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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roman Candle Shootout

As a youngster up in the Panhandle, I was always been a sucker for holidays, especially the Fourth of July and Christmas. And to be honest, the fact that firecrackers, torpedoes, rockets, and other pyrotechnic devices were part of each was one of the reasons.

Then, as today, families gathered for the Fourth. Now, that was well before the barbecue craze, and usually after a dinner of fried chicken and all the side dishes topped off with icy sweet tea, the men, along with their various libations, set about churning up a batch of homemade ice cream while we kids ran amuck with our explosives.

It’s a wonder some of us didn’t have something blown off or put out or burned up because the only thing we had on our warped little minds was fireworks, certainly not safety.

One Christmas on my maternal grandparents farm, Ed, one of my younger cousins, and I got tired of being knocked around by our Cousin Dooley, who was five or six years older. It was small things like pushing us into the hog pen or throwing one of us in the cow tank or hurling cow patties at us.

He was too big and strong for us, but we had a supply of Roman candles. We caught him in one of the barn stalls so he couldn’t run and peppered him good with Roman candles. Even burned a couple holes in his clothes.

That wasn’t all we burned. Luckily we saw the smoking hay in the stalls before it got out of hand. We never did tell anyone about that part of our adventure.

Naturally, when he caught up with us later, he gave us a good pummeling.

Now I never did burn anything down. Set a few grass fires and on occasion caused my grandmother’s hens to stop laying. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky. And, but for the mixed blessing of a case of measles, I would have been right in the thick of it.
There were a handful of us boys who sort of, kind of, hung together. If one had something in mind such as a camping trip or swimming trip to the creek, he’d get in touch with the others.

Anyway, we had planned our Fourth of July battle for a couple weeks, a replay of the shelling of Fort McHenry in 1812. What brought that scenario all about was that Donald had read about Francis Scott Key writing the Star Spangled Banner while watching the battle at night.

Now, Donald’s dad had just moved a chicken house onto the back of his property. As I remember, he’d bought it from another farmer and hauled it in. That was our Fort McHenry, and since the idea was Donald’s, and the fort his father’s, he insisted on being Francis Scott Key.

That meant only two more of us could be Americans. The other three were British. No one wanted to be British, so we had to draw straws. Naturally with my luck, I was a Briton.

Two days before the Fourth, Mom decided I had measles. I wailed and pitched a fit, but to no avail.

Two days after the Fourth, I was grateful for the illness with which the good Lord had blessed me. That was the day I learned during the epic Battle of the Chicken Coop—I mean, Fort McHenry, the fort, flag and all, under the deadly barrage of Roman candles, had been reduced to ashes. The nearby barn had been hit; it lost only one stall; both armies had been punished severely.

A week later after Jerry’s dad let him leave the house, he stopped by and told me of the battle.

It had waged back and forth for hours (minutes really). Francis Scott Key was firmly entrenched in the chicken coop writing the Star Spangled Banner with firecrackers and rockets and Roman candles exploding all around. One firecracker burned the paper in his hand, and he had to start over.

Now, rockets are notorious for going everywhere except where they are pointed, and it was one of those rockets that did a ninety-degree curve and hit the barn.

All in all, he whispered with sneaky grin, it was a great fight. Sorry you missed it.
I was too.

After Jerry left, Mom came in and said what the boys had done was a terrible and foolish thing. Thoughtless! Childish! She looked at me and cocked her head to one side. “Did you know they were going to do that?”

Wide-eyed and innocent, I shook my head. “No, Ma’am. I would have told you if I had.”

I groaned after she left. What a great battle, and I had missed it all.


rconwell@gt.rr.com
www.kentconwell.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Feng Shui Lotus Touts

I am most definitely, absolutely, positively not one of those who constantly forward e-mails. Because of that mindset that borders on obsessive, I have on numerous occasions risked my life, my fortune (what little there is), the possibility of having my hair fall out, sixty years bad luck, a wart on my nose, and all because I would not forward an e-mail.

Now, I know some of you don’t fiddle with a computer, but you probably remember the old ‘chain letters’ back during the days of the dinosaurs. This e-mail was a chain letter.

My mother, bless her heart, was fanatical about getting chain letters back into the mail before the allotted time. She’d sit as the dining room table and labor over fifteen or twenty of those suckers, then hurry to post them before the next day’s mail.

I never did notice any appreciable change in our luck and fortune despite an average of six or eight chain letters yearly. I still had Vienna sausage sandwiches for lunch at school. When I mentioned our lack of fortune to Mom, she shrugged and reminded me Dad still had his job; we had a roof over our head; and there was always food on the table.

So, you can see why I never placed any value on chain letters.

Until one day!

Yep.

I got what was called a ‘Mental Feng Shui Lotus Touts’.
Now, I’ll be honest. I had no idea what a Mental Feng Shui Lotus Touts was. Feng Shui is a 3000-year-old system of art and science from China that reveals how to balance the energies of a space to ensure health and good fortune to those inhabiting it. Lotus Touts? Your guess is as good as mine. Sounds like something you might step in.

I don’t believe in such stuff, so I can’t tell you why I decided to see what would happen if I forwarded the e-mail.

Maybe it was because it claimed that if I sent it to five people, my life would improve; five to ten, improve greatly; ten to fifteen, three surprises in the next two weeks; and over fifteen, all I had dreamed of.

Golly gee, folks. With those kind of assurances, an old country boy would be a sucker not to give it a shot. I had nothing to lose. At least, that’s what I thought.
Now, this little good luck e-mail consisted of twenty-one guides to a more satisfying life.

They were the usual little truisms that most of us try to observe in our daily lives: give more than people expect, and do it cheerfully; marry someone you love to talk to; don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want; when you say ‘I love you’, mean it; when you apologize to someone, look them in the eye; when you make a mistake, take steps to correct it; don’t let a disagreement destroy a friendship; and another fifteen or so.

So, I figured if I were going to forward the good luck note, I might as well go whole hog and send it to everyone on my list.

Well, I have to admit, the e-mail was right about the surprises. The first came the next day when three on my contact list said they’d taken my name off their contact lists and for me to never communicate with them again.

I didn’t have time to get upset, for at that minute, my computer crashed. I contacted my computer tech. Great guy, smart guy, expensive guy.

So far, the e-mail had cost me three contacts and a nice chunk of cash. I shrugged if off, figuring if I bought the cheapest beer for the next six months, I’d recoup my expenses.

I got my next surprise the following day when I ruined a tire. That was just after I got a speeding ticket. By then, I was ready to strangle the jerk who had sent me the good luck e-mail.

That night, I reread the list of truisms. I stopped at ‘Hindsight is twenty-twenty.’ Was that ever right! I knew when I was in the middle of sending out that stuff that I was making a mistake. And I refused to listen.

The only good luck I got out of that fiasco was a few days later when I ran out of gas, I did manage to coast into a station. That’s the kinda luck I have, half good and half bad, and there ain’t no stinking e-mail that will solve that.


rconwell@gt.rr.com

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Peaceful Revolution

Most of us are sick and tired of hearing about illegal immigration, and all of us know we must secure our borders before we can truly solve the problem—if we ever can.
Healthy immigration adds a rich diversity to the fabric of our society. But, how healthy can it be when thousands of people, desperate for a place in the land of milk and honey, are encouraged into breaking the law and entering illegally.

I said encouraged. By that, I mean many of them have believed the lies that the firebrands of their culture have proposed over the years. And of course, American employers hiring illegals under the table doesn’t help.

Our neighbors in Mexico have leapfrogged from one revolution to another over the centuries. I had never thought much about it until in one of my graduate courses, the prof, a Ph.D. and a Hispanic, claimed by 1990, the brown line would stretch from Houston to Dallas.

I shrugged it off until I read some speeches by various Hispanic leaders in the state of California a few years later. They preached a peaceful takeover of the border states, beginning with California.

I didn’t believe it until I did some research, and no, that doesn’t count the Ouija Board.

In every culture there are those who want something for nothing. Why should they struggle to survive in Mexico when the U.S. is so handy? Besides, their leaders insist, we’re entitled to it. After all, the land was once ours. The U.S. and Texas stole it.

That is what these firebrands preach.

Richard Alatorre, Los Angeles City Council, said in September, 1996, “They’re afraid we’re going to take over the governmental institutions and other institutions. They’re right. We will take them over. We are here to stay.”

His remarks were supported by the Excelsior, the National Newspaper of Mexico. “The American Southwest seems to be slowly returning to the jurisdiction of Mexico without firing a single shot.” (that was before southwestern ranchers were killed or fishermen robbed on Lake Falcon)

Then in 1995, Associate Professor Jose Gutierrez, UT at Arlington, spoke at a Latino Conference at the University of California. “We have an aging white America. They are not making babies. They are dying. The explosion is in our population. You have a destiny to fulfill in this land that has been ours for forty thousand years, and we’re a new Mestizo nation.”

When I read that remark, it clicked into place with an observation made by John Salmon ‘Rip” Ford, in the classic biography, “Rip Ford’s Texas.” A stalwart and brave Texan, Rip spent several decades fighting Indians, Mexican and American bandits, and the Union. An educated man, he ran several newspapers and served in various important capacities in his life.

As a Texas Ranger, his job was to—what else, patrol the border. Naturally, the Mexican people resented the loss of Mexican soil to the U.S. Who wouldn’t? Ford understood that, but he had his job, which he carried out. He remarked once that ‘The Mexican hated and feared Texans, and would not hesitate to cut their throats if they could.”

On that day in 1836 when Santa Anna relinquished Mexican soil to Sam Houston, the Hispanic desire to retake it was born. The fanatical firebrands will not let the average Latino forget it, and that list of firebrands is longer than my arm.

Of course, there is more to this ‘invasion’ of illegals than simply land and hatred. Liberals love illegals because many go on entitlements, and in doing so, feel obligated to vote for the liberals who provided such treasures. California is a perfect example.

However, California’s lagniappe will soon come to an end, if not by force, then by bankruptcy. Right now, how about 19.1 billion dollar shortfall in the 2011 California budget, unemployment knocking on 13%, a cut in debt rating, scaling back days of work, worst credit rating in the country, and no relief in sight?

Anybody with sense knows that bailouts cannot continue.

Over the years, I’ve seen neat communities fill up with entitlements and morph into shacks. Then with liberal support, the inhabitants move to nicer places, which in a few years will be in the same shape as those left behind. Sooner or later, the money will run out. Then what? An America that looks like the slums of Juarez? Gaudily painted buildings lining Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills?

I don’t know where all of this will end, folks.

I just hate the idea of my grandkids growing up in such a toxic environment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Salute to Old Glory

Everyone knows the nickname for the American flag, don’t we?
Right. Old Glory. And we all know just how she came to acquire that name, right?
No? Well, let me tell you.
With June 14 being proclaimed Flag Day in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson and the same date established as National Flag Day by an act of Congress in August, 1949, I figured many of us might be interested in just how and when that particular sobriquet was attached to the Stars and Stripes.
Now, I’m a sucker for the American flag, for what it symbolizes-a free country that guarantees its citizens the inalienable rights God intended for every human being. I’m one of those throwbacks who actually fold a worn flag and take it to the nearest military office for proper disposal. I revere it, just like the old sea captain who gave her the name.
After learning about the flag as a Boy Scout, I set out to run down the origin of the nickname. Library research revealed the details of the story. Naturally, some details varied from source to source, but the core of the story remains the same, all centering on the same old sea captain, Stephen Driver or William Driver. The latter name is one used by the 1918 New York Times story.
William Driver was born on the morning March 17, 1803, and at fourteen, he was apprenticed as a cabin boy on the ship, China, bound for Italy. His next five voyages took him to Calcutta, Gibraltar, Antwerp and Gothenburg. His next voyage took him to the Fiji Islands, and there his career centered in the South Seas. At the age of twenty-one, he was made master of the brig, Charles Doggett.
As a birthday and farewell gift on an 1831 voyage that would climax with the rescue of the mutineers of the ‘Bounty’, his mother and several young ladies in Salem, Massachusetts, sewed him a large American flag twenty by twenty-four feet.
When the flag was unfurled in the sea breeze, Captain Driver was asked what he thought of it. He replied, “God bless you. I’ll call it Old Glory.”
So far, nothing really remarkable, huh? Well, read on.
Six years later, he retired to Nashville, Tennessee, taking with him his flag from his days at sea. By the time Tennessee seceded from the union years later, everyone in the city knew of the elderly sea captain’s ‘Old Glory.’
The story went that Rebels were determined to destroy the flag and its symbolism, but despite numerous intense searches and threats, no trace was ever found.
No one knew what had become of the flag. Driver’s own family knew nothing of it. They were all in sympathy with the Confederate South, so he could not trust them with the secret of where he had hidden it.
And then on February 25, 1862, Union forces captured Nashville and raised the American flag. It was a small flag, and immediately, citizens asked the old captain about ‘Old Glory’. Did she still exist, or had he destroyed her to keep her from the Rebels?
Accompanied by Union soldiers, Captain Driver went upstairs to his bedroom, which had been searched dozens of times by frustrated Confederates. He began ripping at the seams of his bedcover. As the batting of the quilt top unraveled, the soldiers looked inside and saw the twenty-fours stars of the original ‘Old Glory.’
Although Captain Driver was sixty years old, he gathered the flag he had so jealously guarded and loved for the last thirty-one years and hoisted it to the top of the tower to replace the smaller ensign. The Sixth Ohio Regiment cheered and saluted, and later adopted the nickname, ‘Old Glory’.
The captain is buried in the Nashville City Cemetery, and is one of three places authorized by an act of Congress where the Flag of the United States may be flown twenty-four hours a day.
Think of what he risked to save the flag, and then ask yourself what that irascible old sea captain would say to those at Montebello High School in California when they flew the American flag upside down beneath the Mexican flag?
I imagine it would have been too blistering for delicate ears.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

‘Summertime and the living is easy

Fish are jumping and the cotton is high

Your daddy’s rich and you mama’s good-looking

So hush little baby, don’t you cry.’



Who doesn’t remember George Gershwin’s fantastic song from ‘Porgy and Bess’? I first heard the memorable little tune up in the Texas Panhandle when I was just a kid.

Every time I hear it now, it evokes a feeling of those halcyon days of my youth during WWII, a lazy, carefree life my boyhood chums and I enjoyed each summer, laidback and unfettered, soaking in the heat and summer afternoon baseballs games while loafing in the shade of the giant cottonwoods. Of course, aren’t we all like that, in our own way?

But, back to our summer.

Everyone awaited the final day of school with high anticipation. And when that last bell rang, the school exploded with deafening cheers and shouts of relief. And that was just from the teachers.

You could track the route every youngster took on the way home by the trail of crumpled and torn paper left behind.

My best friend, Jerry, and I had been laying plans for our summer. Of course, we had our chores, chopping corn and cotton, milking, and making sure there was always plenty of lime in the outhouse.

But, we had enough spare time that we had decided to build us a yacht from a barrel we had discovered half submerged in the creek a few hundred yards west of us.

Now, what appealed to us about the barrel was that one side was cut out, and one end looked like a funnel. We never did figure out the purpose of the barrel, but to us, it was a ready-made ship with its own bowsprit.

The creek in which it was mired flowed into Chapman’s Lake, a small ten-acre lake that Mister Chapman used for his dairy herd. We lived just down the street from him, so he knew us well—probably too well, but he didn’t mind if we used his lake as long as we didn’t spook his cows.

And believe it or not, we never did, not deliberately at least. His lake was our refuge, our fishing hole, our swimming hole, our hideout on Halloween Night, and a perfect spot to camp, pretending we were on a great safari in Africa, where next morning, we’d venture out into the wilds of sage and scrub oak to hunt down the most dangerous game of all, the wily and deadly jackrabbit. Last thing we wanted to do was make Mister Chapman mad.

The first day after our chores, we hurried to the creek and began dredging out our soon-to-be flagship. While the land is sandy, a combination of muck swept down stream combined with the deposits of the local bovines, the mud we stirred up was pretty rank. But we didn’t mind. Strange how a wild dream blocks out all sense of reason and reality.

Anyway, we managed after a few hours to roll the barrel up on the bank and clean it out. That’s when we discovered, to our horror, that it had a couple holes rusted in it.

Now Jerry was always brighter than me, and he suggested we patch it with tar. It so happened his Dad had some cylinders of tar, so we hacked off some with our Boy Scout hatchets, and back at the creek, built a fire and melted the tar in my Mom’s bean pot. We even rigged a jig to hold the melted tar in place until it cooled.

And it cooled pretty fast, but not as fast as it did in Mom’s pot.

Finally, we were ready to launch our flagship. Believe it or not, it floated.

By the way, did I mention we knew absolutely nothing about nautical physics?

Jerry proclaimed he was entitled to the first voyage across the lake since he was our leader.

There we stood, ankle deep in muck and knee deep in water. I held the boat steady so Jerry could climb in. With one hand on my shoulder and the other on my uncle’s paddle to steady himself, he climbed in and knelt.

We were both beaming. Christopher Columbus and Magellan combined. “Okay,” he said. “Push me off.”

I did as my leader ordered, and even before he could sweep his paddle once, our mighty flagship flipped over, dumping Jerry and immediately sinking once again.

Only later did we learn that a rounded bottom needs great weights in the keels to maintain stability.

And we also learned that melted tar even scraped off a bean pot still leaves a horrible taste.

And once again, we were both faced another session with the business end of our fathers’ belts.

But still, it was summertime—and despite the belts, life was good. In fact, our next project was a tree house for our dogs.