poeticProse

Poetic Prose?

(reading time approx. 5 minutes)

*

 Until last month I fashioned myself a poet of several forms,

But a “rhymer” may be a better name among accepted norms.

I found myself surrounded by poets more talented than I,

In a critique session, with techniques I did not ever try.

*

Some choose free styles, rhymes, verse or prose, to express,

Dictionaries define prose as being opposed to verse or poetry more or less.

Therefore, let us not think of ourselves as a poet laureate,

Until we depart from phrases, or word groups not well met.

 *

I search for words, to create what some writers claim,

Is just simple “lay rhyming”, but that’s the name for my game.

If the sentences don’t rhyme, or have some kind of meter,

Why then is it called a poem, how then opines the reader?

 *

In these first three stanzas, I made each line rhyme,

Coupling with the next line, and I did it each time.

That is my simple way, writing stanzas two by two,

It can also be with other lines, which next I shall do.

 *

In the other forms, which I will sometimes eschew,

I seek varied opportunities to express my thought.

This verse, may be easier to read all the way through,

Using this alternate form, to convey what I have sought.

 *

What is easy for you, may be cumbersome for me.

The form you espouse, may be how you will be known.

Classic rhymes are not for those without skill, I agree,

But whatever style you may choose, you will not be alone.

 *

Limericks can challenge your skill,

With formulas to use if you will.

Rules say aa-bba,

That’s what they say,

Maybe this style will fill your bill.

*

 Limericks like this, require some skill,

With formulas to use, if you will,

There are rules to use,

Being careful to choose,

Counting syllables from your word mill.

*

There are many methods, which most poets know,

If I wish to ameliorate my conceptions,

I must understand more than I know to grow,

And hone my skills, and my perceptions.

 *

Styles from the Orient are an enigma to me,

I’ll need more learning, if for me they are to be.

I don’t understand them, counting this or counting that,

It’s definitely not, where I am comfortable writing at.

 *

This verse, which I write now, is without rhyme, rhythm or meter.

It’s my attempt to explore a fitting place for some form of prose.

Writing words, does not make one a poet by any means.

Lacking artistic construction does not fit, in my scheme of things.

 *

What some call prose, I find no recognizable structure.

Void of patterns, it is anything but artistic.

I see this line as basic verse, certainly not particularly laudable.

It may be defined as prose, but where is an art form, pray tell?

*

I enjoy reading free style, it pleases me somewhat.

 What I have read by the masters, has an entertaining flow.

Free style, more verse than poetic, I find lightly ebullient.

I enjoy flowing along, with well-chosen words in their stanzas.

*

Now verse is quite different, as I observe,

 Usually with some meter and occasional hint of rhyme,

A structured non-rhyming poetry, free flowing most times,

Much like a rhyme, albeit in a different pleasing form.

 *

I take my writing seriously, yet I have no formal training.

Composition is what mine is all about, choosing words to be poetic.

Random words without rhyme or metering, is like letter writing to me,

If it is poetry, should there not be therein, metering, rhyme or rhythm?

 *

Prose may be a creation, but lacking artfully chosen structure?

I wrote this stanza, with no prescription or pattern.

Yet I could rewrite the same message, employing some creativity,

Balancing or rhyming my words, with a more pleasant cant.

*

I’ll never learn all poetic ways, to write in each way,

Or even learn the names of all ways, per say.

I never wrote a sonnet, an ode, nor a ballad,

I don’t know the code or how to go about it.

*

Can you write Haiku? Most writers can’t even spell it.

It is an ever-existing challenge, to emulate the greats.

Longfellow, Shakespeare, Emerson and Poe,

They’ve become famous, but did they all know?

 *

May one poetize, without some recognizable form?

 No? Then call prose what it is, a note, a memo, a letter or an essay.

Some readers may consider this work as waxing poetic.

It could be prose of a sort, nothing memorable, but I wrote it.

———————–

 You read it, and I’m glad.

DepressionDays

Depression Days

For those who remember the 1930s.

 (reading time 9 min.)

If we never knew any better, depression days weren’t so bad.

Getting work of some kind was a blessing, especially for your dad.

The things we did those days could have no cost, or we had to do without.

Very Few kids had an allowance, earning our way was what it was about.

 *

If we didn’t know what depression was, then we couldn’t tell it.

Certainly we wouldn’t know what affluence was, or even be able to spell it.

Those who lived during the ‘30s and who are now still alive,

Will recognize the things I will mention here, and what we did to survive.

*

I wonder how much ice the iceman lost, when he stopped to deliver?

The city kids would run to his wagon and chip off a sliver.

A piece of ice was a special treat, on a hot day way back then.

We’d grab a chunk and suck it up, time and time again.

 *

There were things we did and I recall as good play times.

If we wanted to jump rope, we used old clotheslines.

To make a swing we picked a tree, and tied on an old rubber tire.

A far cry from what today’s playgrounds require.

 *

I still recall the clothes tree that Mom had to dry clothes.

In the winter days, corduroy pants and overalls got stiff and froze.

My mom used a washboard, and scrubbed the clothes by hand.

Then came barrel type washing machines, with a hand-cranked ringer on a stand.

*

Young folks won’t believe the things we did when we were young.

They only know about the 1930s from movies, and songs that were sung.

If we’d suggest that the kids today, wear hand me downs like we all did,

They would probably run away from home, God forbid.

 *

It was short pants for boys first, then came the hand me down knickers,

From brothers of cousins, the oldest among us could be first pickers.

Girls in the 30’s had to make do too, especially with undies rarely new.

If there were no hand me downs, old sheets and potato sacks would have to do.

 *

Socks were easy, cut off the toe from dad’s, fold over and sew a new toe.

I don’t know what ladies did for stockings, except they painted their legs for show.

My mom wouldn’t wear hand me downs, so she got a job at a department store.

The deal there was a discount for employees, she could buy what she wore.

 *

We just didn’t know things were bad, if a meal was stale bread and bullion cube soup.

Grand mom would throw in some onions and noodles to feed a larger group.

I just didn’t know what the depression talk was about, when in Jr. High classes.

I sure did enjoy the times, when we had bread and sorghum molasses.

*

We couldn’t afford hospitals in those days, we just had to make due.

Doctors made house calls, three bucks is what he charged, sometimes just two.

One thing comes to mind, the little girl next door had a tonsils bout.

Doctor put her on the kitchen table, gave her some ether, and took ‘em out.

 *

Some personal things are still in my mind from those days, like holes.

When my feet got bigger my shoes got smaller, and holes were in my soles.

Buying new shoes was out of the question, had to wait for a hand me down.

I put cardboard in the soles daily, till it was my turn for new shoes to come around.

 *

Then there was the old coal furnace, that had to be stoked and banked,

First up had to get it going again, those days even the cars had to be cranked.

We stood over the floor vent to warm up, even shoveled tunnels out the front door.

We had a side arm water heater, used bottled gas from the general store.

 *

I’ll list some things I bet you saw, if we lived during the same times as kid.

I can’t remember them all, but you can add some more things you did.

How about the stocking caps Grandma made, from old sweater arms?

She made mittens from the rest, we used them out on the farms.

*

The girls in the family, cut out paper dolls to play.

We also made books covers from paper bags, and they worked OK.

Bags were handy on Halloween, we painted on faces and cut holes for eyes.

Almost every kid went door to door, for a trick or treat surprise.

 *

There are some things not all will remember, but I surely do,

That was grand dad’s homemade beer, and grand mom made root-beer too.

She had an old German recipe for soft pretzels, and she liked to bake.

She also made dumplings, just like Cracker Barrel restaurants these days make.

 *

On the way home from school, we picked berries along the road.

Mom made homemade pies and ice cream, sometimes alamode.

Chewing gum cost money, but I remember chewing on tar, it was free.

When the county repaired the roads, there was fresh tar plain to see.

*

We made balls from anything round, some pro-players started with the same.

We either made our toys or did without, that was the name of the game.

Tree limbs made hockey sticks, and a broom handle for a baseball bat,

In the streets is where city kids played, that was where most games were at.

 *

Did your grand mom make homemade candy, or molasses popsicles?

My grand mom made great candy sea foam she called it, and saved our nickels.

Cats liked licking frozen cream from milk bottles on the stoop, remember that?

We make a milk box for the milkman by the front door, to keep away the cat.

 *

If we wanted amusement as kids growing up, whatever it took we had to make it.

Skate boxes were a big thing then, orange crates 2 x 4 and an old roller skate.

Cowboys and Indians was a number one game, but to do it we needed a gun.

Old inner tubes had many uses, and making a rubber band gun was part of the fun.

 *

In the country, boys could do things even though dangerous and shouldn’t.

We had lakes and streams for rafts and boats we made, that city kids couldn’t.

A buddy and I made a raft like Huckleberry Finn, sailed about a half mile and got stuck.

It was cold, we were wet, and if dinner was done when we got home, we were out of luck.

 *

We made Hi-Li bats from old plywood wood, and toboggan sleds from cardboard.

Girls did other things, sewing, card games or maybe hopscotch, that they could afford.

As a boy we dared not play with the girls, they always found a reason cry.

When they ran home to Momma, we’d have to scatter or know the reason why.

 *

It was bad alright, but not like in the movie Grapes of Wrath.

My folks had regular houses, 2 or 3 bedrooms with an in-house bath.

Farm people used cold drafty out houses, and some traveling families lived in tents.

It took a war to get us all working again, women worked side by side with gents.

 *

You may have noticed that money was the thing in short supply.

Survival was the objective, jobs were scarce, it was make-due or die.

Our children can’t know what we did, even we didn’t understand how bad.

The bottom line is what we learned, depression is hell, but that’s what we had.

 *

If given a choice between the ‘30s and ‘40s war torn years,

I’ll take depression to war any time, and tough it out with lesser fears.

If your daddy were hurt in the war or didn’t come home, you hurt big time.

Yes, I’ll take the good old depression, the worst is better than war, anytime.

0 T

The God Wink And The Piano

(Reading time approximately 5 minutes)

On a Monday morning in March 2012, I awakened and turned on my computer for the Internet.  There was a picture of a shiny, beautiful, ebony, Yamaha seven foot grand piano on the screen, with a caption under the picture: “WE KNOW IT IS WORTH MORE, BUT WE MUST SACRIFICE TO SELL QUICKLY. MOVING TO PITTSBURGH.” The owner happened to be a member of my congregation.

As an introduction to this story, I must mention that I was just given the OK by the Calusa Harbour management to recommend at good piano for our lounge.  It was to replace a very old unsatisfactory Baldwin grand that has seen it’s day of usefulness many years ago. It just had to go.

They were just three conditions set by Calusa Harbour’s central management.  It must be a new piano, the dealer must be local who could service the piano, and have a manufacturer’s warranty. It would take about six or more months for the funds to be allocated, after approving the purchase at the headquarter level.  A painfully long time to wait while we would have to use the old, poor sounding, poor playing and embarrassing relic.

At the request of management, I researched the piano market. The lowest price for a satisfactory piano would be at least $40,000.  It was a Boston Steinway, manufactured in Japan under a Steinway license. A good piano, but a big step down from the high quality well known for the original Steinway grand.  A seven-foot Steinway was a little too expensive for our needs, but the Boston piano would be adequate for Calusa Harbour entertainment.  I made the recommendation to management.  Now for the wait for $40,000.

That’s when God winked and I saw a seven-foot glistening ebony Yamaha grand for sale, right in front of me on the screen of my computer.  Just what we needed.  I called the owner.  In 15 minutes, I was in the owner’s house with my resident friend Hal Schweiger.  It looked great.  The price was right.  We gave the owner a check on the spot subject to inspection by our piano technician, whom I called.  He just happened to be in the neighborhood. He was there in 15 minutes and gave us the go sign.  He did however find an indication that in the near future, it could need a repair.  The owner had to make a quick sale, so they reduced the price $2,000 to compensate for any possible repairs.  Hal and I called two other Calusa residents to join us for a contribution.  They were residents Dottie Penn and Bill Noble. We raised the total sum for the piano in minutes and closed the deal within the hour.

We now owned a fantastically beautiful ebony seven-foot Yamaha grand piano that looked and played like new.  It was a considerably better model than the new one I recommended. Four of us participated. We bought it and gifted it to the residents of Calusa Harbour. Management saved $40,000 for their budget.  The technician even removed the old relic, which pleased everyone in the residence.

You can call it luck, serendipity or whatever you choose.  But, we called this a “God Wink” because it happened in almost the wink of an eye.  Seeing the ad, going to the piano owner’s house, having a tech inspection, raising the money, moving the piano to our lounge, all tuned up and ready to play, getting rid of the old monster, and saving management  $40,000 – all happening between 9:00 AM and noon time. We were in concert that very afternoon, live at Calusa Harbour.

A few days later, a new resident, Jolene Wells, moved into Calusa Harbour.  In addition to being a pretty lady, she is an accomplished pianist.  That happening was the second part of our “God Wink”.  As of this writing, Jolene entertains the residents of Calusa three times a week, as a most welcomed and treasured feature of our Calusa in house entertainment programming.

At church the very next Sunday, during a routine segment we call “Joys and Concerns”, I announced my Joy and explained the piano incident as it happened.  Everyone clapped.  On the way out the door, the Pastor said to me, “You know Russ, I wanted that Piano!” I replied, “Pastor, I’m sorry for your loss, but overjoyed with our good fortune.  You could have prayed.  We called it our ‘God Wink’.  Better luck next time.”

 

HoboHooterville

Hooverville Hobo

(reading time 5 minutes)

We exited the interstate highway.  The sun had just gone down, the rain stopped. There was ground fog all along the east side of the Mississippi River, in East St. Louis, Illinois. A foggy glow from the city lights hovered above St. Louis, across on the west side of the river.  A sign ahead cut through the fog identifying a well-known campground.  It gave relief to two weary travelers, us, ready to call it a day after a 300-mile drive in our motorhome.

We pulled up to a gate activated by an attendant, which glided open for our entrance.  It was the first time we saw such security at a campground.  A sign read: “Attendant on duty, 24 hours daily. Please blink lights at night for gate openings.” It gave us a comfortable feeling knowing it was secure.  We registered and paid in advance, before we were directed to where we could park.  The sight was level and clean with full hookups. It was in front of the laundry and shower room at the far end of the campground. I made all of the connections. We were ready for a cocktail and a snack, and then off to slumber-land for a great night to sleep.  Weather was perfect for late August. A breeze flowed through the motorhome open windows all night.

I was awakened in the morning by the usual sounds of other campers unhooking, and getting ready to hit the road in their individual directions.  Winnie, my bride, was not yet awake. I decided to have a glass of juice and walk around the campground while the coffee was cooking for our breakfast.  I hurriedly pulled on my jeans and polo shirt, then went to see where we were.  I saw the famous St. Louis arch on the other side of the river and the city rising up along the Mississippi river banks.  A truly exciting and historic vista.   The air seemed fresh, just right for a morning walk among the various campers.

As I walked along the inside of a high eight-foot fence, I noticed round rolls of razor wire along the top. I was reminded of prison grounds in television programs, a little much for a campground.  A neighboring camper was unhooking his motorhome and greeted me with “good morning.”  “Nice day,” I said. “Why all the razor wire and high fence?” He replied, “Did you notice the neighboring area when you arrived?”  “No, as a matter of fact,” I said. “We got here after dark and in fog.”  “Have you ever heard of Hooverville?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Shanty towns where homeless families lived in the depression during the Hoover administration.  They were literally shacks made of scrap lumber and corrugated metal sheets.”  “Right,” said my fellow camper. “Look across the street,” he said.  I hadn’t noticed until he directed my attention.  There it was, a real Hooverville, remnants of the ‘30s.  Scores of men were loafing and milling around typical shacks, just like the Grapes of Wrath.  I was now a little uncomfortable. I bade the neighbor farewell and continued with my walk.

As I walked around back of the shower room, an unkempt and dirty small man hurriedly emerged from a back service door of the building.  He bumped into me, almost knocking me down. The man reached to help me up, with his hands all over me.  I instinctively felt for my wallet. It was missing. He must be an itinerate from Hooverville, I reasoned.  He was small, and I didn’t see a weapon, so I grabbed him with a choke hold, and yelled, “The wallet, give me the wallet!” “OK OK,” he said, and handed me the wallet.  I put it in my pocket, released him and said, “Get out of here before I call the cops.”  He ran away and disappeared in the campground.

Out of breath and a fast beating heart, I hurried back to our motorhome, sat down and told my wife Winnie about the happening.  She was startled and said, “Let’s get out of here!” I agreed and started to change my clothes for the drive, when my wife Winnie said, “Russ, isn’t this your wallet on the bureau?” I reached in my trousers, and the wallet in my pocket was an old black leather one, with two dollars, and a picture of a lady and a little girl with the inscription:  “Please come home to us soon Daddy. We love you, Patty.”

1

A Memento for a Marine

(Reading time 4.5 minutes)

On one the South Pacific Islands, immediately following the surrender of the Japanese forces, there were still hundreds of Japanese troops hiding in caves, deep in the island jungles. The war was now over, but some of the scattered forces had been isolated, with no operating communications equipment.  They were unaware the “A” bomb had been dropped on Japan.  They had no idea that their country surrendered.  A single Japanese platoon was still at war and pursuing battle. They knew it would probably be their last action on this earth.  The band of Japanese soldiers was still scouting to attack U.S. forces. Their platoon decided to raid the village for food and supplies.  They quietly made their way into the colony, only to find a native celebration in progress.  Coincidentally, U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Arnold Bachelder was granted liberty for that same day.  He decided to go to an island village to celebrate the end of the war, with the natives and some of his Marine comrades.

As the Japanese soldiers lay hiding in the coverage of the tropical foliage, they noticed a few uniformed American Marines attending the celebration.  It was then that they decided to capture some Marines. The plan was to strip them of their uniforms, and wear them as a disguise to infiltrate their enemy’s lines.  Wearing U.S. uniforms they planned to wipe out whatever Marines they could. Agreeing on the strategy, one Japanese soldier jumped a Marine from the bushes, rendered him unconscious, removed his uniform and left him for dead.  It was Marine Sgt. Bachelder.  Shortly thereafter, Bachelder regained consciousness and made his way back to camp in his underwear. His fellow Marines decided to locate these Japanese soldier stragglers, capture the unit to give them the good news.  The war is over! When the Japanese troops were discovered, the Marines surrounded them. The soldier who stole Sgt. Bachelder’s uniform was among the surrendering troops.  He was surprised to see Bachelder still alive. The Japanese soldier posing as a Marine with the stolen uniform, planned to kill one or two Americans before being discovered. Surely he thought he would be killed himself in the attempt.

The troops in the Japanese scouting platoon, now peacefully surrendered when they were convinced that “the war is over”.  Because of the language difficulties, it took a little while to communicate.  With the aid of one English speaking Japanese, and one of our Marines who spoke broken Japanese, the message was understood.  After several minutes seeing they were not going to be killed, the Japanese settled down to an amiable surrender.  Both groups of soldiers, these most recent enemies, all went to the native celebration of the war’s end.

The soldier, who stole Sgt. Bachelder’s uniform, was very grateful that the Master Sergeant spared him.  He bowed respectfully offering his hand in gratitude.    The war was over, but after the incident, the Japanese soldiers were confined temporarily to a prison camp.  Later, some of the captors and captives, even exchanged addresses for future correspondence but Sgt. Bachelder’s uniform was lost.

Over fifteen years later in the 1960s, Sgt. Bachelder received a letter from the Japanese soldier, once again thanking him for his life.  The letter mentioned that the Sergeant would be receiving a gift of what he was manufacturing in Japan as a thank you present for saving him from and early and unnecessary grave.  This enabled him to follow his career as a manufacturer.  The gift was delivered, crated in a huge box. Inside was a brand new motorcycle, with a package inside a carryall saddlebag compartment.  The package was his Sergeant’s uniform, all nicely cleaned and pressed, which the Japanese soldier borrowed under protest in 1945.  Marines save lives as well as take them in times of war.  Our unsung hero in this story was Sgt. Arnold Bachelder.  He saved the life of one Japanese soldier who lived to be a post war industrial giant.

That is the rest of the story as far as I know.  What I don’t know is this; was that Japanese soldier Mr. Honda, Mr. Suzuki, Mr. Mitsubishi, Mr. Kawasaki or who?  That’s the part we don’t know. It isn’t important to us.  What is important is that we do know Sgt. Bachelder is an unsung hero and he was alive and had a new motorcycle.

 

TheDirtyWords

The Dirty Words

 (reading time under 5 minutes)

Have you noticed the foul language of this present generation?

Even movie scripts are rife with verbal and visual degradation.

It’s a moral risk taking family to the theatre these days.

Dirty dialogues abounding, what has happened to decent mores?

 *

They say, “That’s the way people talk today.”

F words and B words and others I won’t say.

Environment could be a reason for some,

But I’ve even heard scholars swear with aplomb.

 *

What is the need for profanity and what is the gain?

For anyone to use words that are unquestionably profane.

Violating sensitivities, with intent to defame,

Some cultured listeners may tolerate the use, albeit with disdain.

*

Dirty words in text used to be blocked out, leaving blank spots.

Later the technique was to print the first letter, followed by dots.

There is no guessing what the words were that were blocked out.

And now filthy words are complete, leaving nary a doubt.

 *

Have you notices T-shirts the collegians are wearing?

Four letter words emboldened, encouraging solicitations for paring.

Coed dormitories convenient for debauchery and such,

Parental influence is no longer a factor, and not seen very much.

 *

One’s shallow lexicon is an indication of one’s choices,

Obviously demonstrating their shortcomings, when hearing their voices.

But a small vocabulary does not have to be defiled,

By using words that you would not teach a child.

*

A shameless vocabulary imparts shame indeed,

And demonstrates that the relater is sorely in need,

Of more cultured articulation, without the crust,

For an otherwise acceptable message, void of disgust.

 *

I recall orators in the classic annals of literature, who excel,

Outstanding by their brilliance and lauded prose to tell.

I cannot recall in quality works that I have read, vile or dirty words.

Common scurrility as used today, would only be among the absurds.

 *

Yes I know that times have changed, as our mores relax,

But the rules of decency still prevail, the facts are still the facts.

There are some acceptable exceptions within limits, that may do no harm,

But Imagine Rhett Butler saying, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a darn.”

 *

GONE WITH THE WIND will live for centuries.

One word contributed to a ban by the Church and their juries.

One word, it was “damn”, it relegated a great film to the list of the profane.

I’ve heard worse from priests’ mouths, with scorn and disdain.

 *

I will have no influence with the dirty mouth generations,

Nor will I try; I am satisfied with my own untainted creations.

My writings span a period over 70 odd years to date.

I search for right words, with no deference to the common vulgate.

 *

I am embarrassed to read or hear irreverent uncultured trash.

Shakespeare said “ Speak the Speech, proudly with panache.”

We are judged by what we say and how we say every bit.

I want my words to be remembered with class, as I say it.

*

Would one be pleased or uncomfortable, listening to you,

Uttering foul, obscene vulgarities, like maybe some friends may do?

It is not just the middle or lower class now, using foul orations,

Even socialites use evil tongues with defiling connotations.

*

Some say, “That’s just the way it is at this point in time.” Really?

I have not heard it taught in churches or schools, where languages flow freely.

Most offenders clean up their mouth, speaking with a child or a parent.

There are times when even the worst offenders know, that they daren’t.

 *

Does anyone give respect to a dirty mouth friend or a mate,

To the curses their words connote, in a distasteful spate?

Spare me the need to listen with disgust and dismay,

Speak the Speech with panache, as Shakespeare would say.

 *

Have I Spoke the Speech, have I encouraged some restrain?

As the word master teaches, there is no need to be profane.

Words are our jewels, with millions of facets, sparkling like stars,

For all to use, in dignity, with pride, they are for us, they are ours.

 *

It is our choice and ours alone, to choose from the myriads of verbal jewels.

Profanity has no meaningful use in any language, and is not taught in schools.

Those who embrace sounds of scurrility are justifiably relegated as low class.

Even Webster and Funk and Wagnall gave the real dirty words a wide, wide pass.

 

111

The Friendly Book Salesman

St. Louis Missouri was boasting of their downtown Renaissance just at the time I arrived to do a live radio talk show broadcast. I was doing the show from the beautiful Clarion Hotel.  It’s located right at the foot of their main street, on the great Mississippi River, overlooking the St. Louis Arch.

We visited most of the great historic spots in the center of town, including the great Union Station with all of it’s built in shops and hotel.  One of a kind!  Another unusual and convenient attraction for travelers was a downtown campground for motor homes and travel trailers. It was located on the main street in the center of town, where everything was within walking distance.

Just a few blocks from the downtown campground was a large department store.  I’m not sure of the store’s name, but St. Louis folks will recognize it by description.  The owners apparently purchased the building across the street from the site of their structure, and built a suspended overhead walkway. It rose several stories above the street, connecting the two buildings. It was our first time to see this type of thing in the USA.  My wife and I were intrigued and decided to go shopping.  It was indeed an exciting building, much like a mall, and a shoppers delight.

While browsing, we stopped in a well-known bookstore.  I selected a book to buy and took it to the clerk at the cash register. He seemed to be interested in where we lived and expressed an interest in Philadelphia, where he had relatives.  With no other customers in line behind me, our conversation was longer than usual. He was indeed very personable and a good looking young man, about 20 years old.  We finally concluded our business. With a big friendly smile, he handed me a bag with my book saying, “Everything is in the bag, including the book and your receipt.” We shook hands and left the bookstore in the department store mall.

After about an hour of shopping, we headed back to our motorhome, just a block or two up the street.  When we arrived at the campground, an attendant asked if we were the Millers.  Rather surprised, I said, “Yes, is everything alright?” He said a police officer at the department store where you were shopping is trying to find you. Here is a number to call.

How in the world would anyone know I was there, especially in this campground, in this city, halfway across America from our home?  I wasn’t even supposed to arrive until tomorrow. I called the number and a woman police officer answered.  I identified myself and she asked if I had a niece to whom I had given my Master Card, and authorized her to shop in the store with no limitations.  I reached for my wallet and found that I did not have my Master Card.

It seems that having been engrossed in an extended friendly conversation with the clerk, I overlooked getting the card back. He had conned me with diversionary small talk and I neglected to ask for the return of my card.  After we left the store, the clerk took a bathroom break, made contact with his girl friend, gave her the card and told her to charge as much as she could, as soon as possible, then get out of the store, quickly.  When making the charges, the credit card company recognized the inordinate charging that did not fit our profile.  They rejected the charge, advising the clerk to call security, which they did.  The police arrived, apprehended the girlfriend of the bookstore clerk.  Police checked with Master Card officials and examined my latest charges and found the campground where I made my most recent charge. It was my campground. That is how they found where I was staying.  Wow, great tracking and police work.

The girl confessed to the police about her boyfriend passing the card to her.  They looked for the book salesman at the bookstore but he had disappeared, vanished. It seems that the friendly book salesman was on release work time from the local prison. The con failed.  He was now a fugitive.  The teenage girlfriend was now going to jail.  I got my card back from the police station, which was coincidentally adjacent to the campground where we were staying.

Two lives were now to be wasted as a result of a con job, probably learned in a jailhouse seminar.    That is where criminals learn to be more efficient.  Pity.

 

bag-silver-coins-17157521

Junk Silver and the Pastor

(reading time 5 minutes)

 In the late 1960s, I had a friend Jerry, whose hobby was collecting bags of what was referred to at the time as “junk silver”.  It was sold in bags, by weight, for the going price of silver bullion at time of purchase. Most of us thought Jerry was losing it mentally, and he was often the object of ridicule.  Jerry died in 1974.

The lawyer for his estate and his wife’s was also their executor.  Both Jerry and his wife were alcoholics. Neither was in good enough mental condition to even know the time of day, so they relied completely on their attorney John to make all decisions, in matters of money.

Jerry and his wife’s wealth was mostly from a shared family inheritance.  When Jerry came into his share of a cash allotment from the family estate, he would go to the Wilmington Trust Company in Delaware and buy bags of “junk silver” for whatever the price was at the time.  This was during the time when the Hunt Brothers from Texas, were pumping up the market price of silver.  It was on a rise to an all time high prices.  In June 1974, prices rose to $26 per ounce, from a low of $3 in the 1930s.  Jerry had collected many bags and many pounds, which he stored in the attic of his house.  His lawyer discovered the stash in the attic after Jerry’s death.  His wife, being an alcoholic, was disdainful about Jerry’s hobbies.  John, the lawyer and executor for the estate, offered to give Jerry’s wife the face value of the coins, mostly quarters and half dollars. One dollar for four quarters was face value.  Jerry’s wife said, “They don’t mean anything to me. I don’t want the coins. Just give me the face value cash.”

When Jerry died in 1974, silver prices had hit the $26.00 per ounce.  The agreement his attorney made with Jerry’s wife was a confidential arrangement, exclusively between them. Only close friends knew of Jerry’s “junk silver” hobby.  I happened to be one of them, but everything in this story happened and was over by the time I heard of it.

Lawyer John put the bags of junk silver in the trunk of his car, which weighed it down noticeably.  Within a few weeks after Jerry’s death in 1974, before lawyer John had a chance to unload the silver bags from the car, he was found dead with a bottle of brandy in his hand in his recliner chair at his home.  Beside him, sitting on the floor, was the urn containing the late Jerry’s ashes, not yet distributed according to Jerry’s wishes.

Lawyer John had a son who lived in South Carolina. He was John’s only heir and was very well off financially.  His son was too busy to come back to Pennsylvania and attend to his father’s funeral matters, so he enlisted the aid of the Pastor of John’s church.  In appreciation, the son gave the Pastor John’s Mercedes car, together with many other household and personal belongings that lawyer John had collected from his clients. There were many good and valuable leftovers from lawyer John’s clients, who had no relatives or living heirs.

The Pastor accepted the gifts gratefully and had an estate sale at John’s house, with proceeds going to the church.  The Pastor kept the Mercedes car for himself. He took it to the dealer to transfer the title and to find out why it rode so low in the back.  At the dealer’s garage, the mechanic asked the Pastor to pop the trunk with the electric lock on the dashboard.  The mechanic gasped. “Have you looked into this trunk since you got the car? Come here and see what I found.”  The Pastor looked and almost fainted. One of dozens of bags of the silver coins had spilled open all over the trunk floor gleaming in the sunlight, almost blinding the Pastor with brilliance and shock at the find.

The Pastor claimed this find as a “gift from God” since it was in the car given to him by lawyer John’s son. Remember, it’s been said, “Timing is everything.” That was the timing in 1974, when silver shined it’s all time high, thanks to the Hunt brothers from Texas.

The Silver was returned from where it came, the same bank named on the bags. There were hundreds of pounds, and each little ounce was worth $26. How much was there? Hundreds of pounds! You do the math.

 

 

 

17

Babes in My Barn

(reading time approx. 5 minutes)

 During WWII in 1942, I was 16. I lived on a small farm in Pennsylvania.  I rarely went to the movies, but always went to see Mickey Rooney.  Playing at our theater in Ambler, Pa. was a 1939 replay of Babes in Arms. Mickey inspired me to do something special; produce a barn dance. I reasoned that if Mickey Rooney could do that, so could I. We had a nice clean barn with a good dance floor, just right with fresh hay in the lofts.

If it were to be, it was up to me.  I had to put it together. We needed musical performers, advertising posters, and transportation for everyone to and from the barn, and chaperones.  I never tackled a project this involved before, but it would be a learning experience.  “Piece of cake,” I thought!

I was a sophomore in high school. My first challenge was to present the plan to the school Principal, Mr. Baker. He laughed but knowing me and my reputation, he guessed that I would do it regardless of the school’s support.  So he said, “Go to it Russ. When you have the total plan completely laid out on paper, let’s talk again.  Meanwhile, get back to your school work.”  I guess he thought that would be the end of it.  I successfully tackled many adult projects before. This didn’t seem any bigger than any other.  I was going to make it work and have fun doing it.

The first priority was music. Miss Wilhelm, the music teacher, helped me find musicians from the school band. I was able to get a guitar player, a trumpet player, an accordionist, a drummer, a base fiddle, a violinist, a kazoo player, and a musical spoon performer. There was a month to prepare. Our music teacher liked the idea and would help by rehearsing the students with barn dance music selections, as part of their class curriculum. Parents of the students offered no resistance. Some even volunteered to be chaperons. An unexpected boost was that one of the students was the daughter of the Ambler Gazette newspaper editor. He offered to do a feature story lead in his paper, and would take pictures himself.

Next was transportation of the students to our barn. We were deep into gas rationing during the war.  Remember the A, B, & C rationing stickers on the windshields in 1942?  Al Zeller was a local apple orchard farmer. He owned a gas station and was our next-door neighbor.  He could get gas. Al also offered to arrange a hayride to and from the bus stop, three miles from our farm, with his big 30-foot apple orchard flat bed trailer. A hayride was a highlight of the overall entertainment.

My dad strung Christmas bulbs and floodlights inside the barn. Mom made cookies, lemonade and Cool Aide. Even though WWII was underway, we were still suffering from the tail end of the depression. Money was scarce.  We had a zero budget. No cash. It was an all volunteer production. Our art teacher had the students make posters as an art project, including “No Smoking signs”.  There would be a special award for the best poster.

We had a month lead time.  It was wartime and everyone worked together.  A few teachers agreed to support the dance, but only after they inspected the barn, and it looked safe and clean. We passed the test.  The last Saturday in May was the date when it would be warmer.  A rain date was set for the following Saturday.

The date came. It all happened. The hayride, we danced, had sing alongs with old country music and songs we all knew like: “The Old Gray Mare”, “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Rail Road”, “Ain’t She Sweet”, “Yes Sir She’s My Baby”, “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”, and every other song of the times. We danced and sang just about everything the musicians could play. There were plenty of refreshments and almost everyone brought snacks. No alcohol, no smoking and no foolin’ around.  (We kept an eye on the back of the barn too.) The teachers wore overalls and led the band in the songs they rehearsed.  This became a school function and everybody got an A.

We did it!  What a great night.  The hardest thing was to bring the dance to an end. The ride back in the hay wagon, singing all the way was the finishing touch that tied the ribbons on the most wonderful night we ever had in our high school.  It was all because I saw Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms, and I said, “I can do that.”  And I did.

 

13

MRS. CRUMPET’S MILLIONS

(reading time approx. 8 minutes)

It was 1936, deep in the depression years. More often not, everyone over the age of five in a family chipped in, working in any way they could.  They contributed pennies into the pot for food on the table or any other necessities for living. Collecting newspapers and magazines to sell to the junkyard man was #1 choice for my buddies and me.  We also ran errands for the local grocer, and I shined shoes.

Charlie and Minnie Crumpet were young 25-year-old parents of three small children, all under six. They had to survive a hand to mouth existence at that time. I was 10 years old in 1936, and like almost everyone in those days, I remember putting a cardboard inside my shoes each day, to cover the holes in the soles.  I also recall the patches of all colors for worn out clothes. As we grew up and out of the old clothes, we passed them on to younger relatives.  I was lucky to have two cousins, only a year or so older.  I actually waited with anticipation for next year when I would get my their last year’s patched up clothes.

Folks who lived in the 30s will remember hardships that only we, who have been there and done that, will understand. Even movies like the “Grapes of Wrath” failed to depict the total feelings of desperation our parents endured, on a day-to-day basis.  The good part is that we, who were young at the time, didn’t really know it was bad.  It was all we knew. We didn’t know that there was anything better.  That was just the way it was as we were growing up in the thirties.

Charlie Crumpet did odd jobs.  He mostly washed windows for people in better neighborhoods who could afford a few dollars. He had to walk almost an hour each way, pulling an express wagon (remember them?) with all his supplies.  He carried a ladder, bucket and rags, which his wife Minnie would wash for him each night. Some customers allowed him to keep the ladder and bucket at their houses until he returned the next day. He finally built a “regular customer” list, which kept him busy enough to feed Minnie and three children.  He was building a business, until a policeman came to the door one day with bad news. He told Minnie that Charlie fell off the ladder from a second floor window, onto the sidewalk. Charlie died in the fall.

Minnie now had to be the sole provider. She had no job, no money, and three babies under six years old crying every day, “Mommy, I’m hungry”.  Could it get worse? It’s shocking what was eaten to fill the stomachs of hungry children. Use your imagination.  It was worse.

One morning, Mr. Kroeller the local baker put a sign in his bakery window, “Help wanted”. Minnie saw the sign, immediately went in, applied for the job and was hired. Her job would be working in the store, serving customers with Mr. Kroeller’s very popular baked goods. His recipes were passed down from his father and grandfather before him. This was a little girl’s dream, to work in a bakery. My wife did the same thing when going to high school. She talked about it endearingly the rest of her life.

Minnie Crumpet was an excellent baker herself for her family and friends, and was renown in family circles as the “Crumpet Lady”.  She called her special little cakes, “crumpets” for which she had her own special recipe. Her friends and family endearingly called them Miss Minnie’s Crumpets. She baked crumpets for her friends and neighbors and she sold from her house on order.  Every nickel and dime had special value in the depression, especially when there was a family to feed with three kids and no husband.

One day there was what she called a “Divine Intervention”.  Mr. Kroeller and the baker’s assistant both became ill, and went home early the day before.  They could not open the shop.  It was up to Minnie Crumpet to take complete charge of the kitchen and the shop.  She brought her six-year-old daughter to the shop and had her greet the customers while she baked bread and cakes in the kitchen. There was also her own special pastry, “Minnie’s Crumpets”. Her daughter gave each customer a small piece of the crumpet pastry, about the size of a quarter.  Almost everyone chose to buy a supply of crumpets, and the bread.  The oven was going all day until closing time. Mr. Kroeller said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep going until I come back to work.”

The next three days, were a repeat of the same activity, but more so.  The fourth day, Mr. Kroeller returned to work.  At first he was very angry to find out what Minnie had done in his shop. While he was expressing his anger, a customer came into the shop and exclaimed with delight about the new pastry that Minnie had made.  She wanted two dozen crumpets for a ladies’ tea party that day, and would come back by 2 PM to get them.  “What’s happening”, asked Mr. Kroeller. “What are you doing in my shop?”  Minnie explained.

Kroeller’s Bakery became more and more popular as a result of the crumpets.  They became a new feature every day. One Sunday morning, a man walked into the store and bought some baked goods, including a dozen crumpets. He explained that he had never seen such an item before, but if the family liked them, he would be back for more. The next day, the same man came into the store and told Mr. Kroeller that he would like to buy the recipe.  Mr. Kroeller asked Minnie if he could make the deal for her as her agent. He wanted 20%. She agreed. After some haggling, the deal was closed. Mr. Kroeller, who was 70 years old, wrote himself into the deal for 20% of the initial cash payment.

The immediate up front cash was enough for Mr. Kroeller to close his shop and retire.  Mrs. Crumpet didn’t quite know what was happening, but Mr. Kroeller made sure Minnie’s up front money was safely invested for her income.  The income from her crumpets came for a few more years until her agreement expired.  Several years later she was able to open her own shop and called it Mrs. Crumpet’s Goodies, Candy and Baked Goods.

Crumpets became popular nation wide.  They were sold door to door by Duncan’s Bakeries.  They featured crumpets in their bakery trucks, seen everywhere, until the day they sold the business and closed shop.

Minnie Crumpet still tells the story to anyone who will listen, about the day when Mr. Kroeller was sick and she made the “crumpets”.  Minnie says it was a “Divine Intervention” which engendered Mrs. Crumpet’s millions, “Millions of Crumpets” across the nation.  Her eldest daughter, when relating this story always says,  “And I helped!”

 

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