Raw Sex and the Nuclear Holocaust… A MisAdventures’ Tale

 

Judy gave a small lock of hair to each of her many admirers.

When was the first time you recognized a member of the opposite sex as something other than a playmate, or, possibly, a pain in the butt?

Almost as far back as I can recall, I had a girlfriend, or at least believed I did. The girls didn’t necessarily have to agree. The first girl who caught my attention was an ‘older woman,’ the fourth-grade sister of one of my classmates in the third grade. She had quite a mouth on her and called her little brother names like s**t-head and f**k-face. As mentioned earlier, I had an extensive vocabulary of swear words. My brother, friends and I used such words extensively but I had never heard a girl talk like that. I was fascinated. I fell under her spell.

And thus it was, one fine Saturday, I found myself on my first great solo adventure, walking 2 ½ miles following the Southern Pacific railroad tracks to her home with the sole objective of hearing her speak those magical words. I was not disappointed! Be still my beating heart.

My first real heart-throb, though, was in the fourth grade. This time, she was a younger woman in the third grade: cute, blond and smart. While I may have appreciated those qualities, what fascinated me about Carol was that she could run like the wind. I was in love with her legs. We both lived within a couple of blocks of school and would walk home for lunch. The advantage of going home was that we would arrive back at school before the other kids were let out for noon recess. This meant we could grab the best positions for whatever game was being played. My problem was that Carol could outrun me and this meant I was usually second in line. It seemed like a small price to pay for seeing those legs kicking up the dirt in front of me.

In the fifth grade, the woman of the year was Judy, a fourth grader with flaming red hair who had every boy in the fourth and fifth grade passionately pursuing her. The competition was fierce. Judy loved it while the other girls must have been extremely jealous or, maybe just disgusted. To encourage us, Judy cut off small locks of her hair and gave one to each of her admirers. I was surprised she had any hair left but I cherished my lock and took it to bed with me at night. My main competitor for Judy was Eric, who was an up and coming fourth grader, small, but extremely athletic and an all-around nice kid. Judy let it be known that we were the chosen two.

Eric.

We had our showdown at a school movie that provided instructions on what to do when the Russians bombed our school. We spent a lot of time in the 50s worrying about that. People began building bomb shelters in their backyards. The teachers would make us crawl under our desks to prepare for the explosion. We were supposed to cover our faces with our arms so glass shattering in from the windows wouldn’t blind us. It is not surprising that the traumatized children of the 50’s grew up to be the anti-war radicals of the 60s and 70s. I stayed up one night to watch an atomic bomb testing in the Nevada desert over 200 miles away. It lit up the whole Eastern sky and added a touch of reality to our hide-under-the-desk practice.

In the lineup for the movie, Eric aced me out and managed to get next to Judy. A half-dozen other fourth graders played honor guard and I couldn’t even get close, but my luck didn’t abandon me altogether. I grabbed the seat immediately in back of her where I could at least monitor Eric’s behavior while admiring Judy’s behind. The lights went down and the movie started. I strained to keep an eye on Eric. He reached over and grabbed Judy’s hand and she let him hold it. I could have killed him. My whole world was crashing down. But then, unbelievably, Judy’s other hand slipped between the chairs and grabbed my knee. My knee! It was raw sex. Who cared if Eric was holding hands with Judy! Who cared if the Russians had somehow determined that Diamond Springs Grade School stood between them and world domination!

MONDAY’S POST: I finish up our 18-day journey down the Colorado River.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: More photos from Kodiak Island, Alaska.

FRIDAY’S POST: More girl problems when I make the mistake of taking PE Dance Class.

The Mekemson Kids Did It… It’s a Wrap, Or Is that a Rap-Sheet?

By the time I was in the fourth grade, new friends, a love of wandering in the woods, and a knack for learning had changed my perspective on life.

 

The comments on my series, “The Mekemson Kids Did It,” have been fun. Obviously, I struck a chord. Many of you reached back into the far recesses of your own memory banks to recall incidents from your own childhood. Thanks so much for sharing.

 

Amazingly, like most kids, we survived growing up. Part of it was sheer luck. I never broke a bone or suffered from a bad fall.  Nor did I come close to being drowned, shot, electrocuted, or run over. And all of these were possible. Most of my more ‘serious’ mishaps related to my big feet. Summertime meant bare feet and I specialized in stubbed toes; they hurt. Skin doesn’t appreciate being flayed from the body in big chunks, which is why the activity was highly recommended in Inquisition torture manuals. One toe and I would have confessed to anything.

As it was, I took it like the little man I happened to be and bawled. A dose of parental sympathy, a dash of iodine and a Band-Aid normally made things better. A rusty nail through the foot required more drastic action like a trip to the doctor and a mega-dose of sympathy. As did my encounter with Coaly the Cocker, who sunk her teeth into my foot. As I mentioned earlier, however, the sympathy was lacking that time.

Marshall’s injuries tended to be more serious. That’s because he asked interesting questions like what happens when you put a bullet on a rock and smash another rock down on top of it. He got away with that one, unlike the time he lit a dynamite cap with a match. We were vacationing at Caldor’s lumber camp in the Sierra’s at that time. Earlier in the day, Marshall and I had gone out for a hike and discovered the caps at an old mine. That evening, while Mother was wrapping up dinner, he had slipped outside to experiment. A loud bang was followed by a louder scream. Marshall was lucky. His glasses had protected his sight. The rest of the front side of his body was a bloody mess.  And then there was the time he fell out of a Heavenly tree and shoved a stick into his stomach.

Pop always started running when he heard Marshall scream. With me, he walked. But these were exceptions. Normally we brought home nothing more than the usual bumps, bruises and scratches of youth.

There came a time in his life when Marshall found other things more important than amusing or torturing his little brother. Girls were high on his list, along with cars, cigarettes and being a James Dean type rebel. (He wore his cigarette pack wrapped up in the sleeve of his T-shirt.) I spent a great deal of time by myself except for the ever-present dog and wandered farther and farther afield. The wilder the terrain, the happier I was.

While other kids were busy learning the drama of organized sports, I was figuring what to do with the rear end of a skunk pointed at me. It’s a sure sign the skunk is irritated when she does a handstand and waves her tail in your direction. It’s her way of saying, “My gun is cocked and my finger is on the trigger. It’s your move, stranger.” The secret is not to move. If you are very, very lucky, the skunk will slowly return to all fours and amble off.

But I also begin to develop my own set of friends and an enjoyment of learning, which still exists today. And then— drum roll please— there were girls! Be sure to check out next Friday’s post where the subject is Raw Sex and the Nuclear Holocaust.

“Your Mother Chases Fire Trucks” … The Mekemson Kids Did It

While the Diamond Spring’s Firehouse has been rebuilt from when we were children, it still stands in the same location. It was a block away from where we lived. The siren was loud. My dad would be off and running as a volunteer fireman, while my mother… Read on.

 

Pop (my father) was a volunteer fireman for Diamond Springs. As an electrician, it was his job to show up at burning houses and shut off the electricity. When the siren wailed, he was off and running, as were all the other volunteer firemen in town. It was serious business.

For Mother, and for us, it was a break in small-town routine and, I hate to use this word, entertainment. We also took off at the sound of the siren, jumped in whatever old car we had, and sped along behind the fire truck. The time of day and activity of the moment didn’t matter. If it were three in the morning, we would jump out of bed and throw on our clothes; if we were eating, the meal would be abandoned; if we were playing, the toys would be dropped. Nothing could compete with a fire. Our devotion to disaster was right up there in the same league as it is with today’s television crews.

The star performer was someone’s house. There was excitement, danger and pathos. Firemen blasted away with their hoses in a desperate attempt to save the home while the unfortunate family looked on in dismay. But the climax, the Fourth of July finale, was when the roof and walls would crash down and shoot sparks and fire high into the sky. I did keep my oohs and aahs to myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind a small voice whispered that our family outing was not totally appropriate.

“Your mother chases fire trucks,” one of my little buddies jeered at me in an argument.

My response at the time had been, “So…” But later in life I would ponder what the towns-people thought about Mother, two or three kids, and a dog always showing up when the flames were high. Pop must have been embarrassed. I remember him telling Mother once to stay far behind the fire engine and far away from the fire. He did it under the guise of being concerned for our safety and our need to stay out of the way. I now suspect he hoped we wouldn’t be recognized. But he never did have much success in telling Mother what to do. The siren’s call was not to be denied.

 

Bob Bray Shoots Out a Window

I grew out of my mischief causing phase but I was able to pull off one final coup and live up to Bertha Bray’s expectations. Remember, she wouldn’t let her son play with me because she was afraid I would corrupt him.

For some unfathomable reason, Bob’s parents bought him a Wham-O Slingshot. I mean, how in the world can you expect a kid to be good when he starts playing with his Wham-O? The fact that I owned a Wham-O as well, almost guaranteed trouble.

Bob and I agreed to meet for a clandestine hunting expedition. It had to be clandestine because I was still on Bertha Bray’s ‘do not invite’ list. Our only rule for the adventure was that anything that moved or didn’t move was a valid target. Things were going great until we came upon the old abandoned bum’s shack that was just off the Southern Pacific railroad track about a quarter of a mile away from Bob’s home. Typical of such structures, it had been created out of anything that was available for free: old aluminum roofing, miscellaneous boards, an occasional nail, a thrown away mattress, etc. It had one crowning glory, a window. Bob and I looked at each other and had a simultaneous thought. Out came the ammo for the Wham-Os, a shiny new marble for Bob and several BBs for me. We took careful aim, counted down, and let fly.

To this day, Bob claims he saw his marble harmlessly strike the windowsill while my BBs were smashing the glass to smithereens. I of course saw Bob’s marble hit the window dead on while my BBs formed a neat pattern around the edges. The current occupant of the not abandoned home, who was washing dishes behind a willow bush in a small stream, saw something entirely different: two little boys smashing his pride and joy. He let out a bellow and came charging up the trail. As he should have. Once again the Mekemson Gang, along with its newest recruit, was on the run. The good news is that we escaped. The bad news was that the bum/hobo/homeless person who lost his window, recognized Bob. He went straight to his house. Mrs. Bray’s worst fears had been realized.

Monday’s Post: We are getting close to the end of our trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. I even get to row a bit and take on a couple of death-defying rapids. (True… except for the death-defying.)

Wednesday’s Post: Big brown bears!

Friday’s Post: I wrap up the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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The Skull with the Vacant Stare— The Woods… The MisAdventure Series

Woods in Diamond Springs, CA

While I don’t have any pictures from the Woods growing up, this and the other photos here are of more recent vintage from Diamond Springs.

 

Even more than the Pond, the Woods introduced me to the beauty and magic of nature. It, too, earned a capital letter.

To get there, I walked out the back door, down the alley and through a pasture Jimmy Pagonni rented for his cattle. Tackling the pasture involved crawling through a rusty barbed wire fence, avoiding fresh cow pies, climbing a hill and jumping an irrigation ditch. The journey was fraught with danger.

Black oak and woods

This black oak stood over the ditch I had to jump, and it still stands today.

Hungry barbed wire consumed several of my shirts and occasionally went for my back. Torn clothing and bleeding scratches were a minor irritation in comparison to stepping in fresh cow poop though. A thousand-pound, grass-eating machine produces acres of the stuff. Deep piles sneak up your foot and slosh over into your shoes. Toes hate this. Even more treacherous are the little piles that hide out in the grass. A well-placed patty can send you sliding faster than black ice. The real danger here is ending up with your butt in the pile. I did that, once. “Oh, shit,” I had exclaimed. Happily, no one was around to witness my misfortune, or hear my language— except Tickle the dog. And he was sworn to secrecy.

For all of its hazards, the total hike to the Woods took about 10 minutes. Digger pines with drunken windmill limbs guarded the borders while gnarly manzanita and spiked chaparral dared the casual visitor to venture off the trail. Poison oak proved more subtle but effective in discouraging exploration. I could count on raucous California jays to announce my presence, especially if I was stalking a band of notorious outlaws. Ground squirrels were also quick to whistle their displeasure. Less talkative jackrabbits merely ambled off upon spotting me, put on a little speed for a hyper Cocker, and became bounding blurs in the presence of a hungry greyhound. Flickers, California quail and acorn woodpeckers held discussions in distinctive voices I soon learned to recognize.

Woods in Diamond Springs

A trailer park now occupies the woods where I once played. It’s pleasant but no substitute. Even then, power lines cut through the woods. The tree reaching for the sky is a digger pine. Its large pine cones were filled with nuts that the squirrels harvested.

From the beginning, I felt at home in the Woods, like I belonged. I quickly learned that its hidden recesses contained a multitude of secrets. I was eager to learn what they had to teach me, but the process seemed glacial. It required patience and I hardly knew how to spell the word. I did know how to sit quietly, however. This was a skill I had picked up from the hours I spent with my nose buried in books. The woodland creatures prefer their people noisy. A Curt stomping down the trail, snapping dead twigs, and talking to himself about nefarious evil-doers was easy to avoid while a Curt being quiet might surprise them.

One gray squirrel was particularly loud in his objections. He lived in the top branches of a digger pine beside the trail and maintained an observation post on an overhanging limb. When he heard me coming, he would adopt his ‘you can’t see me gray squirrel playing statue pose.’ But I knew where to look. I would find a comfortable seat and stare at him. It drove him crazy. Soon he would start to thump the limb madly with his foot and chirr loudly. He had pine nuts to gather, a stick home to remodel, and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed lady to woo. I was blocking progress. Eventually, if I didn’t move, his irritation would bring him scrambling down the trunk for a much more personal scolding.

After about 15 minutes of continuous haranguing, he’d decide I was a harmless, if obnoxious aberration and go about his business. That’s when I begin to learn valuable secrets, like where he hid his nuts. It was also a sign for the rest of the wildlife to come out of hiding. A western fence lizard might work its way to the top of the dead log next to me and start doing push-ups. Why, I couldn’t imagine. Or perhaps a thrush would begin to scratch up the leaves under the manzanita in search of creepy tidbits. The first time I heard one, it sounded like a very large animal interested in little boy flesh.

Occasionally there were special treats: a band of teenage gray squirrels playing tag and demonstrating their incredible acrobatics; a doe leading its shy, speckled fawn out to drink in the small stream that graced the Wood’s meadow; a coyote sneaking up on a ground squirrel hole with an intensity I could almost feel.

I also began to play at stalking animals. Sometime during the time period between childhood and becoming a teenager, I read James Fennimore Cooper and began to think I was a reincarnation of Natty Bumppo. Looking back, I can’t say I was particularly skilled, but no one could have told me so at the time. At least I learned to avoid dry twigs, walk slowly, and stop frequently. Occasionally, I even managed to sneak up on some unsuspecting animal.

If the birds and the animals weren’t present, they left signs for me. There was always the helter-skelter pack rat nest to explore. Tickle made it a specialty, quickly sending twigs flying in all directions. There were also numerous tracks to figure out. Was it a dog or coyote that had stopped for a drink out of the stream the night before? My greyhound knew instantly, but I had to piece it together. A sinuous trail left by a slithery serpent was guaranteed to catch my attention. This was rattlesnake country. Who’d been eating whom or what was another question? The dismantled pine cone was easy to figure out but who considered the bark on a young white fir a delicacy? And what about the quail feathers scattered haphazardly beside the trail?

Scat, I learned, was the tracker’s word for poop. It offered a multitude of clues for what animals had been ambling down the trail and what they had been eating. There were deer droppings and rabbit droppings and mouse droppings descending in size. Coyotes and foxes left their distinctive dog-like scat but the presence of fur and berries suggested that something other than dog food had been on the menu. Some scat was particularly fascinating, at least to me. Burped up owl pellets provided a treasure chest of bones— little feet, little legs and little skulls that grinned back with the vacant stare of slow mice.

While Tarzan hung out in the Graveyard and pirates infested the Pond, mountain men, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood and various bad guys roamed the Woods. Each bush hid a potential enemy that I would indubitably vanquish. I had the fastest two fingers in the West and I could split a pine nut with an arrow at 50 yards.  I never lost. How could I— it was my fantasy. But daydreams were only a part of the picture.

I fell in love with wandering in the Woods and playing on the Pond. There was an encyclopedia of knowledge available and a multitude of lessons about life. Learning wasn’t a conscious effort, though; it was more like absorption. The world shifted for me when I entered the Woods and time slowed down. A spider with an egg sack was worth ten minutes, a gopher pushing dirt out of its hole an hour, and a deer with a fawn a lifetime.

Next Friday I will offer a slight diversion from MisAdventures tales for a week and include a chapter from my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam.

 

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Capital P is for Pond— Or Is that Pirates… The MisAdventure Series

 

Resting on top of tombstone in Diamond Springs, CA

There came a time when the Graveyard was too small to accommodate my wandering ways, about 65 years before this photo was taken. Both the Graveyard and I have changed a bit.

 

There came a time when the Graveyard wasn’t large enough to satisfy my wandering urges. I had crawled under the lilac bushes, climbed all of trees, found most of the downed tombstones— and even visited the new graves on the opposite side of the Graveyard. It was time to expand my horizons.

All of Diamond and its environs were fair game. I started close to home and gradually worked outward. At first I tagged along behind Marshall and our friends; later I spent a great deal of time alone with only the dogs for company. It was a Capital World. For example, there were a number of ponds in the area. Oscar ‘Ot’ Jones had one on his ranch for cattle; Caldor had one where logs waited for their appointment with the buzz saw; Forni had one over the hill from his slaughterhouse, and Tony Pavy had one that was supposedly off-limits. But there was only one Capital P Pond, the one next to the Community Hall. If I told Marshall, my parents or my friends I was going to the Pond, they knew immediately where I would be.

Mill pond

This was one of our ponds, the mill-pond where logs waited for their appointment with the buzzsaw. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the Capital P Pond. But it was fed by water from here. Neither of the ponds exist today. Marshall liked to walk out on the logs.

It was a magical place filled with catfish, mud turtles, bullfrogs and pirates. Although the Pond was small, it had a peninsula, island, deep channel, cattails and shallows. In spring, Redwing Blackbirds nested in the cattails and filled the air with melodic sound. Mallards took advantage of the island’s safety to set up housekeeping. Catfish used holes in the bank of the peninsula to deposit hundreds of eggs that eventually turned into large schools of small black torpedoes dashing about in frenetic unison. Momma bullfrogs laid eggs in strings that grew into chubby pollywogs. When they reached walnut size, tiny legs sprouted in one of nature’s miracles of transformation. Water snakes slithered though the water with the sole purpose of thinning out the burgeoning frog population and I quickly learned to recognize the piteous cry of a frog being consumed whole. Turtles liked to hang out in the shallows where any log or board provided a convenient sunning spot. They always slid off at our appearance but a few quiet minutes would find them surfacing to reclaim lost territory.

By mid-summer the Pond would start to evaporate. The shallow areas surrendered first, sopped up by the burning sun. Life became concentrated in a few square yards of thick, tepid water, only inches deep and supported by a foot of squishy mud. All too soon the Pond was bone-dry with mud cracked and curled. Turtles, snakes and frogs crawled, slithered and hopped away to other nearby water. Catfish dug their way into the mud and entered a deep sleep, waiting for the princely kiss of winter rains. Ducks flew away quacking loudly, leaving only silence behind. Fall and winter rains found the pond refilling and then brimming. Cloudy, gray, wind-swept days rippled the water and created a sense of melancholy that even an eight-year old could feel.

But melancholy was a rare emotion for the Pond.  To us, it was a playground with more options than an amusement park. A few railroad ties borrowed from Caldor and nailed together with varying sized boards made great rafts for exploring the furthest, most secret corners of the Pond. Imagination turned the rafts into ferocious pirate ships that ravaged and pillaged the far shores or primitive bumper cars guaranteed to dunk someone, usually me. In late spring, the Pond became a swimming hole, inviting us to test still cold waters. One spring, thin ice required a double and then triple-dare before we plunged in. It was a short swim. Swimsuits were always optional and rarely worn. I took my first swimming lessons there and mastered dog paddling with my dog Tickle providing instructions. More sophisticated strokes would wait for more sophisticated lakes.

Tickle as a pup with my sister Nancy Jo.

Frogs and catfish were for catching and adding to the family larder. During the day, a long pole with a fishing line attached to a three-pronged hook and decorated with red cloth became irresistible bait for bullfrogs. At night, a flashlight and a spear-like gig provided an even more primitive means of earning dinner. The deep chug-a-rums so prominent from a distance became silent as we approached. Both patience and stealth were required. A splash signified failure as our quarry decided that sitting on the bottom of the Pond was preferable to joining us for dinner. Victory meant a gourmet treat, frog legs. Preparation involved amputating the frog’s legs at the hips and then pealing the skin off like tights. It was a lesson I learned early; if you catch it, you clean it. We were required to chop off the big feet as well. Mother didn’t like being reminded that a happy frog had been attached hours earlier. She also insisted on delayed gratification. Cooking the frog legs on the same day they were caught encouraged them to jump around in the frying pan. “Too creepy!” she declared.

Catching catfish required nerves of steel. We caught them by hand as they lurked with heads protruding from their holes in the banks. Nerves were required because the catfish had serious weapons, needle sharp fins tipped with stingers that packed a wallop. They had to be caught exactly right and held firmly, which was not easy when dealing with a slimy fish trying to avoid the frying pan. But their taste was out of this world and had the slightly exotic quality of something that ate anything that couldn’t eat them.

Next Friday in MisAdventures, we will visit the other great ‘wilderness’ of my childhood: The Woods.

TOMORROW (Saturday): It snowed here. Join Peggy and me on a walk through our winter-wonderland.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Dropping into the depths of the Grand Canyon we find a huge sandstone cavern and an ancient Native American granary.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We leave Dawson Creek and begin our journey up the Alaska Highway.

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I Become Ruler of the First Grade. Not… MisAdventures: The Book

By the time I made it into the first grade, I could actually draw a stick horse that didn’t look like a kinky snake. It was finger painting that I excelled at, however. You just smear paint on paper. I circled this rare work of art so my parents wouldn’t forget which one was mine.

 

In retrospect, getting booted out of the first grade was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When I returned a year later, I was older than my fellow students, bigger than many, and at least as coordinated. More importantly, my brain had advanced to the point where it didn’t embarrass me.

I even made the decision in the rough and tumble world of first grade politics that it was my job to rule. No one agreed of course; why should they? But I wasn’t alone in such delusions. My major competition was another first grader named Joe. He was even less civilized than I, if that’s possible, a true barbarian. He rightfully recognized there could be only one leader of the pack but mistakenly thought it should be him. Obviously, we had to fight.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Young didn’t understand the necessity of our action, even though I explained it to her. It only confirmed her already low opinion of me. I received my first and only school spanking as a reward.

While I was learning the subtleties of power politics, my academic life was suffering; either that or Mrs. Young had decided there wasn’t much hope for Marge Mekemson’s kid. My report cards read C right across the line except where it recorded behavior. All of those categories were marked ‘needs improvement.’ Talks in class, needs improvement; is courteous at all times; needs more improvement. You get the idea. I couldn’t even dress right. I wonder if Mrs. Young knew my attire didn’t include underwear. I thought it was a sissy thing to do until I caught a rather sensitive part of my anatomy in the zipper. That was educational. I learned more about clothing in one second than I did in a whole year of Mrs. Young’s harping.

Eventually, after two years of trying, I made it out of the first grade and began to enjoy school. It turned out that my second and third grade teacher, Miss Jones, was also my Godmother. She had to like me. All sorts of Biblical rules apply. Thus it was that a dash of Holy Water changed my whole perspective on education. I actually wanted to please the teacher. I went from class rebel to teacher’s pet.

“Can I clean the black boards, Miss Jones? Can I empty the trash? Can I, can I, can I?” No chore was too menial. Had my fellow second graders known the word they would have called me a sycophant instead of a kiss-up, or worse.

So, what changed? Mrs. Young was a good teacher as I am sure several generations of graduates from Diamond Elementary would attest. But she was ‘old school’ and her world was one of rules and corporal punishment. Each year she was faced with the daunting task of taming a new group of wild beasts and this required discipline. It was not my ideal environment. I’ve never done particularly well at rules.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Homeland Security goes looking for a bomb in our food containers for our Grand Canyon raft trip. Doesn’t everyone carry a dozen or so ammo cans when they travel?

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Blog POST: A trip up the Amazon River with Piranhas for dinner. It’s better to eat than be eaten.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: The magic of reading.

 

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The Great Tree Race… Blogging My Book on “MisAdventures”

Incense cedar tree in Diamond Springs graveyard

A view of the tall incense cedar in the Graveyard today.

 

Two incense cedars dominated the Graveyard. From an under five-foot perspective, they were gigantic, stretching some 75-feet skyward. The limbs of the largest tree started 20 feet up and provided scant hope for climbing. As usual, my brother Marshall found a risky way around the problem.

Several of the lower limbs came tantalizingly close to the ground at their tips. One could be reached by standing on a convenient flat tombstone. But only Marshall could reach it; I was frustratingly short by several inches. Marsh would make a leap, grasp the limb and shimmy up it hanging butt down until it became large enough for him to work his way around to the top. Then he would crawl up to the tree trunk, five Curtis lengths off the ground. After that, he would climb to wonderfully mysterious heights I could only dream about.

Eventually I grew tall enough to make my first triumphant journey up the limb. Then, very carefully, I climbed to the heart-stopping top, limb by limb. All of Diamond Springs spread out before me. I could see our school, and Caldor (the lumber mill where my father worked), and the woods, and the hill with a Cross where I had shivered my way through an Easter Sunrise Service. I could see my whole world. Except for a slight wind that made the tree top sway and stirred my imagination about the far away ground, I figured I was as close to Heaven as I would ever get.

View of Caldor Lumber company circa 1958

The view from the top of the incense cedar tree in the Graveyard looking toward Caldor Lumber Company circa 1958. The mill had already closed down by this time.

By the time I finally made it to the top, Marshall had more grandiose plans for the tree. We would build a tree house in the upper branches. Off we went to Caldor to liberate some two by fours. Then we raided Pop’s tool shed for a hammer, nails, and rope. My job was to be the ground man while Marshall climbed up to the top. He would then lower the rope and I would tie on a board that he would hoist up and nail in. It was a good plan, or so we thought.

Along about the third board, Pop showed up. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to build a tree fort in the Graveyard that bothered him, or that we had borrowed his tools without asking. He even seemed to ignore the liberated lumber. His concern was that we were building our fort too close to the top of the tree on thin limbs that would easily break with nails that barely reached through the boards. After he graphically described the potential results, even Marshall had second thoughts. Pop had a solution though. He would build us a proper tree house on the large limbs that were only 20 feet off the ground. He would also add a ladder so we could avoid our tombstone-shimmy-up-the-limb route.

And he did. It was a magnificent open tree house of Swiss Family Robinson proportions that easily accommodated our buddies and us with room to spare. Hidden in the tree and hidden in the middle of the Graveyard, it became our special hangout where we could escape everything except the call to dinner. It became my center for daydreaming and Marshall’s center for mischief planning. He, along with our friends Allen and Lee, would plan our forays into Diamond designed to terrorize the local populace.

Cedar tree in Great Tree Race, Diamond Springs, CA

Looking up from the base of the tree today. The aging fellow is 65 years older from the days when I mastered climbing it. Pop’s tree house was built on the lower left limbs.

It also became the starting point for the Great Tree Race. We would scramble to the top and back down in one on one competition as quickly as we could. Slips were a common hazard. Unfortunately, the other boys always beat me; they were two to three years older and I was the one most susceptible to slipping. My steady diet of Tarzan comic books sustained me though and I refused to give up.  Eventually, several years later, I would triumph.

Marshall was taking a teenage time-out with Mother’s parents who had moved to Watsonville, down on the Central Coast of California. Each day I went to the Graveyard and took several practice-runs up the tree. I became half monkey. Each limb was memorized and an optimum route chosen. Tree climbing muscles bulged; my grip became iron and my nerves steel. Finally, the big day arrived and Marshall came home. He was every bit the big brother who had had been away at high school while little brother stayed at home and finished grade school. He talked of cars and girls and wild parties and of his friend Dwight who could knock people out with one punch. I casually mentioned the possibility of a race to the top of the Tree. What a set up. Two pack-a-day, sixteen-year old, cigarette smokers aren’t into tree climbing, but how can you resist a challenge from your little brother.

Off we went. Marsh didn’t stand a chance. It was payback time for years of big brother hassles. I flew up and down the tree. I hardly touched the limbs. Slip? So what, I would catch the next limb. Marsh was about half way up the tree when I passed him on my way down. I showed no mercy and greeted him with a grin when he arrived, huffing and puffing, back at the tree house. His sense of humor was minimal. He challenged me to a wrestling match and I pinned him to the ground. It was the end of the Great Tree Race, the end of big brother domination, and a fitting end to my years of associating with dead people.

Cedar tree spike in Diamond Springs Ca

This spike is all that remains of our treehouse dreams. As I recall, Marshall drove it into the tree with thoughts of several more to provide a way up the tree.

Cut down incense cedar tree in Diamond Springs graveyard

The jungle of Heavenly Trees that once covered the Graveyard has long since been tamed. Imagine my dismay during my last visit to Diamond Springs when I found that the cedar tree’s twin in the Graveyard had been cut down.  Could our tree be far behind?

 

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: A continuation of the trip through the Grand Canyon. How did we end up there? It’s an interesting tale.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We’ll visit the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy that was buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.

FRIDAY’S Blog-a-Book POST: There’s some catching up on the education front. I’m allowed back in school and try to take over the first grade.

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How Not to Neuter Your Cat… A Quickie from MisAdventures

Curt and pets

It was rare that a photo of me in my childhood didn’t include one or several of our family pets. MC the Cat wasn’t in any of them, however…

 

This story is a bit short to include in my Friday Blog a Book series, but I still find it amusing enough to share. Remember how I reported on my efforts to hire the family pets to sleep on my bed and scare the ghosts away? MC was not one of the pets willing to join the effort. Here’s why.

 

While Demon had been an enthusiastic supporter of the ghost protection racket, MC never was, with good reason. He was a tom cat’s Tom Cat— as white as Demon was black, somewhat diminutive in size, and totally dedicated to scattering his sperm. Unfortunately, his small size meant that he often came out on the losing end in his battles with larger toms over fair kitty’s love. He would arrive home beat up and battered. One time a chunk of his ear was missing. Another time it was the tip of his tail. Pop decided that drastic measures were called for. M.C. would have to have to lose his offending appendages. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of money in our family for veterinary bills. Our Italian neighbor, Papa, suggested an Old Country solution, a cheap way to castrate a cat.

“All you need is a pair of tin snips, a burlap bag, gloves, a pocket knife and a rope,” he suggested. Alarm bells should have gone off all over, but they didn’t. We moved ahead with the medical procedure.

While M.C. had never been a paragon of feline domesticity, he was at least partially tame.  He even managed a brief purr when I picked him up the morning of his ‘operation.’  Any previous pretensions of tolerating people ceased instantly, however, when his legs were tied up and he was dumped into the dark gunny sack.  When Pop cut a slit in the burlap with his pocket knife and reached a gloved hand through, he was met by claws of fury. M.C. had shed his ropes faster than Houdini.

No one, but no one, was going to grab him by the testicles and snip them off with a pair of tin snips. He clawed his way out of the bag and became a white blur as he disappeared into the Graveyard. After that we would only see him at dinner time and then only after we had put his food down and walked several feet away. Who could blame him.

The Banning of the Animal Kingdom from My Bed… Blogging the MisAdventures Book

 

Big feet and army cot

A few years after the animals had been banned from my bed, I still had the old army cot, and bigger feet. I am reading a Western… serious literature.

 

In my last post, I related how I had hired the family pets to sleep on my bed when I slept outside in the summer to scare the ghosts away that lived in the Graveyard next to our house. Ir worked, but I had grown older and bigger. The pets were becoming more of a problem than the ghosts…

The night of the skunk was an exception to Pat’s normal stay-at-home routine. As usual, I had crawled into bed with an assortment of animals. That evening, it was minus Pat. Good, she took up a lot of room. Somewhere around midnight I half way woke as she hopped up on the bed, completed three dog turns and snuggled down. Consciousness made a quantum leap as my nose was assailed by an unmistakable perfume.

“Seems we have a skunk visiting,” I told Pat and reached down to scratch her head. The fur was moist. As I pulled my hand back, the skunk suddenly got much closer! Now, I was totally awake. Ms. Greyhound had been bullying the wrong pussy cat. It was a night to sleep inside. In fact, Marshall had a roommate for several days. I don’t know how many times I washed that hand but I do know that the bedding was tossed and Pat learned what a tomato juice bath was. When I finally made it back outside, the animals were put on notice, one more problem and off they went.

Then Demon made her contribution.

She was well into middle age by this time and there had been no pause in kitten production. Every few months she shelled out another litter. She had long since finished overpopulating Diamond and was working on surrounding communities. We were teetering on becoming known as the Cat Family of Diamond Springs.  She started hiding her kittens and became a master at subterfuge. If someone tried to follow her, she would stop and nonchalantly give herself a bath, her whole body, one lick at a time. Then she would wander off in the opposite direction.

Mother paid me in cookies to track Demon down. When the Graveyard was her destination, I had a flat tombstone I would stand on as a lookout. There was an added advantage; Demon didn’t check for people perched on tombstones. Who would? Eventually, the missing litter would be discovered. I felt like Daniel Boone.

Demon’s special home delivery took place the same summer Pat had her close encounter with the skunk. As noted earlier, my attitude about bed companions had become testy. I wasn’t above rolling over quickly to see how many I could dislodge. A really good roll would net three or four. Sleeping with me was like living on the San Andreas Fault.

I did feel guilt over routing Demon. Once again she was pregnant. I watched her balloon out. By this time, I was a veteran of the birthing process and found it interesting rather than troublesome. One night I had awakened to Pat howling, found that she was delivering puppies, and sat up with her through the process. Another time I had gone out with Tom Murphy, our grocer, and assisted in the delivery of a calf that wanted to come out the wrong way. It was messy, up to the elbow work. I really didn’t expect to be around for the arrival of Demon’s kittens. That would take place in some hidden nook. One should never make assumptions.

It started as a normal night. Roll over, kick off the animals, and go to sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. It was not a normal morning; I woke up with wet feet.

“What the heck!” I exclaimed as I sat up quickly, dislodging Pat in the process. Demon looked innocently back at me from the foot of the bed. Okay, nothing suggested why my feet were wet. Then I noticed movement. Demon was not alone. Several little black clones were lined up for breakfast. Demon had delivered her litter on the bed and my feet were awash in afterbirth.

That did it.  My bed was not a home for wayward dogs who encountered the business end of skunks and it certainly wasn’t designed as a maternity ward for unwed cats. I bought a water pistol and initiated a campaign of terror. Any four-legged critter on the bed became fair game. The cats learned quickly; getting shot with a water pistol was not their idea of a proper bath. The dogs were more resistant. Usually it took several squirts and then I would get the look: big brown eyes accusing me of dark deeds. But I was tough and my canine companions eventually vacated the premises. As soon as I fell asleep, however, the whole menagerie, fleas and all, would quietly slip back up on the bed.

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Hiring the Family Pets to Scare Away the Ghosts…

Curt Mekemson and pets

The Graveyard was just across the alley from our house. As usual, I am occupied with some of the our family pets.

 

Each summer I slept in our back yard. I would move out as soon as school was over and stay until school started, or longer if parents and weather permitted. At first I slept on the ground in a cheap cotton sleeping bag. The ground was hard, the nights cool, and the mosquitoes persistent, but these were minor drawbacks. I was free. If I had to pee, I’d climb out of bed and find the nearest bush. If I woke up thirsty, a convenient garden hose provided water. I would go to sleep watching the stars and listening to a giant bullfrog croak away in the ditch in front of our house. I would wake to cool morning air and chirping robins.

Life was good. And then it got better. The grandparents bought me a real bed— a wood framed, steel spring army cot complete with mattress.

Graveyard ghost

The thing about graveyards is that dead people are buried there. This seemingly innocent tombstone was once hidden among the heavenly trees that turned the Graveyard into a jungle. Except it wasn’t totally hidden. I could see it from our backyard at night. It was, um, ghostly.

My paradise was marred by one thing, the Graveyard. It was always there on the edge of my sight.  White tombstones glared at me. As hard as I would pretend, the cemetery and its frightful inhabitants would not go away. So, I developed an elaborate set of defenses. The simplest was to sleep facing the opposite direction or to hide under the covers, ostrich like. A more sophisticated approach was to locate the bed where I couldn’t see the Graveyard.  Our seasoned cars worked in a pinch, but they weren’t large enough. Bits and pieces of the Graveyard would creep around their sides, peek over their tops and slink under their bottoms. A trellis built by my father was much better. Its luxurious growth of honeysuckle created the perfect Graveyard screen. I set up a permanent residence behind it.

House next to graveyard

These were more tombstones I could see from our house, whose roof can be seen in the back of the photo.

But even the trellis wasn’t enough to calm my imagination. I decided to hire protection. It came in the form of various family pets. Their job was to chase the ghosts away. Payment was made by allowing them to sleep on my bed. Apparently, the scheme worked. At least no ghosts attacked me during the years I slept outside.

The downside was I didn’t have much room. Two dogs, three cats, and me on a one-person army cot constituted a menagerie, or a zoo, if you counted the fleas. It was difficult to move. At first, I was very careful not to disturb my sleeping companions. I became a circus contortionist frozen in place with body parts pointed in every direction. If this meant a restless night, so be it. It was a small price to pay for keeping the ghosts at bay.

Gradually, my attitude changed. I grew larger, the bed space shrank, and animals started sleeping on top of me. Meanwhile, the ghosts, who tend to hassle little people more than they do big people, became less a threat. Therefore, I needed less protection. Neither of these factors led to the final banning of the animal kingdom, however. It was the shameless shenanigans of Demon and Pat.

Demon, the alpha family cat, was as black as the darkest night. As such, she was appropriately named and attired for graveyard duty. In fact, she spent a good deal of her life there stalking mice, lizards, birds and anything else she could get her claws into with impunity. Captured prey would then be brought home for approval. My job was to dispose of the half-eaten carcasses. Depopulating the Graveyard was not Demon’s claim to fame, however; motherhood was. She had kittens often and everywhere. I suspect that half of the cats living in El Dorado County today can trace their lineage back to her.

Two instances of kitten production bring back vivid memories. The first took place on the living room floor. Demon was a young cat at that time and a neophyte at motherhood. Her impending delivery was quite apparent from her large belly and ceaseless exploration of clothes hampers, cupboards and other dark places.

With high hopes of avoiding a misplaced litter of kittens, Mother arranged her bedroom closet as a maternity ward. Several times each day it was my duty to show Demon her new home. I would carefully pick up the very pregnant cat, carry her to the closet, and deposit her in a box filled with well-used clothes. Demon didn’t buy the program.  It seems my bedside manner was faulty. She would climb out of the box, give me a glare, and stalk out of the bedroom.

When the joyous day finally arrived, I was home alone.  Demon was practicing her would-be mother waddle walk across the living room when she suddenly stopped, squawked and squatted. Neither she nor I was ready for what followed. After all, how prepared can a young kid and a first-time mother be for birth? In a massive surprise to both of us, a tiny black bundle of fur emerged from Demon’s undercarriage. Surging emotions paralyzed my seven-year old mind. One thought stood out, the closet! If Demon hadn’t memorized her delivery lessons, I had.

I jumped across the room, grabbed Demon by the nape of the neck, and raced for Mother’s bedroom. As fast as I ran, it wasn’t fast enough. In the middle of the kitchen the new arrival completed its journey and was heading for a crash landing. Somewhere, somehow between Demon and the floor, I caught a warm, wet ball of fur in my free hand. After that, the memory fades. I know the three of us made it to the closet. Demon accepted her new home and four more kittens followed the first, although in a less dramatic way. The population explosion was underway.

We have to fast-forward several years to Demon’s next memorable delivery. This one was outside and led to the bed-pet-ban. But first I need to relay how Pat the Greyhound set the stage. She joined our family as a stray. For weeks, Mother had watched this large, starving dog wander the countryside and survive by catching rabbits and squirrels. One day she stopped the car, opened the door and invited Pat home for a meal.

Pat the Greyhound

Pat looking regal.

“Oh, it is just until she gains a little weight,” Mother explained to one very disgruntled Pop. Later it became, “Oh, but it would break Curt’s heart if we had to give her away.” Mother was a master at manipulation. Pat, who I named after the local Greyhound bus driver, had found a home. Like all of our pets, she lived outside. It was Pop’s rule; pets were limited to daytime visitation rights only. The pregnant Demon had been an exception imposed by Mother. Since there were no leash laws, Pat was free to come and go as she pleased. Mainly she chose to hang around with her food dish in sight. For a dog that had lived out in the wild, she had impeccable manners. Thus I was surprised when she joined Demon in abusing her bed rights, but that’s a tale for next Friday’s post…

MONDAY’S POST: It’s back to the central coast of Washington where global warming makes a point

WEDNESDAY’S POST: A photographic essay on Scotland

FRIDAY’S POST: The animal kingdom is banned from my bed

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