Friday, March 25, 2011

The Early Years

Some of the incidents I am about to relate happened when I was very young, and I have little or no memory of them. I have heard these stories told by my relatives over the years. I hope my recollections are fairly accurate.
My father, mother and I lived in a little garage apartment on South Grace Street in Crockett, Texas until shortly before my fifth birthday. My father died in an auto accident and my mother and I moved in with my grandparents. Events happening before we moved I only know about from friends and relatives.
I'm sure my parents were proud when I finally became potty trained. When your child starts getting up to go pee in the middle of the night instead of soaking his sheets, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief.
My dad wore cowboy boots everywhere. There are still family pictures of me wearing a pair of them when I was about three. The tops of the boots hit me in the crotch when I tried to walk. I don't know if my dad was in the habit of leaving his boots in the bathroom at night, but he did it at least once. My parents surely had a warm fuzzy feeling that night when they heard their little boy go into the bathroom. They probably didn't think anything of it when they didn't hear the toilet flush.
The next morning, my dad went to the bathroom and pulled on his pair of favorite boots. Only then did he realize why the toilet hadn't flushed the night before: I had peed
in his boot and it didn't have a handle to flush it by. Boots were made well in those days, so there was quite a bit of pee still puddled up in the toe.
There wasn't a lot he could say to me, but I'm pretty sure he put his boots in his closet after that. He did walk back to the bedroom and tell my mother, "I never thought I'd have a kid that didn't know how to pour PISS put of a boot." I've never actually poured piss out of a boot to this day, but I think I could figure it out.
Behind our garage apartment lived the Satterwhites. They had two sons, Smitty and Stephen. Smitty was quite a bit older than me, but Stephen was one year my senior. Stephen and I would play together a lot and got along most of the time. He was a lot bigger than me at that age and naturally when we got into a spat he would always come out on top. I would run home whining to my mother. She would hear my story and usually give me the try to get along talk. Sometimes it would be more along the lines of me standing up for myself. I was always nonconfrontational and would get shoved around sometimes.
One morning Stephen was playing in his sandbox and I wanted to go play with him. It long before we had some confrontation and I ran home crying. I was told yet again that nothing was ever going to change unless I showed a little courage. At long last the message had sunk in.
The next morning Stephen was in the sandbox again, and apparently I opted for the preemptive strike. I put on my little pair of cowboys boots and walked down the stairs. My mother must have been thinking, "Here we go again."
Stephen was sitting in the sand playing with his toys. I walked directly up to him, and without saying one word, I swung my leg back and kicked him right in the nose as hard as I could. He screamed and blood began to flow down his face. My mother heard the screaming and realized it wasn't coming from me for once. When she got to the door I was already at the top of the stairs. I came running in with a big smile on my face and yelling, "I got the blood! I got the blood!" She started to say something to me about my timing, but decided it wasn't a good time to spoil the moment. I was lectured later in the day.
From what I have been told, my father had a wonderful sense of humor and always enjoyed a good prank, so I must have come about it honestly. He had an industrial uniform supply business. He rented uniforms, rags and other items all over East Texas, so he was on the road practically every day. He was always coming in with some new trick or prank item he picked up in his travels. His favorite place to try them out was at my grandparent's grocery store. My mother worked there with them and I was always around bothering everyone.
One day, my dad came in with a jelly jar. The glass was purple and appeared to be full of grape jelly. When the lid was removed, a rubber snake with a compressed spring inside would fly out the top and give someone a good fright. He put it on the counter with a spoon and some crackers and made a little card that read "FREE SAMPLE." He then waited anxiously for someone to take the bait.
As a point of information, back in the '50s and '60s most flour was sold in 25-pound and 50-pound white cotton sacks. At the grocery store, all the 50-pound sacks of flour were standing on end across from the counter the jelly jar was sitting on. This will be significant shortly.
After a few minutes, one of the regular customers came in. She was a large lady and she weighed several hundred pounds. It only took a few seconds for her to spot the jelly and decide to try a spoonful of it. She slowly twisted the lid off and was ready for a taste. When the lid came loose and the snake flew in the air my dad howled with laughter. The lady screamed and jumped up and back at the same time. She flew through the air and landed directly on top of several 50-pound flour sacks. She was screaming uncontrollably and bouncing up and down. She was yelling, "Oh, lordy! Oh shit! Oh, lordy! Oh shit!" It was hilarious for a few seconds until she lost control of her bowels. The situation was worsened by the fact that she wasn't wearing any underwear. Each time she bounced, pee and crap splattered across the top of the sacks of flour. Of course, a cotton flour sack soaks up moisture like a sponge, so the market value of the flour went down every time her big ass made contact with a sack. It took them a few minutes to get her calmed down. My dad apologized profusely. The jelly jar was immediately tossed in the garbage can. After she left, my dad had to haul out bag after bag of stinky poop and pee stained flour. I'm sure my grandparents weren't too amused when they were out of flour so quickly. In later years it became one of their favorite stories, but it took awhile.
Much of the time, when my mother was working in the store with my grandfather, I was with my grandmother. They lived next door to the grocery store. There was a white picket fence in front of the house to keep me incarcerated. My grandmother was always sewing or piddling around the house, but she kept an eye on me most of the time.
One day I did decide to try to escape the confines of the yard. I climbed up on the fence and made my way over the top. I was wearing shorts, which turned out to be my downfall. When you are three years old, pickets on the top of a short fence are just as effective as barbed wire. As I cleared the top a picket went up each leg of my shorts. When the screaming began everyone came running from the house to see what was wrong. I was suspended backward from the fence, pickets up my shorts, yelling like hell. I was very wary of the demon fence for years afterward.
My grandparents had a canary named Pretty Boy. He was kept in a small birdcage on a stand that was about eye level to a three-year-old. Occasionally my grandfather would take Pretty Boy out of the cage and let him sit on his finger. He would whistle and the bird would whistle in return. I always wanted to hold the bird, but my grandfather always said I had to wait until I was older. When Pretty Boy was in his cage, I would stick my fingers through and try to touch him, but he would move to the back and avoid me.
One day, I surprised him and caught his tail. He spun around and pecked me. I let him go, but I wasn't going to let it go unpunished. I went to the kitchen and got a paper grocery sack. I opened the door to his cage, which I had never done before. I covered the door with the sack and started shaking the cage. The stupid bird flew right into the sack. I folded the top of the sack and sat it down on the floor. I found a copy of the Houston Post rolled up on the couch in the living room and took it to the sack. I began to pound on the sack with all my might and the bird began to scream with all his might. When my grandmother arrived I was raising the paper above my head and raining blow after blow down on the grocery sack. She yelled, "Stop that! What do you think you are doing?"
I looked her in the eye and calmly said, "I'm going to kill Pretty Boy. He pecked me." She took the paper from me and opened the sack. Pretty Boy was alive and well but very freaked out. He died of natural causes a short time later. He probably had a bad heart. The incident must have happened during the week, because I'm pretty sure I would have killed him with the Sunday edition.
It seemed like my grandfather was always mowing the yard. We got a lot of rain and I never remember seeing him water the grass. Being three or four, I constantly begged him to let me push the mower, but he always said no and sent me inside before I lost any fingers or toes. I would stand at the screen door and watch him the entire time he was mowing. I also recall a few years later when I asked to mow the yard and was finally told yes. It only took a couple of times cutting the thick grass in the heat and humidity for me to realize what an idiot I was for whining about wanting to do it.
My grandfather was well up in years when I was little. He had Parkinson's disease and it was getting hard for him to do very much, but he always insisted on mowing the yard against the advice of family and friends. It was one activity he could still manage. My grandmother was dead set against it and let him know it all the time. One day I was standing by the door watching him hard at work mowing. My grandmother walked into the room. I turned to her and said, "Look Mama, that old shit is out there mowing again." She was shocked at such language coming from a three-year-old. As soon as my grandfather came inside she told him what I had said, figuring he would scold me. He simply looked at her and replied, "He just said what he has heard you say." She just glared at him and walked away. I went unpunished.
We moved in with them after my father died and my mother began running the grocery store full-time. The following year I started kindergarten and was able to start getting into trouble outside my white picket prison.

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