Still a Bad Idea

In the spring of 1952, Jack Watson was a senior, and I was a sophomore at Augusta High School. Jack and I had been friends since I was 3 or maybe 4 years old. This was due to our parents being friends. Jack and I did a lot of things together as we were growing up. We bicycled and hiked, and as we got older, we hunted and fished and went camping. Occasionally, some dumb idea would show that we might be a bad influence on one another.

In his senior year, Jack was taking a chemistry class. I’m not sure why. Later, in college, he majored in finance, and became a CPA. Claude Wise was the instructor of the chemistry class. Mr. Wise always made his classes interesting by adding extra facts and tidbits of information to the curriculum. One day, for instance, he told Jack’s class how easy it was to make a still. Jack even ended up with a sketch showing how the thing would go together. Jack was pretty excited when he told me about it later, and convinced me that we should build and operate a still of our own. We knew that stills and moonshine were illegal, and that under-age drinking was illegal, and that the whole idea was probably covered by a bunch of laws we hadn’t even heard of. Of course, that made no difference because we both were hooked on the idea.

I can’t recall the details such as what hardware was required or how to prepare the mash. I do remember that Jack and I went down to the Western Auto Store, and split the cost of some copper tubing.

We needed a placed to store our secret project and Jack suggested his smoke house. I know that you younger people may not have heard of smoke houses, so I’ll tell you what little I learned as a kid.

Prior to the invention of refrigerators and freezers, it was impossible to preserve meat for any length of time. It could be smoked, packed in salt, pickled in brine, or jerked, but none of these preserved it for long.

Some of the finer homes, I guess built in the 1920’s or 1930’s, had a smokehouse built directly by or behind the back door of the home. That provided easy access in inclement weather. The residents could smoke their own meat or store the meat that someone else smoked for them. The Watson home was one of those nicer places that had a smoke house. Though an older home, Jack’s dad, Frank, had remodeled the place, and it was in fine condition. Their place had a smoke house and a single car garage. The smoke house was maybe ½ to ¾ the size of the garage. Frank used it as a workshop and kept his tools and equipment in it.

There were only two smoke houses in town that I was acquainted with. The first, of course, was the Watson’s. I remember one time when Jack bought an old Cushman motor scooter for $5. We put it in the smoke house and worked on it for days. It never fired. Jack finally had his dad haul it to the city dump.

The other smoke house I remember belonged to old Mrs. Rogers, the mother of Ordess Rogers and grandmother of Russell Rogers. She hired me a couple of times to do yard work, and kept the yard tools in the smoke house. Her smoke house was smaller than the Watson’s. It was maybe 8 x 10 or 8 x 12.

Before getting involved with smoke houses, I was talking about making a still. Jack and I spent a couple of weeks rounding up the parts and storing them behind some stuff in the back of the smoke house. One weekend when Jack’s folks were out of town, we assembled the thing and fired it up. It worked perfectly, and soon real moonshine was dripping out of the coil. When there was enough for both of us, we took a sip. Gad, it was awful! It was like drinking turpentine! That cured us right then. We dismantled the still while trying to get the taste out of our mouths, and hid the parts in the back of the smoke house again. Unfortunately, Jack’s dad found the parts before Jack could get rid of them. Jack got reamed out thoroughly, and then Frank told my folks, and it was my turn in the barrel. We both agreed  later that the chewing out wasn’t half as bad as the taste of that stuff. It was a dumb mistake that was never repeated.

Dave Thomas

7/7/2022

Caste or Outcasts

Our founding fathers thought they had the perfect solution for the enactment of the laws that would give structure to our democracy. A citizen/patriot would run for office, get elected, serve their term, and return to their regular lives. They didn’t realize that being elected to Congress would be the maiden step toward a life-long career. Ordinary people are enjoying the best job they have had in their lives. They are making more money, have the world’s best healthcare, receive money and gifts from lobbyists that make them rich, and enjoy a position of prestige enjoyed by few in this world. They have become the legislative caste in what we thought was a classless society. What if the job went back to being more of a civic duty rather than a career? I realize that what is regarded as “corporate memory” would be lost, but that can be overcome by enthusiasm and diligence. I might add that this caste system is becoming the norm. The GOP is ignoring the polls and treating their constituents as untouchables.

Dave Thomas

6/22/2022

Melting Pot

America has often been referred to as a “Melting Pot”. This is not an accurate descriptive term for our country. After 250 years of existence, if we were truly a melting pot, we would have blended into one color. Don’t freak out on me as I don’t mean it literally. I just mean we should all be of one mind as to who we really are. We all carry labels, two of them being skin color and country of origin. We may be black, white, yellow, brown, or red. And we could be African-American, Mexican-American, Italian-American, Native American, Irish-American, Chinese-American or some other hyphenated species. At birth or at court, we become citizens-Americans. Wouldn’t it be great if we just called ourselves Americans and the only colors we worried about were red, white, and blue? Even though a work-in-progress, America is still the greatest democracy the world has ever known.

Dave Thomas

06/15/2022

Not What She Deserved

It was a warm summer evening, and the kids, Russ, Doug, and Terri were playing in the front yard after supper. Pat was finishing up in the kitchen, and I was working in the garage with the big overhead door open. Suddenly, an El Cajon police car pulled up at the curb, and an officer got out and went to our front door. I headed for the front door, and got there just after the officer knocked, and Pat opened the door. The officer said, “We got a report that your son, Russell, had urinated on a neighbor girl. I’m here to find out just how that happened.” The kids had already gathered around to see what was happening. Pat and I both said that Russell wouldn’t do such a thing. The officer turned to the kids and asked which one was Russell. Russ identified himself, and the officer said, “Okay, Russell. Tell me exactly what happened.” 

Russ told the whole story:  The 7-11 down around the corner from us had a sale on some cheap water pistols, and the neighborhood kids had been having a lot of fun with water fights. Unfortunately, the water guns were so cheaply made, they didn’t last long.

A couple of days prior to this, we had visited our friends, the Hewitt’s. Roy Hewitt’s horse had been sick, and he had been giving it shots with big horse syringes. Roy hadn’t thrown the used syringes away but had left them on his work bench. Russ saw how big they were and thought they might make good water guns. Roy said he could have a couple of them, so Russ took them home and started using them.

The evening in question, as I said, the kids were playing in the front yard. A neighbor girl came riding down the sidewalk on her bike, probably headed for the 7-11. This girl had quite a mouth on her and she was always giving the rest of the kids (mainly Russ) a hard time about something. She finished her comments and rode down the sidewalk. A few minutes later, she came riding back up the sidewalk. Russ just happened to have a loaded “water gun” syringe in his hand, and, seeing the approaching girl, he hid his hand behind his leg. As the girl rode past them, running her mouth all the way, Russ pulled his arm out from behind his leg and squirted the girl as she went by. She must not have noticed until she got home, and then she or her folks decided that Russ must have urinated on her.

Pat and I could see that the officer was having a hard time keeping from laughing. He pulled himself together and put on his “tough cop” face and said, “Okay, Russell, I believe you, but I don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Dave Thomas

06/10/2022

More About Miss Patty

Lee The household on 8th Street in Eureka, Kansas was always busy. Maude Lee had her two daughters, Melba and Mable and Melba’s daughter, Patty, living with her. The house was a one bedroom with a small living room dominated by a pot-bellied coal burning stove, and with a large kitchen with a wood burning range. There was a small front porch and a screened-in back porch, and of course, an outhouse,  complete with a Sears Roebuck catalog as a source of paper.

Gathering fuel for the stove was a family affair. They each had a bucket, including Patty, who had a bucket that was just her size. They would walk along the railroad tracks and pick up the lumps of coal that had spilled to the ground when the tender or fire box was being loaded.  The family was grateful for the coal, but Patty had another railroad memory that wasn’t so good. One day, there was a derailment that resulted in a railroad car laying on it’s side just a couple of blocks from the house. That really frightened Patty as she realized that if the train had  gone a little farther it could have wiped out their house.

Maude worked hard to support the family. She baked and sold bread and pastries. As a girl she learned to bake in the kitchen of the hotel owned by her grandparents, John and Nancy Nole of Watson, Missouri.  Maude also raised chickens, so she had both chickens and eggs as sources of income. Also, the house was located on a very large lot so there was room for a good-sized vegetable garden. They sold some produce throughout the summer, and then they were able to can enough to get them through the winter.

Patty turned four years old a week before Pearl Harbor Day in 1941    The war caused life in the Lee household to change considerably. Beech Aircraft in Wichita was hiring, and both Melba and Mable applied for work. Both were hired and became Rosie the Riveter defense workers.  Melba was an expert at crafts or anything that required good hand to eye coordination, so she was soon promoted to supervisor. They moved to Wichita, and since there was no way to care for Patty, she stayed in Eureka with her grandma, Maude Lee.

Maude only had an 8th grade education, but she loved to read and made time to read a bible verse every night. She passed her love of reading onto Patty who, at 84, still reads constantly.

The neighborhood store was 3 blocks down and 1 block to the right. Maude taught Patty to count and make change. When she needed one or two items from the store, she would tell Patty the price and explain how to determine how much change she would receive from the amount tendered. Patty, who had a basket on the front of her tricycle, would peddle off to the store and make her purchases. When she got a little larger, Patty had a 4-wheel vehicle and could carry more stuff.

Thanks to the generosity of the neighbors, a bootlegger and his wife, Maude was able to use their phone and call the taxi man. The guy wasn’t a real taxi company but was just a man that had a car and would drive folks around town for a small fee. These were people that had made it through the depression and were still just trying to survive.

The bootlegger’s wife was Maude’s best friend, and she and her husband were good to both Maude and Patty. They even arranged for Patty to make a little spending money by washing the Mason jars and other containers used in their business. Patty doesn’t remember the exact structure of the deal but believes that for every two jars washed, she received one penny.

One day, as Patty was washing jars, the phone rang. The bootlegger answered and after a moment said, “Thanks Sheriff,” and hung up. Then, he yelled “Run for home, Patty!  There’s going to be a raid!” Next, he and his wife began carrying out tubs of clear liquid and dumping them in the corn field.

While working in Wichita, Melba came home to Eureka to spend the weekends with Patty and Maude. Taking the train made for an easy trip. Sometimes, to give Melba a break, Maude would send Patty to Wichita by herself. She made sure she had crayons and a coloring book, and would take her to the depot and hand her off to the conductor. The conductors were reliable men and would place Patty in the front of the car where they could keep an eye on her. The trains were almost always filled with soldiers and sailors. They were all leaving behind someone they cared about, so it was comforting to them to have a little girl like Patty to fuss over and pass the time with. She says they were the nicest bunch of guys you could ever meet.

Pat enjoyed living with her grandmother and appreciates everything she learned from her.   She lived with Grandma Lee until she was 12 years old and had completed 6th grade.  At that time, her mother got married, and they moved to El Dorado.

Dave Thomas

5/19/2022

The Modern Navy, Unzipped

I joined the Navy in March of 1957. What prompts a landlubber from Augusta, Kansas to enlist in the Navy? Well, I liked the tradition of the Navy, but, what was more important, was the educational and training opportunities that the Navy offered.

On the day I was to report, my friend, Johnny Luding, drove me to Wichita and dropped me off at the Navy Recruiting Office. I was 20 years old and most of the other guys were only 17 or 18, so I was put in charge. I was given instructions and paperwork for everyone, and we were loaded aboard a train for Kansas City. At Kansas City, we were loaded into a Pullman car on another train so we would sleep on the way to Chicago. At Chicago, the next morning, we boarded a commuter train to Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

At the Great Lakes, what appeared to be a couple hundred of us were herded into a big gym where we were given physicals and then were sworn in. Next, our new clothing was issued. We immediately started checking out our “dress blues.” The first thing, of course, was the white hat (pronounced as one word). Next, came the neckerchief. Then, the navy blue jumper with the white piping. Now, what’s next? These are not 13 button, bell bottom pants! These are straight-legged trousers with belt loops and zippers! What the hell? I didn’t join the Navy because of their uniform, but if I’m going to be a sailor, then I damn sure intend to look like one. I’m not going to go around dressed in trousers like an Army ground-pounder or and Air Force fly-boy. Jeez, what’s the world coming to? We asked an official looking guy what the deal was. He said that in an effort to modernize, the Navy had outlawed 13 button pants and gone to conventional trousers.

I suffered this indignity for the next year. I finished boot camp, went to AN “P” School at Norman Oklahoma, went to Aviation Electronics “A” School at Millington, Tennessee, and joined Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight, a seaplane squadron in San Diego, feeling an imposter. Then, I noticed that some of the older guys were wearing their 13 buttons again. The Navy had relaxed the dress code. My wife agreed that I should have some real Navy clothes, so we saved up a few bucks. There was an Army/Navy surplus store on Pacific Coast Highway in San Diego. I took my savings there, and for less than 20 bucks, got a pair of 13 button pants. Hot damn! I finally looked like a real sailor.

Dave Thomas

5/12/22

From the Hilltop

I was listening to a book on CD and the author mentioned how flat the land is in Kansas. That’s partially true, but it makes me think that this guy has never seen the Flint Hills. His contact with the state must have been on I-70 which I’ll admit would bore the devil out of anyone.

I got to thinking about my hometown of Augusta, Kansas and the terrain there. It’s true that a large part of the town is flat, but there are a couple of hills in town that have provided some good memories.

Toward the west side of town there is a limestone outcropping that forms some interesting landscapes. The formation generally runs from north to south. From the crest at High Street, the hill slopes off to the south,  to the east,  and to the west. State Street follows the spine in the north/ south direction. The high point of the two best hills in town is at the junction of State and High.

The city’s water tower is located at the high point of the town. It’s 50 yards west of State Street and almost far enough south to be even with Columbia Street. A few feet west of the water tower, the land falls off into a steep slope. This would be right behind and to the north of Mr. and Mrs. Money’s home. The limestone is exposed and looks like shale. It’s thin sheets of rock, stacked one on top of another. There is not enough dirt to grow anything but weeds and short grass. It was special, though, because it was the only place I knew that I could catch horned toads and ring-necked snakes. The horned toads were neat little creatures. They looked  so ferocious but were really quite docile and easy to handle.  The ring-necked snakes were pretty little things. They were coal black with a bright orange ring around their necks. They were no bigger around than an earthworm and were only 5 to 8 inches long. As neat as they were, I had learned a long time ago that you can’t take frogs, toads, lizards, or snakes home with you.  You can’t provide enough of their natural food to keep them alive.

State Street forms a really nice hill for riding bikes. Starting at High Street, you can coast past Columbia Street, Broadway, Clark, Main, and stop at the stoplight at 7th Street.  I remember one morning, I was trying to go as fast as possible down that long hill. An older guy I knew pulled up in his car. I yelled and asked him how fast I was going. He yelled back that I was doing 22 mph. I don’t know if that is good or not, but I was pretty proud. Another risk-taking activity was riding all the way down the hill without holding on to the handlebar. One kid, Harry Bryant, not only let go of the handlebar, but would stand up on his bike seat and ride all the way down! That was too much for me.

Another interesting feature of State Street is the brick paving. That’s something rarely seen. If you wish to know more about the brick paving, consult Burl Allison’s book on Augusta. State Street has also been the site of fun and entertainment. For a number of  years the annual Soap Box Derby was held there. The starting gate was set up just a few yards south of the High Street intersection and the crowd of family and friends started there and continued   for quite a way down the street. It was always fun to watch but I don’t think our town ever got far in the national competition.

The other good hill in town was High Street. When it snowed, High Street was the official sledding site. The city would put up barricades at State Street and at Osage so the sledders wouldn’t have to worry about traffic. When I was young, I didn’t have a sled. Fortunately, my great uncle and aunt lived at 124 High which made things perfect for me. Uncle Dave had a No. 10 scoop shovel that he taught me to ride. Put the shovel out in front of you and straddle the handle. Sit down in the shovel and raise your feet and away you go. When we got a little older, Dad found a second -hand sled for us and from then on, we were living big. 

Dave Thomas    4/22/2022

Cinco de Mayo (re-sharing)

It’s almost May and Pat reminded me that we have a Cinco de Mayo story. This took place in the mid-1990’s. I’m a diabetic and sometime in 1993, I got a diabetic ulcer on the bottom of my right foot. My doctors fought it for a year and a half and couldn’t get it to heal. Finally, it was decided to amputate the right leg below the knee. This was done and I got a prosthesis and life got back to normal. The following spring, I wasn’t paying attention and the prosthesis rubbed against the side of my knee and caused a sore that immediately became infected. This had happened before and it meant anti-biotics, at least 2 doctor visits, and 6 weeks in the wheel chair without my leg.

So anyhow, I’m riding my wheel chair and here it is…Cinco de Mayo. Pat and I decided we should join in the festivities by having lunch at Casa de Pico, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Old Town San Diego. We got there and the place was as colorful and beautiful as always. We sat on the patio to take advantage of the warm, sunny day and to hear the music and listen to the chatter and the laughter of the other patrons. Pat ordered a blended margarita in the big glass with the salt on the rim and, being diabetic, I ordered coffee.

As we waited to be served, we talked and admired the holiday decorations. There were some miniature Mexican flags on the tables so Pat took a couple and attached them to the handlebars of my wheel chair. We enjoyed our meal and left the restaurant and then headed for the side gate to leave the area. Getting through the wrought iron gate we needed to go about 50 yards down the side street to the parking lot. Pat was pushing me in the wheel chair and I was teasing and smart-mouthing her about drinking the margarita and maybe being too tipsy to push me. She countered by pushing faster to show that she could handle the job. I was having a heck of a good time and started yelling “faster, faster”. Pat was up to the challenge and in a few seconds was up to full speed. We were flying down the street with Mexican flags flying and Pat sprinting for dear life. We were looking good until we hit the pot-hole. Wham! Pat ran into the back of the wheel chair and I was dumped into the street. Yow, this is gonna’ hurt! Maybe next time I’ll keep my mouth shut.

Dave Thomas
April17, 2016

A Pigment Problem- from the Older Guy

Our country has become quite colorful in a very disgusting way. We have the red states and the blue states and the yellow-bellied members of Congress. The yellow bellies are the Republican Representatives and Senators who are afraid to stand up to the Trump base and their contributors and whoever else owns them. I wish we could go back to the old red, white, and blue we grew up with.

Dave Thomas

3/31/22

One Thing After Another- From the Older Guy

The runny nose made me think there was a bad cold coming on. However, after a year of it and no other symptoms developing, maybe that’s not the case. It’s been annoying though.  Some days are one handkerchief days but sometimes it’s two handkerchiefs or even three handkerchiefs.

I consulted with my wife, Pat, who is the chief medical advisor in our household. She said that all old people have runny noses. If you stop any old geezer on the street,  they will tell you that they blow their nose off and on, all day. I explained that I am busy and don’t have time for this nonsense. She said I may as well suck it up   as it’s not going to change. Then, the medical advisor went on to tell me there is a theory that explains this phenomenon.  The theory states that old people can’t remember anything because their brains are shrinking, and that’s what is dripping out of their nose.

Dave Thomas

3/31/2022