“Do not forsake me, oh my Darlin,” on this our wedding day,” who didn’t know the first verse of that song from the radio? A massive hit from the 1952 movie “High Noon,” performed by everybody’s favorite singing cowboy, Tex Ritter.
In 1957, I was eight years old, and on some Saturday nights, I got to tag along with my father to the “Cowtown Hoedown,” a popular live country music show performed at the Majestic Theater in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. My father was the fiddle player in the house stage band, so I was somewhat musical royalty, at least for a kid.
Most of the major and minor country stars played Fort Worth and Dallas as much as they did Nashville, and I was fortunate to have seen many of them at this show. One, in particular, made a lasting impression on my young self.
I was sitting on a stool backstage before the show, talking to a few kids; who, like me, got to attend the show with their fathers.
My father came over and asked me to follow him. We walked behind the back curtain and stopped at a stage-level dressing room. There in the doorway stood a big fellow in a sequined cowboy suit and a 30 gallon Stetson. I knew who he was; that is Tex Ritter, the movie star and cowboy singer. My father introduced me, and I shook hands with Tex. I was floored, shocked, and couldn’t speak for a few minutes. What kid gets to meet a singing cowboy movie star in Fort Worth, Texas? I guess that would be me.
Tex asked my name and then told me he had a son the same age as me. We talked baseball and cowboy movies for a bit, then he handed me a one-dollar bill and asked if I would go to the concession stand and buy him a package of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. So I took the buck and took off down the service hallway to the front of the theater. I knew all the shortcuts and hidey holes from my vast exploration of the old theater during the shows.
I knew nothing of the brands and flavors, not being a gum chewer, but the words Juicy Fruit made my mouth water. Not having much money, what change I did get from selling pop bottles went to Bubble Gum Baseball Cards, not fancy chewing gums.
I purchased the pack of gum for five cents. Then, gripping the change tightly in my sweating little hand, I skedaddled back to Tex’s dressing room. He was signing autographs but stopped and thanked me for the favor. He then gave me two quarters for my services and disappeared into his dressing room for a moment. He handed me an autographed 8×10 photograph of him playing the guitar and singing to the doggies when he returned. I was in country and western music heaven. He also gave me a piece of Juicy Fruit, which I popped into my mouth and began chewing, just like Tex.
Juicy Fruit became my favorite gum, and now, whenever I see a pack or smell that distinct aroma as someone is unwrapping a piece, I remember the night I shared a chew with Tex Ritter.
I was told not to go near the railroad tracks or the bridge that went over them; Ho-bo’s lived there. My Grandmother warned me daily of the consequences, and they were all bad. Scary men, vagrants with no home and no family, they were just there, alone, living their life as best they could. I was seven years old and unafraid.
The dirt road along the tracks took me past Mrs. Ellis’s shack of a home. She didn’t live much better than the Ho-bo’s, but she had a home, a warm dry bed, chickens, and a dog, so she was poor but stable. She waved as I walked by, then as I got a few yards past, she took off to my Grandmothers farmhouse to tattle on me. I knew I was in trouble even before I got to the bridge. I considered turning back, but no, I needed to see this through.
As I got closer to the bridge, I could see there was a lone figure sitting on a bucket next to a campfire. I was puzzled because Granny always said there were dozens of those evil men under the bridge. Now, there was only one, and he appeared to be old and not much of a threat, sitting on his bucket cooking a can of something in the campfire. I approached him but with caution and a bit of fear. The Ho-bo waved me over. He was an old black man with hair as white as south Texas cotton. His clothes, mostly rags, hung on his frail frame; he resembled the scarecrow in my Papa’s garden. Next to him was a Calico cat, curled up in an old felt hat, purring and licking its paw. In the fire was a can of pork and beans cooking on a flat rock and bubbling like a witch’s brew. I sat crossed-legged on the dirt next to him.
” Does your Granny know you are here?” he asked.
” No sir, she don’t know, and I’m in a heap of trouble.” said I.
He smiled at me and said, ” It’ll all be good, your Granny knows old Bebe. I used to do odd jobs for her and your Papa and she paid me good and always fed me her heavenly biscuits and gravey. She is a wonderful lady, your Granny.” I couldn’t disagree with that, so I smiled back.
He took a worn-out spoon, heaped a large serving of beans into a dirty tin cup, and handed me the food. I was hungry. We ate our dinner together without talking. He gave the cat a spoonful of his beans. It was then that I noticed he had given me most of the can, and left little for himself. This old Ho-bo living under a bridge with hardly any food and nothing of value to his name, except maybe the Calico cat, shared with a stranger, possibly his one meal of the day. In the mind of a seven-year-old, this seemed normal.
Bebe told me a little about his life and how he came to be a Ho-bo. I shared what little of life experience I had accumulated up until now. We laughed a little, and then he said I had better head back to the farm. We shook hands; I scratched the cat and walked down the road towards a switching I knew was coming.
My Granny took my explanation well. There was no switching my butt this time and no dressing down. As I walked through the screen door headed for the barnyard, she said “sometimes the folks that have the least, share the most, remember that.” I have.
I’m a 50s kid. That means I was born in 1949 at Saint Josephs Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up in the lean and mean Eisenhower years. My hometown was different back then, as most of our hometowns are today. But, change is inevitable, and it happens at the oddest times; while we sleep or mow our lawn. Progress is sneaky.
First, it’s a few new buildings downtown, then a slick freeway cutting through quiet neighborhoods, and maybe a landmark building demolished to make way for a new hospital. Then, out of nowhere, a train full of people from the West or the East is arriving, and the pilgrims try to make it “not so Texas.” It’s a gradual thing, and most of us are too occupied or young to notice until it bites us in the rear.
My grandfather was old-school Fort Worth from the late 1800s, a cow-puncher who rode the cattle drives and sang cowboy songs to the little doggies. He loved his city to a fault. The word “Dallas” was not to be spoken in his home or his presence. Violaters usually got punched or asked to leave. The old man was a tough Texan and a supporter of Amon Carter, the larger-than-life businessman that put Fort Worth on the map and started the rivalry between the two cities.
In the 1950s, if you asked Fort Worth residents what they thought of Dallas, they would most likely tell you it’s a high-on-the-hog-East coast-wanna be-big-shot rich-bitch city. We didn’t sugarcoat it. That rivalry was always just under the surface.
In October, Dallas has the “State Fair of Texas,” and Fort Worth has the “Fat Stock Show” in February. I didn’t attend the State Fair until I was ten years old, and even then, it was in disguise, and after dark, it was to the fair and then back home, hoping no one in our neighborhood noticed we had crossed enemy lines. Unfortunately, I let my secret visit slip around my buddies, and they banned me from playing cowboys and Indians for a week. Even us kids were tough on each other.
Three things got us kids excited; Christmastime in downtown Fort Worth, Toyland at Leonard Brothers Department Store, and The Fat Stock Show. But, unfortunately for us, the rest of the year was uneventful and boring. Summer was pickup baseball games and Popeye cartoons.
60 years ago, the winters in Texas were colder and more miserable. February was the month we froze our little gimlet asses off, and of course, that is the Stock Show month. Wrapped up in our Roy Rogers flannel pajamas and all the clothes we owned, we kids made the best of it as we visited the midway, the cattle barns, and animal competitions. The rodeo was for the real cowboys, and it was too expensive; the free ticket from our grade school only went so far. We were kids and had not a penny to our name. It wasn’t the flashy affair that Dallas put on, but it was ours, and we loved it. I still have a round metal pin I got at the Stock Show, a lovely picture of Aunt Jemimah promoting her flour, something that would get me canceled, or worse today. I’ve often thought of wearing it to the grocery store to see the reaction. Maybe not.
For those of us who were born and grew up there, Fort Worth, Texas, is where the west begins, and Dallas is where the East peters out. Nothing has changed.
I was awake at 2: 45 this morning. I have learned that once my brain engages, there is no time for sleep. I get up, turn off the alarm, turn on Mr. Coffee and my laptop. I don’t bother with television news anymore, but I prefer to read news sites for my information. The coffee brews, a cup is poured, and it tastes darn good. After two cups, I forget about coffee and start making notes for a future blog post. Thirty minutes later, I decide on a third cup. Good grief, the coffee taste like swill, burned, and nasty. I learned this morning that if you leave the coffee on the burner for thirty minutes, it’s ruined, and you might as well pour it down the drain. This makes an excellent argument for using our Keurig machine, but the pods will break your grocery budget, so it stays in retirement. I am meant to suffer for coffee.
I follow many blog sites on WordPress. In turn, some follow mine. It’s an excellent trade-off. For example, this morning, I came across a blog focusing on religion, one of my favorite argument topics.
The writer, a Christian and a Catholic living in the UK, takes offense to music in church. Not so much the white-haired old lady playing the Hammond organ and a choir singing old-time religious songs, but the entire rock band on stage with a trio of singers wailing away about who knows what. He calls it “Jesus Rock.” I get it. I am a musician, and I know how music can move you. A well-played tune can energize your soul or take you to your knees in grief. But, unfortunately, the wrong kind of music can also distract your worship and send me running for the exit. I don’t need a Van Halen tribute band blowing the roof off the house of worship and the congregation holding up Bic lighters as they sway to the music. So I tend to lean more to the liturgical side of prayer. The old-style church service from “back in the day” is what I know. Damnation soothes the soul.
Sunday mornings sitting on a rock-hard pew, sweating, and fidgeting in my starched shirt and slacks while the Baptist preacher tells me I am going to Hell; now that is the real church of my youth. Although at six years old, I have no concept of Hell or why I am going there? My mother tells me to be still and then cleans my ears with a handkerchief and spit. The organist and the choir break into The Old Rugged Cross, the plate comes around and I deposit a dime. I am miserable. It is God’s wish.
Fifteen years ago I ran across an article in “Texas Monthly Magazine” touting Marfa, Texas as the next “big deal” in the art universe. The author gushed on about Donald Judd, a prolific artist based in New York City who had moved his home base and all his toys to dusty little Marfa. Up until he arrived, Marfa was known as the backdrop for the 1956 movie “Giant.” After the article hit, van loads of weirdo artists from Austin showed up and claimed the town as their own. “Keep Austin Weird” was now “Keep Marfa Weird.” The mostly Hispanic population thought the gates for Hell had opened and released its hipster demons on their quiet township
For reasons I can’t recall, I became a bit obsessed with visiting this desert town and made myself a little Marfa bubble that grew larger with the passing years. I am also an artist and figured there was something life-altering in Marfa I needed to experience. The lure of the Big Bend desert kept calling. Time marches on and I forget about Judd and his art colony until a few years ago. I figured it was time to make the trip to Marfa.
My wife and I decided that after our summer vacation in Ruidoso, New Mexico, we would drive down to Marfa and scratch one item off of my bucket list. At my age, every trip becomes a bucket list item because my shelf life could expire any day now.
Five hours of driving through the Chiuauan desert landed us in Alpine Texas and the 1950s era motor hotel “The Antelope Lodge.” Retro doesn’t begin to describe this place. Very little updating has been done since the 1950s and the stucco cabins reek of the halcyon years of family road trips in large station wagons. I believe that the Cleaver’s may have stayed here. I can imagine The Beaver and Wally sitting in the courtyard eating Moon Pies and drinking RC Cola in the 100 degrees heat.
Marfa is a short hop from Alpine so the next morning we are on the road early, planning to catch breakfast in Marfa. I’m thinking about bacon, eggs, and pancakes Texas-style while Maureen is wanting fluffy biscuits and sausage gravy. Yum Yum.
Driving into town, the scenery is not what we expected or what I had found online. Dilapidated house trailers surrounded by broken down rusted cars line the highway on both sides. Not the best greeting for visitors. My bubble just sprang a leak.
Once in town, we realize that everything is closed. The art gallery is open on Saturday only, the Hotel Paisano lobby is closed until 5 PM, the Hotel St. George lounge doesn’t open until evening, the square is deserted and the only signs of life are some foreign tourists taking selfies in front of a boarded-up hardware store. My bubble is leaking air big time.
Now officially starving, we search for food, and found “Marfa Burritos,” the only restaurant open, and calling it a restaurant is a stretch.
A burrito is $7.00 and a warm can of Coke is a buck. What the hell, it’s food. The kitchen is located inside a ramshackle frame house; peeling paint and rotted siding give it that weathered west Texas appeal.
A young man and woman are ordering their burrito from the cook. They smell like incense and the girl has more armpit hair than the guy. I figure they must be from “El Cosmico,” the transcendental hipster enclave of yurts and vintage travel trailers that everyone online is raving about.
The outside dining area needed a little attention. A feral cat was munching on a half-eaten burrito that fell from an overflowing trash bin, and ants and flies are everywhere. I’m thinking Marfa doesn’t have a health inspector.
After breakfast, we decide to visit the Prada exhibit, which the Marfa website says is located just outside of town. Some years ago, two German artists constructed a small building full of Prada handbags and shoes in the middle of the desert, and it became the main tourist attraction for Presidio County. The other attraction is the Marfa Lights; twinkling orbs that dance around in the mountains east of town. The locals claim the lights are Aliens or maybe disgruntled Indian spirits. Some of the older folks believe they are the ghost of James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizebeth Taylor, the long-departed stars of the Giant movie.
We drive for twenty-minuets and no Prada. We check Google maps and find it is another half-hour’s drive to Prada. To hell with that, so we turn around and motor back to Marfa. My fifteen-year-old bubble just popped. We decide to return to Alpine, pack our gear, and head for home. No more bubbles for me.
I have been reading the revered “Farmers Almanac” for the past 6 months, and it’s surprising how accurate and sometimes, inaccurate it can be.
The Almanac and I go back a long way. My Grandparents introduced me to the book when I was six years old and spent summers on their Texas farm trying to convert myself from a city slicker to a country boy. They were firm believers in the power of its predictions, although they were let down more than a few times.
This fine morning, as I drink a cup of java and read the pages, it tells me the summer in this part of Texas is forecast to be cooler and wetter than average. I know it to be BS the moment I read it. No summer in Texas is cooler and wetter. Every day for us is misery and suffering topped off with biting and stinging bugs. We are the land of burn-your-ass-off heat, and everything planted or growing wild turns brown and shrivels away by August; the bugs are with us until the first freeze. It was a bit wetter in July, but the temps are still around 95 plus degrees, making you feel like you are wrapped in hot-wet-towel and sitting in the devil’s sauna. Unfortunately, they missed that forecast by a few hundred miles.
There is no mention of the Corona Virus and all the hoopla that came with it. So, how did the staff at the Almanac not know about this bug?
Back when the Farmers Almanac was in its heyday, rural folks depended on it for farming, ranching, and day-to-day living. The book was also full of home remedies, potions, poultices, plants, and hocus-pocus to treat their maladies. Unfortunately, doctors were few, and most families lived their lives without seeing one. As a result, most country folks were born at home and also died there.
The Almanac takes great pride in “do it yourself” folk remedies and contains dozens of them, along with questionable ads for elixirs, oils, good luck charms, H’aint Bags, and voodoo dolls. Grandmother used them all. I knew if I became ill while at the farm, all of these would be administered. My Grandfather was strangely healthy for his age. He knew better than to get sick around his wife. If he was ill, no one knew it.
It was bound to happen. In the summer of 1956, I am spending my summer on the farm. Fever and chills arrive during the night. My temperature is off the charts, and I am shaking like a hound dog passing a peach pit. Grandmother calls in her friend down the road, Mrs. Ellis, for a second opinion. The two-country alienists stand at the foot of my death bed in deep consultation.
It is decided. I will receive the complete treatment reserved for the rare “Raccoon Flu” and possible “demonic possession.” Treatment will commence immediately.
The two women drag me from my sickbed and thrust my aching body into a cold water bath for an hour. Grandmother gives me two doses of salts, three teaspoons of “Reverand Moses Triple Strength Root Tonic,” and a double-dog dose of “Dr. Sal’s Really Good Opioid Extract.” Then my shivering torso is coated with “Sister Amy’s Pure And Blessed Olive Oil” from the banks of the river Jordan. Next, I am wrapped like a mummy in a white cotton blanket, a mustard poultice is glued to my chest, and a burlap bag of foul-smelling something is tied around my neck. They place me in bed, covering me with 6 quilts, and two speckled hens are brought in to sleep in my room overnight. Grandmother says I will be well by breakfast. At this point, I am praying for death during my sleep.
Dawn brings a cool breeze into my sickroom, and I am awakened by one of the spotted hen’s sitting on my chest. She is clucking softly as if to say, “it’s time to get up, you’re well now.” I realize the hen is right; I do feel like a new kid. No fever or chills, and I am hungry for a fat biscuit and my Grannies country gravy.
I follow the two hens down the hallway into the kitchen. Grandfather sits at the breakfast table reading the Almanac. Without looking up, he exclaims, ” going to rain today, Almanac says around noon.” The last rain the farm had was over a month ago; what does the stupid book know.
Granny tells me to take the two-spotted hens outside and feed a big handful of laying mash because the Almanac said mottled hens will have an excellent laying week. She doesn’t ask how I feel; she knows her hocus pocus worked.
I head back to the farmhouse for noon dinner after spending the morning building Horned Toad houses out of pebbles and sticks. We sit at the kitchen table, munching on fried chicken when a loud clap of thunder shakes the house. Granddad, without looking up from his plate, says, “yep.”
“We got ourselves into so much trouble that our Mothers would take shifts whooping everyone’s butt just to give the other moms spanking arm a break.” It was 1956, and that’s how it was for my neighborhood pals and me.
Summer was our best and our worst season because there was more playtime outside, increasing the opportunity to get ourselves into predicaments that never ended well. Our moms didn’t buy into that “Dr. Spock crap.” I would bet that none of the moms in my neighborhood ever heard of that weirdo. There was no negotiating out of corporal punishment, and trophies were non-existent.
My neighbor, Mr. Mister, was the neighborhood scientist and inventor; our very own Mr. Wizard. Not the dweeb on television, but a real-life mad scientist with a movie star wife.
We kids would spend our weekends sitting underneath his Mimosa tree, watching him build his oddball inventions in his garage that doubled as his laboratory. Looking back, he was more a “mad scientist” than an inventor. The only thing missing was the Frankenstein monster lumbering out of his garage.
Mrs. Mister, his Hollywood-looking wife, would keep a steady supply of cold Kool-Aid and cookies flowing. She closely resembled the movie star Jane Mansfield but could bake a cookie-like Betty Crocker. Always with a frosty martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she was the dream Mom none of us had. No butt whooping’s around the Mister household, no matter what we said or did. So we were free to be our feral selves.
Some of Mr. Misters’ inventions were downright crazy. My two favorites were his motorized and drivable charcoal griller and the half-size rocket that took Fred and Ginger, his wife’s twin poodles, into the stratosphere, returning the two. “Dog-o-nauts” small space capsule safely to earth; via an Army surplus parachute.
After the spectacular launch, which also torched the Misters’ back yard and part of their garage, Mr. Mister was paid a visit by the F.B.I. and the Air Force. Who in the world knew it was a national security violation to build and launch a solid-fuel rocket from your backyard?
That incident caused Mrs. Mister to suffer a minor breakdown, so no more using the pooches.
As in most neighborhoods, there are disagreements with other groups of kids. A gang of mean and nasty punks lived across the railroad tracks from us. They were older, bigger, and made our lives miserable. We called them “The Hard Guy’s.” A few of them carried switch-blade knives that had been smuggled in from Mexico. We all attended the same elementary school and suffered their daily attacks during the school year; now, they were sneaking into our neighborhood, cutting our bicycle tires with their switchblades, egging our houses, and stealing our goodies. So we devised a plan to get even, and of course, it involved our hero and mentor, Mr. Mister.
Mr. Mister said that he had experienced a similar gang of kids growing up in East Los Angeles. So he suggested a way to retaliate using every kid’s favorite firecracker, “Cherry Bombs,” delivered by an ancient invention called the catapult. Wow! what a guy. With his help, we built a small wagon-mounted catapult in a few hours. It was a beaut. He donated a shoebox full of the little bombs for the cause.
The first Cherry Bomb we launched from the weapon went 50 ft and exploded; not enough weight. So Georgie suggested putting a Cherry Bomb inside a sidewalk biscuit, like the ones his sister and her friends make.
For the folks that didn’t grow up in the 50s, the “sidewalk biscuit” is purely a kid invention native to Texas. It’s made by putting a large glob of dough on a red-hot 250-degree sidewalk and letting the heat do the rest.
We stuffed a Cherry Bomb into a fist-size glob of dough and placed it on my front sidewalk. Within an hour, we had our weapon of mass destruction. The hot concrete produced a biscuit-bomb the size of a grapefruit with a beautiful golden crust. Georgie tried to eat one and chipped a tooth.
The test shoot was a success; the biscuit bomb flew about 100 yards and exploded as it hit the ground; perfect. We were ready for revenge. Mr. Mister beamed like a proud Father.
Word in the neighborhood was that Chucky, the leader of the “Hard Guys,” was having a backyard birthday party, and his gang of hoodlums and their families would be attending. Unfortunately, we also learned that a few of our neighborhood girls would be there, which made them traitors to the cause in our minds. We tried to warn them without revealing our battle plan, but, oh well, they will be sorry when the crap hits the fan.
At dusk, our small group of commandos, wearing our best Army surplus helmets and packs, pushed the catapult to the edge of the railroad tracks. The party was in full gear, Elvis was on the record player, parents were dancing, kids were yelling, and a clown was making balloon animals; we could smell the hamburgers cooking, reminding us that it was supper time.
Skipper, our math wiz-kid, calculated the trajectory and distance with his father’s slide rule. Georgie loaded the “Biscuit Bomb” into the catapult pouch and then pulled a can of Ronson lighter fluid from his pack and doused the weapon. Countdown from five to one, I lit the fuse and the soaked bomb and pulled the release lever.
The “Flying Burning Biscuit Bomb” sailed high and long, leaving a trail of black smoke and flames as it soared toward its target. We gasped in awe at the beauty of our weapon.
The first biscuit bomb bounced once, landed on the charcoal grill, and exploded. The adults sitting nearby were coated in charcoal-broiled hamburger patties, weenies, and biscuit chunks. A piece of hot charcoal set Chucky’s mom’s beehive hair-do on fire, and his father wasted two cold Schlitz beers dousing the flaming mess.
The second “biscuit bomb” blew up “Squiggles The Clown’s” prize table, sending balloon animals, Captian Kangeroo penny-whistles, and birthday cupcakes in all directions. It was pure pandemonium at the Chucky place.
The third bomb was a dud. We were in the process of loading a fourth when the “Hard Guys” came running towards us, followed by their fathers. We had no plan of retreat, no “plan B.” So we did what any commando would do; dropped our gear and ran like hell towards Mr. Mister’s back fence. Reaching the fence, we vaulted into the backyard and to safety.
Mr. Mister knew the attack was a bust, and he gathered us around the Mimosa tree. Mrs. Mister gave us a cold glass of Kool-Aid to calm us.
The “Hard Guys” and their fathers stood at the back fence yelling obscenities. Naturally, this didn’t go over well with Mr. Mister, so he walked to the back fence and addressed the lynch mob.
Mr. Mister didn’t sound like himself. His voice was deep and foreboding as he spoke to the group. ” Millard Mister here, Colonel, U.S. Air Force, this is my wife, Captain Jane Mister, U.S. Air Force, is there a problem here gentlemen?” The fathers jerked to attention, eyes forward. This sounded serious.
Chuckies father explained the scenario. Mr. Mister replied, ” I am aware of the operation and why it took place.” He then explained to the fathers all the havoc their sons were creating in our neighborhood. The gang of hoodlums realizing the jig was up, took off running for their homes, angry fathers right behind them. We had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Mr. Mister turned, gave us a salute, and said, “job well done men.” Three kids stood as tall as nature would allow and returned his salute.
The rest of the summer was great for us, and Mr. Mister invented the first Air-conditioned Riding Lawnmower.
I saw my first 3-D movie in 1955. My cousin Jock and I rode our balloon tire bicycles to the 7th Street Theater in Fort Worth. A ticket was $.25 cents and a coke and popcorn was another $.10 cents, we were set. The cheesy cardboard 3-D glasses were free.
After two cartoons, a message on the screen said “put on your 3-D glasses now!” Man, we were ready. The music was scary, the credits and opening scenes were even scarier. Vincent Price looked about as evil as the devil, and the wax figures looked real, ready to jump through the screen. Neither of us would admit it, but we were scared shitless.
Things started flying around the screen, then into the audience and over our heads. Floating orbs, spears and flying ghost. Old Vincent threw a fiery orb at the front row, and kids ran down the isle screaming, hitting the seats and falling, blind, still wearing their 3-D glasses. It was pandemonium. The manager stopped the film and brought up the house lights. That was it.
We rode our bicycles home still wearing our 3-D glasses and looking oh so cool.
It will happen any day now. Zillions of them will crawl from their dirt bungalows, dust off their wings, slick back their hair and proceed to make us miserable with their obnoxious song. Cicada’s are Gods way of shaking his “no-no, you’ve been bad” finger at us.
In the 1950s, it seemed the little critters were everywhere in our Fort Worth neighborhood. Cats loved to eat them, dogs like to crunch them, and us kids captured them for fun. Tie a kite string on their leg and fly them around like a model airplane, and then blow them up with a Black Cat firecracker. Such fun. Nothing was quite as freaky as an angry Cicada buzzing in your hand.
One summer evening as the family sat in our back yard, drinking ice tea and listening to the buggy orchestra, I put my pet Cicada, “Little Buzzy,” down the back of my mothers shirt. No one in the family knew she was such an accomplished acrobat.
The educated experts say the insects appear in seventeen-year cycles, then die off and reappear seventeen years later. Who are these experts, and when did they start keeping track of the bugs appearances? What if a few miss the die-off, or stay too long in their hidey hole and mess up the entire show? That may explain why we heard them every summer in the 1950s; confused Cicada’s.
I’m looking forward to sitting on my patio, a nice tumbler of Irish whiskey in my paw, and listening to the sounds of my childhood.
I wrote and published this story back in 2018. Any kid that has ever dressed up in a super hero costume can relate to my true experience. Thinking back to that time in the mid 1950s, I now realize my neighborhood buddies didn’t care if I died right there in front of them while attempting this stunt. We were all bullet-proof and somehow had nine lives. It was all about the show, as I soon found out.
Surfing Netflix and Amazon Prime a few nights ago, I was surprised how many movies feature superheroes. Sure, the two originals are there, Superman and Batman, but then there are at least a dozen others. Did I sleep through some cultural entertainment shift?
The original Superman television series premiered in 1952, and by 1953-54 every kid in my neighborhood pretended to fly while fighting for truth-justice-and the American way. The girls wanted to be Super Girls, but the boys wouldn’t allow it. Superman was a man’s man, so they had to settle for Lois Lane.
The family that possessed the largest television screen was the meeting point where the gang gathered to watch our hero. My Father purchased the largest black and white television available, 15 inches, so our den was the destination.
There he stood in his padded super suit, cape flapping in the wind, a steely look on his all-American face. What a man! Only years later did we notice the slight paunch, the double chin, and the bad teeth.
At Leonard Brothers department store in Fort Worth, you could purchase a genuine Superman cape for $4.00 or for $20.00, a kid could have the full outfit, which included a blue stretch top and tights, a red speedo, and super boots. The kids in our neighborhood couldn’t afford the suit, so they settled for whatever fabric they could find for a cape.
I was the lucky one. My Aunt Norma, a seamstress extraordinaire made me a custom-fit Superman suit. It was a beauty; dark blue stretchy top with little super muscles sewn in, blue tights with a red swimsuit, gold fabric covers to over my PF Flyer tennis shoes, and the bright red cape with the super “S.” I was in super heaven and the envy of all my pals. We immediately planned a flying demonstration, and I was the vehicle. Our home, the only two-story house on the block was the designated launch point.
After gathering in my den for our afternoon viewing of Superman, the gang rushed to our backyard, awaiting the flight. I sneaked upstairs, squeezed into my super suit, and slipped through a window onto the roof.
The usual gang of six had suddenly swelled to thirty or so kids of all ages. “How can I fly in front of strangers? What if the suit doesn’t work?” I was getting a severe case of “cold feet.”
The roof grew higher with every breath as I inched my way to the peak. Looking down to the yard, it may as well be the grand canyon. I was shaking like a wet dog, and a dribble of pee leaked down my leg. A kid in the crowd yelled, ” What’s wrong kid…chicken.” That did it. I was by-golly flying today.
I crossed myself and ran down the slope of the roof. A millisecond before launch, my Mother yells from the window, “don’t you dare do that.” It was too late. My six-year-old super legs launched me into thin air. I hear theme music, feel the air under my cape and below, my pals, a look of wonderment on their faces, cheer me on to super glory.
Instead of gaining height and accelerating to supersonic speed, I made it twenty feet or so then dropped straight down, landing in the midst of the admiring crowd. Our thick lawn saved me from certain paralysis.
My Mother was on me like a duck on a Junebug. Jerking me up by my super cape, she proceeds to whip my little butt with a flyswatter; the only weapon she could find. I was mortified; young Superman receiving a whooping from his super Mom. The crowd dispersed, leaving me sitting in the grass in my super shame.
The next morning; miraculously recovered, I am sent out to play with my pals. Walking through the back gate, I noticed a bit of my super cape hanging from under the garbage can lid. My super days are over.