An incident occurred when we were doing some renovations to the back room of the old house we purchased in 1972. Sheila and I had been doing some work that required a 12-foot ladder to reach some cross beams. Repaired a few times, the ladder remained rickety. With Sheila holding it steady, it seemed safe enough. On one occasion, she had to attend a meeting with four of our children. I stayed home with our youngest—Sandra. My wife has always has had a foreman’s attitude. Her final instruction to me was not to climb that ladder while she was gone. Feigning irritation, I said, “I’m not going to climb that ladder!” As soon as she left, I decided to carefully climb to the top of the ladder, steadying myself with the exposed beams—suspended 15 feet above the floor—and complete the necessary task. It would only take a few minutes, and who would know the difference. Who would tell? A tiny, three-year-old, blonde kid—hardly! I called out to my small daughter. “Sandra, come in here honey, so Daddy can keep an eye on you. Daddy is going to climb up this little old ladder, and I'll be right back down in just a jiffy!” I carefully positioned her against the wall, away from the ladder. “Stand over here, sweetheart, so you'll be safe, just in case this old ladder should make Daddy fall,” I said. I tried to sound confident for her benefit. I began my climb, muttering under my breath, “Ain’t no problem! I'll go up, do my job and come right back down.” With each step, the wobbly rungs of the rickety ladder caused it to sway. Noticing movement below, I called back down, “Honey, stay over there against the wall! Daddy will be right back down.” Having reached the pinnacle of my climb without the aid of a safety net below, my confidence began to waver. I began to think the task may be too formidable for me alone. I felt a slight tremor of the ladder. Just after the tremor, the ladder shook violently. At that very moment, I reached for the big overhead beam to support myself. The 12 foot ladder collapsed to the floor. Hanging by one arm, dangling like a chimpanzee fifteen feet above the floor, I suddenly realized something was burning. The hundred watt bulb was pressed against my arm causing my skin to sizzle. I let out a blood-curdling yell. The next thing I heard was the whimpering of my only connection—within miles—to the human race, my very frightened little daughter. “Daddy, don't get dead!” Those words burned into my memory, as the hot bulb burned into my arm, Closing my eyes and saying a silent prayer, I gave in to the science of gravity. Fifteen feet later, I landed with a thud. Assessing my injuries to be only a bruised ego and a sore body, I pulled myself up, and led my daughter to a room that required no projects.
Ringing in my ears of late has been the words to “Dixie,” and I realized I had a title for my next feature article with the line that sings, Old times there are never forgotten. Uncertain of what the article would be at the time the title, rolling around in my head, manifested itself to me, I finally realized it sounds like a great name to use for remembering things of our past. Titles are great—be it for articles or songs—for instance, the country song I listened to the other night by Jerry Reed in which he named one of his latest, “I know a girl who sounds just like Jerry Reed when she sings.” The DJ broke me up when he began to laugh at the incredulity of a woman sounding like the crazy-singing, funny man. I don’t have to get around very many people in my age bracket who don’t recall the things we did when we were young. After a Saturday morning spent at the local picture show, we came home and re-enacted the cowboy movies—which starred Lash LaRue, Rocky Lane, Durango Kid, Sunset Carson or Buster Crabbe. When we tired of riding our chinaberry stick horses, we switched gears afterwards. It was fun to re-create the serial characters such as Superman, Batman, or Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy. “Gol-lee!” as a guy named Gomer used to say. It was really fun and our imagination was our vehicle. If we knew what was good for us, there was no time for getting bored! If we got bored around the house, our parents could always find something to make better use of our time. Besides, there was always time for a new adventure with the boys we grew up with. It might be a project making rubber guns in which we made great use of the last real rubber from the inner tubes from the old model T Fords, and later the cars from the ‘30s and 40s. Some of the more ingenious of the older guys could carve out rifles and make them shoot a number of rubber stingers at once.
If we had a dime, we could buy a store-bought kite from the Five and Dime Store which would provide us with hours of enjoyment. More than likely, for most of us, dimes were difficult to come by. In that situation, we could again call on our imaginations and some good old American ingenuity with things around the house. All that was required was a couple of light-weight sticks which could be bound together with twine. Next was paste made with flour and water from the kitchen. Add to that an old newspaper which could be glued to the twine and at the four points of the home-made kite. Presto! A kite was born! All that was needed then was some scraps from Mother’s quilting sack. After tying them together in a long, well fashioned kite-tail, we flew the home-made toy. Bowing the sticks just right and adjusting the tail for stability were the last bit of tweaking needed to make for long hours of enjoyment. I think the best thing we had going for us in those days was a no-limit imagination. From acting out our fantasies of movie star heroes, to building our toys to play with, there seemed to be no end to what we could accomplish. We had a white Billy Goat that we could use for pulling us around our neighborhood. We could build cars big enough to coast down hills at very fast speeds while using ropes to steer with and very little for brakes except courage and shoes. Bicycles became imaginary motorcycles by placing a card or piece of cardboard in the tires where the spokes could hit it, instantly making the sound of a motorized cycle. Much like the chinaberry horses, the speed of our imaginary motorcycles was limited only by our imagination.
Oh, the things we could buy with a small amount of money which we could acquire by selling scrap iron, delivering circulars for the grocery stores, selling boiled peanuts for a nickel a bag at the livestock barn on sale day, selling the Grit newspaper around town for a dime, and of course working regular jobs such as delivering the Macon Telegraph or delivering milk door to door most days of the week. With the price of cokes at a nickel, after going up from three cents apiece, and a very large cookie which was named a penny wheel cracker—appropriately named because of the price—to eat with it, the rewards of work was well worth the effort. For a nickel, we could go to the bakery and get our dose of sugar by purchasing a large cinnamon roll or a sugar-laden doughnut. Umm! Umm! Who among us who lived in the greatest days ever can not remember the greatness of ten cent hamburgers and if you wanted to save up and splurge, a hamburger steak could be had for a dollar or buck and a quarter. Move over Big Mac! You better hope the days of the hometown grills do not return or you and Ronald McDonald will be hitching a ride out of town. I would be remiss if I did not call attention to another couple of things we did for entertainment—swimming pools and baseball games with our own heroes to enjoy. All we had to do to get into the swimming pool was to show up on Wednesday to help clean the algae from the walls, rinse and re-fill it with fresh water. If there was ever a better place to enjoy swimming, I don’t know where it could have been, and the price was right!
Our early heroes on the baseball diamonds came from Hawkinsville and Cochran, mostly. Major league baseball existed only in the north during our childhood, but we didn’t miss them because of our great local baseball heroes. I’m sure there was probably an admission price to the games but the truth is, I can never remember paying my way into a game because, I was one of the boys chasing down foul balls and home runs for my admission. There was no such thing as throwing out a baseball just because of a little wear and tear in the fashion of today’s stars.
Thinking back, old times there are never forgotten, and life without working for the things we had, and enjoyed, were just part of our lives. Come on now! Wouldn’t young people be better off working from the time they turned nine-years-old like most of us did in the 1940s and 1950s. If it was like that today, they wouldn’t have time to think about pot, crack, and coke. Those three words could return to the dictionary as a deep pan, as what happens when a baseball bat breaks, before nailing and taping it back together, and as a short version of Co-Cola. Young people would be better off and they would enjoy working for what they get, while enjoying life to the maximum.
December was a monumental month for my brother, Meredith and me. He turned eighty and I turned seventy. This goes beyond senior citizens. It is very old! But like the immortal and late Minnie Pearl of the Grand Ole Opry, “We’re proud to be here!”
Everyone in our family knows the work ethic of my brother, and anyone who knows him well can vouch for that. The project we found ourselves involved in last Saturday goes back to a phone call between us a week or so before then. I had informed him of a tree problem at the cemetery where our Grandparents and their two tiny infants are buried.
He told me they were going to Orlando to visit their children and grandchildren, before returning to his son’s home near Cordele to paint the inside of his house for him. To us, it seemed status quo for my hard-working brother who at 80 can outwork most people twenty years younger than he is.
“When I finish painting his house for him, I’ll come on up there and we’ll take our two chain saws and take care of the tree problem,” he said. I had all the confidence in the world that we would indeed be able to take care of the tree problem. He never sees a task that he can’t handle. I knew I would serve in a backup role, because he knows one speed—wide open.
We arrived at the burial place of our kindred dead, and while I was pouring fresh fuel into my saw, I heard the unmistakable sound of his Homelite roaring as the limbs began to fall. Two pulls later and my Stihl saw roared its own growl. Two old men and their saws showed the cedar tree who was boss as we applied a fresh trimming to the offending evergreen. Shortly thereafter, the limbs which had been threatening to take over the four graves lay still on the ground. Next, my sister-in-law, Jenny and Sheila assisted us in dragging the limbs away from the burial sites. A few more necessary trimmings of limbs which may have had future plans to grow in that direction were unceremoniously hacked away while the women folk applied some elbow grease with a steel brush and some bleach to the headstones which had been losing the battle to the dank mildew which had been left alone for too long.
Soon, we took out some portable chairs to sit for a spell and rest. I told you we were a couple of old men with chain saws, but even we needed to take blow for a few minutes.
As I looked at the restored gravesites of Mama and Papa, as our grandparents were called when they walked the Earth, I couldn’t help but think how pleased they must be that someone still cares enough about their final resting place to beautify it for them. It felt good to my big brother and me to be able to do it.