Tuesday, January 31, 2006
What made us tick was living in the middle of the area surround by Bear Butte, Fort Meade, Ellsworth AFB, Sturgis, and the Black Hills. The butte raises 1253 feet above the surrounding plains, is a lacolith, and is a major center for hundreds of Indian tribe’s religious concerns and it is 5 Miles from Fort Meade. I had already climbed the Butte at least a dozen times including one trip up on the back of a burro. Trips up on Easter morning and camping trips on top and at the base. Trips up with my Scout patrol to send smoke signals, to other scouts located, back home, 7 miles away.
One mile away, from the Butte, was Bear Butte Lake and also our swimming pool. During the hot summer days we were at the pool constantly. A small bus left from town every morning, heading to the pool for swimming classes and back at noon. After the required one-hour delay after eating, to prevent cramps, we all headed back for the afternoon. There was no bus in the afternoon so we hitchhiked or walked the 7 miles. If you walked you had to be alert for rattlesnakes, bulls and electric fences. If we had a newcomer in the hike we would get into a discussion about electric fences and then always dare them to pee on the fence. Usually they would accept the dare and what fun that would be. Our pool was a large, sand lined affair with a 9’ depth by the diving boards. It wasn’t very good sand as you couldn’t see more that 3 or 4 feet. Tough on lifeguards trying to see someone in trouble. I remember a few people drowning. I also remember one of our lifeguards breaking his neck when he tried to jackknife dive off the lifeguard stand, on a dare. Not much for filtration as the water ran in from an artesian well on one end and overflowed into the lake on the other but it had a sand beach with plenty of room to show off and get into trouble.
The Fort, today, is a large Veterans Hospital but originally was a Calvary Fort with a duty to keep white settlers out of the religiously important Black Hills after gold was discovered by General George Custer in 1876. They couldn’t stop the miners so then they had to protect the miners from the Indians. It was from Ft. Meade that General Custer and his famed 7th Calvary launched his ill-fated foray into Indian Territory at the battle of the Little Bighorn. Between Sturgis and Ft. Meade was an old Calvary cemetery that held many survivors [General Reno’s troops] of that infamous battle. Ft. Meade still has all of the old buildings such as the old barracks, stables, officer quarters and parade grounds. The area abounds in arrowheads, rifle and pistol casings.
The one mile from my house to Ft. Meade was forest with sandstone cliffs and Bear Butte Creek. First you had to conquer Webers Hill, which was a private dairy farm, always being vigilant for Mr. Weber and his blue Ford Tractor because it was said he would chase you out with it if he caught you on his property. I saw Mr. Weber many times in my treks to the battlefields but he never chased me, he just waved. Sometimes the enemy was just made up, sometimes the enemy was other friends who had gone up earlier but best of all was “Tourist Kids” who were checking the area out with some local friends. We could shadow this enemy for hours without them ever knowing about us until they hit a clearing and we would attack! Coming out of the woods on a dead run, waving our BB guns and shouting war hoops. We would usually scare the enemy into submission and then charge off into the woods again to disappear like the wind from which we came. It was a real high for us and we could tell tales about a successful encounter with “Tourist Kids” for hours on end. During our other battles, our friends would sometimes go up first and we would later follow hoping to kill or capture all of them. First we reached the cover of the Cottonwoods in the gulleys and dry washes on the way up. Next came the comfort of the tall Ponderosa Pines, which were good for reconnoitering the enemy who were always camped on top of the sandstone cliffs. Storming the cliffs was always the toughest part. Our weapons of choice were Red Ryder BB guns. During these battles you usually wore a few more clothes because those BB’s really hurt. It was a battle based on trust because you had to report a hit, which meant being “Hit” by a BB. The hit was usually obvious as it was almost always followed by a loud “ow!” and a red welt that could be inspected if there was a question. If you were hit in the arm or leg, you could continue playing but the appropriate limb could not be used. Today’s paintballers had nothing on us. Why no one ever lost an eye was beyond me but they didn’t. The God of immortality and childhood recklessness was always with us and more than once, in the years since, I have found fit to thank him for both of my eyes, many times.
My group was our Boy Scout Troop 14 patrol called The Panther Patrol. We could be a Calvary squad or a Sioux raiding party at the blink of an eye. The name Panthers worked well with either choice. This was our backyard and we were free to roam in it as we saw fit. If this wasn’t enough, all we had to do was turn right, as we entered our battlefields and we were on the outer edges of Ellsworth Air Force Base watching B17 [The Flying Fortress], F-84 Fighters or B-36’s take off and land in the distance and there were no fences. We even had our own UFO incident at Ellsworth and over our town to further fertilize our little minds. It wasn’t much of a leap for me and my friends to become Indian braves, Fighter Pilots or Calvary soldiers and fight many a mighty battle for imaginary prizes.
Our town was an old colorful military town with famous characters such as Poker Alice and we were only 9 miles from the wild, west, town of Deadwood with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. This was certainly sensory overload for young boys with imaginations locked into high gear. Our Sheriff sang, played guitar, rode a horse and wore six guns on his hip. Our Chief-of-Police rode a Harley. This is a good segue as 14 years later I would be back in Sturgis, fresh from the US Navy playing real life good guys and bad guys as Chief-of-police. I didn’t ride a Harley but we were chasing them down with “Big Engine” Chevy’s and Dodge’s that would hit 140 mph plus as the bad Harley riders tried to outrun us in the mountains or open prairie. We weren’t using Red Ryder BB guns but .357 Colt Pythons and shotguns. I had grown up……sort of. The groups were no longer called the Panther Patrol but were Calif. Hell’s Angeles, Colorado Sons of Silence and Banditos from everywhere. Six of us and six reserves were keeping the peace with a hundred thousand motorcycle enthusiasts, from all over the country at the 1970 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We were backed up by the State Police and the Meade County Sheriff. We did it and lived to write about it and the bikers all had a good time. Sounds like the making of another posting to me.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Friday, January 20, 2006
Very few people, except us old folks, remember the summers of 1952 and 1953 when a disease called Polio silently knocked down our friends, siblings and even the President of the United States, a few years earlier. It was a horrible disease to be singled out by, as it left its victims crippled or confined in an Iron Lung for the rest of their lives. It struck without warning and how the virus was spread was and still is a mystery. It struck with all of its might in the months of July and August. The polio epidemic created hysteria in all of our parents and for want of anything else to do some did not allow their children to attend carnivals, circus’s, the city pools and anything else where people gathered. I had friends, brothers of friends, a girl down the street, relatives all attacked by the vicious virus. Some were left with braces, others with casts and some nothing at all. All of those attacked, that I knew of, were about my age. My parents packed us up in August and we headed for the mountains, away from the sweltering masses in our little rural town of 4,000, away from the virus, hiding from the ravages of Polio.
Legion Lake, in Custer State Park, The Black Hills of South Dakota was where we landed. It was about an hours drive from my fathers Sawmill and he would commute a couple of times during the week, bringing bookkeeping work for my mother and to stay overnight or the weekend. We stayed in a rustic cabin on the mountain. I always waited anxiously for word that he was joining us as it would mean we would be eating out somewhere or attending a play or just going for a long drive and I could be mesmerized by my fathers tales of the gold miners that used to inhabit the area.
A summer at Legion Lake was like a dream come true for a wee lad of 10. “Back in those days” we ‘wee lads’ were allowed to roam free with but a promise to come back for lunch and not to do anything bad while we were gone. Heaven. My brothers were much older than I was and always quickly ditched me to do things that a little guy around would only ruin. I was also known to tell on them when they did bad things. There I was, alone with only a beautiful lake and fishing, mountains, timber, horses and lots of animals to keep me company. A child’s dream, I think. There was also Andy, whose parents ran the place and the tourist kids that would arrive from time to time to carry on the adventures and dreams and there was Badger Clark.
Mr. Clark was the poet- Laureate of South Dakota. He eventually decided to live and write in the central Black Hills in a simple cabin, near French Creek, made of logs by and nicknamed “the Badger Hole.” I had visited Mr. Clark several times but only with my brothers as I was not allowed to go alone, not because my mother was scared of Mr. Clark but rather scared of me. I had a pretty good reputation, by this time, of badgering [no pun intended] people for hours on end. She was sure I would be able to, single-handed, give him writers block. I’m sure I would have, as I remember being fairly intense about this time.
During the end of our stay, I remember one very hot August day when I was very bored. There was no one to hang out with, Andy had to work, no tourist kids were in camp and my brothers had managed to dump me, so I decided to visit Badger Clark. I wouldn’t let him know I was there. I could sneak up on him just like an Indian Brave and watch him and my mom would never know. Mr. Clarks house was just a short trail up from my beloved Legion Lake. Like a brave Sioux warrior I walked up the edge of the trail, ever mindful that even the smallest crack of a branch on the ground could give my position away to the dreaded soldiers of General Custers 7th Calvary who would surely capture me. They would haul me, by my feet, with a rope tied off to a nearby tree and begin to interrogate me to find the rest of my raiding party [my brothers]. I was sure that I would not be able to stand it when they put the red ants on my body. Maybe if I gave up their positions, the soldiers would cut me free and let me go. It was best that I didn’t get caught. Suddenly I was confronted by two people, walking the trail back from Mr. Clarks house. I panicked and dove into the underbrush except there was no underbrush only grass. I remember feeling naked. The man stopped and reached down and picked me up and inquired as to if I was hurt. Captured!!!! I was mortified, humiliated and a disgrace to my race. I hung my head in shame but the people left and I was again alone wondering why I had not been shot?? My mission was all that counted and again I was on my way to Mr. Clarks house. This time I vowed to not be taken alive, and shortly the house was in sight. Mr. Clark was sitting outside on a home made wooden chair. His white hair, long pointed goatee, and western dress made me sure that I had stumbled on some type of high level meeting. Maybe this man was really General Custer and I had stumbled on war strategy being relayed or planned. The man and woman listening to the man with the white hair were staring intently at Mr. Clark and were hanging on his every word. I couldn’t hear anything that was being said and I needed to get closer. Silently I was slinking through the brush and tall pines and with each step getting closer and closer, now hearing mumbling and an occasional word but I needed to get closer. It was dangerous work but I kept myself under control as I approached the side of the house. Then I was there and edged towards the corner so I could better hear the secret conversations but the air was silent. What happened, where did everyone go, had I been discovered? My heart was pounding in my ears, my hands felt cold but my shirtless body was soaked with sweat. Every nerve in my body was trained on the silence. I slowly ventured a peek around the corner. Just as I looked, I felt the barrel of an 1873 Springfield “Trapdoor” Calvary Carbine, being poked in my back. It must be a Calvary lookout that I had not seen. I was dead! I let out a war hoop [of sorts] and flew towards the trail, bending over as I ran looking for cover along the way. I looked back only once and noticed an old man, waving a cane or a stick at me and laughing loudly. My “Keds” couldn’t propel me fast enough. I never revealed this story to anyone as discovery would mean I had failed plus I had not obeyed the orders of my superiors and would be subject to the worst forms of torture [my fathers belt] when I got back to camp. This was to be a very silent reconnoitering mission. I never saw Mr. Badger Clark again as he died about 4 years later.
A Cowboy's Prayer
(written for Mother)
Sun and Saddle Leather
Badger Clark Memorial Society
Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow.
I loved creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
And looked upon Your work and called it good.
I know that others find You in the light
That's sifted down through tinted window panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.
I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
That You have made my freedom so complete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street,
Just let me live my life as I've begun
And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.
Let me be easy on the man that's down;
Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in town,
But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!
Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
And right me, sometimes, when I turn aside,
And guide me down the long, dim trail ahead
That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
My wife is in a local service organization that helps children and a lot of the members are in there 80’s and 90’s. John is one of the older members and her good friend. They converse almost daily on the phone. John and his wife both have considerable health issues but they persevere no matter how tough things get and the humor seems to keep them going. We ran into another member, who is older than John, at a local restaurant the other day and I inquired about his health when we at last got to sit down at our table and my wife said that it isn’t very good but at least he had stopped driving. I was in shock at the thought of her friend Tom driving a car at 90+ years old. I said, “why did he stop?” and she answered that “he kept passing out and his wife made him stop”. “In fact’ she continued ’he even passed out at the meetings a couple of times”. The last time he went up to the bartender and asked if someone could walk him out to his car and the bartender replied “sure, but we then drive you home”. A big argument ensued but the bar won because Tom couldn’t get to his car by himself. That was the end of the driving. My wife inquired of John if the story was true and John replied “Yes and the time before I walked him out to his car so he could drive home”. She was in shock and said “How can you do that, you’re almost blind, and what if he fell”? John said “ I would search for him with my feet, until I found him and then help him up.”
Don’t know when I started to get old because it just kind of sneaks up on you. You know you are old when:
- The knees don’t bend as well as they use to.
- Your hips hurt a little bit.
- Tougher to get up off the floor or out of the chair. [Not very long ago I was able to get off the floor from a crossed leg position by leaning forward and up and letting my ankles and knees lift me up and now just thinking about that really hurts]
- Don’t sleep as sound as you use to because you have to get up and go to the bathroom 3 times during the night.
- You get serious about getting your flu shot.
- Dentist just pulled another tooth.
- Your on a first name basis with your Dr’s receptionists “Hi Ted, how is that old knee treating you?”
- You went out with one blue sock and one black sock by saying to yourself “no one will notice anyway.“ The young do notice and say “look at that old man over there and I’ll bet you he doesn’t even see the difference.” Well I do see the difference but that brings up another point, as it is not about my eyes, it is about bending over to change my socks. Too much work.
- You have been wearing glasses for years but the last time you were at K-Mart you picked up a couple of pairs of generic reading glasses, just in case, because you can’t read the comic strip in the bathroom anymore.
- You have noticed how all of these ‘Young People” all drive too fast.
- You can’t read the signs on the interstate, at night, until you are right on the exit.
- You now say stupid things like “I don’t remember little things because they are not important to me but I still remember the important things [like what year did Red China get admitted to the UN]
- You recently started carrying around a notebook and pen.
- You are now rewarding inconsiderate drivers by “flipping them of” something you said you would never do. Your daughter yells “DAD”!
- Building birdhouses is your new hobby.
- Store clerks automatically give you the 10% discount [I know people that will refuse the discount because they don’t think of themselves as old]
- You started saying the f-word out loud.
- You have threatened to start carrying around a tape recorder to prove to your spouse that they only think that they told you about things like going to the Jones tonight for supper and cards.
- You try and convince your spouse that the reason you went the way you did to get there, was because you like taking different routes once in a while.
- You’re a card-carrying member of the AARP.
Friday, January 06, 2006
1953 was a very confusing year for a 10 year old. In 1953 Joseph Stalin died; The Korean War ended; Polio was in its 2nd big year; we still got our major, family, entertainment from a FM radio in the kitchen or living room; Our telephone didn’t have a dial and the number was just 26; It would be the year of my first BB gun. I bugged my mom and dad unmercifully with constant banter, “can I have a BB gun, can I, huh, all my friends have one.” “Can I please, can I”? They finally caved and said OK but I needed to buy it myself. I immediately made tracks for downtown as fast as 10 year old feet in black tennis shoes could possible travel. Right down to Mr. Anderson’s Hardware store where the brand new Daisy Red Ryder 1000 shot Western Carbine resided on the wall. It had a Walnut stock, with a 10” leather strap on a saddle ring and had a blued finish just like a real Winchester .30/.30. Mr. Anderson just watched me and grinned for several minutes because I could not speak until I caught my breath. I then started pointing at the Daisy Red Ryder 1000 and indicated that I wanted it. Mr. Anderson took it off the rack and handed it over to me with a look of suspicion in his eyes. Lovingly I caressed the stock and rubbed the barrel, as I turned the rifle over and over, making sure it had a 10” leather tie on a saddle ring. I think I was now hyperventilating. “Do you have any money?” he asked knocking me out of my trance. I had not thought about money and apologetically responded “No” and I looked down at the floor for relief. “Ted, you have to have money for me to let you have this rifle” he responded and removed the BB gun from my grip. “I’ll have to call your father about this". He went over to the phone and called my father and several times during the call, he turned and looked at me frowning. Mr. Anderson then turned and walked over towards me and placed the rifle under the counter, as my heart sank. Then I noticed a smirk on his face. “Young man your father has agreed to the sale, but I am to keep the BB gun until you give me enough money to pay for it. I will keep it right under this counter, with a note on it saying that it is yours”. “Thank you Mr. Anderson” I blurted out, “I will be back real soon”. That night, around the supper table, we discussed my financial plight and neither of my brothers agreed to give me a loan. Everyone decided that I should mow lawns for the money. We had a gray, reel, mower and the next morning I set out to mow all of the lawns in town. Soon the rifle was mine. When I got my rifle home, my mother right away set down the rules. I would only shoot at targets and never shoot at people, the dog, her flowers, the squirrels or the birds. I agreed but soon my interests wobbled a bit as shooting green army guys was getting boring. I shot at a few birds and didn’t even come close. Then I heard a bird in the tree above me and there was a sparrow chirping happily away sitting on a branch about 6 feet above me. Slowly I shouldered my new Daisy Red Ryder Carbine. I moved very, very, slowly to avoid scaring the bird. I took careful aim and fired. I hit the sparrow right where I was aiming but now my elation quickly turned to panic as the bird fell lifeless at my feet. I didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t want to kill anything and now I had. I poked at the bird with the barrel of my rifle shouting “wake up stupid bird, wake up”. It didn’t move. I was devastated. I picked up the bird and ran into the house, abandoning my rifle and shouting for my mom. The tears were now pouring out of me and were falling on the lifeless bird cradled in my hands when my mom arrived and I sobbed to her what I had done. “I’m sorry mom, you told me I couldn’t shoot birds and I did” and I’m sure my words were about impossible to understand at this point. “I’m sorry mom, I’m sorry”. My mother took me outside and picked up the BB gun and I knew it was gone. I was now sobbing hysterically, not for the gun but for the bird. She put her arm around me and walked me over to the edge of the garden and showed me where I could bury the sparrow and then said “when you bury the bird say a prayer and tell it that your really sorry and I’m sure God will forgive you.” I nodded and thanked my mom and with my bare hands dug a very nice grave for the bird. I didn’t ask for my BB gun back.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Our grandson Sam and his friend Tim come to our house after school and wait until the parents come and get them. We have lots of snow on the ground including one pile, that I have made with our front end loader, that is 12 to 15 feet high and the boys have attacked it with real vigor. I was shoveling around the yard and had the chance to observe and listen to them in action. Both are soaked including their underwear. Both have their jackets open, no hats, no gloves and both have tennis shoes on. There is a path of gloves, hats, coats and knapsacks all the way back to my truck. Oh ya, the temperature is 31 degrees and the sun is setting. Both were sitting on top of their mountain sucking on big chunks of snow. They have a running dialog going about another dimension and the ghost of Packachura. They are alternating quiet talk and then almost screaming talk as they act out some type of ritual. I can’t take it any longer, “does anyone want a hot chocolate with me?” “I do, Me to” as they fall off the snow mountain. We walk to the house and I notice that they are taking about 20 steps forward and about 10 backwards. I ask “what’s up with that guys?”. Sam answers “Were from another dimension and they keep trying to suck us back!”. “Oh” I respond. Tim goes on to explain that “not only is Packachura a ghost but he is also the king of their old dimension and he died 1000 years ago”. “Thanks for explaining that Tim” I offer. This dialog continued all through the hot chocolate, the pieces of Honey Ham and the dill pickles. Enough as my head is swimming and I have a headache. I just figured out how these remembrances that we write about are created. They all start out with little boys and little girls with really wild imaginations.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Monday, January 02, 2006
For Robert and Mich
I remember a similiar cooler at every Mom and Pop store in our town. A cooling coil kept the water about 33 degrees and you didn't wish to hang around with your hand in the water, visiting. Orange Pop was my favorite. For us South Dakota boys it was called Pop and this was a pop cooler. It became a soda cooler when I moved to New England in 1985. This is a picture in my backyard of my cooler next to our out door fireplace. I use it when we have a yard party to hold the beer. The guys usually stand around, soaking up the suds and wax sentimental over their heritage. Really is a great 'ice breaker'. I have to do something with it because it is starting to rust but it still works as a beer cooler. Mabey I should will it to my son-in-law. He can figure out what to do with it.
This all comes about from reading a blog called The Blog Brothers Click on the hyperlink as it is really a great read.