“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.
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.”
I was young, barely talking, so I couldn’t say Trigger. It came out as twigger. The other little buckaroos in the neighborhood mocked my speech impediment. I was three years old, so what. I rode the wilds of Sycamore Park, ducking under low branches, hearing Indians in the trees, and Buffalo calling. I rode the banks of the swollen creek, watching turtles feed on the carcass of a carp. I was in my intended element, a cowboy. Then the owner of the Little Pony Picture Service lifted me off and put the pony in the trailer. Bummer.
Before Christmas day arrived, I had intended to publish a few short stories about my family and how we spent our holidays when I was a child. For once, real accounts of a typical 1950s family Christmas. One thing led to another, and my time was stolen for numerous menial task, and not a word was written, so I will post them next season, and write them early, maybe July, when there is no seasonal sentiment or Jim Beam involved.
Television commercials during December are calculated and crafted to tug on your heartstrings. Smart producers pull out the stops to turn every add into a Hallmark mini-movie. Dogs and kids are the ones that get me; save Chewie Dog from the shelter, Dogs visiting kids in the hospital, let Uncle Stan and his dog Ringo come to Christmas dinner even though he is a junkie felon. The Peloton “bike to nowhere” is especially irritating. The young wife, clearly fit and healthy receives a Peloton stationary workout machine from her husband on Christmas morning. Hubby is insinuating that she is too fat so he drops $2500 as a hint. The skinny wife will spend the next year video documenting her stationary “trip down hell street” with everyone on Peloton. She loses thirty pounds while riding fifty-thousand miles in her living room. How inspiring is that for young girls? A few weeks later, in her next commercial, she is guzzling Vodka like a Russian soldier while her two girlfriends ask, ” don’t you need to go home and ride your Peleton?”
The adds that send me over the top are the car and truck commercials. Beautiful young wives in designer snowsuits giving their husbands a pickup truck that costs as much as a South Padre condo. Then you have the hunky young husband surprising his lovely wife with an ultra-expensive exotic SUV parked in the driveway of their multi-million dollar home, and yes, everything is covered in snow, and the mansion is in the mountains. Who are these people? Do they exist? Well, they do in the minds of the Mad Men that manufacture this fantasy.
What they don’t show us, and for a good reason, is the receiving spouse chasing the other through the house, screaming and cursing, wielding a 12-inch carving knife, because now, they have additional crippling debt that neither can afford because they are paying off college loans, living above their means, and one of them is unemployed. That’s real-life folks. I have a friend that pulled this stunt a few years back, and even though his wife feigned surprise, she didn’t care much for the car because it wasn’t a Lexus. Art does not imitate life.
The final assault on healthy parenting and the Christmas spirit, is the “everyone gets a trophy” and the “helicopter” parenting commercials. One popular vignette shows an average looking spousal pair wrapping a roomful of “Frozen” toys for their little princess. In a moment of illumination, the little princes burst into the room to announce, ” I want to be a movie producer!” That’s it, folks, to the trash go the other gifts, and they come home from Walmart with movie cameras, computers, screen editing software, and a trophy. All for a girl of seven years old. Parents thirty years ago would have said, “you’ll get what Santa brings you and like it” and then given the kid a butt busting just for being an insulant brat. You have to hand it to Walmart, they now go after those parents with money, good credit, and no backbone, because they realize the kids run the show. Where is Doctor Phil and Doctor Laura? Someone on TV needs to address this syndrome.
That’s my take on what Christmas. My wife thinks I’m a Grinch, and I may be a bit of one, but not by choice. Many like myself remember the innocence and sacredness of the holiday, and wish, against all the odds, that one day that feeling might return. I have to sign off now, the Hallmark channel is running a Pat Boone Christmas Special marathon and my smores are ready.
It takes guts to admit to a phobia. I have more than one, but this one will do for now. I cant stand to touch plastic ware, mainly Tupperware or any brand that resembles that sturdy piece of American culture from the 1950s.
My mother, rest her soul and bless her heart, was a Tupperware lady. She hosted numerous parties in our home and the homes of her friends during those years.
It wasn’t until years later I learned the truth about these parties. They were a front for gossip and cocktails. In her old age, she admitted that it was a sham and the girls used it as a front to get away from us kids and husbands for a few hours. It was the perfect set-up. She made a small amount of money, had some good hi-balls and caught up on the neighborhood gossip. They were the forerunner to ” girls night out” which premiered in the 90s.
Our kitchen was stuffed to the point of bursting with the plastic-ware. It filled every drawer and cabinet and was neatly stacked to the ceiling on top of the ice-box. We ate on paper plates and drank from aluminum glasses. There was no room for real dishes or glassware; It was all Tupperware, everywhere. The ice-box was neatly arranged with meals sealed in Tupperware. We didn’t call them “leftovers” in our home, they were referred to as “future pre-prepared dinners.” I know for a fact that some of those dinners were on-call for a year or more. That’s the beauty of Tupperware, the food, if sealed properly per the manufacturers’ instructions, will last for years.
Now the explanation of the phobia. It’s complex and involves many layers of childhood anxiety. My therapist said it started with an incident when I was five years old. I don’t remember what I did, but it was severe enough for a butt whooping from my mother. While trying to escape, she grabbed one arm, a classic move that only mothers use, and wielded the nearest object she could find, which was an 8×10 Tupperware storage container. I had no idea plastic ware could hurt so damn much. The impression of the insignia on the bottom of the container lingered on my butt for days. Of course, I showed it to all my buddies and they were quite impressed and worried because their mothers owned the same Tupperware containers.
After that incident, I couldn’t bring myself to touch plastic ware in any form. That in its self brought more punishment because when helping with the dishes, I would retreat from the kitchen sink when a dirty piece of Tupperware was to be washed. There was nothing that could make me touch that vile object. That plastic dish scared me as much as the monster under my bed. My father realized that his only son was becoming a child neurotic, and stepped in to help my mother with the dishes, thus allowing me to enjoy a somewhat normal childhood.
Not much has changed in 65 years. I can be in the same room with Tupperware and have a few times, in the throes of hunger, removed food stuffs from the plastic demon to stay alive. My wife loves Tupperware. She has a comfortable assortment of useful containers that when soiled, she puts them in the dishwasher. That is another layer of my anxiety. I cannot take them from the rack. I use a dish towel to grab the cursed piece and then lay it on the counter for her to put away. I don’t care to know where she hides this stuff as long as I don’t come into contact with it.
My therapist is a cheeky fellow. He told me that being spanked with a Tupperware dish and all the problems it caused me could have been worse. My mother could have grabbed a PYREX dish.
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