Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I REMEMBER - 'Men only' - Fish Camp with Cousins & Uncles

There are lots of good memories in our lives and for those that are blessed with large families, there are often even more.  Interaction with different personalities that might doom a relationship outside your own family, but are preserved forever because they are “blood” relatives  Blood is thicker than water.

Most of my relatives were in Oklahoma and when my Mom and sister and I moved to California, it was like Marco Polo sailing off to the edge of the known universe.

We went back a couple of times for a visit and family reunions.  Being young, skinny wearing glasses, with all my 6’+ farm boy older cousins and Aunts and Uncles, I was often lost in the mix.

One of my favorite memories was a week-long, guy’s only, fish camp expedition.  There were lots of trucks (one with a huge freezer in the bed), chicken guts, “Catfish Charley” stink bait, treble hooks for snagging catfish and trot-lines.

We stayed at a fish camp on the Arkansas River…little shanty cabins right on the river bank.  We had big campfires at night and I drank lots of soda…I seem to recall my uncles and older cousins drinking something with the word “lightning” out of mason jars, getting louder and crazier as the night wore on.  We had made a side trip to this little farm to pick up the mason jars.  I waited in the truck.

We caught a couple of month’s worth of fish, mostly catfish and bass.  We cleaned and gutted them and packed them in the freezer right there.  We also had fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner (good to get home and have a hamburger).

I watched my older cousins catch catfish with their bare hands in little washed out recesses in the river banks.  There were lots of yelling and new words for me to learn when they got spiked with fins. 

My fondest memory after 50+ years was a nightmare at the time, which is often true with many good stories.  Being the youngest (and most na├»ve) on this “man trip”, I got initiated into the “Chiles Clan” one night.  We were sitting around the campfire and the mason jars were being passed around – not me.  

One of my three uncles announced that it was time to check the trotlines and needed a volunteer.  All my cousins volunteered me.  It was pitch black and very late at night.  I was terrified to even go much beyond the campfire area, but had to “man up” and not let it show that I was about to wet myself in fear.  

I had to take one of the “Jonboats” off the shore and paddle out into the night following the rope tied from one tree to another across the river and check the dangling baited hooks to see (had a lantern) if we had any fish on them, pull them up, remove the fish – drop them in the bottom of the boat (club them in the head if they flopped too much), rebait the hooks and paddle back.  No problem.  I am thinking, I can do this.

I faced my fear of the dark and took off as calmly (on the outside) as I could and was about halfway out when the initiation happened.  One of my older cousins slipped into the water behind me and quietly swam out to the boat and came up over the side behind me with a loud moan.  I now knew the monster stories were true and I was soon to be a dead man (boy actually).  Never one to go down without swinging (I had lost my fair share of playground fistfights) I first screamed at the top of my lungs then grabbed the paddle and wacked the “monster” over the head a couple of times. 

The distant laughter from the camp that had started with my screaming at the top of my lungs, turned into several enlightening four letter words from my half-drowned cousin and my uncles on the shore – one of which had to swim out and help his dazed “monster” son back to shore…and then the laughter started up again back at the camp after confirming everyone was still alive.  This time they were laughing at my soaking wet, gash-on-forehead cousin.

I was now officially in the clan…even offered a sip from the Mason jar (after they applied some to my cousin’s wound - man, did he ever yell even louder than me). Tasted very much like gasoline, but not as smooth…I think my eyes crossed several times from just enough to wet my flaming lips. I slept well.

The story was passed around at the next week’s family reunion.  Me, swelling with pride, my cousin embarrassed and my Mom whacking her brothers (my uncles) for allowing such a thing.  

My uncles were 6’3”+ - my mom was 5’1” – They were laughing so hard, I don’t think her punches were felt much.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I REMEMBER - Thanksgiving Day and the largest car wreck in the U.S.

It was Thanksgiving Day in about 1959.  My mom (Grace Whitlock at the time), my sister Sharon and I were heading down Hwy 80 to San Francisco.  We were traveling in a 1958 Chevy Biscayne (bright yellow) that my Mom disliked intensely.  My dad had bought this car with money we didn't have and then left the family and headed out to parts unknown.  We are in fairly dire straits financially, but Mom had decided to splurge a bit and take us to San Francisco to have Thanksgiving Day at Fisherman’s Wharf and trek through Chinatown. 

We were living in Folsom (near Sacramento) and departed early in the morning, so we could make the day of it.  It was a cold and crisp day, but sunny and cloudless.  We knew we were going to have a fantastic day.  We got dressed in our best Sunday-go-to-Meetin’ clothes and jumped in the car and off we went (note – there were no seat belts : The world's first seat belt law was put in place in 1970, in the state of Victoria, Australia, making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers/Wikipedia).

We started noticing fog.  The closer we got to the Bay area, the foggier it got.  By the time we reached the outskirts of Vallejo, the fog was so thick you could barely see a few feet in front of you.  Traffic slowed to a crawl.  We were mainly concerned about getting to San Francisco in a reasonable time, as this was supposed to be a day trip – down and back.
There was a new bridge in place at the Carquinez straits that had opened earlier that year, but there was still remnants of construction and lane widening about.  We were going about 15 miles an hour, following the taillights of the car in front of us.  Then he stopped.  There was a lot of crashing and metal grinding noises from the other east-bound side of the freeway.  Perhaps he thought he was on the shoulder, not in the slow lane.  Apparently he stopped to see if he could help with the accident occurring across the divider from us, got out and ran over to “help”.  Mom wanted to pull over and get off the freeway out of traffic, but we couldn’t see two feet in front of us.  It was worse out the side windows, because there were no headlights to cut through it.  We knew were close to the bridge, which meant close to the cliffs overlooking the Carquinez Straits (The Carquinez Bridge refers to parallel bridges spanning the Carquinez Strait, forming part of interstate 80 between Crockett and Vallejo, California. The name originally referred to a single cantilever bridge built in 1927, helping to form a direct route between San Francisco and Sacramento. A second parallel cantilever bridge was completed in 1958 to deal with the increased traffic – Wikipedia).

The car behind us stopped also and started honking his horn along with us to get the guy ahead of us to get going. That was about the time the first car hit the car behind us – shoving him into the rear of our car.  I will never know why people drive so fast in bad weather, but they do.  Then a pile-up started, one after another.  Cars were spinning out and crashing into each other.  It was an odd raucous symphony of tearing metal (cars weren’t plastic then – and gas was about 25 cents/ gallon) and blaring horns.  We could also feel the constant reverberation, as the cars behind and to the side of us got hit also.  We discovered later that one of the cars behind us had several bags of potatoes in their trunk and they flew out upon impact.  Cars were skidding around in the potato-strewn freeway. 

It seemed like it would never end.  The repeated shocks of cars crashing into each other got fainter and fainter as the cars continued to stack up behind us.  Soon, the fog lifted a bit where we were and we could see there was a huge turnout about ten feet away from us - enough to park all the cars involved in the accident.  We just couldn’t see it.  It could have been the edge of the cliff also. When it seemed safe to do so, Mom had us get out and run over to the turnout, to get out of the way of the automotive mayhem going on all around us. 

Between the car pile-up opposite us and the car wreck behind us, there were over 100 cars involved (according to an article published later in Popular Science, it was the largest car wreck in the U.S. at the time).  Miraculously, there were no fatalities.  About the worst injury was a guy who got out of his car and tried to run across the freeway, slipped on the potatoes and had his legs run over by skidding car.

When it cleared and the police arrived, we were the only car able to drive away, as we hadn’t hit anyone and there was no damage to the front end of our car. Accordingly, it appeared to be our entire fault, for stopping on the freeway.  Fortunately, there were witnesses that also saw the original car that had stopped, drive away as the accident started in the west bound lane.  He had apparently been on the opposite side of the freeway, looking at the other accident and came running back when our side of the freeway started having collisions and drove away.

We did not go to San Francisco.  We did not go to Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown.  We did not have Thanksgiving the way we had planned in The City by the Bay.  Instead we drove back to our little house in beautiful-weather Folsom.  The grocery stores were closed for the holiday.  We had not stocked the pantry for Thanksgiving.  We became the Old Mother Hubbard poem:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none.

There was however, in the back of our cupboard, a large can of Yams and a half bag of dried up marshmallows.  Note: dried marshmallows can be reconstituted and when baked on top of canned yams with butter…becomes a most delicious Thanksgiving meal.  

We were safe, warm and healthy.  A bit crunched in her rear-end, the poor old yellow Chevy could still drive.  Fifty two years later, times are much better and we have much to be thankful for.  It doesn’t have to be a big turkey on the table to be witness to the real bounty:  family, health and friends.  Happy Holidays.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I REMEMBER…Rottweiler’s and the rolling gate.

In the late 1990’s I was in charge of a major truck-trailer rental company.  My territory was Northern California and Northern Nevada.  I travelled a lot and often got home way after dark.  I travelled from Vallejo to Redding and over to Tahoe, Carson City and Reno.  

There were seventeen stores and about one-hundred independent dealers in that geographic area. The challenge was to keep the inventory of trailers and trucks at the location most likely to have customers that wanted to rent them.  The reality was that the trucks they needed in Sacramento were often sitting on the lot in Redding or Reno, etc.  We often had to make these ‘runs’ to pick up needed rental equipment and transport them to the new location before the weekend when demand was the highest.

There were several of my staff members with me on one such run and we arrived back in Sacramento late on a Friday night.  It was a successful foray and we brought back the equipment needed.  We pulled up to the rental center, opened the rolling gates, pulled the equipment in and parked them all in a neat row.  

Everybody, but my assistant and I had headed home in the personal vehicles they left parked outside the gate.  Our team was very efficient, as we had done this procedure many times.  In and out….done…head home.
The last two of us were walking back towards the open gate when we heard the strangest sound.  It was a very rapid clicking sound, accompanied by low growls.  I was tired.  It had been a long day.  Finally my brain cells kicked in.  Because we had been experiencing vandalism at this particular location, I had asked for the office staff to arrange for a security guard dog service.  I thought I had made it clear that the service was to start tomorrow, as we were bringing trucks in tonight. 

All I could hear was click, click, click, growl getting closer, as their nails scraped across the pavement, trying to get a good grip to pick up speed.   As our feet picked up speed, I came to the sinking conclusion that the dog service had started a day early.  A tried a quick glance over my shoulder, which, if you are not that girl in the Exorcist, was very hard to do at a full run.  It was dark, but not so much that I missed two very large Rottweilers coming, full bore, right at us.

We were at far more than a full run now and salvation (the open gate) lay 20 yards ahead of us.  They were gaining on us, but Lord Be With Us, we made it to the gate first.  We grabbed the long rolling gate and pushed it along with all our might to get it closed before the dogs got us.  We pushed until it stopped.  

I had a big sense of relief as, a second later,  the dogs hit that fence at full tilt.  I didn’t get much of a chance to savor the victory of Man vs. Guard Dog, as I realized (a second before the dogs also realized it) that this was a twenty foot opening gate with two rolling ten foot sections.  We had only closed one half of the gate.

My friend had already made it to the truck.  I thought for about a half of a nano-second that I could run past the 10 foot open area to the other half of the gate and, by myself, roll it closed and lock the security chain before the dogs dashed through.  Like a defensive feint in football or basketball, facing my two growling opponents through the chain link, as soon as I shifted my weight to my left foot to make the dash, these highly intelligent canines realized there was a ten foot chasm available to them as well.

After about two steps to the left I became aware that the dogs had already covered twice the distance and were rounding the half-closed gate and coming my way.  Much like an inspired Olympic sprinter-high jumper, I crossed the distance between me and the waiting truck and leaped into the back of the pick-up truck, just as the dogs were on my heel.

My companion, safe inside the cab with the windows rolled up, and I, on top of the cab, inched slowly along the opening, with me pulling the gate along until we finally had it closed, chained and locked.

By now, the dogs had mysteriously disappeared into the night.  Fortunately I had my cell phone in the truck.  Now relegated to the museum of early portable phones (the phone was attached to a phone cord with a giant battery pack in a canvas bag, much like the type you see the ‘Radio guy” using in old war movies) it was still  a convenient was to make a call under dire circumstances.  

I called the dog protection services and left a message that his guard dogs had managed to escape and to come find them.  All future truck runs left the vehicles on the street until daylight.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

I REMEMBER - Filming of 'Death on the Nile'

Death on the Nile a detective novel by Agatha Christie in 1938 was made into a movie in 1977 and hit the theaters in 1978.

So there I am, a worldly traveler in Luxor, Egypt checking out the temples and statues at Luxor temple.  I was taking pictures like all the other tourists and I happened to observe that two women and two young children near me with one adult woman taking pictures of the children.

I was struck by how accommodating  the children were when asked to hold still and pose for a picture as they did so cheerfully.  As I was standing close by, I complemented the mom on how well-behaved the children were and how eager to have their pictures taken, quite unlike other children. She replied that they were very used to having their pictures taken.

 Her voice sounded so familiar.  Thousands of miles from California in the Egyptian desert, here I am asking this total stranger if we had ever met, as her voice sounded so familiar.  She said she was an actress and that I had probably seen her in movies.

I embarrassingly asked who she was.  She replied:  Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby, Peyton Place, etc.) and that she was here in Egypt filming a mystery movie from a novel by Agatha Christie called "Death on the Nile."

Note for of the two children with her that day way Soon Yi Previn (adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn) who eventually married Mia Farrow's future husband, Woody Allen)...some what complicated, but true.

Sooooooooooooooo, she said they were filming a scene nearby (she wasn't in that scene) in the adjacent Luxor Temple and that it was OK for me to watch. That I did and had a great thrill seeing so many famous movie stars, so close up (10 feet away).

This was Egypt, it was hot - I was wearing a tank top and was sweating.  The actors were wearing Thirties elegant costumes (men in 3 piece suits with ties, women in full gowns).  Check out the lighting/camera guy to the left...shorts and no shirt - that is how hot was...The actors really earned their money, as they filmed it over and over..even with the thrill of being in such close proximity to these famous people, I soon tired of seeing the same thing over and over.

 I thought they did a marvelous job each time...but the director had them do it again and again.  When the movie came out the following year- I watched for that part...maybe 30 seconds or so and I had watched them do it for hours.

Who was there...
*  Bette Davis
*  Olivia Hussey
*  George Kennedy
*  Mia Farrow
*  Peter Ustinov
*  Jane Birkin
*  Angela Lansbury
*  David Niven
*  Maggie Smith
*  Jack Warden


Sunday, June 12, 2011

I REMEMBER...Traveling in Europe in the 70's

...when I traveled in Europe many years ago, I had a self-imposed budget to keep me in bed and board for the six months I was traveling.  It was patterned after Frommer’s – “Europe on $10 a Day” (seriously...only $10 and it could be done.  There was even a $5 a Day earlier version). 

I had a certain amount of money in my pocket.  I had a finite number of days I wished to spend traveling.  Pretty easy math.  Number of dollars divided by number of days.  There were no more dollars coming into the equation, so for the equation to work, I had to be careful with the amount I spent per day.

I carried a little blue spiral notebook with me and it was very much like a checkbook.  On the first page I put the amount of money I had available and the amount I allotted myself to spend each day – all intended to arrive back home with zero dollars and zero days…mission complete.

I would track my expenses minutely, every penny, every day.  If I spent less money on Tuesday, I could carry that over to spend on the following Wednesday or add it back into the total.  I had three columns.  The first was the total dollars available for the day ($10.00). The second was what I actually spent that day.  The third was my plus or minus to carry over to the next day.  Pretty simple accounting.   

If I knew there was a day coming up that would require more money – I would miserly live a simpler life in the proceeding days to save up for the big spending day/week.  When the spending opportunity caught me off guard and I went over my daily budget, I had to pay the piper in the following days until I was even again.

The person I was traveling with voted to spend it all in London on clothes and antiques.  I voted to continue on by myself.

The unplanned cash expenditure of a one way ticket back to California (and eat the already-paid-for second return ticket) put a serious hamper in my budget.  The travel deal I had landed to make the trip in the first place was based on coming home on a specific flight on a specific date from Paris, six months into the future.  I had to make the money I had left for that specific number of days and I had just knocked a hole in that budget with about a month's equivalent of money pulled out unexpectedly.

My solution was to go to Crete - a little island off the coast of Greece and go"Off Grid" for a month until my remaining days matched up with my remaining money.  Walked forever along the coastline until I was miles from civilization (probably multi-million dollar condos there now).  I found a little abandoned bamboo hut - just in front of a large olive orchard and about ten feet from the Libyan Sea (a portion of the Mediterranean Sea) and actually had some of the best times of my six-month jaunt to Europe - doing absolutely nothing - no services - no people- no tourists - no museums.  I would hike into town once a week - buy bread, wine, cheese.  I eventually met the old man that owned the property - he had no problem with me staying there- I helped him in his orange orchard and olive orchard in exchange for the "free" rent.  He had been a wild party man back in his day and now he said the only thing he drank anymore was a small glass of extra-virgin olive oil to "stay regular".

 I still have the little blue book and a couple of photos.  I noticed that I would write down the words I needed to know when going from one country to another  (like: count to ten, bread, wine cheese, train station, etc.) phonetically, so I could pronounce them adequately..It did the job.


A upgrade from the $5/Day book - Europe travel doubled even then...

Cheap Is Still Better, Claims Travel Budgeteer Arthur Frommer, but Europe Costs $10 a Day Now  August 02, 1976    
  • Vol. 6

  • No. 5

  • That was then - this is now....


    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    I REMEMBER: Dentists, Lincoln Logs & No Play-Dates on School Nights

    This isn’t the cheeriest of remembrances, but definitely one I am unable to forget and it is why I hate to go to the dentist.

    It is 1954 and I am seven years old.  We are living in McAllester, Oklahoma and I am in first or second grade.  I didn’t have a fondness for going to the dentist like any other kid, but I liked candy, so I got to take the dental trip more often that I would have liked.
     As it turned out, a good friend of mine in school was also the son of our family dentist. My friend Raymond had just gotten some new toys for his birthday, including Lincoln Logs , which was the best toy a kid could ask for in 1954 Oklahoma (with the exception of Lone Ranger Guns, mask and bandana.).  His dad made a lot of money, so my friend got the first, biggest and best stuff when it came out and this wasn’t just a starter box, it was a deluxe Stage Coach Stop Kit with cowboys and horses to boot.

    He invited me over to spend the night, so we could play with the new toys.  It was, however, a mid-week night and was also a school night.  His mom offered to bring me to school with Raymond the next morning, if I brought a change of clothes.  It seemed like a super deal to me, but my Mom wouldn’t hear of it, as it was a school night. Mom was a school teacher and had a hard and inflexible rule about playing during the week. She wanted us to concentrate on homework, be rested and have our smarts on for school the next day. Play dates were exclusively for the weekends and there was no changing her mind.  So, the moms made a plan for the following Saturday.

    The next day at school, my friend Raymond was not in school.  There was a lot of hushed whispering amongst the teachers, but when I asked if Raymond was out sick, my teacher just told me I should talk to my mom after school.

    It turned out that Raymond’s Dad, our family dentist, had snapped the night I was supposed to stay over, killed the entire family with injections of poison, burned the house to the ground and committed suicide.

    Dentists' odds of suicide "are 6.64 times greater than the rest of the working age population," writes researcher Steven Stack. "Dentists suffer from relatively low status within the medical profession and 
    have strained relationships with their clients—as few people enjoy going to the dentist."

    That was almost 60 years ago and although I can’t tell you what I did last week, I still remember that time I was invited to be in Raymond’s house that night and my fear of dentists giving you an injection.  For a very long time after, you needed three men and a mule to get me to the dentist or get a shot of any kind.  With all the dental work, injections and blood work I have had in the past few years, I am managing much more calmly and mostly appear to be an adult about the whole process on the outside. The three men and the mule are on standby, however, in case of a relapse.

    So, this week, I remembered that I have a root canal/crown replacement appointment at 9:01am this coming Monday.  One and a half hours in my least favorite spot in the universe.  I’m good.  Just saying, it is interesting how the little memory pop-ups from our past still come many years down the road.

    Note: Reruns of The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore were still being transmitted as of August 2010, sixty-one years after their initial broadcast.

    Oh, and for my kids, that is probably the main reason you never, ever got a sleepover on a school night.


    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    I REMEMBER - Fishing for Crawdads, Snake Day, Bats and my dog Suzie

    My Dad and me in front of our new house
    Here are a couple of stories I remember from my childhood in McAlester, Oklahoma.  We moved to McAlester into a brand new house in a new subdivision that was right across the school from a new elementary school.

    All I had to do was walk out the front door of our home and walk across the street.  When I was about six years old I received a new puppy.  Suzie was what my parents called a ‘Heinz 57' (The name 'Heinz 57 ' is also sometimes used to describe a dog which is a mix of multiple breeds).

    Suzie stuck with me like glue.  When my mom needed to find me, she called Suzie.  The dog wouldn’t leave without me and would tug on my pant leg to let me know it was time to go home.  My mom had a big tin whistle hanging on a nail right outside the back screen door and would step outside, grab the whistle and give it a big tweet.  I could hear it most of the time, but Suzie could always hear it.  I thought the whistle was for me, but now I realize it really was for my dog to bring me home.

    When I went to school, Suzie would go with me to the front door and then follow me on the outside of the school and wait for me under the window of my class room.  She would always be there when I got out of school.  At the end of my year in First Grade (Ms Billingsly) we all got our report cards on the last day of school.  Suzie got one also that testified that she had perfect attendance and didn’t bark during class.

    Summers, before I started school, were fun and the rule was that we could head out the door with just shorts on - no shirts/no shoes and if we took a butter and ketchup sandwich (my favorite) for lunch with us, we could be gone until dark.  

    When the street lights came on, it was time to come home, unless there was a good bug show going on - that would buy us an extra 10 minutes.  Little bugs, moths, fireflies and mosquitoes would swarm around each street light.  Then the bats would come out.  They would dive into the swirling fog of bugs around the light for an aerial picnic.  Very cool.  Once a bat got into our house and I remember my mom chasing it out of the house with a broom.

    The other memory I have about this new house was the ongoing construction of the neighborhood development, providing thrills for a small Okie boy with time on his hands (no TV, no Nintendo or Wi's, no God, how did a kid survive?)  

    There was a ditch across the street before they put in water lines for the expanding neighborhood. I used to go fishing for crawdads (tiny, freshwater cousins of lobsters) in that ditch until Snake Day. If you got a long stick, tied a length of kite string on one end and a strip of red cloth (a bloody band-aid would also suffice) on the other end, you were set.  I would grab a coffee can, my 'fishing pole' and head to the creek.  There were little holes along the edge of the muddy water, that provided hiding spots for the crawdads.  If you dangled the wet red cloth up and down in the hole, you could catch quite a few crawdads (also called mud-bugs).  They would use their pincers to grab the cloth and you could just pull them out.  In retrospect, the cloth probably didn't have to be red, however, it seemed awfully important at the time. 

    I mentioned above that I got to do that until 'Snake Day'.  On that fateful day, I was going from hole to hole in my little muddy ditch fishing spot, filling up my little bucket with crawdads (we never ate them, we used them for Bass fishing), when I discovered that snakes like crawdads too.  I saw this little snake tail sticking out of one of the crawdad holes and rushed home to get a canning jar off the back porch and ran back to the ditch.  Not appreciating that although I knew snakes could bite you, this was a actually a deadly, baby water moccasin.  I pulled the snake out, popped it into the mason jar, screwed the lid down tight and ran home to show my mom my new prize.  After freaking out and thoroughly checking me all over for snake bites (after all, all I had on was shorts), she scolded me forever (my mom always repeated the 'lesson' at least 5 times to make sure I 'got it'), forbid me to EVER go near the ditch again, and then hugged me and we had a big slice of watermelon.

    All of these memories were before TV.  I remember wanting a TV, because friends at school had one.  One summer we were eating watermelon on the picnic table on our side yard.  I kept throwing watermelon seeds on the roof.  My mom asked me why I was doing that.  My answer was that I was hoping the seeds would sprout and grow a vine that looked like a TV antennae and then every one would think we had a TV.

    Those truly were the good old days.