I was born Robert Nelson ("Bobby") Lutman at home on November 4, 1943 in a small house in Versailles, Missouri. "Versailles" rhymes with regales, if you say it right. And if you know how to pronounce "regales."
My dad was Claude Nelson Lutman, truck driver, but he disliked the 'e' at the end of his first name, so he always signed his name Claud. Mom was Winifred Kathryn ("Winnie") Lutman, teacher, born Winifred Kathryn Hilty. Dad was born in the country a few miles west of Versailles in November 1909 and Mom was born in Donnellson, Iowa in early July 1910.
Brother George was four years and two months old at the time of my birth and younger sister Shirley would come along almost five years later. We moved from house to house among several Versailles homes, before Dad saved up enough money to buy our very own home. During a trip to Missouri in the early 1990's, Mom pointed these homes out to Sharon and me. Sharon drove us around town while I video-taped the houses. The earliest home I remember was on South Oak Street. This was the "old" or "first" South Oak house. When I was five or six, we moved up the street to the "new" South Oak house at 405 South Oak Street.
I've always loved to climb things - trees, buildings, nuclear power plant radiation-release stacks. One of my earliest memories is of the windmill. When I was two, we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Hilty's farm east of town. Mom came out of the house looking for me, and spotted me at the top of the farm's windmill. Mom started to yell, but Uncle Pete said quietly, "Don't scare him, I'll climb up and get him," and he did.
To get water, we had to ask a grownup to link the pump to the windmill (we would pinch our fingers if we did it, and I don't think we could reach it anyway). Then the wind would pump water out of the ground and into a nearby water tank. A tin cup was always hanging on a peg nearby so a thirsty boy could steal part of the cool stream as it was pumped into the tank. This tank was used to water the cows, but on a hot day we used it for our swimming pool. I remember the green moss growing in the bottom of the tank feeling slick and smooth and slimy against the bottoms of our feet.
In the first South Oak house, Mom and Dad decided one year to put the Christmas tree up on a black table with spreading legs and a half-way up shelf. A little boy could climb onto this table, if he was a climbing type lad. It turned out that if you climbed up, grabbed the top of the table and leaned back, the table and Christmas tree would all follow you to the floor in a loud crash. I knew I was in terrible trouble, but Dad told Mom that it was Christmas and I shouldn't be punished. Dad? That was unusual for him, and the few times Dad showed leniency made a big impression on me.
I have a one-scene memory of Mom holding me up to the frosty window in the front door in West Lawn (the name of our little Versailles subdivision). There was a dark gray sky with blue-white snow all over the ground as George headed off to school with his sled. I think this was in the old South Oak house, because I wasn't in school yet. I remember the awe I felt at how grown up George must be to go to school on that sled. This is me sitting on George's lap.
The Show-Me State, where common sense was born. Morgan County is near the center of the state. Until I left for Stanford in the fall of 1965, I had never been out of Missouri (except for a mile or two into Kansas and Illinois). I think that's why I like traveling so much. Today in 1997, sister Shirley lives in Kansas just over the Missouri border. Uncle Pete and Aunt Nancy live in Cape Girardeau. Uncle Calvin and Aunt Arline live in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Uncle Hiram and Aunt Janet live in North Carolina. The other uncles and aunts and most cousins still live around Versailles.
Central Missouri is the stomping grounds of my youth. The Versailles Tigers played the Tipton Cardinals, Camdenton Lakers, Eldon Mustangs, and the Stover Bulldogs in basketball, football and track. Gravois (Gra'-voise) Mills was the closest point on the Lake of the Ozarks. Sedalia was the home of the Missouri State Fair and Jim the Wonder Dog. Dad's Uncle Bill and Aunt Ada lived in Boonville. Jefferson City (Jeff City, or just Jeff, to us) is the state capital. Fulton was often used as a threatened destination reference by us kids because of its mental institution. Columbia is the home of Missouri University. Dad's sister Aunt Dessie and Uncle Tom lived in Marshall.
Versailles is the county seat of Morgan County. The Lutman relatives lived west of town, between Versailles and Stover. The Missouri Hiltys lived northeast of town, between Versailles and Tipton. Eldon was the home of the El Rancho Motel and swimming pool.
Dad was born to "Tish" (for Letitia, whose maiden name was Morris) and George Lutman. Grandpa Lutman died from a heart attack at a young age, I think at about 50, and I regretfully have no memories of him. Grandma Lutman lived into her 90's.
Dad had a brother and a sister - Uncle Byron and Aunt Dessie. Dessie was five years older than Dad, and 11 years older than Byron.
Uncle Byron married Aunt Hazel, who died of cancer when my four cousins were young. They were Larry, three years older than I; Byronita, one year older; Bill, about two years younger; and Carmen; another couple of years younger than that.
A few years later, Uncle Byron married Frances Huff (Aunt France), who was a widow with children also. Her kids were Pete, Butch and Laura Ruth, or Lauruth as we called her. Pete was about Larry's age. Butch was about Bill's age and Laura Ruth was about Byronita's age as I recall.
Aunt France is the best fisherman in the world - for sure in the top three. Fish line up to get on her hook.
Aunt Dessie married Tom Perkins, and they lived in Marshall. They had three daughters - Judith, Joyce and Viola. Judith was a little older than George, Joyce was about George's age, and Viola was one or two years younger.
The Lutman cousins I was closest to were Bill Lutman and Rachel Jones.
Some enterprising bloke in England sent me the "Lutman Seal" above. I'm guessing that he sent the exact same emblem to thousands of Americans with different names. What do you think?
Mom claimed that Rachel Jones was my second cousin, because we had the same great-grandparents. Namely, my dad's father and Rachel's dad's mother were brother and sister. But there is another system.
As you know, being first cousins means that you share the same grandparents. But what is one cousin to another cousin's child? And what are the children of two first cousins, to each other? Mom claimed that the children of two first cousins are second cousins, the children of two second cousins are third cousins, and so forth. Her term for the name for the relationship between a first cousin and another first cousin's child is (get ready) "first cousins once removed".
Someone once claimed that what Mom called "first cousins once removed" are really second cousins. "So what are the children of two first cousins, to each other?" I asked of the proponent of the other system. "Second cousins," was the reply. But this system seems to lead to two different types of third cousins.
Mom's system seems the best, based on one data point and symmetry.
Grandpa and Grandma Hilty were Rev. Peter P. Hilty and Barbara, born Barbara Koller (We pronounced it "color"). They had eight children. In birth order, they were Aunt Esther (1907), Uncle Carl (1909), Mom (Winifred, 1910), Uncle Hiram (1913), Uncle Paul (1915), Uncle Calvin (1919), Uncle Junior (Peter, later called Uncle Pete, 1921), and Aunt Dorothy (1926). Grandpa Hilty was a pastor in the Mennonite Church and a crop and hog farmer.
Aunt Esther married Roy Gerber. They had four children - John, who was the oldest cousin; Barbara Ann, who was a few years older than George; Janet (pronounced Jeanette for unknown reasons); and my buddy, cousin Mel, or Melvin as I called him when we were small. Mel is about Shirley's age. When I was in High School or a little before, I learned that another child had died at birth - a girl named Elizabeth, who would have been my age. Her not being with us was always like taking one fork in the road and forever wondering what the other one would have been like. Uncle Roy was a farmer and a banker.
Uncle Carl married Aunt Viola and they had three daughters and a son - Twila, Kathryn, Doris and Chester. Twila was a little older than George, Kathryn was about George's age, Doris was a couple of years younger than I, and Chester was about Shirley's age or a little younger.
You've already heard about Mom.
Uncle Hiram, who has lived in North Carolina my whole life, married Aunt Janet. They had three daughters - Louise (a couple of years older than I), Esther (a year or so younger) and Ruth Ann (about Shirley's age). Uncle Hiram was a professor at Guilford College in North Carolina and did a lot of Quaker missionary work in Cuba and other places.
Uncle Paul married Aunt Mildred. They had five children - Loretta, George's age; Paul Junior, one year older than I; Lovina, a couple of years younger than I; Phil, a year or two younger than Lovina; and Colleen, who lives with her husband and family on an island a little north of the Washington-Canada border. Uncle Paul was a dairy and crop farmer who sometimes raised turkeys.
Uncle Calvin, whose stories and indirect encouragement brought me to California, was a smoke jumper during World War II and then a San Joaquin Valley cotton and crop farmer. He married Aunt Arline. They had four children - Wanda, who was adopted and is the oldest; Duane, often called Pete today; Norma; and Jim. These cousins were much younger than I when I first came to California, and I loved to take trips down to Uncle Calvin's. Aunt Arline's food was in the tradition of the Hilty fare. Namely fantastic.
Peter married Nancy Wismer and they begat cousin Daniel, who is the same age as my daughter Tara. Peter was an English teacher at Missouri University, Arkansas, Park College near Kansas City, and Southeast Missouri State College in Cape Girardeau, where he and Nancy still live. Aunt Nancy worked for the Boy Scout organization.
Aunt Dorothy May married Ed Baumgartner. Ed was a crop and dairy farmer east of Versailles. They had three more of my cousins - David, a little younger than Shirley I think, and a banker; Diane, about the same age as David; and Debbie, a few years younger. The Hilty-side cousins I was closest to, growing up, were Melvin and Paul Junior (everybody calls him Pete today).
When the town fathers were deciding where to locate the town of Versailles, they consulted with the local Osage Indians. The Indians said if they built it in this certain, relatively high-ground location, that a tornado would never hit it (that's what I heard anyway). And as far as I know, no tornado has ever struck Versailles directly.
Mom and Dad took me swimming in the creeks and ponds when I was very small. They would just strip me down to my underpants and that'd be it. We were swimming one summer day, or rather wading since I couldn't swim yet, at a creek with Mom and Uncle Byron's first wife, Aunt Hazel. I got this brilliant idea, as I usually did, to show off and tickle the grownups. So I started picking up rocks and sticking them in my pants. The first one didn't do much, but after a few, my pants were bagging down from the weight, and I kept saying, "Grunt." That was my word for poop. Aunt Hazel laughed and laughed. I had already decided that it's OK to make a fool out of yourself if you get a good laugh.
Long before the days of child seats and seat belts and firmly locked doors, I was a front seat passenger with a lady friend of Mom's. She made a too-quick left turn and rolled me out of the car onto the pavement. Car doors aren't what they used to be (luckily).
Uncle Peter, upon reading this, told me that I said to the driver, "Hey, are you trying to kill me?" Uncle Calvin maintains that I said, "Hey, are you trying to make mush out of me?"
When we lived at the first house on South Oak, Mom gave us a Saturday night bath each week. In the winter, when it was cold, she set up a tub with hot water behind the stove in the living room, and gave us our bath there. She wouldn't change the water from one kid to the next, to save energy or because it was too much trouble. One December night, I was still naked and wet from my bath, dancing around with visions of Christmas approaching, when I slipped and fell against the hot stove. To this day, when I fall against a hot stove, I think of Christmas.
Versailles had two dentists, Dr. Otho Washburn and Dr. Roy Otten. Dr. Otten was our dentist and received his training from Dr. Mengele. He didn't use any pain-killer before drilling out cavities. I learned the meaning of dread when Mom would tell me I had an appointment. There was the sickening smell of cloves as I walked into the waiting room that drove me into my quiet inside panic. After going there ten years or so, he got a device that squirted water onto the area being drilled. The victim held onto the control button. Dr. Otten said that I should just squirt the water if it hurt. I sat on that button. I don't recall that it lessened the pain any. I didn't know that the rest of the world used Novocain until I was about 18. I'm sure it's the reason my teeth are so bad. Well, that and the fact that I didn't brush my teeth very much. And all that candy I ate.
During the summer, Mom and all the aunts and small cousins on the Lutman side would bring tin buckets with wire handles to the blackberry patch across the road from cousin Rachel Jones' house. Everybody would pick the big, bursting plump, glistening blackberries, fill their buckets, then take the buckets to a huge turkey roaster-size pan and empty their little harvest into the pan. Mom would give me a bucket and say, "OK, Bob, you pick some too. Then take your bucket to the pan and empty it. It's OK to eat some if you want to." I remember making the big decision on each blackberry, "Should I eat it or put it in the bucket?" I would put most in the bucket in the beginning, but by the time it was a quarter full, I'd be popping two in my mouth for every one in the bucket. Those berries were SO sweet. Blackberries are still best for me in a bowl, with sugar and milk. Much better than cobbler.
After picking blackberries during the day near Uncle Byron's, he would make homemade ice cream that night. The aunts would prepare the mixture of cream, sugar, eggs and whatever else they put in (It was always vanilla ice cream. Don't mess with success). The uncles would get the ice and the special salt and go to work on the manual crank. As one person cranked, another would watch the water-ice-salt mixture, and when it got down too low, would add salt and ice. I remember the liquid pouring out the holes on opposite sides of the bucket. I would stick my finger in the water, and it would freeze my finger. When the ice cream began to harden and it was almost impossible to turn any more, the men would pull out the cylinder and give it to the ladies. They would then take it into the kitchen, pull out the paddle, and give it to the kids hanging around to scrape off the ice cream (guess where I was). Then the aunts would dish up the fresh ice cream immediately. It tasted so good. My favorite part was that it would give you a wonderful pain right behind one of your eyeballs, it was so cold. Now, I've seen other people make homemade ice cream, take it out of the ice cream freezer machine, pack it into a container, and put it in the freezer to harden. To me that's like putting all the presents under the tree the night before Christmas, then saying, "OK, we're going to open these first thing New Year's Day." How can they wait?
Uncle Pete says that when I was small, I used to ask if I could "lick the bladder," meaning the paddle.
When I was very young, I had terrible asthma. Most of my relatives lived and worked on farms around Versailles, and in the summer, they would cut and bale hay. Fine debris floated through the air and it would lay me low if I was there. I loved to go out to cousin Melvin's and Paul Jr.'s but I wasn't allowed to go (and didn't want to) when the threshing was going on. Mom says when I was playing outside and got an asthma attack I would go grab her and say, "Mom, I'm breathing again." Then wonderfully, suddenly and without notice, my asthma was gone. I think it was around the fourth or fifth grade, and it never returned. I have since heard that it's pretty common for a person to "grow out of it." Daughter Shandra inherited my asthma as a baby and had to struggle with it. I think she too grew out of it.
Dad played the fiddle, Grand Ole Opry style - hoedowns and country. I was watching a concert on TV on a Sunday afternoon, when the violin soloist took center stage. Having just walked into the room, Dad said, "A fiddle wasn't MEANT to be played like that," and walked back out. Some of my earliest memories are of Dad, Uncle Byron (guitar and dobro) and Jess Hayes (guitar), getting together on Saturday night and playing. Oddly, I don't every remembering them singing. I loved to show off, and I would "dance a jig" as Mom used to say. I was always excited when the grownups got together to play music. On Saturday nights when they didn't get together, Dad would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, and when I hear country singers with just the right kind of voice, I am taken back to those nights - Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Little Jimmy Dickens. I think Dad wanted me or George to learn to play the fiddle, which we never did, but he was really tickled when I learned to play the guitar.
Versailles had hired a man to dig a hole in the street in front of our old South Oak Street house. He had a pick axe, as we called it, and it was a hot day, so he had on no shirt or T-shirt. He began swinging the pick down onto the pavement, and suddenly a small rock shot up and stuck him in the forearm, hitting an artery. I recall blood spurting up in the air like a water fountain. Mom ran out and put a tourniquet on it. The feeling I get when I recall seeing that blood is why my BROTHER was the doctor
When we were living in the old South Oak house, George made several rabbit traps - each a rectangular box with an inward swinging door, hinged at the top. But when the door swung out, it hit a stop - it only swung inward. Anyway, the deal was that you set the box in a field, put some carrots in it, propped the door open (in and up) with a stick. The rabbit smelled the carrots, went in to eat, knocked the door down behind him on the way in, then couldn't get out. The local feed store paid fifty cents apiece for live rabbits. I don't know what they did with them, but fifty cents then was like $5 or $10 today.
This story is so strange that I thought it was a dream until a couple of years ago when I told it to George. He says that it really happened: George and I were walking down the street Bill Washburn lived on - walking west, toward home. We were on the right side of the street, where the sidewalk goes over a little stream. George jumped off the sidewalk, down beside the stream and caught a fish with his bare hands. I believe it was a goldfish. And for all these years, I thought it was a dream.
One September day when we lived at the old South Oak house, Dad asked me if we got a new baby, would I want it to be a boy or a girl. What an exciting idea! "A girl," I decided after thinking for not too long. Dad said, "Well come in here and see your new baby sister, Shirley." She must have been really ugly - needing constant reassurance, because she claimed that Dad always told her that he liked her best.
During a visit to Missouri after Dad had his stroke and couldn't understand questions we asked of him, Shirley asked him the question directly. "Dad, you always liked me best, didn't you?" Now Dad had always been a diplomatic person and would, in reality, never have answered that question. But to our surprise, with a vigorous motion, he shook his head from side to side. We both burst out laughing. I guess his stroke was like a truth serum.
When we lived at the old South Oak house, there was a huge tree west of the house, and one summer night we heard a blood-curdling scream coming from outside. It scared me nearly to death. "What's that?" I gulped. We ran to the back screen door and listened. It came again, from high in the tree. Mom said, "It's a screech owl." We got a flashlight, shined it up into the tree and saw the little owl, me wondering how such a little creature could make such a scary noise. "Who, who, who are you?" we used to say, imitating the owls.
Mom and Dad had visitors over, a couple of times a week as I recall - Paul and Georgia (born sweet Georgia Brown, but we all called her Geor'-gee) Uptergrove, Earl and Millie Cooper, aunts and uncles. Everybody had kids for us to play with. We went to bed much earlier than the adults, so stuff was still going on after we were put away. I was always so afraid I'd miss something, that I'd sneak over and lie down by the door and listen to the conversation, falling asleep there.
We were in the old S. Oak house. It was a day or two before I was to start the first grade (I didn't go to kindergarten for reasons unknown to me. Maybe Versailles didn't have any kindergarten. Or maybe Mom knew I needed another year of playing. Or maybe we couldn't afford it). Mom placed me in a high chair outside the back door, and started cutting my hair with the manual hair clippers. The phone rang, she put down the clippers on the high chair tray, and went in to answer the call. What an opportunity to help Mom! I continued the haircut myself. Actually, I was only able to get one good lick right in the front before Mom got back.
I was the most naive kid in the entire world. God said, "OK, this time, let's make a kid who trusts everybody, for a little variety." In the first grade, there were no hot lunches, so Mom always made my lunch. One fall day she fixed me a ham and cheese sandwich with a banana, a cookie and a few jelly beans. Ooh, I was excited about those jelly beans. When we got to school, everyone put their lunch bags on one table. I was delayed a little at noon, and when I got to the lunch bag table, there were two bags left. Wanda Woodson picked up her bag, so I took the remaining one (no name on it of course, why would I need to do that?) and began to think about those jelly beans. I looked inside the bag and found three peanut butter sandwiches. I went to Wanda and had the following conversation. Me: "Did you have ham and cheese in your lunch bag?" Wanda: "Yes." "Did you have a banana?" "Yes." "Did you have a cookie?" "Yes." Me, getting more frustrated: "Did you have jelly beans?" Wanda: "Yes." I couldn't figure out how her mom had made her the same exact lunch my mom had made me, and where the heck did these peanut butter sandwiches come from? I ate one of the sandwiches and went out to play.
During a nighttime Missouri electrical storm, lightning struck Grandma and Grandpa Hilty's big red barn, below the farmhouse, and it caught fire. It burned all night. When it was apparent that it would burn down, the adults decided to stay up all night and have a "wake". I didn't know what that was, and thought it was strange and exciting that someone would stay up all night for anything. It was around this time that we moved up the street (south, but a few feet higher in elevation), to our 405 S. Oak Street home.
Sharon found a note in Mom's old Bible that said the barn burned on October 23, 1947.
From the back yard of the 405 S. Oak house, we could see the county fairgrounds. Dad did a lot of bird (doves and quail) hunting in those days with what we always called bird dogs. They were hounds. Anyway, the dog Dad had at the time was tied up in the back yard, near the porch. The porch was screened in and had a screen door entry. The night of July 4th, there was a fireworks display at the fairgrounds, which could be seen from our back yard by all of us, including the dog. He went crazy, and tried to chew his way through the closed screen door. We were in the porch at the time, and that dog chewed and chewed, cutting his mouth. I kept saying, "Why is he doing that?" but of course there wasn't any good answer. Dad took him away, and we never saw him again, so I guess he had him put to sleep. I have since learned that "why did it happen" questions will drive you crazy, but "how did it happen" questions will drive you sane - and that's what people really want to know anyway.
Each summer Uncle Paul would buy a huge number of young turkeys, which he would feed and raise until it was time to sell them for Thanksgiving markets. I had such power over them, as a kid of five or six. I would walk through the flock, and they would part, like the Red Sea, ahead of me, and then close up behind me. The really great thing was I would yell, "Gobble gobble gobble!" and the turkeys would repeat that about twice as loud and twice as long. They thought I was a turkey, which it turned out later, I was, according to lots of my friends. The wolves and coyotes were aware of these turkeys too, and at night would prowl the perimeter, looking for openings. So Uncle Paul would have to sleep with the turkeys. To do this, he used a purple Henry J, named for Henry J. Ford, and which, as you know, isn't built any more. He took the back seat out, and I would visit my cousin, Paul Jr. (Pauljunior, to me in those days, but Pete today). We would sleep with Uncle Paul for fun, and would wake up several times during the night to loud gobbles, and Uncle Paul shooting at a coyote or yelling to chase one away. The next morning, he might say, "Well, they got two last night." There were turkeys EVERYWHERE. During the natural course of driving in and out of the place, Uncle Paul or Aunt Mildred would accidentally run over one about once a week, so we ate a lot of turkey, which I liked. If you were driving, and they were around you, you had to go about one mile an hour, or you would run over about twelve.
I loved to show off for my aunts. There was a song written in or after World War II called "My Filipino Baby." Well you know what a little kid does with words he hasn't heard before - he turns them into words he has heard. Dad or Mom had bought me a little red and white ukulele at the dime store, and I would plunk that ukulele and sing "Oh, The Pig That Had No Babies..." For some reason unknown to me, my aunts would just howl.
We had a cute little basset hound when we lived at 405 South Oak for a little while. I don't remember our dog's name any more, but I do remember that he got accidentally run over and killed by a pickup driven by a friend of Mom and Dad's. The man felt awful. I don't think we had him very long before he was run over, so I didn't have time to get very attached to him.
When we moved to 405 South Oak, Mom had a small electrical water heater gadget that plugged into the wall, then you plunked into the bathtub water. It heated the water. Now a couple of things seem unusual. First, designing an electrical device to work by placing it into bathtub water doesn't seem very smart. And second, that seems to mean that we didn't have hot water in that house. Can that be?
Sometimes, Mom would be gone overnight for one reason or another, and I can remember being scared and Dad letting me sleep with him. But I'd be awakened in the night, with Dad saying, "Stop grinding your teeth." The first time that happened, I couldn't figure out what Dad was talking about. Next day I asked him, and he showed me. It didn't seem like such a big deal to me, but it really bugged him. Sharon says I still do it sometimes. Maybe I'm dreaming of eating oranges.
There were few couples as well-matched as my folks and the Uptergroves. They would get together to visit on Friday nights as I recall, alternating houses every other week. The Uptergroves had a TV before we did, and I remember watching the Friday night fights and Groucho in black and white. I can still remember that Gillette razor jingle - "To be sharp, dah duh daaah duh dah... ." Paul and Georgia would talk with Dad and Mom for hours and hours - just talk. They had three sons, one was a little older than brother George (James), one was two years younger than I (Roger) and one four years younger (Rodney), in sister Shirley's class I think. Roger and Rodney and I had great times together. We would sometimes play "Show," and when it was your turn, you had to think of a character, dress up, make up a plot, and act it out. They did that on "The Little Rascals" too. We also collected and traded baseball cards. Paul and Dad went fishing a lot, and every couple of months we would have a fish fry.
Dad was a great trap shooter. There is trap, where the dish, or clay pigeon as it is called, is flung generally away from you, and there is skeet, where the clay pigeons are generally flung from left to right and right to left in front of you. Dad's love was trap shooting. He bought a shotgun shell loader, and reloaded his shotgun shells from special powder and shot he would buy, then use his loader to pack them all together in a shell. This minimized expenses. He would go with his buddies, the Huff boys. They were generally carpenters and builders, but they loved to go trap shooting as much as Dad. In the earliest years that I can remember, Dad won several turkeys and hams by coming in first. In the later years, he got second a lot. I don't know if the competition got better, or more people started going. Sometimes Mom would bring us along to watch him, but it made Dad a little nervous and he usually didn't do as well.
There had been a school pageant for which Mom made me a helmet out of cardboard, with gold foil and a short brim, tall and fragile, but I loved it in my "This is so great" way. The next summer, Dad had a fishing trip planned for the family, to go to Gravois Mills and take a small boat out onto the lake. I asked Mom if I could wear my helmet, and she said to ask Dad. I asked Dad if it would be OK, and he got this disgusted look on his face as he looked down at me, said "Shit," and turned around and walked away. That was the first time I ever heard him swear (I believe there was only one or two other times). I guess he didn't think much of his son wanting to wear a sissy hat.
Wade Huffman, the bread delivery man, also had a side business of selling fireworks for the Fourth of July. And when everyone had bought theirs, he would have a display with the unsold ones, and invite us to watch. He even let us little kids shoot off sparklers and small firecrackers called ladyfingers. I recall looking into the side door of his van and seeing what I remember as hundreds of leftover fireworks.
A few years ago, during a visit to Versailles, I asked him if he remembered doing that and he laughed and said, "Yes, I probably did."
In Sunday School one day, George and his friend John Washburn were teasing me. George didn't do that much when we were alone together, so I think John was the instigator. Anyway, when I had had enough, I said to George, "I hope you go to hell." Being in church and all, that seemed appropriate, but as soon as I said it, I was sorry. I really hadn't meant it, but then I had to pretend I was in a huff.
One time I was visiting cousin Melvin and he showed me this marvelous thing called a cattle prod. It had a very strong battery in it, and was used to move cattle along when they didn't want to go. I suggested we get a couple and poke the pigs. What a dork I was to talk Mel into doing something he would clearly never do on his own. If I caught a couple of little kids using a cattle prod on my pigs, I'd be furious. I'm a little sorry to say that we didn't get caught.
On the east side of cousin Rachel Jones' house, there was a green, wooden, four-person sliding swing. Picture a rectangle made of four sides, but whose angles are not fixed. If you anchor the top side, the other sides can move around, but the side opposite the fixed side will stay parallel to the fixed side (Explanation not patented). The wonderful thing about the design was that the floor stayed horizontal no matter how high you went, which challenged us to verify that fact. I remember swinging on that for hours and hours with cousins Bill Lutman and Rachel Jones.
One summer at Uncle Paul's, we were sitting around the dinner (noon) table, when I noticed a calf standing near its mother, but it seemed to be bleeding. "Look at that calf. It's bleeding!" I yelled. Uncle Paul laughed and said "Clara had her calf." I thought we would all run out to see it, but that was apparently a common event and we just kept eating.
When kittens are born, they are all the same, but I can tell you, if they aren't handled by people a little before they are about six weeks old, they are just midget lions. Boy, are they fierce. A mother cat had a litter of kittens inside an old threshing machine near the barn, and Uncle Paul couldn't get to them. The mother cat would not let them come out, protecting them. Or maybe it's just that they can't walk and so don't come out. Anyway, being curious, the kittens finally got old enough to find their own way to the outside where we kids found them playing. We managed to catch a couple, but these balls of fury were NOT cuddly kittens. They hissed and spat and clawed and bit like you can't imagine, until we had to drop them. I was so scared and angry at my kitten of fury, that I threw him at the threshing machine to get him off of me, and it didn't seem to bother him a bit. He ran into his hideout in the thresher. I would see that little gray ball of spitfire every once in a while, but we had an agreement. We steered clear of each other from then on.
I've seen kids do this lots of times. I wonder what it is that makes it so much fun. When I was small, I loved to pretend to be asleep. I think I wanted to see if people would talk about me. Even when Dad picked me up to take me home or put me to bed from the living room, I'd still pretend to be asleep. And the most fun was when someone said, "Do you think he's really asleep or just playing possum?"
Since Dad was a truck driver, when his vacations came, guess what he did NOT want to do - go on a family, driving vacation. Once in a while, though, we would drive to Marshall to visit Aunt Dessie (Dad's sister) and her family. We would stay late and Dad would drive back in the night, usually in the summer. Quietly and gradually, I would crack the window down to let the wind blow into the car. You see, my folks couldn't tell I was doing it, because I did it so gradually. Clever little kid, huh? The idea was to get cold in the wind so I could burrow under a coat or blanket to get warm. This ritual of getting cold so I could get warm is a basic desire I have always had, and I still love to do it. There is some feeling of security and warmth that goes down to my very center.
I can remember waking up some mornings at the 405 South Oak house, and my eyes would be glued tightly shut. I couldn't open them for anything. Mom would warm some milk up, bring a wash cloth, and dab the cloth dipped in milk on my eyelids. This would slowly break up the stuff keeping my eyelids stuck together, and I could get on with the job of playing. CRYING ON MY HOMEWORK One day in the first grade, I forgot to bring my writing paper from home. We had to write some sentences, but I didn't have any paper, so I started crying. My teacher, a pretty woman named Mrs. Stockton, asked why I was crying and I babbled that I didn't have any paper. She said not to cry and asked the girl sitting next to me if she would lend me a sheet of paper. When she did, I continued to cry, making wet spots on the paper where my tears dropped. Mrs. Stockton said, "Bob, why are you crying now?" Well, I really didn't know, but my answer was that I was crying because I was getting tears on my writing paper.
In the first grade, we had to count to two hundred on paper, writing down each number. I figured out that when you got to the one hundreds, you could just make one long pencil mark from the top of the page to the bottom, and use that as the "one hundred and..." number on every line. This put me ahead of everybody else in the unspoken race to finish first, until Mrs. Stockton walked past my desk, saw what I was doing, and said, "No, Bob, you can't do that. You have to write each 'one' separately." So I had to throw away my short cut and start at one hundred again. But I didn't cry.
I can remember hobos, who we also called tramps, wandering by. Occasionally one would come to the back door and ask if we could spare something for him to eat. Mom would usually make some soup. We would watch in wonder as he ate and then went on his way. What a strange life. Then we kids heard the rumor that there is some kind of communicating between hobos - some way that they marked a house if they got something to eat there. Other hobos would come by the house, see the sign, know that the people had given out food before, and so they would stop and ask there. We spent hours trying to find what kinds of signs they used, but we never found any.
Grandpa Hilty built a slide for us grandkids. It was made out of wood and stood right next to a tree, on the north side of the house. It wasn't slick at all, in fact if you sat on it, sometimes you would slide down and sometimes you would just stick. I don't know if that was determined by the humidity or our clothes or what. But the design, you see, was that Grandma saved all of her wax bread wrappers. We would ask Grandma for a wrapper, climb the slide steps, maneuver into position where we were about to go down, then stick the wrapper under our butt, and slide down. Of course, two times out of three you would slide off the wrapper and just stick there. And if you were successful at it, you'd wear a hole in the wrapper after several good trips down. It wasn't a very long slide, but when we were really little, that didn't matter.
When school got around to the second grade, they had hot lunches available, if you could afford them, which we could. Anyway, you got in line, got a tray, went past the cooks who would dish stuff out to your tray, then you would go sit at a table with your buddies. Once every two weeks, they made this scrumptious mixture of peanut butter and honey that they would put on the tables. You were supposed to take a knife, and spread some of it on a piece of bread, so that a cereal-sized bowl would last about 10 or 20 kids. Well, everybody was so nuts about that stuff, that you would just gob it out, and every third kid had to take back the empty bowl to get it filled again. Man, that stuff was great.
I loved the school's potato salad. Either I was sitting with buddies who didn't want it much, or I was trying to be cool (as in "dork") and eat everybody's, and I somehow accumulated about two quarts of potato salad. I ate as much as I could, eating slower and slower, until I couldn't eat any more. And I didn't eat any more till I was 35. I still don't like it very much.
In the second grade began the spelling bees. About once a week, we had one. I was born with a natural spelling talent, and I won most of them. There was a girl named Paula (not her real name) who was painfully shy. She was up, and the word was "eye". She was silent, so the teacher tried to encourage her. She still wouldn't speak. Then the teacher said, "How about 'I', like 'I am going to town?' " Still no peep. In the third grade, Miss Kidwell had a remedial group for people who did poorly in the trial test on Tuesday. Then if they got all the words right on the final test, Friday, she even gave them a candy bar! I had never missed a word in any spelling test, but I knew how to get a candy bar. So I purposely misspelled three words out of fifteen in the trials, expecting to go to remedial study. Nothing happened! What a gyp. And the hardest thing I had done was to try to figure out how to misspell pumpkin (I used pumkin).
In 1951, there was a big flood down at the Lake of the Ozarks. The fishing dock was under about a foot of water. Sunday, after church, we drove down to the lake, and somebody invited me to fish. Mom rolled up my church pantlegs, and I waded out to the end of the dock. I remember catching quite a few bluegill, and thinking what a strange situation, where I'm in the water with the fish while I catch them. One could just swim right up to me, and I could put my hook in front of him and he could try for that worm right there. It never happened that way though. They only went for the bait down deep where they usually were anyway.
On the trip from West Lawn to grade school and back, we walked near Thurston's, and we'd stop in almost every day after school. This was a beat-up candy store run by a wonderful black man. You could buy many different kinds of candy for a penny. We bought jawbreakers, licorice, taffy, gum, candy corn, baseball cards, mints and pieces of our childhood memories.
There was a woman and a boy who lived next door to us in the 405 South Oak house, before the Haynes' moved in. Recalling the ages, I would say she was his grandmother. When you're that age, you never think about such strange concepts as whether a kid's name is unusual, or whether he looks funny. If he played, he was okay. Aubry Depew ... was older than George, as I recall, and a little slow, although I didn't know it at the time. He was just Aubry Depew. He tried to enlist in the army once, and came home very excited. "They almost took me. They said I had to brush up on only one subject - general knowledge. I'm going to study that and try again."
Brother George said that Aubry built a glider on top of our garage. It was a 2x6 attached to the top of an old wash tub. He was going to glide to the fairgrounds, which was about half-a-mile away. Aubry didn't have any problems with imagination .
In the third grade, I discovered that I could draw two things - birds and horses' heads. Miss Kidwell encouraged me with these drawings. I thought I had a great talent, but have since learned that I am not a very good artist. Things looked up though when computer-aided drawing came along. I can make much better looking drawings, although they are more like cartoons.
The week before Halloween, each grade - one through eight - would select five kids to design a scene, and get off school a half day to use special, washable paint to paint the scene onto one of the town's store windows. I was voted to be an artist in the third grade, and I asked Mom to help design a scene. It had a farmer's field, some corn shocks, a fence and gate, and a black cat sitting on each fence post from which hung the gate. A witch flew across the moon on her broom. Well, guess who won the prize that year, beating the eighth graders! Way to go, Mom.
One of my buddies was a year younger - a kid named Alson (All'-sun) Root. In Missouri, I grew up pronouncing this word to rhyme with foot, not boot. After my years in California, the foot-rhyming version sounds funny. When I was very young, and Mom would talk about something that happened before I was born, I'd say, "Was that when I was still running around up in heaven with Alson?" And Mom would say, in a similar manner to my wife, Sharon later, "Yes, dear." Alson had a talent for memorizing the heighth and weighth, as he called them, of every baseball player, from their baseball cards. Alson and I would get into arguments, and would never want to see each other again. I'd come home and say I never wanted to play with Alson again. But he'd come over or I'd see him, and we'd just start playing again. One time he said he'd stick his thumb down my throat till I choked if I didn't do whatever it was he wanted me to do at the time. Well, he did just that, and I suddenly got this terrific idea. I bit him. Boy was he upset that I wasn't playing fair. But these small episodes never got in the way of us remaining great friends.
One of my great memories was going to the Saturday afternoon movies, for a dime in the beginning. The Royal Theater was on the town square. There were westerns, with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Durango Kid. Cavalry movies with the scouts and the Indians. There were war movies. There were Arabian movies - it seemed always with Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie. There were the Three Stooges. And there were the 3-D movies where you had to wear cardboard glasses with one blue lens and one red lens. If the movie was going to be a western, we'd ride our "stick horses" to town. A stick horse was a small straight limb from a tree -about an inch and a half in diameter at one end, and a half inch at the other. We'd tie a string or some twine around the thick end for the bridle. You straddled the stick, holding onto the bridle, and galloped along. When we got near the theater, we'd hide all our horses in a drain running under the street, so they wouldn't be stolen. Then when we'd get out, everybody would call out who they were. "I'm Roy Rogers and my horse is the fastest." "I'm Gene Autry, and I get two guns." After a cavalry movie, I'd say, "I'm the scout." I hated to follow the rules and be like everybody else. I wanted my own hours, with no dress code - to be independent. Hey, like now.
Before the new, straight road was cut to Gravois Mills, there was a terrible, winding road on which many high school kids died in the days before seat belts. On the way to the lake, there was a gravel road that turned off to the right and led to a concrete slab crossing a creek, poured just like the driveway of a house, except for one thing - it was about two inches under water all the time. When Dad drove over it, I was always sure he would miss the slab and drive off into the creek. The downstream side was a lot deeper than the upstream side. Anyway, the upstream side was all gravel with a few deep areas, so you mostly waded and flopped around there. There were always rumors of poisonous water moccasin snakes, but I don't think I ever saw one. Anyway, this swimming hole was known as "The Slab." On a hot day, Mom would say, "Do you kids want to go to The Slab?" "How about El Rancho?" we'd say. "We can only go to The Slab today," Mom would say. And we'd be off. El Rancho was a REAL swimming pool near Eldon, with turquoise-painted walls and chlorine to sting your eyes. But the Slab had a certain smell to it - the smell of the sycamores I think.
This happened before I was in the fifth grade, because I can remember temptations near the 405 South Oak house. Dad had said that if I didn't smoke till I was 21, he'd buy me... . I can't quite finish the sentence, because I remember it that he said "anything you want." But he must have said "something you want." Anyway, in my mind, this was the greatest thing in the world. All I had to do was not smoke. Easy. What Mom and Dad didn't know when I was young was that I couldn't lie. No such thing as smoking and denying it. That thought never entered my mind. I just couldn't smoke because then I'd have to tell. Guys would say, "Hey, Bob, have a cigarette," up in a tree house, and I'd say, "I gotta go, see you later." In other words, I was a weenie. Then when I got into late high school and early college, I came to appreciate that Dad got me past the temptation years, so that I could objectively decide for myself about smoking. I think he was really smart to do this, and I was very grateful, but I don't think I ever said that to him. Anyway, I came home from college one weekend as a senior, having just turned 21. Dad reminded me of the promise by asking what kind of cigarettes I smoked (George was a smoker at the time). I said I didn't smoke but I had tried a grapevine and about a half a cigarette once, but didn't like them. He said, "Well, those don't count. As long as you don't have the habit."
I already had the world's greatest car, a 1960 Ford Falcon (later judged to technically be the worst car ever made), so I wanted a guitar. Dad said he'd buy me a new Martin or buy Uncle Byron's Epiphone Recording guitar. This was tough. I REALLY wanted a new Martin D18, but I figured Dad wanted me to have the Epiphone. Then I figured I had all my life to get a new Martin, but Uncle Byron's guitar was a once in a lifetime shot. So I asked for it. It has a script B on it, which I always thought was for Byron. But it turned out that a drummer (as Grandma Lutman called a traveling salesman) sold it to Uncle Byron many years earlier and it already had the letter on it. The pegs are loose, and when I play that guitar, it gets out of tune quickly.
For a gift a few years ago, Sharon took it to a guitar craftsman who refinished it for me, and I still have it. It's gorgeous.
It's not my best guitar to play, but it has the best story. Now the B stands
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Uncle Bert Lutman was Grandpa Lutman's brother. I don't remember Grandpa Lutman - he died when I was too young. Uncle Bert and Aunt Mabel lived in this house out in the country, and we would go to visit them occasionally. I remember taking toys to play with, and when I played over in this one corner of the house, balls and cars wouldn't stay where I put them. If you pointed them in the right direction, they would roll right down to the corner of the room. I was always a little uncomfortable in that house. I thought Uncle Bert was the world's biggest complainer, but in my travels around the world, I've come to learn that he was only in the top 3%.
Dad went fishing for different kinds of fish at different times. One of my favorites was catfish. Mom fixed them for supper and they were tasty, as my friend Dave Jones says. One such trip Dad caught a huge catfish, I think fifteen or twenty pounds, and put him in a tub outside in back of the house. I had often heard people say, "Wow, it's a whopper," and I copied them, but with the word I thought they were saying. I got a stick with a string, and dropped the string into the tub with the catfish. Then I'd pretend to catch him, saying, "Wow, it's a flopper."
The summer of the year before the fourth grade, Fannie Hibdon lived across the street and up a little bit (in this case, south, but a few inches higher in elevation). She was much older, probably 12 or 15. Anyway, she was shooting off bulldogs - barrel-shaped firecrackers about the same power as a cherry bomb. She lit one but it didn't go off. She cut it open with a knife, spilled out enough powder to light onto the sidewalk, and take the flame into the firecracker. She said, "Hey Bob, do you want to shoot off one?" Wow, me? You bet. "OK," she said, "just stick this match up against this black powder." Lemme at it, lemme at it. WHOOSH. My right hand was engulfed in this thing like a flame-thrower for about one second. I was stunned, as I was left looking at a black, charred shape where my hand was before (It couldn't have been as bad as my memory). Fannie ran into the house and got her mom, who led me out to an old shed behind their house. She took me to a coal oil stove, where there was a reservoir of coal oil in one corner of the stove. She took my hand and soaked it in the oil. Huh? I was still in shock. She said, "That should take care of it," and sent me home. It was as I was walking across the street to home that I finally burst into tears, and went into the house screaming. Mom took me to Dr. Washburn, who gave me a shot and bandaged my hand. Well, I immediately figured that this would take a long time to heal, and come September, I would go into the fourth grade with this cool bandage, and have to say, "Sorry, Mrs. Jones, but I can't do any homework. I almost burned my hand off. Sorry." Giggle giggle. The hand healed before August.
There was a little kid who lived up the street who had about a million comic books. Every time we saw him, he had been eating marshmallows and had white all around his mouth. We'd say, "What are you eating?" and he'd say "Pashmallows." So that was his name.
In the old 405 South Oak house, the family was eating supper around the table and I kicked off my shoes. My guess is that one hit Dad's leg. "You'd better not take your shoes off at the supper table," he said. "Gulp," I gulped. How to get my shoes back on without attracting attention? Then it came to me: "I saw a baby owl under the table. I'm going to see what he's doing." What a neat cover story! I got down under the table, retrieved my shoes, put them on and climbed back to my seat. "He's gone now," I said. And they never knew.
Our next door neighbor, Ted Haynes, had a sewage draining truck. He would empty people's septic tanks, and then take that to who knows where, and dump it. His truck had all sorts of compartments and gadgets on it. One night, he got a couple of cattails, and dipped them in one of his containers, which was filled with gasoline. Then he lit the cattails, and did a fire eating act. He'd put one up to his mouth and blow, and a huge flame would shoot out. It was so cool.
In the 405 South Oak house, Mom gave me a dollar and said I could spend fifty cents at the fair - carnival, actually. So off George and I went. We walked the distance of a half mile or so. I loved the cranes, with all those terrific things waiting to be picked up with the claw, including a small plate of coins. Why, with just one scoop, you could pick up a dollars worth! I spent my fifty cents and then I spent Mom's fifty cents. When it was time to go home, my thoughts revolved around how to tell Mom about the money. I couldn't lie, so I had to be pretty clever and use some misdirection. I finally got the plan together. When George and I approached the railroad tracks, I made sure to get ahead of him, and "stubbed" my toe on the tracks, pretending to fall down. "What are you doing," yelled George, as Wally might say to the Beaver. "I tripped," I said. "You did not, you did that on purpose," he said. "I did not, I tripped," I said. When we got home, Mom said, "OK, how about my change?" I felt in my pockets and said, "I tripped on the railroad tracks coming home, and maybe they fell out of my pocket then," hoping she would see how, yes, that could happen. Instead she said, to my amazement, "You spent it all, didn't you Bob?" "Yes," I said, in all my deviousness. How could she know?
What if everybody in the world was like I was as a kid. No lies, only the truth:
Judge to lawyer: "Did you screw your client out of all his money?" Lawyer:
Buyer to used car salesman: "Is this a good car to buy?" Used car salesman: "No."
United Nations to Iraq: "Did you unfairly ambush Kuwait, murder and pillage?" Iraq: "Yes".
District Attorney to O.J. Simpson: (You can do this one.)
Einstein's mother when he misbehaved as a child: "What were you THINKING?" Albert: "E = mc2."
When Uncle Pete was a bachelor, and was teaching college, he would occasionally come back to Versailles and stay with one of his brothers or sisters for the weekend. Those were exciting times because Uncle Pete was always full of vigor, stories, challenges or suggestions of fudge-making. He told George that if he wrote a proper essay, he would give him a quarter. I heard this, and especially noticed that George got his quarter. "Hey, I can write an essay too," I said. So Uncle Pete said, "OK, Bob, write an essay about how to climb a tree." "Wow," I thought, "this is going to be easy. I climb trees like a monkey!" So I got out a pencil and piece of paper. After thinking and thinking for a good two minutes, I wrote something like this: "First, you put your right hand up. Then you put your left hand up. Then you put your right foot up. Then you put your left foot up. Then... ." You get the idea. I got a pitty dime and a good chuckle from Uncle Pete.
I love oranges. I would eat four or five a day as a boy. One November or December before I was in the fifth grade, Mom had just gone shopping and bought a dozen oranges (as I recall. Surely it was a half dozen). They were especially good apparently, because I ate them ALL before dinner. A couple of hours after dinner, Dad asked me to bring him an orange the way he always called me, "AwBob," pronounced as one word, with the accent on the first syllable (aw'-bob). He sort of started the "aw" quietly, and made it louder toward the end of the "aw'" then followed with "Bob" at a lower volume. "Well," I said truthfully, "we don't have any." Mom said, "Yes we do, I just bought some today." So I had to finally answer the question, "Did you eat them all?" with the only answer I could ever think of, "Yes." My punishment was unbelievably harsh, I was rationed to two oranges a day.
When I was out at Grandma Hilty's in the summer of 1952, I heard a man on the radio say the word "Eisenhower." That name just sort of tripped off my tongue, and I loved it. I said it over and over. This was in the days before polls and predictions.
On the night of November 4, 1956, my cousins Janet Gerber and Loretta Hilty, both George's age, came to our house to watch the election returns late into the night, until a winner was declared (Eisenhower's successful bid for re-election). If I was in the fourth grade, they were in the eighth grade. That was the most fun evening - watching the election returns in black and white, eating popcorn, drinking Pepsi and listening to my brother and cousins talk about politics, Eisenhower and world events.
On my birthday in the fourth grade, I wanted a particular black plastic horse, with a removable saddle - the horse standing about ten inches high. I REALLY wanted it, and told Mom and Dad. They said there wasn't much money, and that I needed some clothes because of the upcoming winter. After dinner the night of my birthday, Mom said, "Well, Bob, why don't you go get your new green coat in the living room, bring it in here and let's look at your birthday present."
I was really frosted. I stomped into the living room, grabbed the hanger on which hung my coat (it was lying on the couch), and jerked it off the couch as I turned to stomp back into the kitchen. I hadn't turned on the lights in the living room, but could see by the light shining through the door from the kitchen well enough to get around. I heard this awful sound, of something sliding out from inside the coat, and bouncing across the living room, hardwood floor. I thought, "What's that?" and turned on the light, seeing my new black plastic horse lying on the floor, with the saddle thrown off about a foot away. I ran over to see if it was broken, and to my great relief, the horse and saddle were OK. I played with that horse and saddle for years and years. Later I got a smaller white one with a cowboy who sat on the horse, and a cowboy hat that sat on the cowboy. That had more playability, but the black horse was my favorite.
My favorite Christmas gift as a kid was something Mom made me. She loved working with wood, and created "Bobby's Farm." This consisted of a red barn with a green roof and a drop-down hay door, a white house with a script B on the chimney, several sections of white fence, and several animals made out of wood, painted and given sturdy bases so they would stand up. When I added all of my cowboys and Indians and horses, I had the world's greatest play set.
Years later, when she was in Kidwell's Boarding home, she asked me, "Bob, what was your favorite Christmas gift?" With no hesitation I said "Bobby's Farm," and Mom twinkled and said, "Oh, I was hoping you'd say that."
George collected baseball cards before I did, but at Christmas in 1952 or '53, he did a truly incredible, wonderful thing. He wrapped up a cigar box containing his baseball cards, and gave them to me as a gift. They were 1952 Topps cards, including the most valuable card of the entire Topps series - the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card. In those days it was just a nice card. It's a funny card, with a camera shot from the ground looking up at Mickey. He's holding a bat that's an incorrect yellow color. Maybe all those things are what made the card so unique. A few years ago (about 1988 or so), I got very interested in baseball cards again, but only 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1957 Topps variety. I think I have all the '53s, '56s and '57s, but I sold the 1952 because they are so expensive and I only have memories of a couple of the cards. By the way, the 1952 Mantle card, which Mom threw away after I went to college, and she assumed was junk, is now worth about $25,000. That's because all the other moms of all the other boys threw theirs out too.
The area of Versailles which included our 405 South Oak house was called West Lawn. Across the street was this huge, huge tree - a sycamore I think, and the picture in my mind when I wrote an essay for Uncle Pete once. By nailing a couple of boards to the trunk, we could get up to the climbing part of the tree. I found an old, broken kitchen chair from which I removed all the legs. There was just a seat and back. I tied a rope to it, climbed the tree and pulled the "tree chair" behind me. When I got it up, I found two sturdy limbs about 18 inches apart, and tied the chair into that location, in a 45 degree reclining position. What a life, sitting back in my chair, and feeling the tree blow back and forth in the strong breezes. That would scare Mom. Maybe that's one reason why I loved it so much - to show how brave I was. We would rig baskets and bring up lemonade, our baseball cards, magazines, anything we could think of. But no cigarettes.
Uncle Ed and Aunt Dorothy Baumgartner lived on a farm with a huge barn. There was a gravel and dirt ramp which led from ground level up into the main level of the barn, which was in reality the second story. At either edge of the ramp were concrete walls perhaps six inches thick. You could start at ground level, and walk up the wall, just like a very narrow sidewalk, to the entrance to the barn. Or you could lead their horse over to the ramp, walk her BESIDE the ramp while YOU walked UP the ramp, until you could jump on her back. Just like Roy Rogers. I did this, then sat on her till I remembered what the cowboys did in the movies. I kicked my heels in, and then she took off like Secretariat. I remember hanging on with my arms tight around her neck, my legs bouncing from left to the right side and back as she raced around the barnyard. She finally got tired of running before I got tired of holding on. She slowed down, and I somehow got off. Thus ended my horse race riding career.
I told this story to Aunt Dorothy a year ago and she told me the name of the horse, but I've forgotten it. Ol' Bess or Ol' Babe - something like that.
The older boys taught me a game with a pocket knife, in which you basically flip the knife, making it stick in the dirt. But you use a progressively more difficult throw each time, and the idea is to go through the whole thing without "missing". For example, to start off, you place the point of the knife on the thumb of your left hand (don't press too hard, now), standing the knife straight up on your finger, and putting a LIGHT pressure on the handle end with the first finger of your right hand. Then you quickly flip the knife so that it does a complete 360 degree rotation, through the air, and sticks into the ground. I got pretty good at it, but don't remember the steps now. I know you went through the ten fingers, then you did your left wrist, elbow, and shoulder, and then the right ones. I think you did your chin and nose. Can that be?
Dad liked to be a little mysterious. One fall day when I was in about the seventh grade, Dad said, "Come on, Bob." I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "Get in the car." Well I thought I had done something wrong, and I tried to think what it was as I rode with Dad into town. He, as usual, was silent. We stopped at the Versailles Hardware Store, which was right next to the Royal Theater.
There was a spot I liked, in between the two establishments, where you could stand and see three signs at the same time - General Hardware, Sargent Paint, and Private Keep Out.
We went in and Dad bought me a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. Just like "A Christmas Story." It had a wooden stock and an over-and-under barrel arrangement, where the top, large diameter barrel was the gun itself, and the lower, smaller barrel was where you loaded the BBs. I would target-practice by the hour all around the house. After several years, the gun broke, or I left it out in the rain or something, and eventually I bought a replacement. The new one had a stock made of plastic. Within a few months the stock cracked. It wasn't the same as the wooden-stock gun, but it served the purpose anyway.
Now what the BB gun was all about was shooting sparrows sitting in the trees around the house. Shooting robins (and some other birds) was against the law, I was told, so I was never to do that. And I never shot my eye out, although two half-brothers in my class almost shot an eye out. One kid had this little bump under his eye where he said his brother, Tommy Joe Turner, accidentally shot him. The BB lodged there, the skin grew over and he had this great bump to show the rest of us. I remember sliding my forefinger over the bump in awesome wonder.
There was a motel in Eldon, about 17 miles to the east, which had a swimming pool. The motel was called the El Rancho. To Shirley and me, the El Rancho was the pool, not the motel. I don't think at the time that I even knew it was also a motel. Anyway, this pool was TURQUOISE and had a DIVING BOARD. Unbelievable. Way cooler than The Slab. One Sunday afternoon we were there with Uncle Paul and cousins Paul Jr. and Phil and their sisters. The adults were all talking when suddenly, somebody yelled, "Phil fell in." I don't think he could walk yet. I remember him being under a long time. Uncle Paul ran over and jumped in with all his clothes on, yanking Phil out of the water. Phil gasped and coughed. He was fine, and I always wonder how he held his breath for so long.
The house at 405 South Oak had a basement, as did most Versailles houses. The main part of the house was constructed so that you could run through the rooms in a complete loop if all the doors were open. I remember being in the old South Oak house when I entered the first grade, and I remember moving out of the 405 South Oak house the summer between the fourth and fifth grades, so we must have lived there about three years. We rented this house, while Mom and Dad saved money to buy the Jefferson Street house. I remember Saturday night country music in the living room; the black plastic horse birthday present in the dining room, the "baby owl" under the kitchen table, George's model airplanes hanging from the ceiling of our bedroom, the electric plug-in bathtub water heater, grinding my teeth while sleeping with Dad, the bird dog trying to chew his way through the back screen door, the wonderful fresh tastes in Mom's garden directly behind the house, the catfish Dad caught and kept in a tub a couple of days in the back yard, and burning my hand at Fannie Hibdon's on the Fourth of July. I remember George's baseball card Christmas gift, Mom's gift of Bobby's Farm, our stark family photograph on the living room couch, and the radio in the living room where Dad listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights when he and Uncle Byron didn't play live music.
In the summertime, evenings were really hot inside the house, and we boys used to sleep outside to keep cool. We lived next door to Ted Haynes, his wife Ruth, son Teddy and daughters Donna and Gerry. The parents' bedroom window faced our house. One summer night George, Teddy and I decided to sleep outside. In my endless quest for coziness, I decided to take a cardboard box, open at one end, put half of my bedding inside and half outside the big box. The pillow and my head would go inside the box. Then I got a rug and draped it over the box opening, put rocks on top so the rug wouldn't slide off, thus making myself a privacy curtain. I opened my new curtain in the early evening so I could listen to George and Teddy talk. While we were laying there, Ted called out of their bedroom window. "Hey did you guys hear about the black panther that escaped from the circus over at Eldon (about 17 miles away, but now seeming like 100 yards)? It was last seen heading towards Versailles." "Gulp," was all I could manage. We decided to sleep outside anyway, or rather George and Teddy did, so I had to too. I finally dropped my curtain and went to sleep.
I awoke in the early morning hours, about five or six, to some scratching against the outside of the box. I immediately froze, "Uh oh, what's that?" I held my breath and waited for him to go away. I eventually got up nerve to edge back a corner of the rug, hoping to see a white cat or a brown dog. What I saw stopped my heart - black legs! I quickly dropped the curtain corner. I couldn't move, my heart now pounding. Then I heard him walk away, then stop, perhaps 10 or 15 feet away. I decided to make a run for the house. I peeled back a corner of my curtain and before I could jump out, I saw the Haynes' black terrier, who had escaped from their house. Heck, I knew that's what it probably was.
During the summer between the fourth and fifth grade, in 1953, Dad bought
the house at 511 N. Jefferson St. on the eastern edge of town. I was excited
because I was going to be right next door to Paul White, a classmate of mine.
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