Buttermilk

I need some buttermilk. I was sitting here at the desk, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, the word “Buttermilk” started flashing through my brain. I love buttermilk, but now that I think of it, it’s probably been a couple of years since I’ve had a glass of that wonderful, tangy stuff. It’s just not something that you think about that often. You can’t use it on cereal or anything else much, so nobody keeps it in the fridge. However, though you may not believe it, I actually have a buttermilk story.

 

One summer evening, Johnny Luding and I had gone out to Bill and Charlene Skaer’s farm. They had two saddle horses that were getting barn sour and ornery and needed to be ridden. Their daughter, Dolores, our classmate, had gone away to college, and their son, Stanley, was still a student at Augusta High and as a result, the horses weren’t being ridden and were getting fat and sassy. Bill told us we could come out and ride whenever we wished.

 

Our first ride was on a Sunday morning. There had been an early morning shower, and the barnyard was muddy. John saddled up and climbed aboard and was just sitting there watching me. I saddled up and got aboard and thought I was ready to ride. All of a sudden, I felt that horse’s muscles bunch up and he started to pitch. I got myself ready for a wild ride, but, thanks to the mud, his hooves slipped and he started to go down. He caught himself and regained his balance. By this time, he was both mad and frustrated. He wanted to buck, but the slippery mud wouldn’t let him. He was so snorting mad he started making little stiff-legged jumps all around the barnyard. It must have looked funny because Johnny was laughing so hard he was about to bust a gut. The horse and I both survived that one with no damage.

 

Anyhow, let’s get back to the Saturday evening we were talking about earlier. John and I had a good ride and cleaned up the horses and put them away. We decided to head for town and get a hamburger. As we headed for the car, we ran into Randy, Bill’s farm hand. Randy was 21 and a drifter, staying for a few weeks at one farm before moving to the next. Bill said he was a hard worker, and John and I got along with him. Randy had finished his day and was cleaned up, and we invited him to go with us. We went to the Seventh Avenue Café and were looking forward to one of their good hamburgers. When the waitress came, we all ordered hamburgers, and Randy ordered a glass of buttermilk. John and I liked the stuff, so we ordered the same. The waitress returned with the three glasses, and our eyes were immediately drawn to Randy. His conduct was almost ritualistic. He started by very carefully sprinkling salt on the surface of the buttermilk. Then, he took his spoon and carefully stirred in the salt. Five times clockwise and then five turns counter-clockwise. Then, he held the spoon vertically in front of his mouth. He extended his tongue and gave one lick to the inside of the spoon. Then he rotated the spoon and gave one lick to the outside. Next, he rotated the handle and licked it where it joined the ladle. It was all done very precisely and you could see that he wasn’t going to waste a drop. I looked at John who was rolling his eyes, and I said, “Boy, Randy, you must really like your buttermilk.” Randy then explained to us that when he was growing up on the farm, his mother would go to the well-house and get ice-cold buttermilk for the whole family. It was a special treat and just thinking of it always made him feel good because it’s part of a memory of his mom and his family. That explained it well enough for us. I could really use a glass right now myself.

Dave Thomas

11/19/2020

Jeff’s Story

Our grandson, Jeff Thomas, who did a couple of hitches in the Coast Guard posted a story on Facebook this Veteran’s Day. This was such a neat story, I asked him if it would be alright to post it on this blog. He agreed, so here it is!

Happy Veteran’s Day! This year I decided I would share a sea story from Coast Guard Station Golden Gate. This picture was taken from the north tower of the bridge and was submitted to the local paper. I was at the helm and we were picking up a kayaker in distress. This was one of the craziest days on the water I experienced during my entire tour there. It was Super Bowl Sunday, but also a historic day for a different reason. Queen Mary II was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and it was the largest ship ever to come into San Francisco. You would think with a Super Bowl on, there wouldn’t be such a turnout. We were completely wrong, it was insane. If you’re really bored you can YouTube it and see how many freaks didn’t watch football that Super Bowl Sunday. The QM2 had to sail in during the ebb tide because the clearance was so tight under the bridge. The bay was the busiest I had ever seen it, I would argue more traffic than fleet week. This kayaker was caught in a 6 knot ebb current in Sausalito then flipped. With the strong ebb, the afternoon wind, and the wake from all the traffic it was like a messy river rapid and she couldn’t flip back over. She was swept passed the bridge to the west and we were heading full speed from Chrissy Field against the flow of traffic because a Ro-Ro (cargo ship for cars) was outbound in the lanes and heading right for her. If you aren’t aware, a ship that size cannot make any significant change of course, especially given the circumstances that day. We had to get on Channel 16 to let the captain know we were going to be within 100 yards of his bow while he was making about 15 knots directly at us. We got on scene and instantly swooped her out, then immediately had to get out of the way. Lucky for her ya boy Jeffrey is a straight gangster boat operator and got her first pass. It was so close that we kept her in the recess deck to wait until the large wake passed by before she was helped up. Aside from shivering and embarrassment, she was fine. We never saw a minute of the Super Bowl that day, tough duty for a Coastie haha

Credit: Jeff Thomas for the story

Dave Thomas

11/12/2020

The Caretaker

We are all captivated by stories of animals who exhibit human-like emotions or actions. Pat experienced something the other day that we thought was unusual.

 

A few weeks ago, Pat was cleaning out the refrigerator. She came across a dish of shelled English walnuts that had probably been there too long. She decided to toss them into the backyard where perhaps a bird might enjoy them. A while later she looked out the window and saw four crows prancing around the backyard and eating the walnuts. They were typical crows, black, shiny, brash, and noisy. Pat enjoyed the birds and after that first morning, threw out a piece of bread or something every day. The crows, being their obnoxious selves, stepped up their game. If Pat didn’t throw some food out before the crows got there, as soon as they arrived, they started raising hell. They were spoiled!

 

One morning, Pat threw out some bread crumbs and then went on about her business. Later, she looked out the window and saw a strange sight. There were four crows as usual, but one of the four was a pretty sorry looking specimen. Its feathers looked dull and dirty and it looked sick or beat up. And, the strange part was that one of the other crows was feeding it! The Good Samaritan bird would get a piece of bread off the ground, swallow it, then regurgitate it into the mouth of the frail-looking bird. It seemed quite strange. Was the bird sick? Was it young? If it could fly, why couldn’t it feed itself? Was the other bird its mother? Mighty strange. Mighty strange.

Dave Thomas

10/30/2020

Let’s Be Accurate

If I remember correctly, the Southland Corporation launched the 7-11 stores in the late 1960’s. The TV commercials were all about the convenience. Opening at 7:00am would make it easy for the commuter to grab a cup of coffee before heading out. Staying open until 11:00pm would make it easy for people to grab bread, milk, cereal, or cat food if they didn’t want to go to the supermarket. Things appear to have changed. I was listening to a commercial this morning and the spokesman ended by saying “Always Open.” This contradicts the name of the store. Maybe they should change their name to “24/7.”

 

Dave Thomas

10/29/2020

Drafting and Drifting

Drafting has always fascinated me. The ability to create a picture that is so well detailed and dimensioned that it can be used to produce parts or structures is a great gift.

 

Entering 9th grade, my freshman year in high school, I enrolled in Mechanical Drawing. I spent three years learning how to be a mechanical draftsman and enjoyed the challenge. We might be handed a piston or a connecting rod or a fuel pump, and be told to produce an accurate representation of it. Interesting stuff.

 

My senior year, I decided to switch over to architectural drawing and learn how houses are built.

 

Our lone drafting teacher was H. H. Robinson. Mr. Robinson had come to Augusta High School when my folks had been students in the late 1920’s. Now, the only classes he taught were the drafting classes. His main job now was as superintendent of schools. He still enjoyed the drafting classes and always circled the room, going from drafting table to drafting table, overseeing the work and offering suggestions. He could be quite critical of lettering and dimensioning. He figured that a drawing was worthless if you couldn’t read the title block or dimensions. As a result, he gave a lettering test every week. I worked hard at both the drafting and the lettering and got good grades. However, I realized that mine was the work of a good technician, and that I had no artistic ability.

 

We were neighbors of the Robinsons. We moved to our Cliff Drive address a few days before my 5th birthday, and a couple of weeks before I started kindergarten. So, by the time I was a senior in high school, Mr. Robinson and I knew each other pretty well. He taught me to ice skate and skip rope like a boxer, and probably taught me a few things about being a decent human being.

 

We had come to the starting point of the last six weeks of my senior year. We students of the Architectural Drafting class were supposed to pick a final project. The home design magazines carried pictures of named home designs complete with floor plans. Our assignment was to choose one of those designs and create the elevations and construction details that would constitute a complete set of plans to build that house.

 

Mr. Robinson, with clipboard in hand, was going from drafting table to drafting table consulting with each student and then writing down the name of the design they had chosen. I had other ideas. Being a member of that sub-species known as “Teenaged Boys,” I had often heard the exclamation “Wow, she’s built like a brick shithouse!” Never having seen one of these facilities, I had wondered what it would look like. So, when Mr. Robinson stepped up to my drafting table with his clipboard, I said “Brick Outhouse.” He didn’t smile or blink, but simply wrote it down and moved on to the next table.

 

The project developed smoothly. Mr. Robinson dropped by each day with sound construction tips, but never with a grin or comment. For added comfort, I included a wall heater and a TV shelf with a small TV set. This was really forward looking for me in 1954 as my folks didn’t have a TV set until 1957. I finished the plans and got a good grade. FYI- it was a neat looking structure, but in no way compared with the girls formerly cited.

 

After graduation, I was working at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealership and trying to figure out what I was going to do next. One Saturday evening I stopped in at the P & G Bakery for a cup of coffee and ran into Frank Edward Thompson. Frank Edward had been one year ahead of me, and I knew that upon graduation he had gone to work for one of the oil companies in Wichita. We got to talking jobs, and Frank said that he had become a cartographer and was drawing maps. He knew I had taken the drafting classes and wondered if I might be interested because his company was hiring. He said he would be working overtime the next Saturday and that he would show me around if I came over.

 

On Saturdays, the garage was only open from 8:00am until 1:00 pm. At 1 o’clock that Saturday, I went home and cleaned up, and then drove to Wichita. I found Frank’s work place, and he greeted me and showed me around. When I saw the work he was doing on those oil field maps, I was amazed. Where my drawings looked technical and stiff and boring, his drawings looked vibrant and artsy and alive. I realized then that I could never excel as a draftsman or a cartographer. I thanked Frank for the tour and went home.

 

Dave Thomas

10/27/2020

Looking For Stories

In my mind’s eye, I was walking up and down Cliff Dr. in Augusta, Kansas where I grew up. I was looking for stories, but wasn’t having much luck. Cliff Drive is only a block long, and most of the time I was growing up, it was a cul-de-sac. You entered on the north end and it was paved about halfway down the block. Then it continued as dirt, rocks, and ruts until it almost made it to 7th St. The final few yards were a vacant lot. The city didn’t acquire it, pave it, and make it a through street until I was in Junior High School.

 

Our block-long street contained a dozen homes, a small Church of Christ, a catholic school, and a convent or nunnery or whatever it is where nuns live. The house at the north end was occupied by H.H. Robinson, the Superintendent of schools and his family.

 

Like most residential areas, our block had a fluid population with people moving in and out regularly.

 

As I said up front, in my mind’s eye I was walking up and down the street and looking for stories among the neighbor kids. Sorry, I didn’t find any stories, but did come up with an interesting fact. Out of the group of kids that lived on Cliff Dr. in the 1940’s and 1950’s, none of us live there now, but there are five of us that are alive and kicking and in our 80’s. They are: Gary Casner, Joyce Williams, Norma Gardner, Bobby Stanley, and me. Who would have thought that?!

Dave Thomas

September 3, 2020

Choose The Lemonade

We got to San Diego and I went to North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado to check in at Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight (VP 48). I introduced myself to the personnel guy and he surprised me by saying, “You’ve got the highest test scores in the squadron.”(In boot camp, recruits are given a battery of tests that will later determine job placement.)  I was quite taken aback as I hadn’t thought of it as being a big deal. Of course, my records had been shipped to the squadron ahead of me so they knew all about me. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I knew it was going to be like the kid on the playground that’s different… everyone wants to try him on for size. We went ahead and took care of the personnel business, and the guy took me to the electronics shop and introduced my new boss, the Chief that ran the shop. Over the next few days, I was settling in and learning the things I needed to know. Then, one morning, the chief called me into his office and told me that I had been assigned to mess duty for 90 days. I couldn’t believe it! Everyone knows that only the screw-ups are assigned to mess duty or KP (kitchen police) as the Army calls it. “I don’t even eat in the mess hall. I’m married and draw $30.00 a month for “Commuted Rations” which means I buy my own groceries. My record is clean and there’s no reason for me to be penalized or punished.” The chief told me that these assignments are made by the Leading Chief, and I would have to take it up with him. I had just been handed a bag of lemons.
The Leading Chief is the senior enlisted man in the outfit. His word is law, and he has almost as much power as the Commanding Officer. In our case, the Leading Chief of VP48 was Big John Honchurak. I had only been in the squadron for a few days, but I already understood that nobody wanted a confrontation with Big John. Big John was 6’3”or 6’4” and probably weighed 220 or 230. He was lean and a tough-looking son-of-a-bitch. I went to Big John’s office to make my case. He listened carefully to what I had to say and then told me to report to the Mess Hall Monday morning. I think I was just handed another bag of lemons.
I reported to the Mess Hall Monday morning at 6:00AM as instructed. There were several of us new guys, and the first task was to give us our assignments. I watched as other guys were given different jobs in the galley (kitchen) and around the Mess Hall. Then, I was told that I would be working in the head (restroom). Again, a job for a goof off! What the hell? I didn’t get it. It’s looking like another bag of lemons.
I thought about it and decided there was no reason to pout. If that was the job they had for me then that’s what I would do. I knew I was a “working fool” and could out-work anyone so I might as well give it my best shot.
The head was large. I don’t remember exactly, but it probably had 6 or 8 stools, 3 or 4 urinals, and 3 or 4 sinks. It had just barely been cleaned for quite some time. I spent two full days scrubbing it from top to bottom. The civilian maintenance workers kept everything functioning well so it was just a matter of getting rid of the accumulated grime. All the porcelain was polished until it gleamed. The brass and stainless steel parts were shiny, and the walls and mirrors were spotless. The third morning I only had to spend an hour or so tidying up and I was done. I decided that with everything looking so good I may as well go out and have a smoke. I was leaning up against the building and enjoying my break and I looked up and saw the head cook coming toward me. The Head Cook is like the Leading Chief in that he’s got the power. This guy was a stocky Italian named Rocky, and he also looked like a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. I figured he was going to give me hell for being out there and smoking rather than working. But, when Rocky started talking, that’s when the lemons started turning into lemonade.
Rocky told me I had done a good job and that the place probably hadn’t looked so good in years. Then he asked me if I’d like to work with the cooks and have cook’s liberty. Liberty is time off and cooks liberty was based on a duty schedule called “5-2.” I don’t remember the details, but you worked two days and then took 5 days off, and the following week, you did the just opposite. You worked 5 days with 2 days off. Rocky went on to tell me that I would start at 5:00AM and get off when everything was done in the early afternoon. He told me I would work with the cooks until it was time to serve, and then I would become a “Line Supplier” and keep the steam tables supplied in the chow line. It sounded great to me and I said so. He welcomed me to the job and said he’d see me in the morning. That was the beginning of one of the best summers I ever had.
The job was good, but the time off was wonderful. Pat and I were new to Coronado and new to California so each day was an adventure. We didn’t have any money but that didn’t keep us from going to the beach and the library and walking in downtown Coronado. A couple of times we came up with the money to ride the ferry across the bay to San Diego. We splurged and bought a Scrabble game and had tournaments that lasted all day. Pat would put on a pot of beans in the slow cooker, and we’d get wrapped up in our Scrabble game and forget everything until we smelled the beans burning. Pat was pregnant and would crave things. She particularly missed ice cream, so she made her own. Some powdered milk, sugar, and vanilla mixed in an ice tray and put in the freezer compartment fixed her right up. Sometimes she would stick popsicle sticks in the tray and make ice cream bars.
Toward the last month of Mess Duty, we were able to move from our apartment near downtown and the library to Navy housing. The Navy housing project was located on San Diego Bay near the Coronado Golf Course.  A few days after we had moved in, one of our neighbors had been transferred and was moving out. He had an inflatable life boat that he didn’t have room for, so he gave it to me. Pat and I spent a lot of time rowing around in the bay and really enjoyed it. One day we rowed down along the golf course and since the water was only about a foot deep, we saw a bunch of golf balls. We paddled around and picked up enough to fill a bucket. Later, I took them over to the Pro Shop and sold them.
After I had been on mess duty for a while, I happened to see the personnel guy from our squadron. He told me that the reason i was assigned to mess duty was that the Leading Chief figured that a person with such high test scores must be a prima donna, a panty-waist, or a sissy and wouldn’t know how to work. He was sending me to mess duty to get me straightened out. Big John’s attitude changed after he heard that I was one of the hardest working guys in the galley and had earned a job with the cook’s liberty. His change of heart was proven a couple of months later when we were surprised by the birth of our twin boys. Pat had uremic poisoning and was supposed to stay in bed, so I had to put in for emergency leave to take care of all of them. Big John had those papers pushed right through and had me out the gate in nothing flat.
If you’re handed a bag of lemons, don’t fret. Just turn them into lemonade.
Dave Thomas
August 20, 2020

Then and Now

August of 1944 was a month of great anticipation for me. On the 27th, I would be eight years old which was big stuff in itself. A week later, the day after Labor Day, I would enter the third grade and be in Intermediate school, leaving Elementary school behind. The most exciting thing coming up was that my parents would buy me a pair of lace-up boots. This was real “big guy” stuff, and the added bonus was that on the side of one of the boots, a knife sheath would be sewn. If a guy had a pocket knife, he carried the knife at all times. Then on the way home from school, he could whittle or play mumblety-peg or do whatever may require such a tool. The rule was that you never removed your knife from the sheath while on the school grounds. If you did, you might lose the privilege of carrying it.

 

Now it’s hard to be a kid, what with fenced school grounds, metal detectors, and security guards. If a kid should show up on the school grounds with a pocket knife nowadays, he would probably end up in handcuffs.

 

I don’t want to live in the past. This age of technical accomplishments is wonderful. The computer, the internet, television, cell phones, GPS, the MRI, the Keurig coffee machine, and many other fantastic things are available to us today. This part of life just gets better and better.

 

It sounds great, but we are skating on the edge of a cliff. We are suffering from a state of erosion regarding our humanity. What has become of tolerance and our respect for others? Have we forgotten the basics of compassion and empathy and the rights of others? We thought we were making headway against the ugliness of racism, but all of a sudden, haters and the bigots are coming out from under the rocks and spreading their poison everywhere. Think about it. Say something nice and do something good for someone whenever you get the opportunity. Better yet, create the opportunity.

Dave Thomas

July 23, 2020

P5M Seaplanes: Hops but no Jumps

After a six month deployment to Naval Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, our squadron (VP 48) returned to Naval Air Station North Island at Coronado, California. There were a lot of personnel changes going on. Many of the guys were going home on leave. Some were being transferred out, and, of course, some were being transferred in. The new guys included pilots, co-pilots, navigators, and potential crewmen. The officers needed to get used to the type of reports and data they would receive from the operators of the ASW gear, and the enlisted men needed to become proficient as operators. The electronic technicians needed to learn to operate the power panel and operate the HF radio, and how to use Morse code.

 

The future pilots and copilots needed to get in some stick time in order to get qualified. Unfortunately, on these hops, their favorite destinations were Catalina Island and Hearst Castle. If I had a dollar for every time I have circled these two places, I could buy my own P5M.

 

At the time, I was a third class petty officer, pay grade E-4. Officially, that’s a Third Class Aviation Electronics Technician. I didn’t have enough time in grade to test for Second Class. Having a wife and twin boys meant that I was working hard and looking for opportunities to advance and also to save money. The flight pay was important to me. Also, being married, I received what was known as commuted rations, COMRATS. COMRATS amounted to thirty bucks a month to pay for food at home in lieu of eating in the chow hall. When I was on duty, I could eat in the chow hall, but had to pay for it. However, flight crews received box lunches when flying short hops or a box of groceries they could prepare in the galley if they were making long hops. The grocery meals were usually steaks, canned vegetables, fruit, bread and butter and coffee. At the end of a flight, the other married guy and I would divide up any unopened cans, sticks of butter, coffee, or whatever else was left over. Every little bit helped.

 

What I remember most was the condition of the airplanes. We had P5M-1’s on deployment, but when we returned, they were to be replaced by P5M-2’s. The P5M-1’s were tired and they were suffering from a lot of flight time, some hard landings, and a lot of vibration. The results as we experienced them were engine failures, electrical fires, and hydraulic leaks. These were problems that increased the heart rate and adrenaline flow.

 

Protocol said that when you got aboard the aircraft, the first thing you did was don your parachute harness. The harnesses were just a bunch of straps with some rings and snaps and were no big deal to wear. The parachutes were stored in racks in the plane and could be grabbed if needed. The chutes themselves were maybe 14 x 14 x 2, and just attached to your harness with a couple of snaps. During this training period using the old planes, I got real good at attaching the parachute. It seemed like every hop I was on turned into an emergency, and I was ordered to grab my chute and head for the exit hatch. Fortunately, I never had to jump.

Dave Thomas

6/20/2020