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.
I wrote and published this true story in January of 2014.
My Grandfather was a farmer. His life was Seventy-five acres of cruel land in South West Texas. He would not have had it any other way.
On a scorching July afternoon in 1955, I stood next to him at a fence row along the south pasture watching anvil thunder heads form in the West, behind the Santana Mountain Peak, the namesake of his town, Santa Anna. Little rain had fallen the past few years. The stock tanks were dry, animals were suffering, crops almost dead and the soul of the town was faltering. The prayers on Sunday were plentiful and to the point: please bring rain.
At the domino parlor, there was talk of bringing in a rainmaker, but the town had little money for such a wild idea. The town folk felt as though the good Lord wasn’t listening. A miracle was needed, even if it was a small one.
We had been standing at that fence row for a good hour, Grandfather not flinching or diverting his eyes from those clouds. I wanted to see what he was seeing, but I couldn’t. He seemed to be taunting those thunderheads to come over that mountain, staring them down, challenging those clouds to bring what they had to his farm. Looking away from the clouds for a moment, I looked at his weathered face. Just like his land, deep furrows everywhere. It’s as if each wrinkle was his reminder of a furrow that hadn’t produced a crop. He was only sixty, but his face looked decades older. He glanced down and caught me staring. Embarrassed, I asked the first thing that came to mind “Grandfather, why are you a farmer?” Still staring at the clouds he cleared his throat and said “I’ve always been a farmer boy, It’s all I ever knowed. One night, when I was about your age, the good Lord sent a tiny angel to my bed. She lit on the quilt and said Jasper, you’re going to be a farmer, and you will grow food to feed the children and the beast. This will be your life. How can you argue with the Lord boy? So, here I am.” Up until then, we had never had a real conversation, and I liked the kindness in his voice. I wanted to know this man that had been so elusive and indifferent to me. “Does the good Lord always tell people what they will do?” I asked.“It’s what I here’d” he replied. Now you best go tell Granny to get the cellar ready, it’s going to come up a cloud tonight.” And with that, our first visit was over. I came round the barn and saw Granny carrying an armful of quilts and pillows to the storm cellar. She already knew a storm was coming. She always knew. Grandfather missed supper, unwilling to leave that fence row, afraid that if he did, those thunderheads would retreat. They didn’t. The first crack of thunder shook the walls and sent me and Granny running for the storm cellar. Grandfather wouldn’t come with us. He stood at that fence row until the hail stones pounded the cellar door. Only then, did he come down, wet and bleeding from the cuts on his scalp. Granny fussed over him for a few minutes and then he laid down on a cot and fell asleep. We passed the night in that damp cellar. Granny, sitting, reading her Bible by the light of an oil lantern, Grandfather, snoring, and me slumbering between fitful dreams of thunder and lightning. The storm did what it was sent to do.
At dawn, we came out to a sea of water. The fields, flooded, reflected the sunrise like a new jewel. The farm animals rejoiced in unison. Grandfather checked the rain gauge on the fence, seven inches” he yelled. Granny cried into her cupped hands, and “I can’t remember why, but I cried with her. Around lunch time, we loaded into the old Ford and drove into town. People lined the sidewalks. Women hugged each other, old farmers patted one another on the back, dogs barked and children laughed. The town had regained its spirit and hope overnight. The Biscuit Café was alive, as was the domino parlor and the feed store. Everywhere the people of Santa Anna rejoiced and gave open thanks for this small miracle. At the Biscuit Café, Grandfather treated us to a nice lunch of fried chicken. Pastor Bobby and his wife came in, and standing in the middle of the café, offered up a prayer of thanks for the rain. Grandfather, not a church going man, bowed his head and gave a hearty “amen” along with the rest of the patrons.
As we made our way back to the old Ford, Granny’s old friend Miss Ellis came up to Grandfather, hugged him tight and in a weepy voice said “it’s a miracle Jasper, God gave us a miracle.” He politely endured her hug for a minute, then we moved on towards home. That seven inch rain didn’t end the drought for Santa Anna, but it gave the farms enough relief for the crops to stand tall again and the stock to survive that summer and fall. Grandfather became a church going man, never missing a Sunday, and his farm produced the best crop in years. Fifty-eight years later, my wife and I took a day trip back to Santa Anna. I was curious if the town had grown and prospered. It hadn’t. The Biscuit Café, the feed store, the domino parlor and most of the other shops I remembered, gone. The old church still stood, showing its age, but still holding its head high. We drove out to the old farm. The house, the barn and the smokehouse, all gone, lost to a fire. The only thing left was the windmill and the cellar. The fields were taken by scrub brush and weeds. Not a furrow survived. I stood at that old fence line, and looked west to the Santana Mountain. Just like that day in 1955, thunder heads were building behind the peak. It was going to come up a cloud. I never forgot that conversation with my Grandfather that day, and sadly, I never got to know him better before he passed a few years later. I have always believed that the power of prayer can produce miracles, and on that day, standing at that fence line, Grandfather and the Lord struck up a deal. The town got their small miracle, and Grandfather got religion.
“Fun With Dick and Jane” was okay for starters and sissies, but I and my buddies craved the real Avant-garde children’s books like the one above. We didn’t own an Indian tent, a pedal car, or a Cocker Spaniel. We had BB guns, sharp knives, and German Shepherds, so our reading material was a bit more on the street smart side.
The neighborhood gang, around the 5th grade, discovered Mickey Spillane and True Crime while looking through our Daddy’s sock drawer; which, in turn, had an adverse effect on a few of the boys during their teenage years. Booger and Georgie wound up at the “Dope Farm” and Billy Roy did time for robbery of a Dime Store with a Mattel Fanner 50 cap gun. Being a child in the 1950s was a hell of a lot more fun than now.
A personal recount of my childhood Christmas memories.
Riding a ceiling-mounted “Rocket Train” to nowhere around the basement of a department store doesn’t seem like a Christmas thing, but that’s what thousands of other Texas kids and I did every year in the 1950s.
Leonard Brothers Department Store occupied two square blocks of downtown Fort Worth real estate and was known as the Southwest’s Macy’s. They offered everything the big shot stores in the East carried, and then, hundreds of items no retailer in their right mind would consider.
If you had a mind to, one could purchase a full-length mink coat with optional mink mittens, the latest women’s high-fashion clothing line from Paris France, an Italian cut-crystal vile of Elizabeth Taylors spit, James Dean’s signature hair tonic, Rock Hudson’s autographed wedding photos, a housebroken Llama, an aluminum fishing boat and motor, a new car, a pole barn, a nice two-story craftsman home “build it yourself kit” delivered to your lot, chickens, barb wire, hay, horses and cows, a 30-30 Winchester rifle, a 40 caliber autographed General George Custer Colt pistol, a bottle of good hootch and a Ford tractor. That’s about as Texas as it gets.
The Christmas season in downtown Fort Worth was internationally recognized for its innovative and wonderous decorations. The righteous city fathers figured the best way to out-do Dallas, a full-time effort, was to line every building with white lights from top to bottom and install large glowing decorations on every lamp pole, street light, and building façade available. If that didn’t make you “ooooh and ahhhh,” then you needed to go home and hide in a closet.
A week, or so, after Thanksgiving, my parents would take my sister and me downtown to see the decorations and visit the Leonard Brothers Department Store. Santa just happened to be in their basement taking advanced verbal orders from every crumb cruncher that could climb the stairs and plop on his lap.
My sister, in between screams and crying fits, always asked for the latest doll. She was scared senseless of “HO-HO,” but she somehow managed to spit out her order. Like clockwork, every year, I asked for a Daisy BB Gun with a year’s supply of stainless silver ammo ( for killing werewolves), a full-size Elliot Ness operable Thompson Sub Machine Gun, or an Army surplus Bazooka with real rockets and a long, razor-sharp Bowie knife encased in a fringed leather holster. It was a 1950s boy thing; weapons were what we longed for. How else could we defeat Santa Anna at the Alamo or win World War II, again? Our neighborhood may have sported the best-supplied “kid army” on the planet, and jolly old Santa was our secret arms dealer; parents non-the wiser. I finally got the BB Gun, but Santy was wise enough to not bring the other request.
Walking down the stairs to the store’s basement was the thrill I waited for all year. There, hanging above my head, was the beautiful red and silver tinseled sign, “Toy Land,” kid nirvana, and the Holy Grail all in one room. The smell of burned popcorn and stale chocolate candy wafted up the stairs, and I could hear the cheesy Christmas choir music and the sound the Rocket Train made as it glided along the ceiling-mounted rails. I almost pissed my jeans.
Hundreds, if not thousands of parents jostled down isles of toys, pushing, grabbing, snarling like a pack of wild dogs fighting for that last toy; the holiday spirit and common courtesy was alive and well. The queue of kids for the Rocket Train snaked through the basement like a soup line.
There, sitting on his mini-mountain top perch, sat old red-suited Santa Claus and his elfin apprentices, herding kids to his lap at break-neck speed. Each child got about fifteen-seconds, a black and white photograph, and then it was off the lap and down the steps. Kids were fast in those days; we memorized and practiced our list weeks before our visit for maximum impact. “Ho-Ho” had better be writing this stuff down. Kids don’t forget, squat.
Two Santa visits, four Rocket Train rides, and three popcorn bags later, our family unit departed Leonard’s for the new and improved “Leonard’s Christmas Tree Land,” located across the street from the main building. Thanks to the demolition of several winos infested abandoned buildings, the new lot was now the size of Rhode Island and held enough trees for every person and their dog in Texas.
Thousands, if not millions of fresh-cut trees awaited our choosing. Father, always the cheapskate, chose a sensible tree; not too big, not too small, yet full and fluffy with a lovely piney aroma. My sister and I pointed and danced like fools for the “pink flocked” tree in the tent, that cost the equivalent of a week’s salary. My parents enjoyed our cute antics. The sensible tree was secured to the top of our Nash Rambler station wagon, and we are homeward bound.
Pulling into our driveway, it was impossible to miss our neighbors extravagant holiday display. We had been away from home for 6 hours and returned to a full-blown holiday extravaganza that made our modest home look like a tobacco road share-croppers shack.
Our next-door neighbors, Mr. Mister and Mrs. Mister were the neighborhood gossip fodder. The couple moved from Southern California for his job. He, an aircraft-design engineer, and she, a former gopher girl at Paramount Studios. The Misters reeked new-found money and didn’t mind flaunting it. They drove tiny Italian sports cars and hired a guy to mow their lawn. His wife, Mrs. Mister, always had a Pall Mall ciggie in one hand and a frosty cocktail in the other. Father said she looked like a pretty Hollywood lady named Jane Mansfield, but Mother said she resembled a “gimlet-assed dime-store chippy.” I got the impression that the Misters were quite popular in the neighborhood.
Their Christmas display was pure Cecil B. DeMille. A life-size plywood sleigh, with Santa and his reindeer, covered the Mister’s roof, and 20 or more automated Elves and various holiday characters greeted passersby. Twinkling lights covered every bush and plant in the yard, and a large machine spat out thousands of bubbles that floated through the neighborhood. This was far more than Fort Worth was ready for.
The kill-shot was their enormous picture window that showcased a ceiling-high blue flocked tree bathed in color-changing lights. There, framed in the glow of their yuletide decor, sat Mr. and Mrs. Mister with their two poodles, Fred and Ginger, perched on their expensive modern sofa, sipping vermouth martinis like Hollywood royalty. This display of pompacious decadence didn’t go unnoticed by my parents.
Father hauled our puny tree into the living room and began unpacking lights for the decorating that would happen tomorrow evening. Mother hurried my sister and me off to bed. Visions of spying Elves, sugar plum pudding, and dangerous weapons danced in my head; Christmas was upon us.
Sometime after 10 PM, Father got hungry. Searching for sandwich fixings in the kitchen, he found a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Then he found a fresh half gallon of Egg-Nog, which of course, he enjoyed with the bourbon. While searching for bread to make the ham sandwich, he found two “Lux Laundry Soap Flake” boxes, with a dish-towel in each one. Then by chance, he discovered the food coloring. This gave him an idea for our sad little tree.
I awoke in a start. The sun was shining in my face, which meant I was late for school. I ran into the living room and was stopped in my tracks.
Our formally green tree was now flocked in thick pink snow, as were the curtains, the fireplace mantel, two chairs, the coffee table, and my father, who lay on the couch, passed out, with a half-eaten ham sandwich on his chest. My Mother sat a few feet away, sipping her coffee and smoking a Winston; my Louisville slugger lay on her lap. I was reluctant to approach her, but I had to know.
I timidly put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Mom, is Dad going to be alright?” She took a sip of coffee and a drag from her ciggie and said, “well, for right now, he will be, but after he wakes up, who knows.”
This will be my 5th installment of childhood feel-good memories to take your mind off the present situation that greets us every morning. It always starts with the “we are all in this together ” the horror movie called “The Evil Bug From the Continent We can’t Name Because It Will Offend Someone And Make Them Cry Or Tear Down A Statue and God Help Us If That Misunderstood Sock Cap Wearing, Birkenstock stepping, Back Pack Toting, Green Haired, Pierced Eyebrow Unemployed Young Person Is Squished.” It’s a long title, but you get the message.
Childhood memories are like teeth, we all have them, good ones, and rotten ones. If you grew up in Texas in the 1950s, you will identify with some of mine, or maybe not.
I was nine-years-old before I dined in a Mexican restaurant. I knew they existed because my father and mother enjoyed them, bringing home little mints and matchbooks touting the restaurant’s name. I got the mints, my parents put the match books in a jar in the kitchen. I dreamed that one day, I might visit one.
In Texas, Mexican food is part of life. It’s one of the major food groups, and a boy cannot grow into a man of substance without it. Looking back, not having real Mexican food at that young age affected my evolution into a healthy young specimen. I harbored a nervous tick, I stuttered at times, and one leg was shorter than the other. All those maladies were cured, once I ate the real-stuff. The medicinal qualities of Mexican food is amazing.
I had for many years, eaten tacos at my cousin’s house and believed those to be authentic Mexican food. Sadly they were nowhere near the real deal. A few times over the summer, my cousin Jok’s mother, Berel, would cook tacos and invite the families for a feast. Cold Beer and Tacos. Pure Texas.
Berel would stand at her massive gas range, a large pot of ground beef, and a cauldron of boiling grease heating up the room to cooking temperature. She would drop that Taco in the witches cauldron, pull it out and toss it to the pack of wild African dogs sitting around her breakfast table. The dogs, of course, were my cousins and me. My poor mother would leave the room. She could not bear to see her son eat like a feral child: growling, biting, snarling as we consumed the tacos like they were a cooked Wildebeest. That is what I considered to be Mexican food and proper behavior when consuming it.
If you drove northwest of downtown Fort Worth on Jacksboro Highway, right before you come to the honkey tonks, you would find “Trashy Juanita’s” Mexican restaurant. Legendary for its Taco’s, frijoles, and cold Jax Beer. It was also legendary for other things that my father would not mention until I was older. Gambling, shooting dice, and in general questionable behavior was part of the after-hours entertainment. It wasn’t on Jacksboro Highway for the view.
Juanita Batista Carlita Rosanna Danna Esposito, the owner, was not a trashy woman, but a middle-aged Latin beauty with a bawdy laugh and sharp wit. It was the restaurant’s front yard adornments that earned the name. Offended at first, she finally accepted her crown and wore it proudly.
Two old rust-eaten pick-up trucks, one painted blue, and the other yellow sat abandoned in the front yard behind a cyclone fence. Pots of flowers decorated the fenders while the beds were overflowing with vines and small flowering trees. Fifty or more chickens strutted and pecked around the yard, giving the place a barnyard atmosphere. Some saw a work of art, while others called it a junkyard that happened to serve great food. In an interview in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Juanita claimed to be related to General Santa Anna, Pancho Villa, and the Cisco Kid, making her royalty in Mexico. The people of Fort Worth loved her, and she was considered a local character.
Trashy Juanita’s was my first introduction to real Mexican food, and all that comes with it.
My father sold a fiddle to a buddy, and with the profit, he took the whole fam-damly to dine at Trashy Juanita’s on the Fourth of July, 1958.
Juanita had gone “whole hog” on this holiday. American flags hung from the front porch and draped the cyclone fence. Two small children sat in the front yard shooting bottle rockets at the cars driving on Jacksboro Highway, and the chickens were wrapped in red-white-and-blue crepe paper streamers. Very patriotic, and also very redneck Texas.
A jovial Juanita escorted us to a large table next to the kitchen doorway. A waiter delivered tortillas, salsa and two Jax beers for my father and grandfather. Large, frosty glasses of sweet iced tea for the rest of us. There was no menu; it was Tacos or nothing at all.
The unfamiliar aroma of exotic food floated on a misty cloud from the kitchen, filling my young nostrils and activating my juvenile saliva glands, causing a torrent of spit to drip from my mouth onto the front of my new sear-sucker shirt. My mother cleaned me up and wrapped a napkin around my neck. I was ready; I had my eating clothes on. We decided that the family would dine on a medley of beef and chicken Tacos, frijoles and rice, and guacamole ala Juanita. The waiter rushed our order to the kitchen.
The evening was turning out great. My father was telling jokes, the Jax beer was flowing, and then a waiter walked past our table into the kitchen. Under each arm, was one of the patriotically wrapped chickens from the front yard. My grandfather must have forgotten that there were two young children at the table and remarked, ” there goes our Tacos, can’t get any fresher than that.”
His remark went unnoticed until I chimed in, asking my father, ” Dad, or we going to eat the pet chickens from the front yard?” He didn’t offer an answer. I got a big lump in my throat, and my eyes got misty. My sister whimpered and cried like a baby, and my grandmother, seeing her grandchildren in such distress, shed tears in support. Mother gave the two adult men the worst evil eye ever. The mood at the table went from happy to crappy in a minute or less. So much for a joyous family celebration. We might as well be eating Old Yeller for supper.
There was a ruckus in the kitchen, yelling, pots and pans clashing, and the two chickens, still wearing their streamers half-flew and half-ran through the dining room, and out the front door. The cook was right behind them but tripped over a man’s foot, knocking himself out as he hit the floor.
Juanita, standing in the middle of the dining room, announced that there would only be beef Tacos tonight. The two doomed birds had escaped the pan, and my sister and I were happy again. My father breathed a sigh of relief that the night was saved, and my grandfather bent down and polished the new scuff on his size 12 wingtip.
There is a school system on the East coast that is changing its grading system so every student can “feel better” about themselves. This smells suspicious, and is likely extracted from the same rotten bag of education as “everyone gets a trophy.” Every letter grade is now lowered by five points, promoting a grade of “C” to a “B” and so on. Who benefits from this PC madness?
From personal experience, I can tell you that bringing home a low grade on your report card does have negative consequences. The younger you are, the fewer repercussions from your Mother since you are still her baby. As you age, the fear factor increases.
There is nothing that scares a kid more than bringing home the dreaded “F” or even the slightly better “D.”
You slow walk your way home, looking for every excuse to prolong the firestorm that the small piece of cardboard is going to create. You’re begging God to intervene and miraculously change that red “F” to an acceptable, blue “B.” Nothing changes, and you accept your fate. God is likely a teacher on the side.
With a cheesy fake smile on my face, I hand the report card to my mother, hoping for leniency.
Everything is fine until she sees that miserable sixth letter of the alphabet. Her happy smile fades, and she paralyzes me with that squinty-eyed mom stare.
My young life flashes before my eyes; I’m a goner. In desperation, I blame everything except my own stupidity. I fall to my knees, squeezing out fake tears, begging for forgiveness. She has none of it. The mom court is adjourned. I await my sentence.
Short of being sent to the “orphans home,” my mother’s go-to threat, I guess I get off good. No cartoons for two-weeks, no playing outside for a week, no Hostess cupcakes or Saturday baseball for a month, which is alright, its winter.
My next report card was better; no bad grades. My fear of personal failure and my parents were a determining force in my education. Everyone wants to make good grades, and many students struggle to meet those expectations. If that bar is lowered, then the students that excel will be punished, and the students that strive to excel will take it for granted.
Kids are an intelligent species. They know far more about human interaction and theatrical interpretation than their parents suspect. I can’t put a date on when this anomaly was discovered, but people with fancy degrees first noticed this behavior in the early 1950s. My neighborhood may have been ground zero for their study.
As a bunch, the kids in my neighborhood were healthy. We ate mouthfuls of dirt, sucked on pebbles, and ingested every foodstuff imaginable without washing our hands. This was perfectly acceptable to our mothers. Our young immune system was that of a caveman: we laughed at germs.
The only malady that affected us, kids, as a species, was the Monday morning tummy-throat-aching body-virus. This malady usually broke-out in early October, after a month of school and a thirty-day incubation period. It spread like wildfire through our four-block coterie, mostly affecting boys, but the girls were losing their immunity at an alarming rate.
On the second Monday in October, most of our first-grade class was infected. The symptoms were: headache, stomach ache, sore throat, and body aches. When our mothers asked how we felt, we would point at the affected area and groan, eliciting additional sympathy.
The first morning was the worst, then by noon we recovered enough to watch cartoons and eat some ice-cream, then after supper, the symptoms worsened, and mom made the call for us to stay home another day. Sleeping in was mandatory, and if we were recovered by lunchtime, we could go outside for some fresh air. This bug was known to not last more than 36 hours, tops.
Six-year-olds can’t grasp the enormity of a situation the way their parents can. As a group, we were unaware that our symptoms matched those of the dreaded Polio Virus. Our kindly school nurse, fearing the worse, calls the health department for back-up.
Two blocks away at George C. Clark Elementry, our diligent principal cancels all classes and has the entire building sanitized by a nuclear cleanup team from Carswell Air Force Base. The newspapers are on this like white on rice.
Lounging in bed eating Jell-O, and watching cartoons, my cohorts and I am unaware of our neighborhood pandemic.
Tuesday, mid-morning, a contingent of doctors and nurses from the health department, arrive to access the outbreak. They plan to visit every affected home and test every sick child. Large syringes and footlong throat swab are required.
Skipper, my stalwart best buddy, was the first to break. With two syringes sucking blood from his boney little kid arms, he sobbed and said he was faking it. Roger Glen ran screaming from his house when he saw the size of the needles, and Annie gave a signed confession. The pandemic was over.
Most of us couldn’t comfortably sit for a few days, but we were all healthy until the next school year. That’s when the Chinese Bird, Cat, and Rat Flu got us.
If you were a kid in the 1950s, then you knew who Captain Kangeroo and his sidekick Mr. Greenjeans were. Their television show was broadcast five days a week in glorious black and white and viewed by millions of kids on tiny television screens. ” Don’t sit too close to that TV, you’ll go blind.” That was the stern warning from every mother, and here we are today, all wearing glasses, or blind. How did you expect us to see the Captain and Greenjeans on an 8-inch screen?
The burning question we all had was, did Mr. Greenjeans wear “green jeans?” We were kids, with no color sets, it made us crazy. Was this man green?
A few months ago, I was taking a short -cut through a Fort Worth neighborhood to avoid road construction and noticed a weirdly dressed man using a hand pump sprayer to paint his yard a deep shade of kelly green. I stopped and watched as he worked his way from the curb to the house. Long even strokes, coating the brown grass to imitate spring’s favorite color. It was then I noticed his house was green, the cars in the driveway were green, his clothes and skin were green, and a small dog sitting on the porch was also green. What the hell? The man saw me staring and motioned me over.
I parked my car and walked up to the fellow, feeling a bit foolish for interrupting the work of a stranger. I introduced myself and complimented him on his handy work. He thanked me and extended his hand to shake and said, “names Levi, Levi Greenjeans, nice to meet you.”
” That’s an unusual name, sir. The only time I’ve heard that last name was on Captian Kangaroo, and that was sixty years ago,” I said.
The green fellow laughed and say’s, ” that’s the family name. Mr. Greenjeans was my pop. My sister and I grew up in a green world, so this is pretty natural for us. Dad’s been fertilizer for a good many years now, so it’s up to me to carry on the family brand.” I agreed, he looked pretty good for an old green guy.
I didn’t want to pry or be too forward, but I asked, ” Sir, what might the family brand be?”
“Call me Levi,” he said. ” You know that song ” The Jolly Green Giant?, I wrote it and collect mucho royalties. That Tom Jones song about green-green grass of home wrote that one too. The Green Giant food brand, that’s mine, also, copyright infringement made them pay up. Home Depot has a Greenjeans color named after Dad, I get change from that and a shiny penny from Youtube for the Captain Kangaroo videos.” This dude has turned green into green cash.
I am impressed and honored to be in the presence of one of the famous Greenjeans family, but now is the chance to get the answers to my childhood questions. I am afraid of coming off like a six-year-old Duffus, but I asked, ” did your dad wear green jeans and did he have a green face, and was the captain a nice man, and why did he have a big mustache, and did your dad really have a farm? There, I spat it out, and I am an idiot.
Levi chuckled and said, ” dad wore green jeans, and his face was green from stage makeup. The captain, bless his dead heart, was not too friendly. He wore a mustache because, on the first live show, a little kid threw a Coke bottle at him and split his lip, the stash hid the scar, and that’s why he disliked kids. He carried a small cattle prod under his sleeve, and if the kids got to close, he would shock them. Pretty funny stuff to see them jump. And the final answer is yes, dad had a farm and grew veggies and raised prize-winning Llamas. Recently, my sister Denim planted forty acres of butt-kicking pot that we will sell in our “Mr. Greenjeans Apothacary Co-op in Denver.”
I thanked Levi for his kindness and started to leave when he stopped me. Extracting a green sharpie from his pocket, he signed his name on the front of my white Eddie Bauer Polo shirt. ” hang on to that shirt brother, it’ll be worth some cash one day.”