My Dog

Now is that love or what?

That’s me and MY dog.  I had other dogs or I was told they were my dogs so I would feed them.  mydogThey were big and rangy yard dogs and they either ran off or became chicken killers and that was the end of them.

But that was MY dog.  I don’t know what kind of dog it was, but it was a little dog for a little fellow like me at the time.  It would be waiting for me outside and it would follow me around and knew your basic orders like “sit” and “stay.”  From the picture I would say we had a pretty good dog human relationship.

But one day I am out collecting coke bottles from along the road, and I have my little dog with me though Joan had said over and over don’t take that dog down by the road or it will get run over.  And sure enough I walk across the road to look in the ditch on the othe side of the road, and as I turn to go back I see MY dog has started towards me from the other side of the road.  And there is car, coming out of nowhere.

I was paralyzed.  The car was on us so fast, I didn’t have time to move.  I didn’t even have time to yell as the car ran right over my dog killing it instantly.

The car just kept on going.

I picked up the dog and took it back to the place and I started crying and couldn’t stop and I went and threw myself belly down on my bed and just couldn’t stop crying.  And Joan was completely useless per usual.  She prided herself on being a Mother par excellance, and she did an OK job I guess at keeping us in clean clothes and fed alright, but when it came to the emotional side of being a mother she was completely clueless.  All she could do was sit by the bed and say over and over that she had told me so and the dog wouldn’t be dead if I had listened to what SHE said.

A fat lot of good that did.  I knew I had a mistake.  I didn’t have to be told that.

Any way, when I came across that picture recently, I almost regretted it because I started remembering that dog and that moment by the road.  I can almost feel that dog sitting in my lap.  It liked me and was an affectionate animal.

Property Line–Blockhouse

I don’t have a good visual memory.  I know people who can actually see memories from way back propertylinewith considerable accuracy.  I can’t.  So I have been hoping to find more pictures of the property back in South Carolina, the one with the block house on it.  Here’s one of the better ones I have found so far.

We are sitting on the property line between our place and Grandma’s place.  If you squint a little into the sun there you can make out the side of Grandma’s house.  So that’s how close we were to her place.  Not all that far across a field of low lying weeds.  I don’t ever remember anything being grown on purpose in that field, just naturally occurring weeds.

As you can see—a little bit—a line of trees ran along the property line, and not that far on to the left and back from the property line a little was the well.  That’s where we got our water. The earth around that that well was always a bit muddy.  I used to walk in that mud barefoot because I liked the feeling of it.  There must have been a leak somewhere.

The one of us to the left is brother, Steve, and the little guy, seated on the block, is brother, Dave.  He looks at least a year old, maybe 18 months.  So the picture must have been taken in 53 or 54.  We are barefoot per usual.  A pair of shoes is a terrible thing to waste.

I am there but completely blocked out.

Looks as if we are doing some pretend thing, maybe we are pretending to camp out.  Though I don’t know why we would be doing that.  But behind there—it looks as if we have constructed a tent and inside the tent appears to be a broken down palette of the kind used to carry brick and block about.  Seems as if where ever we lived one or more of those things could be found lying about or leaning up against a wall.

Somewhere right along there, more to our right, I think was a good sized persimmon tree.  I ate some of those once that were a little on the green side and got a stomach ache out of it.

The Block House

Here I am again—I was going to say—looking pretty country.  But I don’t see anything here to scporchsignify country.  I do know, though, the picture was taken of the porch of the house in South Carolina, the one the old man built out of block and that had four rooms but no bathroom.  Note the brickwork.  That was his doing, but so were those steps to the porch: four blocks just plopped next to each other.  The old man suffered from a slight attention to detail problem.  I remember those block now that I see them.  They used to wobble when you stepped up to the porch.

The lawn clearly is in need of a mowing.  Ha. Ha.  Nobody had lawns back there and certainly nobody bothered to mow them.  Mostly people had dirt yards; sometimes they would sweep the dirt yards to get the dirt off.  Ha. Ha.  Those weeds are just whatever stuff grew in front of the house.

I am wearing shoes so it probably isn’t summer, but I am wearing shorts though so maybe it is.  I am wearing one of my trusty t-shirts, and I didn’t wear much of anything when it was hot summer.  So maybe it wasn’t summer. But maybe they had been dressed up for the photo session.  So I guess I don’t know what time of year it was, except that it probably wasn’t winter.

I don’t know what that thing is off to my right on the porch.  It looks like a fish, but what’s a fish doing on the porch.  We didn’t eat fish; the old man didn’t like to pick out the bones.  He did say, though, they had fish fries when he was a kid.  Folks would gather by some lake, they would pull a truck up next to the lake and use it to power a live cable they would throw into the lake to electrocute the fish. They would just come bobbing up and all you had to do was collect them.

I could be five or six in that picture.  I don’t know, but if you ask me I look pretty boney.  Back then though I was always boney.  But maybe this was during my sickly period when I was sick all the time with strep throat before I had my tonsils out.


I look sort of pensive.  I wonder what I was thinking about.  Maybe my head was completely empty or maybe I was thinking about eating dinner, or what the hell I was doing sitting there.  I have been told I was a thoughtful child and very curious.  So maybe I am thinking, why am I here, what’s going to happen, what’s the point in all of this, why have I been put on this earth and is there a purpose.

The usual stuff.

Little Skipper

Here I am again, looking pretty country, seated on the steps of the porch of my grandma’s house.  The galoot to my right figures in my earliest memory.  I am down on the floor on my belly and I am looking at my little potty chair and I am pissed because somebody else is using it.  The person skipperusing it is was the galoot sitting next to me in that picture.  He was not supposed to be using my potty.  After all it was mine.  Also he upset the height hierarchy.  I was the first born and taller than my little brother who must have been two or three at the time of this picture.  But the galoot, who was less than a year older than yours truly, had a number of inches on me and quite a few pounds.

The big galoot was my Aunt’s son, the son of the sister of my mother.  He was Aunt Betty’s son and for some unknown and ungodly reason she had name him “Skipper.”  That’s how I always knew him and that’s what he was always called.  I don’t think it was a nick name.  I don’t know what my Aunt was thinking about when she named him but I doubt she was thinking too clearly.

She had fallen for this military guy, and just before he headed out during WWII to the South Pacific, they went to Tijuana and got married.  I doubt my Aunt was into premarital sex, so I guess they had the time in between getting married and his heading out to sea to get Aunt Betty pregnant.  Well, she bore the child and decided to go back with him to her husband’s ken in Arkansas, his having not yet returned from the war.  But when she got there, she found they didn’t know who the hell she was because her so-called husband was already married and had not communicated to his family—through he had written otherwise to Aunt Betty—anything about her existence.

Talk about your embarrassing moments.  And they were not welcoming in the least either and sent her packing.

So she went back to California, and when the old man drug me and my mother back South, she stayed there for a number of years.  But I think it was probably pretty hard being a single mother back then or any time for that matter, and she must have gotten lonely—though she and my mother hated each other—so she came back to South Carolina and got a job up in Greensville as a telephone operator.  And while she was looking for work and getting a little money together we took in Skipper.  He was with us a number of months I think, and returned for extended stays on other occasions.

But after a while, Aunt Betty went back to California to San Diego to be with her father who was dying at the time.  I don’t know why she wanted to go back to see that asshole; but maybe she hoped to inherit his trailer, that he was living in at the time, and get her hands on whatever valuables he had stashed away.  After he died, she stayed in San Diego.

After we moved back there ourselves, we were told, after the fact, that one reason we had moved was so that my mother, who hated her sister, could be near her sister in her time of need since Skipper who suffered some sort of hormonal abnormality and grew to over six feet before he was 12 had developed cancer.

Cats and Goats

My brothers—mostly my brothers—and I had to clean out our mother’s house so we could sell it.  As the family historian, or the one interested in such things, or with the time to do it, I took charge of house1947a couple of boxes of pictures and documents that our mother kept in a cedar chest, and a few days back I pulled out one of the boxes and started going through it.

 That was a mistake.  I am never in a good mood and doing that, looking at pictures of a bunch of dead people from long ago, didn’t help my mood any.  But I found this picture and I think at some level I have been thinking around and about it since I first saw it. But I don’t know what I am thinking about exactly and whatever it is seems pretty confused and full of conflict.

That’s a picture of the first house we lived in when the old man took us back to South Carolina after WWII to grow cotton.  I think the house had electricity but it didn’t have running water or in door bathing and toilet facilities.  I appear to be looking at or for something in the grass.  Off to my right is a cat high tailing it out of the area.  A shovel leans up against the wall, and the screen on the door to the porch is a particularly thick and rusty kind of screen that’s hard to describe but you would know it if you have seen it.  Whenever I have seen it I have wanted to touch it.  It has that effect.

I don’t remember the day of course or the house.  I wish I remembered the cat.  But I do recognize the kid.  That’s me, OK.  I know that.  But I have a difficult time making the connection between me, as I sit here at a computer looking out the window at the California mountains about 58 years later, and that kid.  But I do feel a sort of personal, though generic, attachment.

I say generic because in general I like little kids about that age.  Whenever I bump into a little kids about that age I say hello, or sometimes, if I am wearing it, I take off my hat so they can see part of my head come off.  Usually, they don’t mind.  My conversations with these little kids are pretty brief, and I almost always find them satisfying.  I can’t say much passes between us, but enough I expect. What’s there to say but hello and then goodbye?  That’s probably the most basic and fundamental conversation anyway, hello and then goodbye.  That sort of wraps it up, I think.

I am glad the cat is in the picture.  I must have disturbed it—the way it is high tailing it out of there—just moments before the picture was taken.  When I first saw the picture I thought it was a little weird-assed goat with a long tail sticking up, but that didn’t make any sense; then I saw that what appeared one of the ears of the goat was in fact the right front leg of the cat.

I like animals too and I try to communicate with them whenever possible.  While I am very fond of cats, it would have been cool if the cat had been a goat.  I know we kept goats now and then.  Goats are an under-rated animal, pretty interesting, and even a little intelligent, I think.  Not like sheep or your basic fleshy fat cow.  They have a dull and dead look in their eyes.  But a goat will recognize the person who feeds it.  Cows—they don’t give a damn who you are.  They just want to be fed.


Down to the last feeble days of his life, I feared the sound of my father’s voice raised in anger.  Hell, here I was an old man myself, a few months from sixty, and he could still scare me even chestalienthough a stiff breeze could have knocked him over.  He outwitted me by getting that old.  It would not have been seemly for me to have gone up to that dried up old man and knocked him flat to the ground and kicked him repeatedly as I had so deeply desired to do in my youth.  But fear breeds anger and even when he was dried up, I could still feel that heated impulse to do him grievous bodily harm down there poking at the inside of my chest like that monster in Alien.

As a youth, in my teens and in my twenties, I had also desired to knock him down and to beat him to a living pulp.  But prohibitions against raising your hand to your father are deeply interwoven in the fabric of the superego, and to top it off I was fairly certain that had I attacked with vigor, he would have felt little or no compunction, about knocking the crap out of me.  He was, throughout most of my adult life, bigger than I.  I was skin and bones and while he was too mostly all those years of laying brick and blocked had developed his shoulders and arms.

Being a male or developing male hood—or whatever you might call it—is a treacherous thing and has much more to do with the male’s relation to the father than to the mother.  He was a first born son and so was I.  We would inevitably have knocked heads, I think, even in the best of conditions.  But I burn somehow when in my mind’s eye I see, as if I am peeping through a keyhole, the old man with one of my infant brothers.  The old man holds him up on his fingers and encourages him to walk and when he does the old man reaches out and pulls down the diapers around the infants ankles and he falls, not far, because infants don’t have far to fall.

I can’t quite describe the ripping inside I still feel, as if muscle were being pealed from bone, when I think of that little spectacle.  My father laughing, the baby falling, and feeling myself torn between laughing and wanting to scream, what the hell are you doing, especially, when he would do it again and again.  And below that, just below, to feel fear at what might happen if I did scream just that: what the fuck do you think you are doing?  So the whole thing just gets wrapped up inside in an explosive ball.

When I mentioned to a kindly friend that my father was on the verge of death she said be sure not to leave things unsaid.  Have you said what you have wanted to say, have you asked the questions you wanted to ask, because if you don’t it feels terrible if later there were things you wanted to say and wanted to ask?  I assured her that I had asked all the questions I wanted to ask. I did not say that the only thing I had not done that I was sure I would regret upon his death was that I had not beaten the living crap out of him while I still had the opportunity.

Some day I hope not to feel that and I will be all the better for it.


I have generally attributed my obsession with language to my mother.  Actually I should say my rustyredobsession with the English language, since I don’t know or really give a hoot about any of the others, except Latin maybe and it doesn’t count. She was the one who consistently harassed my ass to make sure I spoke grammatically not out of any respect for the language but to insure I did not sound like a hick or pick up too thick a southern accent.

But I must say also that the old man exhibited some degree of linguistic liveliness one might say.  He told off-color jokes that we were not allowed to hear but which usually hinged on some ridiculous pun.  I know he liked, “Woman who fly upside down have big crack up.”  And while farting is sort of a universal language and not essentially English, his prowess in that area certainly contributed to my particularly low sense of humor.

More importantly though he used expressions such as “son of a gun.”  This was used to express surprise and even consternation.  He also said things like, “I did not cotton to it.”  He once said, “I haven’t seen you since you since Hector was a pup.”  Here we can perhaps see a classical reference in the mention of Hector.  Or: “Mad as a wet hen.” These were mostly all southern ruralisms passed down no doubt from generation to generation.  Though one of his favorites—It’s as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass brassiere—had to be of more recent origins since the brassiere only appeared in the early 20th century.

I have already mentioned, “Kiss my rusty red bunny” and “bleed my whistle.”  These euphemisms were designed I do believe to be if anything more repellant that the actual “low” expressions, those being “Kiss my ass” and “take a piss.”

I have also mentioned swearing at which he was prodigious, the most classic being “goddamnmotherfuckingsonofabitch,” said as one word.  Also he would say in moments of frustration, “If I had a shot gun I would blow my fucking head off.”  At which I generally had to stifle my urge to say, “And boy do I wish the fuck you had one!”

 Perhaps most irritating was his tendency to turn the language into a code.  For example, one would be sitting at the dinner table and he would say, “PPMB.”  This was confusing until somebody muttered, “Pass him the butter,” since PPMB stood for Please, pass me the butter, one of the rules of his code being to leave out the articles, “a”,”an,” and “the.”

Mostly, I found this practice so ridiculous I could not be bothered to figure them out except for WFDS which through dint of sheer repetition I came to understand as What’s For Desert Squirt.  Sometimes he would come out with a whopper such as, “FDCQRTS,” which nobody could figure out, and since he would never explain them, as far as I know some of his deepest thoughts were never understood.

Sex Talk

Seems as if today parents wouldn’t have to give their kids a sex talk if they have a TV; it’s all pretty much there.  They show animals openly fornicating on the Discovery Channel.  It’s appalling the way those animals fornicate out in the open like that and that’s just basic cable.  I am not a zucchiniparent, so I wouldn’t know.  But I guess it there’s a sex talk today it’s more like: don’t do it! Or if you do it, do this or that! Not so much a sex talk as a venereal disease talk.

Anyway there’s not much to explain.  The mechanics of it are pretty straight forward.  Sex obviously is pretty much idiot proof.

Back in my day, there was no cable TV or Discovery Channel, but I never got a sex talk.  I had to do research.  My father never said word one on the subject, and all my mother ever said at all about the topic was: your father is like a rabbit; and sex is good once a week like chicken.

But in sixth grade we had a sex talk hour or so that must have been mandated by the state.  It was really odd because they sent all the girls off into one room and all the boys off into another as if one sex wasn’t supposed to know what the other was up to.  But it wasn’t a sex talk as much as it was a naming the parts talk plus some discussion of what would soon—for your average teenager—be happening in those parts.  It was sort of a heads up, by way of a warning.

So all of us sixth grade guys were in one room with Mr. Tode.  He was a really popular teacher, especially with the girls, since he was the only male elementary school teacher we had.  But I didn’t like him much because one day he was playing some music in class on a record player that for some reason he stuck in the back row next to me.  And when a song ended he asked me to move the little needle to another one but I flubbed it and scratched the record and he fucking yelled at me.  He nearly fucking traumatized me because that was the first time I had picked up a record needle since we didn’t have a record player.  But he said it like I was supposed to know how and it looked pretty easy. I mean, I was game.  But I flubbed it.

Anyway, we didn’t have any visual aides back then.  No charts or graphs and no movies because we didn’t have any movie projectors at our school.  So Mr. Tode, who was not a good drawer, had to draw pictures of the parts—penis and testicles and such—up there on the black board.  And then he tried to draw a penis in an erect state to indicate what would be happening.  And I was sitting in the back row and I leaned over to John Cobb sitting next to me and said, “Looks like a zucchini to me.”  Because that’s what it looked like.  And John laugh and the guy next to John laughed and I laughed, and there went Mr. Tode yelling again, “If you are not mature enough…etc.”

So that was the sex talk except at the end he asked were there any questions, and for quite a bit there weren’t any till Lance, who was pretty robust and earnest guy though none to swift, said he had one of those nackturanal emitters Mr. Tode had mentioned and while Mr. Tode said the stuff was supposed to be sort of white, he had noted that his stuff had been sort of yellowish.  And Mr. Tode said there was nothing to be concerned about since it could come out a bit on the white or the yellow side, and I just had to stifle myself from raising my hand and asking what if it come out blue.

Brer Rabbit

Because she didn’t want us to grow up to be uncouth yokels like our father, the old lady started reading to us boys pretty early.  She’d start off with the Child’s Garden of Verses which she acted brerrabbitlike was real special since Robert Stevenson had something to do with it.  This I didn’t like as much as Mother Goose featuring Humpty Dumpy and that woman who lived in a shoe.  And some of the Grimm stuff too.  But the stories that tended to stick in my mind were by Uncle Remus and involved Brer Rabbit.

I don’t know if people read Uncle Remus anymore.  People might think it is racist.  But I am not sure what reason for that there might be.  Maybe the Tar Baby?  But as I understand it these were African Oral Tales that a white man named Chandler Harris compiled and put out under the nom de plume of Uncle Remus.  Once at some function I sat next to a young black lady in anthropology I think, and I asked her about Uncle Remus and she said there was nothing racist in it, and we had sort of a debate about what Brer Rabbit represented  She said he was a common figure in African tales; he represented the trickster.

I said, true, he did trick Brer Fox on a number of occasions, but on one occasion at least he tricked himself and that was one of my favorites, the tale of the tar baby.  Seems Brer rabbit was out walking one day—well, you know the story.  And he came upon the Tar Baby who refused to returned Brer Rabbit’s salutation and that pissed off Brer Rabbit and receiving no apology for the insult, he attacked the Tar Baby and the more he fought the more he got tangled up in the Tar Baby.

So I said, Brer Rabbit didn’t seem to represent a trickster in this story; instead, I proposed, he had received his comeuppance for being the egotist that he was and getting so easily insulted.  The black student allowed that in this particular tale, true, Brer Rabbit had been chastened, but as a trickster he was also understood to be an egoist.  I allowed as how she probably was correct and obviously Brer Rabbit was a more highly complex character than I had supposed.

In one of the trickster tales, Brer Fox gets his hands on Brer Rabbit and is going to eat him.  But Brer Rabbit starts saying stuff like before you eat me please don’t stick me with a knife because there’s nothing I hate more than being stuck with a knife.  So Brer Fox would go to stick him with a knife and Brer Rabbit said something like oh don’t stick me with a knife before you eat me because even more than being stuck with a knife I hate being…and so on and so forth, till he said there was nothing he hated more than being thrown in the blackberry patch.  Whereupon the Fox did that and Brer Rabbit just laughed because there was no way Brer Fox was going to get him in there.

I was particularly fond of this story because of its mention of the blackberry patch.  There was one of those maybe fifty yards across down in the hollow beyond Grandma’s house.  I loved those blackberries.  They were free food.  Sometimes towards the middle of the summer, I would crawl out under that big black berry patch getting stuck now and then, but out as far towards the middle as I could go and find a nice spot with a bunch of berries, and lie on my back with the sun filtering through the leaves and eat blackberries, at times each one being sweeter than the next.  I guess I identified with Brer Rabbit because out in the middle of that black berry patch I felt off in my own place and safe from bigger people should they want to get at me.


Back in SC, we had no sweets around the house.  Except possibly vanilla wafers, and those quickly became tiresome.  Sometimes we had bananas, and when they went over the edge, the old lady would hashmash them up and put cream and sugar in with it, and then cover the whole thing with vanilla wafers, and then cook it in the oven for a while and then we would eat that.

We never had potato chips either.  That’s hard to imagine today what with all the sorts and kinds of chips wherever you look.  But I don’t remember a bag of potato chips in the place.  I guess we were deprived.  But every once in a blue moon on a Friday evening, when maybe he had a good week money-wise, the old man would stop at this place by the Laurens Drive in and buy hash and he would buy potato chips then.

That was about the whole meal unless the old lady made coleslaw which was a possibility and something she knew how to do.  So we would eat those chips, and you put that hash in the middle of a piece of white bread, and if any bread was left you used it to sop up the hash juice from your plate.  I don’t know but I loved that hash and missed it deeply when we moved to California.

Many years later when we went back to SC for a visit I was happy and proud that my Uncle Earl had gone into the hash business.  He didn’t do it on a regular basis but for holidays, especially the Fourth of July which is celebrated down south for different reasons than the rest of the country.  Fire stations would make hash too.  Uncle Earl just attached a cardboard sign to his mailbox and at one point he sold the hash at eight dollars a pint because it didn’t come by the pound but in little containers, like they have at Chinese places, with little wire handles on them.

I thought maybe I had built that hash up a little in my mind and when I sat down to eat some at Uncle Earl’s place I was prepared to be disappointed.  But I wasn’t.  Maybe it wasn’t quite what I remembered but it was near enough.  I am not entrepreneurially inclined, but I did sit around some and thought about how I might mass market that stuff.  People by that time had all become calorie counters and nutritious-wise and since that hash was probably about as God awful as any meat could be for a person, I figured I would have to market it as anti-health.  Put maybe a little American flag on the container and advertise it as “Not Meat.  The Pure Essence of Meat.”

Uncle Earle had a hash house built right next to his real house.  Inside, he had a couple of forty gallon vats.  He would put the meat in those and add some little water, and vinegar, he said, and some secret sauce, though I believe he was kidding.  His recipe as I recollect was something like 300 pounds of beef plus 300 pounds of pork and slow heat for 48 hours, stirring constantly so it did not stick to the bottom of the vat, and a whole bunch of onions. That was it.  Plus salt and pepper, and slow cooked that meat just broke down yielded up to the quivering palette the Pure Essence or Nectar of Meat.