain when the common folk don't appreciate his genius.
Behind our house there was a two-acre pasture that belonged to our next-door neighbor. Occasionally they would put a couple of cows in it to graze on the grass before taking them out to their farm. When there were no cows to eat the grass, it would quickly grow to a couple of feet tall. In the middle of the usual East Texas summer drought, the grass would dry up and become a fire hazard. Across the pasture there were a couple of other houses whose yards bordered the property.
One afternoon my mother was at work in our grocery store, which was located next to the house. I hadn't done anything to scare the hell out of her for a few months, so she had been lulled into a false sense of security. I was strolling around with a pocket full of matches trying to find something to safely burn up. I walked to the back of our yard and leaned up against a fence post with my back to the pasture. I began lighting matches and flicking them up in the air, making sure they were flying back over my head and into the pasture. The last time she found a bunch of matches in the yard there had been hell to pay. After eight or ten matches I was getting bored. As I stood there contemplating the meaning of life and staring at the clouds, it seemed to be getting a little hotter than it had been a few minutes before. I looked behind me to find the pasture engulfed in flames. The fire was quickly spreading through the dry grass. I ran for the store at top speed
and told my mother to call the fire department because the pasture was on fire. When she hung up the phone she turned to me and asked, "Did you start it?"
I wasn't thinking clearly enough to lie. "Yes", I said, "I did it."
She glared at me and said, "Go to your room and wait for me."
I knew from past experience that nothing good was going to happen. She ran to the back yard, grabbed the hose and started spraying water on the fire. I went to my room and looked out the window as the fire trucks arrived. Across the pasture the neighbors were frantically trying to keep the fire from getting into their yards. Two-thirds of the pasture was lost by the time it was under control. My mother put down the hose and started walking toward the house. She stopped briefly to cut a switch from a bush. I could hear her footsteps as she crossed the porch. When she opened the door a hundred desperate excuses raced through my mind, but nothing sounded like it would fly. The next couple of minutes I endured the worse whipping of my life. Child Protective Services would have had every social worker on their staff at our house if it hadn't been the sixties, when it was legal to make your kids mind. It would have made a normal kid never want to light another fire in his life, but I wasn't a normal kid. I was convinced fire was a form of entertainment, and I just needed to be more careful when enjoying it around people who didn't appreciate it.
The next year I went through a growing spurt, so my mother decided it was time for me to have a new suit. She and I traveled to Nacogdoches to the Mize Department Store and found a
nice one. As she was paying for the suit, I noticed some small kerosene lanterns for sale on a table next to the cash register. I immediately started begging for one and making all kinds of wild promises about how careful I would be. In a weak moment she bought my story and added a lantern to her ticket. I was shocked! I don't know what was wrong with her. Maybe she thought I had matured and she would give me the benefit of the doubt. That made her at least partly to blame for what would happen when we got back to Crockett.
As soon as we got home I ran next door to the kerosene pump in front of our store and filled up the lantern. I took it into the house and put it on the kitchen table. Mother showed me how to light the lantern and adjust the flame. After a few minutes she made me put it out, and after I promised not to light it when she wasn't home, she went back to work at the grocery store.
I sat at the table and stared at the lantern for a few minutes, then I went for the matches. I lit the lantern and watched the flame for awhile. Being the middle of the afternoon I could only speculate how much light it would give off in the darkness.
In our hallway there was small closet we used as a hamper for dirty laundry. Mother had washed clothes a couple of days earlier, so luckily there were only a few items in it at the time. It seemed like the perfect place to try out the lantern. I opened the small wooden door, crawled inside and shut it behind me. For the first minute or so I sat and enjoyed the light flickering off the walls. All of a sudden the fumes from the burning kerosene began to get to me. I started getting dizzy and sick at my stomach. I shoved the door opened and rolled into the hallway. I left the lantern in the hamper, and in my haste to escape I kicked it over, spilling kerosene onto the
clothes and starting a small fire. I reached in and smothered the fire by piling more clothes on top of the flames.
After the crisis had passed, I pulled all the clothes out of the closet and inspected the damage. Most of the clothes belonged to my mother, while a couple pair of my underwear were burned pretty badly. She, on the other hand, had lost several pair of panties and some bras. I knew exactly what to do in this crisis situation -- hide the evidence.
Our next-door neighbors, the Parkers, had a large tin building behind their house that was used for storage. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen anyone go in or out of it. It seemed like the best place to stash the burned clothes. The tin was pulled apart along one corner of the building, so I crammed everything through the crack and ran. I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon playing around without another thought about the fire.
About suppertime, I coolly stepped through the kitchen door to see what my mother had cooked. There she sat with Mrs. Parker at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking. On the table in front of them was the entire pile of charred underwear. The look I got from my mother was one of pure disgust. Mrs. Parker decided it was time to take the last quick gulp of coffee and go home. Surprisingly my mother decided to try grounding me this time. I'm pretty sure she figured she would beat me to death if she resorted to whipping me. She was too mad to trust herself.  
Believe it or not, that was my last dangerous fling with fire. I still love lighting campfires and watching them burn, but I haven't put my life in danger for many years. My son Jamie used to light his toy soldiers and watch them burn when he was a small child. It made me so proud!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Joys of Retail Shopping

Teresa and I decided to purchase a new digital voice recorder with a USB plug that can be inserted directly into our computer to easily download audio files. We had heard about them, so there should be no problem.  They are the up and coming thing.  Our quest began.

First Stop: Best Buy
When we are just wandering aimlessly and looking for nothing in particular the salesmen are all over us like ugly on an ape.  If we know what we want and need their assistance there in nobody to be found.  I finally cornered one in the camera department and asked where we might find the new cool recorders; or any recorders at all since they seem to have hidden them successfully.  His first response was, "I don't think we stock such a thing."

"There are dozens on your website," I pointed out politely.

He shrugged his shoulders and began walking off.  I followed, figuring he was about to break into a run and try to elude me.  To my surprise he stopped by a rack of empty hooks and said, "Here is what we have."

There was one old Sony digital recorder I've seen on the shelf at Wal Mart for several years.  The other one was a Sony which the size of a plastic sandwich holder and used a cassette tape.  I didn't know those were available anywhere outside of the local Goodwill store, which would be available with no battery cover and several dried boogers inside.  We left.

Second Stop: Ultimate Electronics
There were three salespersons behind the big central counter laughing, playing grabass and generally ignoring everyone.  I asked the assembly if they carried digital voice recorders?  No response.  A lady from the appliance observed the quality of the service I was getting and got their attention.  When I asked again I was told sharply,
"No, we don't carry those."    I can't imagine why the store is closing.

Third Stop: Wal Mart
Although it is a Super Center, since it is located closest to where we live it rarely stocks what we are looking for; and when they do it is a very limited selection.  Surprisingly they had two digital recorders in stock.  One of them was an RCA with the USB plug built in.  Now we were getting somewhere.  There were two on the hook, and both packages were obvious returns, wrapped several times around with packing tape and stapled along the edges.  A bad sign.  We bought one and Teresa tried it out as we exited the parking lot.  It didn't work.  I circled the block and took it inside.

In the old days there was an elderly greeter who would put an orange sticker on the item you were bringing back before you took it to customer service.  Now they have to scan it, print a sticker with the price and SKU number and put it on the merchandise before you can proceed.  The lady in front of me had an item the new fangled scanner didn't recognize.  I waited patiently for 10 minutes while various associates tried to figure it out.  Finally they stuck an orange sticker on it and sent her on to customer service.  Luckily mine scanned.

The lady with the orange sticker was being helped when I got in line, and there was one lady behind her.  The lady in front of me was returning several items and buying several money orders.  She and the only person working in Customer Service were having a great time telling each other their problems. Fifteen minutes later I returned my item, got a refund and left.  My transaction took about 2 minutes.

Final Stop: Another Wal Mart in a wealthier part of town.
Went to electronics, picked up recorder, checked out.  Took about 4 minutes due to the travel time to and from electronics.

Moral:  Be sure and begin you search for anything with the lowest possible expectations and you will rarely be disappointed.  If you happen to catch a break and get good service you will have a great day.  If and when that ever happens early on in one of my journeys I will post it on my blog immediately and give credit where credit is due.

Thank you Wal Mart at Powers and Woodmen Road.  Sorry we visited you last.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Friends, family, co-workers, this is my first ever blog post.  It is more or less a test to see if I am capable of even creating a blog.  If anyone choses to follow along on a regular basis the terms sick, twisted, insane and other phrases of endearment are likely to appear in the comments section.  It's okay, I hear them all the time.