- Written by Frosty Wooldridge
- Category: Alternative
By Frosty Wooldridge
Part 5: Racism, Same Riddle, nasty situations
World War I U.S. Army General Smedley Butler said, “There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. War is just a racket... I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else.”
After the Tet Offensive, more Americans realized that Vietnam killed a lot of kids, caused enormous drug addiction problems, and fractured our country. At the same time, Dr. Martin Luther King faced an executioner April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The riots and the burning began!
America faced an ever-growing racial conflict. Segregation wouldn’t cut it much longer. Governor George Wallace stood in front of the school door to stop Blacks from integrating in Alabama, but the old south, lynching’s and intimidations painfully gave way to equal rights for African-Americans.
What I saw since I lived in the South for the last three years of my high school career gave me pause. Integration, while it proved moral and ethical, resulted in some nasty results. Blacks in Albany, Georgia entered my old high school as my little brother arrived. They beat him up, stole his lunch money and degraded him so often that my mother pulled him out and placed him in a private high school for his own safety. He became a “Star Student” and salutatorian of his senior class. Worse, most whites fled their own schools and moved to all-white cities.
Integration wasn’t the handy be-all and end-all that Martin Luther King envisioned. Tragically, 50 years later, not a day goes by that you don’t read about racism or racial conflict in America.
In fact, the same goes around the world. Everybody says that whites caused racism in America. But in fact, racism occurs in Japan, India, China, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and well, just about every country that mixes ethnic groups. I’ve come to realize that racism stems from culture and tribalism. It’s biological. The only hope we must work toward: respect each person as he or she lives the best he or she can in their time on this planet.
As to the Vietnam War, “Hanoi had launched the offensive in the belief that the offensive would trigger a popular uprising leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Although the initial attacks stunned the allies, causing them to lose control of several cities temporarily, they quickly regrouped, beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on PAVN/VC forces. The popular uprising anticipated by Hanoi never happened. During the Battle of Hue, intense fighting lasted for a month, resulting in the destruction of the city. During their occupation, the PAVN/VC executed thousands of people in the Massacre at Hue. Around the U.S. combat base at Khe Sanh, fighting continued for two more months. The offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam though General Westmoreland reported that defeating the PAVN/VC would require 200,000 more American soldiers and activation of the reserves, prompting even loyal supporters of the war to see that the current war strategy required re-evaluation. The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war soon declined and the U.S. sought negotiations to end the war.”
All my ROTC classmates wished, prayed and hoped the war would end before they graduated into active duty in the U.S. Army.
After leaving the White House, Lyndon Baines Johnson retreated to his Texas ranch. He remained depressed and reclusive for the rest of his life. Why? Because he created such a deadly massacre of young men and all for nothing. Again, LBJ and George W. Bush should share the same cell in hell for their obscene actions and their dishonesty that killed so many young men.
While in college, I attended journalism classes, which really excited me. I became a cub reporter for the Michigan State News. Loved it! That launched toward becoming a writer and author.
One thing about college, I attended Shakespeare’s plays, live theater and debates. I mixed with people from all over the world. I discovered that few people think the same way from other countries. It’s a wonder anyone gets along from various countries because their cultures conflict and their languages conflict because they see the world differently. Probably the worst thing that happened to humanity in the 20th and 21st century stems from instant travel and migration. I think we will continue to see internal conflict from mixing cultures, religions and languages from here on out.
In the meantime, I became a Resident Assistant with 50-man floor. I organized, counseled and kept order on my floor: Uncle Fudd’s Pump House, East Holden, the newest residence hall on campus. Of course, while on duty in the cafeteria, a particular Black guy named Sam Riddle from Detroit, tried to gain the back door for a free meal. I stood in his way. He told me that he and his friends would be back to kill me the next evening. I said, “Bring it!”
He sure did! The next evening, he brought 50 black thugs from Detroit. They broke into the front doors of the cafeteria and lined the walls. Then, they swept across the 50-yard-long cafeteria that served 1,200 students by tipping over tables, pouring milk on students’ heads. They even poured liquid on the Head Resident Advisor and his wife and two kids. Girls screamed, and the guys backed off from the thugs. We called the cops. By the time they arrived, Sam Riddle and his thugs vanished.
We faced a serious racial situation as most college campuses experienced at that time.
From being a peaceful farm boy, to a southern high school student, to a big-time college kid, I learned that life wasn’t so simple. The war frightened me. Racial conflict confused me. I attended ROTC classes, but always walked to class with my uniform in a suit case because I didn’t want to suffer rocks thrown at me or name calling. At the same time, I met a 6-foot-tall art student who proved quite gorgeous. I started dating her. We hit it off.
Part 6: Graduation, marriage, Fort Riley, Kansas
- Written by Frosty Wooldridge
- Category: Alternative
By Frosty Wooldridge
Part 4: College, Vietnam, coming to terms with political corruption
When I entered college in the fall of 1965, I didn’t know anything about how our U.S. Congress worked. I didn’t understand the ramifications of entrenched corruption, good old boy clubs and how corporations greased the palms of our elected officials to overlook our laws or pass what they wanted. I didn’t think such honorable officials would cheat their own countrymen.
My daddy was a U.S. Marine. America was the finest country in the world. America was true, just, fair and honorable. Yes, average Americans proved to be all of that, but our elected officials proved themselves to be a den of thieves. In the end, Robert McNamara engineered the Vietnam War. He killed off millions of people, but lived to 90 years of age. He wrote an apology book: Fog of War. Read it and it will make you sick to your stomach. McNamara, Westmoreland and LBJ should be roommates in hell. And every Senator and House Member who funded the war for 10 years should join them.
As to screwing the American people, Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, which put a bunch of private bankers into the driver’s seat of our entire money system, where they dictate everything in our financial system today. Essentially, those men are pure aristocracy of financial power. That’s total corruption, and yet, they get away with it in 2019 and beyond. Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you super-add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”
As many readers have responded to this series, yes, I know that the Rothchilds, Bilderbergers, J.Paul Getty’s, Ford’s and others, enforced enormous financial power to sway public opinion, and in reality, buy elections and make wars happen. While John Kennedy gained the White House primarily with his father’s illegal booze money and outright election fraud, President Kennedy also carried on with a 19-year-old intern. It’s even documented that he committed many affairs all the way up to Marilynn Monroe. Like Hillary Clinton with her husband Bill, Jackie Kennedy knew her husband cheated on her, often.
This whole thing about ‘power’ began to make its way into my brain and understanding of how the world worked.
After reading that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but he ‘let’ or even ‘made sure’ we were ‘surprised’ and unprepared on that early morning, well, he sacrificed all those men’s lives for his political agenda to enter WWII. I call that cruel and amoral.
But one of the worst acts of the Kennedy’s: Senator Teddy Kennedy, a drunk and sexual predator, along with Howard Metzenbaum and Jacob Javits, passed the 1965 Immigration Reform Act. That single bill birthed the biggest monster that’s leading to the ultimate downfall of the United States---massive and endless immigration out of the third world to create a multicultural, racially & religiously incompatible, linguistically separated and culturally chaotic America—which we face today. We’re no longer the “American people” but a mishmash of very incompatible cultures, languages and cultures at odds with one another. That one bill will prove the undoing of the Founding Fathers and this Republic.
Vietnam Protests, ROTC
Heading into my junior year at Michigan State University, I received many letters from floormates in Nam who had been drafted, that we weren’t fighting to stop communism, but only to keep the war going to fill bankers’ pockets and continue the war for the war’s money-making sake. We weren’t there to win or lose, just to keep fighting and dying. One thing about conscripted soldiers: they tell the truth of what’s actually happening.
That fall, Life Magazine published 320 kids who had been killed in Vietnam in one week. They covered the front page with wallet-sized photos in black and white. Inside, 320 of them: dead. Lives taken by the ‘masters’ in the White House and Congress. At that point, I already knew a half dozen who had died. I crapped my pants in the fear of the reality that time would bring up my number for the draft.
We marched in the streets. MSU campus became a war zone. Rocks got tossed into the administration building, classes disrupted, and peace signs everywhere! I participated in several marches: Detroit, Chicago and Washington DC. “Hell no, we won’t go….” Guys burned their draft cards.
So, in the summer of 1968, I signed up for Army ROTC. I wanted to be able to finish my degree, and if possible, choose my future rather than being a draftee grunt in 11 Bravo, Infantry, Queen of Battle. I reported for duty at Fort Benning, Georgia. Again, if you want to know what it was/is like in basic training, watch the movie, Full Metal Jacket.
Drill sergeants treated us like the lowest scumballs on the planet. They screamed out degrading names. They shamed us at every chance. They made us do 100, 150, even 200 pushups per day for no other reason than their power over us. I found myself in E-8-2. Never forget those hot, humid Georgia barracks from WWII. Ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, gnats, flies and poison ivy. We were commanded to stupidly, unquestionably and mindlessly follow orders. That’s why the My Lai Massacre and other outright murders happened by the thousands over that 10 year war. War turns men insane, crazy and deadly.
They forced us to sing, “I wanna’ go to Vietnam, I wanna’ fight the Vietcong…I wanna’ go see Ho Chi Min, to pull the whiskers on his chin…sound off, 1, 2, sound off, 3,4….I wanna’ be an Air Born Ranger, I wanna’ live a life of danger….”
Now I really shit my pants. Forced marches, night marches, four hours sleep, firing range, PT endlessly, bayonet training, (what’s the call of a bayonet fighter, “To kill, to kill!”), degradation daily and reduction of your humanity into that of a killing machine. Crawling under concertino wire, lobbing grenades and night crawling under live fire with tracers. Bunkers blowing you off the ground to simulate real battle….
If I could have killed my sadistic drill sergeant with immunity, I would have considered it. He had fought in Vietnam and got his jaw shot half off. For some reason, he got a kick out of war. He showed his shrapnel wounds and scars. Around the base, I saw guys with missing limbs and horrible disfigurement. Many guys with napalm burns lost their ears, noses or lips. Some had their eyelids burned off with that deadly jellied gasoline that stuck to their bodies.
One night on fire watch, I sat at the front door of the barracks around 3: 00 a.m. wondering if I would live or die in Nam, or simply be burned to a crisp. Or, come home missing my legs or an arm. The one thing I discovered about war: you can be smart, dumb, short, tall, skinny, fat, rich or poor—it doesn’t make any difference. If a bullet had your name on it; you would die or be maimed. There are no heroes in war as they portray in the movies. Just the lucky ones who live through combat by the luck of the draw! I sat there in the moonlight crying. “God, dad,” I muttered. “Is this what you went through in the Marshall Islands? I’m scared. Help me get through this, dad.”
Part 5: Kent State killings, second boot camp, graduation
- Written by Frosty Wooldridge
- Category: Alternative
By Frosty Wooldridge
Part 2: High school, race riots, separate drinking fountains, Vietnam War
In my high school sophomore year, my father moved us to Albany, Georgia. At the age of 15, I jumped from a northern climate to the hot, muggy temperatures of the Deep South. Additionally, from getting beat up by bullies back in Michigan, I joined a whole new pecking order of southern hicks who wanted to show me where I stood—at the bottom of their pecking order.
I promptly grabbed an 80-customer paper route with the Atlanta Constitution-Journal at 5:00 a.m., seven days a week. I also played football, basketball and track. At the time, the Cuban Missile Crisis jumped out of the SAC base there in Albany. Enormous B-52’s filled the skies 24/7. President Kennedy finally made a blockade move that Khrushchev, couldn’t handle---so the Russian leader backed down after the blockade. However, Castro remained in power and became a nemesis for the next 50 years. Essentially, the Monroe Doctrine held, but Cuba continued as a thorn in our side in the Western Hemisphere.
At 15, I slowly began understanding that the world carried a different tune of violence, wars, political positioning and tension. As a kid living an average middle-class, middle-American life, I didn’t really know about or understand the geo-political intrigues of WWII, Korea or the impending Vietnam War.
I delivered papers seven days a week at 2 cents a paper. I worked as a pool cleaner at 60 cents an hour from 7 to 10 a.m., and lifeguard at 75 cents an hour from 10 to 6 p.m. and dishwasher from 6 to 9 ever night, seven days a week. My mom said, “You’re saving for college.” By the time I hit 16, my father said I could drive his 1953 Chevy station-wagon with a straight six and three on the column. A beast! All I had to do was pay for the insurance, tires and maintenance. It only carried 1st and 3rd gears as 2nd gear blew out and we didn’t have the money to overhaul the transmission.
With all of that, my brother Rex and I found ourselves being picked on, beat up and hassled by the top four bullies of the school. As you can imagine, at 6’2 ½” and 180 pounds, I wasn’t a pip-squeak anymore. I started lifting weights with Charles Atlas instruction. All four of the chief bullies suffered horrible pains after Rex and I beat the crap out of them. Rex matched my size. After those events, nobody bothered us for the rest of our high school careers.
From 10th to 11th grade—school, study, paper route and sports. Dad umpired games, wrote articles for the local paper and gave our family the best of the best. He didn’t drink, smoke or curse. He and mom danced on Saturday nights. Life for us---pretty normal! The Cuban Missile Crisis faded, and the Cold War didn’t seem much of a big deal to me. I really didn’t understand the way the world worked at that point. Still very much naïve! That would quickly change in the spring of my 11th grade year.
My brother Rex and I drove home from baseball practice in the 53’ Chevy. We talked about the last game with Macon. Then, I noticed one of my dad’s friends pull up behind me, motioning me to pull over and honking on his horn.
“What’s up, Mr. George?” I asked, as he came to my window.
“I got some bad news, Frosty,” he said. “I don’t know how to tell you boys this, but your father was umpiring behind the plate at the Albany game today. At the top of the second inning, he called a batter out, grabbed his chest, and fell over the catcher, and died on home plate of a massive heart attack.”
“Oh my God!” I cried out.
Rex started screaming, “No, no, no….” in the seat beside me.
All of a sudden, our world changed drastically. From enjoying a great childhood to being thrust into instant pain, sorrow, and total loss of structure in our lives.
Mr. George jumped into the car and drove us home. A couple of preachers sat with our mom, our other brother and sister. Neighbors brought food, but all I wanted to do was run away. I comforted mom, but didn’t know what to do. Later, they left, and our little family sat in the living room, crying, sobbing and confused about life.
Three days later, we attended an open casket funeral of my father. One day I saw him vibrant with life, and three days later, he’s decked out in a casket, with his life vanished. We traveled to Michigan to bury him at the Reed City cemetery of his youth. As they lowered him into the grave, U.S. Marines gave him a 21-gun salute. (Even 55 years later, as I write this story, huge tears stream down my face. It’s still as painful to lose my dad a half century later as it was in 1964.)
To this day, I hate funerals. I never attend open casket funerals. I attend memorials and I speak about my friends’ lives and celebrate their time on this planet. And, at this later stage of my life, I’m going to a lot of funerals. My old Army buddy Archie said, “Frosty, if we live long enough, we’ll keep going to these memorials until we too, are the main attraction.” Always the joker, that Archie!
I staggered through the summer. I stumbled into my senior year at Dougherty High School. While I became a top player on the championship basketball team, it didn’t mean much because dad no longer sat in the stands. I think all young men play for their dads to be proud of them. I lost that, and, it took something out of me. But I can say that his legacy to me remains today: true grit, never say quit and uncommon tenacity. He proved an average man, but he stands as a towering figure in my life.
During those years, Dr. Martin Luther King marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Race riots spread. And yes, I was in the middle of “separate drinking fountains, schools, bathrooms, motels and restaurants.” Then, Kennedy suffered assassination on November 22, 2063. Upon reaching 18, I registered for the draft. Lyndon Baines Johnson began building up troops in Vietnam.
My life as a baby boomer was about to go on a hell of a ride.
Part 3: College years, Vietnam, buddies dying, discovering the US Government lies like a thief.
- Written by Frosty Wooldridge
- Category: Alternative
By Frosty Wooldridge
Part 3: College years, Vietnam, racism, affirmative action, buddies dying, discovering the people leading the US Government thrive on corruption, Simon and Garfunkel, Beatles.
As to being a “Baby Boomer,” none of us realized that we constituted an 80 million person “wave” of kids from 1946 to 1964, who stepped off the farm, with all its hard work and long hours—and ran headlong into TV, muscle cars, women’s rights, civil rights for Blacks, Elvis Presley, the Vietnam War, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and a nasty feeling that our “safe” world wasn’t so innocent.
After Kennedy suffered assassination on November 22, 1963, I sat in my 10th grade English class with Mrs. Clyatt when the principle announced it over the P.A. system. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson became president. No one knew he constituted one of the most corrupt, money grabbing, lying and deceitful S.O.B.’s ever to reach the White House in the 20th century. Even Bill Clinton couldn’t beat LBJ out. Johnson literally created the Vietnam War via the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which proved a total fraud. It duplicated G.W. Bush’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq fraud that has killed over 6,500 U.S. soldiers in combat in Iraq and some 60,000 veteran and active duty suicides since 2001. Johnson and G.W. Bush should share the same locker in hell.
In the case of Johnson, he killed 2.1 million civilian Vietnamese and over 1.1 million Vietcong and South Vietnamese troops. At the same time, he took the lives of 58,220 American kids he forced into combat, along with another 150,000 horribly wounded. I knew a half dozen of them personally who died for that bastard. Johnson unknowingly started the drug onslaught in America of heroin, meth, cocaine, MJ and more from soldiers who got ‘high’ just to survive Vietnam. They returned to broken marriages, being spit upon and suffering from P.T.S.D. If you want a taste of what it was like, watch the movie: Full Metal Jacket.
All the while, the WWII generation, known as the “Silent Majority” quietly supported the Vietnam War because they trusted their president and Congressional leaders to do the right thing. When in fact, the majority of Congress funded an illegal “Bankers’ War” instigated by the Military Industrial Complex. Those same Senators and House members dipped their wallets into the “War Machine” via insider trading on stocks from defense contractors. President Eisenhower warned against the MIC, but nobody paid any attention.
So, for 10 years, 1965 to 1975, corporations made billions while my generation got shot up, drugged up and maimed emotionally and physically. Pretty much the same today with two 18 year-long wars and an all-volunteer Army of young kids that do not know what awaits them once they join the Army or Marines.
If you start talking about the African-Americans, well, racism raged everywhere. Separate drinking fountains, motels, restaurants and schools. With Martin Luther King, that changed with the Civil Rights Act. Much changed since the 60’s, but racism still thrives on both sides of the races. Everyone pretends that it’s learned, but in fact, it’s “biological and tribal” and it’s not going to calm down in the near or far future. It’s going be a thorn in the side of America for the rest of our existence as a country. I used to think we could solve it, but I am no longer optimistic for such a utopian future.
On a historical note, slavery built the pyramids, Great Wall, Carthage, Rome and other big empires. The one thing that African-Americans can at least appreciate: over 500,000 white Union soldiers gave up their lives to end slavery. Martin Luther King gave up his life to bring equal rights. No other country gives Blacks as much benefit and opportunity as in the United States of America. Yet, slavery still exists in Africa, the Middle East and other third world countries.
In my senior year, my mother struggled to balance the check book and raise our family. She worked at a church where the priests sexually harassed her. She came home in tears at times. I lack any clue as to how she survived all those years being single. In fact, she remained single the rest of her life.
I struggled to keep my sense of purpose. The summer of my senior year screamed by in a blur. My brother Rex dropped out of the honor society, became reclusive and coasted through his classes. My other brother Howard, well, I don’t remember his path. He picked himself up and ultimately graduated from college. My sister became obese and lost. We did not enjoy grief counseling. Therefore, each of us staggered through daily living. I really don’t know how any of us made it through those first couple of years after dad’s death.
At some point, the pain ebbed and life carried on, and took us with it.
My Senior Year 1964 to 1965 in High School
Mrs. Nancy Steller, my English teacher, divorced with two kids, provided me with balance and incentives to maintain my grades toward college. I don’t know how our poorly paid teachers taught school. They lived on poverty wages. Yet, they taught us. Rex and I played on the football and basketball teams, plus track. I applied to Michigan State University and enjoyed the acceptance paper. We lettered in three sports, and participated in the class play and junior-senior prom. I took Judy Smith to the prom, my only date in high school!
I worked four jobs all summer in 1965. In the fall, I paid $1,495.00 for a VW bug and drove it 1,000 miles to East Lansing, Michigan and the sprawling Michigan State University campus. That first night in 433 North Wonders Hall, I sat up in my room in the window---and cried my eyes out.
“What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” I muttered through my tears. “I promise you this, dad, I’m going to do my best and make you proud.”
My freshman year passed with me being voted V.P. of my 50 man residence hall floor. I volunteered to be secretary of the residence hall council government. The Head Resident Counselor who ran the hall saw my potential.
I attended every class by using my $10.00 used Schwinn bicycle on the 500 acre campus. I studied every spare moment outside of class. I booked it every weekend. I played paddleball three times a week for one hour to blow off energy. I didn’t date because I didn’t enjoy any spare money. I played freshman football with some of the biggest stars of the 1970’s in pro-football: Bubba Smith, Clint Jones, Gene Washington, Saul Brothers, Mickey Webster, Al Brenner and others in baseball like Steve Garvey.
What I didn’t know: those inner city kids could catch a pass and hit like a freight train, but they were dumber than a box of rocks. Bubba never attended class and spent all his time in the grill checking out the women. The academic fraud blew my mind. I studied my rear-end off while those free-ride minority athletes enjoyed free grades. Many of them ‘graduated’ functionally illiterate.
In my sophomore spring practice, a 240 pound linebacker hit me so hard that he knocked me into the hospital for three days with a severe concussion. I never suited up again. Football is one God-awful vicious and deadly sport. How anyone survives a whole season in the pros blows my mind.
In the summer of 1966, I worked as a baggage handler for United Airlines for a whopping $2.12 an hour. I slept in a tent all summer to save money.
In the fall of 1966, the Vietnam War began taking casualties of young kids like me. And, we needed to keep in the top half of our class to be exempt from the draft. My roommate didn’t make the grade, got drafted into the U.S. Army—and trained in Advanced Infantry at Fort Polk. When he shipped over to Nam, he stopped by to give me a small peace ring. He said, “If I make it back, we can drink a beer and laugh about it…if I don’t, wear this peace ring and be a man of peace for the rest of your life.”
He got killed in a firefight within three months of landing in Nam. Each time I visit The Vietnam Wall in Washington DC, I cry my eyes out that he didn’t get to live his life because of the bastards in Washington DC.
I have worn his ring every day of my life since 1967.
- Written by Frosty Wooldridge
- Category: Alternative
By Frosty Wooldridge
Part 1: Becoming a baby boomer after World War II, the early years
On January 26, 1947, my mother gave birth to her first-born child. That 8-pound 12 ounce bouncing baby boy turned out to be yours truly. Since my father, a Reed City, Michigan boy, and U.S. Marine M/Sgt. Howard Wooldridge, returned from fighting in the Marshall Islands, my birth took place at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station, Illinois, just north of Chicago.
Within weeks, we moved back to our 80-acre farm in LeRoy, Michigan, a farming town of 500, which by the way, in 2019, still sports 500 farmers. It’s a sleepy little berg south of Cadillac, Michigan on old 131. It features rolling hills, massive maple-pine-poplar forests, many lakes and lots of rivers. If you visit, you might see fields of hay, corn, wheat, barley and numerous barnyards with old-style barns, most of them red.
In our 120-year-old farm house, I grew up with four siblings. My younger years saw me using an outhouse until age seven. We took baths in a tub until I turned seven when we finally installed a toilet and shower. Wow, hot water, a sink in the kitchen and a Maytag stove that still works today. We finally replaced the 50-year-old refrigerator, NOT because it broke, but because it became too small for our needs. Needless to say, back then, they built stoves and fridges to last.
Once during my childhood, with my long johns drooping on my body, I had to stoke the furnace with coal in the middle of the night. Snow fell everywhere during a normal Michigan winter with 10-foot snow drifts. I finished shoveling coal into the Holland Furnace, but needed to visit the outhouse. Can you imagine a young kid with boots, trudging through three feet of snow to get to the outhouse in the dead of night? Only the yard light gave me an indication of the location of the outhouse in the middle of the darkness.
Upon opening the door, that same “outhouse odor” slammed into my nostrils. Cob webs in the corners, and a Sears Magazine for toilet paper. I don’t mind telling you that I came from humble beginnings. A Sears Magazine is about as humble as it gets for toilet paper.
When I sat down, that -10 degrees F felt like sitting on a frozen doughnut. It about causes your rear end to jump from the seat, but then, you’ve got to get your business done, so you force yourself to stay on that iceberg seat.
Later, I trudged through the snow, back into the house, and crawled under my quilt to sleep the rest of the night away.
For breakfast before school, I walked up to my grandfather’s barn up the hill 100 yards to milk the cows, and then, bring home a gallon of fresh milk. In the early morning darkness, my imagination ran wild with the prospect of some monster jumping out of the bushes to eat me. We were too poor for a flashlight, so I suffered regularly from certain death by unknown demons.
Mom cooked oatmeal and baked bread. My siblings and I enjoyed homemade blackberry jam, butter and toast.
As we grew older, we watched grandpa place chickens onto a wooden horse and take an ax to their necks. We thought it quite humorous to see a chicken running around without its head. That’s where the adage originated, “Running around like a chicken with his head cut off.” Of course, today, kids would never understand that idiom. Same with “getting down to brass tacks.” Heck, kids today lack any understanding about the origins of America, or for that matter, where our food and milk originated. Most city kids, glued to their cell phones from age 8 onward, think food comes from a grocery store. They can’t imagine seeing a bloody deer, cow or chicken carcass being butchered and prepared for human consumption. They don’t possess a clue that milk comes from the udders of a cow. Same with chicken eggs. We used to collect them from the hen house.
I attended LeRoy Elementary School. My father and mother told me to always do my studies and homework first, and then, play sports. Best advice I ever received in my youth. As I grew taller at 6’2 ½”, I became a shortstop in baseball and guard in basketball.
Oh, and how about a “party line” for using the telephone. Everytime someone called, another eight neighbors on your line listened. And, we bought our first black and white TV with rounded corners and flat top and bottom. About 10 inches of screen. Gasoline ran 20 cents a gallon. My dad drove a 49 Nash Rambler. I used an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. It’s still working in that old farm house today!
Of course, the older I became, the more my parents and grandparents put upon me to work. Spring wheat saw me working my rear-end off. That old 1949 B John Deere tractor ran from dawn to dusk with me in the driver’s seat cutting hay. Then, baling it, loading it and slamming those 60-pound bales into the barn loft. Seems like I cultivated the corn until it grew over my head. In the spring, we collected maple tree sap and boiled it on an open fire. It takes 42 gallons of sap for one gallon of pure maple syrup. Nothing like it in the world on a stack fo pancakes!
On Sundays, we attended church. By mid-summer, we picked all the vegetables out of the garden for canning. We picked blue berries, and later, apples for apple sauce. My mom canned everything for winter stores. We also played a lot of baseball catching and hitting. I built a basketball hoop in our adjacent cow pasture. And yes, fishing out of a rowboat, much better than a therapist. I enjoyed my childhood with my three brothers and sister.
One thing about growing up on a farm: you’re wanted, you’re needed and you learn the value of hard work and healthy living. You’re also very close to Nature which gives you a balance that stays with you all your life.
But then came 9th grade with bullies who got a kick out of busting me in the arm with their fists. Because I grew tall and athletic, I got a taste of the male pecking order. If they couldn’t compete with me on the athletic field, they decided to beat the crap out of me off the field.
My dad said, “Son, they might make a meal out of you…but you stand your ground…and just land one punch that they’ll remember…and they won’t bother you anymore.”
Dad called it! The next time Bobby Varnado hit me going down the hall, and then, shoved a pencil up my butt when I walked back to my seat, I turned around and gave him a black eye he remembers to this day. At every 10-year reunion, he remembers that I busted him up pretty damned good. He never bothered me again.
Part 2: High school years, college, US Army, Vietnam
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