Clowns Is People
Childhood memoir of Jacksonville, Oregon, by hometown boy Vance DeBar "Pinto" Colvig, 1892-1967, written as a letter to his father, William M. Colvig.
Spelling and other orthography of Pinto's original is preserved. A more readable version, with explanatory hyperlinks, standardized spelling and corrected names, is posted here.
Keep in mind that Pinto left Jacksonville when he was 14, and left Medford when he was 18. Much of the below is teenage gossip and hyperbole.
Transcribed by the indefatigable Frances Duhig.
1967 Hillhurst Avenue
Hollywood 27, California
“CLOWNS IS PEOPLE”
* * *
To Peggy – My Favorite Clown
“....... What makes life worth living?
To be born with the gift of laughter; and a sense that the world is mad”
– Sabatini (Scaramouche)
– and thanx to you SAB ol boy – you tuk th’ very words right outta my mouth –
To “Little Johnnie Doe” (whoever/wherever you are). Thanx for suggesting the title for this book when I was clowning on “Linkletter’s House Party t/v/ Program” and you caught me looking at my wrist watch and discovered that the space between my glove and cuff was just human skin with hair and freckles. (No make/up. Nothing up my sleeve to deceive you.) And you were disappointed and whispered to Art: “Mister Linkletter, that clown ain’t no real clown --- He’s just a PEOPLE!” Thanx Johnnie!
“CLOWNS IS PEOPLE”
My Dear Dad:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! – and I hope when (and if) I reach 90 I’ll feel as fit-and-chipper as you.
No worthwhile news since my last letter. Life just floats along beautifully as usual. Good health oozes all over within the portals of this meager household; and the home larder is droolin’-at-the-seams. So – guess I can’t squawk.
During the past few weeks, however, my thoughts have been bubbling in somewhat of a happy/reminiscent mood. Hence this batch of “Boyhood Memories” – Some of which I hope will help to brighten your day.
Among them you may find certain facts for which I should have been punished; but thanks to You and Mama for sparing-the-rod. (It remains a matter of opinion whether or not your 7th and last child (me) was ever spoiled.) Thank Heaven You and Mom had a Sense-of-Humor. Otherwise my life wouldn’t have been so glorious. Let’s just settle that I was rather an odd little brat, who, since his whoopin’ cough days has clowned his merry way through life with no regrets.
I’ll confess that in this Saga of my Knee Pants Days there may have been some questionable incidents which I purposefully have omitted. All I can say is: “I left a happy future behind!”
Often I have been criticized for “living in the bygone.” People say: “FORGET THE PAST! LIVE TODAY! THINK TOMORROW!” For instance I’ll say: “Y’know, just twenty-two years ago today when I was troupin’ with So-and-So Circus in Such-and-Such town, we had a cyclone; the elephants stampeded; I met a red-head named Rita Somebody; and that night a saloon keeper named Honkwiler – Otis Honkwiler – Well, he invited us clowns down to his joint where we guzzled free beer ’til the circus train pulled out for our next day’s stand at Kankakee.”
Then they’ll ask: “Where were you last Tuesday?”
I answer: “How th’ hell do I know? I don’t remember.”
Things like that, Dad. Maybe those kind of people had an uneventful childhood. Or else they’re the sort who hanker only for dull things – like Wall Street – and ULCERS. I want no part of it.
Sure! I agree through Life we all get our kicks-in-the-pants; but those are the bumps to profit by. Then forget ’em. But for Pete’s Sake don’t throw away those happy memories.
How much sadder this world would have been had Mark Twain forgotten about his punkhood days in Old Missoury. (Oh, how I envied Huckleberry Finn; because his Dad was The Village Drunkard ----- and threatened to beat hell out of Huck’ if he dared go to school.)
Many of my most enjoyable moments were when listening to your stories about crossing the plains in a covered wagon. How, as a soldier you played poker with the Injuns, instead of annihilating them. Your accounts about those days when you were a circus “barker” and a ham actor. Later you married Mama; settled down; started raisin’ kids --- and took up law.
Well, I, too, had FUN --- and if I had it to live all over again I wouldn’t change it.
Thanks for Everything, Dad. And a HAPPY 90th Birthday. Ninety! WOW! Say – I’ll bet your boyhood doin’s would make mine read like pages from “The Rover Boys’ Last Taffy Pull”.
Your Wayward Son,
* * *
Now according to Hoyle, Church and Law, one is supposed to attain The Age of Reason at 7. But how come when I was 6 (1898) I remember my first pair of copper-toed, leather boots with the stars on top?
And you taking me on a trip to Portland (via the 5-mile side-branch railroad from J-ville to the main line). My first meal in a dining car, and sleeping in a Pullman berth. That 350 mile stretch through beautiful Oregon?
PORTLAND. Big City! Street Cars! Fire horses 3-abreast charging down the cobblestone streets! The Perkins Hotel. Elevators! I got lost from you during the rush hour. I cried. And a nice policeman bought me gumdrops. You eventually came along – and took me to Portland Heights ---- Where I looked across The Great Blue Horizon and prayed: “Please, Dear God, let me see more of this great, wide, beautiful America” – and y’know, He did just that.
But now, 37 years later, don’t ask me anything about the return trip home. I had had and seen too, too much. I was tired. I slept --- and dreamed of days to come when I’d travel more --- and enjoy ALL of AMERICA.
It’s been WONDERFUL!
Imagine all of those things being instilled in the mind of a six-year-old kid – before he was supposed to have attained The Age of Reason. Aren’t you proud? (Don’t answer that). Just hold onto your hat, and
HERE WE GO!
Your 5:30 a.m. noisy coffee-grinding; your loud pedal 4-octave piano pounding; rattling of milk pails; jiggling the ashes from the grate in kitchen stove --- KLUMP BOOM! Of fire wood; the squeaky iron pulley on the moss-covered well; the barnyard commotion among the hungry poultry and livestock ---------
-------- all of which failed to make me get up any sooner. I was always tired --- and that grand, hand-plucked, goose-down feather bed (with the pee-stained mattress I did back in my di’per days) felt mighty mighty comfortable.
But I was always hungry, too. So, we’ll give Mama’s big breakfasts credit for my jumping out of bed pronto and hitting for the dining room to gorge on that tempting assortment of succulent, steaming viands.
(We could order one or all of the following: (I generally went “whole hawg or none”.)
Homemade Salt Rising Bread (or toast).
Hot Biscuits. Buckwheat Flapjacks.
Cereal. Fired Corn Meal Mush.
Fried P’taters. Gran’ma’s Country Sausage.
Ham. Bacon. Porkchops (or Beefsteak.)
Home-poop’d Eggs. Olivia’s Rich Jersey Milk.
Thick Cream. 2-pound Roll of butter.
Gobs of Jams, Jellies, Puh-zerves,
Brown Sugar & Maple Syrup.
Arbuckle’s Coffee – Tea – Chocolate.
In those days at noon we ate DINNER (not lunch or luncheon.) Same size menu as above; but different assortment.
----- then at 6 o’clock SUPPER – Man! We really poured-it-on!
Those frosty night when Sister Helen, Clara or Mary (or The Hired Girl) had to impatiently wait outside in the cold while I idled away too many moments sitting (on Little Hole #3) in the old barnyard backhouse ----- because I was afraid of the dark ------ and Olivia, the cow.
I’ll never forget the night I braved it up there alone; and on the way back Olivia MOO-OO’D; and I ran lickety-split; caught my throat on a clothesline … and that was my first (and best) full backward flip/flop in mid air.
ADMIRAL DEWEY: Olivia’s bull calf that I rode bareback all over town (to show-off) ---- but no one paid any heed to me. They all said I was crazy. Maybe they were right. How heartbroken I was when you sold him to Postmaster Johnnie Miller. My favorite mount became veal chops.
I’ve never thanked you before for that classy custom-built sled you paid Blacksmith Charlie Basey to make for us, I do so now. Remember how we’d “slick” the runners with a broken brick at first sign of snow?
Hollering down the rain barrel ---- and the time I took the tuning slide off Brother Don’s trombone – hung it over top of rain barrel – sucked on it and discovered what made a siphon. Which gave me [a] crazy idea for inventing perpetual motion. I took Mama’s kitchen funnel – borrowed an auger from Old Tim Dugan – bored a hole at an 45 degree angle through lower side of barrel. (To stick funnel in) The water gushed out – my theory exploded ….. and I got hell!
Later I devised a mouse trap out of a sardine can and several hairpins. ---- But it required 3 mice to spring it. That, too, failed; so I gave up inventing things. To this day I can’t drive a nail or mend a leaky faucet without wrecking everything.
OUR DEEP WELL – with really a moss-covered old oaken bucket. And the sad little dwarfed crab apple tree struggling bravely to grow alongside. Dwarfed because you were always yanking off a switch and threatening to use it oftimes when we were unruly. But only the threat was as far as you went.
I’ll bet you’ve never forgotten that day when you mixed up a concoction of Paris Green for destroying insects which infected that poor little apple tree. And when you dumped in a package of cooking soda the whole mess exploded and boiled all over the kitchen stove --- into what was to be our winter jams and jellies. Mama raised hell – and cried – and you scooted out of the house jolly-quick. I snickered, and also got hell.
The Christmas you bought Don and me each a big jack-knife (against Mama’s warning.) --- and we both damn near severed our index fingers soon after opening the package. Plenty of blood – and yowling. Realizing that it was Christmas, Mama gave you only a dirty look – and said nothing. She was sweet. I don’t blame you for marrying her. If not I wouldn’t have b’come your 7th child.
What made me just now think about Dummy Hallsted’s ramshackle 2nd Hand Store? – with the crudely hand painted placard on a table loaded with cheap miscellaneous junk:
RARE OLD ANTIQUES.
JUST LIKE NEW.
That bewitching, pleasant aroma in Doc’ Robinson’s drug store. Always the same.
I wonder whatever happened to “PERUNA – The Tonic for Elderly People.” Sold only in drug stores; to nice folks, teetotalers & prohibitionists. 90% booze – with just a tiny dash of quinine, strychnine & pepsin .... and WHATTA WOLLOP!
The wonderful smell in Billy Poole’s Tonsorial Parlor --- where I had my baby-curls snipped. (Mama cried.) The jar of leeches – for swollen black & blue eyes and rheumatism. Billy also pulled teeth. How I admired the display of private shaving mugs with owner’s names and lodge emblems in gold. I swore when I was grown-up I was going to have one even prettier than Banker Beekman’s.
After a haircut, asking the barber for a “3-Way Douse”. (one dash each of Herpecide, Fitch’s and Dr Westphal’s Hair Tonic.) ----- and the kids outside waiting to “smell my head”.
Oh, that sweet scent of alfalfa, harness oil and hoss manure when passing by Geo. Lewis’ Union Feed & Livery Stable. Also the mixture of musty wooden beer kegs & sawdust when passing by the swinging doors of J-ville’s half-dozen saloons.
To my nostrils, however, there’s no grander smell than a CIRCUS: a composite of honey coated popcorn, hay, tanbark sawdust, sweaty bodies, and assorted rare animal excrement representing every clime.
And how about the piny aroma of the Christmas Trees at Presbyterian Church? (Remember Emmy Somebody, with the squeaky off-key alto voice in the choir?) --- and Rev. Ennis’s flowing white sideburns?
The Catholic Church gave out with a different odor. Frankincense and Myrrh.
I seem to have gotten off onto a nostalgic “stink kick”. However, the list would be in-complete if I omitted the glorious, sexy sniffs of “something or other” (musk, Jockey Club perfume and Sen-Sen chewing gum) when Madam X – and her gals; bedecked in hi-French heels and ostrich plumage, brushed past me in their swishy red and green silk petticoats at the Sunday afternoon ball games. Mmmmmm ... Hmmmmm!
---- and how I once remarked at the supper table: “Gee! I wisht my three sisters smelt good like them.” --- and got a dirty look from everyone.
The MADAM – She had diamond fillings between her front upper teeth --- and how they glistened when she smiled in the sunlight.
Incidentally, whatever became of “peek-a-boo” waists? (With the little gold watch pinned over the left breast.)
But, to get back to church. For a few weeks preceding Christmas some of us kids would attend a different Sunday School each Sunday so we could visit from one to another on Christmas Eve and receive plenty of loot. (Candy, nuts and an orange.)
Wonder if you can still buy those little candy hearts – that had printed thereon, suggestive little gems like: “Will you?” “Do You?” “I Will!”, etc? On a dare you’d slip one to some beautiful little girl; giggle ... and run. (Who said sex wasn’t here to stay?)
One day I went to Sunday school on Saturday – with a 7th Day Advent’ Kid. So on following day I could hold it over the other kids that I had already attended – which to them didn’t make sense. For the same reason sometimes I would go to 6 a.m. Catholic Mass with Eddie Wilkinson. (Who later played big league baseball with Hal Chase N.Y. Americans.)
Best of all was the morning a gang of us ditched Sunday School to go down beyond Wendt’s Milk Ranch to inspect the pieces of bloody scalp, bones, hair etc., of the miner who early that morning came home unexpectedly and murdered a young guy who was sparkin’ his wife – then went out into the cow shed; stuck barrel of 10-gauge shotgun down his throat; and with his toe, pulled the trigger. (That was ample Sunday School “lesson” for me that day.)
Which reminds me what an old darkey with the circus once told me when I ask him how come he always appears happy, healthy and looks younger than his actual age. “Son” he advised. “Best way ah knows fo’ a fella t’keep hisse’f happy an’ live to a ripe ol’ age is fo’ ’im to always trust in de Lawd; keep his bowels open; an’ his goddam rag pickin’ paws off th’ other guy’s woman.”
Say – who was the escaped murderer our Uncle Jim (last of the real Western Sheriffs) shot it out with in Karewski’s old red barn?
BANKER BEEKMAN: (“Old Beek”): Wore pince nez glasses; swallow-tail “steel pen” coat (with pocket in vent); Congress Gaiter shoes. Came to J-ville during early Gold Rush Days as a Wells Fargo Pony Express Scout. Constructed his first bank vault with own hands; using big stones and mortar. Purchased a pair of gold scales and was open for business. (with two Western gunmen on guard ’round the clock). I’ve heard that there were times the poorest miner in the morning would be the richest at night. (and vice versa.) “Old Beek” would protect the miner’s poke of gold (like checking your hat or baggage) until owner would call for it on day Overland Stage Coach to San Francisco arrived. With a small sugar trowel “Beek” would scoop out his 10% interest and give the miner his poke, saying: “Good luck, Podner. When you reach San Francisco to cash-in, please give my regards to th’ boys down at th’ mint.”
In my day all kids were weighed on his Wells Fargo scales. He also dealt in lead pencils and school supplies. Whatta bank.
I recall the time when you were in a hurry to leave on a business trip. Started to write a check and Old Beek handed you ten 20-dollar gold pieces from his pocket purse, saying: “Here, Bill – we’ll straighten it out when you come home. Those damn checks are a nuisance. Makes too much book-keeping.”
And that day Fabian Eckelson and I were collecting gunny sacks and empty beer bottles for extra spending money. Looking over Beek’s high board fence …... EUREKA! A veritable bonanza! Piles and piles of empty bottles. We ran lickety-split down town where Beek was standing in front of his bank discussing (probably “the evils of drink”) with his pastor, Preacher Ennis; and shouted excitedly: “Hey, Mister Beekman – kin we have all those old empty beer bottles in your backyard?” Rev. Ennis looked astounded. Old Beek, greatly embarrassed, brushed us off. So ----- (under our breath) … we called him an old cheapskate, and beat it. Beek told you about it; and next day I had to apologize to him: --- which he accepted pleasantly; --- but with this admonition: “Very good, Young Man. But in the future remember to hold thy tongue; and to respect the cloth.” It took me a long time to figure that one out.
Weren’t you administrator to Beekman’s million dollar estate? Well --- y’can’t take it with you. Not even your old beer bottles.
There’s no sweeter music than the squeaks of J-ville’s 4 town pumps & 12 windmills, combined with the anvil chorus echoing from the half-dozen blacksmith shops; the whistle atop The Old Gristmill and the U.S. Hotel dinner bell --- all in counter-melody with the distant squeals, cackles, quacks, moo-oos & howls from the assorted livestock thereabouts.
Although the loveliest-lonesomest sound of all is the WOO-oo … WOO-oo-o-o-o—of a faraway locomotive on a frosty morning. (I’m speaking of the old-timers. NOT these damn’ new fangled streamline-Diesel jobs. They’re awful.)
J-ville folks had the dangest nicknames:
“MUD” Thornton. (Real name CLAY) – and his brother, “BIG MOUTH” Charlie.
“SIX TOED” Essie Williams. (How we’d all group around him on first “barefoot” day of Spring, and with awe and admiration watch him wiggle his 12 toes). He had a brother called EPHRIAM who never acquired a nickname, because, to us, his real name was funny enough.
“COLONEL BUCKWHEAT WEE WEE SOUR GRASS” Wilcox. (For what reason I do not know)
“WOODCHUCK” Wilcox. (His brother. Later played Coast League baseball with San Francisco).
“The ROOT”. A name Mama shortened from “The root of all evil” for a certain 15 year old kid who smoked, chewed, drank, cussed, and sass’d his folks. And got away with it.
----- and here’s the l o n g e s t one on record. (10 words). “SMOOTHIE” Duval, The Boy Who Killed The Dead Jack Rabbit. You’d never say “Hi, Smoothie!”. You’d say it fast: “Hi, SmoothieTheBoyWhoKilledTheDeadJackRabbit!”.
“LITTLE ADAM”, The Hunchback Hermit. No matter what month it was, when drunk he’d keep yelling: “HooRay f’r th’ Fourth o’ July!”.
“OLD ENGLISH JOHNNIE” (No one ever knew their last names. No one cared.)
“BUCK” Dunford. (Real name ALVON). The Town Bully. Strongest kid in J-ville. Helped his dad (village drayman) juggle trunks and pianos; and helped his brother, “CALF EYED” Ike kill steers for butchering. When a new kid moved to town Buck would clobber him. Somewhere in France (World War One) when “going over the top” Buck dropped into a nest of Germans. His guns became too cumbersome, so he knocked out a half dozen Huns with his bare fists; bound them with a rope; dragged them back and rolled the bloody mess into his trench; saluted his Captain and said: “Here y’are Cap’. Want me t’ go back an’ fetch some more?” After Armistice Buck returned home and in later years was buried with Military Honors.
“GREASE BELLY” Schultz
“HAY POOLY” Kubli.
“PUNK” Dunnington. (Punkin’ Head). (Age 7 wore a size 9½ hat).
FRECKLED kids were many. “Rain-in-the-Face” – “Polkadot” – “Shotgun” – “Cow Poop” – “Branface” etc. Then I came along with bigger ’n’ better freckles: Which accounts for the gang dubbing me: “PINTO, The Human Leopard”. – (a Spanish word meaning spotted or mottled). But that time when you brought me from San Francisco the first pair of guinea pigs ever to be seen in the county (and a few months later I gave a pair to most every kid in town), for a spell I was called: “GUINEA PIG COW-PIG”. I had always resented that real name (Vance) which Mama hung onto me. (Named for some family friend – a Mr. Vance – who, I understand, later committed suicide.) I’d burn when the kids would hoot at me: “Vance Vance, dirtied his pants – His mammy whipp’d him an’ made him prance!”
---- but when I discovered that the strongest and toughest lumberjack, mule-skinner, and two-fisted barroom fighter was named VANCE WOLGAMOTT, he became my idol, and that Vance wasn’t such a sissy name after all. We two Vances soon became pals. I remember many times when riding up to the sawmill with him how he’d pop frogs 30 feet away with his long whip. And when he’d spot a big bull snake he’d have me hold the reins of the 10-mule hitch; hop down off the wagon; catch the snake and tuck it inside his shirt. Sometimes have a half dozen or more slithering around his belly. Said they keep him cool on a hot day. When he’d enter a saloon some of the old drunken miners would see several snake heads popping out of his shirt front. You can imagine what happened. Vance W. chewed a brand of tobacco called “Peerless” – the blackest, strongest, bitterest and nastiest stuff ever known. Once he gave me a chaw, and I cussed and spit it out. It was awful. Wolgamott laughed and said: “Listen, Son. When y’kin chaw Peerless; spit ag’in th’ wind; and wipe yer butt on a cross-cut saw, you kin travel with guys like me!”
Another tough guy up at the mills was a stocky little Greek called “HARD BELLY JOE”. On Saturday nights Wolgamott and another lumberjack (Dirk Van Dyke) would take little Joe with them to Bum Neuber’s “Banquet” Saloon; stand Joe against the big iron safe and would invite all comers to haul off and sock him in the belly for free drinks. WH-h-I-sss-sh BOOMP! GRUNT! The game would go on for hours with The Unholy Three getting gloriously drunk, free for nothing.
But here’s some more nicknames:
“POLLY” Bybee. A real he-man cowboy.
“PANSY” Anderson. Ball player.
“PUNG YOW FOOEY” (Elmer) Lester. Star pitcher on local team.
“KITTLE HEAD” Kinney. Was clowning at a party. For a laugh he put an iron kettle over his head. It stuck. So, they had to get Augustine Schmidtling, the blacksmith, out of bed, who (and a mighty man was he) with aid of sledge hammer & anvil, cracked it off.
“UGLY GEORGE” S-----
“COOKIE DOUGH” M-----
Also, “ONE-EYED CAP” Q------. Claimed his eye was shot out by enemy during Civil War battle. But when he would catch one of us kids playing with a stick, whalebone corset stay, wire, strip of tin – no matter what – he’d always point to his eye socket and warn us that that was how it happened. (I’ve heard since that if the truth were told, it was shot out during an argument in a Faro game).
While on the subject of “The Eyes Have It” let’s not overlook the more “brutal” names:
“PIG EYED” O-------
“WALL EYED” W ------ (Squawman. He could wish off warts.)
“SORE EYED” Winnie ------
“COCKEYED” F -------.
------- and the lovable old G.A.R soldier who was in same Company (Cavalry) with you “fightin’ Injuns”. I’m referring to “SQUINT EYE” Jimmy Hards. You was a Corporal, known as “OREGON BILL” – and you rode a nag named “BARREL HEAD”. Old Jim told me a lot of things about what you two did during your service. For instance, the time, ’way out in the wilds of Idaho, you swiped the Captain’s mess of fresh mountain trout – snuk off into the woods – cooked and ate ’em. Had a guilty conscience. Told the Captain you’d seen turkey buzzards hovering around his tent. You and Jim went out and shot one – crammed some of the fish bones down the buzzard’s gullet – showed it to the Captain; and everything was jake. Shame!
One day when Jim and I were sitting in front of his shack on Main Street, a tiny and trim little chic’ (one of The Madam’s importations) tripped gaily past. Jim eyed her for a moment, chuckled, and said: “Hmmm! Cute little filly. No bigger’n a chipmunk. Tell y’what – y’take a brick; put a cigareet paper on top ’n’ stand her on it ’n’ By Gad! She still wouldn’t be tall enough t’look a goose in th’ butt!”
Another time – an October morning – I watched Old Jim peering off into space. I said: “What’s on your mind, Uncle Jim?” And he answered: “Son (spit), I wuz jus’ settin’ here a-thinkin’ ef maybe I had me a twelve-gauge shotgun ’n’ some black powder ca’tridges ’n’ a hoss-’n’-buggy – a couple o’ bird dogs ’n’ a bottle o’ whuskey …. (chuckle) .… I’ll be goddammed efn we wouldn’t be a-havin’ quail fer supper t’night”. (spit)
He would never let me forget the time Don Cameron (my next door playmate) and I (age 6 & 7) threw the dozen or more chickens down the hole in our backhouse – and Handyman Jim had to lasso them with a clothesline; yank ’em out one-by-one, and rinse ’em off in the horse trough. Don C. and I weren’t allowed to play together for two weeks. I received no allowance and had to stay home all day for two Saturdays. (Cruel parents.)
Altho’ – well, in a way – sort of indirectly – I knew this man rather intimately, I didn’t actually make his acquaintance until many years after his death. I never did learn his name, or the name of the person he murdered. Nor did I know just why, to cheat the noose, he starved himself to death in jail, and willed his carcass to science: with his skeleton ending up in our school for study purposes ---- where it was kept in a closet until such and such a time it would be wheeled out dangling on its caster-roller upright stand to grin at the physiology class.
Well, one time when my 4th grade teacher (Miss P.) left the room to go to the backhouse, I entered the closet and came out dancing with “Old Mister Bones” and waltzed up and down the aisles and around the room. (Anything for a laugh!)
Unexpectedly Miss P. returned via the opposite door – all laughter stopped short – and both of us (me and the skeleton) were locked in the closet. It was dark, dank and dusty in there – and full of squeaking, scampering mice – and I was uncomfortable – and kept wondering just who my gruesome, grinning, toothy dancing partner really was – and who he had murdered – and WHY? .... And now, years later, some Tin Pan Alley composer comes out with the popular hit song, “Oh, It Ain’t No Sin To Take Off Your Skin and Dance Around In Your Bones.” --- and is drawing big, fat royalties …... and why th’ hell didn’t I think of that?
I sure appreciated those times when you’d allow me to stay out of school and sit in the courtroom and sometimes hear Judge H. sentence poor devils to the pen’ – or maybe “to hang by the neck until dead dead dead”. And when their kin folks would wail and cry I’d be glad that the accused wasn’t me. Besides, it was more fun than sitting in a stuffy and dull old schoolroom.
And who was that half/breed (Johnnie Somebody) who, (after two or three stretches in the pen’) was sentenced to serve another (for raping his neice)? At conclusion, Judge H. banged his gavel and said: “The jury should have hanged you; but this time I’ll see to it that you’ll stay put for ever ....... FIFTEEN YEARS!” And as the sheriff was leading him out, Johnnie shook his manacled fists and shouted: “Listen, Judge H. you grayheaded old sonofabitch; I’ll see you to your grave yet!
---- and years later, the moment Old Johnnie returned home (on the J-ville train) Judge H.’s funeral procession was crossing the R.R. tracks on its way to the cemetery --- and Johnnie shook his fist towards the hearse, and in a dry, cackling voice, sneered and shouted: “I told you so – you gray headed old sonofabitch – Now By God, this time YOU”RE gonna stay put!”
That half/breed Johnnie was a damn good whittler, tho. He made me and Fabian Eckleson each a bow & arrow – for a bottle of wine Fabian kiped from Gran’ma Pape’s cellar. ’Twas ag’in th’ Law to sell booze to Indians; but Shucks! We didn’t care.
That Fabian, too, was quite a lad. (He was nicknamed “Spiderlegs” but the name Fabian always seemed funnier).
One rainy afternoon we were monkeying around with one of his uncle’s shotguns. The trigger was stuck, so we placed the butt on the floor and both yanked down on it – the trigger. --- B O O Mmmmmmm-m! ------- and it not only blew a hole up through the ceiling, but ripped the bottom out of an old rocking chair in upstairs room – the chair where Old Granny Pape always sat with her knitting. Lucky for Granny that at that moment she was out to the backhouse – or somewhere. I was too scairt to care. I beat it home fast; and that evening Fabian learned that his uncle’s razor strop had other assets and uses than for just shaving purposes.
The naked statue of “Greek Slave Girl” chained in Bum Neuber’s saloon window. Considered lewd by the churchy folks. I thought it was rather attractive.
SPORTY BUM NEUBER: His pompadour haircut. Always importantly busy. Even when he’d buy a 10¢ cigar he’d throw down a dollar and never wait for the change. Too busy! Too busy! (But he seldom had anything in particular to do.) Just busy!
The time the travelling hypnotist, as a free attraction, put Tobe Brouse to sleep in Neuber’s Saloon window for five days and nights (with The Greek Slave Gal watching over him) --- and everyone along the street gawking at him; hoping to see him suddenly open his eyes before the advertised time of the awakening.
The warm, dry-goodsy smell in Luke Ryan’s store on a rainy day.
TOM KENNEY’S “JURY”: The group of old codgers & Civil War Vets who (weather permitting) would sit all day in front of his hardware store and chaw, spit, cuss, whittle, lie, argue politics and re-fight the Civil War.
The night Tiny Cooper went to sleep on R.R. track; run over and killed by Barnum’s train.
OBJECT LESSON TO KIDS: “He was drunk”. I learned later that he had never taken a drink in his life.
“Rags” Kooby, The Old Wine-o: His noisy damnation speeches (with wild gestures) from his cabin porch.
Mama Helms and daughter, Mondy, with their dogs taking summer evening walks past our house.
Parade of Nuns and Convent Gals doing the same.
Also Old Man Boo-yer – with a pocketful of candy to pass to all the kids along his route.
FRENCHMAN’S SWIMMING DAM: One part water & 9/10ths green scum and slick mud. With all the warnings, I never did hear of any kid catching diphtheria or typhoid fever from it. “Little Adam’s” dam was cleaner, but too small.
The musty smell in our dugout cellar – and the rows of winter jams, jellies, apples, etc. Slidin’ down the cellar door – and down the stairway bannisters. Wheeee!
Kids yelling at Old Mollie West (the lady prospector) who lived alone in the little-cabin-in-the-diggin’s.
“Old Mollie West has pimples on her chestWe’d yell that just to hear her cuss.
And her arse is black as char-coal”.
The day Chris Kenney and Roy Ulrich turned loose a big box full (about 4 gallons) of live mice in the schoolroom. They had caught them down at the old Grist Mill. Hell wuz a-poppin’! Girls screamed; boys yelled and grabbed brooms, sticks and mops to annihilate them.... and Old Prof Van Scoy’s long coat tails and bushy whiskers flyin’ wild.
How the girls had to play on one side of the school grounds and the boys on the other. Trusting old teachers, eh?
The Saturday Night drinkin’ miners & lumberjacks clustered on Ma Thornton’s Home Cookin’ Boarding House porch waiting for the supper bell to ring.
The long loud squeak/screeching of Barnum’s train as it puffed and wheezed ’round Sour Creek Bend beyond the Cattle Guards.
Judge Hanna’s long blue cape (fur trimmed.)
“Polly” Bybee’s fat stomach filling up his saddle.
Bert Denniff rolling cigarettes with Red Bell tobacco.
Yokky Yokum doing likewise with Bill Durham.
Senator Tod Cameron’s General Arthur cigars – (and always the ashes on his vest.)
When Jackson Creek over-flooded – washed away the bridge. Brother Don dern near got drowned – and came down with pneumonia. And the time Don was riding the vegetable wagon with Hank Murray – and the team of horses became frightened by a swarm of hornets – ran away --- and killed some old woman.
One of Sister Mary’s home duties: Filling the coal oil lamps & trimming the wicks – and cleaning the lamp chimneys.... and how she hated it. Then came stinkin’ GAS – and Ah! ELECTRICITY! (Well, what won’t they think of next?)
Bertha Orum singing: “I’m Only A Bird In A Gilded Cage” -- and audience weeping.
Blacksmith Pat Donegan with his bucket enroute to The Star Saloon to “rush the growler” at noon hour. (Half gallon o’suds for a dime.)
Spending rainy Saturdays with Old Soldier, John Reno in his clean little cabin. Old John cooking me do-nuts – and teaching me how to play his army fife. (Which eventually led me on to squeaking a piccolo and clarinet.)
The hollow sounds of English Johnnie’s cowhide boots every night as he’d stagger homeward past our house to his log hut on the hill... He died with his boots on. Had been dead 3 or 4 days. According to law, Marshal Huffer gave Yok’ Yokum $2.00 to sit with the corpse over night. With the 2 bucks Yok’ bought himself a quart of whiskey. The stuffy little cabin was cold and smelly. Yok got drunk – and sleepy. Crawled in bed with the corpse. Slept soundly. Woke up with a hangover; and, (according to Yok’) when he perceived a number of rats eating off Johnnie’s ears, he jumped up – ran home -- and never took another drink for …... two days!
Constable Huffer’s iron gray beard; and heavy cane (with flashlight in handle.)
The rainy night “Beanpole” H------ knocked at our door and said to me: “Hey Guinea – tell yer maw I cain’t come t’ sap th’ jersey t’night …. because today my paw he got all blowed t’ pieces up t’ th’ mines.”
Carrie B’s ---- “stiff as iron” beaded black dress she always wore to church on Sundays.
Mama sending me to Doc’ Robinson’s Drug Store for 2-bits worth of Cream o’ Tartar for cookin’ purposes. (You always called it saleratus. How come?)
Allaphonse Be-Avenue, the vineyardist. (I always thought that was a funny name).
Following Harry Murphy (Oregonian Editorial Cartoonist) all over the day J-Ville acted as host to Portland Business Men’s Association. I pestered him with so many questions about cartooning he finally presented me with a stub of one of his special pencils (which I prized for years). P.S. Mayor Britt got a haircut that day. First one in months.
Whatever became of “Dixie Queen”, “Red Bell”, “Convention Hall”, “Teaser” & “Duke’s Mixture” Smoking Tobacco?
---- And “Day’s Work”, “Brown’s Mule”, “Piper Heidsick”, “Boot Jack”, “Elephant Twist” and “Tiger Fine Cut” chewin’ ’n’ spittin’ t’bacca?
---- and “Turkish Trophies”, “Imperials”, “Fan Tans”, “Sweet Corporals” -- and Heaven only knows how many brands of “tailor made” cigarettes? (The non-smokers called them “pimp sticks” or “coffin nails”.) Guess I’ve smoked ’n’ chaw’d ’em all. I never was great shakes for cigars. Never wanted to look dignified or businesslike – or like a politician.
The R.F.D. Postman with one slanted shoulder (result of an accident) – but us kids thought it got that way from carrying too many heavy mail sacks.
The Old Haunted Brewery: – with the red paint splash on attic floor; which we believed was blood from some terrible murder.
How close to home we kids kept when notorious killer-bandits, Tracy & Merrill escaped from the Pen’ at Salem (300 miles north from J-ville). Most everyone in town was ab-so-lute-ly SURE they had seen ’em. (They were captured ’way up north near the Canadian Border). “They went thataway, Podner!”
Ed Helms (weather permitting) always sitting on bench in front of his Table Rock Saloon – always eating peanuts. How I loved sneaking in the back door of that saloon to kipe a quick handfull of pretzels off the free lunch counter. And a quick look at the display of the early day vigilantes’ hangmen’s nooses (with names of the “deceased” attached thereon).
Shady pathway along Britt’s Ditch. Lover’s Lane. Beautiful! – but I was too young to fully appreciate all those little off-trail nooks and bushes thereabouts. (If that ditch could talk …. WOW!)
You bringing narrow-minded Prof H. home to supper; and him deliberately sniffing at the dessert (plum puddin’) and, detecting a touch of brandy, with a smug look he shoved it aside. Next day Mama warning you never, NO NEVER to invite him to supper again. (–and Goody Goody for her!)
Paying a gang of kids 5 marbles a load for carrying 2 cords of fire wood up those long stairs to your office.... and you paying me 2 bucks for the job. (Tom Sawyer’s Ghost.)
Marshall Bill Kenney picking up drunk ’n’ fightin’ Rose -----------: Tossing her over his shoulder and packing her up Main Street to the calaboose – her screaming and cussing like hell.
---- and the time Big Bill arrested George B. for “drunk & disorderly” conduct. Attempted to put him in the cooler, but the worm turned. George shoved Big Bill inside – took away his keys – locked him up – pocketed the keys – jumped on his saddle horse and galloped homeward O’er The Applegate Hills. (Never did hear the outcome.)
The sign on one of the U.S. Hotel diningroom tables: TRAVELING MEN’S TABLE. It cost 2-bits more to sit there. You got the same lousy food but on that table there was a flowered dish with a couple of stale oranges in it. (You were considered a “big shot” when you sat at that table.)
MAX MULLER’S “Palace of Sweets” candy store – ice cream & sody pop. Also overalls, sun bonnets, jack knives, 3-way snap coin purses, fertilizer & poultry foods.
The 4 big leather purses which (in one month) I charged to your account at Luke Ryan’s Dry Goods Store. Traded them to other kids for odd and sundry articles. (And Mama made me clean the chicken house for 4 Saturdays – without pay.)
The harness & saddle maker’s big family who all talked funny. Such as: “You gimme them mar-har-buls (marbles) or I’ll hit you over the haid with this pi-hi-yick (pick)”.
Remember when the soles of kids’ shoes would come loose and you’d have to lift one leg up and slap it down with each step to avoid stumbling?
Adam Luy – cobbler. Would sole our shoes for 2-bits.... then hurry next door to Helms’ Saloon and spend 15¢ of it for 3 big nickel beers (plus free lunch.)
I could never understand how or why you so faithfully read “The Congressional Record”. Next to the financial page in The Undertaker’s Gazette I found it pretty dull. No jokes. No funny cartoons.
“SKUNKFACE” Scroggins: The grizzled old recluse-prospector who lived in a cave in that section north of Grants Pass; officially on the map as JUMP OFF JOE. Character so named because of his long, black whiskers with a white streak or stripe up the middle. (And they say he smelt that way.) Skunky that is.
Incidentally, JUMP OFF JOE got its name because when the soldiers were encamped thereabouts, none were allowed to associate with the young Indian squaws. A soldier named Joe was “messin’” with one back in the bushes. His buddy, keeping watch, suddenly saw their Captain coming down the road, and shouted: “JUMP OFF, JOE! JUMP OFF!” -- and that’s what the army/surveyors put down on the map.
Wonder if miners and loggers still have those rock drilling and cross-cut log sawing contests anymore? Real thrilling. In J-ville lots of big bets were won and lost.
Becoming intrigued by the “wand’ring minstrel” colored banjo player who sang on the street and passed the hat. He sang:
“Little Red Caboose – Little Red Caboose.All the while he’d puff on a cigar. In the middle of song he’d “swallow” the cigar and keep right on singing; with smoke coming out on the “toots”. Next day I tried it and had a blister on my tongue for a week. (Am glad to report that I finally mastered the trick, and today can do it perfectly. Aren’t you proud of me?)
Little Red Caboose be-hind the train, etc”.
SUMMER NIGHTS: Playing out in the ante-room with other kids while our mamas attended lodge meeting. -- and me and “Rip” Lewis sneakin’ up to nearby Punk Alley to bum a cig’ from China Mary – returning and puffing it manlike; showing-off in front of the little girls.
The Maypole Exercises down at the grove.
The two pop-eyed old maid country gals, who, in a one-mule cart, peddled homemade hominy, salt rising bread and fancy needlework to local housewives.
Me and Don kiping the whole box of Bon Bons during the moments when Sister Helen and her beaux would exit from parlor to front porch for moonin’ purposes.
What year was I when you volunteered (for no money) and defended the mountain gal accused of murdering her father? – And after a long, drawn out trial (with all circumstantial evidence against her), on the day for your final argument and appeal to the jury, you awakened full of the Grippe. (First time in your life you were ever real sick.) The Doc’ said “No!” – but you ignored him; washed down a tablespoonful of quinine with half a pint of whiskey – pleaded to the jury for 4 hours (made most of ’em cry). (probably wore ’em out!) -- and jury returned with verdict ….................“NOT GUILTY!”
Sweet little Miss Lemburger – court reporter (whom the kids called “Cheezy”). She owned the only pug dog in town. (By the way, what ever became of pug dogs?)
Hank Bouden’s Road House. His moss covered well with dozens of quart bottles of beer tied to clotheslines hanging therein. Better than Frigidaire.
Mayor Britt’s big owl in cage. Buying homemade wine from him for Mama’s mincemeat. 10¢ for a half gallon. And me sneakin’ a few sips on the way home. Admiring Britt’s live lemon tree enclosed in glass (only lemon tree in Oregon.)
Why did (especially on a cold, rainy day) Mrs. Otto Biede’s homemade German Coffee Cake and bread and butter and brown sugar taste better than it did at home?
“Muley” – Gran’ma’s long-carried cow; whose name was later changed to “ZIG ZAG” because of her twice broken tail, which on two different occasions got caught in the slam of the heavy barn door on windy days. And some little girl cousin’s remark: “Granny’s got th’ funniest cow. Every time she pees her tail sticks up like a ‘Z’.”
--and don’t forget Gran’ma’s 3-legged cat named NICODEMUS. Choked to death on a fish bone. Age 22 years.
Did you know – (No. you wouldn’t) – that in one of those old shacks on the hill opposite our house, for a few months only, there lived a family of itinerant hop & fruit pickers? Well, anyway, they had a 12 or 14 year old daughter who ran a “cat house” on an old mattress down in their cellar. Her two teenage brothers were her pimps; and, (so the boys told me) they would charge 20 marbles (or a pocket knife or what have you) for a short visit with their sister, on Saturday afternoons only (while their parents were out in the orchards plucking fruit.) -- but don’t let that upset you, Dad. I was too young. Besides I didn’t have any marbles; and I prized my jack knife more than I did a __________ Oh, skip it!
Remember how you would always mark, with blue pencil, articles in the newspapers: “BOY KILLS SELF WITH GUN. DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS LOADED” and place it on mantle for Brother Don and me to read? But did you ever (No. I guess you didn’t.) hear about the time Don and Davey Croneymiller traded Sister Helen’s bicycle to Dummy Hallsted for an ancient muzzle-loading rifle? And Davey swiped a can of black gunpowder from his Dad’s store – and back on the hill Don and Davey filled the muzzle with a 10-finger load of powder, paper wads and granite sand – placed copper cap on – cocked it: – and then were afraid to pull the trigger. So, they handed the gun to me (the innocent, but curious little kid brother). I aimed it at a tree, and while Don and Davey stood back with fingers in ears, they told me to pull the trigger. I did........and.........BANG! I was knocked galley-west and coughed with my lungs and eyes full of smoke – and held in my hand just the old worm-eaten wooden gun stock. They thought I was dying. So did I. We searched for the gun barrel but never did find it. If I promised never to tell, they would be extra good to me. I promised ------ and until now I never told anyone. Every time I think about it my ears ring. So lets talk about something else.
Did you know that the little mountain east of Medford: MT. ROXY ANN – was so named by one of the early day map makers who was hot for a local “madam” by the same name?
One day a ragged and wild-eyed, bushy faced old bum arrived in J-ville (via the brake beams of Barnum’s one and only freight car). He carried with him a dirty old gunny sack. Paying heed to no one, he ventured up town; and standing in front of post office, from the sack he pulled out a battered old brass valve trombone; placed it to his lips; pointed it Heavenward, and blasted “NEARER MY GOD TO THEE” on it. Passed the hat and picked up several coins... and departed. Which gave me a hell of a good idea what to do with my E-flat clarinet, should I ever become a bum.
Ever so often I read where some kid has had his hands blown off from exploding one of those tiny brass dynamite caps; and I get goose bumps and shake hands with myself when I look back and think how we used to swipe them by the box-full at the Opp Placer Mine; and would drop big boulders on them up in the diggin’s just to hear the echoing B O O M!
Among other news articles you’d blue pencil was when a doomed murderer was hanged at the State Pen’. All of the articles were the same: “The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast; read a page from the Bible; mounted the fatal 13 steps; and, a moment before the black cap was placed over his head, he asked for a smoke; looked over the spectators and said: “Parents – For God’s sake, keep your kids away from dime novels and cigarettes; because that’s why I am here.” (Oh, those moral object lessons.)
And the times when you would return home from Court Week at neighbouring county, where you were guest at home of a certain lawyer --- and Brother Don and I were the subjects to overhear your indirect object lesson: “What a fine, upright, polite and studious son this lawyer had. How, after supper he would kiss his mother; bid you all a pleasant ‘Goodnight’ and go upstairs to do his home work and go to bed without being told”. Now, although Don and I had never met this “model” youth, we figured him being a sissy, and hoped that some day he would visit us; when we would either beat him up for being so damn’ good; or teach him to smoke, chew and cuss …..... When Lo and Behold! One day Don got your copy of the Portland paper before you came home; and there it was: This kid’s photo on front page and all about how he was ring-leader of a gang who, over a period of many months, had sneaked out at night and robbed stores. When finally caught they confessed to having enough dynamite wired beneath the local bank to touch off the following day. “Enough dynamite” said the police, “to blow up half the town”. Well, right then and there Don and I changed our minds about that kid being anything but a sissy.
Every small town has its usual number of haunted houses, and our town was no exception. When an old unpainted house becomes vacant, kids just seem to feel that its run-down condition isn’t complete until all of its window panes are stoned out. Then, and then only does it become haunted.
And of course, in all small towns there are always rumors that a wildman is occasionally seen roaming around the graveyard in the dark of night. All rumors, of course: – except only in J-ville. We really had one. On summer nights when us kids were “playing out” we’d look up toward the graveyard and actually see through the trees a flickering light and distorted human shadows darting about. Scared? YES! Years later we learned that it was daffy old “Pappy” R------, the sexton, who slept up there and would romp naked among the tomb stones and yell at the moon. Daytimes, around town, you’d hear the klinkety-klanks of the tin cans he had attached like stilts to the soles of his shoes........... (to keep the Devil out.)
Oh, J-ville had plenty of odd characters. You surely remember the old man who sewed leather buttons on his clothes; slept with 3 dogs; would deliberately have bees sting him; would wash down a teaspoonful of sand with salt water; drink pine needle tea; carry raw potatoes in his pockets and wear copper wire bracelets. WHY? To cure his rheumatism, of course.
We called him “Old 2-Cane Con Kane”. He, too, claimed that he could “wish off warts” like the Indians; and could also locate the spot where to dig for water by aid of a divining rod. But, according to him, the divining rod must be made from a wild quince tree. (Now where th’ hell’s a fellow gonna find a wild quince tree?)
Most inviting smell: When your neighbors are frying onions and beefsteak on a wet night.
Which recalls to mind that oaken, foot-length hand-whittled pestle we used for years as a combination potato masher & meat pounder. The one you made when you and Mama first started housekeeping. ….. – and Old Sam, the hired man’s remark to you when he was sizing it up: “Well, By God, Bill – I could think of lot better ways t’ spend my weddin’ day, than t’ be settin’ around whittlin’ out one o’ these damn things.”
More Good Smells: Printer’s ink and sour paste pot in newspaper office. My newspaper days in J-ville were rather unusual. You remember when Miles Overholt, an itinerant journeyman printer, landed in town. (A sort of an O. Henry.) Later he took-over The J-ville Sentinel – and published a humorous little pamphlet called: “TANGLEFOOT MAGAZINE”. That’s when I got my first job in the publishing business. In first issue of “Tanglefoot” when you turned the cover-page, on opposite page was printed:
… THIS IS THE FLY LEAF ...Ye Editor paid me a dollar for catching and suffocating (with camphor) 500 house flies, and sticking one with a drop of glue on each of the fly pages.
Overholt later became a featured columnist on a Portland paper. I saw him a few years ago in Hollywood where he was doing well writing for the movies and publishing a magazine called: “IT”; for which I sold him a batch of my cartoons.
I wonder if farmers still dope their watermelons (the ones nearest the road for stealing purposes) with Croton Oil? (There should be a law ag’in it.)
For years I wondered why my face was always snipped off in the lineup photos of family in Helen’s kodak book; until recently when she told me that the moment when she’d look down to focus and click it, I quickly stuck out my tongue and assumed a silly, cross-eyed face. How ornery can a kid brother be?
COBB LAW, the rancher north of town: He was also a deputy game warden ….. and on a certain Saturday, George Barnum (whose dad owned the train) and I shot some quail (out of season). We strung them around our waist on a string and pulled our overalls up over them. Cobb Law approached us and questioned us about our guns. We told him we were hunting jack rabbits. When he spied blood oozing from seats of our pants he gave each of us a whap on the butt with his cane …. and when feathers came out of our pants legs we were scared, and knew that the jig was up. However, when he learned that I was your son, he smiled and told us to run along – but warned us not to kill any more feathered jack rabbits. I learned later that as his attorney you once had won for him a property settlement lawsuit, saving him several thousand dollars. Thanx, Dad!
GRAN’MA B’s FAMOUS REMEDIES: Drop two new horseshoe nails into a cup of boiling water. Let stand for few days until water turns red with rust. Remove nails & drink contents. (Puts iron in your blood.)
FOR CUTS: Wash wound with ordinary pump water & homemade lye soap. Apply gob of squash or cabbage mould – grab handful of cobwebs from cellar ceiling – wrap same around wound – saturate with kerosene --------------- scream like hell & run along and play.
DIAGNOSIS: No matter what ailed a person, Gran’ma would chuckle and say: “He’s probably got th’ TIC-DOLLAR-ROO.” (She thought that was a funny word. So do I.)
Like most kids, I too answered all of the “come-on” ads in the magazines, so as to receive lots of mail and stand around the post office and act important, opening and reading the letters.
I remember receiving a box containing 12 pieces of Genuine Gold Washed Jewelry to sell @ 10¢ each. So I dressed in ragged old clothes; dirtied my face and mussed my hair ----- and rung doorbells and assumed a woe-begone expression (to gain sympathy). Most of the nice old ladies had known me since birth; but I would act like a total stranger and go into my sad salesman pitch: I would say: “Any nice genuine gold-washed jewelry today, Madam?” And when they would smile and start to reach for it, I’d slap their hands and caution” “DON’T DO THAT! Because it says right here on the box: WARNING! DO NOT TOUCH WITH SWEATY HANDS.” (I was too little to properly pronounce that word PERS-PER-ATION.)
Then there was a period of time when Davey Croneymiller and I drove everyone crazy when we were collecting cigar bands, cigarette coupons and tin tags off chewing tobacco. On back cover of catalogue of merchandise to be had for so many of these certificates was a picture of a real phonograph with 2 records. We were determined that we were going to get it. To those who smoked and chewed, their life wasn’t safe. We two pests would all but grab the cigars and tobacco out of their hands. We’d pluck the “things” out of the gutter. Dave even opened all of the tobacco goods in his Dad’s store and removed all of the tin stars, horse shoes, coupons, cigar bands, etc. I don’t remember how many it took – (possibly 2000) – but we sent a sizable box full away for the prize. And the day it arrived Dave and I almost wore it out. Next day was Friday Literary Exercises at school. I can see the billing now on the blackboard program:
Phonographic Solos by V. Colvig & D. Croneymiller
On first record played I would wind the phonograph while Dave applied the needle to the record. Then we’d change positions on the rendition of record #2. During the playing we would lean on either side of machine and assume an important pose (as tho’ we were the artistes.)
That little music box intrigued me greatly. I had imagined that inside there must be a million wheels, gears, springs, etc. – to be able to produce human talking & singing. So, I traded almost everything (kid loot) I owned to Davey for his half interest. Now I was sole owner; so I proceeded immediately with a screw driver and took it apart. Hmmmph! Nothing inside but a little metal box (which encased the main spring) and a tiny “governor” that whirled. That’s all. Just another one of Life’s bitter disappointments.
For extra spending money my salesmanship endeavors jumped from jewelry to pine pitch and wild plums. “Si-uh-tokky” (Don) Cameron (so called because that’s the way he pronounced FIRECRACKER) and I would discover a pitch stump back on the hill – cut it, and peddle the bundles @ 15¢ each. One day we came upon a clump of wild plum trees at the far end of Polly Bybee’s ranch; and while we were high up in the biggest tree, a mean old long horned bull came along; looked up; snorted; pawed the ground; bellowed; and butted furiously at the tree. And we were up there for a l o n g time – and scairt – and Polly Bybee finally rode up on his buckskin pony and chased the bull away --- and said it served us right for stealing his fruit. He took a gallon bucketful for his share, and we sold the other 3 gallons to Old Granny Lynn who said she was glad to get them “for wild plum-butter makin’ purposes”.
Then I jumped over to peaches. It was a beautiful morning when that old bewhiskered religious fanatic (who lived out beyond the Reames place) approached a gang of us kids and took us out to his place to pick peaches and apricots.
Noontime we were famished and herded into his house to have dinner. My God! You never saw such food! Wonderful and home cooked and steaming hot! When the old man started saying Grace we bowed our heads. On and on he droned – blessing every peach and apricot; everybody present, and Thanking The Lord for everything he could think of; -- when finally “Indian Joe” (The Huckleberry Finn of J-ville) could stand it no longer, yelled: “Hey, fer Christsakes let’s eat! Somebody pass th’ spuds ’n’ stuff.... I’m STARVED!” --- and us kids snickered – and got a hell of a preachin’-to from the old man – who paid us 2-bits apiece and ran us off the place midst a barrage of Hellfire and Brimstone.
We wended our weary and dusty way back to town, where we feasted on canned sardines, sodypop, crackers-and-cheese back of Croneymiller’s Store --- and tried to convert Indian Joe and explain to him why one should be thankful for God’s bountiful blessings; but all Joe said was: “T’hell with that goddamm crap. Somebody gimme a smoke”.
When a new kid moved to town and was around getting acquainted with the gang often one of us would act as the introducer; like: “– and this is Dave – his Dad runs the grocery store...and this is Don – his Dad’s a Senator – … and this is Judge Colvig’s son....and Bryant here, his Dad’s a doctor, etc.” But when they got around to Joe they’d say: “--and this is Indian Joe – he ain’t got no last name. Joe’s a bastard..... Ain’t you, Joe?” And Joe would grin and stick out his chest and say, proudly: “YUP!”
Was it Uncle John, or Charlie (your brother) who was killed by the Indians in Arizona when he was a Wells-Fargo scout? And was the only white man around there that the Indians didn’t scalp; because he was an expert marksman; and when the Indians got too thick he’d do a fake fall off his horse and play “possum” ….. and when they’d come near to scalp him he’d jump up and start shootin’. So they called him “Possum Charlie”. But I believe it was Uncle John – the one who went to Arizona with his mining partner, Ed Schieffelin, and became discouraged because of ill luck at prospecting; so he and Schieffelin parted ways. Short time later Schieffelin discovered Tombstone Mine (Arizona) and reaped millions.
And your cousin, Clark C., who also lived in that country. I always hearing you tell about the time Clark and his partner captured and killed some notorious Mexican Bandit who was wanted in California “DEAD or ALIVE -- $5000. REWARD.”-- so they cut off his head and chucked it into an old saddle-bag and headed off horseback to Sacramento to collect. Enroute they stopped at various roadhouses – drank – gambled (and no doubt fondled the Senoritas): – Arriving at Sacramento they had one hell of a time proving that the badly decomposed head was that of the wanted bandit. But they did – collected the 5 G’s – had fun on return trip – and landed home B-R-O-K-E! Now there was one Country Cousin I’d loved to have known!
Some people don’t believe me when I tell them that I used to ride (legitimately) in those old fashioned “Buffalo Bill” type stage coaches (called Concord Coaches; or “Mud Wagons”). 4 horses – sometimes 6. J-ville to Applegate. Roseburg and over-the-mountains to Coos Bay.
NED: The livery stable saddle horse people would hire to ride home (anywhere in the valley) – and tie the bridle around saddle horn – slap him on the rump, and he’d gallop home to the livery stable – alone. Sometimes 20 miles.
And whatever became of Barnum’s Railroad? Maybe somebody stole it. I knew a circus trainmaster who, during early days of railroad circuses, would steal coaches, Pullmans, flats and boxcars. He had a group of fast painters spot a lone car on a side track; slap it over with paint and lettering to match the other circus cars – destroy serial numbers – switch and hitch them onto circus train late at night --- and so far as I know the railroad companies are still looking for them. He’d do the same with horses. Crop their mane and tail – smear ’em and spot ’em with dyes, and load ’em in with the other circus horses.
Every time I hear a good pianist I kick myself for those many times I’d cheat the clock ahead 15 or 20 minutes during that hour I was supposed to practice. Today I’m just a one-fingered piano player. “My Right Hand Knoweth Not What My Right Hand Doeth.” I know....NUTHIN’!
UNCLE WES – one of my favourite relatives – who could chew tobacco, roll and smoke a cigarette and drink jackass brandy all at the same time – and while riding a buckin’ bronc’. Every Thanxgivingtime he’d promote a “Turkey Shoot” (up at The 4-Corners). He would furnish the turkeys at a good price; and then (because he was an expert marksman) would win them all back. And how, with his 30-30 rifle he would take just one bullet and allow as how he would return later with a buck deer. One of us would always have to say: “Better take an extra bullet or two, Wes. You might miss.” We always said that so he could spit and answer emphatically: “Wes NEVER misses!” -- and stalk out toward the hills. An hour or so later he would return home dragging a 6 or 7 point buck. (Do you suppose he had a “salt lick” up there somewhere? Shhhhh-h! Don’t answer that. It’s illegal.)
DEAR OLD GRAN’MA B. How in her old rocking chair she would rock & bounce me on her knee; puff and gurgle on her long cane-stemmed pipe; spit and sizzle in the fireplace; and sing to me the old time negro lullabys she’d learned as a little gal in Virginny before crossing-the-plains.
Sleeping upstairs in her old log farmhouse (in same room where Mama was born in 1856 during the Indian Uprisings.) How the wind howled and the hoot owls screeched in the big black walnut tree outside. OO-o-o-o-o … SPOOKY!
GRAN’MA’S BACKHOUSE: Built over-hanging bank on Birdseye Creek – with running water flowing 30 feet below.... KERPLUNK! Three extra big holes that would comfortably accommodate an elephant. Many a time as a little punk I damn near fell through ’em. It was freshly white-washed and re-papered with newspapers every year. Plenty of old, but good readin’ while settin’ ’n’ thinkin’. Sure. It had its usual big bluefly buzzin’ around; spider web over the door; and the occasional wasp-on-a-rampage seeking a naked spot into which to insert his stinger.
SPRINGTIME: Following behind Uncle Wes’s plow down on The Lower-40. Picking up arrows and other Indian relics. Also moonstones-in-the-rough. Finally sold my collection to a traveling gem cutter for 3 dollars.
GRAN’MA’S METHOD FOR CUTTING BABY TEETH: Give babe 2 drops whiskey & sugar – boil sewing thimble 5 minutes – put thimble on finger – dip thimble in jar of paste-laudanum (or paregoric) – open brat’s trap and rub like hell. (It’s a wonder all us kids didn’t grow up to be hopheads.)
Gran’ma telling me about when Uncle Wes was a tough and hardy little 5-year-old kid and one of the ranch hands jokingly told him that if expected to be a cowboy when he grew up he’d have to drink MARE’S MILK. And next morning Gran’ma heard a commotion out in the stable. Before she could arrive to the rescue, the wild mare (with colt) from whose udders Little Wesley had been trying to nurse.... WHISSSSSSH...KICK......BOOMP! -- out came Wes ass-over-teakettle and landed unhurt (but cussin’ mad) in a manure pile. Next morning on his stomach was a black-and-blue mark the size and shape of a horseshoe.
Watching Uncle Wes and a farmhand (“Pokerface” Cloverdale) spear salmon in Rogue River by aid of a coal oil searchlight in the dark of night. It was ag’in th’ law and I was warned by Wes to keep my trap shut; or he’d tell Mama about me kiping Gran’ma’s pipe tobacco and smokin’ and chewin’ with some other kids down ’neath the old covered wooden bridge........ and this is the first time I ever told anyone about it. Honest.
UNCLE FRED’S big black, one-stringed, dust-covered bass viol up in Gran’ma’s attic. It had a big hole in the back with a square piece of apple crate patched over it. It seems as tho’ one time Uncle Fred and a peg-legged country fiddler went via stage coach to play for a hoe-down at some neighboring community. Uncle Fred got out first – laid down his bull fiddle, and in attempting to help drunk old fiddler out of coach, his peg leg slipped and rammed a hole clean through the back of bull fiddle.
Y’know, that was mighty fine music when Brother Don pounded chords on Gran’ma’s old table model Rosewood Chickering piano (which the moths or mice had eaten the felt off the keys) -- Uncle Fred on bull fiddle; Uncle Wes: cornet – two of the hired men on fiddle and harmonica – me a-tootin’ a piccolo – Aunt Effie thumpin’ percussion on pots and pans – with Gran’ma pounding her cane in perfect rhythm.
Once when Gran’ma was down in the garden I sneaked up to the attic (where I was forbidden) to obey an impulse of long standing to try and plunk a one-stringed tune on that old bass viol. One P L U N K – PLun-n-n-n-ng-g-g’! – and a whole family of mice popped out of it – scairt the hell outta me – and that’s the first and last time I ever monkeyed with a bull fiddle.
LAST DAY OF SCHOOL (middle of May) I couldn’t get down to the old farm fast enough. Summertime was great. Heaven on Earth for any kid; but plenty of work for the oldsters. Hunting, trapping, swimming, riding, building dams & pirate rafts, snaring lizards and lassoing calves, goats and sheep. Half dozen mongrel sheep dogs. CATS (barn cats, alley cats and house cats.)
HAYING SEASON: The threshing crew. That group of sweaty happy-go-lucky hobo farmhands. How, after supper they would loll around the bunkhouse and smoke and drink and lie and tell dirty stories and wild tales about their travels. One would twang a guitar and the others would sing. How I loved it! Heaps of home cookin’ … and how those hungry bindle-stiffs could chuck it away.
EARLY FALL: Butchering time. Squealing pigs. Lambs led to slaughter. Kids blowing up hog and beef bladders for footballs.
Helping grind and preparing the meat for smoked sausage. The old log smokehouse (that was formerly a part of Fort Birdseye when Indians ran amuck.) Boiling mutton tallow and bees wax and helping Gran’ma make winter’s supply of candles in the pewter molds she had brought across the plains.
Whatever became of ASH HOPPERS? Use soft rainwater therefrom – mix with canned lye & a barrel of rendered waste fat – boil in an iron cauldron --- and what have you got?
I was a happy kid when Gran’ma would drive old fat “PUNKIN” the 17 miles from farm to our home for Thanxgiving. Her buckboard loaded with food. And what a grand dinner we had and plenty of things to be thankful for. Thankxgiving, Christmas, New Year – and Weddings the only times Mama served wine. After saying Grace Mama warning you and the other men folk: “Remember, Gentlemen – NO POLITICS!” And a moment later you and the others (a mixture of Republicans and Democrats) would get into it hot and heavy. And that’s one of the reasons I never became interested in politics.
Me being awakened at 3 a.m. to return to farm with Gran’ma to spend the Christmas Holidays. Bundling me in warm clothes stuffed with old newspapers; sackful of hot bricks at our feet; a woollen, yarn fascinator (whatever became of fascinators?) wound ’round my neck and ears. The long 17 mile journey over muddy and hilly roads. Near zero weather. The half-way lunchtime stop at “Granny” Fisher’s farm …... and how I loved shouting and singing my minstrel songs into her dipper-shaped, velvet ear-trumpet for her enjoyment. (She didn’t laugh. She cackled.)
Christmastime at Gran’ma’s: Dozens of County Cousins. Noise, merriment, music, popcorn, do-nuts, games, squawling babies and howling dogs.
THE CRY CLOSET: That little cubby hole next to the fireplace when Gran’ma kept handy her kindling wood and sacks of un-popped popcorn – a spooky dark dungeon to threaten kids with when they disobeyed......
……Which reminds me of the time kindly, easy goin’ Old SAM, the hired man, on a cold, wet night took pity on a newborn orphan lamb; gave it some warm milk and sneaked it into the cozy Cry Closet. Next morning when Gran’ma opened the latched door to get some kindling, out ran the bleating little lamb. At the same moment Old Sam came from his upstairs room. Gran’ma was hoppin’ mad. Waving her cane threateningly she ripped poor Sam up one side and down the other. Pointing to the pile of loose popcorn in the closet, she wailed: “Just look at that dirty mess of sheep drops all mixed with my corn....UTTERLY RUINED!” To which Sam, unperturbed, said: “Now, now, Granny – No use becomin’ distraught. Just put the whole mess in th’ popper, an’ pop it --- an’ that which POPS an’ turns WHITE...... Well – THAT’S th’ CORN!”
Altho’ Gran’pa B. died when I was quite young I do have a hazy recollection of him. Short, pot-bellied, twinkly eyes, and white whiskers – like Santa Claus. He must have been easy going. Typical of him was one of the times Gran’ma was on one of her “tirades”. Gran’pa on his saddle horse was going up to the little town 6 miles away. The last words Gran’ma shot him were: “------ and don’t you forget to bring back a sack of cornmeal, too!” Gran’pa met up with some of his old cronies – left his horse in the livery stable – hopped the Overland Stage – landed somewhere in Montana – returned several months later (with sacks of gold and silver) – paid his livery bill – did a little drinking and shopping – galloped home – dismounted – walked through the house – tossed a sack on the kitchen table, saying: “HERE’S YER CORNMEAL, CLARA.” And that’s all that was said. For once Gran’ma was speechless.
I never learned until last year that that big, rambling grape arbor over the back porch at the farm sprung from a cutting which Gran’ma (when she was a young bride) rammed into the ground by the back gate during one of her “spells” when she became angry at her horse. Returning from the community store, a neighbor was cutting his grapevines; Gran’ma’s horse balked at some thing. She climbed down; picked up a grape cutting; got back in the saddle and whipped the nag all the way home. “Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow” …... or, was it GRAPES?
Altho’ occasionally Brother Don and I would dare one another to sneak a little nip from your cut glass whiskey decanter on the diningroom sideboard, it was not until I was 8 years old when I went on my first binge. Dead drunk, that is. I was visiting cousin Davey Jones down at Woodville. Davey and I were driving up Evans Creek with a hackload of provisions from Uncle Will’s store. “Slim” Brody, the village nitwit, hailed us for a ride. It was his 21st birthday and someone had given him a quart of Cyrus Noble whiskey. Not wishing to offend him I gulped down a few big slugs of it and wished him a Happy Birthday.....and soon the whole countryside began whirling. I crawled back among the kippered herring, watermelons and salt pork and went to sleep. Later, through bleary eyes I was surrounded by a half dozen Davey’s and “Slims”, who were soaking my head in the clear, cool waters of Evans Creek. That was the closest I ever came to dying. Leastwise, that’s the way I felt.
Reminds me of the time one of the Pankey boys and I soaked some bread in brandy and fed it to a flock of half grown pullets. When they attempted to walk they would cross their feet, fall over, and squawk. Fun no end. Y’oughta try it sometime.
Why was it always my job to have to run down the hens; chop off their heads; duck ’em into a pail of hot water and pluck ’em for Sunday dinner? Made me feel like a murderer. (I couldn’t do it now for love nor money.)
Ah! Homemade Sunday Ice Cream – in the big 10-gallon freezer. My job was to go down to Helm’s Saloon and (after hookin’ a handfull of morsels from free lunch counter) I’d bring home 2-bits worth of ice; mix rock salt with it and turn turn turn that crank. No icecream ever tasted so good. Olivia’s thick Jersey cream & fresh home-poop’d eggs. And when Mama declared it done....... I got to lick the paddle. Mmmmm...Larrupin’ Good!
Say – wasn’t that old cemetery (up on th’ hill) really somethin’? (Still is!) Everytime I read Grey’s “Elegy in a Country Courtyard” – or about “Marley’s Ghost” I think of it. And Oh, how awful sad were the funerals in those days. Preachers sadly wailing about Death and Hellfire. Churchbells’ mounful tones. The eerie howling of J-ville’s hundred or more dogs.
--- and no matter how ornery and disreputable the deceased’s life had been; on day of his funeral, as the procession wended its way around Main Street enroute to the graveyard, everyone seemed to try hard to say something nice about him.
That old graveyard was a swell place to snare lizards and catch poison oak. Us kids believed that those who had the most expensive and fanciest tombstones had the better chance of going to heaven. The saddest ones there are those with the inscriptions: “KILLED BY THE INDIANS” -- and beneath, the names of the whole family.
And who was the smiling widow who, on pleasant Sunday afternoons, rocked in a rocking chair between the graves of her two former husbands; and would read aloud to them the week’s news and chapters from the Bible. Her lunch basket alongside?
First Military Funeral I ever saw was that of a returned soldier during the Spanish/American War (probably 1898). A Ben Somebody. I loved it. It was different from the usual run of funerals I had seen. Military pomp. The National Guard. Uniforms. Flag-draped casket. Town Band. Muffled Drums. The bugler sounding “Taps”. The dove released, and the volley of three gun shots.... which, at the time worried me considerably; because I wondered why th’ hell those soldiers were so eager to shoot wild pigeons; especially during a funeral.
And most of the tombstones up there were wrought by the artistic hands of Old Man Whipp, the village stone mason. His place of business was directly across the street opposite Pape’s saloon.... and often, during a job, he’d go over to Pape’s for a snort or two – return, and maybe misspell the name he had been chiseling. On many of the head slabs he’d chisel his signature; making no mistake that his name would be seen by all. I recall your crack about it when you once said: (and I quote): “Yes – when you gaze upon one of Old Whipp’s Angelical Works of Art, it is hard to distinguish which is the Sculptor and which is the Deceased” (unquote).
I remember when my family showed surprise when, after my having attended the funeral of a little girl, I mentioned that her parents had cried. I explained that I saw no reason for them doing so. Somehow I had the idea that they should be happy about it. They were awful poor. Why should they feel so sad? After all, they had 11 other kids at home to worry about.
No one ever hears umbrellas called bumbershoots anymore.
And Traveling Salesmen were in those days called “DRUMMERS”. The sportiest were: The Whiskey Drummer; The Cigarette or Tobacco Dummer; – and best of all, The Candy Drummer (with free samples for the kids.) These sports were The Harbingers of Men’s Latest Fashions. For instance, soon after the Whiskey Drummer had visited town, most of The Gay Young Blades (local yokels) would blossom out on a Sunday morning wearing identically the same apparel : Pearl gray (or brown) derby; striped silk shirt; stock tie (with Cameo stickpin depicting steeple chase horse jumping over barrier); box-back coat; peg-top pants; hi-button; cloth-top patent leather shoes; a mail order (20¢) snap-on gold tooth; back-of-the-neck round haircut; a few pocket coins to jingle (when the girls passed by). Nifty brocaded double-breasted fancy vest across which, from pocket-to-pocket, a gold watch chain laden with gimcracks such as: lodge emblem, gold-tipp’d turkey quill toothpick & combination cigar cutter and nail file. Wow! Just call me Sporty!
And to quote the well known columnist, O. O. McIntyre: “The height of nonchalance is is when the village dude drives down Main Street on a Sunday morning, with one leg hanging loosely out the side of his rubber tired buggy”.
Gran’ma’s remark when one of her farmhands, before leaving for the Saturday Night Shindig, applied a few drops of her cooking vanilla to his coat lapels and taking a little swig of same. “Hmmmph!” Said Gran’ma. “Show me a man with a fresh shave; a clean shirt; and all stunk up with that stinkum, an’ I’ll show you a man who’s out for no good!”
Another nifty little item you never see anymore are those fancy, pink or red silk sleeve holders – with a rabbit’s foot attached to one and a little thermometer on the other. (Usually worn at “shirtwaist” dances during summer.)
Yes yes! Those Saturday night and Holiday dances up in Orth’s Hall (over the butchershop). The wax candle scrapings to slicken the floor. Benches all around cluttered with gossipy old women, Wall Flowers & sleeping babies. Between dances men folk rushing across street to saloons for a quick snort, a cigarette and a mouthful of Sen Sen. Few shindigs ever complete without some girl getting bumped – resulting in fisticuffs between the two male partners. (Over at Eagle Point the Law finally clamped down on those weekly “hog rassles”. Too many shootin’s & killin’s!)
I never went in much for dancing. Would rather get paid for playing in the orchestra and watch the others struggle and sweat.
Once an Easterner – a young mining engineer just out of college – hit town along about Thanxgivingtime. When told that it was to be the biggest dance of the year, he showed up wearing tails. It was the first full dress suit J-ville folks had ever seen. The girls giggled; the biddies were shocked; men gawked; and the little brats yanked at his tails. So, the poor devil rushed back to the hotel; changed to an ordinary business suit; returned, and became The Life of the Party. While on the subject: Whatever became of that dance called the THREE STEP?
I guess Tom Kenney, the hardware merchant, was one of the best dressed men in town. I can still picture him in freshly pressed tailored suit; waxed mustache; and all upper and lower teeth GOLD. Whatta smile! I swore that when I grew up I, too, was going to have all gold teeth. **(At this writing (knock wood) I still have all of those that Nature endowed me with.)
And that stocky little butcher who, on a trip home to Ireland, purchased (at a bargain) yards and yards of a black-and-white checked fine English woolen material. He had 1½ dozen double-breasted suits tailored (all same pattern) and wore them for years and years. Always looked neat. People that didn’t know wondered how a person could wear one suit so long and still keep it looking like new.
Those professional gamblers and pimps were nifty dressers, too. And smelt good.
I guess it’s still a mystery who the gambler was (before my time..... 1850) who, having just won a big jackpot, decided to take a walk to get some fresh air. ’Twas a rainy night, and down in neighborhood of The Courthouse some poor “sky pilot” was preaching and pleading to a motley group of his followers, saying: ”What this wicked town needs is a church---” and said gambler, passing by, handed the preacher a thousand dollars and disappeared. (If I’m not mistaken, that little white Protestant church (on left as you enter town) is the result. And still doing business today.)
Remember when it was considered sacrilegious to play ragtime on The Sabbath? And Mama would pull down the parlor blinds and caution Don to for Heaven’s Sake use the soft pedal when he would be banging out “Maple Leaf Rag” on the piano.
Now, to me, Old Charley Payne, the blacksmith, was the world’s greatest fiddler. How, with his dirty, gnarled and broken fingers he could play “Pop! Goes The Weasel”; call out the Quadrilles; stomp his size 12 buckled Brogan for rhythmic-percussion; spit tobacco juice on the off-beats (and never miss the knothole on dancehall rostrum); wipe his moustache on sleeve on downward stroke of fiddle bow; and shout the different key-changes to Brother Don who was his accompanist on a wheezy old pump organ. Don was 12. I was 8. There were times when that celebrated duo played for the dances out in the Applegate country. Don’s legs were too short to properly pump the organ, so they paid me 4-bits a night to squat down beneath on my knees and man the foot pumps with my hands. Occasionally, when I’d become sleepy and started petering out with my pumping, Don would give me a swift kick in the fanny to “get on with it”. Old Charley had a dozen sets of rattle snake rattles inside his fiddle to create a louder tone. (Somewhat like a vibrating window pane.)
Of course, when it comes to ART, Old ROOP COULTER, The Pioneer Sign & Carriage Painter was (for my money) Rembrandt, da Vinci, Van Gogh, and all those other guys rolled into one. He was a one-stroke genius; because Old Roop could do one particular thing that, I dare say, no other artist, past or present, could equal. With an after-periodical hangover from booze, vanilla extract & paregoric, he could pick up a long camel’s hair paint brush and, through bleary eyes and a fog of smoke issuing from an old corncob pipe, with shaking body and palsied hand... STRIPE A BUGGY SPOKE.
During all of my years’ association with some of the world’s better artists, I’ve never seen anyone who could equal that. I can see him now, sitting on a nail-keg before the jacked-up wheels of a farmer’s wagon in his dirty old studio. He’d dip the tip of his brush in a gilded paint pot and nervously aim it directly at the top part of the spoke. (Kindly consider that the length of a buggy spoke is not round; it is rather ovaled in structure to a more or less straight up-and-down edge.) Now, having well aimed the tip of brush at the top, Old Roop’s beady eyes would begin to bulge .... and ZIP! … just like that, he’d wham his left hand down with a bang on his right wrist and leave along that buggy spoke’s lengthy edge the prettiest and straightest hair-line gold stripe you’d ever want to see. (And if you think that under any conditions you could do the same, just go out sometime and try it yourself. That is, of course, providing you can find yourself a buggy spoke.)
Anyway, so inspired was I at Old Roop’s manipulation of a paint brush, I decided to dabble in art a bit myself. Water colors and oils were a little too expensive in those days so I went in solely for working in just the two mediums – black and white.
Old man Dox – a very frugal sort of person – ran The Racket Store and was J-ville’s agency for the few popular magazines of the day. It was in his store (while I was catching up with my free reading) that I chanced to read in his only copy of “JUDGE” magazine the following: EDITORS OF JUDGE WILL PAY TOP RATES FOR JOKES AND CARTOONS.
That’s all I needed. “Can such things be?” I soliloquized. So I sat me down at home that night, determined to help “Judge” Magazine out of their plight. I drew what I thought at the time to be an allright joke-cartoon. (But now, with some reluctance, I must admit that maybe it’s a pretty “stinko” gag – both the drawing and the joke.....But doggonnit! In a way, I STILL like it!)
Well, I wrapped it ever so carefully, sealed it neatly with bright red wax and addressed it: “To The Art Editor of JUDGE MAGAZINE, New York City, New York.” (Remember, I’m 9 years old.) On my way to the Post Office I was stopped and asked by several of the inquisitive townspeople and old maid gossips just what I had in the package. Whereupon, with an air of importance, I informed them that I was “now cartooning for one of the big New York Magazines.”
Now, I wasn’t lying. I absolutely believed it to be a fact. I had seen nothing in “Judge’s” printed solicitation that they didn’t want my work. I had never heard of such a thing as a “rejectionslip”. (Oh, but I have many times since!) Well, in no time at all, the news was spread all over town that “that young scallywag of Judge Colvig’s is actually cartooning for one of the big New York magazines.” I began to feel the importance of it keenly. Nearly everyone stopped to inquire about it. My school teacher (Miss P.) and many others placed orders with Old Man Dox for extra copies. As for myself I ordered one dozen copies; explaining to Mr. Dox that I’d get the money from my Dad and pay him when the magazines arrived.
I was the local kid hero of the day; and I’ll tell you it made me feel pretty good – all that attention I got from grownups who otherwise looked upon me as being just another small town brat.
Then one day unexpectedly came the bombshell. My first submitted drawing was returned. I opened the package expecting to find a check enclosed. But NO! Instead, I read, printed in cold type on a little piece of pink paper: “The Art Editor regrets ... etc......”. For the moment I was stunned. Then I saw red and flew into a rage. I tore up the drawing and exclaimed: “That settles it! I’ll never send that damn’ “Judge” magazine another cartoon as long as I live!” (I haven’t, either.)
Man Oh Man! That little pink slip of paper sure took the wind out of my sails. Finally my rage turned into a complete sickness all over my body – inside and out. How would I ever be able to explain it? It wasn’t long before my friends were coming to me with their purchased copies, asking me to show them the cartoon I had drawn. I didn’t dare go past Old Man Dox’s store for days; but one day he caught me unawares and collared me. “Young Fella,” he said, threateningly. “How about that dollar-and-twenty-cents you owe me for that pile of magazines I ordered for you?” I gulped and mumbled something about running over to my Dad’s office and getting the money. He uncollared me and I went home with a sickness I had never experienced before, and crawled into bed. Everytime I closed my eyes I could see everybody in town, all looking like a cross between an ogre and Old Man Dox – they were rushing at me with a bill for a dollar-and-twenty-cents in one hand and a copy of “Judge” in the other. I finally arose, and picking up my bottle of drawing ink and special pens, I went out back of the barn and threw them as far as I could. Then I sat down in the shadow of the cow shed to suffer with my lot.
Suicide seemed to be the best and only way out.... but HOW? without anyone knowing it? I pondered over ideas like guns, ropes, dynamite and high leaps; but none seemed to please me. Just about then I decided to chuck the whole matter when a newer and better idea popped up. “I’ll postpone this thing called ‘death’ and face the matter squarely,” I decided. “Even if I have to lie about it and say that my drawing was lost in the mails”. Then again, I swore that if I ever grew up and ran into that Art Editor of “Judge”, whoever he might be, I’ll punch him in the nose.
…. EXACTLY THIRTY YEARS LATER when I first went to work at Disney’s, I was introduced to a grand old artist named MR. FLOHRI.
“Mister Flohri,” Said the introducer, “was for years the Art Editor of ‘Judge’ Magazine.”
“The hell you say!” I came back sharply.
“Yes,” Remarked Mr. Flohri, smiling. “That was a long time ago. Probably before your time. Back in the early nineteen hundreds.” “Just long enough back to save you from getting a good pop on the nose!” I answered. Whereupon, we both sat down and had a right good chat about rejection slips, suicides and bum jokes.
Incidentally, I still owe to what is probably now known as “The Dox Estate” a dollar-and-twenty-cents plus compound interest for thirty odd years.... let’s see: thirty times naught is nothing – put down naught – carry nothing........ Aw, t’hell with it!
Incidentally, if you’re interested in knowing what that cartoon was all about, I enclose herewith a replica of same:
[The “replica” is now lost.]
* * * * *
* * *
Watching the boys at the butcher shop tie hunks of meat on opposite ends of length of string and tossing it to Old Man Hoffman’s fat geese that honked and roamed the Main Street. Maybe cruel; but comical to see a half dozen geese gagging and pulling in opposite directions after swallowing.
Whatever became of the old fashioned butcher who would throw in a slice of baloney for a kid, a hunka liver for the cat and a couple of juicy soup bones for the dog?
Remember when an appendectomy was called: “Inflammation of the Bowels?”
I often laugh about that Christmas Eve when Mama was rushing everyone so as not to be late for the Santa Claus entertainment at the church. You had just come from your milking and other barnyard duties. The family had already left the house and you hurriedly joined us enroute. It was hot and stuffy inside the church. When you removed your overcoat, there stood you wearing that horsey and cow-smelling, manure-spotted, and sour milk splattered old ragged linen duster you always wore around the stable. One look from Mama was enough. As usual I snickered; and you made a hurried exit – went home – changed clothes, and, deciding that it would not be proper to return late during the church program, you dropped into Bum Neuber’s Saloon (to get out of the cold) – whereupon the crowd in there appointed you to be the Judge of their Annual Turkey Raffle.
After dousing a few hot toddys “on-the-house”, you returned home in time to join in the family fun – and read aloud to us Dickens’ Christmas Carol – all about Scrooge, Marley’s Ghost, The Bob Cratchetts -- and, at the conclusion, in unison we all chimed in and said: “GOD BLESS US ALL, SAID TINY TIM” …...... and so to bed!
When Edgar Guest wrote: “It Takes A Heap O’ Livin’ In A House To Make It Home” he must have been peeking in on our tribe – especially at Christmastime.
Whetting my axe a week before and chopping down the Christmas tree back on the hill (which I’d had marked since Thanxgiving). The deluge of snow from the first chop. Second use for axe: to decapitate head from specially fattened 30 lb. Tom turkey. The usual plucking (and saving the wing and tail feathers for dusters). The “Coroner’s Jury” – blood thirsty family cats and dogs hanging around to fight over the severed head and feet.
DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS: Plenty of preparation. House full of better-than-usual smells. Home Cookin’! Popcorn – fir boughs – various candies boiling – vanilla, orange & lemon extract. Our own home-grown almonds blanching and browned in butter & olive oil. Helen making the hoarhound candy-sticks (using hoarhound from clump growing behind our barn.) Don and me sniffing and snickering when we’d call it “BAD WOMAN’S DOG CANDY” (which never did get a laugh; but we thought it quite clever).
Stringing laurel berries and popcorn for tree decorations. My hands were never clean enough to make the popcorn balls.
Every bed, mattress and blanket used for the house full of Gran’mas, Aunts, Uncles and Country Cousins. Plenty of gaiety, fun and music until midnight Christmas Eve. Then Don and I sharing the big feather bed. After rest of family asleep, we’d take off our flannel nightgowns; put on our clothes (shoes and all) and crawl back into bed (so as to be ready at dawn). For a while we’d lay there and vaguely describe to one another what presents Mama and Papa had bought for us. Like Don would say: “Your present is 5 feet high; 3 feet wide; made of wood & paper – you can’t wear it or eat it.” I’d go crazy trying to guess everything imaginable. (It was one of those easel-like blackboards with roll of pictures to copy with colored chalk.) And one time I drove Don nuts when I described his present: “It contains maybe over a hundred separate pieces – about 2½ feet long – and cost over fifty dollars.” That was the Christmas you bought him the new B-flat clarinet (after you telling Don not to expect one: “Cost too much”.) Next day surprised and pleased as Don was, he was going to murder me for misleading him on the hints. Said it was only one thing; and it wasn’t fair of me counting all the joints, keys, screws, springs, reeds, swab and leather case.
MIDNIGHT – until 5 a.m. DARKNESS. A soft symphony of assorted snores from all over the house. DAWN! Hearts aflutter and filled with expectancy. All kids first had to eat breakfast in kitchen while you roared up the fire and lit the Christmas tree. Then the Grand Rush into the sittin’ room where you read off the names and passed out the presents.
Don and I turning up our noses when we’d open a package and find stockings, handkerchiefs or a knit wool fascinator. My utter disgust when I ripped the wrapping off of what I hoped would be a much desired book: “Heroes of The Wild West” and it turned out to be: “Lives of The Saints” (which I refused to read) from some out-of-town old maid aunt ….. and the dirty lie I told when I was forced against my will to write and thank her and tell her how much I enjoyed it.
MY FIRST FOOTBALL. One kick, and over the side fence it went into Dugan’s Alley – rolled into a rut in the road – directly beneath wheel of wagon load of cord wood driven by Mr. Fielder. B O O M ! The team of horses reared up and zoomed down Main Street, scattering cord wood right and left. My football was smashed flatter than a “flop” from a tall ox. I cried. It ruined my whole Christmas -- and even at college and ever since I’ve never been interested in football games one way or another. Who knows but had that Christmas catastrophe not happened, I might have become a star half back on The All American Team?
But why go on? You know that the rest of the day was filled with Good Cheer, Fun, Food – and Bellyaches. Yup! You and Mama sure knew how to dish up a grand Christmas for family and friends. I had often wondered just what pleasure you poor parents got out of Christmas ----- until ----- I grew up and had a big family of my own. Ah! The Sweet Law of Happy Retribution!
The 4th of July when I was trying to sneak under the tent to see the two-headed calf. The owner gave me a smack on the fanny. All I saw was the calf’s fanny (his 2 heads being pointed the other way.)
My home-made Merry-Go-Round in backyard. Two long 2x4’s, crossed and centered into a 4-foot stump. Soap boxes on ends for seats. Hand pushed (or pulled around by Dewey, my bull calf). 5 marbles (or anything y’got) for 25 times around.
My first visit (age 6 or 7) to County Fair at Central Point. I remember the band playing “Manhattan Beach” March by Sousa. (Our studio band played it only last week.)
The time you paid 10¢ underneath the maple trees alongside of U.S. Hotel and I listened to my first phonograph – with stethescope-gadget in my ears. The recording was: “Listen To The Mocking Bird – Whistling Solo” I just couldn’t believe my ears. (– and nowadays I’m making phonograph recordings!)
THE DEMOCRATIC TIMES: Editor Charley Nickell – always busy busy busy – with papers under his arm and a pocket full of pencils and one behind each ear – and wearing a torn, black alpaca coat. Always busy busy busy! (Busy busy busy people always make me nervous. After all, WHY HURRY? It’s silly!)
Me getting 4-bits for ringing a big hand-bell and yelling: “DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION – TOWN HALL TONIGHT!” Was supposed to do it only for a few minutes up and down Main Street during noon hour. I loved that old bell; and the assignment made me feel important. I went all over town ringing and yelling long after the convention was over. But I got to ditch school that afternoon with a legitimate excuse. After all, I was an important member of the community: The Town Crier..... and a good Democrat-for-a-day...age 9.
SEEING MY FIRST MOTION PICTURE: In fact, it was the first movie “story” ever made. (Edison Kinetoscope – copyright 1903) TITLE: “THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY”. I saw it once a day for 3 years when it came to J-ville and was shown in U.S. Hotel Op’rey House. I got in free. I was one of the kids who would sit on the gas bag which (with stinking carbide) had something to do with the light. The hand-cranked projection machine sounded like an old hay baler. The 2nd feature was a short scenic photographed from an engine cow-catcher through the Grand Canyon; and the comedy was some “gay” French clown, made up as a warty old maid. All he (or she?) did was mug and flirt from behind a fan with the audience. They also had an “illustrated slide” male singer who played his own accompaniment on a wheezy portable suitcase-organ. Illustrated songs, with cracked, colored slides (which sometimes the projectionist would accidentally slide in upside down; – until the singer would snap his fingers calling projectionist’s attention to the mistake (or for change of slide.) I remember one of the songs. Many songs of this caliber came out just after or during Spanish/American War. All fulla bugle calls and drums.
“ ’TIS SAD WHEN TH’ BAND STARTS PLAYIN’
AND YOUR EYES FILL UP WITH TEARS
THE SOLDIERS MARCHING PAST TH’ WINDOW
etc. etc. ….............................................................”
Those were the days when movies were called: “Gallopin’ Snapshots” – “those flickering things that hurt Gran’ma’s eyes.” Or, “Canvasback Op’rys”
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SPRINGTIME: Pussy Willows – Sulphur ’n’ M’lasses – Wild Speckle Lillies – Lamb’s Tongues & Johnny Jump-Ups. The smell of China-Lilies Ah Chew, the laundryman gave us (gathering smooth and pretty pebbles in which to plant same). Collecting bird eggs and getting itchy feet every time I’d hear a distant train whistle.
SUMMER: Thunder & lightning – and us kids hitting for safety and diving into the feather bed.
AUTUMN: First day of school. Annual trip to Medford for winter wardrobe. My first pair of long pants bought at Hutchison & Lumsden’s -- and how I hated to spring em’ on the tough J-ville kids. School books – fascinators – rubbers – overcoats – long drop-seat underwear – mittens (with string attached – up one sleeve, over back, and down the other.) My birthday parties. Hallo’een. Political parades. Filling the shed with plenty of fire wood.
Leaves leaves leaves!
MAMA’S LITTLE HELPER: The time Mama had everything prepared to receive some very special company for supper. Diningroom table elegantly set – best silverware, Havilland china and cut-glass …... and while she was upstairs dressing, I (with dirty hands) folded up the 4 corners of her very special Irish linen table cloth; and, with big safety pins, made them into pockets. When Mama discovered it she wanted to cry and say “What th’ hell?” – but not being one for cussin’ she simply gave me a mean look and demanded an explanation. Proudly, I told her that they were “Bone Bags” – for people to chuck their chicken bones in”. I got no thanks for it. Not even a laugh. (However, I still think it’s a helluva good idea.)
I suppose you once wondered what ruined the ostrich plume on your Knights Templar Sugar Loaf Hat; and how the beautiful sword got scratched and bent. No one ever asked me, so now I’ll tell you. Out in our backyard us kids were playing “Custer’s Last Stand”. All the other kids were Indians … So, well – SOMEbody had to be General Custer ...... ME! We fought a brave and bloody battle ….. but Custer lost. So, now you know. Sorry.
HELPFUL HINTS FOR HELPLESS MOTHERS of 3-Year Olds: (Mama’s Own Idea) Secure a button on arm length of string. Thread string to dull darning needle. Set child down on floor. Place your button box in front of child. When child has strung buttons up to the hilt (needle) he gets a cookie. Proud child will usually pick up the wrong end of string to display his accomplishment, causing buttons to unstring and scatter all over the room; in which event he picks them all up (one by one) and strings them again. Gets another cookie.
Guaranteed to give Mother approximately one hour’s rest free from worry ….......... unless, of course, child attempts to swallow one of the pretty ruby red glass buttons …... which is easily detected when Mother hears child choking, gasping for breath and turning red in the face.
The game is called: “BRAT BAIT”.
THE 4 RHOTEN BROTHERS – Prospectors Extraordinary: ALL 6 ft. 7 in. tall. Shoulder length hair. Long black beards. Cowhide boots. Passing our house toward the Southern Mountains. All on foot, and each carrying a 30-30 rifle. Their string of pack mules laden with tobacco, bacon, salt pork, rice, beans, coffee, sugar, salt, flour, baking powder and gallons of whiskey. When followed by anyone they would stop; level their rifles and warn: “Nobody ever follows a Rhoten and returns to tell it!” Annually they’d return. Wild, grizzly, dirty, weather-beaten, gnarled and hoary-eyed --- with bags and bags of gold dust and nuggets. Local merchants, saloon keepers, gamblers, Madams-and-Gals all happy to welcome them back. First they’d go to Old Beek’s bank; cash in their gold – deposit their mules at Livery Stable (pay in advance) – give Jerry Noonan and Jim Croneymiller General Stores money-in-advance (grub stake) for supplies when they would be hitting for the hills again. After a shave, haircut, and bath at Billy Poole’s Barbershop; then off to the saloons, gambling joints and “Cat House” for a rip-snortin’ good time. And how the old bar-flys loved ’em. Free drinks galore! Their names were Al, Bill, Jim and Een [Enos]. On one occasion Een decided not to return to the hills with his brothers. Instead, he went down to Gold Hill – got drunk – and bought a saloon for cash. Too many drinks on-the-house soon depleted his roll. He got into a brawl with some logger and Constable Joe Hammersley locked him in the town jug (which was slowly crumbling to pieces). Next noon when Joe H. went to the jail with breakfast, all that he found inside was a hole in the rotten cement floor with dirt piled all around. Joe looked all over outside but could find no hole in ground for possible escape. So, from his home nearby Joe brought out a chair and a double-barrelled shotgun and sat down and waited. Soon, gopher-like, the ground in front of him began to move – and up through the hole popped Een’s head – eye-to-eye with the end of Joe’s gun. “DON’T MOVE, EEN,” Joe shouted. “OR I’LL BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF! YOU’RE ALREADY UP TO YOUR NECK IN YOUR GRAVE, SO YOU’D BETTER COME OUT WITH HANDS UP!” Een emerges, grinning; brushes himself off, and (with the jail being ruined) he and Joe go over to Een’s saloon and finish up what was left of the stock. Joe and the boys took up a collection – grub staked Een with food and a mule and headed him toward the Southern Mountains to join his brothers. (But with a gentleman’s agreement that when he returns in the Spring he’ll buy the town a new jail.)
Now I know that President Hayes once slept in the U.S. Hotel during his stage coach trip to The Coast in 1863 [It was 1880.], but did Jenny Lind, The Swedish Nightingale, sing in the hotel Op’ry House? [No.] (where I got my start in show biz.) Anyway, that’s what I heard. And people tell me that The Famous Duncan Sisters (Vivian & Rosetta) of “Topsy & Eva” fame went to school in J-ville. [Nope.] I remember some little Duncan kids who lived there for a short spell, but I didn’t realize that they were that talented. I’ve heard also, that Marguerita Fisher, former silent movie star, once lived there. And didn’t that French lady who ran the hotel charge President Hayes $400.00 for his one night’s lodging? (because when she heard that he was going to be a guest, she spent that amount to have “The Presidential Suite” re-furnished.) For years she kept his personal letter of thanks framed and hung in the lobby.
Another reason I shake hands with myself and thank God I’m alive is when I recall the time when I was a “bush-beater” for a couple of hunters down in The-Valley-in-the-Willows. Like a bird dog I beat sticks and barked. This would flush the quail for the hunters on either side to “wing”. I came to a break in the willows in the long, dry grass I thought I had come across a male Chinese pheasant (striped tail laying across a rock.) I “shoo-d”. Nothing happened; so I parted the grass, leaned down, and was about to grab it, when this thing quickly coiled – rattled – and struck: barely missing my nose with its poisonous fangs. One of the hunters changed it into “snake-burger” with both barrels. It had 7 rattles and a button; which I gave to Charley Payne to put in his fiddle.
That old fellow I mentioned back yonder (who did all those things to cure his rheumatism) – he, too, could also wish off warts. Us kids always believed that if you handled toads and they peed on you you’d get warts; but this old man said that wasn’t true. He said warts was a sign that you possessed naughty sex-thoughts. He called warts “devil scabs”. I’ll admit there were times when I worried some when an itch or little blemish appeared on my hands ...... but I’m happy to state “Thank God! I never had a wart. Not one.”
Speaking of “dirt” -- whatever became of those dictaphone cylinder records a gang of us kids made in your office one Sunday afternoon when you were out of town? We put on dramas (dialog mostly cuss words.) We’d play ’em back and giggle. We forgot to destroy them. Next day Miss ? – your staid, strait-laced, prim old maid stenographer, thinking that they were letters you had probably dictated, no doubt got all set with earphones and typewriter and turned them on. Wow! Did she learn the facts of life! I guess she must have destroyed them. Probably too embarrassed to call your attention to it. Otherwise, I would have heard from you. I worried no end …... and avoided facing Miss X for several weeks.
And there was another time a “dirty” thing got me into a jam. In fact my teacher, Miss Fanny, kept me after school and wolloped my right hand with a ruler: – (the hand which was supposed to be guilty of adding an appendage to a horse I had drawn on blackboard during art class.) I admitted making the drawing; but when (not to my knowledge) it was suddenly transformed (and no mistake) into a STUD ….... Well – being the only budding cartoonist in the room I pleaded guilty and took the rap for the kid next to me. A big, muscular oaf twice my size and could fight like a bull. He warned me if I told on him he’d beat the hell outta me. So I figured that a little light punishment from Miss Fanny’s delicate, soft hands would be better than a busted jaw, two black eyes and bloody nose from the gnarled fists of a powerful, murderous brute.
Altho you surrounded your family with a fine library of the best reading, I guess you’ll recall that I was always too busy horsin’ around with other things and never took too much leaning toward “litter-a-chure.” My own sparse library took up little room: “Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer” – “Heroes of The Wild West” – Some old copies of Life, Judge & Puck – My Geography (and other books about travel.) My favorite: “Life and Adventures of A-No.1 – The Celebrated Tramp. Read How He Traveled Over A Half Million Miles on $7.61. (That’s what it said on the cover.) And of course, that dog-earr’d, soiled copy of a “dirty” book – (name of which escapes me for the moment) – but I remember the printed price on front cover was $5. This particular copy, however, was sold to Davey Croneymiller by a peanut butcher on the S.P. at a bargain for $1.75. After most every boy in town paid Davey a dime for a one day’s reading, it eventually fell into my hands (and I never returned it.) No, I never kept it hidden out in back of the barn like so many great men confessed in later years about where they hid their dime novels. (President Coolidge, Henry Ford, Thos. Edison and others.) Nope! I kept this book tucked away in the toe of an old rubber boot which hung on a nail out in the wash house. It wasn’t a pair of boots. Just one – and I judged that it was a safe place, because, with no one-legged people in the family, why in hell would anyone ever want to wear just one old badly worn left rubber boot?
Whatever happened to that boot & book I’ll never know. All of the supposedly “dirty” highly suggestive words were not actually there in print. Just a space with a black line printed thereon. You had to supply your own dirty word. Some 4 letter legitimate word in a poem would rhyme with no other than a (censored) 4-letter dirty word. The reader had to have at his command a choice vocabulary and an off-color imagination. Today one can procure any number of far dirtier books for a dime at any corner drugstore; or read ’em for nothing in the public library. Well, so much for literature.
I take that back. I did one time attempt to write a book. No doubt I was inspired to do so after I had read “Life and Adventures of A-No.1.” It was Springtime, and, as I gazed and daydreamed out the school window, beyond the horizon of the surrounding hills, Ye Wanderlust called. I opened my geography to the page whereon was printed the map of this great, grand, lovely world – and right off the title struck me. “Why not” I secretly daydreamed, “write and illustrate a book?” TITLE: “GIRDLING THE GLOBE – With Otnip, The Boy Tramp Cartoonist”. (I thought it was clever to spell my name backwards.) I penciled a circle around this printed globe – starting and ending in J-ville (or thereabouts. Little old J-ville was not printed on that map.) I made notes about the various states and countries involved in that penciled circle; and then proceeded to read everything I could find pertaining to those places. After my “girdling” I had it planned to land back in New York or Boston where I would submit my completed material to some worthy publisher; collect a few thousand bucks in advance; and ride back across the Nation, Westward Ho! in grand style – and enjoy the thrill of hearing the R.R. News Agent strolling through the aisles, peddling my printed works to a gullible public.
Ah! ’Twas a wonderful dream. But being a procrastinator (then, as of now) I guess I never completed it. Summer vacation nipped it in the bud. Last day of school I was, as usual, off and away down to Gran’ma’s Farm – where my kidhood dreams became realities. Whatever became of the book material and drawings I don’t remember.
--and that explains, Dad, why I generally got good marks in Geography – and stinko-minus in all other subjects.
I wonder if that old tree-house I built is still back on the hill? It was high up between two tall sugar pines in a small clearing ’way away from Nowhere. I had a mattress and pillow up there (made of pine needles and oak leaves.) In Springtime that’s where I usually spent my Saturdays (alone). I would pack a lunch; go past China Mary’s to pick up my ration of smoking tobacco; and, high above the world I would eat, smoke, read and snooze. Sometime I would lie quietly and study the wonders of flora & fauna. Mother and baby squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, chipmunks, woodpeckers, orioles, blue jays, quail, etc. And lie back and gaze skyward and watch the ever changing cloud formations dissolve from lions to elephants – camels – charging horses – dragons – ogres – witches – devils and angels. Oh, for just one more of those delightful Saturdays!
I always enjoyed those times when my friend, Sheriff Joe Rader, would take me with him when he’d serve 10 a.m. breakfast to the county jail prisoners – and sometimes let me be locked in with them until he brought them their 5 p.m. supper. Those jailbirds liked me (because Mama would usually send a basket of newspapers, magazines and cookies for them.) One man there (named Cardwell) was condemned to be hanged. You’ll remember in those days they hanged ’em in the Courtyard (instead of at the Capitol). We could see his scaffold being erected from his cell (which was called “the cage”). The outer corridor where I would visit was known as “the parlor”: where they kept the 30-60-90 day and 1 yr. inmates. They were all kind to me and enjoyed my minstrel songs and clarinet tootin’. Cardwell, the condemned man, would read to me from the Bible and tell me to be a good kid, etc: -- and I was glad when the Governor changed his death sentence to life ….. And glad all over again when I heard that after a few years you helped to get him pardoned. He was a nice man.
One Saturday I visited with the pretty little whore who was in there awaiting trial on a hold-up rap. Her name was Zela. She had her pet tamed wild-cat in jail with her. *** (But don’t worry, Dad. There were iron bars between us. Besides, you was her lawyer – and, as I recall, you got her off Scot Free. I’m glad you did because she was a nice lady.
And how about that crazy old Frenchman (Ellik B.) – the wine-o who lived up the hill from our house? -- and was always in jail for wife-beating. I was probably the only kid in town he’d allow on his premises – because one time in jail I wrote a letter for him (he was illiterate) and took care of a P.O. money order for him for the purchase of 2 phonographs. Remember, how on Sunday afternoons he’d sit on his front porch, between two phonographs playing two different band records at the same time? It used to drive me crazy. One time when he went down into his cellar to fetch back more wine, I turned one of ’em off. He returned and gave me hell and warned me never to do such a thing again. O, yes – that house of his – roof painted bright red; front of house a canary yellow; east side, a gaudy blue and the west side painted like a crazy quilt – (various colors in squares.) You could see it for miles.
One day a bunch of us kids climbed over the high board fence adjoining the jail to have some fun around the scaffold. We went through the ceremonies of execution. The kid known as “The Root” (a fit subject) was chosen as the one to be hanged. He mounted the 13 steps; and we placed the noose around his neck.... and some kid below accidentally sprung the trap-door; and “The Root” damn near really got hanged.
That was a lousy jail. We could always depend on at least a half dozen prison breaks per year. One Sunday the D.A. and The Sheriff went quail hunting together ... and during sheriff’s absence 2 prisoners (safe crackers) escaped – and were in-hiding about 3 miles out of town in a clump of trees, when the D.A. and Sheriff (unaware that anything was wrong) just happened along by that clump of trees hoping to flush out a covey of quail …. and out came these jailbirds with hands up. They thought the two men with shotguns were gunning for them.
In those days the term “juvenile delinquency” was unknown. A kid was either allright or just plain no damn good. There was Duke Brown – sentenced to reform school – escaped – returned – and when he reached 18 was transferred to the Pen’ – escaped – hit an old prospector over the head with an axe while said prospector was fixing him some food – robbed him of his watch and $7. – and later was hanged. So, Brother Don and I lost another playmate.
And of course you remember the kid who, over a period of a year, robbed Bum Neuber’s Saloon of several hundred dollars? To some of us kids he was a sort of a hero. Anyway, we envied him; how lucky he was to be in jail and not have to go to school. Well, he did finally land in Reform School for a Post Graduate Course in something or other.
In 6th grade my seat-mate was a kid named “Smelly” Jones. (because of the “ass-fid-di-ty” bag around his neck (to ward off germs) and the sulphur ’n’ m’lasses which he was always full of). He had piercing, narrow, little beady eyes. He’s the lad who held up the R.F.D. Mail Carrier out near his home on the Ashland Road. And he was the newly elected Sheriff Aug D. Singler’s first (and only) case. BANG! BANG! Each killed the other.
Poor Aug’. A former sewing machine salesman, with a wife and 11 kids – and a yearning to be sheriff. On his foot long political card was a photo of him, his wife and the perspective lineup of their 11 kids. Caption below: “THE PARTY I AM WORKING FOR”. He won at the June election primaries. His wife had another kid, so Aug’ had a photo of the new babe’s head inserted on same political card – beneath: “NEW ADDITION SINCE THE PRIMARIES”. One was sent to President Teddy Roosevelt (who advocated big families) and T.R. sent Aug’ a personally hand-written letter on White House stationery, saying: “What America needs most are more good Republicans like you. Congratulations. Theodore Roosevelt.” Aug’ won the election by a 100% vote.
And wasn’t that Willy B---- a fine lad? Even with all his orneryness I always liked the guy. For pure cussedness, during the school’s Friday Afternoon Literary Exercises, Willy kept playing over and over “Darlin’ Nellie Grey” on his harmonica until the Principal had to stop him by force, and kept him after school – which made Willy very mad. On the following Monday a.m. Willy hid behind the school woodpile; took aim with a .22 pistol and shot Mr. ------- in the foot ….. and a lot of us kids were glad; because this Prof was often too free with a rubber hose, barrel slat, or buggy whip. Willy did a year in Reform School. His folks managed The County Poor Farm and many a time natives along Main Street would yell: “LOOK OUT, EVERYBODY – HERE COMES WILLY WITH ANOTHER STIFF!” – and everyone would scatter for cover. When one of the poor folks died it was Willy’s job to chuck him in a pine box; load it on his 2-horse hack; crack the whip; and, with a wild Wah-hoo and a Whoopee-e-e-e! at breakneck speed he’d enter town in a cloud of dust – stop at Courthouse – sign-in the the corpse – collect his 3 dollars for delivery charges (and 2 dollars for the grave digger) – and, with another wild Indian yell, he’d fly up Main Street; turning the corners on two wheels – the pine box bouncing – then he’d stop and pick up Old Gran’ma N---- who sat on seat beside him, clutching her bonnet with one hand and her Bible with the other. God Rest Her Soul! She was the sole mourner on these occasions and recited the graveside eulogy for the friendless and forgotten deceased. Arriving at the cemetery Willy would dump the box into the grave that Mack J---- (village grave digger) had previously prepared. The funeral over, Willy and Mack would race the horses back down the dusty cemetery hill road; drop Gran’ma N. off at her home – buy themselves a bottle of whiskey; get gloriously drunk; and allow as how they had had a busy, but profitable, happy day.
One early dawn when Eddie Wilkinson and I were waiting for a Northbound train at Ashland depot, the dead silence of night was broken by sounds of approaching galloping horse beats. A cayuse, foamy with sweat and winded, jerked to a dead stop directly in front of us and out of the saddle slid Willy with murder in his eye. He recognized me and said: “Oh, Howdy! Say – you know my wife – did you happen to see her come past here a while ago ridin’ double with a guy on horseback with a black moustache?”
“No, we didn’t, Willy,” I answered. “What’s up?” And Willy informed us that some no good sonofabitch ran away with his woman ... an’ By God! When he catches up with ’em, this no good bastard ain’t gonna be fittin’ fer t’ do her or no other woman no good, because … (At this point Willy pulled out one of those big knives with a snap-out 6 inch blade, and pointing it directly at my nose, said: “When I git through with that no good weasel; I’ll be a-comin’ back with his goddam nuts a-danglin’ from my ca’tridge belt” … and with that he leaped on his horse, socked the spurs deep into its flanks – and was off with the wind. I’ve never seen nor heard of him since. Yes-sir-ee! That Willy was quite a card. Likeable, too.
OLD MACK J---- . The Grave Digger. There was another man I liked. Couldn’t read or write – but would argue politics, religion and war with anybody. During the Russian/Japanese War he’d often stop me on way home from school and have me read to him the latest war news. (How he hated “them goddam Rooshuns”.) Then he’d join the usual group of old codgers (Tom Kenney’s Jury) and Old Mack would say (with newspaper in hand): “I wuz jus’ readin’ here in th’ newspaper where them Japs did so-and-so …...” And the arguments would begin boiling loud, hot and heavy. Sometimes when reading the news to him I would exaggerate and give the “Rooshuns” credit instead of the Japs – just to hear him rant and rave.
Old Mack took his grave digging seriously. Once I asked: “How’s business, Mack?” And he answered: “Wa-al – things has been pretty slow of late; but I wuz jus’ talkin’ to Doc’ DeBar an’ he tells me that I’ll be a-gittin’ Old Mrs. Kramshaw in a week er so. She’s past ninety an’ sinkin’ lower every day.” Then he’d brighten and tell me that one of the old Chinamen up on Punk Alley was was ailing an’ not expected to live too long. He loved Chinese funerals; because after the ceremony when the mourners departed, Mack would gather up the assortment of choice foods – roast pig – jars of candied citron and bottles of imported Chinese gin. It was always Festival Day at Mack’s cabin for him, his squaw wife, and batch of kids when a Chink croaked. As you know, the food was left on the grave for the deceased to eat on his way to The Celestial Isle of Dreams (Heaven.) And all along the route to the cemetery the wailing mourners would drop hundreds of pieces of perforated rice paper. That was to delay the Devil, who had to jump through every one of those holes before reaching the grave. After burial it was too late. They also shot fire crackers to frighten him. Next day us kids could scratch around and pick up a pocketfull of dandy “sizzlers” (unexploded ones.)
Another guy I admired was that big, strong plowboy (Harry B.) who, after tiring of the many whippings administered to him in front of the class by Prof. Alfred S. he turned turtle one day and beat th’ holy b’jeezuz out of him. Broke the Prof’s glasses; tore his clothes off ... grinned, waved “Goodbye” to us and kept right on a-goin’. No one ever heard what became of him. And I still say “Goody Goody for Harry”. I would liked to have done the same thing – only I was too little – and maybe not that brave.
Ah! That old white (not red) little wooden schoolhouse on the knoll. Built in the early ’60s. So full of woodpecker holes it was ready to collapse. No “boy meets girl” business there. Boys and Gals weren’t allowed to play together. And, I recall the day a certain gal (good lookin’, too) told her folks about the Principal keeping her after school and “getting fresh” with her. Next day we all (except for a few “teacher’s pets”) “struck” and refused to enter until he apologized. I forget how it all turned out. I was only concerned and happy about enjoying a few days absent from school.
Which reminds me of the time Buck and I played hookey for a whole week. Old Soldier’s Reunion was in Progress up in Ulrich’s Park. Free beans and soup and merry-go-rounds and other attractions. After the free lunch we’d sit in front row at Speaker’s Tent and enjoy the entertainment. Come Friday: – and when the curtains parted, exposing the flag-draped speakers platform (unbeknown to us) there you were, in frock coat and all, rarin’ to open the show ....... and there I was facing you not 6 feet away. Buck whispered: “Holy Cow! Guinea – there’s yer ol’ man!” …. – and we slithered out of there jolly fast I’ll tell you. That night at supper table you casually asked: “How was school today, Son?” I gulped – and explained that when I heard you were going to speak on Patriotism, I figured that I could learn history better by listening to you than I could from an old school book. Your ego was pleased; and I was vindicated. But, I was greatly concerned as to how I was going to have you write me an excuse covering the complete 5 days absence. Luckily, next day (Saturday) you and Mama left for a visit to San Francisco........ So, Monday a.m. I had the only other person in the world whose written excuse would be accepted ... The family doctor...... and that was Doc’ G., who at the time was courting Sister Helen; and, desiring to keep in good standing with “the brat brother” he fixed me up proper. Everything at school on Monday morning was okay. But Whew-w-w! I sure sweat that one out.
Here’s another prank us kids used to play. When a new kid moved to town and associated with our usual gang, we’d introduce him to Buck D. and explain how Buck’s strong body contained certain magic-magnetic power. To prove it, the kid lays down on his back and is told to take a deep breath and hold his body rigid; and, by holding a horsetail hair (or straw) between his teeth, Buck can take other end of straw, with just thumb and finger and lift him straight up on his feet without breaking the straw. So, the kid lays down and Buck with straw says: “Take a deep breath and open your mouth (to bite down on straw)” …. and when kid opens his mouth, Buck has concealed a handful of dry, pulverized horse turd which he drops into the kid’s mouth.
One day on way to school I was almost talked into playing hookey; but I guess my guardian angel thought otherwise. It was a beautiful Spring morning. The grass was greener than usual. Meadow larks were on-the-wing and chirping gaily. All Nature beckoned and whispered: “Keep goin’, Son. Keep a-goin’” …. when I fell in step with two older boys … “Red” Howard and “Injun” Wolff. When we came to the turn-off near the school, I turned off; but they kept right on a-goin’ ….....
…...... Three months later “Red” mailed me a postcard from Barcelona, Spain; saying that they were having fun and were on their way to Egypt. And I thought: “Well, By Gad! That’s th’ best danged piece o’ hookey-playin’ I ever heer’d tell of.” That’s the last I ever heard of ’em.
Now, here’s a deep, dark secret of my past, and told here for the first time here. When I was 11 years old I smoked opium. Well, I didn’t actually smoke it. I got it sort of second-handed. ’Twas a rainy day, and you had sent me up to Punk Alley to tell Lim Wang to come and do the milking and other chores during your absence from home for a few days. Lim wasn’t home. Gin Ling told me I’d find him next door at China Mary’s.
Now, most of the other town kids were afraid of Mary. They’d throw rocks on her roof to cause her to come out with a butcher knife and threaten to cut their throats and cuss ’em in Chinese. But not me. I liked China Mary; and because you were the attorney for some of the “Chinks” she was always kind to me. Give me candy, lychee nuts and sometimes cigarettes (which tasted like a mixture of burnt fire crackers, oil of almonds, incense and musk) -- but I smoked ’em anyway.
Well, this day, without knocking, I opened her door; and there was old Lim in bed with her. The little room was dark and hot and gloomy and stunk like I don’t know what. Silently she pointed one of her 4 inch long needle-point finger nails at me and motioned for me to sit down and remain quiet. Over a little blue flame in an alcohol burner she heated a lump of brownish “wax”; put it in bowl of hop-pipe; took several long draws and stuck the pipe stem into Lim’s mouth and he sleepily did likewise. Blue and yellowish smoke issued from their nostrils – and I inhaled it second-hand. I became dizzy – and sick to my stomach – and finally left and came home in a “fog” – piled into bed – and threw up. Mama sent for old Doc’ Debar; who, as usual, opened his smelly medicine satchel – stuck a thermometer in my mouth – took my pulse – had me stick out my tongue – ask me a lotta questions – (which I didn’t answer truthfully) – left some bitter pills ….......... and to his dying day I guess he was still trying to diagnose “The Case of The Boy Opium Fiend”. But I never did tell. I didn’t want to get in Dutch with China Mary …. because she was always good for a handful of tobacco when I couldn’t procure it elsewhere …. and she had my promise that I would never tell …. and I never did ….... because those long, sharp fingernails and butcher knife and essence of almond blossoms somehow held me in some sort of a fearful, but pleasant, state of awe.
ANOTHER SHAMEFUL CONFESSION: When I was about 8 no one ever discovered why I’d have terrible nightmares and wake up screaming.... But for many nights I’d have wild dreams that a cat as big as a tiger was clawing me to pieces …... and it was all because of a sudden impulse I had; and for no particular reason. I killed a half/starved little stray kitten that had followed me home from the butcher shop. First, I dropped a big rock on it, which broke its back. Its suffering and wild meows scared me. I threw it against the barn – and finally buried it half alive. I felt like a murderer. That poor little kitten had 99 times 9 lives. I’m glad to report that ever since that awful day I have treated all living things with an extra amount of kindness.
Remember for a time when I insisted on eating my meals with chopsticks? Gin Ling taught me how to manipulate them at about age 4. He told Mama: “Amelican kids gobble gobble gobble – eat too fast – too fast. Chinee kids eat slow – with chopsticks – Chinee kids never have tummy ache.”
Gin Ling had a point there.
I used to enjoy your telling about J-ville’s first church wedding. How the Mother-of-the-Bride hurried the workmen to finish building the church because she had already mailed invitations to most every one in the county. Wedding Day arrived and all seats were filled. The deaf organist – a German – played the wedding march on and on until the groom had to yank his coat tails and shout: “Das iss k’noof!” -- and when the minister instructed the guests to arise, all were stuck fast to the chairs and benches; because of their warm butts softening the too fresh varnish.
Then after the ceremony when the 300 guests assembled on the lawn of the bride’s family home to enjoy the wedding feast, a sudden thunder & lightning storm soaked the whole shebang; and it became quite an ordeal when so many guests had to be served inside the small quarters of the home.
What a hell of a start toward wedded bliss. Who ever they were, I hope through the years their wedded life has been sweet and serene.
I wonder if small towns still have (I don’t know how to spell it and I can’t find it in the dictionary) – anyway the word is (phonetically) SHIV-AH-REE. (French)
In our town Heaven help the poor newlyweds. First the little kids (who had to be home before the 9 p.m. Hoodlum Bell rang) would charge upon their premises and yell and beat tin pans until the groom appeared and pitched their leader a 5-dollar gold piece. Then the 2nd group (ages 14 to 18) would show up about 9:30. Same deal, only louder and that cost the groom a 10-dollar gold piece. Then around midnight (time for all anxious newlyweds to be in bed) the groom’s friends would show up, half drunk, and they’d really lay it on. Would usually kidnap the groom – straddle him on a jackass – lead him to town and into Bum Neuber’s Saloon where he was required to take over and ’tend bar (while regular bartender kept tab on number of drinks served). At sunup Hubby (usually too drunk for romancing) is delivered back home to his tear-stained bride.
Many couples, thinking that they had escaped such ordeals by leaving town soon after the ceremony and settling down in another city, often were surprised, maybe years later, upon their first visit back to their old home town. With wash-boilers, pots and pans the gangs would show up and raise hell until they had collected the long overdue pieces of gold.
Who was that dark complexioned little typesetter on the Democratic Times – with the wrinkled face, squinty eyes, heavy, black eyebrows, walrus moustache, long hairs in ears and nostrils? Well, anyway, he always reminded me of a PINCHING BUG.
They didn’t realize that my tender little ears were listening when I overheard Isabel --- (jolly old maid) laughingly telling Mama about Mr. H. The un-couth old bachelor who lived across the alley from “Izzy”; and kept his cow in her barn with her cow. They would meet at milking time and discuss the day’s happenings; when, one frosty morning the old man’s cow started kicking, and he said: “Danged critter – she’s got cracked nipples. I wonder what’d be good for ’em?” And then Izzy suggested (meaning her cow, of course), “Well – I generally use hot mutton tallow on mine.” And Old Man H. scratched his head and said: “I dunno. Hot mutton taller might be allright fer a woman’s tits, but how’ll it work on a cow’s?” (Yeah – I know it’s spelled t-e-a-t-s, but I prefer my way.)
Of course the natives took it for granted; but a postal inspector once said that J-ville’s little old post office was the most beautiful in the U.S.A. -- maybe in the world!
How finicky little Johnnie Miller: Postmaster, and dealer in hardware, paints, wall paper and coffins -- (also a florist) he kept the P.O. scrubbed, polished, varnished --- and filled with hanging tropical plants, potted ferns and cut flowers – in the lobby and backstage (or whatever that workroom behind the General Delivery window is called).
I guess most every town in U.S. had about the same Hallo’een routine that we had. First the little tykes who’d “tic tac” windows and had to be home before dark. Then the teenagers who would mostly push over wood piles, backhouses and steal gates – open barn doors and let horses and cows loose to roam the streets. Always a cow locked in Principal’s office at school (and next a.m. whatta mess). Then the “saloon gang” would take over. Take somebody’s big farm wagon apart – hoist it up on top of U.S. Hotel and put it together again.
One time they sawed off the big wooden sign: UNITED STATES HOTEL. A few weeks previous was when Bum Neuber and Marshall Bill Kenney exploded the big brass cannon which blasted out every window along Main Street, including the United States Hotel. Hallo’een morning when “Frenchy” Deerbaum (owner) saw the huge sign on the sidewalk he went nuts and shouted: “Sacre Bleiu! First they BLOW me UP, then they SAW me DOWN!”
Telephones sure have improved. Remember those big wall phones? Our ring was 6-longs and 3-shorts. The moment a ring would start everyone remained quiet – each silently counting on their fingers. If it wasn’t “ours”, then conversation would start up where it had abruptly stopped short. If it was ours, you’d lift up the receiver and hear probably a half dozen clicks from the other subscribers on the line listening in. Gossip ran rife. A long distance call was a rare occasion. It was natural (but unnecessary) to yell louder per distance. That is, if you were talking to someone 40 miles away you’d shout quite loud; but if you had someone on the line in Portland (350 miles) you’d yell your head off.
The operators were called “Hello Girls” … and did they know all the low-down about the goings-on among the local folks – (tsk tsk tsk tsk! My My!) I know. I used to court one. (Just from whom do you think I ever got all my (sh-h-h) information?)
Few females had nicknames. Of course there was “Tin Can Annie” (who frequently was seen “rushin’-th’-growler” at back entrance of Table Rock Saloon.) – and some gal called “Duckfoot Minnie” and another “Sore-Eyed Somebody”.
With us kids when most gals reached 28 or 30 – and unmarried we considered them “old maids”. Men past 40 whom we liked we’d call MISTER. If we didn’t like them, it was always OLD MAN So-and-So. Same with women. It was either MISS or MISSUS Somebody – or OLD LADY Somebody: – according to our likes and dislikes. Older men past 60 were usually called “UNCLE”. If he had white whiskers, he was “GRAM’PA”.
Among the slim fellows there were: “SHIKEPOKE” Thurman – “BEANPOLE” Oglesby – and “SLATS” McCune.
Because of his skinny knee-pants legs Brother Don was called: “GIMLET”. Then he had some kind of a fever; all of his straight (Indian) hair came out. When it grew back it was a thick mop of kinky steel wool – he graduated into long pants, so the name “Gimlet” became “FUZZY”.
Remember J.L.N.S.T. Muller? Better known as Old ALPHABETICAL Muller.
And surely you recall “MMMm – BOKk – TOO-Y” (say it fast) Stonewall. His first name was Stoten – Old Stoten Stonewall – a lovable old grouch. Every morning before he ever came into sight, you could hear him approaching two blocks away: clearing his nose and throat extra long and loud: “M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m Bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ok (spit) TOO-o-o-o-y-y!”
One time old “MmBokTooy” caught “Bones” Broad and me puffin’ a cigarette behind a billboard – and he whapped the cig’ outta my hand with his cane and gave us a preachin’-to. Pointing toward Neuber’s Saloon he said: “See Yokky Yokum standin’ over there – chest all sunk in – fingers all yeller – ’n’ coughin’ his fool head off ... Hmmmph! I give him just two weeks t’ live … two weeks, mind you!” And he continued: “--an’ remember Dude Heckathorn? I wuz with ’im th’ night he died. Layin’ thar stone dead – an’ with one o’ them goddam cigaroots a-stickin’ outta his mouth.”
That night I prayed for God to take away from me that deadly habit. (But He never did.)
Altho Yokky Yokum seldom worked, and was often in the calaboose for “drunk and disorderly conduct” to some of us kids he was a sort of a hero. I had always wished to grow up and be able to roll a Bull Durham cigarette as neatly as Yok. -- and the nifty way he’d strike a match on the seat of his pants.
Then there was “The Old Hermit of Kanaka Flat” who grew his own tobacco (he hot-housed it) – chewed it; dried the cuds and smoked ’em in a pipe – and washed his teeth with the ashes. I’m not kidding. He really did. And altho’ he was past 70 he still had a good set of teeth. I believe his name was Peter Grant. He was quite an interesting “nature” man. Kept a couple of bones (shaped like end of a deer’s horn, and ivory color) on his mantle. They were bones from a bear’s penis and a raccoon’s penis – only 2 animals to have same (so he told me.)
I’ll bet you have forgotten all about HENRY BLEECHER – who had a brother also named HENRY. (How come?) Old Hine #1 was known as “the tightest man in three counties”; but would periodically go on a binge, and cuss us kids and throw hard money at us when we’d tease him. And Mama saying: “There’s only one good thing I can say about whiskey --- Fools who drink it always seem to have a lot of money!”
I just remembered that back in those days (out West) paper bills were seldom seen. Occasionally when an out-of-towner would offer a dollar bill or a 10-dollar “shin plaster” the merchant would hold it up to the light and usually say: “Oh – Eastern money. Yup! It’s good. Got silk threads in it.”
Once by mistake I stuck a 5-dollar gold piece in a nickel slot machine down at The Idle Hour Pool Hall, and when I complained, the owner (Snid Salter) said I was too young and to get th’ hell outta there..... And I’m still heartsick about the whole deal.
You’ll think that I made up this name, but honest, it was his real name, I swear:
Lyyz Iijjaamms (pronounced EYE-YAMS (say it fast.) He was a telephone lineman who lived in town for only a few weeks. He didn’t look or talk like a “furriner”, either. Where do you suppose he ever got a name like that? He told me he was born in the Fiji Islands and had lived in Holland.
There used to be a nice looking lady come over to visit Mama – a Mrs. Russell (Jerry Noonan’s daughter.) – and she had a nice little son named Donnie, whom she watched very closely – and for no reason at all (except for the fact that he was too polite, and his mother dressed him in velvet suits, and he had blond curls) Brother Don and I never wanted to play with him. We thought he was too much of a “Mama’s Boy”.
Well, recently Brother Don informs me that this kid is now well on his way to become President of The Southern Pacific Railroad Company. (Now that boy’s Mama showed good sense when she didn’t allow her Little Donnie to fraternize too closely with “those Colvig boys”.)
Ha! The time “Puggie” Isaacs was a witness in a law suit and Evan Reames, the D.A. (who had known “Pug” since childhood) asked him his name and occupation. “Pug” jumped up surprised, saying: “Hell, Evan – You know me! Why, everybody knows Puggie Isaacs!”
D.A: “Thats fine, Mister Isaacs. Now, what do you do for a living?“
PUG: “For God’s Sake, Evan – Everybody knows Puggie Isaacs, the ball player! I play baseball in th’ summertime!”
D.A: “-- and what do you play in the winter?”
PUG: “Hell – not much o’ nuthin’ … except, maybe a little stud poker now ’n’ then!”
And wasn’t that old backwoodsman, Dave Pence, a character? Every Fall term of court he’d be up for killing deer out of season. Would walk 18 miles from his mountain home to J-ville – plead guilty – and rant and rave to the jury about how city folks have their butcher shops, an’ By God! He, too, likes red meat – so he kills a deer – season or no season! He’d pay his fine – and, with a sly wink he’d give you (the D.A.) a package, saying: “Thanks, Bill – here’s a little “leg o’ lamb” I brung fer th’ Missus.” Whereupon, happy to get out of The Big City (J-ville) he’d head for his mountains – to shoot another deer if he so desired.
And how about that old red-whiskered guy with the faded black-to-green swallow-tail coat – sort of a religious fanatic – he had two old maid pop-eyed daughters. No term of court was complete without his appearing on charges of being “a public nuisance”. Had been in court so many times he’d plead his own case, in wild, meaningless law terms …. “to wit, et al., party of the first part, whereas, jurisprudence, corpus delicti, ipso facto --- and North of 53.... By God!”
People say I’m making it up when I tell them about the time you was attorney representing the defendant (a poor hobo accused of stealing a fiddle) – and your brother, George, was City Prosecutor – and your brother, Volney, was the judge.
You and Uncle George argued the case pro and con as tho’ it was bigger than the famous Dreyfus Case …... And Uncle Volney became bored (probably wanted to go fishin’) so he banged down his gavel and decided the case in favor of said defendant. And Uncle George said: “Oh, well – might have expected it. Bill always was Volney’s favorite brother”.
Nor will anyone believe me when I tell about the time I answered the doorbell and a farmerish looking man inquired:
“Is th’ Judge home?”
“No.” I said. “Dad went to Klamath Falls. He’ll be home tomorrow. I’ll tell him you called. What’s your name?”
“RIDDLE.” He said. “BOUSE RIDDLE – owner of The RIDDLE Hotel up at RIDDLE, Oregon.”
I said, “Oh?” -- and closed the door. I thought perhaps some nut was attempting to hoodwink me …... until you told me otherwise.
You teaching me how to count to ten in Chinook Indian jargon (before I could do it in English). “een deen tethro fip een-dik teen-dik feather-tip bumpit” (or something like that.)
I loved your tales about when you were in the army and “fit th’ Injuns” … and how I would brag to my friends about the great number of them you killed in hand-to-hand battle ….... only to discover that you taught ’em how to play poker and Faro in return for them teaching you their language.
----and the smell of fresh, hot homemade bread just-out-of-the-oven isn’t t’ be sneezed-at, either!
Our Pet Cemetery behind the barn: Dogs, cats, 5-toed chicken (named Ben), “Pluto” (Helen’s talking crow) – guinea pigs, rabbits, chipmunk ... and “LYCHEE” my pet gray squirrel (so named because he would greet me and search my pockets for lychee nuts which China Mary often gave to me.) I cried when a girl named Annie Broad accidentally stepped on him and he died in my hands.
Dad, did you ever catch snakes by their tails – crack ’em like a whip – to watch their eyes bug out? No. I never did. Nor did I ever rub raw the hind end of a mutt with a corncob and apply a rag-soaked with painter’s turpentine thereon to watch him hi-tail it down a dusty road lickety-split, howling like hell.
Nor did I ever tie together the tails of two tom cats and hang ’em over a clothesline to watch ’em scratch and fight – each thinking that the other got him into that precarious position.
Never did put “hi-life” on a nag’s tail bone to watch him buck. But one time I did fix-up a jackass. Brother Don and I didn’t like a certain kid (another sissy-in-velvet with curls) -- and he talked smart-alecky. Well, his Dad bought him a burro and he rode it across town to our house just to show-off and brag about this noble steed ..... and Don dared me to lift up that jackass’s tail and slip a pine burr under it. I did ….. and Z O O M-m-m-m-m! That jackass hee-haw’d, bucked Little Vivvy off in the mud – and kited homeward in nuthin’ flat. No wonder Vivvy’s mama would never allow her little angel to visit us again. (Come to think of it; why was I always the “fall guy” on these kind of deals?)
I might add that many years later when I played Portland on Pantages Vaude’ Circuit, I hailed a taxicab ... and who was the tough talkin’ “anything y’wanna know, Bud” devil-may-care TAXI DRIVER? You guessed … Vivvy B.----. – and Wow-ee! Did he know all the Portland “hot spots” ! (But that’s another story.)
Say Dad, did you ever “hook a gump”? (No. I guess you never did.) That’s old hobo vernacular meaning: “STEALING A CHICKEN”. But not in the customary way. To “hook a gump” is to secure tightly a hunka meat on a fish hook with about 15 or 20 feet of string – toss it over somebody’s barnyard fence – chicken pecks at it – and you jerk the line; causing aforementioned fish hook to puncture chicken’s windpipe the moment he (or she) swallows. Then reel it in. Why? Because thataway (instead of the old fashioned grabbin’ ’em off the roost in the dark of night) they can’t squaw-w-w-k-k-k-k!
Try it sometime, Dad. Us kids useta do it to Old Lady Herberger’s chickens. Then we’d build a fire up by Frenchman’s Dam – plaster hen with blue mud and roast it in bed of coals and hot rocks. MM-m-m-m … GOOD!
That old swimmin’ hole. I wasn’t supposed to go up there. Full of diphtheria. And what did us kids do up there for drinking water on those hot summer days? There was none. But most everybody’s cows roamed and grazed thereabouts … so, we’d take turns grabbing any cow that happened along and sappin’ her almost dry. One kid would milk and the rest of us standing around naked would lap at the squirts directed at our mouths. Then we’d dive in; wash our milk-soaked bodies and return home. (I’ve often wondered what the owners of some of those cows thought at evening milking time. NO MILK!)
Remember that old sleepy-eyed, sway-backed, brindle cow that looked exactly like her owner ... Old Man W-----?
Somehow we never thought it cruel to catch a big horse-fly and insert a slightly bent foxtail sticker (or wheatstraw) into its rectum and turn it loose. Y’see, that causes their otherwise million-mile-a-minute attempted straightaway flight to buzz and zig-zag in crazy circles. Fun no end!
And that time when “Snicker” Childs and I fed a whole box of 100 physic pills to Dee R’s parrot, was just one o’ those things. We gave the bird only one. He liked it. Neither of us needed a physic so we dumped the other 99 pills into his cage (which hung over a peanut roaster in front of Dee’s candy store.) An hour or so later as we were walking past, Poor Parrot was all doubled up, upside down; rolling his eyes and gasping for air. (Peanut roaster, window and sidewalk a mess of parrot excrement. It seemed incredible that such a little bird could do so much.) Next day Dee had a dead parrot on his hands.... and “Snicker” and I didn’t go near his place for a l o n g time.
Which reminds me of the time when Seely Hall and I won a couple of live ducks on a ring-toss game at a Carnival. Each with a duck-on-a-string waddling along behind us, we stopped at Karnes & Ritter Café for a soda – and locked our ducks in the toilet for the night. Next day when Seely and I went there to pick up our prizes, Old Man Ritter was mad and informed us that because the birds dirtied his toilet, he had wrung their necks -- and, believe it or not, next day the “chicken” tamales they served there contained an awful lot of tough, dark meat. DUCK TAMALES! Who ever heard of such a thing?
Other jobs down at Gran’mas: Helping her dye and card wool (from her own sheep) -- and grinding horse radish.
One time Gran’ma had 3 mongrel sheep dogs ALL named “Shep”. She said that it was easier to just yell “Sic’m Shep …. Here, Shep ….. Go get ’em, Shep” and have all 3 dogs obey simultaneously. Saved words and time.
I’m sorry to have disappointed you in your hopes that one of your boys would grow up to become either a great lawyer or a big league baseball player. If right now I was hailed into court I wouldn’t know whether I was Party of The First Part or Second – defendant or plaintiff. As for your love of a good, clean honest game of Stud Poker – as much as I’ve bummed around, I scarcely know one card from another. When I was a little toddler your cards, poker chips and cribbage boards were only so many toys for me to play with. Had you and Mama been narrow-minded, and, like some parents I know (who wouldn’t allow a deck of those “saloon cards” in the house) probably today I would have become a “tin horn” gambler. The clicking of rolling dice does nothing to me. Not that I’m ag’in it. I just lack the power of concentration – and you know how I’ve always hated arithmetic. I love horses – and all race horses are beautiful – but I have never bet on a horse race. In the first place, their names are so confusing. Whoever thinks ’em up must be the guy who names all the Pullman cars. And all this “Win Place & Show” jargon is beyond me.
As you know, as a kid I was – well – just plain lazy. (Still am.) Therefore, to me ALL sports signify just so much energy. I was, however, for 2 seasons (age 10 – 11) Official Mascot with Bum Neuber’s J-ville Goldbricks – winner of The Valley League. Whatta team. The Captain of that team is now a multi-millionaire sportsman – Owner of San Francisco Ball Team – A Patron of The Arts – and President of California Racing Association ..... DR. CHARLES STRUB.
I mentioned back yonder about the football I got for Christmas: the wagon running over it – horses running away etc. Well, at college I observed that the athletes wearing The Orange “O” seemed to be more popular with the girls ..... And when the captain of the track team said that my legs looked just right for running purposes, my ego popped, and I could picture myself returning home with an Orange-O on my sweater – write-ups in all the papers – and who knows maybe newsreel shots showing me receiving from the be-jeweled hands of some foreign Queen, a wreath of laurels at the Olympic Games.
So, I quit smoking – went on a strict training diet -- early to bed -- and entered the cross-country group. Trotting through mud and slush 2 miles out to the cemetery and back – into a cold shower (water from snow-capped top of Mary’s Peak). Why not? Had not my Cousin Fred many years before become the All-Star 220 yard dash champ?
Well, next day track captain, Rube Williams, saw me limping lamely into “The Iron Jaw” Chophouse where I ordered mince pie a-la-mode, black coffee; and was puffing on a cigarette. That did it! From that day to this I’ve always just taken my own sweet time. Never in a hurry. Never!
On the other hand, had I applied myself maybe I could have become a great pitcher. Twice in my life, at throwing, I hit the bull’s-eye. Once when I overheard Elly, our hired girl, complain to Mama that some nasty old man in the alley would peek at her through a knothole in the wash shed when she was stooping and wiggling over the washboard. I laid for him one day (hidden from sight). Soon I saw him sneaking down the alley – and a moment later a gleaming eye flush against the 2-inch knothole. P O W ! I let loose with a big half-rotten apple. Next day the old gent’s eye was bandaged -- and his son-in-law (the one-armed carpenter) approached you and raised hell about how he was going to whale hell outta me (if you didn’t) for what I had done to his poor, defenseless Pappy-in-law. And Heaven bless Elly. She stuck up for me and said it served the old geezer good ’n’ right.
My next bulls-eye was done on sudden impulse when a boy named Claytus McCredie and I simultaneously each threw a hard, green apricot at a Chinaman’s laundry horse — one of which klunked the old nag directly behind the ear. Horse runs away – back flap doors of rickety truck fly open — and out to the four winds flew dozens of pieces of assorted laundry. Modest boy that I was, I gave Clate all the credit for being such a good shot -- and he accepted it.......until: –
Last year when I was playing a 3-day date at Craterian Theatre in Medford, I was surprised and over-joyed to find that my old friend Clate was Chief of Police. When he learned that I was to be interviewed over the radio, he relinquished all credit of being the responsible party who klunked that horse. And, altho’ I lied, I accepted. ’Twas the only time I ever had a Police Chief groveling at my boots and begging for mercy.
Now as I ponder back through the years I guess I can’t blame that old geezer for peekin’ through the knothole at Elly. She was a darn good looker! – no paint, powder or lipstick.....but whatta complexion! Well built, too. And those even white pearly teeth. (Even if she did occasionally bum one of us kids for “a chaw of that thar store t’baccy.”) Long, flaxen hair. Came from somewhere back in the Ozarks. Was always talking about some relative who lived in (of all places) KNOB NOSTER, Missouri.
In those days maids were called “hired girls”. For 2-dollars-a-week ... room, board & schooling. They’d wash, iron, cook, clean house, sap-the-Jersey, slop-the-hawgs,’tend the chickens, carry in wood ... and take care of the kids.
Elly used expressions like: “I’m s’hongry I cud eat a raw jackass ’n’ a han’fulla greens.” And: “I dun et s’much you could crack a flea on m’belly!”
When we’d say: “No fooling, Elly – is that a fact?”
She’d answer: “Hmmph! Wa-al I should rather snicker-than-grin ef it wa’nt!”
And another: “Ha! What you’uns call grave-eye, we’uns back a thar in Missoury call SOP.”
Our house being one of the first in town to install electric lights, after Elly was in bed she would yell: “You-all kin come up an’ douse th’ glim, now.” – and one of us would have to go upstairs and turn off the switch. She said her Pa warned her never to touch anything to do with that new fangled ’lectricity. “Worse ’n’ a rattle snake,” She said.” At least a rattle snake’ll warn ye.”
If Elly thought that some boy was uninteresting and she didn’t like him, she’d say: “Shukin’s! That nobody’s nothin’ but a SNILKY IDGIT. He don’t know sic’m frum all-git-out. Guess his pa musta whelped him on a Sunday mornin’ -- when he wuz only foolin’.”
Last I heard of Elly she had married a wealthy farmer and stockman over in Eastern Idaho – and has “whelped” a flock of good-lookin’ kids. A great gal.
--And speaking of “Hired Girls”, I enclose herewith a recent letter from Sister Helen which speaks for itself. This hired gal she mentions was before my time (or possibly I was too young to remember her.) No doubt you will. I am enclosing the part only about “one of the most tender, and touching romances of all time” …....
(X-tract from Helen’s letter):
…. Somehow, my flickering candle at breakfast this morning, brought out of my subconscious mind one of these hired girls who came to live with us when I was about ten years old (1893). Her name was Hattie Mc------. She came from up Talent Town way and replaced Florence B---- who had been with us for several years. At the time of which I write, Hattie had not yet been with us long enough to entrench herself in our affections or Mama’s approval.
The hired girl always got up and lit the candles in our room quite some time before Clara or I could get up enough courage to emerge from under the snug covers. Anyway we weren’t required to be down stairs as soon as she was. The first thing Hattie did after she lit the candles was to take a big wad of gum from the shelf by the bureau, pop it in her mouth and begin to chew ecstatically and happily while she hooked her whale-bone corset into place and donned the rest of her clothes; but when her rapid toilet was completed and she was ready to rush down stairs to the kitchen she would take the gum from her mouth and tenderly put it back onto the shelf. Her reason for discarding the gum was not entirely motivated by Mama’s disapproval of a gum chewing hired girl, but because, to Hattie, this quid of gum was a very special, if not sacred, thing, and the chewing of it the first thing in the morning was a sort of loving ceremony with which she always started the day. She had told me all about it on the first day of her arrival at our home when I had escorted her upstairs, and, with childish interest and curiosity, watched her unpack her meager belongings. When she produced the gum from the side of her mouth and placed it on the corner of the shelf that day she not only warned me never to touch or displace it, but made me give my secret oath of honor that I never would.
This was the first time that anyone had taken me into their confidence about their love affairs and I was much awed, impressed and interested in this piece of gum; for me it was a symbol of everlasting love, both to Hattie and to me. She told me that she was very much in love with a young farmer who lived up Talent Town way. He had been courting her for two years, but had never approached with an offer of marriage in all that time; then a little over a year ago he had taken her to a Fourth of July celebration up at Ashland, and while there, sometime during the day when they had sought seclusion on a park bench, he opened up his heart and asked her to marry him. He explained that at the present time he was unable to support a wife and it looked as though it might be quite a spell before he got his farm paid for and could claim her for his own. Would she wait for him, was his plea.
She promised she would wait, no matter how many dollars or years away the wedding might be. O, yea! She would be true to him.
To seal their vows he produced a full packet of gum; divided it with her (two and a half sticks per person) and holding hands they each chewed their portion to the proper consistency for comfortable mastication. (At that time Mr. Beeman had not perfected his product and it always crumbled when first put in the mouth). They then solemnly exchanged cuds, swearing that every day until the wedding bells rang for them – no matter how far apart they might be – they each would chew the gum which the other had started, and remember their vow.
If Hattie had shown me a thousand dollar diamond ring as a pledge of her betrothal I couldn’t have been more impressed. It was so beautifully romantic – and O! The wonder of it. Just think – keeping one piece of gum for over a year and thinking of him with every chew …..............
I am sorry that I cannot tell you whether Hattie ever married the young farmer or not. Maybe she is still hopefully and desperately chewing that cherished piece of gum and waiting for the wedding bells to ring...........
There really was a Hattie and her wad of gum. Any one would be paying my imagination too much of a compliment if they thought that I made this one up.
It couldn’t possibly have happened in any other place but J-ville.
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ONCE IN A LIFETIME: December 31 1899 ….. “Ring Out The Old – Ring In The New” -------------------!
(8 years old ). Trying to stay awake to join in on the family NOISE: But, as usual. Pore Li’l Me was sound asleep.
MIDNIGHT! N O I S E !
Sister Clara, excited. Shakes me and shouts:
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S A NEW CENTURY! IT’S NINETEEN HUNDRED!”
Sleepily, I yawn: “Nineteen hundred WHAT? W-what’s a CENTURY? Never heard of it.” (yawn) -- and so …. back to sleep.
As I look back, I must have had some sort of a “complex” -- like a feeling of being slighted. Try as I might, no one seemed to pay any attention to me. I tried many things. I affected a limp (like one leg shorter than the other). I had a way of holding my mouth crooked – like a broken jaw. Would look cross-eyed at strangers. With another kid (Paul Force) we’d make like talking fast with our hands – like deaf & dumb mutes. One day a nice looking man came to town -- good dresser and a nifty dancer. The bigger gals raved about him: “That fellow with the silver streak through his hair.” God! I tried everything: ammonia, coal oil, horse liniment, and Heavens knows what to create a white streak through my black (Indian) hair. But no. Nothing happened but a scab. Then I saw a kid with a weird habit of blinking his eyes and rolling them around and squinting (he was an albino), so, I tried that ... until it really became a habit – and you and the rest of the family would whap me every time I did it. No one outside of my family cared; so, I guess it cured me.
I did, however, hit the jackpot that time when I was running, holding a half pint whiskey flask full of bird shot in my left hand. I tripped – and banged it on a rock. Doc’ Gale took 5 stitches in the wound; bound it up and had me keep my arm in a sling until healed. I felt mighty important when grownups would stop and inquire about it. I could have gotten rid of the sling four days later: but NO! I wore it for weeks and weeks. When people quit asking me about my accident I thought to hell with it and threw it away.
Don Cameron and I almost got our names in the local news once. Remember that pet coyote I had chained to the apple tree? -- And he grew up fat and big like a wolf – and one day he damn near chaw’d off one of my fingers – and I had to get rid of him. Well, Don Cameron got his .22 rifle and we led the culprit up on the hill back of our house – snubbed him to a pine tree …. and BOOM! Right between the eyes.
Having seen returning hunters receiving lots of attention with their kill, we dragged the dead and bleeding coyote down town – laid him on the sidewalk right in front of The Sentinel News office. Got a pretty fair sized crowd, too. We both took turns leaning on the gun; with one foot on the dead animal’s body, and answered questions: Lied like hell too.
“Where did you kill him?”
“Oh, back on the hill.”
“Was he running, or standing still?”
“Running like light’ning!”
“How far off was he when you shot?”
“Oh, maybe a couple hundred yards – more or less.”
Old Editor Meserve was busy making notes. I could almost see my name in print – not only in the J-ville Sentinel; but in all the Portland and San Francisco papers, too, and with photographs, maybe …......... When some one spoke up and upset our apple cart when he challenged: “Just a goshdarn minute, you kids! How come th’ critter’s all powder-burned between th’ eyes?” Everyone guffawed; and Don and I beat it fast; leaving the dead animal on the sidewalk.
And we heard later that some guy scalped it and collected $2.50 bounty from the County. Dammit! Just my bum luck again.
Not that I’m too bright at this age; but I guess I was pretty dumb in those days. At least I couldn’t quite comprehend what a lot of things were all about. Oftimes it worried me no end. For instance: It seemed like every so-called self-made man I would meet; he would invariably allow as how: “Now when I was a boy I never had th’ chance you young squirts git nowadays. I worked from sun up ’til sun down – for 4-bits a day – milked 14 head o’cows – an’ walked 5 miles to school.” Always it was sun up ’til sun down – 4-bits a day – 14 cows (never 13 or 15) – always 5 miles to school. I mentally pictured surveyors using the schoolhouse as a center post or pivot – walking the length of exactly 5 miles with a rope – holding it taut; walk clear around the country, making a big circle --- and everybody building their homes directly on that line. What a funny looking town. Then I was fully convinced when In my geography I discovered on the map a town called CIRCLEVILLE, OHIO.
Then there was that certain wastrel of whom I heard one crusty old codger make the remark, when said wastrel was staggering down the street. “Look at ’im. Headed fer Death ’n’ Damnation. Let that be a lesson to you, Son. That scallywag’s father died an’ left him eight thousand dollars ’n’ a 40-acre farm … ’n’ what did he do? By God! In no time he drank it all up.” I couldn’t conceive how anyone could liquidize 40 acres of dirt and 8000 silver dollars and drink it. See what I mean?
I did one day attract a little attention, however; but not for long. You remember how those old Main Street “gold dreamers” often showed signs of life when a prospector would come down out of the hills and stand on the street with a magnifying glass and show pieces of quartz and gold ore? Most of those old boys had been dreaming and searching for “the mother lode” since The Days of ’49. Well, this day I picked up a hunk of ordinary quartz, and, with the aid of Sister Helen’s paint box I touched it up with golden gilt paint. Then with a spy-glass I stood in sunlight in front of post office and eyed it with delight. One by one the inquisitive old gents came to life and gathered around me – and tried to pry from me where I had discovered it. I told them some fantastic tale about my sinking a shaft way up on Jackson Creek … and at the peak of their interest I tossed the sparkling specimen up in the air; brushed off my hands and walked away. I thought it’d get a laugh – but NO! They gave me dirty looks every time I walked down the street.
I wonder if J-ville kids nowadays walk 3 miles out to “the old bam (balm) patch” and pluck the sweet leaves; take ’em home; soak ’em in molasses; pile the leaves neatly flat (1 in. thick) and press the sticky mess between two of their mother’s sad-irons ’til dry? – and then cut it into squares like chawin’ t’bacca …. and pulverize some of the dry leaves and put ’em in a Bull Durham sack for smokin’ purposes. And somewhere back in those hills is just one big boulder (size of a house), known as “The Old Lick-rish (licorice) Rock”. Beneath its thick moss grows a network of brown/yellowish sweet licorice root. I’ve never heard of any other place in America where those two things grow. J-ville had EVERYthing!
One time in the middle of a political campaign (between June primaries and November election) when you were running for State Senator (or was it D.A.?) – didn’t you jump from Democrat to Republican (or vice versa) – and your opponents called you “Old Turncoat”? But nonetheless you won the election.
----- and another time when some political group was out to “get the Catholics (and Jews)” you got on your political war-horse, stump-speeched and campaigned against the issue. And, (altho’ you being neither Jew nor Catholic – and was The Illustrious Potentate of Shrine and hi-mukky-muk Mason the leaders of the issue threatened to “get you” – and dubbed you “The Pope of Jackson County” (whatta laugh!). And the issue was defeated! ….... and Goody Goody for you, Pop!
Watching a farmer’s horse die alongside the Willow Springs Road; and the farmer ripping the horse open and removing a dark brownish gall stone (size and shape of an orange) -- which he gave to me. Later I traded it to “Slats” Hines for a slingshot, a magnet and a Chinese flute.
How cruel can some people be? I always felt sorry for the old G.A.R. soldier who walked with an odd limp, when some of his cronies, in the course of their hot arguments about Civil War battles, would say to him: “You keep outta this. Remember, no soldier was ever shot in the heel, unless he was runnin’ away from the enemy.”
I can’t remember ever being what now days is known as a typical “teen-ager”. I’ll admit that I was gangling, goony and goofy; but when I was 11 or 12 I just couldn’t wait until I was 21 and could enter a saloon; spin a 20-dollar gold-piece on the bar and say: “Set ’em up to th’ house, Harry.” I’d seen sporty guys do that, and to me, well – it was just the height of something-or-other.
(and on my 21st birthday? I was with a little circus; in a dry, Blue Law town ... and it’s quite possible that I didn’t have a 20-dollar gold piece on me.)
The poor little lady who used to help Mama during Spring house cleaning – and would put every little throwaway knickknack in a pile to take home. Once she held up a dust-covered, cobwebbed old bottle containing but a few drops of “Vermifuge.” Mama said: “You don’t want that medicine. That’s for WORMS.” -- and Mrs. H. said: “Oh, I’ll take it home an’ make good use of it, all right; because my little Mamie’s just chuck fulla worms!”
From morn ’til night while she worked she would sing in a loud, squeaky, off-key voice (with tears in her eyes):
OUT ON A DREARY NIGHT
SADLY I ROAM
I HAVE NO MOTHER,
NO FRIENDS OR NO HOME (gulp/swallow)
DARK IS THE NIGHT
AND THE STORM RAGES WILD –
GOD PITY BESSIE, THE DRUNKARD’S LONE CHEE-ILD.
We sometimes wonder where slang expressions originate. For years in our part of the country money was called “perk”. Like, “I have no “perk” or, “he’s got plenty of “perk”. Well, that word came into the American Slanguage when, on a soapbox in front of J-ville courthouse, a ragged Socialist (I.W.W.) was ripping Wall Street to pieces when he shouted: “Gents – you vote th’ way I tell ya, an’ By God! We’ll have all these Morgan’s ’n’ Rockeyfeller’s beggin’ fer mercy! ’Cause (an’ I got th’ figgers right here to prove it) ef all th’ money in th’ U.S.A. wuz divided up evenly, each ’n’ ev’ry one o’ you citizens would have a “PERKA-PEESHA” of over eight hunnert dollars!”
(Helluva way to pronounce per capita.)
I was quite little, but I do remember wondering what it was all about when you brought the wife of the murderer (and their teenage daughter) to our house to spend the day with Mama while the jury was “out” deciding on the husband’s fate. No one spoke. At the least noise all would jump up and run to the window. Tears and choked emotions. Poor Mama trying to make them feel comfortable; and shushing me when I would wonder and ask what was wrong. You defended the man. You had a saddle horse with boy-rider waiting outside the courthouse, ready to speed to our home with the verdict. And then, late in the afternoon, a clatter of hoof beats approaching. All jumped up and rushed to the front door. The boy leaped off the horse and ran up the steps with your written message. Mama’s hands trembling unfolded it. Was he to be hanged? Sent to prison for life? ….... or, …
Mama screamed: “NOT GUILTY!”
The wife crossed herself – cried “Thank God! …. and fainted. The daughter broke into a fit of hysterics (and for what reason I could not understand) hugged me and smothered me in kisses ’mid tears of joy. But I didn’t mind.
Possibly an hour later you and the freed-man galloped up to the house (riding double) … and a sociable and happy evening was enjoyed by all. (Even I got a little glass of the wine to help celebrate.)
You had proved “self defense” and convinced the jury. Nice work.
And me and my big mouth asked: “Why did you kill him, Mister?” All conversation stopped ... and little me was hurried off to bed.
TOY KEE – Chinese merchant’s boy. Once exploded all of his Dad’s great supply of fireworks 3 weeks before China New Year. Little Toy-Toy moved to China and later became a Hong Kong “Big Shot”.
WHY MOTHERS GO MAD:
“M-M-P and M-G-D t’night and in th’ mornin’!” (Say it fast!) Which, if you’ll remember, was the evening confusion and sometimes battle when Don and I would yell that.
You’ll recall that it meant:
“MY MEAT PLATTER AND MYFirst one to shout it got the remainder of those dishes to sop up with bread or biscuits. Had to be shouted the exact moment SUPPER was announced. Often it would be a tie; in which event the two soppin’ dishes were divided equally. Then there was another fight about who was to get which!
GRAVY DISH TO NIGHT AND
IN THE MORNING.”
When the game of tennis was called “LAWN TENNIS” ---- and any male seen dressed in white pants, sneakers, and carrying a tennis racket was called a “sissy”. Kids would hoot at him: “Oh, yoo hoo... FORTY, LOVE” ... and snicker and giggle. Come to think of it, WRIST WATCHES were unknown in those days. Not until at the close of World War One would any self-respecting he-man be caught wearing one.
In those days football was FOOTBALL. None of this present day shoulder-to-shoulder stuff. No game was worth while unless a half dozen players were carried off the field on a stretcher (from being “straight-armed” high in the air.)
And the players weren’t disguised in a lot of safety contraptions. Just a head of long, thick, woolly hair. Football players were often referred to as being “All brawn and no brains.”
That was quite a camping, hunting and fishing trip when you went with us (the members of the town band), up to Squaw Lake. You shot a bear near the camp with your 30-30 --- and I came a-runnin’ with my little single shot .22 and plugged him just as he was quivering and gasping his last breath. (So when I came home I could (brag) truthfully lie that I had actually killed a bear.)
You roasted one of its hind quarters, but the meat was so black, grainy, and tough no one would eat any. So, we tied fishline around hunks of it and caught a bushel or more of live, fresh water crawfish (like baby lobsters). You boiled some with spices and wine and they tasted pretty good. That night we pulled back the blankets on Grinny Peter’s bed and dumped in the remainder of the live crawfish and folded the covers back again. ’Twas a cold night. Grinny made one quick dive into bed – and one quick dive right out again. I brought home the bear skin to tan the hide and make a rug …. but the maggots beat me to it and Mama made me burn it.
I mentioned back there somewhere that I was never keen about any kind of sports; but I recall the time I copped first prize (2 plugs of tobacco and a handful of dimes) in a “Spittin’ Contest”. It was down at The Horse Shoe Pitchin’ Grounds back of Lewis’s Livery Stable. Ever so often the old boys down there would pile up some loot and the one who could spit the farthest won the jackpot. The “tongue-and-lip” squirt technique being the offical rule. (No “hock ’n’ Blow”). Those old veterans, thinking that they had chewed tobacco for two score years or more, had a good chance at winning. So, one day I put down my dime and entered. They laughed because of my youth ….. but nonetheless, I worked up a good gob and let ’er go ….. Squi-r-r-r-r-rt ..... P L O P ! I WON! (I’m not sure, but I believe the distance was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 feet. Maybe 18.) All were astounded. Little did they realize or take into consideration that because of my clarinet playing, I had extra “explosive powers” in my strong tongue and lips.
Incidentally, it’s not the big PLOP that counts. It’s the furthest dribble. Everything’s better when the ground is covered with virgin snow, encrusted with frost. That gives it that certain bounce-and-glide.
I remember that you chaw’d a brand called “BOOT JACK”. I used to swipe a lot of it from you. Also many of your election cigars.
Come to think of it, maybe I was a pretty good shot. One Fourth of July morning you gave me the customary 5-dollar gold piece. (I was about age 8.) I was off in a flash, rarin’ to celebrate the Big Day. FIRST STOP: Man busy setting up his “nigger baby” concession stand. (3 balls for a dime. Knock one down – one cigar. Two down – two cigars – knock all three down and you get 50 cents.) I couldn’t resist. WHAM! I missed. WHAM! Missed again....... WHAM! a HIT! I was so excited I yelled: “Hey Mister! I did it! I DID IT! I knocked one down!” … and without considering my age, from a box he handed me the hardest, driest, bitterest, cheap black stogie ever made. Plus $4.90 change. So proud I was at winning something I broke the cigar in half and shared it with “Big Mouth” Charlie. We went behind Aug. Schmidtling’s blacksmith shop and proceded to smoke it. I became deathly sick – staggered home – the family had already left to spend the day enjoying the festivities. The world grew dark. I crawled into bed. Twenty-four hours later I awakened feeling somewhat better; but in a sort of a daze. Usually on The Fourth I would be broke by noon and look you up and dun you for more dough. I got up – dressed – and took inventory. In my pocket there was exactly $4.90.
What a grand and glorious Fourth! Profitable, too!
When the Gypsies came to town in their horse-drawn decorated wagons and camped on The Pine Knoll behind our house, I was always welcomed into their fold.… My pockets filled with your tobacco and cigars. Also I would kipe sugar, coffee, jars of jam and other stuff from our cupboard to take to them.
I enjoyed playing with their black eyed kids, horses and mongrel dogs. Most other kids in town were afraid of them. They believed that old story about Gypsies stealing children. (Suggested in the plot of the opera “Bohemian Girl”.) Well, that’s just what I wanted. At night I would pray that the Gypsies would actually steal me. I wanted the whole town next day to be concerned about my whereabouts – and was always disappointed, when, after a few days they would break camp and drive away, leaving me behind to suffer the tortures of having to bathe and go to school and hide every time I wanted to smoke.
I think I was about 13 when suddenly you appeared around the corner of woodshed and caught me puffin’ on a cigarette. (Altho I had smoked since I was 7.) It was too late for me to ditch it, so I kept right on a-puffin’. You said nothing. Next day you bought me a genuine briar pipe and told me if I was going to smoke to smoke a man’s smoke – a pipe – and not those damn “coffin nails”. Also told me not to tell Mama who gave me the pipe.
I’ll say one thing about that gang of J-ville kids: They had a certain Code of Ethics. I remember one in particular. It was okay for a kid to refer to his father as “My Old Man” -- but let him call his mother “The Old Woman” or “My Old Lady”, all would shout: “Three corks and a horse bite!” Which meant they’d pound your arm muscle three times with clenched fist; and then give it a hard pinch: yelling: “Who? Who? Who?” until the victim would painfully say “MOTHER” – and begin nursing a swollen, black-and-blue arm.
AFTER CIRCUS DAY: Cutting a wide ring with scythe in the long alfalfa in back yard. Sprinkling rozzum (Yeah – I know it’s spelled resin) on old Nellie’s fat back and attempting to be a bareback rider. Stretching strand of baling wire over hay mow in barn and trying to be “King of The High Wire”. Holding two opened umbrellas in each hand and doing The Great Parachute Jump from roof top to dry manure pile below. Charging kids two marbles a jump. Hoping to be a contortionist: In bed, after several attempts, I finally got my right leg behind my neck; causing a painful cramp. It was stuck there. I yelled for help. Elly, the hired gal, to the rescue! -- one – two – three …. YANK! In sitting position, leg released, causing me to lunge backward …. Z u n-n-n-n G! My head forced between and through two strong brass rods (which sprung back against my neck.) Now, I was in a jam. We tried every way to release my head. Finally Elly bent the rods and I was rescued. Never attempted to be a contortionist again.
THAT OLD JERK WATER SIDE BRANCH RAILROAD: The R.R.V.Ry. (Rogue River Valley Railway) J-ville to Medford 5 miles. 50¢. Old man Barnum, sole owner, engineer, fireman, brakeman, section hand and conductor. A frugal old fellow. Wore same greasy cap, overalls, shirt and long black whiskers for years. And how those whiskers would fly in the breeze when that old wood-burner squeaked its way ’round the bend. How Barnum would pull on the brakes half way between points – walk through the old swaybacked coach and yell: “Four bits, Everybody!” If you gave him a dollar he’d say: “Y’comin’ back no doubt – I’ll remember you” and put the money in his black snap purse. All cash. No tickets. Tickets cost too much. He purposely constructed his tracks at country road crossings so when the wood wagons bumped over it, a half dozen or so lengths of cord wood would topple off. Enough to make ample steam to get him to the end of the line.
One time a guy stole a horse in Medford. Sheriff Joe Rader arrested him in J-ville – threw him in jail. But how to get the horse back to Medford? On way home from school Joe gave me a silver dollar – told me to ride horse back to Medford – spend four-bits for candy – and use the remaining four-bits to ride home on “the cannon ball”. Well, I spent the whole dollar; and sneaked into the baggage compartment and hid behind some packing boxes. Upon arrival, Old Man Barnum caught me red handed – but I got away.
For years, every time he’d see me he’d say: “How ’bout that four-bits you owe me?” (and it so happened that I never have it on me at the time) -- and I’ll be damn’d if (many years later) I was on his train going over to J-ville – I handed him a dollar – waited for change – and he said: “Thanks. This makes us even.” And pocketed the dollar.
“Them That Has …. GITS!”
One time I was playing with a group for a dance given by the saw mill folks up at Butte Falls. “Snicker” Childs was being unmercifully pushed around the dance floor by a six-foot gargantuan Amazon plow-gal who wore overalls and hob-nailed boots. After he got shed of her he came over to me, wiping off the sweat and laughing. Seems as tho’ during the struggle he said to her: “My, but you dance beautifully.”
“Hell, kid,” she shot back in a mannish voice, “Y’shoulda been here las’ Sattidy night an’ seen how I swang em’ around – b’fore I got these goddam piles!”
Clyde (“Tuffy”) Smith, or, “The Mighty Smith”. Quite small for his age. His mother wouldn’t have his waist-length coarse brown curls cut until he was 14. Contrary to his sissy-like appearance (next to Buck Dunford) he was the best fighter in town; – and God help any kid who’d kid him about his knee pants and long curls.
Poor Mama. The way she would fuss with me. Ears, teeth properly washed – hair combed just right – damn knee pants – shoes shined – and starched clean white shirt. And how I’d kiss her “Goodbye” – sneak down a back alley (to Old Man Barnum’s wood pile) – change to old torn sweater and patched overalls – muss my hair, and go to school (change back into clean togs again on my way home.) Mama couldn’t imagine how I kept myself so clean all day.
Some of those tough, ragged miner’s kids (from up th’ creek) could make life miserable for a dressed up punk.
With my skinny legs it seemed like untold ages until I would graduate into long pants -- and when that day finally arrived (age 13) I was scared to death to wear ’em. But I bravely put them on, and, feeling quite grown up, it was my misfortune to have to play in the band at the town square that evening for some political rally. It wasn’t easy to finger a clarinet with both hands, produce music, and kick at kids yanking at my new britches all at the same time.
And those 4th of Julys! W O W !
I doubt if even Washington, D.C. or any other town or city in all America ever put on a more glorious 4th than li’l old J-ville.
That morning Salute at Sunrise. Powder experts from the mines, who, on yonder hill opposite our house, would put several sticks of dynamite on flat top of blacksmith’s anvil – then place another anvil (flat top down) on top – plaster edges with beeswax and mud (safecracker’s technique) – then would squirt nitro-glycerine through the fuse hole – light end of fuse (10 ft.) – run like hell – hide behind tree …....... and ….... B O O Mmm-m-m-m-m! Every house, barn and window pane for miles around would shatter – and everyone almost blown out of bed. (I think that deal was supposed to be “the firing on Fort Sumter,” or something.) Soon, all the many roads from the outlying districts become a rolling mass of dust from buggies, buckboards, surreys, wagons and saddle horses bringing in farmers, loggers and miners – and their families. All laden with plenty of money, food and anticipations for a Grand and Glorious Day.
J-ville was only town I know of to use Christmas trees for 4th of July decorations. Lined along both sides of Main Street to the courthouse. (Fine fire hazards.)
The town full of hangovers from the night before. The 4 wild Buzzley Brothers: – after stopping at Hank Bouden’s Roadhouse, with a whoop and a holler and blazing 6-shooters, riding into town at breakneck speed – draw up their mustangs to a stop at Ed Helms’ Saloon – and to prove their patriotism, would get drunk; shoot up the town and slammed in jail. Pay their fines, and at dusk would gallop homeward to their Applegate Ranch. Happy, but broke!
All saloons (and Madam’s “Cat House”) doing a terrific business. Plenty of knock-down an’ drag ’em out fights among the miners and lumberjacks.
10 a.m. The Big Parade. Old Judge Day on white steed as Officer of The Day. (I always thought he was that because of his name.)
The Volunteer Fire Department. (Hose Co. #1).
Prettiest and most popular girl on flag bedecked float – as Goddess of Liberty.
Rival baseball teams.
Various lodge groups and G.A.R. Veterans; D.A.R. and Ladies Auxiliary. Horse-drawn floats. (Battleship Oregon.) Brass Bands from 4 different valley towns. (Including Gold Hill’s All-Girl Band (12 pieces.) Hitchin’ posts everywhere – with a hundred horses tugging at their halters, rarin’ to stampede. Possibly a dozen wild runaways. Also that many homes and barns burned. Fire crackers! Cannon crackers! Bombs!
Following the parade the saloons fill up again; and families gathered in maple tree shade in courthouse yard. Kegs of free beer beneath every tree. Reading of Declaration of Independence and other patriotic exercises. Rows and rows of tables groaning with free watermelons and cakes and plenty of food (cooked and donated by lady members of the many lodges.)
Laughing Chris Ulrich: who supplied his own prize money and ran the fun games. Climbing the greased pole – catching the greased pig – kids diving face down into a dishpan full of flour to pick up silver dollars with their teeth. Pie eating contests. Old Chris did it just because he loved to laugh. He’d laugh at anything – long and loud. One time when someone quoted to him Oliver Goldsmith’s: “The Loud Laugh Bespeaks the Vacant Mind,” Old Chris thought it over a moment – he didn’t quite grasp the meaning intended. Deciding that it was one of the latest jokes going around, he slapped his leg and said: “By God! That’s a good one!” – and went into a fit of uproarious laughter.
Years later when I was doing comedy routines in vaudeville there were many times when I would have given my right leg to have just ONE Chris Ulrich in the audience …. Because Laughter is Catching!
Outside of ancient Rome, J-ville was the only town I know that featured a “CALLITHUMPIAN” Parade – the satirical or burlesque parade at 1 p.m. Usually the bow-legged old soak (Gus T.) dressed as Goddess of Liberty. Professional men and Business men’s baseball teams. (Once you was the pitcher). They played just one inning, before the big game began --- for laughs. Recently I read where at The Coliseum in Rome they had Callithumpian Parades – anything to get a laugh out of Nero, Caesar, Xerxes and those guys.
The Fourth was a big day for our Hometown Silver Cornet Band (about 15 pieces.) Don and I were the only kids in the band (clarinet players.) Other members all grown men. Each member paid $3 a month dues to belong: all of which went to the bandmaster (Yon Antonius Norling). On The Fourth we’d play parade – concert at courthouse – play during the ball game – evening concert just before the Big Fireworks Display – then play all night at Orth’s Hall for The Grand Ball. For all of that the band received $50 (which also went to the band leader, because many of us were usually delinquent in our monthly dues.)
One 4th in particular, it was a pretty scraggly band. The night before, our snare drummer got into a fight with our cross-eyed solo cornet player in Bum Neuber’s Saloon – klunked him over the head with a billiard cue – both were jailed – and we members had a hell of a time digging up 50 bucks to bail ’em out in time for parade. Then, all during the day (even in middle of concert) they’d start arguing and fighting all over again until we separated them. Also, as I mentioned before, our best musicians, The 3 Donegan boys, were also the 3 best players on the ball team and important members of the Fire Department. Between so many fires and the big game we had a hell of a time trying to play a tune. Not only that, but our one and only bass horn tuba player – a hard drinkin’ butcher – insisted on guzzling booze from a jug all during concert. Someone stole his jug, which made him mad – and right in the middle of our prized overture: (Handel’s “LARGO” …. and in front of all those people, too), he slammed his tuba down on the ground and shouted: “GODDAMMIT! I’M GOIN’ UP TOWN A GIT A DRINK -- AN’ I WON’T BE BACK --- ’CAUSE, GODDAMMIT, I GOTTA GIT OUT TO TH’ SLAUGHTER HOUSE T’MARRA AND START RASSLIN’ HAWG GUTS”! -- and off he staggered.
That was the 4th when along about midnight – and all was quiet – Bum Neuber and Marshal Bill Kenney loaded that old brass Civil War cannon with 6 woolen men’s socks filled with gun powder; pointed it down Main Street – lit the fuse …....... B O O M-m-m-m-m! It took old Otto Biede (local glazier and tinsmith) 3 weeks to replace all of the shattered windows in downtown J-ville........... with Bum Neuber gladly footing the bill. He said it was real jolly fun.
And on another 4th during evening concert on the village square, some playful drunk couldn’t resist or obey that impluse .... well, anyway; he dropped a big cannon cracker down into the bell of Old Dad Lane’s upright bass horn tuba .......... B O O M P ! It knocked Poor Old Dad galley-west. The recoil of mouthpiece against his lips broke both of his false plates. The explosion blew a hunk out of the side of his horn. Next day the drunk was fined 50 dollars and costs; – had to pay for repair of horn and buy Dad Lane a new double set of choppers. Later, the drunk, when questioned about it, giggled and said: “By God! ’Twas worth it. Ever since I was a kid I had a yen to toss a stick of dynamite into one o’ them big horns jus’ t’ see what’d happen.”
And speaking of bass horns: Remember the one Bob Dow (county recorder) brought home from The Philippines after The Spanish/American War? ’Twas riddled with bullet holes during a battle. Some were patched with solder and tin and some covered with gobs of beeswax.
It took me years to analyze just why small town or country bands sound “thataway”. Big army bands sound strictly military – play Sousa Marches – with plenty of drums and bugles. College bands also have a distinct “flavor” (over-loaded.) Big lodge bands (Elks, Shriners etc.) the same. Fancy uniforms and instruments more for glamour than music. Salvation Army Bands sound like ... well – they sound just like a Salvation Army Band. Generally small – no reeds – all brass (no cymbal or snare drum) ... Just plain bass drum – and they play religioso music.
Minstrel Show Bands – snappy and hi-steppin’ -- and feature slide trombones on the “smears”.
CIRCUS BANDS: Hi-pitched – brilliant – sharp – snappy – definite – Circus Musicians (“windjammers”) have hard lips. They know all the standard tunes frontwards and backwards. Calliope, along with circus band adds special flavor.
NOTE: don’t pronounce it CAL-EYE-O-PEE. When you pronounce it thataway you mean The Goddess of Pastoral Beauty & Sound in Greek Mythology. Calli (beauty) and ope (sound) -- and that gal stepped-out with a sexy little wood sprite named ECHO; however, she married ADONIS (or was it APOLLO?). Makes no difference. Both were the “Clark Gables” of that period. And they begat a son, ORPHEUS, The God of Music (Orpheus Overture and Orpheum Theatres named for him.) Well, that’s enough intelligentsia for the nonce …...
But small town bands sound different. Cheap instruments – out of tune – most members are farm boys suffering with “milker’s cramps” and “plow handle paralysis” (which makes bad fingering). Soft lips (from not enough practice.) They play slow and sloppy. Many completely ignore all sharps and flats. As soon as they have mastered the scale and Beginner’s Band Book #1 they get rambunctious – think they’re pretty good and begin tackling and mutilating “Poet and Peasant”, “William Tell Overture” and ---- well, that’s WHY country bands sound thataway. But By Gad! It’s MUSIC!
That was a gala day when the full set of Lyon & Healy band instruments arrived in J-ville, and were displayed in window of Noonan’s General Store. I grabbed the E-flat clarinet (because of my short fingers). Don glommed onto the B-flat clarinet. Everyone took a whap at the big bass drum, but passed it up for something more musical. Usually the bass drum is wished upon the strongest man in town. Physical prowess seems to be more of an asset than musicianship. Contrary to popular belief, in a first class band (particularly a circus band) the bass drummer is equally important as the bandmaster or solo cornet player. Top bass drummers for circus bands are rare. “Red” Floyd, drummer extraordinary, for many years with Merle Evans’ Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus Band is King of ’em All.
One day Mr. Cochran, the insurance man, collared me on the street and demanded point blank: “Listen Son”, he said. “Will you kindly tell me just why in hell is one of those Goddam big BASS DRUMS?”
“I don’t understand – explain yourself, Mister Cochran,” I said.
“Well – ” He went on. “Now, I don’t mind good music. In fact, I rather like it – some of it; -- but every time I take my wife to a dance, or a show, By God! Some feller just sits there an’ pounds on one o’ those goddam drums. Why? Just sits there and goes BOOM BOOM BOOM for no good reason. WHY? It ain’t MUSIC. It’s just a lotta goddam noise!”
--and that time “Shorty” (Claude) Miles was registering as a voter; and after his name (directly below the signature of Dr. George Pickel, M.D.) Shorty signed his name and added B.D. Mrs. Vawter (banker’s wife) questioned it. “And just what does that B.D. signify, Mister Miles?” She asked.
“BASS DRUMMER!” Said Shorty.
“Oh, to be sure, Mister Miles,” She twittered. “I forgot. You do play the bass drum in the band, don’t you?”
“Nope!” responded Shorty. “I don’t PLAY th’ bass drum – I jus’ BEAT th’ goddam thing!”
That old bandwagon really was really something, huh? I’ve been told that long before my time a wagon circus (mud show) (Montgomery Queen Circus I believe) – Well, they left town owing a feed bill at local livery stable. Said livery stable owner attached their band wagon. But when I first saw it it had been re-painted. Had J-ville Silver Cornet Band painted on both sides; and for what reason I wouldn’t know; it had an American spread eagle painted on the front and a bull dog’s head on the back. After I joined the band I rode on it many times – to Medford, Ashland, Central Point etc. They kept it stashed up in The Old Haunted Brewery. Turkeys would roost overhead, and on occasion when the band would have to use it, we’d have to scrape off the turkey crap before we could sit down on the flat board seats (which also served as lockers.) Once when we were enroute to Ashland, beneath seat #2 we heard loud cackling, and there was an old settin’ hen inside there with a dozen baby chicks. (That’s when I should have written the popular song: “I Love The Cows And Chickens But This Is The Life”. Always late! Born too soon.
One of Life’s Darkest Moments happened on the day of our first annual band concert at U.S. Hotel Op’ry House. I had spent hours practicing for my one, big moment … a 12-bar E-flat clarinet solo and cadenza in a flashy but dinky little overture. I polished the keys and oiled the pads on my instrument. I rubbed my lips with camphor and alum (to ensure a true, sweet tone.) I had read where Ignacy Paderewski, the world’s greatest pianist, often wrapped live earth worms around his fingers and wore over them large-size cotton gloves (for better fingering technique) …. so, I did likewise.
On that afternoon, however, Nature called; and on my way to the backhouse I was attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. And that night on the stage, there sat poor little me with a painful posterior hanging over side of chair; one eye swollen shut; my lower lip the size and color of a raw pig’s liver; and my right index finger (the one used mainly for a pretty G# trill) was stiff and unusable. My solo and flashy cadenza was a dismal failure. And right there in front of all those people, too!
THOSE POLITICAL PARADES! TORCHLIGHT PROCESSIONS! As I look back it seems like William Jennings Bryan was eternally running for President. As usual, I was always playing in the band – and heard political speeches and arguments and debates pro and con! It must have cost you and the other candidates plenty dishing out cigars and buying the voters drinks. When a candidate went into a saloon, that was a signal for (particularly the old barflies) everybody to belly-up-to-the-bar and order drinks.
One day Phil Meacham arrived from Portland, fresh out of college, to visit his best girl (Valine K.). It was his 21st birthday, and being all dressed up and feeling mighty sporty, he went into Ed Helms’ saloon; tossed a 20-dollar gold piece on the bar, and ordered “drinks for everybody”.
With a shaky hand, Old palsied English Johnnie held up his glass; peered at Phil through watery eyes and said: “Well, here’s regards, Bub. I don’t know who y’are; whether you’re Demmycrat er Republican; er what yer runnin’ fer … but By God! I’LL VOTE FER YUH!”
Alongside me in our band was a grinny little fellow, (“Cackle” McComb. His laugh sounded like a billy goat’s “ba-a-a-a-a-a”.) Was one of those agreeable guys who’ll say “yes” to anything. Some speaker was roaring, tearing down and ripping The Ship of State to bits. Everytime he’d end a sentence, this McComb would nudge me in the ribs and say: “By God! He’s right allright!” or “By Jings! He sure hit th’ nail on th’ head that time!” And when this political windbag shouted: “--an’ I’m tellin’ you voters that there’s men a-holdin’ down county offices that ought not t’ be there; while there’s good men among us who ought t’ be there!” this “yesman” McComb grins and nudges me, saying: “By God! He’s right allright – them that ain’t ORT; an’ them that ort AIN’T!”
OLD PAPA SCHMIDT (whiskers and all). J-ville’s erstwhile band leader would sometimes drop in at band practice and toot with us. He had a gold-plated E-flat cornet with a coiling snake engraved on it. The snake’s eyes were genuine rubies. It was a little beauty. You recall that jolly little pot-bellied Papa and Mama Schmidt would always win the “Cake Walk” at The Annual Thanxgiving Ball.
YON ANTONIUS NORLING: (former solo cornetist with Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.) A giant of a Swede with a chest expansion of 9 inches. He got the gold-fever and moved to J-ville. He could fill his lungs and play “The Carnival of Venice” on cornet in one breath. We always thought surely he’d pop a blood vessel. He met a sad end when, while asleep, some miner murdered him for his gold.
One Sunday our band was hired to play for a fancy funeral. The deceased was some Greek laborer who got shot in the poolhall. On short notice we could scrape up only 9 members – and we had no funeral march music. So (and because we were each to get 10-bucks apiece to march to the church) a tramp printer (our baritone player) saved the day when he suggested that we play “HELL’S FIRE” – a flashy circus ballyhoo march ….......... only we played it very softly and slowly; with drums muffled (no wild clarinet noodling) – played it an octave lower. Being written in a minor key, damn’d if it didn’t sound sad, deathly and ALLRIGHT.
Often I’m asked how come I ever got into show business. Search me! Guess it’s just a throw-off from those early days when you appeared with William H. Crane (who, as you know, later became one of America’s most distinguished actors.) In one of your scrap books I remember a theatre program: “Darian Dangerfield of The Bad Lands” ... in which you played the lead. Darian Dangerfield. Whatta title. Also in same book I discovered that you were once a spieler (“barker”) with a travelling Carnival & Circus. You also did Shakespeare. I never went for his stuff much. Noted also that one of your cousins tooted cornet with Ringling’s back in the ’80s.
Another cousin, ROSA NAYNON – and Her Tropical Birds – (maiden name Colvig) was featured on all the big time vaudeville circuits. One of our French fore-fathers was a theatrical doctor in Paris. (Wow! I’ll bet he met some slick lookin’ chorines!) Let’s see – his Dad (Jean Baptiste ColvigNE) born in 1750, was the Mediterranean pirate who took not only the Greek Captain LYNGAE’s ships and loot; but married his daughter as well. Zelesta Lyngae, an Athenian Beauty (so your book says.)
I recall one summer afternoon you and Uncle George (your brother) were sitting on the front porch, and you got out your genealogy book and started reading “from whence we came”; and when you came to that Zelesta Lyngae bit, Uncle George chuckled and said: “Stop right there, Bill. Everything was fine until those damn shoe-shinin’ Greeks got mixed up with us” ….. Whereupon, you cut in with: “Just a minute, George. Have you forgotten all about the great Greeks in History? Homer, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Aristocles, Themistocles, Aesop, Plato …..” George said: “Wope! That’s enough, Bill. I take it all back. All those old boys are good enough for my blood!”
And this middle handle of mine – (DeBar) – that old Doc’ DeBar hung onto me when he brung me. He was a relative of the great Shakespearean actor, Ben DeBar. I still say that Shakespeare’s stuff never did anything for me.
Reminds me of a guy I knew in San Francisco who thrived on taking in all the strip-tease and Honky Tonk Burley-Q shows. As a joke, someone had given him a free ticket to Romeo & Juliet which was playing there. The boys built Andy up to the fact that this Shakespeare show was a red hot one – plenty of naked dames … and that the cops had closed it the week before in Sacramento. Well, this guy, Andy, sat all through the first act waiting for something sexy to happen – became disgusted and walked out. Next day when his friend asked him how he enjoyed Shakespeare, Andy said: “Well, this guy Shakespeare might o’ bin allright in his day; but people just don’t give a goddam for all that kind o’ CHURCHY TALK nowadays.”
MY FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE: (age 4) Fourth of July parade. Dressed in suit splashed with dollar $ marks, representing Homer Davenport’s cartoon characterization of political Tammany Boss, Mark Hanna.
(Age 7) In blackface, tails, cane and hi-silk hat, singing: “Any Rags Any Bones Any Bottles Today” – to Brother Don’s accompaniment on piano ..... On stage at United States Hotel Op’ry House (where, back in The Gold Rush Days of ’49 (so I’ve been told) Jenny Lind, The Swedish Nightingale once sang.
Winning 1st Prize (4-bits and a cake of soap) at pie-eating contest on outdoor stage platform when The Wizard Oil Company (Medicine Show) held forth alongside U.S. Hotel. They had big jars filled with teeth they had pulled. And whoever manufactured those 30-foot “tapeworms” they displayed in jar of alcohol? (Supposedly “passed” by an old colored woman who had suffered with stomach trouble for all of her 95 years.)
I was always the eager kid in the front row who leaped upon the stage the moment a magician asked for a “stooge”. (I’m still wondering just how th’ devil those guys plucked eggs out of my mouth and ears – and shook decks of cards out of my pants.) Musta bin some trick to it.
First time I ever saw a ventriloquist work. (That word was too big for me to pronounce. We called it “throwing the voice”.) Well, I was intrigued. I didn’t believe it. There must be some sort of talking machinery inside of that dummy. I remember one of the gags. (Probably the first ventriloquist joke ever devised.)
VENTRILOQUIST: (to dummy) “We’ll now take up GEOGRAPHY. Tell me, Willie – what is the shape of the world?”
DUMMY: “Th’ world’s in a hell of a shape!”
VENTRILOQUIST: (slaps dummy) “No no, Willie. Let’s put it this way. On week days I wear my SQUARE cuff links. Now, what kind of cuff links do I wear on WEEK days?”
DUMMY: “SQUARE!” (Dummy spits fine stream through between teeth.) God! How I laughed.)
VENTRILOQUIST: “SQUARE. Very good. Now, Willie – on SUNDAY I wear my ROUND cuff links. Now, what kind of cuff links do I wear on SUNDAY?”
VENTRILOQUIST: “ROUND. That’s right. Now Willie, think, and tell me: What is the shape of the WORLD?”
DUMMY: “SQUARE on week days and ROUND on Sunday!”
--and I’m tellin’ you, Dad – I laughed ’til I peed m’ pants!
But right after the performance I caught hell. I sneaked backstage, and when the ventriloquist was elsewhere (probably in the can) I picked up his dummy and tried to manipulate the control-wires inside to make it talk. But NO. – and the guy caught me – grabbed the dummy – called me a dirty name in his natural voice – kicked my butt – and … Well – I’ve never become interested in ventriloquism since.
Don’t ever let any man tell you that when he was a kid he led the bloodhounds in an Uncle Tom’s Cabin Street Parade. I know. Because I’m the little pest who was always down at the depot when Stetson’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin – The Barnum of Them All ... A whole Pack of Man-eating Bloodhounds! (Well, that was the billing.) arrived in town in their special, gaudily painted “possum-bellied” R.R. cars. And in their big noon day street parade I was the kid holding back on the leashes and being dragged behind that half dozen pack of canines. (Not bloodhounds, as advertised) but Great Danes, or possibly Mastiffs.) Real bloodhounds are too small – not “man eating” enough. The bigger dogs made a better flash (showmanship, they call it.) My parade costume was a dirty old smock and a soiled white silk hat 4 sizes too big (with eye-holes cut to see through.) On and off stage during the performance I “suped”. Especially when the group did their bidding at the slave auction block. I hated Simon Legree; but thought Little Eva was cute. (I couldn’t believe it when I was told that she was married to the manager.) When we were all bidding and “I’m a lawyer – My Name’s Marks – have a card” interrupted with “I bid – I bid – I bid ----” and Legree roars: “YOU BID WHAT?” and Lawyer Marks tips his hat and says: “I bid you Good Day” and exits. Funny? I thought I’d die laughin’. Took me years to get over feeling sorry for Po’ Li’l Topsy.
Of course I usually appeared in most of the dinky home talent shows, but it was the big time professional shows I enjoyed most. Uncle Josh Spruceby’s – and their Rube Band. In one of their plays the villain tied the long-haired, luscious heroine over a log – pulled the lever – and the big bladed circular disc buzz saw buzzed and slowly gnawed its treacherous way towards her; and with a dirty, revengeful sneer he exited. Me, sitting on edge of seat in front row, biting my finger nails, could bear the suspense no longer – and would have leaped upon that stage and yanked the brake ---- had not the Handsome Hero beat me to it just in the nick o’ time ….... W h e w ! Thank God!
You’ll remember we had no negroes in our town (except for the family who lived in an old shack down on The Flats – Although I believe the father was actually a Moorish Arab married to a Squaw?)
Anyway, the first real colored folks I ever saw was when The Georgia Minstrels show’d J-ville. Yah-man! – and how they strutted down Main Street High, Wide ’n’ Handsome! Hi-silk Hats! Red Raglan Coats! Gold-headed Canes and White Spats! Their snappy red-and-green uniformed brass band a-tootin’ “Hot Time In Old Town Tonight”. First time I ever saw a drum major – a 16 year old cullud lad … and how he could twirl that baton. I thought he was the grandest thing alive. Next day I sawed off your hoe handle – yanked brass knobs off the curtain rods – nailed one on each end, and practiced twirling it until my knuckles bled …. but, dammit! I could never get th’ hang of it. Even today I’m ashamed when I occasionally work on shows with little 4-year old gal majorettes by the dozens, doing the seemingly impossible on parade.
I remember also, having my hair cropped extra short, exposing my face to the hot sun and rolling my eyes at strangers, hoping they’d believe that I was a negro. No wonder I went in for singing those minstrel songs. Don and I would attend the shows and hurry home and jot down the music and lyrics. The other part of our musical education was gained when we’d sneak into Al’s Candy Store and Poolhall. At that time Al had the only phonograph in town. Mama called the place “that Den of Iniquity” and we were forbidden to go there, But we did. Where else could we have learned all the latest “coon” songs to add to our repertoire?
Best of all was when the Allen Stock Company arrived for their annual one-week stand – a different play every night …. and featuring Little Verna Felton (Allen was her stepdad.) Wow! Whatta gal! Just my age, too. And she dressed in city clothes – hi-laced kid boots – white furs and a muff – beautiful hair (not in pigtails) – and I think maybe she used just a tiny dash of paint and powder – and perfume. Anyway, she smelt better than those little town gals. And she spoke with a soft, dramatic voice. No little gal could say: “Oh, Muthuh Deah” quite so sweetly as she. Altho’ she was unaware of it, I was secretly head-over-heels in love with her. I even kiped one of photographs, and with a fine pen forged her autograph – with words of endearment to me. On my desk at school I exposed it between open pages in my geography. My classmates (girls) would look at it – turn up their noses and say: “Hmmph! Running around with show girls” – and I loved it.
First speaking part I ever had was when I was suped in one of Verna’s shows. Just three little words: “LET’S DUCK IT!” In which I was to run out on stage – grab up a cat – say to some off-stage kids: “Pssst! (which really isn’t a word) LET’S DUCK IT!” --- with idea of throwing cat down into a prop well. Little Verna rushes in – chases other kids off stage. Now, that was my big moment, and I hamm’d it up plenty. I became so darned elated working right there in front of all those hometown gals and guys, I held onto that poor cat so tight (gawking at audience with a grinny “Don’t you wish you were me” expression) -- with the cat meowing and scratching hell out of both of us, Verna really got mad. Took off one of her shoes – klunked me over the head with it and chased me off the stage …....
Many years went by, and I’m happy to add at this writing that recently I have appeared on many radio programs with Verna, now a great character actress and comedienne – happily married to a fine actor (Lee Millar) – and they have a son following in their footsteps. We often talk about the old days. She remembers the U.S. Hotel Op’ry House; but she doesn’t recall ever having met me in those days. (apparently she made a bigger hit with me than I did with her.) She’s still a doll. Incidentally, when I described the “cat-in-well” scene, she brightened and said: “Oh! Why the name of that play was, “THE POWER OF WEALTH” – and I’m still wondering just what th’ hell the ducking of a cat has to do in a play with a title like that?
MY FIRST CIRCUS: (1898 or ’99?) I can close my eyes and still see those bills posted on our barn: WALTER L. MAIN’S CIRCUS ONE DAY ONLY BIG FREE STREET PARADE (Rain or Shine) 5 BRASS BANDS. Adults 50¢ Children ½ Price.
For two weeks us kids had fun shooting the ferocious wild jungle animals on the lithographs, with our slingshots, BB guns and bow-and-arrows.
Mama took me over to Medford to see it – and I’m sure that was the day I fully made up my mind that some day … SOME day … I’m going to join a circus. The band was elegant – and those purty trapeze gals dress’d in nuthin’ but skin-tight long silk underwear with no buttons …. W O W ! And those funny old clowns!
Well, in 1913 when I joined Al G. Barnes Circus it was my pleasure to work with clowns Whitey Tate and Tote Ducrow. Also with Sam Barham (bass drummer) who were with Walter L. Main on that day in Medford when the “circus bug” bit your little boy ….
Mama, great horsewoman that she was in her youth, loved circuses – mainly because of the beautiful horses; but I don’t believe she ever cherished the idea of having a son actually being a part of one.
Some little “mud show” (wagon circus) hit J-ville when I was about 10 – and some of us kids worked all day helping put up the tent; currying the horses, etc. The man told us to mention his name (“Sidewall Blackie”) at the ticket gate that evening to see the show free. We did, and were told to “get th’ hell away from there”. Sidewall Blackie had gotten drunk that day and was fired. I was broken hearted; but I did manage to stand outside and hear the band play – and snatch an occasional peek when the entrance & exit canvas flaps were opened for the acts to pass in and out.
On CIRCUS DAY us kids could never wait for the J-ville jerkwater train 9 a.m. Circus Special to Medford. We’d get going by foot before dawn, arriving at Medford (5 miles) in time to watch the circus trains pull in and unload and pitch their tents. Downtown to watch the parade – back to circus grounds for the free acts on side show platform. Smoke cigs, eat peanuts & popcorn and guzzle pink lemonade (belly-wash).
– and to digress: here’s an interesting fact. Years later when I became part of the circus I learned that most of those floating pieces of “ice” in the big tubs were actually hunks of cheap citrate-crystals. One lousy little lemon sliced razor blade thin served as “floaters” on top. And those thick, tall, cone-shaped glasses were so constructed as to allow the “floater” to remain in the bottom for continued use. Another interesting fact is, that PINK circus lemonade was accidentally discovered when some clown with an early day circus also worked the lemonade concession. It was a hot day down in Texas, and the town where they were playing was waterless – that is, the water had to be hauled in from a spot several miles away. Well, this clown happened upon a bucketful of water in the prima donna’s dressing tent in which she had been rinsing her pink silk tights; giving the water a pinkish hue from the aniline dye. He snitched it – poured it in with his white, colorless lemonade; went through the crowd yelling “PINK Circus Lemonade” ... and it outsold the other two to one ..... so, he got him some pink food coloring and henceforth ….. well, anyway, NOW you know! Ain’t that interestin’?
Oh, yeah – those citrate crystals (same as citrate/magnesia you buy in drugstores as a laxative). I know. Because one of life’s bitterest disappointments happened to me when (as advertised) a man was actually going to enter a lion’s cage and stick his head into the beast’s mouth in the sideshow. I paid my 2-bits admission and hung around inside while the announcer called attention to the various platforms (fire-eater, sword swallower, bearded lady, giant, midgets, knife thrower, fat man etc.) when suddenly, from all the goop and pink lemonade I’d been guzzling, the (citrate/magnesium) “caught me short”. I did so want to see that man enter the lion’s den. All around the steel cage his assistants were “building up” the impending disaster and possible danger involved. Getting iron pokers red hot; the brave lion tamer nervously loading his pistols …..... when …. I HAD TO GO! I explained my predicament to the ticket taker. He told me to go – that he would remember me when I returned. Out in a clump of nearby bushes while attending my duties, I could hear the announcer’s voice: “--and now, Ladies and Gentlemen, we present the bravest man in the world – etc. – etc. ---” Quickly I pulled up my pants and rushed to the entrance. The ticket taker didn’t remember me. ’Mid off-sound lion roars and gun shots all he said was: “G’wan – beat it, kid. Don’t bother me!” My little heart was crushed.
But – years later, for two seasons I had to watch that same lion trainer (Herr Louis Roth) twice daily enter a steel arena filled with 28 lions – while his wife (Mable Stark) followed his act in same arena with a mixed group of tigers, leopards, lions and panthers – all of which thrilled me none whatsoever. (Could the reason be that possibly I had a date to meet some gal out in front of the side show right after the performance? No-o-o. That couldn’t be.)
And of course, there was that time (age 13) – Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition World’s Fair (Portland 1905) when I first put on white grease paint and became a CLOWN. Ha! From Burnt Cork to Clown White! On “The Trail” (Midway) being a small town hick, “The Crazy House” became my favorite spot. “Habba Habba”, a clown (whose make/up was somewhat cannibalistic) owned the Crazy House concession; beating a bass drum and continuously yelling in a high pitched voice, “habba habba habba” and collecting the tickets. When I told him that I made funny faces while squealing on an E-flat clarinet, he gave me a try-out. Bass drum & clarinet – 2-piece band. Somehow it attracted a bigger crowd; so he dug down in his trunk and hung an old misfit suit on me; smeared my face with clown white grease paint; reddened my nose; slapped a battered old derby over my head, and into a pair of size-14 shoes. Paid me a dollar-a-day (and all the sandwiches and goop I could eat). Also got me a season pass to all of the shows on “The Trail”. Naturally, The Gal Show – “That Bevy of Bee-u-tee-ful Broadway Belles” -- those painted, half-dressed babes enjoyed kidding this small town Appleknocker ..... and he loved it!
Next best show was “The Streets of Cairo”, where I would ride their camels, and sometimes toot a double-reeded Chinese Oriental-horn for “Little Egypt’s” hootchy-ma-kootch dance. Betwixt shows I would write “love” letters for the Manager (an Egyptian who was in love with a carnival dame (named Corrine Somebody) back East ... He could neither read nor write (English) …. But WOW! this Corrine sure could write some hot love notes (which I had to read aloud to him.) And in return I’d write some hotter ones right back; read them to him, and he’d sign his name. He paid me off in all the fancy Egyptian cigarettes I needed. (It was impossible in those days for a minor to purchase tobacco.)
But let’s get back to J-ville ------
(Before doing so, however, I do want to thank you again for wiring me that money to Manitou, Colorado on my birthday ------ the same day that show I was travelling with went KERFLOP! That was the world’s smallest show with the l o n g e s t title: THE GREAT ROMAN CIRCUS & AMERICAN CARNIVAL COMPANIES. Ha! 10-piece band – daring Roman Riders and Chariot-Racers – 20 Beautiful ? Grecian Slave Girls …” They could have called it “Elinor Glyn’s Sequel” because it lasted just that long ...... Three Weeks. We opened in Cheyenne, Wyoming – a week in Greeley, Colorado, and the following week in “Garden of The Gods” (Colorado Springs) some guy slapped an attachment on the show and six months later the Sheriff’s Office there mailed me my three weeks salary.
Okay, Dad .... Hang on! Back to J-ville we go ................
-- QUO VADIS – 1906 --
THEN CAME THE ANNOUNCEMENT that you had sold The Old Home (wherein I had peed my first cradle) – and had bought a home in Medford, the fast growing metropolis (7000 population) five miles East.
Mama cried. I was over-joyed!
Age 14 – Long Pants – City Folks – New Environment – New Faces – and right on the Main Line Railroad, too! My school only a stone’s-throw from our house. (an extra half hour in bed before 9 a.m.) A white, porcelain bathtub – with a beautiful toilet right alongside. (A far cry from the old Saturday Night zinc washtub in front of the kitchen stove.)
GOODBYE, Dear Old Weather-beaten Backhouse. YOU, I am TRULY going to miss!
Then, the last load of our belongings – with me high atop the big dray, drawn by a span of four fat mules, with Drayman Dunford at the helm.
Farewell, O Village of My Birth!
’Twas a Friday. We passed by the old schoolhouse. Recess was in progress. How wonderful, I thought, to be legitimately staying out of school. I waved – and my kid friends waved back; and we shouted Goodbyes.
NEXT MORNING I rambled all over “New-town”, U.S.A. I cased the poolhall; the candy stores, the cigar store; but mainly The Railroad Yards ….. Thrilling to the toots of the trains as they thundered into the station; envying the passengers traveling North and South to Distant Lands. The interesting train crew, baggage smashers …... and HOBOES.
Soon after noon, however (24 hours after my departure), I began to wonder how everything might be going back in My Old Home Town? --- So, I climbed aboard Barnum’s dinky little wood-burner – paid my fare; and soon reached my destination. Like a seasoned old traveler I stepped down onto the depot platform (just like I’d often seen the sporty actors and whiskey drummers do.)
Could it be, that I had expectations of Mayor Britt; a bevy of beautiful maidens with garlands of roses, and The Village Band there to greet me? Could be.
Well, I ventured up town quite un-noticed …....... until I was approached by a committee of three kids. (Buck Dunford, Mike Broad, Tom Dunnington three best fighters in town.)
With clenched fists and knitted brows they spoke to me in no uncertain tones:
“Listen, You Medford Ike,” they demanded. “Just what team are you gonna root for at th’ ball games next summer?”
“W-w-why J-J-JAY-ville, of course!” I stammered. God help me had I said Medford.
Incidentally, I still remember the old rooter’s yell:
“WHISKEY WEE WEE(Now who th’ hell ever thought that one up?)
WHISKEY WOW WOW
W O W-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w!”
THEN CAME SPRING! The Valley all A-bloom. Aside from occasionally “playin’ sick” through the rainy winter months, I had not yet gotten around to my old curse, PLAYIN’ HOOKEY------ until, one day when THE GREATER NAT REISS SOUTHERN RAILROAD CIRCUS & CARNIVAL COMPANIES, COMBINED rolled into town to play a one-week stand. Their 9-piece band was sorely in need of a noisy E-flat clarinet player. I was that guy.
Dad, you thought I played with them only during the night performances; but I ditched school and also tooted for the matinees. The following week they played Ashland (12 miles South) … and there I was; supposedly leaving for school each morning – but actually I was hooking a Southbound freight for Ashland; returning home via same route, after the night performance .....
Uh Oh! Two weeks’ absence from school. That was bad!
But bravely I marched into class as though nothing had happened. (Incidentally, in that same class was Edison Marshall, the author – who writes books and things – and makes oodles of money --- but y’see, he studied – and never played hookey – besides, he was just naturally smart) -- but that’s beside the point …. Soon I was called into the Principal’s office --- and --- (swallow) Dishonorably expelled.
Well, Dad, you know the rest. Things weren’t too pleasant for me around home ….. So I got a job with the S.P. as handy-boy about the freight shed, and checking-the-cars on the side tracks (which I entered into a big ledger.) Seventy-five bucks a month. At last, I felt grown-up. A Man of The World!
The job offered me opportunity to visit the Hobo Camp beyond the water tank. Those hoboes liked me. I was always a soft touch for free smokes and to chip-in for a bucket of beer. I partook of their hospitality and enjoyed their “Jungletown Razzle-Dazzle Hobo Stew.” I listened to their exciting tales (and lies) about their travels. Learned their secret codes, rituals, and Ethics Pertaining to The Carefree Life of The Wanderer. No work. Travel and see the country. Total freedom from all things UN-glorious. I learned how to hop freights – and how to elude Railroad Blues and Smalltown Cops.
Many a summer evening, along about sundown, when a slow freight would be rolling North, somehow I’d find myself drawn like magic, into an open door of a boxcar, where, with legs dangling, I’d sit and dream in the cool-of-eve, and drink-in the aroma of cinders, jasmine, engine smoke and new mown hay ---- and when at some of the tank towns enroute the train halted, I would scratch and yawn and grin at the gawking towners (whom I hoped were maybe feeling Oh, so sorry for “that poor, homeless boy”.)
Usually my destination would be Roseburg or Salem: Returning next evening (same route) winding and bumping along through beautiful Cow Creek Canyon. Moon and stars overhead. ’Twas Heaven on Earth!
COME EARLY FALL: A R.R. Office Inspector dropped in to check-the-books. He was not happy when, in my ledger, he came across a few of my cartoons of hoboes and such. I thought some were rather comical. He didn’t. I was fired.
Next day me and my E-flat clarinet were enroute to Portland to join Major York’s 50-piece Military & Concert Band which was booked for an extended tour through The Pacific Northwest.
My Boyhood Days were done. I was now ready to hit-the-road. To find out if all of those far away places would be as appealing as they had been on the pages in my old J-ville school geography …............ THEY WERE.
o o o o o o o o
These “notes” seem to have developed into a sizable manuscript.
It doesn’t seem possible that so many things could happen to a small town kid in such a short span of years.
I wonder: What do kids NOW-a-days do for fun?
P.S. Now, after all is said and done, maybe you’d better burn this. You wouldn’t want your grandchildren to read this, would you?
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s times when my kids say to one another:
“Gee – Poor Ol’ Pop. He must have led an awful dull life when he was a kid.”
Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library, MS9