One more hug and kiss from Mom

Nancy Webster 1949 – Grant Union High School, Sacramento

Carolann and I just returned to Dallas from a one week visit with our families in California. We had a wonderful time with our sons and daughters-in-law, our grandsons, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers and assorted others.

That’s what family reunions are all about. We return home for the first time in years and laugh about old times. We share a bit about our current lives, embellish our common past and commiserate over how old and fat we’ve all become.

We can’t believe how big the kids have gotten.

We take pictures, have another drink and laugh some more.

We pay tribute to those of us who have died and when we finally say our goodbyes we share sincere hugs, promising we’ll do this again soon.

Sometimes we know that won’t be possible.

When I was a boy my mother was my queen and goddess. She was there when I woke up and tucked me in when I went to bed. She sang Doris Day songs while doing housework.

Que sera, sera…
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see.
Que sera, sera…
What will be, will be.

She cooked, she cleaned and she sang after making sure that I started each day with a single thought:

“This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s all up to you.”
— Nancy Webster-Williams

She kissed me good morning, fixed my breakfast and lunch and kissed me goodbye.

My little sister, Linda, Mom and me. Folsom Lake 1955.

Last Saturday, April 22, 2017, twenty of us – her children, grand children, great-grand children, siblings and extended family — gathered in a social room at her retirement home. Together again for the first time in many years we laughed and chattered and took a thousand pictures. We promised each other we’d do it again sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day when I hugged and kissed my mother goodbye she looked deeply into my eyes. No longer fuzzy headed, slightly confused or overwhelmed by the attention and the noise she said earnestly, “Take care of yourself, David. I love you.”

She said it twice for emphasis.

My brother Jim, sister Linda, me and Mom this past weekend.

She looked at me again and I looked at her. I’m 65 now but I was seeing my mommy of 60 years ago.

We both knew that it would be for the last time.

I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think so. I think we both know and we’re fine. We had a proper goodbye with just the love and none of the tears.

I’ll phone her more often now and I’ll spend less time talking about myself. I’ll talk about us.

I’ll ask her, maybe for the first time ever, to tell me about her life, her thoughts and feelings.

 

 

Bactine, Bosco and Red Ball Jets

This is an abbreviated portion of a chapter from a book I’m writing. As slowly as I write I figured I might as well put this much in blog form. Maybe it will encourage me to get on with it.

Surviving Childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

I guess it was in some respects.  Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhood from sunup to sundown free from fear of death or kidnapping.  Nobody was ever snatched off the street. 

We didn’t have drive-by shootings.  Heck, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints.  Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time.  But it was also a daily horror show we never even noticed.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats as our parents sped along two-lane highways.  They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

We had house fans with no protective covers to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades.  If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture?  How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler butts and feet.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere.  I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America.  That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know.  Think about it.  No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside.  But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air-conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino. When we stepped outside in the fifties it was like being in the Alps. Nobody complained about smoke. It was just a natural part of life.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You’d let the dog out and he was gone to who-knows-where until he eventually came back to the porch and waited happily to be readmitted to the house.  That might be the next day or the day after that.  If he bit somebody while he was out you never heard about it. They didn’t sue, they just swore. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging joyously, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball.  You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on three of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had deadly toys.

We would have wars using air-powered BB-rifles that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat.  It stung but we loved it.  This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!”  But nobody I knew ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks. Seriously, rock fights. And worse.

We had toy bows and arrows.  Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end.  You just took those off, threw ‘em away and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

We had firecrackers.  We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles.  When they weren’t made carefully they became instant bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up.

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground.  He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods in my grandparents’ front yard, scampering twenty feet above the ground.  Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots.  Grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white Wonder bread.  I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with totally ineffective home-made parachutes fashioned from a bed sheet with ropes tied to the corners. One of my goofy cousins used to climb onto the sloped roof of their two-story house and bounce up there on his pogo stick.

We made go-carts out of two-by-fours and orange crates with tin coffee can lids for headlights and roller skates for wheels. A steep hill provided propulsion, a rope tied to each side of the front axle made for a delicate steering mechanism that was just as likely to dump you into the middle of oncoming traffic as it was to steer you out of danger. There was no braking system. For that you merely had to wait until the thing slowed of its own diminishing inertia or crashed into a parked car.

When I was a kid we had plenty of playgrounds in our neighborhoods and schoolyards were never enclosed by locked fences and gates. Still, we often just played baseball or football in the street. A parked car was first base or end zone marker. Second base was a smashed tin can; a water spigot was third. We played with broken wooden bats that had been glued, nailed and taped back into service. The baseball had ripped seams and a cover peeling off. Once the tear got so big the ball made a fluttering sound when thrown we’d peel it off completely and wrap the remaining ball of yarn into a solid mass of black electrician’s tape that needed to be repaired or replaced after bouncing along the pavement a few times. Any baseball becomes hard to see after sunset, especially one made of black tape but we played long after daylight had faded to deep purple and the cars rounding the corner into left field had their headlights on. 

As I think back on those days fifty-plus years ago I can’t remember any boys who didn’t have patched jeans and scabs on their knees and elbows. Many of the girls, too. Blood was simply a part of everyday life through no small fault of our own. We all fell off our bikes into asphalt and parked cars because were just clutzy kids. Occasionally one of the real numbskulls in the neighborhood would  intentionally ride his bike off the roof of a house or try to leap a row of thorn-laden rose bushes on a bike with the help of a pathetically engineered plywood ramp. These stunts nearly always ended in bloody failure but they didn’t stop us from trying again.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

Making reservations for the cackle factory…

For some inexplicable reason I awoke this morning at 4:48 with this song running through my head:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights!
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights!
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Kruschev’s due at Idlewild!!

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU??!!

If you never heard those words, it doesn’t matter. Move on and have a great day!

If you do know what this is about, you’re already shaking your head and thinking, “Oh, my God…” 

I awoke this morning with the theme song from a 47-year-old TV sitcom running through my head, a song I haven’t heard in at least 35 years.

My working theory is that at some point in life our mental filing cabinets start to get too heavy and the little wheels in the drawers break down. Those little folders collapse and some old piece of useless memory crap spills out all over the floor.

That’s what I’m going to tell the doctor.

I’m making the appointment right now.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Surviving childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

It was in some respects. Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhoods from sunup to sundown free and unfettered from fear of death or abduction. Nobody was ever snatched off the street. That possibility never even crossed our minds.

We didn’t have drive-by shootings. Hell, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints. Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time. But it was also a daily horror show we never imagined.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats everywhere our parents drove us. They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

 

We had house fans with no protective cage to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades. If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture? How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

I could go on and on…

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler feet and butts.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere. I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America. That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know. Think about it. No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside. But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You let the dog out of the house and he was gone, who knows where, until he came back to the porch and demanded re-entry. That might be the next day or the day after that. If he bit somebody while he was out you never knew about it. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging happily, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball. You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on two of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had killer toys. 

When I was a kid we would choose up sides and have wars using toy guns that were nearly as deadly as real ones. We had air-powered BB-rifles and pistols that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat. It stung but we loved it. This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!” Nobody ever stopped us from trying but the warning was issued occasionally and apparently it was heeded. Nobody ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks.

Seriously, rock fights. And worse…

We had toy bows and arrows. Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end. You just took those off and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

And mind you, this was all going on shortly after World War II ended.

We had firecrackers. We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles. If you weren’t as careful as a brain surgeon they became instantaneous bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up!

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face.

We weren’t very tall, maybe four feet. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground. He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods, scampering twenty or thirty feet above the ground. Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots. My grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder white bread. I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with completely ineffective home-made parachutes.

One of my goofy uncles used to bounce on the roof on a pogo stick.

And we wondered why Grandpa drank.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.