Monthly Archives: November 2014

Grandfather stories, part 2

The second in my series of stories my grandfather tells. This will be about my Grandfathers childhood:

My grandfather grew up during the great depression. As a child he remembers people in soup lines because there was no food, people trading services for food that they grew because there was no money and he remembers the Hobo’s. Growing up, my grandfather used to frequent the hobo camps. He would sit and listen to them play harmonica, tell stories, eat their food and generally have a good time. He described them not as the Hobo’s that we think about, but as honest men that were just traveling place to place looking for work. Sometimes they would steal crops or chickens to eat, but that was because they were hungry and there was no work to be found.

He said that growing up his family never went without food. When he was young and his dad was a lawyer in Cleveland, he would trade his legal services for food. Some people would pay in vegetables if they grew vegetables, if they raised pigs they might pay with a slaughtered pig, etc. Later on, after moving to California, my great grandfather was able to provide food through working and my grandfather would provide food from hunting and other means. One of these other means was road kill.

Back then the bumpers of cars were a lot higher off the ground than they are now, and the speed limits were a lot slower. My grandfather says that these cars would be going down a road and hit a bunch of “prairie chickens.” Evidently these birds had long necks, which put their heads at just bumper eight of the car. The car would go by at 30mph or so, and “Thwock!” the bumper would start hitting the heads of these birds, killing them but not harming the bodies. My grandfather would gather them up, take them home, clean and dress them. Dinner is served.

If he didn’t get his birds this way, he would get them with his rifle. At the age of seven my grandfather received his first rifle, a .22 Iver Johnson self cocking safety rifle . As he states, his father didn’t believe any boy should pass the age of seven without a rifle. My grandfather said that he immediately went out and shot all the glass insulators off the telephone poles. My great grandfather found out and immediately took the bolt out of the rifle, hiding it in a drawer somewhere. My grandfather said that some months later he came across the bolt, put it back in his rifle, and went on his merry way. My great grandfather of course knew, but never said or did anything.

I know in the previous segment I wrote about my great grandfather, recounting my grandfather’s stories. However, I didn’t tell the ones that specifically detail some of the interactions between him and my grandfather.

When my grandfather was young, he always went around barefoot in the summer time. Shoes were expensive and as a child he would have out grown them or wore them out too easily. He said that one time he stepped on a board that had a very large nail in it. The nail went in the bottom of his foot, out the top, effectively nailing the board directly to his foot. His brother and his friend Billy (who I will talk about more, directly) helped him in the house and sat him in the kitchen. My great grandmother put a big enamel wash basin under my grandfather’s foot to catch the blood, then went and brought my great grandfather in. My great grandfather kneeled down, looked at the board and then looked my grandfather in the eye, pointed at him and sternly said “Now don’t you cry.” He then proceeded to pull the board and nail away from my grandfather’s. My grandfather says the he sniffled, but never cried.

My grandfather often speaks of his friend, Billy Masters. Billy lived in a severely abusive household and many times my grandfather remembers Billy having bruises and welts all over his body, received by his father for some offence that had been given. My grandfather often tells a story about the two of them playing out in the woods one day and Billy missing his curfew. My grandfather repeatedly tried to get Billy to go home, but Billy was having too much fun. The next day when Billy came over, he had been beaten black and blue. When my grandfather tried talking to him about making it home on time, Billy just said “I was having fun. Besides, a beating only lasts a little bit.”

One day, while out in a farmer’s field, they came across the farmer’s tractor. He and Billy jumped on the tractor and started it up. The tractor started rolling along and my grandpa looked at Billy and said “Do you know how to drive this thing?” Billy of course applied in the affirmative. Well they went rolling along and pretty soon were heading to a swamp at the back of the farmers property. Billy said that he couldn’t stop the tractor, so both the boys jumped off. My grandpa said that the tractor ran itself in to the bog, the turning back wheels digging it deeper in to the mud, until it eventually sank almost the whole way in. When I asked my grandfather if the farmer ever was able to get the tractor out of the swamp, he said that he doesn’t know. He did say however, that whenever he and Billy would pass by the famer’s house, the farmer would watch them like a hawk.

One of the Billy Master’s stories that my grandfather tells more than the rest is about the time that Billy sold my great grandfather a lock. Evidently my great grandfather had just finished building doors for a big barn like shed. It may have even been their garage. Standing there he said that all it needed was a lock. Billy Masters heard him, went over to him and said “Mr. Heath, I have a lock I will sell you.” My great grandfather told him he would look at the lock, so Billy went home and retrieved the lock.

My grandfather says that his dad looked at it, pronounced it a brand new lock, and asked Billy what he wanted for it. Billy told my great grandfather that he only wanted a nickel for it, so my great grandfather gave him a nickel for the lock. He then put the lock through the hasp of the doors, locked it and began to walk away, when he stopped and asked Billy for the key. Billy looked at my great grandfather and the exchange went like this:

Billy Masters: “Why Mr. Heath, there isn’t any key.”

Beverly: “WHAT?! NO KEY?!”

Billy: “No Mr. Heath, you don’t need a key, just these.”

At that point Billy produced what my grandfather says looked like a couple bent nails. He walked over to the lock, stuck them in the tumbler, stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth and proceeded to pick the lock with them. When he was done he handed the bent nails to my great grandfather. My great grandfather laughed at Billy and said “Take your lock and give me my damn nickel back.” He then walked away, shaking his head and smiling.

As my grandfather grew up he was separated from Billy. He often states “I wish I knew what happened to him.” My mom and I looked the name up some time ago, and we found a few different ones that might be him. Unfortunately they all turned out pretty bad, so we never said anything. We don’t even know if any of them were the right Billy Masters anyway.

My grandfather didn’t need Billy Masters around to get himself in to mischief, even as an adult he has a mischievous streak a mile wide, though it has been tempered with age. One of his favorite stories is about the time he took a bucket of grease and brushed it up and down the railroad tracks. He said a steam locomotive came along, hit the grease and that was it. The tires started slipping and the train wouldn’t go forward. Of course me grandpa was standing there, smiling sweetly up at the train engineer. The train engineer looked down, smiled back and pulled a lever. The lever opened bins of sand underneath the locomotive, which covered the grease. The locomotive was then able to move its way down the track.

As a side note, not knowing this story, I did something similar as a child. I’ll save that story for a later date though.

As my grandfather got older he became a fighter in school, a smaller guy (he didn’t get bigger until about 18) that bullied and fought the big guys. He actually caught the eye of a man named Gus Gursing (Gurzing?), a gym teacher who had at one time been a professional boxer. He taught my grandfather how to fight, which may have been a mistake because he just found himself in more fights after that. Always beating up bigger kids, or putting up enough of a fight that it just wasn’t worth fighting him.

He gained a well-deserved reputation as a trouble maker and hung out with the same. He likes to tell the story of how he and his friends would go to the gas station next to his high school at lunch where they kept bottles of beer and various kinds of soda in a barrel of ice. Of course the ice would melt and become ice water. He says that the bottles of “Dad Old Fashioned Root Beer” looked just like the bottles of generic beer that were floating next to it. The ice water would make the labels on both the bottles loose, so he and his friends would switch the labels and buy the beer to drink with their lunches. He says that after a while the gas station caught on and stopped putting the beer in that barrel.

My grandfather said that early in his school career he had been held back a year, so his senior year of high school he was already 18. He was still very much a trouble maker and getting in to fights, when one day someone picked a fight with him, not the other way around. Even though he did not start or want the fight and the gym teacher went to bat for him, the principle of my grandfather’s school told my grandfather that he was being expelled and transferred to another school. I do not remember the name of the other school, but it is where they sent all the juvenile delinquent types; my grandfather says it was more of a prison than a school. Being 18, my grandfather said “Nope, I’m not going.” He walked off school grounds and that was it.

He says that two months went by before anyone noticed and called home to see where he was. His father answered the phone and talked to the school, with my grandfather right there in the living room. My great grandfather said something along the lines of “Well he’s 18, so he doesn’t have to go if he doesn’t want to.” Though I am sure my great grandfather was disappointed in him.

Next up, the years between school and Korea.

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Grandpa stories part 1, family stories.

I’ve been visiting my grandparents more recently as they are not only getting older (86 & 85), but they are starting to have health issues. My grandmother was recently diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and my grandfather is heading that way too. He was also diagnosed as borderline diabetic and told to go on a diabetic diet. He politely informed the doctor that he is 86 years old and that he would cut out the sweets (of which he doesn’t eat a whole lot anyway), but that he would NOT be altering his diet any further.

Realizing that they probably don’t have a whole lot of years left, I’ve decided to record as many of my grandfather’s stories as I can get down. I didn’t do this with my father and I regret it, so I won’t make that mistake with my grandfather. He is full of stories, many of them he tells over and over in true elderly person fashion. Many of them are entertaining, some are sad, most give you a glimpse in to a world long gone.

This will be just the first in a series.

My great great grandparents:

My grandfather tells a couple of stories about his grandparents, and his great grandfather. His great grandfather came home from the Civil War on the back of a mule, was helped in to bed by his family and never again left that bed. He died there some days or weeks later. Before he died he told his son (William, my grandfather’s grandfather, and the man my grandfather was named after), who was maybe a teenager, that he was now the man of the house and would have to take care of the farm and the family. William worked the farm and took care of his mom and his siblings until some unspecified time in which he had a family of his own in Texas. From what my grandfather says, he worked his hands to the bone for his mom and siblings and later for his wife and kids.

My great grandfather could remember that one night, when he was a young child, his father William was pacing back and forth in the little house carrying his infant daughter, who was sick. William’s wife Hattie was sitting in a rocking chair either sewing or knitting. William was trying to soothe the baby to sleep, and walking back and forth for some time. My great grandfather remembered that William stopped and checked his daughter because she had stopped fussing in his arms and when he checked her, this exchange took place:

William: “Hattie.”

Hattie: “Yes?”

William: “The baby is dead.”

Hattie: “Oh?”

And that was about the extent of it. The baby was buried in the yard the next morning.

My great grandfather and his brothers:

My great grandfather’s name was Beverly Carradine  Heath, back then Beverly was a unisex name. My grandfather used to never talk about his dad much, but he has been more in recent years. He describes his father as a “rawboned” man, about 6’1”, strong, stern, hard worker, never smiling, never laughing, rarely talking, instead preferring to let his actions speak for him, with the fastest reflexes he has ever witnessed in a human being.

My grandfather said that when he was a young child prohibition had just ended, so this would be about 1933 or 1934. He was in a Ford (Judging by the year it was either a Model T or a Model A) with his father putting down the road, when they drove by a bar. Outside the bar was a small gathering of drunk men, and one thought it would be fun to run up to the car, jump on the running board, and punch my great grandfather in the face. My grandpa said that his father saw the punch coming and moved his head, so that the man’s fist only knocked the pipe out of my great grandfather’s mouth. My grandfather said that just as quick as anything, my great grandfather snapped his hand over, grabbed the thumb of the drunk, and bent it back. My grandfather said that the man screamed like a woman. My great grandfather, without even looking at the man told him something along the lines of “Now you behave, or I will tear it right off.” My great grandfather then putted down a few streets to the back of a police station where the drunk was arrested.

He said these same reflexes about knocked him out when he was seven years old. He was in the back of a car when they were moving from Cleveland to California. My grandfather doesn’t remember what he did, only that he misbehaved in the back of the car. Without saying anything my great grandfather whipped around, back handed my grandfather, and then went back to driving. My grandfather said that he saw stars and it almost knocked him out.

My grandfather describes his dad as an Artillery Captain to the day he died. My great grandfather was a Captain in the Army during World War One and stationed at Fort Patrick Henry (he thinks).  It was during this time that an Artillery Battery could not pass the tests that they needed to pass in order to be sent to Europe and fight. The Command was under the gun from Washington to get this Battery to perform. My great grandfather was put in charge to get them to shape up. He figured out that it was about six or so men that were purposefully instigating the Battery to fail so that they would not have to be sent to Europe. My great grandfather weeded these men out and then began to train the Battery like they had never been trained before. He had them going over trajectory tables, learning how to factor in wind, humidity and everything else that affects ballistics. He had them studying math and memorizing these tables seven days a week in the beginning, until someone complained to the Inspector General. The IG informed my great grandfather that he had to legally give them Sunday off.

This angered my great grandfather. To make up for the Sunday loss, he had the Battery train night and day the other six days a week and the men were confined to the base until the Battery was able to pass the proficiency test. Evidently my great grandfather received a lot of anonymous death threats during this period so he as well never left the base, spending all his off time in the Officers Club, until the Battery and the six men he had weeded out were all either sent overseas or to another base.

My grandfather said that he never actually held a conversation with his dad until he was about 22, so some of the things he had to learn about from one of his uncles. Uncle Lally.

My grandfather speaks of a few uncles, but the only one he ever really talks about is an uncle “Lally” his full name was Lallance Lloyd Heath. Lally was a short and stocky man that had trained as a boxer and was the contender of either the light-heavy weight championship of Texas or the middle weight. My grandfather can’t remember which one. Evidently Lally, like his brother, had a temper. However, Lally tried to hide it behind laughter and jokes. Some of these were basically abusive jokes, like making my grandfather eat grass, which Lally thought was hilarious.

My grandfather told a story in which his dad, his brother in law (my grandfather had two or three sisters and another brother), and Lally went in to a bar in Los Angeles. He never said the year, but this was probably in the 1940’s. The three men were at the bar drinking beer, when three very large Mexican men came in. The men were some sort of construction workers as evidenced by the cement dust all over their boots and bottom of their pants. They wanted to sit at the bar but there were only two bar stools left, so one of them men grabbed my grandfather’s brother in law and told him very forcefully to give up the stool. Lally put down his beer, stood up off the stool and walked over to my grandfather’s brother in law, put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down on the stool. He then punched the large Mexican man in the face knocking him to the floor unconscious. He stepped over that man and punched the next man in the face also knocking him out. It was at this time the third man was running out the door. Lally, Beverly, and the brother in law quickly finished their beers and left.

During the ride home Lally made the men promise to not say anything to Lally’s wife, as he had promised her years before that he would no longer fight. My grandfather mentioned the story to Lally’s wife upon Lally’s death. Lally’s wife smiled at him and said the she had known all about it.

There were other aunts and uncles but he never really talks about them. Except for one which he described as a “Mountain Man.” He said that twice a year this uncle would kill a bear for the meet and fat. The meat was used in everything you would expect him to use the meat for. The fat was used for cooking, baking, etc. He said that the uncle would use it to bake pies the way people would normally use Crisco. Now, the real special part of this story is in how the uncle would kill the bear. He would shoot the bear at the base of the skull, somewhere just behind the ear, with a .22 Long Rifle! Now, if

you don’t know anything about guns or bears you probably don’t realize how dangerous and amazing this is. The man must have been one hell of a shot.

Speaking of bears, my great grandfather once punched and kicked a bear in the butt during a camping trip to Yosemite back in the late 1930’s. As my grandfather tells it, the family was all in a large umbrella tent for the night when a bear came in to the camp looking for food. At some point the bear backed in to the tent wall where my great grandfather was sleeping, annoying my great grandfather, so he punched the bear in the butt. The bear grunted and moved a couple steps, then again backed in to the tent. This time my great grandfather, without saying a word, began to repeatedly kick the bear in its butt. The bear ran away.

Now, before you judge these men too harshly for some of these stories you have to realize the time of the world it was and where they came from. These were men that grew up in the pan handle of Texas in the late 1800’s, conditions were rough and life was cheap.  My great grandfather had to hide behind the front door with a loaded gun when the Apache Indian braves would ride up demanding food from his mother, under threats of violence. She always gave them food and they always behaved.

It was out of this life that my great grandfather became an Army Artillery Captain with an amazing aptitude for math, a Mechanical Engineer, a Chemical Engineer, a Lawyer that was nominated to the Ohio Supreme Court and a self-taught machinist. As I said before; hard working.

Next time: Childhood stories.

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It’s been a while

It’s been quite a while since I have written anything here, I believe about a year and a half. Life happens and gets in the way of things we want to do, old habits die and new ones form.

What has been going on you ask? Well, a lot of things. For starters my relationship with my girlfriend Jennifer hit its two year mark at the end of October, we are talking about getting engaged. If you know me outside the internet, you know this is a huge thing. She has been a rock, has been there for me through some very hard times in the last couple of years and is my inspiration in everything. I do love her and her daughters.

So, what else has happened? Well I became very involved in work stuff. Our base put on an open house/car show/street fair back in October of 2013 called the China Lake Community Day and I was deep in the middle of the planning and execution of that. In fact it was the biggest car and motorcycle show in the history of the Indian Wells Valley. Spinning out of that the Vice Commander, me, and a couple others formed the Sidewinder Motor club. It’s a club of car, truck, motorcycle…and just all around vehicle “enthusiasts.” You can find us on Facebook 🙂 We have been very active helping with other clubs car shows, putting on our own “Motor Grounds” events every month (essentially a cars and coffee meet) and yet another Community Day this year.

My dad had a stroke on Thanksgiving last year, or maybe the day after, or he had multiples, we really are not too clear on that. I was getting ready to pick up a rental car the day after Thanksgiving and was packing my bags for a two week trip to Yorktown Virginia for the Radiation Safety Program Management class, when I received a phone call from the owner of Torres Steak House in Inyokern. Francis (the owner) has been a friend for years and my dad formed a habit of driving the hour to her restaurant every day just to hang out. Well he drove up that day, either after just having a stroke or was about to have the stroke, walked in and ordered some food. Francis recognized that he was in trouble and called the ambulance, which angered my dad. He stumbled and fell his way outside to have a cigarette and wait for the ambulance. Francis called me, and I met my dad and the ambulance at the hospital. Once the hospital here was able to get past their own incompetence and recognize my dad had suffered a stroke, they sent him to the stroke center in Bakersfield. A day later he was transferred to Stanford University Medical Center. The neurosurgeon at Stanford informed my brothers, sister, and I that dad had an un-burst aneurism on his carotid artery at the base of his brain. It was one of the biggest they had ever seen, untreatable in any way due to the deterioration of his blood vessels from a lifetime of smoking and hard living and gave him maybe six months to live, unless he made a drastic life change. Even then, there was know way of knowing how long he would have.

We eventually moved him in to an apartment here in town, where my brother and I took care of him and helped him recover as much as he could, which was quite a bit. He was able to drive, walk almost three miles a day and generally take care of himself with some oversight. He pushed very hard to be on his own, to the point where he was lying and causing some strife between us. My brother and I let him move back home, where he immediately started smoking again after four months of not touching a cigarette, started eating unhealthy food and just generally started living life how he wanted to, damn the consequences.

Two days before Fathers Day I received a call from one of my dads friends. She saw my dads car at a restaurant in Kramer junction, but my dad was no where to be found. The waitress said that he had walked in the restaurant a couple days before and just collapsed, so they called an ambulance. After calling various hospitals my brother and I found that my dad was down in Loma Linda and unconscious. A week later my brothers, me, and one of my sisters made the decision to pull my dad off of the breathing machine. The youngest of my sisters (who is ten years older than I am, and the youngest of my dads four kids with his first wife) and I were with my dad, holding his hand, when he passed at 5:35AM, June 21st.

One dark and stormy day in December, while my dad was in the hospital after the initial stroke, I decided to drive to Bakersfield to see him. I was just outside of Inyokern when I was hit by a Microburst (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microburst). Well the weather report said that the wind during this Microburst got up to 95mph, which I believe. The wind was carrying gravel, sticks, and anything else that 95mph wind can carry. It hit my Challenger with a hellacious sound and by the time it was done, it looked like someone took a commercial sandblaster and raked it across my car. Some spots were down to bare metal, the glass was frosted and almost impossible to see out of, the A/C Condenser was trashed…it was a mess. The best part, due to snow in Tehachapi the pass was closed and I couldn’t make it to Bakersfield anyway. I went through that for nothing. One GEICO claim and three damn months in the shop later, I got my car back…and the black paint looked like hell. Swirls, holograms, and scratches all over the finish. I took it back, they buffed some of the real bad stuff out and admitted they messed up. I took it two hours down to the nearest GEICO rep, he said it just needed a little polishing and the car would be fine. Back to the same shop, where all they did was give it a good coat of expensive wax. I called the GEICO guy to complain and set up with another shop, but of course he wouldn’t return any of my calls. About that time my dad passed and I was dealing with that for a while. Kind of lost my will to fight over car paint. I did find a professional detailer that I paid a few hundred dollars to buff and polish the car. It does look a lot better, but not factory. At this point it has been so long that it’s not worth fighting over. I love my car, but I will never own another black car again. Especially in the desert.

About a month ago, my Aunt (moms sister and I use the term Aunt loosely) and her husband drove down from Mt. Shasta area to visit my grandparents. My grandparents are in their mid 80’s (grandpa turns 86 this month and grandpa is 85) and have been ill a lot lately. My grandmother was sick at the time, but refused to see a doctor. It was bad enough that my aunt called my mom and asked her to drive down to Boron, they wanted to try and convince my grandma to go to a hospital and convey the seriousness of how sick she was to my grandfather. I went because I’m about the only person my grandpa will seriously listen to within what is left of the family. My grandmother continued to refuse to see anyone, even though she had a fever, hadn’t eaten in days, was dehydrated, and pulse oxygen was low. My grandfather refused to take my grandma to the hospital against her wishes. I believe he did not want to realize just how sick she was, he was too scared and this is a man that doesn’t scare. She ended up losing consciousness, so we called the ambulance. One the way to the hospital in Lancaster with my grandfather, he revealed just how scared he is to lose my grandmother. This is not a man that shares his feelings well or often, but like I said, he talks to me. She is okay now, a few days in the hospital and antibiotics fixed her up nicely. However, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it does show. Same with my grandfather, he is slipping. My mom and I are spending more time with them these days, helping them out around the house, spending time with them, etc.

It’s hard seeing them this way. Very hard.

Speaking of hospitals, I was in the ER with my mom until 2am one day last week. No big deal, just getting really really sick of hospitals.

Want some good news after all that?

I mentioned that I was supposed to go to the Radiation Safety Program Management class in Yorktown. My dad’s initial stroke derailed those plans, but I was able to go in mid May. I was a fairly fun two weeks with some pretty good people. The class itself was horrid; not taught well, disorganized, ten different teachers teaching different things. No one really learned much of anything. We all had fun at night and on the weekend though. I went with a guy from down in Seal Beach and we hit up museums, historical sites, etc. Yes, I find history fun…I’m a nerd, get over it. We hit up a bar one Friday night with some people from class. Line dancing, mechanical bull riding, and pool. It was the PBR Bar outside of Newport News, fun place, you should go if you get a chance.

I received a promotion at work! I’m now officially the NAVOSH Deputy Installation Program Director for China Lake (NAVOSH stands for Naval Occupational Safety and Health). I received a nice bump in pay from GS-11 to GS-12, added work on top of the work I was already doing, a little more respect from some, some jealousy and anger from others and some good natured ribbing on the title of Deputy. I was even called Barney and Festus once or twice.

So that is the last year in a nutshell, really just the events in the last year. As for what I am doing now, well I am just screwing around at work and killing time before lunch. I’ll get back to work when I am done here 🙂

Now you may be wondering (or you in fact may not give a rodents rectum) on why I am now writing, when I have not written anything in so long. I’m not sure really, I just had the urge to write. I have random thoughts rattling around in my skull that want to get out before they die of loneliness I guess. So, maybe I will be doing this more often.

 

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