VERSAILLES GRADE SCHOOL
FIFTH THROUGH EIGHTH GRADE

MOVE TO JEFFERSON STREET

After renting apartments and houses all our lives, Dad made enough money to buy us a house. I was ten, George was fourteen and Shirley was five. He paid $5000 in cash to Charlie Allen - Phyllis Allen's grandpa. Phyllis was in my class, and she was cool because she liked Mickey Mantle too. In fact, she had gotten his autograph in Kansas City once. She lived right next door in the basement of a house that didn't get completed (or even started) during the entire time they lived in it. Her dad (Charlie's son) was named Mutt Allen. How do you get a name like Mutt? There was a cartoon called Mutt and Jeff - Jeff was short and Mutt was tall and skinny, hey, just like Mutt Allen. Charlie was a widower and rumor had it that he cleaned the kitchen floor (linoleum) by bringing in the garden hose, and spraying the floor, aiming the water generally towards the back door. I wish I could have seen him do that before we moved in. It was (and is) a two story, white house with a red roof. When I think of home, this is the house I think of.

Brother George did this fine drawing of the house as it appeared around 1970.

THE LANDING AT OUR NEW HOME

When Dad took us over to see the Jefferson Street house, the summer we were going to move in, I first discovered the "landing." From the second floor, you walked down the stairs, and came face to face with a window and the wall. Then you had a choice of turning left, down into the kitchen, or right, down into the living room. What an incredible place to play. I played hours and hours with my toys on that landing. When we had a big family gathering, we kids would fill our plates up and eat on the landing or the stairs going up from it. After I left home for college, Mom and Dad closed off the stairs going into the living room and had a downstairs bathroom installed so they wouldn't have to go upstairs to go to the bathroom in the daytime. I was grateful for the downstairs bathroom when I visited, because of my Crohn's disease.

GEORGE'S SHORTWAVE RECEIVER IN THE CLOSET

Off one corner of our (George's and mine) upstairs bedroom was a long, narrow closet. This was George's closet. He bought a short wave radio receiving kit, built it, and strung up a wire to a nearby tree for an antenna. He then put two maps up on the wall - one of the world and another of the United States. He would listen to the radio at night, and when he heard the announcer tell the location, he would stick a pin in the map corresponding with that city. I used to look at those colorful maps with wonder, marveling at how that radio could pick up all those stations. And wonder about all the things people were doing at all those places.

WATCHING HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL WITH SKIP HUGHES

Skip Hughes and I used to go to the old high school and watch basketball games, long before I cared about who was winning. I think Mom would go, although I can't think why Mom would go to a high school basketball game. Anyway, Skip and I would sit right down by the edge of the court and watch these huge high school guys running back and forth, sweating and shooting. This was in the old High School, in town, where the gym was about three-quarter size, with overlapping back courts. We made fun of the basketball players. What dorks (us, not them)!

EASTER SUNDAYS

Mom continued the Easter morning tradition of her mom, I think, when she would have us make a "nest" out of our T-shirts, socks and pants on the couch or a chair on Saturday night. We'd make them look as much like birds' nests as possible. Then that night, Mom would put chocolate bunnies, dyed eggs and wonderful treats in our nests. Next morning, we'd race out to see what we got, take a couple of bites of candy, then go look for the hidden colored eggs around the house. After that, we'd go to Easter Sunrise Service, usually at the Baptist Church, as I recall, then go to our Presbyterian church for Easter breakfast, then Sunday School, then church. I would be churched out. After church, we would go out to Grandma and Grandpa Hilty's. We would have put our eggs in a basket, so we took them to the country, and pooled them with all the other uncles' and aunts' eggs. Then the teenagers would hide them all around the yard while the little kids stayed in the house. When the eggs were all hidden, the hiders would call us and we'd burst out of the house, looking for those pastel colored eggs. We'd do that over and over till everybody got tired of it and most of the eggs were cracked. The springtime grass was thick and green. I'll always have a picture of those brightly-colored eggs hidden in the deep green grass.

THE HILTY CHRISTMASES

A month or so before each Hilty Christmas, the aunts would put everybody's name in a hat and then go down the list, drawing another name to match. Then Mom would say to me for example, "You got Aunt Dorothy May's name." So come Christmas, I would buy only one gift - for Aunt Dorothy. Neat and clean and everybody gets a gift and nobody spends too much! The best Hilty Christmas, as far as gifts I received, was one year when Uncle Calvin drew my name. They couldn't come to Missouri just for Christmas, so they mailed us their gifts. Uncle Calvin gave me an erector set. I played with it for years. Then I moved to California.

The site of the Christmas get-togethers, usually the Sunday after Christmas, rotated among the Hilty aunts, uncles and Grandma and Grandpa's. One of my aunts would say to me during the course of the day, "Bobby, do you remember when you used to sing about the Pig That Had No Babies? You were so cute." And of course, I still am.

DAD'S BOILING WATER DRINK

Dad was a truck driver, and often went out on cold winter mornings. Most people would drink hot coffee. Not Dad - he boiled a pan of water, let it cool off a little, then picked it up by the handle, and drank that near-boiling water straight down. He said it was to keep him warm. Sharon told me recently that this is a common remedy for constipation, and that's probably what he used it for.

DAD'S SODA POP STRETCHOUT TECHNIQUE

Dad did this funny thing with a bottle of pop. He'd drink it half down, then go to the sink and add water to fill it up to the top. "It lasts longer," he'd say. Then he'd drink THAT halfway down, go to the sink and fill THAT up again. My Dad.

This reminds me of the difference between a mathematician and an engineer. A man is at one end of a sofa and his girlfriend at the other end. Every five minutes, he moves half of the remaining distance towards his girlfriend. The question is, what would you do? A mathematician gives up, knowing that although he will get ever closer, he will never reach his girl. The engineer keeps going, because he knows he will get close enough for all practical purposes. As you probably know, I'm an engineer.

RACING CARS DOWN THE COAL CELLAR ROOF

On the west side of the Jefferson Street house was the roof to the coal cellar, which was part of the basement. This coal cellar roof had a very pronounced slope, downward away from the house. I'd say it dropped a foot and a half over a span of about ten feet. It was covered with red asphalt shingle material, and overlapped so water would not leak in as it rolled down the slope. One of my favorite things was the free plastic car we got in a box of cereal - Post Grape Nuts. I hated that cereal, but I ate it so when it was empty, I could say, "Mom, we need more Grape Nuts." Then I would go with Mom and get a new box. Over a couple of years I think I collected twenty or thirty of these cars. And neighbor and classmate Paul White did the same. Then we'd organize races on the coal cellar roof to find the fastest car.

There were two kinds of races. The first kind was to get all the cars lined up behind a yardstick at the top, lift the yardstick and see which car got to the bottom first. It all had to do with how straight the axles were and how much play there was when the axle was snapped into its plastic holder at the factory. Anyway, the second kind, and the one I liked the best, was a tournament. That way it lasted longer and the suspense could build. If I had twenty cars, I'd have ten races, producing ten winners. Then I'd have five races, again two at a time producing five winners. Then, because the numbers didn't usually come out right, I'd usually do something like race two cars together, then three cars together to produce two finalists. Then it was time for the big showdown, the finals. And I'd have one winner, the fastest car of them all, and I'd think of it a little different from then on. Wow, what is it about this car that makes it so fast? Can I make the others this fast? I'd dink around with the axles of some of the others to see if they'd go faster, but it seems like they'd then go slower.

UNCLE ED'S TIMBER

Every Fourth of July, we had a picnic out at Uncle Ed's timber. It was a farm, but there was a part of the land covered with tall trees, or timber as everyone called that area. The wives would all cook and bake and bring the food - enough to cover two or three flat hay wagons. The church would buy a lot of soda, and fill a large tub with water and ice, and put the sodas, or pop as we called it in Versailles, into the icy water. Now that day was almost always as hot as a firecracker (a common Missouri expression), and nothing tasted as good as a cold root beer, unless it was four cold root beers. The area included some sloping ground, and the grownups would tie a heavy rope high into two trees - one at the top of the slope and one at the bottom. Then they'd hook a pulley onto it with a tire hanging down. You walked the tire back up to the top of the hill, got in and went for a ride. Heavy people would drag the ground, and light people would go crashing into the tree at the end. In fact, a girl broke her arm. Ah those Mennonites are a tough group.

There would also be several volleyball games, and a softball game, in which we used cow patties as bases (I made that up). There was a creek which flowed by and one year it was so dry that pools of water lay isolated, waiting for the rains (miniature Australian billabongs). I could see fish swimming in the pool, so I tossed a little rock in, and the fish all made a collective lunge at the "plunk". It was a kid's dream - and me without a fishing pole! No one else had brought one either. I tried to get a straight pin and bend it and use grasshoppers, but they kept falling off, and in the end I just looked down at those lucky fish and had another root beer.

HIDING FROM THE HEADLIGHTS OF PASSING CARS

Paul White, his little sister Connie, Phyllis Allen and I used to play this game where we would sit in the front yard of our houses at night - each with a blanket. When anyone saw the lights of an approaching car, they would yell and everyone would get under his or her blanket. The idea was that you had to be TOTALLY covered up when the car went past so he wouldn't see us, or rather, in kid language - NO light could touch you, your skin or any of your clothes, or you would DIE. As the game progressed, you had to start farther and farther from your blanket. Also, that's how I learned about chiggers.

IDENTIFYING ONCOMING CARS

Unbelievably, at one time there were few enough makes and models of cars that a young boy could recognize them all. The Uptergrove boys or Paul White or cousins Mel or Paul Jr. would come over and we would sit on the front porch and wait for the next car. Whoever identified it first got it. It's funny to think of that now, with all the different cars I see in California. As you can tell, we made up a lot of our own games.

COWBOYS AND INDIANS, TRIPS TO STOVER

I had a world class imagination, and would play hours and days on end with my toy cowboys and Indians - adding in my Lincoln Logs when I got them, and of course, Bobby's Farm. There was a store in Stover, about eight miles to the west, where Mom went to buy sewing supplies every couple of weeks or so, and often I would go along, and be allowed to buy another horse or cowboy or Indian. This was truly a special day, and I didn't realize it, but I was practicing for when I grew up and felt the same when the new Macintosh Software Catalog would arrive in the mail each month. I would make my purchase, at about a nickel or dime a toy ($50 for a new Mac Software purchase), and play with them in the back seat on the way home. Then I'd add them to my collection.

PARACHUTING OFF THE GARAGE ( A TOP 20 STORY)

When we first moved to the Jefferson Street house, there was a stand-alone ("detached," in California) garage about twenty or thirty feet from the house. I don't know why it was built so far away. Anyway, being a climber, I could get on top of it. I decided that I would make a parachute, so I got a sheet, tied the four corners together, and tied those corners to my shoulders in some way I can't remember. Then I climbed up on the garage and jumped UP and off the garage, expecting to float down. Well, I thumped to the ground hard because of the upward velocity I gave myself to start with. Then I asked Mom what was wrong with my parachute. I have all my life dreamed that I can float through the air. If I fell off a building, I'd remember WHILE STILL IN MY DREAM that I could float down like a feather, and then I'd relax and do that. But it didn't work off of that garage.

 



[Back to Favorite 20 List] [Next Story in Favorite 20 List]

APE ON THE BATHROOM FLOOR

The Jefferson Street bathroom upstairs had a light gray linoleum floor with sort of painted, speckled spots scattered all over it. There were no designed shapes - just random blotches on the bathroom floor. We had a small rug right in front of the toilet, to keep your feet warm in the winter, but if you edged the rug to the right about three inches, you'd uncover this ape or baboon shape. He was about three inches tall and two inches wide. I spent years looking at that baboon, wondering if he was put on their on purpose, to see if anyone would ever know. He was spooky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SLIDING DOWN THE STAIRS IN THE BOX

One time, the Uptergroves were over visiting, and I got a great idea. I went down to the basement and got a box whose length just covered three stairs. I figured that if I sat in the cardboard box and pointed it down the stairs, it wouldn't tumble, but would neatly slide down, because there would always be another stair to meet it. Well, you can't believe how well my idea worked. I went ZOOMING down to the landing at about twenty miles an hour, and scared the daylights out of myself, making a loud crash at the bottom. This brought the grownups of course, and Dad told me to sit in a chair for fifteen minutes and think about what I had done. I hated to have to be confined in the chair, especially when Roger and Rodney were over, so it was tough, serving my sentence.

 

 

TOAST AND COCOA

I didn't realize I was preparing for later in life, but my philosophy about breakfast was to find the best tasting breakfast I could, and then have it every day. That turned out to be toast and cocoa. Mom would make a pan of cocoa, and pour me a cup. Then she'd call upstairs and ask me, "Bob, how many pieces of toast do you want?" I'd check the "toast empty" meter in my stomach and say, "Four." Or two on a really light day, or six on a really hungry day. I loved the combination of the butter and the cocoa.

One day in high school I decided I needed to get out of my breakfast rut and have more variety. "Mom," I said, "Make me a fried egg with bacon and toast and a glass of milk." Wow, that was great, so I had that every day for about six months. Then I said to myself, "That's enough of this wild experimenting," and I told Mom to go back to fixing me toast and cocoa. I loved Friday nights, when there was no school the next day. Mom and Dad would go to bed early, and I would fix about four pieces of toast, but have it with milk, and I'd sit in front of our TV and watch Johnny Carson before going to bed at night. I'd dream about all the TV channels available in the Kansas City and St. Louis and think, "When I grow up, I'm going to live in a big exciting city, with lots of TV channels." Now I do, and have 80 channels, with all the movies you could imagine. But the traffic...

GENE EVERSON'S LAUGHING CONTEST

When I was in Mrs. Carson's sixth grade, I made a great friend. He was Gene Everson - red-headed Gene Everson. You wonder what it is that makes two kids become buddies. One day we decided instead of going outdoors for recess, we would sit in our seats in the classroom, all alone, and just laugh. We wanted to see if we could turn intentional laughing into real laughing. I laughed, and then Gene laughed - forced laughs. Then we did it again, then again, and still again. After about two minutes of this, I guess we began to think how silly it was to be doing this, and THAT was funny. Then we began to do that thing where you feed off of each other, and we were history. My sides started hurting, we rolled on the floor, jumped up and down, and yelled for the other one to quit it. No good. We were still laughing after ten minutes when everyone came back in. "What's so funny?" everyone said. "Nothing," we said. And that was funny, so off we went again.

WHITE STUFF

During a spring evening supper (Versailles had breakfast, dinner and supper. No lunch), I wanted some mayonnaise, but couldn't remember its name. "Pass the uh, uh, uh, pass the uh, that white stuff," I said. We all thought that was funny and from then on mayonnaise became White Stuff. I don't call it white stuff any more. I guess leaving home and going to college and California will do that to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIGHTNING STRIKES THE JEFFERSON STREET HOUSE

One night after everyone was in bed, an electrical storm passed over and lightning struck our house. It was incredibly loud. George and I got up, turned our light on and opened our bedroom door - finding Mom and Dad already up. There was light smoke in the air. "George, run outside and see if there is a fire on the roof," Dad said, and I followed George to the front door, through it and onto the porch while he ran out into the front yard in the rain to turn around and look at the roof. The grass was slippery and his feet went out from under him as he fell on his rear end to the wet ground. He jumped up, looked up, and ran back in. No fire. We traced the smoke to inside the refrigerator, in the back in the motor or wires. There was a tiny flame. Dad blew it out, and the refrigerator worked fine for many more years.

BOUNCING MARBLES OFF SHIRLEY'S HEAD

Sometimes kids' brains shut off. Mom went to the store for groceries and took sister Shirley and me. We rode in the back seat. Shirley was playing on the floor and I was sitting in the back seat when I spotted a marble. Now I can't remember the details, but it seems like I wanted Shirley to play with me or give me something she had, but she wasn't interested. So I bounced the marble off her head. "Ow, stop that," she said. "Give it here then," I said. "No," she said. "OK then," I said, and I bounced the marble off her head again. This went on for three or four more bounces, and would you believe it - Shirley started crying. Mom pulled the car over, I think, and asked me that terrible question moms and dads are famous for - "Why did you do that?" That question always paralyzed me. I must have been doing it for some reason, and I couldn't get out of the pickle until I thought of the reason. Um, uh, "She wanted me to," was what I came up with. This was not technically a lie, YET, because I didn't know for sure that Shirley DIDN'T want me to. But then of course, Shirley squelched that idea: "I did not."

 

 

TONGUE STUCK ON THE FREEZING FENCE

All year round, even during the winter, we'd walk to grade school most days from our Jefferson Street house. It was probably about a mile or so. There was one place where we had an option of making a left turn at any one of three streets. The first one went down into a shallow valley, then back up again. Two of the houses near the bottom had wire fences around them - I guess to keep dogs in. Or kids out. One cold morning, we were walking to school, and I had heard that if it was cold enough and you stuck your tongue on cold metal, like a fence, it would pretty much stay there. I just had to find out.

It does.

 

 

 

 

"A PENNY A FLY, MAKE THAT A PENNY FOR TEN FLIES"

One summer there was a huge swarm of flies around the back porch. Mom told me she'd give me a penny a fly for all I could kill. I started swatting flies like crazy, and piling them up in groups of 10. After a few minutes, Mom came outside to see how I was doing, so I stopped killing and started counting. "OK, Mom, you owe me $1.80." "Hey, hey, hey," Mom said. "I'll pay you but from now on, it'll be a penny for ten flies. "No problem," I thought, and I kept on swatting. After another half hour, I had earned - eight more cents? It was no longer worth it. The flies were mostly gone anyway, and I had to make a run to the dime store for baseball cards. Maybe I'd get a Mickey Mantle.

THE ANTS (A TOP 20 STORY)

On the sloping part of the front yard, just next to the highway that passed in front of our house, the ants did their work and made their homes. On sunny days, I used to toast some of them with a magnifying glass. It took great skill, holding the glass the exact right distance above the ant and keeping the sun spot on him while he tried to scurry away. You had to think in three dimensions. At first the ant would dart this way and that, then he would slow down, then he would sort of roll over as a wisp of smoke rose from his armored body. Another ant bites the dust!

Around the Fourth of July, I'd dig a small hole straight down an ant hill opening, and stick in a firecracker. I'd light it, back away while it exploded, then move back in to watch the activity. At first, smoke would pour out of the anthill, then nothing for a few seconds, then about a million ants would come pouring out, to defend their home against this terrible intrusion. So I'd get out my magnifying glass.

[Back to Favorite 20 List] [Next Story in Favorite 20 List]

 

 

SUMMER PLAYGROUND

During the summer in late grade school and early high school, the city would hold what was called "Summer Playground." They'd play baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, a great game called longball, and some other stuff. The idea was to give us kids something constructive to do during the summer. This was a good idea. Once when I was there with Paul Coffman, we darted across the volleyball court during a game, just when an older high school girl jumped up to make a spike, and she came down right on my head. I got up with everybody crowded around asking if I was OK. "I'm OK. I'm OK," I said and took off with Paul. Paul asked the same question, then told me I had been knocked out for about thirty seconds, which pretty much scared everybody to death. I hadn't even realized it. But for all those people in my life who asked if I had suffered a blow to the head when I was little...

SUMMER BIBLE SCHOOL AND HUTCHISON'S ICE CREAM

The Presbyterian Church held summer Bible School for two weeks every summer. We studied the Bible, drew and colored pictures, and every morning, we marched across the street to Hutchison's Homemade Ice Cream Shop. I remember the cool, clean appearance of the ice cream parlor. I thought I liked lime and orange sherbert, but Sharon says there was never any such thing - it's sherbet. Don't tell her, but to me, it'll always be sherbeRt.

LAST NAMES ONLY, BUT SOME EXCEPTIONS

Our gang, a word nobody ever used then and a word with ominous overtones now, was made up of six guys, as I recall. Warren Riffle was the leader. He was short, with blond hair. There was Jim Dornan. His dad owned the Chevrolet dealership where Paul White's dad, Dave sold cars. Corky Hall was tall and athletic and very direct in his manner, which I always admired. Paul White lived next door when I moved to Jefferson Street. He had a broken arm that was reset wrong and I used to ask him to stretch his arms out and look at the funny angle of one elbow. But he could hit a ball a mile. Before we finally got a TV, I would go to his house next door every day after school, and watch Crusader Rabbit and the Flash Gordon serials. Skip Hughes' dad owned the Versailles Greenhouse. The names everybody went by at the time were Riffle, Dornan, Corky, White, Skippy and Lutman. How some people went by first names and others by last names was somehow obvious to all of us.

WARREN RIFFLE TAKES OFF

One Monday night we went to Corky Hall's for our Scout Patrol Meeting, and after it was over, we decided to play Hide-and-Go-Seek - the real name for "Hide and Seek". We took turns being "it" and hiding until one round when Riffle was it. We hid. No one came as we waited and waited, then each of us carefully made it back to base before being found. No Riffle. We looked and looked for him, and after about ten minutes, we went inside and called his house. His mom said, "Yes, he's here." When he got on the phone, he said, "I thought it would be funny to come home when you all thought I was looking for you." How incredibly self-confident he was to do that, I thought. The other guys were frosted at him. Riffle moved to Kansas City before we started high school and I lost track of him.

 

 

 

BOY SCOUTS

On the way to town, and behind the Dairy Freeze next to the Chevrolet Dealership stood the Boy Scout cabin - a log cabin built who knows how long ago by who knows who. There was a fireplace, and when we had a fire, the inside smelled smoky and burned my eyes. Brother George became an Eagle Scout through desire, determination and hard work. I followed in his footstep, but only to Second Class, which is just one step up from the bottom. I liked the camping trips though - they were fun. The neat thing was supposed to be to cut and collect grape vines and use them for money, in poker games. They could be smoked - like cigarettes. I took a puff of one once and it had a terrible, concentrated taste and smell - just like the Boy Scout cabin, only stronger. Lots of the other guys smoked them. It was supposed to be a pretty cool thing to do.

THE ADULTS' CLOTHESPIN GAME

When the grownups got together at certain parties, they played this strange game. The men sat on one side of the room in a line of chairs, and the women sat on the other side of the room in an opposing line of chairs. Everyone wore about a half dozen clothespins on their pantlegs or dress hem, and just "visited." When someone forgot what it was they were trying NOT to do, they would cross their legs. That was the trigger! When you spotted someone of the opposite sex with their legs crossed, you got up, ran across the room, and grabbed one of their clothespins. People were scurrying back and forth like a bunch of ants. The idea was to get the most clothespins and win a prize at the end of the game.

AUNT ESTHER AND THE GREAT STEAK

I was visiting cousin Melvin Gerber at his farm one summer, and that night Aunt Esther made steaks for dinner. I still remember it as the best steak of my life. I kept saying, "How come this tastes so good?" "Well, because it's so fresh," was Aunt Esther's answer as she laughed. Maybe I was just in the right mood, or maybe I hadn't had much steak.

JAMES DEE FINLEY

James Dee Finley was two years younger - a sophomore when I was a senior. Normally the trombone positions, or "chairs" in high school are filled by year, but James Dee was so good that when I was a senior, he jumped over the other juniors and seniors and was second chair. I was good, but needed printed sheet music to play. James Dee had an ear for music, and could play without written music. He was a good football player, and was quarterback on the football team in high school. He was left-handed, and was also a great pitcher in Babe Ruth League baseball. All the men would stand around and talk about how fast he was.

He had a train set laid out on a 4X8 foot plywood sheet up in the attic of his house and a few times we went up and played with it. Now I maintain that the way to get maximum enjoyment from something (except a Macintosh computer) is for somebody ELSE to own it, and you use it every once in a while. Don't build a swimming pool in your back yard. Know somebody who has one.

James Dee had these funny quirks when he talked to you. Everybody has a natural "space" of comfort around their head and face, relative to everybody else's. Just try violating it sometime and you'll see what I mean. People normally stand about 1 1/2 or 2 feet away (distance between faces) when they talk. With a friend sometime, of the same sex, go up to about 10 inches away from them and start talking. See how uncomfortable it is for both of you. You'll feel a strong driving force to back up to the "correct" distance. Well James Dee talked closely ALL THE TIME. And while you were talking to him, he would sort of chew on the inside of one of his cheeks and continually glance up at your forehead for a second, saying "Uh huh. Yup. Hmm." I'd keep thinking, "What do I have on my forehead?" The most fun part of this was that he was totally unaware of it. He later joined the air force, and made many bombing runs over North Viet Nam during that war.

HUNTING RABBITS WITH DAD

I never got the fishing or hunting bug like Dad always had, but I went with him a few times. I remember a cold, clear Thanksgiving morning. There was snow on the ground. Dad took a shotgun and gave me a .22. We went out into the country in a field where some hedgerows had been bulldozed into piles. We crept up on one of the piles, and Dad said, "If we see a rabbit not moving, you shoot him, and if he takes off running, I'll shoot." I loved to shoot AT things, and a rabbit was just something to shoot AT, so it was no big deal to try to shoot a rabbit. Anyway, Dad spotted a rabbit in some brush, and he pointed it out to me. I carefully squeezed off a shot at him and I missed, but we didn't see him run. We went up to see what happened, but we never found where he went. Dad hunted a lot, and I loved the meals Mom fixed with the rabbits, squirrels and birds Dad would shoot. Now I think of shooting a rabbit the way my daughters do. You know, "Shoot a little bunny?"

RANDY ALLEN

Randy Allen and I were buddies in West Lawn. When I moved across town to Jefferson Street, he and his brother Wayne and mom moved to Kansas City. But they would come to Versailles often in the summer, sometimes staying the whole summer, in a house about two blocks away. I'd go down there and we'd play a sort of baseball game, in this tiny, narrow yard next to Randy's grandma's house.

The pitcher stood in the middle of the yard, with the house on his left and street on his right. The batter faced the pitcher, with the house on his right, another street behind him, separated by a deep ditch. When he looked beyond the pitcher, he saw a garden, the outhouse and a small orchard beyond the outhouse. The pitcher threw a soft, spongy ball, and the batter used a piece of wood, like a one by four, but with one end carved into a sort of bat handle. A ball hit onto the ground anywhere in front of the pitcher was an out. A line drive on either side of the pitcher was a base hit. The house, the side street, the garden were out. The outhouse and beyond was a home run, and only Wayne could hit the ball that hard, so when we played all three, Randy and I were on one side, and Wayne on the other. When Wayne batted, one of us pitched and the other stood out by the outhouse. If you could catch a fly ball there, it wasn't a home run but an out.

We'd play a long time, then go in and trade baseball cards and drink some Pepsi. Sometimes we'd go to the movie or go uptown to buy more baseball cards. Of if a game was on TV, we might watch it.

MICKEY MANTLE AND "I'VE GOT A FEELING"

I loved the Yankees when I was in early high school. When a Yankee game was on the radio or on Saturday afternoon television, I'd always listen or watch. Mickey Mantle was my favorite. I used to get this incredible feeling - sort of like a vision, as the pitcher was winding up. I'd think something like: "I've got a feeling, I've got a feeling. Home run. HOME RUN." And I swear he'd hit a home run. OK, maybe not every time, but a LOT. THE CARDINALS In later high school, Dad and I both came to like the St. Louis Cardinals (the Crandalls, as Dad called them) and we listened to them on the radio together. At night the weather would sometimes cause the radio to fade in and out on about a thirty-second cycle. It would get so quiet for about three seconds, that you couldn't hear anything. Then the volume would slowly come back. When an electrical storm came along, Dad would shut off the radio and the TV so lightning wouldn't strike, run down the antennas and blow them up.

UNCLE BILL PREDICTS YANKEE WIN

One summer afternoon, I was listening to the Yankees on the radio, who were playing the Red Sox. The Red Sox scored about six runs in the third inning, and by the fifth inning, the Yankees were behind seven to one. Uncle Bill came through the dining room, where I was listening to the radio and crying (I always took it a little personally). "What's the matter, Bob," Uncle Bill said. "The Yankees are losing," I sobbed. He pulled up a chair and began to ask a lot of questions. "Who's pitching for the Yankees? Who's pitching for the Red Sox? What inning is it? What's the score?" After I finished answering all his questions, he was quiet for about five seconds, thinking. "Don't worry, he said, the Yankees are going to win," and walked on into the living room to watch television and take a nap. And of course, you know that the Yankees started coming back - a run here, a couple of runs there, and won the game in the ninth inning. "Hey, how did you know that?" I asked Uncle Bill after the game. He just winked at me. I was thrilled.

MISS BASS AND THE LITTLE RASCALS

My seventh grade teacher was a pretty woman named Helen Bass. She was always teasing me. She was not married, but dated the same man all the time. We always wondered why they never got married. I loved to watch "The Little Rascals" on TV every day when I got home, and the next day in school, I'd act out the funniest scenes. This became a ritual, and Miss Bass reserved about five minutes late every afternoon for me to tell about them. One day she tried to ask me to tell yesterday's episode, and her mouth spit out "Rabbit", instead of "Robert", which is what she always called me. From then on, for the rest of the year, I was Rabbit.

Interestingly, about 24 years later, some Japanese bar hostesses in Tsuruga, Japan made the same mistake, and I was Usagi (Rabbit), or Pyum-pyum (sort of their way of saying hippety-hop) from then on.

MISSING JACOB'S CAVE WITH A COLD

When my cousin Melvin Gerber's older sister Barbara Ann was dating Bob Hall, a spectacular thing was going to happen, and I was invited. The Hall's owned Jacob's Cave - a local attraction on the way to the Lake, sort of like Carlsbad Caverns, only about 5% as big. There was an unexplored passage that they had discovered, and they were going to go into it for the first time. The day before the big trek, I got a terrible cold. No no no! I kept telling Mom, "I'm OK. I can still go." Well, I didn't get to go, and they discovered old bones and Indian arrowheads and wonderful new rooms. Don't you just hate colds?

JIM THE WONDER DOG

Now you are NOT going to believe this. Mom and Dad told me this story that took place in their early married years, so that would be around 1936 to 1946 I think. They said they actually SAW this in Sedalia, Missouri. His owner was giving a demonstration. He said "Jim, find license plate JTR-783." Jim went over to the car with those plates and sat down by the license plate. Then his owner said "Now Jim, go find the car from Iowa with plates AWT-430." Jim walked by a bunch of cars and sat down by the right one, by the license plate. "Now go find Missouri license plate KFR-349." Jim trotted past the cars and stopped near a car with Kansas plates with that number, but didn't sit down. He turned around to look at his owner and just waited, but still didn't sit down. "I mean the Kansas plates," his owner said, and Jim sat down.

He first discovered Jim's talent when they were out in the woods, hunting for birds. Jim was still a pup, but his owner liked to start his dogs out early, learning the bird-hunting game. After tromping around for a while and not finding anything to shoot at, his owner said, "Boy I'd like to sit down in the shade of a big old oak tree and cool off." Jim took off. "Jim, come back here," but Jim kept going. His owner finally caught up with him, lying down in the shade, under an oak tree. Twilight Zone music.

I remembered these stories from my folks, and after I left home, the children of the owner of Jim wrote down all the stories in a book, which I have. Mom and Dad bought it for me. The book is a little hokie, because it's written from Jim's point of view. I'm looking at what Mom wrote on the inside cover right now: "Merry Christmas, 1973, Mom & Dad Lutman." It's the kind of book you read, and say, "It has to be a hoax. Everybody in mid-Missouri must have been in on it." But that's not possible, is it?

NEW CHEVY'S PREVIEWED AT PAUL WHITE'S HOUSE

Next door neighbor Paul White's dad was the champion Chevy salesman of Versailles and mid-Missouri. And every year in about September, he would get an advance movie of the upcoming, not-yet-released Chevrolet models for the next year. Paul would invite me over. Dave, Paul's dad, would get up and give a speech, saying, "And now without fu'ther 'dieu," about four times, evenly spaced out through the five minutes of his speech. In the early years, I took this to mean he was about to start the movie. Ha! But finally the movie would start, and we'd see these unbelievable new shapes, knowing that within about two weeks, they'd be in the showroom and we could go see them. I especially remember the '56 and '57 Chevy years. We had a used '56 Chevy we got from Lewis Jones, Rachel's dad (Dad never bought new cars, he always bought used ones). It was turquoise and white, and I loved it. A few years later, we got a brown '57 Chevy four-door sedan. It was not as pretty as the '56, but was newer, and so, better of course.

I always wanted Dad to buy a new Chevy because in those days, they also gave you a miniature, eight-inch long, exact scale model of the car, in the exact same colors. Oh how I wanted one of those. "And they're only two thousand dollars, Dad."

BLUE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ON COURT HOUSE

When we went to the Hilty countryside periodically during the two weeks before Christmas, and returned in the evening, I could see the lights strung up, decorating the court house, in the center of town. This was from about two miles away or so. My absolute favorite was the years when the lights would all be blue. What an incredible feeling I would get sitting in the back seat, with my winter coat on, a little cold, the scene outside being very dark, with the car's headlights lighting up the snow, and seeing those cool blue lights off in the distance. Now if I can just inch the window down without Dad knowing ...

LINCOLN LOGS

One year for my birthday or Christmas, I received a set of Lincoln Logs, delivered in a can about four inches in diameter and about a foot high. There was a book that came with it, showing examples of things I could make. My favorite was a log cabin, with a cutout area in the roof, so I could easily get my cowboys and Indian figures into and out of the log house easily. I must have built that cabin five hundred times. It would be placed with Bobby's farmhouse and Bobby's barn from the Bobby's Farm set, with a fence surrounding the whole place. The fence was for the good guys to kneel down and fire at the bad guys when they attacked.

MACARONI AND TOMATO JUICE

I swear that every person in the world eats some really strange kind of food that no one ELSE in the world can understand. And the stories seem the same, "I don't know why I like it, but Mom used to fix it for us all the time when I was a kid." With me it's Macaroniandtomatojuice, all one word. Not macaroni with tomato juice. Mom would prepare the macaroni, drain it so that it was still very hot, then just pour tomato juice over it. That would heat up the tomato juice to be very hot. Then I'd put a little salt on it, and it was ready. Everyone says that it sounds and tastes very bland. But somehow, when I eat it, it always tastes wonderful.

SLEEPWALKING

Twice I remember sleepwalking. Once I went downstairs and sat down in a kitchen chair in the dark. Mom heard me and after a little bit, came out of her upstairs bedroom and called downstairs. The conversation went like this: "Bob, is that you downstairs?" "Yes." "What are you doing?" "I have to go to the bathroom." "We only have one bathroom and it's up here. How come you're downstairs?" "The bathroom door was closed." "Well, I opened it so you can come up and go to the bathroom now." "OK." Then I walked up the stairs, took an immediate right into my bedroom and got back in bed without going to the bathroom. Next morning, it was like I had had a dream. I wasn't sure, so I went downstairs for toast and cocoa and asked, "Mom, I either had a really weird dream, or I did this..." Then I told the story, and she said it really happened.

The other time, I swear I tried to pee through an upstairs window screen in my room.

"GOBBA GOBBA" WITH DONALD GUNKEL

My friend Donald Gunkel's family lived in a huge house, a few blocks away, across the street from the future Versailles Swimming Pool. They had acres of space around their house, and a big old barn on the property, but they didn't do any farming. Donald collected baseball cards too, and had an unusual disease or birth condition of the skin that featured silver splotches in his hair, and very white splotches on his skin. But when you're a kid, you don't pay any attention to that stuff. Donald was cool because we'd walk to school together talking nonsense. I'd say, "Gaborcha nubanga, vebondo?" and Donald would nod his head in vigorous agreement, "Malocka boodacka malanga!" We'd talk like that all the way to school, hoping someone would overhear us, and think that we could understand each other.

Today I have similar conversations with our three-year-old grandson Sieren, who somehow speaks the same language, even to the extent that all words have three syllables.

GUM ON A STICK TO RECOVER COINS (A TOP 20 STORY)

I think my allowance was a quarter a week. In front of the Ben Franklin dime store was an access grate to the basement. This grate was attached permanently to its sidewalk receptacle, but the slots were big enough so people lost coins through them. I was walking in front of the store one day when I got an idea - a wonderful, terrific idea. I used a nickel of my allowance to buy some baseball cards and the normally discarded sheet of gum. But I stuffed the gum in my mouth and chewed it a little while I looked for some kind of long stick. I found one across the street on the court house lawn. I spit the gum out from my mouth and stuck it on the end of the stick. Then I marched back to the dime store grating. I pulled out about two dollars in a few minutes. Then I ran around town, found a couple more gratings like that one and got another dollar or so. Then, and this was the whole point of course, I threw away the gum and the stick, went into the dime store and spent all my new money on baseball cards. A kid's dream come true.

[Back to Favorite 20 List] [Next Story in Favorite 20 List]

BB GUN INCIDENT COMING HOME FROM SCOUTS

I was in the Boy Scouts with Roger Uptergrove. One night, I took my BB gun with us, and just stuck it in a tree when we got near the home of Warren Riffle, where this week's patrol meeting was going to be. After scouts finished, it was dark. I picked up my BB gun, and Roger and I headed for home. When we were a few blocks away from Riffle's, a dog across the street started barking ferociously at us. I was afraid he was going to come after us, so I thought I'd shoot at him. I took aim, fired and missed. I noticed that a car was approaching from my left, but I was sure I could still easily get another shot in. I squeezed the trigger slowly, like I'd learned in Boy Scout camp, but took just enough time to allow the approaching car to get hit in the windshield by my BB.

The car quickly pulled over to our side of the street, and one of the two guys jumped out and started chasing us. "Come here, you sonsa bitches," he kept yelling. "I'm gonna kill you." We ran like demons - I was a little faster than Roger. We cut behind a house we were familiar with, and were gradually leaving our pursuer behind us. When we got far enough ahead of him, we dived into some bushes, and waited. We could see him stop in the back yard and listen, just a few feet away, but he couldn't find us. He ran back to the car, and we heard them take off - looking for us, no doubt. Roger and I waited about ten minutes, and then started walking home. Walking, in this case, meant running like crazy from one big tree, house or bush to the next, then hiding a couple of minutes, if a car was coming. There was a big stretch of open sidewalk, the dash across the highway, and then another big open sidewalk area to reach a huge oak tree, at a five-way intersection near the "Corner Store." We took off walking because there were no cars coming, but then one appeared from behind us.

"I think that's them!" I shouted, but I didn't really know who it was. We took off. We made it across the highway, and I remembered before we got to it that there was a step down in the sidewalk, so I made the drop successfully in the dark, on the way to the big tree's protection. Then I heard this fraction of a second of quiet as Roger missed the step, then a loud scratching, sliding sound as Roger fell and slid on the sidewalk, then got up and raced for the tree. Well if it had been those guys, they would have had us spotted, but luckily it wasn't them, and we finally made it home. Always check both ways before shooting across the street.

FAN DURING HOT SUMMER NIGHTS

In my never-ending quest for feeling snug like a bug in a rug, I had this wonderful electricity-wasting trick I would do in the hot summer. I would set up a fan about a foot away from the bed, on a chair, pointing straight towards me. Then I'd turn the light off, and go to sleep, tucking the blanket up around me, so no breeze could touch me. Oddly, I know lots of people who said they did the same thing when they were young.

 

 

 

 

MISSOURI ELECTRICAL STORMS

I was terrified of nighttime Missouri thunderstorms. In the fall, the TV would have a weather bulletin describing the area: "forty miles either side of a line from ten miles northeast of Fulton to five miles south of Jefferson City." By the time you figured that out, the storm would be gone.

Anyway, you could first see the lightning approaching from outside, then you could hear it, then it would be on top of you. Loud cracks of thunder, and lightning lit up the window shades. I'd lie in bed, sweating, afraid to go to sleep because a tornado would hit the house and kill us. So I wouldn't go to sleep till the storm passed and it got quiet. Then I'd finally go to sleep on my sweaty sheets. The talk was often about what a tornado sounded like. "A jet plane taking off from twenty feet away." "Ten locomotives." Uncle Pete and I used to make up things that a tornado sounded like, as if we were being interviewed by a reporter on TV. Every time it got really loud in a storm, I'd wonder, "Is THIS what it sounds like?"

I hated those storms in the night, but didn't mind them in the daytime, because we could get to a shelter, like our basement. One fall, there was news of a tornado, and we went to the basement. The sky had turned from green to black. There was a terrible howl as the trees blew back and forth all around us, but finally it was over. Word got around quickly that Salmon Moore's house (How do you get a name like Salmon?) was hit and a tornado had ripped off his roof. We drove out there, and saw a thirty foot wide swath of beaten-down farm crops, winding its way through the fields of Salmon Moore's property, passing right through his house, and continuing through several other farm properties. I guess it was a mile or two long, and sort of meandering. But the Moore house was incredible. The roof was off the house, and part of the upstairs walls were gone. You could see a bathtub and toilet in a bathroom and even see the wallpaper. Give me a good old earthquake any day.

There were two small, identical barns and one of them was destroyed by the tornado. When they rebuilt it, its slope was ever so slightly different than the existing one. Every time I drive by there, I look over and notice it and think about that tornado.

THE ALPHABET GAME

When our family traveled by car around Missouri, we kids would play the alphabet game. If you were on the left side of the car, you got the signs on the left side of the road. In the beginning, you looked for an "A" on a road sign - anywhere but on a moving car. When you saw it, you had to call it out, "A in 'Roadwork Ahead'." Then you looked for "B", and so on. First one to "Z" was the winner. Except when I played sister Shirley. I had to go through the alphabet twice to her once in order to win. "S as in 'Slow'." [Shirley and I tease each other a lot, if you haven't gathered by now.]

MRS. WHITE AND THE BASEBALL CARDS

Bonnelle White - Bonnie to her friends, was Mzz. White to us eighth graders. She taught English grammar in some special way. All of a sudden, I "got it," and grammar has come easily since then, despite what you're reading now. But I paid. I used to bring my baseball card collection, neatly stacked in an old cigar box, to school. I would keep the cards inside my desk, and when it got boring, I'd open the desk lid and pretend to fish around for a pencil, but I'd be looking at my cards. And Mrs. White somehow could tell, because usually she would amble past while I was lost in my baseball card admiration. She'd reach in, take my cards, and say, "You get these back after school." Then I'd have to come back to the real world.

She used to infuriate me, because she'd often start off a conversation, "Someday you'll want to get married, Bob ...," and I'd interrupt her and say, "No I won't. I'm never going to get married." And she'd say, in her teasing, knowing little manner, "Oh, yes you will. You will, you'll see." And I'd say, "I'm going to be a professional baseball player. I won't be interested in getting married."

Now my wife Sharon has heard me tell this story many times over the years. She was tickled to no end when, at the 30th High School reunion, the first thing Mrs. White said when she spied me was, "Bobby Lutman. Do you still have those baseball cards I used to take away from you?"

DIGGING STREAM IN SCHOOL YARD, MAKING SAILBOATS

There was a very slight slope to the grade school ground. It was all gravel, no grass, and it sloped away from the school. From the pitchers box, if you faced center field, you would look out into the beginning of the Ozark Mountains. The ground actually gave way to valleys, rather than the mountains rising up from flat land. The water would drain toward center field and the first Ozark valleys. When it rained, big puddles would form all over the schoolyard, and I remember taking a stick, starting in deep center field, then digging a trench about an inch deep or so, uphill toward the school and the first big puddle. Before ever doing this, Gary Nelson and some other guys and I would make homemade sailboats.

I would find an old rotten stick about a half inch in diameter. Then I'd cut it in half lengthwise to form a kind of canoe, and with a pocket knife, I'd carve out the inside of the canoe. Then I would make a tiny hole in the middle of the boat, but not all the way through. I'd cut a square out of wax paper and get a toothpick. I'd poke two holes in the paper, put the toothpick through the two holes, and stick the toothpick in the hole in the boat. And finally, I'd have a sailboat.

Then we'd take our boats up to where the ditch was not quite cut into the water puddle, and with our boats in hand, we'd make the final dig between our empty canal and the puddle. Water would start flowing out of the puddle, heading for the Ozarks. We would launch our boats in the canal and watch them head across the school ground. If they went too slowly, we'd blow on the sails to scoot them along.

SLEDDING INTO THE TREE

Over by Donald Gunkel's, and near the future Versailles Swimming Pool, there was a sloping wooded area, inside a fence. You might expect to see a deer wandering through it, but I never did. One winter I decided to take my sled and go find a place to play in the snow. I wound up in this particular field. Somebody had been there before me and had made a wonderful winding track, diagonally from one upper corner to the opposite lower corner of the field. The track snaked in and out of a lot of trees, and went over a ramp made by packing snow up against a small fallen tree. What a great place! The first run, I went down pretty slowly to get the feel. That was great, but I didn't go very high over the jump. I walked back up to the top, pulling my sled (which now hangs over our fireplace by the way), looking forward to my next run. It was going to be a smasher. I started running as fast as I could, then dropped the sled and flopped on it, on my belly, feet up in the air behind me, twisting the sled handles left and right as I flew down the track. I anticipated the ramp by taking the approaching curve a little wide, uh oh, a little too wide, trying to hit the ramp straight on and very fast. But the sled had its own mind made up to head straight for the big tree, just to the right of the jump. It would not budge from its course. When I saw the sled was going to hit, I tried to roll off, but I was going so fast that my momentum carried me into the tree, which I hit with full force with my upper chest. Now I've had the wind knocked out of me before, but this was different. Not only could I not breathe, which was normal for getting the wind knocked out of me, but I had what seemed like a one-ton weight crushing my chest, ribs and lungs. I was pretty sure that this was it, I was going to die out in this field before anybody came along. I finally got my breath back and walked home, but I can still remember the crushed feeling in my chest.

This reminds me of a movie I saw once where an old Indian felt his coming death. In the tradition of the time, he gave away all his belongings, had a farewell ceremony, and slowly faded into the woods. All alone now, he walked several miles away and chopped and built a raised platform from the branches of the trees around him. He then climbed up on the platform and lay down, waiting for the Great Spirit to take him away. He waited and waited. Two days and nights passed. Then he climbed down and walked back to the village. Everyone was very excited. "What happened?" they all asked. "I was wrong," he said.

THE BLUE BUFFALO

Dad wanted to take me fishing at the Lake, so one summer morning he got me up early, drove over to pick up one of the Huff boys, Walt I think, and off we went. It was summer and it was still dark, so you can imagine that it was early. The Huffs had stuck a lot of smelly junk in several gunny sacks, or burlap sacks as they are more commonly called, and sunk them with weights about twenty or thirty feet off a "point" on the Lake of the Ozarks, then waited for the junk to seep out. This attracted dirt fish - catfish, carp and a type of carp called a Blue Buffalo. We were using stink bait, or dough bait. You made a ball around the hook, so no metal could be seen. Mom used to spit on worms to take away the human smell, I guess. What does spit smell like to a fish? Anyway, no corks or bobbers. You just cast out as far as you could, then slowly reeled in.

The instructions were that carp and Blue Buffalo had very thin membranes for lips, and if you hooked a fish, to be very careful so you didn't pull the hook out. Well, I hooked something right away and Dad said, "Don't reel in too fast, Bob." I thought I knew what I was doing, and what I did was pull the hook right out of the fish's mouth. If you try something and it doesn't work, remember it, because you'll probably get another chance, and then you can try something different. A half hour or so later, I hooked another one. "Now don't go so fast this time," said Dad. I didn't say anything, but just slowly, ever so slowly, I reeled in. After about twenty minutes, Dad said, "You can reel a little faster than that."

"No way," I said to myself. Forty-five minutes after hooking this giant, I landed what they estimated to be a fourteen pound Blue Buffalo. We took him home to show everybody, but these are incredibly bony fish, and we finally fed him to the cats.

SUNDAY DINNERS - THE NOON MEAL

The most elegant meal at the best French restaurant in Paris or New York or San Francisco may be all right, but it was nothing compared to Sunday dinner at the Lutmans. Now remember that in Missouri, dinner is eaten at noon. My favorite was Mom's fried chicken. Then mashed potatoes and white gravy. And green beans, fixed Mom's way - whatever that was. Milk to drink. White bread and butter, which I never quite understood. Why would anybody want to fill up space in their stomach with bread and butter? This meal was so good that I can't remember what dessert ever was, and I'm definitely a dessert person.

Whenever I came home from college, visiting from California when I was single, and visiting later with my family, Mom would always say, "Bob do you want your fried chicken for supper?" Now that's a question. Did she think I would come all that way not to have fried chicken? What went hand-in-hand with the wonderful Sunday dinners when I was growing up was popcorn for supper - only on Sunday and every Sunday. Then later Sunday night, somebody would drive up to the Dairy Queen and bring back a couple of pints of soft vanilla ice cream. Yumbo.

MOWING LAWNS

About the time I was in the seventh and eighth grades, Mom and Dad encouraged me to earn money for college. The main way to do this was through mowing lawns. I don't recall ever going around town asking people if I could mow their lawn. Rather, Mom knew everybody in town and I believe she arranged the jobs for me. She was the salesman and I was the worker. I would use our power lawnmower and Mom would help me load the mower in the car, with the handle sticking out, and she'd drive me over to the work location, let me off and say, "Call me when you're done." I'd work an hour or two, collect my two bucks, and call Mom to come and get me. I'd also mow our lawn, but I don't think I got any money for that. That was just part of my chores. My favorite would be when Mom said, "Bob, Mrs. So and So isn't feeling well. You know her, she goes to our church. I told her you'd be happy to mow her lawn (Is it OK to mow her lawn and not be happy?). And off we'd go. I began my freshman year as a Versailles High School Tiger in September 1957. George had moved to Columbia, Missouri to start college, and I had our bedroom to myself. Shirley was starting the fourth grade.

BUD WALTON AND THE BEN FRANKLIN

When I was in grade school, and I'd go to the dime store to buy baseball cards, I'd occasionally see Harvey Williams, a friend and classmate of my brother's, cleaning up or washing the outside windows. He had a part time job there. The summer before my freshman year of high school, Mom told me one evening that the owner of the dime store liked to take a boy starting high school, train him to do certain jobs in the store, and let him work part time throughout high school. And he had asked Mom about me! Wow, was I excited that he wanted me.

So I went up to interview, we talked a little, and he offered me the job. Simple as that. Fifty cents an hour, an hour a day, six hours and three dollars a week. Not a lot, but steady work. Then the summer after my junior and senior years of high school, I worked forty hours a week, and got a fifty percent raise the second summer to 75 cents an hour. Incredible. When I got ready to go off to college at MU, the owner said, "Bob, if you don't want to go to college, you ought to stick with me. My brother has big plans, and you'd have a great place to work." Ha. Like I'm gonna hang around Versailles ordering hardware, doing inventories, washing the windows, and selling baseball cards to little bratty kids. I said, "I'm really looking forward to college. But if I change my mind or don't like it, I'll let you know."

What I meant was, "I'm gonna go be an engineer and make some REAL money, and have some excitement. There'll be thousands of young girls over at Columbia and I want to meet all of 'em." My boss was J.L. "Bud" Walton, younger brother of Sam Walton, once the richest man in America before he divided up his holdings among his kids. So I went away and made my REAL money, and Bud, in the meantime made enough to buy the states of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, and as his summer vacation home - Canada.

UNCLE PETE'S 1957 PONTIAC

Uncle Pete was an English professor at Park College, near Kansas City, then later at Southeast Missouri State, in Cape Girardeau. He wrote an essay for a Missouri contest and won first prize - a 1957 Pontiac. It was a two tone lime green color, with Chief Pontiac as an orange plastic hood ornament. It had automatic transmission, and the summer I worked on Uncle Pete's farm, he'd let me drive it. What a wonderful car.

Other new things I was introduced to were classical music, dominos, tea breaks and fresh water aquariums. I recall wonderfully pleasant memories of that summer any time I hear Dvorak's "New World Symphony," or Handel's "Water Music." And I maintained several aquariums for ten or fifteen years, at which time I gave the hobby up. I loved the hatchetfish, neon and cardinal tetras, swordfish, Amazonian catfish and angelfish in Uncle Pete's aquarium.

BROWNIE

When my next-door classmate Phyllis Allen moved from their basement home to Florida, she couldn't take her dog, Brownie, so we agreed to keep him. He was a shaggy, medium-size mutt - the color of a golden retriever. An accident had spilled some lime in one of his eyes, and he could see only out of the other one. He transferred his dog love from Phyllis to me, and it was mutual. He was a great dog - always happy to see me come home. But when I got into high school and started running around with my buddies, or rather walking all over town, Brownie tried to follow me just like he always had - only now I didn't want him to come along. I'd try to say gently, "No, Brownie, go home boy," but in dog language, that sounded like "Come on, boy." So I had to yell at him really loud and mean: "Go home. Get outa here." It sort of broke my heart to do it, because you could see him thinking, "Huh? You don't really mean it do you? I can really come can't I? I can't? OK, I can't figure this out, so I'll go home. We used to do everything together. What happened?" Turn around, look over his shoulder, "Please."

Mom introduced me to one of the ways of the animal world. At an old age, Brownie just disappeared, and I never saw him again. Mom said, "When dogs get old, it's common for them to leave home, just go off, lie down and die." I had to wait several more weeks to be sure, but I finally thought, "Well Goodbye, Brownie. I miss you.."

THE YANKEES

When I was a freshman in high school, and a few years before and one year after, I loved the Yankees. I loved Mickey Mantle in center, Hank Bauer in left, Yogi Berra catching, Moose Skowron at first, Phil Rizzuto at short, Whitey Ford on the mound with Allie Reynolds in the bullpen. Man oh man, I loved the Yankees. I was a freshman in high school the year of the world series perfect game by Don Larsen. We got to watch most of it on TV in the gym. Over the years, the Yankee pinstripes sunk pretty low - never lower than when Steinbrenner got in as owner. They're just not the same.

MOTION SICK AT COUNTY FAIR

I get terrible motion sickness, but I somehow let my friends talk me into riding the Tilt-a-Whirl. They talked very positively, and I began to think that I could prevent the sickness if I could keep my mind off of it and if we screamed and yelled a lot. So I got on, and off we went. Round and round, up and down. It took about three revolutions, and I was sicker than a dog. I hunkered down, closed my eyes and concentrated on not throwing up. I was successful in that objective, but when we got off, I had to go lie down while the other guys enjoyed the rest of the fair. I just stayed on my bench until they were ready to go home, and then I queasily made my way home.

Next Chapter - Versailles High School
Previous Chapter - Fifth Grade through Eighth Grade
Back to Index
Home