My Army Homes

(There are places I remember . . .)

My first Army home was Fort Leonard Wood (Lost In The Woods). I was a full-sized “little green man” in a land of perfectly parallel and perpendicular buildings, exercise yards and parade fields.

Lawns were precisely trimmed grass and the rest was rock-strewn sandy soil with some wooded areas. I gave myself a bloody nose my first night there walking into a post in the middle of the blacked-out reception area barracks, sprained my ankle the third evening when I stepped on a rock that rolled and pitched me down an incline, and ran into a tree while on night maneuvers. Night vision was not my strength. When the sergeant said keep your head down on the infiltration course, I slithered like a slug beneath barbed wire and machine gun fire, not taking any more chances.

Next was Scott Air Force Base where I stayed two weeks, waiting to be assigned to one of the four Nike Hercules missile batteries surrounding St. Louis. Just long enough to learn that Airmen not only got to see airplanes up close, but also got better food than Soldiers.

My home for thirty-three months was Alpha Battery outside the tiny town of Marine, Illinois. I went to Marine to cash my paycheck and get haircuts. Some of the guys also went there to drink at Rosie’s Bar, where beer was stronger than at our one-room PX. The young men in town didn’t care for us because the girls did. The Town Constable picked up our Mess Hall’s scraps once a week for his pigs.

One winter evening a city-slicker from Chicago called the Sergeant of the Guard to report that a “herd of buffalo” were stampeding past his guard booth. Everyone on duty rushed outside to see a group of dairy cows plodding back to the barn down the road to be milked.

Some evenings and weekends my buddy and I would venture to the town of Highland where the owner of the Lory Theater admitted “Nike guys” for fifty cents to see a couple of recent (or older) movies. Carhops at the Dog’n’Suds drive-in, would chat with us. We tipped better than the local guys.

One evening, as we were returning from Highland the car in front of us swerved to miss hitting a racoon and lost control. That car went off the road, rolled completely in mid-air as it sailed across a drainage ditch, and landed on its wheels facing the opposite direction. As it rolled, the passenger door flew open and the passenger fell out.

Dan stopped his Mustang and we ran to help. We found the driver unhurt and her pregnant passenger lying on her back in tall grass, conscious but in pain. We tried unsuccessfully to get passing drivers to call an ambulance until another Nike guy came by. Two weeks later we learned that the baby had been born on time. Child and mother were fine.

* * *

There was one more place, for the shortest time, but the most thrilling of all my Army homes.

One Thursday morning in September the First Sergeant stepped before our morning assembly and called us to attention. “Gentlemen, the Captain has an announcement.”

Our Battery Commander stepped forward and said. “We just received a SNAP call from Adcap. Platoon Sergeants, commence crew drills and select your teams; I want a perfect score. We fly out of Scott Saturday evening. Lets shoot down some drones!”

I’d heard of the Short Notice Annual Practice calls and wanted to be chosen to at least see a missile being fired, and hopefully crew one. I was good enough (or lucky enough) to go twice.

Saturday night the chosen team, myself included, boarded the American Flyer Airline L-188 turboprop plane for the overnight flight to Biggs AFB adjacent to Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas.

From Biggs, we went by bus to McGregor Range in the New Mexico desert, Northeast of El Paso. McGregor is surrounded by prickly pear cactus, jackrabbits and rattlesnakes.

We shared a barracks with another unit; once with Greek soldiers and once with Turks. I had hoped to be stationed in Italy, Greece or Germany after my contracted thirteen months defending St. Louis, but meeting Greek soldiers in New Mexico was the closest I came.

SNAP did allow me my first and second opportunities to travel outside the U.S. though, as some friends and I walked across the Rio Grande River to visit Ciudad Juarez a couple of times. I people-watched, then bought a tambourine and the most comfortable cowboy boots.

Re-entering the U.S., we had to pay a two-cent toll and say where we were born. The Border Patrol agent meant what country, but one fellow from Arkansas misunderstood and drawled, “Oil Trough.”

The agent’s eyes opened wide and a couple of seconds passed before he exclaimed, “Where the hell is that?”

Later, I recounted the incident to my uncle Joe, who said, “That’s where I was born!”

Oh, by the way, we successfully shot down our four target drones.

INDEX

Here is a list of titles in the order they appear. You can scroll down, then SEARCH a title that interests you in the SEARCH box (I’m sorry, but if you’re viewing from a phone, finding the search box may be difficult — it is on mine) or continue scrolling. Thanks for visiting.

My Home Town

Mom’s Bio Outline

Coming To America

My First Bike

Carl Ramon

DnPnGNS

In Memory of Marla B.

Uncle Bud

Grandma, Dad & The Big C

Chief

Ellie Smith

Peanut

My Teen Years

Dad & Me

Grandpa, Dad & Joe

Dad & Deacon

Great Uncle Bill

Jody

OOPS! (how I almost blew up St. Louis)

The Big Snow of ’66

Going to California & Minnesota

The BMWankel

Life’s a Song

Always With You

Critique Group

The Last Chanticleer

Ha’nt – part 1 of 4

Ha’nt – part 2 of 4

Ha’nt – part 3 of 4

Ha’nt – part 4 of 4

My Home Town

I’ve talked and written about Frogtown, my early childhood home. But it wasn’t really a town, just a neighborhood in the corner of East St. Louis. 

Of course, Mom and I window-shopped in St. Louis in the holiday season and I enjoyed the elaborate window displays and huge toy departments in its grand department stores. I loved the St. Louis Zoo and Municipal Art Museum and riding electric streetcars. But my school-clothing purchases and rare visits to the movie theater were in the birthplace of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jimmy Connors, Steamboat Willie and was the former residence of Miles Davis and Ike & Tina Turner. 

There were some real characters in Frogtown, Like two adult brothers who were complete opposites. Floyd always seemed angry, scowling and silent, while Lloyd was (if simple) happy and talkative. Floyd scared me, but not Lloyd, who carried a ring of dozens of odd keys which he showed off to everyone he passed, always saying, “I got the keys. Get the car tomorrow.”

And the widowed lady down the street’s adult daughters, who were professional dancers. When home on summer days, they’d be out in their mother’s kitchen garden, scandalously bare legged and barefoot, weeding and pruning.

A man I hope to emulate was the 100+ year old father of a lady on the next street (who looked older than him), especially as he strolled the neighborhood carrying a cane that I never saw him lean on. He had a smile for everyone.

My very favorite neighbor man in those early years was Ross G., who was a driver for an interstate trucking company. Once I saw his bare feet as he was relaxing and I was fascinated that the first two toes on one foot were one “siamese”  with one broad nail. His daughter, a pretty blonde aged between Jackie and I, was the object of my first crush. Her name was Jessie, same as her mother, but Ross called her Skipper.

Ross, with Mom’s permission, gifted me my first pocket knife. It had simulated tortoise-shell sides and one half-inch broken blade. “Don’t cut yourself,” he laughed. Shortly after that his tractor-trailer jackknifed, killing him. Jessie took Skipper and moved back to her home town in North Carolina.

In the mid 1950s, an up-and-coming black family bought a house on our block. Shortly after they moved in, Mom said to Dad over supper, “Mrs. ____ said they’re selling their house. They won’t live with coloreds.” Dad said, “Good riddance.”

Working in construction, Dad helped build a new housing project just beyond the end of our dead-end street, which was sold exclusively to black families. Soon, we were the only white family in the block. 

When I think of childhood friends, James and Hayward (both with chocolate-colored skin) top the list. James, wheelchair-bound from polio, educated me about music-with-soul before that term became popular and Hayward tried valiantly to teach me to loosen up my body and dance. I have written how their father helped feed Mom and I until she could get Dad’s Social Security and Veterans benefits for us.

Mom and I moved a year after Dad died because she was warned by black neighbors that white kids, by then the minority, were having a rough time at ESL Senior High School.

A look in Google Earth shows a devastated city, due to business leaving, plummeting tax revenue and corrupt city management. My brother and I visited Frogtown a few years ago. Our house was gone, but fortunately the properties on both sides of the street were bought by a black man who cleared the land and maintains lawns that form a virtual park. Coincidentally, he had the same Army job I had. I’m happy that I returned for a look and got to meet him.

Mom’s Bio Outline

Mom seemed a paradox. She was very self-conscious, but could be a real clown. She was very creative and intelligent, but constantly called herself stupid. She was nice looking, yet thought she was ugly. She had a good singing voice, but would clam up if anyone outside the family heard her. She could be jocular or angry and it didn’t take much to bring either side to the fore.

Mom learned as a young child, when “Papa” died, that he was not her father. Grandma Alma had to go to work as a cook and Mom’s half sibs went to the Masonic Orphanage, but little Constance went to a different orphanage. She didn’t learn until much later in life that she’d been sired by an employer of Alma’s. Connie was born at a home for unwed mothers across the state. When Papa married Alma, he had children that were her age and they inherited his property.

Photos show young Connie as a pretty girl, but a bicycle accident on a cracked sidewalk broke her nose and the inability to afford braces for her teeth only made her self-image worse. Her early teens were spent in a Catholic convent/boarding school, where she learned fine embroidery, but not the employable skills Grandma thought she’d learn. When she didn’t qualify for the factory job Alma had arranged for her at 16, she found work as governess for the children of a respected minister.

At twenty-one, she eloped with a man, who then gave in to parental pressure and had the marriage annulled. Connie didn’t tell him that, while on their “honeymoon,” she had become pregnant.

The minister could not employ an unmarried pregnant woman, so Connie had to stay with her younger sister and her new husband. While there, she was introduced to my Dad by a neighbor lady. Dad proposed to her as she was washing diapers. They were together through the Depression and separated only by the War, until his death nearly 25 years later. She had four children, three fathered by Dad, and nine grandchildren. She died at 88 and is buried next to him.

Mom Spent most of her life in the St. Louis area, but during the Depression had gone with Dad to Arkansas and New Mexico as he sought employment. After I came to California, Sunny married and our sister, Jackie, asked Mom to move to Nashville, Tennessee and help her with her four (then six) children. Mom stayed there for ten years and loved that period, but when Sunny and his wife divorced Mom moved back North to housekeep for him. When her senile dementia progressed to where he could not give her enough of the assistance she needed, Marcia took her until Mom needed to be in a nursing home. She lived there for a while before the sadly typical broken hip and a later sickness and infection took her.

Coming To America

I loitered in the kitchen listening to Dad and Uncle Joe talk about the family. They sat at the table drinking beer and reminiscing. For the first time, I heard about my Great-grandfather Pauli. Dad asked, “Do you still have his pistol?”

Joe said yes and they talked about firing the “cap & ball” revolver. I asked what a cap & ball was and Dad said, “It’s the kind of pistol soldiers used back in the Civil War and it belonged to our grandfather.”

Uncle Joe said, “Your middle name is Joseph, so it will be yours.” He may have added, “someday,” or “when you’re older,” or “after we die,” but I only heard that he would give it to me.

“Which Army was he in?” I asked.

“He was in the U.S. Cavalry.”

The next time I saw Uncle Joe I asked him for the gun. “How old are you, ten or eleven? You can’t have it now!”

Dad must have noticed as my smile fell, because he spoke up, “Dammit, Joe, you did say he could have it and we shot it when we were his age. Go on and give it to him.”

Joe frowned but shrugged and gave me the long-barreled 1860 Colt Army .44, which I assumed Great-grandpa had carried during the Civil War. I felt pride that he had fought for Lincoln and helped end slavery.

Years later, Aunt Doris, Dad’s sister, provided more information. My Great-grandfather, Joseph Peter Pauli, was both a violinist and a braumeister (brewmaster) born in Prussia in 1839 and immigrated from Hamburg to the United States. It’s very unlikely that he had entered the Army before the end of the Civil War.

She gave me his photograph and some papers he received from the Prussian Consul in 1870 addressed to him as a member of the 5th Cavalry Band at Fort McPherson, Nebraska, which had been established to protect the Overland Trail between Fort Kearny and Julesburg, Colorado.

Joseph had petitioned Prussia to allow him to return there at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War that broke out that year. The letter states that Prussia did not restore citizenship to those who had emigrated.

After his enlistment was complete, Joseph Peter settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he owned a tavern. He married young Swiss immigrant Rosalia Sabina (Geyer) Pauli (b. 1857) and they had three children by 1880. His tavern was so successful that his telephone was listed in that city’s first one-page directory in the 1890s.

When I read the autobiography of William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, I learned that he had supplied bison meat to the Army and was attached to Fort McPherson in 1870. Either of Joseph’s talents likely made him fairly well known to anyone who spent significant time there.

I learned later that the 1860 Colt Army .44 was issued until replaced by the Colt Army .45 of 1872. It irritates me no end that Hollywood depicted (and still does) the 1872 pistol being used before it was invented. I’m sure it was easier than showing the lengthy reloading process of the 1860, even though they rarely showed the 1872 model being reloaded. In reality, the 1860 would have created more suspense than non-stop action.

Coincidentally, the self contained cartridge which made the 1860 Colt obsolete, was invented by another Pauli, Samuel, but he was an Austrian and not related to my family.

Great-grandpa (2)

 

My First Bike

Kick-startin’ this bike was a pain in the ass

Now I throw out the clutch and I give ’er the gas

I shift into first and I slip in the clutch

She’s as noisy as hell, but she didn’t cost much

 

I ease into second; the pipes shoot out fire

How many miles are left in this tire?

The handlebars startin’ to shimmy and shake

Whoa, is this pedal even hooked up to a brake?

 

The lights are a joke and the oil is black

And this ol’ hardtail is killin’ my back

Damned Amal carbs are beginnin’ to leak

And the Lucas magneto is awfully weak

 

I do love this paint, genuine metal flake

Shows an arm and a sword coming out of a lake

And the seat’s covered in tuck’n’rolled Naugahyde

She looks awful good, even though she just died

 

So I sit here and wait at the hamburger joint

But I just gotta smile when the kids stare and point

My bike may not start, but this car-hop is fine

She said she likes bikers and gets off at nine

 

I wonder how long it’ll take for my pal

To get here and help me repair the ol’ gal

I sure hope my buddy gets here right away

If we get this bike started it’s my lucky day

 

Tags are expired? Officer, I just bought ’er!

Well, since that’s the case – no ticket, though I oughter

So stay off the road or I call the tow truck

If I see it again, you won’t have as much luck

 

Well, my buddy and I couldn’t get the bike started

She just wouldn’t fire, although one time she farted

The car-hop just left with some big guy named Mike

But, hell, I don’t mind –

                                                    I just bought my first bike

Carl Ramon

Deep in the depression

A baby was conceived

But after only four short months

His loss his mother grieved

 

Why he couldn’t survive

We here shall never know

Was it because she worked so hard

Or just his strength too low?

 

Was it from a bumpy drive

With Sonny on her lap?

Or was it something more than that?

Or just a thunderclap?

 

Did Momma eat good food

To make a child form strong

Or did the poor folks’humble fare

Consist of beans too long?

 

Daddy really loved us

All of our lives we’d hear

But while we had holes in our shoes

Dad always had his beer

 

Momma loved her babies

Proof of that we’ve seen

But couldn’t she have sent them off

To not witness her screams

 

That neighborhood is gone

A highway took its place

No marker shows where Carl lies

I’ve never seen his face

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad

That Mom and Dad had me

There’s no one else upon the earth

That I would rather be

 

I cannot blame our parents

They did their best, I see

I just wish I could have Carl

Here with my sibs and me

 

DnPnGNS

You could say I had it comin’

But I never did believe

That things would get so crazy

Or that she would up an’ leave

 

We been together so dang long

But much longer I will grieve

She saw me wink at Debby

So my Patty left with Steve

 

Now I’m cryin’ in my beer and

Wishin’ my eyes hadn’t strayed

Starin’ at the door she left through

There went all the plans I’d made

 

I shoulda known that he would tell

When Deb started comin’ in

Steve liked Patty since grade school

But winkin’ back ain’t a sin

 

I saw Stevey grinnin’ so big

As the dancers cleared away

Then the crowd started screaming

When Pat threw that chair my way

 

Blood was runnin’ from a scalp wound

Beer was burnin’ in my eyes

I guess I won’t dance no more

Since she kicked me ’tween the thighs

 

Now the tavern is real quiet

Just the bar-man washin’ up

Even Debbie found an exit

When Pat hit me with that cup

 

Some of us are just born losers

Some of us are just naive

Doin’ crazy things with Debbies

And Patties and guys named Steve

In Memory of Marla B.

At the Rock Store Sunday morn, I was the first one there
I’d stopped a while to meditate and offer up a prayer
Of thanks for all my favorite roads, my cycles and my friends
And ask for vivid memories after all my riding ends
I prayed for riders yet to come and those who’ve gone before
Who taught us to respect the roads that they can ride no more
From down the road I heard a sound – Mulholland’s banshee cry
Then I glimpsed a long-haired girl on phantom bike go flashing by
But she came back and whom I saw my eyes could not believe
For I’d been told that she was dead – for her I continued to grieve
This petite girl with honey hair, whose face was simply splendid
The first girl that I ever knew to ride sport bikes as God intended
I’d heard that up in Canada back in seventy-five or six
While doing what she loved so much, she’d taken that ride ’crost the Styx
She nodded as her eyes held mine and thanked me for my tears
Then told me not to worry so – death’s not as bad as we might fear
Heaven is an endless road, the best that we will ever share
The Blue Ridge Parkway, Ortega and Cripple Creek cannot compare
And all the bikes are classics there, from desmo Manx to Benly six
With Rennsports and Black Lightnings and some Tridents thrown into the mix
And you can bench-race with the best, like Mike the Bike and Calvin Lee
Or talk design with Ed Turner, or play in dirt with Steve McQueen
So dry your tears, she said to me, be good and keep the faith
And someday we will meet again when you become a motor-wraith
And so, my friends, I say to you, keep your hearts open wide
Help each other ride to live and may God help you live to ride

Uncle Bud

Dad’s mother, Grandma Maude, after coming to East Saint Louis, married Charles “Bud” Hursey. Dad insisted that we not call him Grandpa, so I knew him as Uncle Bud. He was a chubby cigar-smoker who supported Grandma and himself with his dumptruck, delivering coal, which most homes and businesses in that area still burned for winter heat.

Grandma & Bud’s yard was one of my favorite places. There was a cherry tree in the front yard that bore the sweetest fruit I can remember. The back yard had a grape vine with fruit second only to the cherries. Behind the back fence ran a railroad track which brought frequent freight trains closer than anyplace I could be to them at that time.

On a rickety work bench beside the garage was a hand-cranked, round sharpening stone. There were gears inside the housing between that crank and it’s grindstone and, when cranked, it emitted the sound a police, ambulance or fire siren made from perhaps a block away. I couldn’t visit without running back there and whirling the crank to hear its music.

Inside the garage, though, was the real treasure. Hidden within the weathered board walls and heavy doors was the full-sized inspiration for the favorite toy of countless boys of my generation     Bud’s dumptruck.

As a typical six or seven year old boy, being only a door away from a real dumptruck tortured me and I shared that feeling with Uncle Bud through frequent bouts of impassioned begging to sit behind its steering wheel. But Bud and Dad always had more important things to do, such as debating current politics, or the progress of the war in Korea, through smoke haze over the ever present beers.

Once, Bud made the crucial mistake of trying to silence me by saying there was a robot that guarded his truck and it would be neither wise nor safe to let me in there. It was obvious that Bud hadn’t spent enough time with young boys of that era . . . especially one with an imagination such as mine.

If not the next day, then within a few, I began formulating a plan. My brother, in his system of horse-trading with friends for new-to-him what-nots, had acquired the mask portion of a war-surplus gas mask with glass lenses and a tubular proboscis where a filter once attached. Hanging from a nail on a back porch post was an old coal-oil lantern. On the rubbish heap, as yet unburned, was an oval tin waste basket with  a rusted bottom. In the scrap-wood pile, left over from when Dad and the uncles put a new roof and carport on our house, was a wealth of assorted boards.

I gathered those items plus a handful of nails, a hammer and a handsaw and went to work. Taking what seemed like days to saw the necessary boards, I eventually assembled a rudimentary 2×4 skeleton with the waste basket for a torso. The lantern became a head with the gas mask for a face. What I thought was the finishing touch was another of Sunny’s treasures, a space-gun flashlight, which Mom helped me wire to a 1×4  arm.

I stood back and admired my creation when a bit of color caught my eye. On the ground in the carport was a paper-thin disk of green plastic that had covered the sticky side of a hot-patch Dad had discarded when repairing a puncture in one of his car-tire inner tubes.

I picked up the disk and considered it, then, perhaps on an impulse, stuck it on one of the gas mask’s lenses.

That evening, I could hardly sit still through dinner. Dad had admired my robot and was nearly as excited as me to play a prank on Bud.

We then loaded it into the trunk of Dad’s Nash and  began our mission. Arriving, we wordlessly carried my new friend to Bud’s garage, where Dad slowly and silently opened the door. He helped me stand it on the running board of the truck and closed the door.

Back to the car to slam its doors, we noisily entered Grandma’s kitchen door. Soon I was pestering Bud again to let me see his dumptruck. This time, when he groused and refused, Dad took up my cause.

“Oh, (blank)! Bud, just show the kid the (blank) truck.”

Bud scowled, but shambled across the kitchen and driveway and opened the garage doors. Then he looked up and froze. His jaw moved up and down, but no sounds exited his mouth.

By some bit of luck, the evening sunlight reflected at just the right angle to enter the dim garage and strike the bit of green plastic, endowing the robot with an eerie stare.

After a pause, Bud said, “I guess I deserved that. Thought I was going to have a heart attack for a minute.”

We all laughed and it may have been the hardest I ever saw Dad or Bud laugh.

Bud&Maude  chevy dump truck  DavidRobotSmall