Grandpa: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Grandpa, A.A. Thomas, seemed to have always had a mustache or goatee, or both. The oldest picture I have of him as an adult, dated approximately 1893, shows him with a full mustache and long sideburns. One year, when he would have been close to 80 years old, he had a goatee that was pure white and three or four inches long. As we know, he wasn’t Irish, but to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day he dyed his goatee green. I was told that Augusta used to have a Saint Patrick’s Day parade and Grandpa marched in it. I don’t know all of the details. I was of grade school age at the time and didn’t actually see him on Saint Patrick’s Day. A few days after the holiday we were at their house for supper and I got to see the remains of the green dye and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Apparently, Grandma had been trying to scrub the dye out of his beard and didn’t have much luck. Oh, well, it made for a good laugh for a lot of years.

Dave Thomas
April 28, 2013

 

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Fire In The Hole!

I can’t remember if I was 10 or 11 that summer that my Dad, a bricklayer, contracted with the city to build some manholes for a sewer extension project. It was just a couple of years after World War II and Augusta, our little town of 5,000, just like the rest of the country, was beginning to grow as the men returned from the service and started their lives again. The northwest part of town was the logical area for growth and the city intended to extend the sewer lines to cover that area. The proposed line would start at the edge of a developed area at the south end of Henry Street and run south for about a half mile. It would pass through a hillside that was limestone covered with some short weeds and grasses because there wasn’t enough dirt to support anything else.

This hillside was one of my favorite places and I didn’t ever tell anyone else about it. It was the only place in town where there was an abundance of horned toads and ring-necked snakes. I’m sure you’re familiar with horned toads but maybe not with the ring-necked snakes. They were normally up to 6 or 8 inches long and were a deep black in color with a bright orange band around the neck. They were skinny, not even as thick as an earthworm, and were just the perfect size to carry around in your pocket. We always turned them loose in a few hours so they wouldn’t be harmed by being captive.

The construction guys were digging the ditch or trench with what we called a “steam shovel” back then. The machines were no longer powered by steam so I guess we should have called them “diesel shovels.”  The bucket pointed forward on these units as opposed to the back-hoes we have now with the bucket pointing toward the cab. Anyhow, the trench was dug to a depth of 8 to 10 feet and every so many yards a circular area was hollowed out to accommodate a manhole. The manholes were circular and maybe 6 to 8 foot in diameter at the base and grew smaller as the thing approached ground level. I guess they kind of looked like an igloo with a tube sticking out the top. Dad installed metal rungs or steps inside that were anchored in the brick work, as he went. The purpose of the manhole, of course, was to allow a workman to have access to the sewer line in case there was a blockage or some other problem.

This was to be my first time working for Dad. I wasn’t big enough yet to mix mortar or to carry  a 5 gallon bucket of mortar down a ladder but I could help get the bricks to where they needed to be.  A quantity of bricks had been left at the location of each manhole. Those bricks had to be taken down into the trench and placed where Dad could reach them as he worked. For this, he said he would pay me $.01 (1 penny) per brick. I thought I was going to be rich!

The boss on the job was a man named Glen who worked in the city maintenance department. Glen was a nice guy and the reason we knew each other by name was that whenever the city workers did a project in our little town it always drew a crowd of kids. Glen was an easy-going guy who answered all kid questions and I think he knew us all by name.

There was an abandoned house at the bottom of the hill and we always put our lunch bags and water can in there and then we also ate lunch there because that’s the only place there was any shade. The temperature was running between 90 and 100 every day so the house was a perfect retreat.

Speaking of lunch bags and heat, I need to digress for a moment. When we fixed lunch back then, we made a bologna sandwich and slapped a little mustard on it, wrapped it in a piece of waxed paper, and put it in a brown paper bag. If we were lucky, there was an apple or a peach to throw in also. Nowadays, lunch means a 50 dollar Igloo insulated box containing a 3-course balanced meal, sodas, and 5 plastic bottles of water. Lunch has sure gotten complicated.

To get back to business, the old abandoned house was also a cooler place to keep the dynamite and the blasting caps. One day when we were all eating lunch, I was asking Glen questions about dynamite and blasting because he was the one that did all of that. One of the things he told me was that the fumes coming off a stick of dynamite were so powerful they could give you a terrible headache or even make you sick at your stomach. The trick was to not have the stuff directly under your nose and to be careful about taking a deep breath. Glen said that they had to do some blasting that afternoon and if it was ok with my Dad he would show me how to prepare the dynamite and the blasting caps.

Dad had been listening to all of this and he agreed that I could come back to the house and watch Glen. Glen said he would be heading back to the house in about an hour and when I saw him heading that way to come on over. Dad and I went back to work and I got enough bricks stacked up to allow me to stay away for a while without Dad running out. Instead of carrying all the bricks down the ladder, he had been letting me drop them into the trench as long as I didn’t let them hit each other and break. I would then go down in the trench and stack them neatly within his reach.

There was a case of Hercules Dynamite and a box of blasting caps in the house. The dynamite looked like you would imagine…red sticks wrapped in wax paper with an appearance not unlike that of a road flare. The blasting caps looked like a short piece of brass tubing with two wires coming out the end. Glen told me how the wires would be attached to a detonator and that closing a switch would send an electrical current to the blasting cap causing it to explode and having been inserted into a stick of dynamite, would cause the dynamite to explode, too. Glen had a wooden dowel that had been sharpened to a point on one end. He showed me how to push the pointed end of that dowel into the end of a stick of dynamite and make a cavity for the blasting cap to be placed in. Next he would insert the cap into the cavity and use his fingers to mold the material over the end of the cap to keep it from falling out. You could mold the stuff just like a piece of clay. That’s all there was to it. The other workers would have drilled the holes in the rock and one of them would help Glen place the dynamite sticks in the holes and wire them up. When they were ready to blast we would all be given the signal to take cover in the old house and Glen would yell the classic warning “Fire in the hole” and set off the blast. I got to help with the preparation several times and really enjoyed it.

In later years I wondered how my Dad felt when he let his kid go play with dynamite. I figure that Dad trusted Glen and knew he would see to it that the proper safety rules were followed. I also figured that Dad knew he could trust me to do exactly as I was told. And, last, Dad probably figured that if there was an accident, all of us on the hill would be vaporized no matter how close we were to the old house and the dynamite.

 

Dave Thomas
November 25, 2013

 

 

Head Problems

Head Problems

It was kind of strange to see a little kid fall on the top of his head. Yes, right on the very top of his head! He didn’t fall on his face. He didn’t tip over backwards and hit the back of his head. There was never any damage to the sides either. I’m telling you…this kid fell right on the exact top of his head!

I’d better explain the whole thing to you. Growing up, even at the toddler stage, our son, Doug was tall and gangly. This made it really hard for him as he was learning to walk. His core muscles and balance couldn’t develop fast enough to keep up with his growth. He would take a couple of steps, lose control, and then it would look like a tree being topped. His legs would remain locked but the top of his head would directly hit the ground. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was scared to death he would end up with a concussion. One time he stood up and tried to walk across the patio. Same old story…two steps and thumps! That time, I checked his eyes several times over the next few hours to make darn sure he was okay.

This probably only lasted for a week or two but Pat and I were so worried, it seemed like forever. We knew Doug would conquer this walking “thing” but just didn’t know when.

Our other son, Russ, had head problems, too, but they were of his own making. I remember two of them that could have been quite serious but ended safely. Russ was always an agile kid and wanted to climb to the top of everything in sight. One of the first harrowing experiences I recall took place at the grocery store. We had all gone to Safeway, one Saturday on our weekly grocery run. Back in those days the stores were configured so you had to go through a turnstile to get into the shopping area. Once you had done your shopping, checked out and paid, you were funneled back to the entry side of the chrome rails again. The floor plan and rails automatically guided you from the shopping area to the post check-out area.

Russ and Doug were small, grade school age kids and Terri wasn’t in school yet. We entered the store and Pat headed for the turnstile with the three kids in a line behind her. I spotted a cart at the end of a check-out table a couple of steps away.

I grabbed the cart and turned back toward the kids and was shocked to see Russ with his neck caught in the turnstile and a look of panic on his face. Turnstiles, if you recall, had a revolving head with 3 short posts coming out of it. You pushed on the upper post and the head revolved and let you through and then it was stopped by a detent system. I don’t know how Russ got his neck caught in there and there wasn’t time to try and figure it out. I grabbed the post that was holding him and braced my foot against the vertical pole that he was jammed up against and started forcing the sections apart. Fortunately, there was enough “play” in the system that Russ was able to slide out. It had scared the devil out of both of us but he was unhurt and we were able to complete our grocery shopping.

Another scary one for Russ happened when we were on a vacation trip to Kansas. The kids got bored after a few hours in the car. We were going through New Mexico and had stopped at a roadside rest area to relax, have a snack, and let the kids run around and burn off some energy. The look of the rest area matched the surrounding countryside in that there were a lot of boulders and piles of large rocks. Pat and I went to a table and started getting some snacks out of the cooler. The kids were climbing on every rock in sight and went behind the large rock pile next to our table. All of a sudden we heard the kids yelling for help. We both jumped up and ran around the rocks to see what was going on. There, on top of the rocks, was Russ with his head stuck in a crevice between the rocks and he couldn’t get out. I climbed up on the rocks and was able to see that Russ had stuck his head in this crevice and then when he wanted to get back out had turned his head slightly and it was like putting a key in a lock and turning it. You can’t get it out until you return it to the entry position. I just picked him up by the waist and turned his head a little and he came right out. He had a sheepish look on his face and the whole thing kind of tamed him down for a while. Since my adrenaline was pumping it took me a little longer to settle down.

Dave Thomas
October 29, 2014

 

Busted!

It was a 4-door car and there were six of us in it. We’d been dragging State Street that summer evening. Like a lot of summer evenings in a small town it was really boring. I was fifteen at the time and don’t remember who I was with. Whoever was driving headed out to Garvin Park and the Augusta City Lake. We went through the gate into the park and the driver jogged a little to the right and picked up the single lane road that ran across the top of the earthen dam.

It was a beautiful evening with a full moon and when we got about to the middle of the dam we stopped and everyone got out. There was a concrete structure out in the water that rose up from the bottom of the lake. It was possibly 8 feet by 8 feet or maybe even 10 by 10. I guess it contained pipes and valves and was the place that the lake water entered the municipal water system and started its journey to the water treatment plant. You couldn’t help but think that it sure would be fun to swim out to that thing and jump off it a few times.

Apparently, “great minds” were thinking in unison that night for we all started stripping off our clothes and jumping into the lake. We had a fantastic time for 20 or 30 minutes and then, the local police car pulls up behind us on the dam. Out, step two of our city’s policemen, Harold Edwards and Billy Joe Davis. As I recall, at this time, the Augusta police force had a police chief, 3 cops, a car for patrol, and a car for the chief.

The cops yelled and motioned for us to get in a group and then started lecturing us. “You can’t swim in there! That’s our drinking water! It’s against the law, etc.” We all knew that swimming in the lake wouldn’t hurt the quality of the drinking water for that water went straight from the lake to the treatment plant where it would be purified. The harangue lasted a few minutes and then they ordered us to get dressed, get in the car, and drive straight to the police station. There wasn’t any question of getting away. Harold and Billy Joe knew every one of us, our parents, and where we lived. We had no choice but to do as we were told. 

The Police Station was located in the City Building along with the Fire Department, the City Library, the Mayor’s office, and a few other things. I was familiar with the place because I grew up visiting the library at least once a week and made regular visits to the Fire Station to slide down the brass pole.

When we arrived at the station we were immediately escorted to the back and shoved into one of the two cells. Tom Irwin, the Justice of the Peace had been called at home and he arrived in just a few minutes. Like the cops, Tom knew all of us and our folks and said they were calling them down to the station. We didn’t have a phone, so I had to tell the Judge to call our neighbors, the Pennington’s, and they would go over and tell Mom or Dad to come to the phone. By this time, we were all starting to sweat a little. We didn’t really think the Judge would do anything to us but we didn’t want our folks to hear about it.

It probably took 30 minutes for all of our parents to get there and the Judge and the cops spent the time barking at us for swimming in the drinking water and probably peeing in it, too.

The cops started off by telling our assembled parents how rotten we were. We had trespassed on city property, swam in the municipal water supply, caused a disturbance, wasted the time of the city’s police force, and I forget what else they had dreamed up. The Judge took over then, and discussed the gravity of the situation and that being a scofflaw at this young age could lead to a life of crime later. By this time, we were all sick to death of the whole thing and were ready to promise anything if they would just shut up and leave us alone. They sent us home and we couldn’t have been more thankful. Our parents were smart enough to realize that the Judge and the cops had definitely done a good job of grinding us and we certainly wouldn’t be doing this one again so nobody got punished.

Dave Thomas

October 19, 2014

 

Izzie-6a: The Games

Two or three years ago I wrote some stories about our cat, Isabella, and mentioned that cats have the intelligence of a 2 or 3 year old child. Izzie had made up 2 games, “Chase” and “Hide and Seek”, back then, and she still enjoys playing both. Now, don’t be rolling your eyes. I know that pet owners are just like parents in that they think their “little one” is the cutest and smartest on the block. Don’t worry, this is not a challenge and I’m not trying to start a competition. I just want to share some of the things that Izzie comes up with because I think it’s interesting to see what a cat is capable of.

Games seem to take place at our house anytime between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM. Whenever Izzie (or Pat) gets bored, we may have a game. Izzie might be lying on the living room floor and suddenly jump straight up, spin around 180 degrees in the air, and then take off running down the hall. That means that Pat is supposed to jump up and run after her. Izzie might just take off down the hall and leave us to figure out that its play time.

Sometimes, Pat kicks off the action. She’s good at it and gets Izzie’s attention right away. Picture a classy-looking 77 year old woman, down on her hands and knees and facing off with a cat. Their eyes are locked and she begins stalking by moving forward a few inches at a time. Izzie’s eyes are unwavering as her nemesis moves closer and closer. Pat closes the gap and gets to the place where one more move would make it possible to reach out and grab Izzie. Izzie is ready and when she detects the slightest motion she springs aside and goes thundering down the hall. The chase is on! Pat jumps up and whoops and goes charging after her, yelling “Get that cat! Get that cat!” I do my part by clapping my hands and yelling “Git ‘er! Git ‘er!” Izzie will wait just inside one of the bedroom doors and when Pat gets close she will come barreling out and race back the other way. Sometimes as she runs past Pat she will reach out and slap her ankle as if to say, “I’m too quick for you, sister!” It’s funny to think that when Izzie is outside she can walk across a lawn covered with dry leaves and never make a sound but when she is playing on the carpet in the house, she can stomp her feet and sound like a herd of wild horses. 

Izzie has also come up with a “safe haven” scheme when they are playing Chase. If she thinks Pat is getting too close and might catch her, she jumps in her litter box. She stands there in it, with her mouth open in what we believe to be a grin and is pretty proud of herself for getting to the “no touch” zone. Pat always honors it and turns around and goes back the other way.

When Izzie first takes off running, it’s not clear which game she is going to play. That’s determined when Pat runs after her and they get to the end of the hall. If Izzie is in plain sight and charges back in the opposite direction then they are playing “Chase”. If Izzie has decided to play “Hide and Seek” this time, then she will be hiding. Pat starts yelling “Where’s that cat? where’s that cat?” It’s obvious where she is, because she will be behind a door, a stuffed chair, or under a bed and in all cases, her long, silky tail will be hanging out. Pat will pretend she doesn’t see her and wander around the room asking “Where’s that cat?” If Izzie is ready to be “found”, sometimes she will let out a little, squeaky meow to announce her location. Most of the time, she lets Pat start walking back up the hall and dashes out and wraps her arms around Pat’s ankle. Then she runs to the living room and prances around with that little “grin” on her face and acts real proud about being so clever.

Izzie and her ways provide us with a lot of fun and laughter. Each day with her is a pleasure.

Dave Thomas
January 13, 2015

 

Izzie-6: Chase and Hide and Seek

Izzie-6 Chase and Hide and Seek

Pat and Izzie play two games that Pat refers to as “Chase” and “Hide and Seek” and they can happen at any time during the day or evening. If Pat wants to play, she’ll signal Izzie by walking up to her and “growling” and stomping her feet and yelling “where’s that cat?” Izzie will jump to her feet and race across the room and down the hall with Pat running after her. If Izzie wants to start a game she has several ways of signaling. To make noise, Izzie extends her claws and hooks them in the carpet. Then, she jerks her paw back and causes a popping noise. When she races down the hall, popping her claws at every step, it sounds like a herd of wild horses. Another way she’ll get your attention is to stand in one spot and pop her claws and then, all of a sudden, jump straight up in the air, do a 180 degree turn, and come down ready to be chased. If none of that works, she’ll go pop her claws in the end of the couch because that’s forbidden and she knows that will get some attention real quick.

The course for the races is from the living, down the hall to the bedrooms, back up the hall, into the kitchen, across the kitchen, and out into the living room. If I’m watching TV I have a great view of the whole spectacle. Izzie will take off down the hall with all the noise and speed she can muster while Pat races along behind her yelling “Where’s that cat? Where’s that Cat?” and stomps her feet to make as much noise as she can! When Izzie gets into the bedroom sh’ll stop snd wait. Then, as Pat gets to the door she’ll burst past her and reach out and swat her on the ankle as she goes by. Then Izzie will race on up the hall and be waiting in the middle of the living room for Pat. Izzie looks like a toddler at this point. She is all excited and bright –eyed and Pat and I would both swear she is laughing. She won the race and with that swat on the ankle, put something over on us!

Dave Thomas
July 18, 2012

 

 

Thanksgiving Dinner

Like most families, we’ve got many great memories of past holidays and vacations. Most of the memories are linked to family and friends who have joined us for these occasions. We will never forget those Thanksgivings in Keller, Texas when most of the kids and grand-kids flew in. The differences in where we lived in Texas versus their lives in California were substantial and that alone made the trips exciting and added to the fun and joy for them and we felt it too.

I’ve got a little story here about a Thanksgiving when there was no family with us and it was just Pat and I. The three kids were grown and out of the house. They had all made commitments to spouses, future spouses, out–of-town hosts and others.

Pat and I hadn’t made any firm plans but Thanksgiving morning was so beautiful we decided to go to Mission Beach and ride our bikes for a couple of hours and then go find some restaurant that was serving turkey dinners.

We started our bike ride in south Mission Beach where man-made Mission Bay is only a couple of blocks east of the Pacific Ocean. Riding north on Bayside Walk, the bay and its adjoining beach are on your right, while on your left you have the beautifully landscaped residences and vacation homes. It is always a stimulating ride due to the interesting beach-type homes and if you keep your eyes open you will spot some beautiful flowers like those of the plumeria plant that Hawaiians use to make leis. I don’t know the exact distance, possibly a mile and a half, and Bayside Walk takes you north until you get to the Catamaran Village Hotel. Just before getting to the Catamaran, you turn left onto San Raphael Street and go west about 2 blocks to the Boardwalk and the ocean. At the Boardwalk, we always turned north and continued to Crystal Pier, at the foot of Garnet Avenue.

It’s a great bike ride from Crystal Pier, south, to the Mission Beach jetty. It’s more than 2 ¾ miles and the Boardwalk is smooth concrete and probably 14 to 18 feet wide. There is plenty of room for walkers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists.

Getting back to the story, Pat and I took off down the Boardwalk and were surprised at how few people were out and about. It was a pleasant ride down to South Mission Beach and we soon arrived at the parking lot south of the roller coaster where we had left our car. We were both getting hungry and as we loaded the bikes into the car couldn’t help noticing the large number of people around Doña Maria’s Restaurant about a block down and on the other side of the street. We decided to go check it out.

When we got to Doña Maria’s there was a line of people extending out through the front door. We got in line, figuring they must be serving up some excellent turkey dinners. The line moved right along and we were soon in the foyer and smelling turkey and stuffing and all the other wonderful things they were cooking. However, as we stepped into the main area of the restaurant we were shocked to see what was going on! There were a lot of people seated and eating and there were also bright lights and TV cameras. We were able to hear a reporter as he extolled the virtues of the local charity responsible for this Thanksgiving Dinner for the homeless people of San Diego. As we heard that, we ducked our heads and tried to make ourselves invisible as we headed for the door. We had unintentionally tried to score a dinner as homeless people!

We got to the car and laughed at each other’s red faces and sheepish looks. We drove over to Old Town, San Diego and found an Italian restaurant that was serving turkey dinners. As we enjoyed the turkey and all the trimmings it almost became a religious experience. We were giving thanks that we had escaped Doña Maria’s without humiliation and were praying that we wouldn’t show up on the 6 O’clock News.

Dave Thomas
November 25, 2014