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

 

Mornings: Air Raid!

This story took place when the kids were small, probably between 1965 and 1970. We lived in El Cajon, California, a suburb of San Diego. We were heading back to Kansas to visit family and friends. Our party consisted of my wife, Pat, my mother, Margaret, our twin boys, Russ and Doug, our daughter, Terri, and myself.

Our strategy on these trips was to leave the evening before and drive through the night while the kids slept. That reduced the number of times we had to listen to the age-old question “Are we there yet?”

The sun came up and we had been making good time. We were driving through a small town in New Mexico when we spotted a small park. The kids were waking up and were hungry, so we decided to stop. We had a big cooler in the trunk filled with breakfast and lunch stuff so we could stop and eat and get back on the road without wasting any time. Mom was keeping an eye on the kids as they ran around like little wild people. Pat and I were getting the food out of the trunk and setting the table. Pat, who was the one that always noticed birds and animals, was watching a hawk as it circled the area. The hawk was just cruising around, probably looking for breakfast. Its circle carried it right over where we were standing, and all of a sudden, it was “bombs away!” Pat was standing there, and, as a woman of her time, was fixed up with “big hair.” The hawk, with perfect accuracy, dropped the biggest, stinkiest load of crap right on to Pat’s hair-do. She was screaming and swiping at her head with a paper towel while the kids shrieked and pointed at her. My mom was laughing so hard I thought she would have a stroke. Pat finally got the evil smelling mess out of her hair and got herself quieted down. We eventually finished out breakfast and got back on the road. Needless to say, we were all wide awake.

Dave Thomas
May 21, 2020

Mornings: Breakfast

I love mornings and I enjoy breakfasts. I know that some people don’t eat breakfast, and I feel that they are missing the boat. I want my car to have adequate amounts of gas, oil, and water to ensure peak performance. By the same token, I want my body to start the day with what it needs to operate properly.

I’ll have to admit that 99% of the time, my breakfasts are not too exciting. For the last 8 or 9 years, I’ve had Cheerios for breakfast. They are quick and easy and though bland, I don’t get tired of them. The “flake” cereals taste like cardboard and are pretty disgusting. I ate oatmeal for 3 or 4 years, but got tired of it. When I fix them, it’s just Cheerios (1/2 cup) and milk. No sugar or sweetener. Part of the reason for my regimen is that I have been a Type 1 diabetic for 55 years, and I got tired of figuring out how much insulin I would need to cover the different breakfasts if I ate a varied diet. I’ll have to admit that when Pat fixes my Cheerios, she adds blueberries and bananas, and it’s mighty good.

When we go out for breakfast, I go for the whole shot. I order 2 eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and coffee. The exception to the aforementioned comes when we are going to a Mexican restaurant. Then, it’s “Huevos Rancheros!” For those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to have them, the term means “ranch eggs” and is the name for the breakfast. Here’s the way the meal is fixed: A tortilla is warmed or steamed and placed on the plate. Two fried eggs are added (I like mine over medium) and placed on the tortilla. Next, the whole thing is covered with fresh salsa. The salsa should be “mild” or “medium.” If the salsa is too hot, you can’t taste the eggs. Next, add refried beans and rice on the side. There you have it. You can use flour or corn tortillas. The only way you can improve this fantastic meal is to use organic corn tortillas.

Since we are discussing Huevos Rancheros, I must confess that I have them for lunch once a week during normal (no Covid19 virus) times. My wife, Pat, and her friend, Judy, like to drive up the coast and have breakfast. They look at the ocean and the surfers and the people on the beach and relax and enjoy themselves. On those days, our daughter, Terri, comes over and takes care of me. My vision is impaired and though I can walk around the house without bumping into anything, that’s about it. Terri drives over and picks me up and takes me to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. When we get there, she goes in and orders Huevos Rancheros “to go.” Then we return home for the feast. That way, I’ve got something I like to eat, and I’ve had an outing, too.

I’ve never been a brunch guy. That’s mainly because I’m too cheap. They charge you 4 or 5 times what a regular breakfast would cost and it doesn’t seem worth it. I’ve only attended one brunch that I really enjoyed and thought was spectacular. Terri and our son-in-law, Steve, and the grandkids, Christie and David, had invited Pat and I to go to Maui with them. I think we were staying at the Westin. When we came downstairs in the morning, we were greeted by the most amazing tropical spread you can imagine. Besides the normal scrambled eggs and bacon and sausage, there was a complete array of fruits and juices and anything else you can imagine. We sat on the patio and happily gorged ourselves as we enjoyed the Pacific Ocean and the tradewinds.

Dave Thomas

5/6/2020

Mornings: The Early Bird

In June of 1950, I was 13 years old and fixing to be 14 in August. My Grandpa, George F. Sicks had invited me to spend the summer with him in Arizona. Granddad was living in the town of Safford which is on the east side of the state.

I caught a bus and headed west. This was big stuff for a kid that had hardly been out of Augusta, Kansas. Grandpa’s second wife, Mina, went to Los Angeles to visit her sister for the summer. Before she left, she made me show her that I could cook a steak and fix potatoes and vegetables to go with it.

Grandpa was a farm equipment salesman with an Allis-Chalmers dealer. He called on the farms and ranches in the area sometimes. One Friday afternoon, Grandpa came home from work early and said that we were going to the farm. The farm was clear down in the southeast corner of the state, a couple of miles from the New Mexico border and just west of the town of San Simon. Simon is pronounced in the Spanish way, with a long “o.” You say it like the girl’s name, “Simone.”

We left Safford, heading south, and in a couple of hours were in southern Arizona. We merged with U.S. Highway 80 (now Interstate 10), and headed east. San Simon is in Chiricuhua County and is a part of the Sonoran Desert. You can see for miles across the desert country, clear up the Chiricahua Mountains. This is the land of Cochise and Geronimo, so you need to keep your eyes open.

The farm adjoins the highway on the south side, so you can see the whole place from the car. It is 120 acres of steaming hot desert with no tilled land or much of anything. There is a one room adobe house, and that’s about it. The redeeming feature is that there are two Artesian wells on the place- one hot and one cold. Granddad had fixed up the hot well so you could take a shower outside. He built a screen around it so you could have a little privacy from the people driving down the highway.

Granddad showed me around the place and we messed around for the rest of the evening. He called the place his “farm,” but I believe that it was what would now be considered as the equivalent of a “man-cave.” It was a place for him to putter around.

Granddad and I spent the evening out in the yard where it was pretty nice after the sun went down. When we went to bed, I lucked out and got the cot. A little after sunrise the next morning, I was awakened by a pecking noise. I sat up in bed, wondering what was going on. Grandpa, who had awakened also said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s my road-runner buddy telling me that it’s time for his breakfast.” We got up and got dressed and Grandpa went to a cabinet and got a sack of chicken feed. He said, “A year or so ago, Mina went to visit her sister in L.A., so I stayed down here for a month. After eating, I would throw the table scraps out in the yard because I knew some critter would eat them. It turned out that the roadrunner was the lucky creature that came. He enjoyed the food and depended on me to provide it. If I didn’t show up quick enough in the mornings, he figured out that he could peck on the window and get my attention. I guess he has remembered our routine since then.” Granddad took a cup of grain and threw it out into the yard. The roadrunner scurried around like a chicken in the barnyard intent on getting every last bite. It’s been 70 years now, and I still think of that roadrunner from time to time. Who knew that a bird could think or reason or remember anything?

Now, I don’t speak the roadrunner’s language, but I will try to express in English what the bird might have been thinking. Imagine that it is evening and that the roadrunner has been craising all day and comes by the farm in the evening. He thinks, “There is a car. The man must be here in the house. I like the man. He feeds me.” The next morning, the roadrunner is in the yard. “Where’s my breakfast? I’m hungry! The man must be in the house. Last year I figured out how to get his attention, so I know now how to get him. I’ll jump up on the window ledge and peck on the window. Yep, he’s getting up, so it won’t be long until breakfast.” Then, a little later, “That was delicious. Now that I don’t have to spend the morning foraging for food, I’m going to go down the road a piece and find that roadrunner chick and see if she wants to go jogging.”

Dave Thomas

4/30/2020

Mornings: The Red Capsule

Pat and I were on the way to Paris and London, and we were accompanied by our grandson, Jeff, who had just graduated from high school. Jeff was good company, and we soon learned that he had another attribute that made him an invaluable traveling companion. His young eyes had the vision of an eagle, and he could read flight schedules on the walls clear across the airport terminal. We arrived in Paris, checked into the hotel, had dinner, and walked around the city for a while.

The next morning, I was up first. I got cleaned up and dressed and went downstairs in search of a cup of coffee. The hotel served a continental breakfast, but they weren’t open yet. I went out front and discovered that the hotel was next to a deli. A man was putting up a couple of tables and chairs on the sidewalk, so I asked him if I could get a cup of coffee. He pointed to one of the chairs and indicated that I should sit down. He went inside and soon returned with a cup of boiling hot water sitting on a saucer. Next to the cup was a red thing that looked like a capsule. I paid the man and thanked him, all while staring at the capsule thing. I didn’t know if I should toss this thing into the cup or if I should try to open it. What a dilemma! I had been a coffee drinker for 50 years and had never been faced with a situation like this. After staring at the thing for a while, I decided it probably wasn’t soluble. I picked at the capsule thing for a while and was finally able to pour it’s contents into the hot water. I stirred the cup and began to inhale the delicious aroma of a fine cup of coffee. I took a sip and was rewarded with a taste of the richest and strongest cup of coffee I had ever had. These French people know what they are doing. You folks of a more cosmopolitan nature may be used to this kind of stuff, but it was overwhelming to a small-town boy like me.

Dave Thomas

04/18/2020

Mornings: Sedona

Step out the door of your motel at sun-up in Sedona, Arizona and feel your mouth drop open. When the sun hits those red rocks, it jars your senses. This must be the place that God and Mother Nature put in some overtime. As the sun strikes the multitude of facets on the side of the mountain, you see one brilliant shade of red after another.

The evenings are just as grand, but much more subtle. As the sun sets, the color of the mountains fades from bright red to shades of purple and then to grays and then to black. I don’t have words to describe the beauty of the area. Go see for yourself. It’s a magical place.

Dave Thomas
04/18/2020

Mornings: Company For Breakfast

Pat and I had gotten up just a few minutes before and were just sitting down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. We heard a noise outside, and Pat got up and opened the curtains. There was a donkey with his lips almost against the window. He must have been as startled as us because he cut loose with Hee-Haw, Hee Haw, and it was loud enough to shake the house! We recognized the donkey as the pet of the Noble family that lived several houses up the hill from us.

We had been visited by the donkey a couple of times before. We had a Shetland pony for the kids that we kept in a corral next to our back fence. In the previous visits, the donkey had come down the back fence-line, but, for some reason, this time he had come down the street. I had my jeans on and was wearing flip-flops or thongs or shower shoes or whatever you call them. I went out to the shed and got a lead rope and came back and snapped it onto the halter the donkey was wearing. I headed for the street to take him home, and he was well-mannered and led on a slack rein, walking beside my shoulder.

We got to the street and started up the hill but it was tough going for me. The asphalt streets in our development had been sealed a couple of days before, and a fine layer of sand had been spread on them. The footing wasn’t that good, and I kept scooping up sand with my flip-flops. I was relieved when we got up the hill to the Noble’s house. However, about this time, the donkey must have realized he was almost home and he snorted and whirled around and started running back down the hill. I dug in my heels and yelled “Whoa” as I held onto the end of the lead rope. It was a wasted effort! That donkey was going downhill as fast as he could go, and I was out on the end of that rope with my heels dug in and looking like a water skier on a slalom course. Our wild ride finally got us to the bottom of the hill and as we got to our house, I could see Pat in her pajamas and housecoat out in the front yard pointing at us and laughing like a crazy woman. The donkey stopped and I looked back up the hill, and here comes Noble, laughing. He was kind enough to say that he had seen the donkey escape but had to get dressed before he could come out. As you have read, I got no respect at all. It may have been caused by the donkey, but I made a complete ass of myself.

Dave Thomas
7/13/2014 originally
Reposted on 04/13/2020