Saturday, June 10, 2017

To Sheila with Love by Adam Rich

To Sheila with Love

by Adam Rich 

They just don't make cars like they used to! I recently had the privilege to not only drive but own one of the last remaining holdovers from a nearly forgotten era. The era of the station wagon.

No doubt any of you over the age of 30 most likely have some memory of one of these gentle giants from your youth.

Well, I managed to pick up an '89 Mercury Colony Park recently, in great running condition. With a tuneup and a little TLC, my baby beast was a boat afloat, and I couldn't have enjoyed the ride more. Sheila, she was called, and she sailed smoother than any vehicle I've owned previously.

If you can imagine cruising down the highway while sitting on your couch, you begin to understand the experience of sailing Sheila along at about 80 mph. And you just can't beat a bench seat, especially a split bench seat with independent electronic controls. Pure Luxury, as a friend of mine would say. And, now Sheila sleeps, on a brand new front suspension, amongst a sea of sedans and coupes, a behemoth among compact cars, with an uncertain future.

A sadder story I know not, and should my sockets possess the power, I promise a solitary tear would streak my cheek in remembrance of a mighty machine that, though I may have only had for what amounts to mere moments in the course of a lifetime, has found a home in and will forever cruise the highways of my heart.

Zoom ... Zoom ~~~~

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Fathers Day Tribute to My Dad

A Fathers Day Tribute to My Dad

by Sandy Penny,

I just realized that my parents met in 1926. How can that be? That seems like several lifetimes ago. James Leonard DuBoise met Jeffie Lou McFerrin at a County Fair on a Ferris Wheel. My mother was only 14, but she was 5' 9" tall. Today my father would be arrested. He was 28. They fell in love while stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel for 15 minutes while a repair was made. Or was it fate? 

Her father did not want them to get together. My dad was a widower already and had a little daughter, Belle, and the fact that he had already been married was shameful in those days. But they ran off and got married anyway, to Arkansas where they didn't need parental permission. They lived on a farm as sharecroppers in those days, and my father did a little carpentry work and house building. I understand he loved fast cars and used to drive night runs for moonshiners. 

They had been together for 42 years when my father died in 1969. I was only 18 when he passed. They had 10 children who survived, and more that didn't make it. I was number 9. I loved him with all my heart. My favorite photo, which I don't have, was of him in his carpenter's overalls holding his long toolkit in one hand and my hand in the other. I was five years old. He took me with him to a little carpentry job he had contracted. 

I colored at the kitchen table while he did some remodeling. And I had my first cup of tea when the house owners offered me one. I was scared I would not like it and refused at first, but they added milk and sugar, and I tried it, and it was delicious. 

One thing I loved about my dad was that he got up early every morning, five a.m. He would sweep the entire downstairs floors before anyone got up, except that I would get up at six a.m. and see him still sweeping. I love spending that morning time with him, alone. My mother was not well, and she would sleep later. My brothers had to be dragged out of bed, but I was always up and sitting at the kitchen table, eating, reading or doing homework or just talking with my dad. 

Daddy loved to dress up. He wore suits most of the time, a Stetson hat in the winter, and a straw hat in the summertime. He ironed his own starched white shirts and creased his pants to a razor's edge. He had lots of nice ties as well, and cufflinks. He shopped the rummage sales for all the best clothing he could find, and always looked nice, even if we were poor and living in a government housing project. He had pride in his appearance.

Jim DuBoise was known at the local bars for drinking a bit too much, but he was a happy drunk, and when he drank, he played banjo, guitar, Jews harp, harmonica and a little piano while he sang country songs. I loved hearing him sing. He used to sing a song that my mother loved called "A Little Poplar Cabin in the Woods." I never knew until recently that he wrote that song for her. She was a country girl at heart. and loved to grow things: plants and kids. His natural musical skill was awesome. I saw him sit down at a piano, never having played before and start picking out songs in five minutes. 

After he died, one Fathers Day, I wrote him a song: "When I was a baby my daddy used to play on his banjo and guitar each and every day. He said, you got to have music, music in your soul, you got to have music, cause music makes you whole. You got to have music, music in your heart, you got to have music, cause you had it from the start." I think that's why I match song lyrics to conversations all the time.

Back in my childhood days, people took their kids to the local taverns with them. My mother never went. She was a Christian woman who never drank or smoked or even played cards. I met his friends, and we called them all aunts and uncles. One couple gave me a beautiful cowgirl doll with a china face and braided hair for my birthday. It was the most wonderful doll I ever owned. Later, one of my brother's stupid friends threw it on the sidewalk and broke the face. One of the saddest days of my little life. I sure did have trouble with boys in those days.

My dad was a good man. He'd give you the shirt off his back, literally, if you needed it. He used to bring in bums off the street and let them have a bath and give them a suit of clothes he got at a rummage sale. My mother would feed them, and most had never had such wonderful tasting food. She was the best cook and was willing to feed anyone who stepped through her door. The men would leave clean shaven, freshly shod in shoes my dad repaired and re-soled himself, and well-fed for days.  

One Christmas, daddy built doll beds for my sister Patty and me. They had scalloped headboards, were painted blue and pink, and were strong enough for us to climb all over with no chance of breaking them. We were delighted. That same year, my sister Anne gave us new dolls, so the beds were perfect timing. They lasted us until we grew up and left home when my mother passed them on to a new batch of grandkids. My dad also built a high chair that lasted through all his kids. It was so sturdy and the perfect height for us to sit at the table with the grownups.

My dad only went to the eighth grade. That was not uncommon back then. But he was an avid reader, could build anything, fix anything and do anything he set his mind to. He was a hard worker and a perfectionist carpenter. I used to help him mow lawns just to spend more time with him, and he would cut the grass, and I would edge it and clean up the cuttings. He instructed me all along the way to make sure it was perfect. Everyone loved his work. I get my strong work ethic from him.

My dad fell from a ladder on a construction job and broke his back in the late 1950s. He was lucky to survive that fall. He shrank 3 inches from the loss of calcium in his spine. He was considered disabled after that and had to wear a back brace all the time and sleep with a board under his mattress. I think that increased his drinking, self-medicating for the pain.

He drank too much, for sure, but he gave every penny of his hard-earned money to my mother for the family. He bought his wine with extra money he earned from odd jobs, playing music, selling scrap metal and pawning his guitars. As a teenager, I was often embarrassed to see him stumbling down the street, and would pretend not to see him. Teenagers are fraught with embarrassment. But he was never abusive to my mother or his children, and we all love him dearly. We never went hungry, and always always knew we were loved. 

Happy Fathers Day, Daddy. We all love and miss you and hope you're playing your music wherever you are and that Roy and J.W. are there with you jamming that country beat. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

First Day at Venice Elementary School

by Sandy Penny (Formerly Sandra DuBoise)
I was seven years old when we moved to the Venice Homes government housing project from Granite City, Illinois. The house we had lived in was condemned, torn down and turned into a parking lot. In that house, I had to share a room with all my sisters, but at our new apartment, I only had to share with my sister, Patty. I felt like it was a mansion. And we had a playground with monkey bars, swings and a merry-go-round. I missed living across the street from the church we attended, Mt. Zion General Baptist, where I would go to Wednesday night potluck and have a feast. And I didn’t know if I’d still be able to go to Sunday School, which I loved. And I lived across the street from my first elementary school, where my brother was a patrol boy, and I had proudly crossed the street with his protection. I would miss those things at our new home, but I was always up for a move.
School was about to begin in the fall, and I was excited but a little bit afraid as well. My family had my two brothers go to school the first day and see what it was like. They didn’t know if it was a rough neighborhood, and they wanted to be sure I was going to be safe before letting me go. My brothers, Bob, four years older, and Curt, two years older, gave their stamp of approval, and I was allowed to go a couple of days later. All that fear seems so odd to me now. I wonder what they would have done if it had been a dangerous place.
We lived about 10 blocks from the school, and I walked with my brothers in the morning, but in the afternoon, they got out later than I did. That seems strange to me now, but it was the case at the time. Since I was new to town, and the distance to my house was just short of the bus route, the teacher felt that I needed someone to walk me home for a few days until I was confident of finding my way. Billy Crump, who also lived in the “Homes” was assigned that task. He seemed amenable to it, and was polite to the teacher. Ms. Ulfers was our teacher, and she was aptly nicknamed Ms. Ulcers. She was tense and controlling and would walk along the lines of children yelling, “Get back in line and stand up straight.” I was not used to that tone of voice, so I was scared out of my wits and did exactly as she said.
That first day at school, I felt very grown up as I thought about walking home, and I couldn’t get lost because the teacher told Billy Crump to show me the way. He lived in the Venice Homes, like me. As soon as we got off the school grounds, however, Billy took off running, turning around to laugh and point at me, then run off faster than I could go. I was shocked that he would disobey Ms. Ulfers like that, but I was mad too. I had never really known any boys except my brothers, and they would never have done that, well, not to me, anyway. I felt like crying, but I was so mad, I wouldn’t allow myself to act like a baby. I remember saying as I stomped along, “I don’t need no stupid boy to show me the way home. I can find it on my own.” And I did, I retraced in my mind the way my brothers and I had walked that morning, and I arrived safely at home, proud of myself for being so grown up. That day began a lack of trust for boys though, and I’m not sure if that was a good or bad thing in those days, but later in life, my extreme independence has haunted my relationships. Funny how one event like that can affect your whole life.
My mother was not too happy when I told her what happened, but now she was confident that I could get home without my brothers. Besides, there were lots of other kids walking home at the same time. All I had to do was stick with them, even if I didn’t know them yet, and I’d be safe. Life was simpler then, safer, more trusting, except of course, for me and Billy Crump.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Love Comes Late

Love Comes Late

by Sandy Penny 2-10-2014

Clarabell Rynearson had always been a school teacher. Even as a child, she loved to learn and teach others. She also loved the children she taught in the poor midwestern town of Venice, Illinois, located on the banks of the Mississippi River directly across from the famous St. Louis Arch. She watched the Arch being built and thought the money could have been better spent to improve the lives of those who languished in the shadow of it. But that was not her decision, so she focused on her own life and left those decisions to the men in charge. It was 1961, and the men were definitely still in charge, although the women's movement was making headway. She secretly liked that and felt empowered by it, but she was too much a lady to ever speak it in public.

Miss Rynearson was built a bit like the nickname her students gave her, Miss Rhinoceros. She was short and stocky and plain. She didn't have much time to be glamorous. Her life was filled with responsibilities she never expected. Her mother had cancer, and everyone knew she was not going to live much longer, so Clarabelle took great care of her. She was kind, shopped and cooked for her, and had long since moved back into her mother's house to be there as needed. No one really knew the struggles she had, and she was not about to tell them. She was completely capable of handling them herself. She was a private person.

Although the kids in her classes respected and feared her somewhat, she had a sense of humor. Clarabell was the name of the clown on the Howdy Doody show, and of course, the kids had a field day making jokes about that. She headed them off at the pass, buying up Clarabell dolls, and giving one of them the place of honor displayed on a table beside her desk for all the kids to see. Each week the best speller got to keep the Clarabell doll for the weekend. It was amazing how no one ever harmed the Clarabell doll during their weekend stays, in hopes they would be the one to win it. At the end of the year, the top speller from the weekly spelling bees got to keep the doll. The next year, another one would magically appear in the class. It was a coveted award and a testament to her understanding of her students. No class was ever more motivated to learn their spelling words.

Years passed, and Miss Rynearson's mother died. We never knew how old our teacher was, and of course, we thought she was ancient, which she probably wasn't. But soon after her mother passed, a rumor started that Ms. Rynearson (we had become liberated and changed from Miss to Ms. by this time) had a boyfriend. No one knew who he was, and speculation ran rampant, but a secret was never better kept in Venice than this one.

One September, when school started after Labor Day, Ms. Rynearson announced that she was married now, and her name was no longer Rynearson. She had married the school janitor, which seemed a bit of a scandal as teachers and janitors were of a different class in those days, but that's not how she saw it. She was more open minded than most people. I never figured out how that romance began. Was she working late one day grading papers, and he came in to empty her trash cans, and they began to talk? Had she admired the way he polished the granite floors and made them shine day after day of little feet scuffing them up? She never said and left it to her students to gossip and speculate.

But one thing was sure, they stayed together for the rest of their lives. Love may have come late, but when it arrived, it decided to stay.