Dec 7, 2006

Remembering Ershman

I don’t remember his first name, but sure he had one. Everybody just called him Ershman. I’m sure the spelling is also wrong but that is a moot point.

Ershman was a strange little fellow. He aspired to be a preacher, not just run-of-the-mill translator of the Good Word, but a real hell fire & brimstone, fist shaking, foot stomping, screaming and yelling preacher from the old school.

Remember the old Munsters TV show with Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster and Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster? Take Grandpa’s face, turn the smile into a big frown, add a little longer nose and pointed chin, then make the complexion very dark and you have Ershman. His facial feature that most impressed me when I was just a kid was his small, dark, beady eyes. He looked mean! He wasn’t mean, just mad. He was the most even tempered person I have known - he was pi$$ed off all the time. I don’t believe I ever saw him when he wasn’t yelling at someone or about something. Of course, because of his disposition, he was the butt of everyone’s joke.

Ershman worked in the maintenance department for the Gospel Publishing House, which is the publishing and printing division for the Assemblies of God churches. Dad also worked there and at that time was foreman of the press department. Often, I would go into the plant just before quiting time and watch all the presses run and chat with the pressmen. Here would come Ershman, running around the corner of a press, shaking his fist in dad’s face and yelling, “I’m going to tear you limb from limb!” He was always threatening to tear someone’s limb off, but never did.

One of Ershman’s responsibilities was to pick up the waste paper at each press, take it to a bailing machine so the waste paper could be recycled. Each press had at least one large cardboard barrel for the waste. Each barrel could hold about 50 gallons of a liquid. In order to get as much paper into each barrel as possible, Ershman would clasp his hand together, intertwining his fingers and with as much might as he could muster, pound the top of the paper mounded on top to pack it in the barrel. Ever so often, one of the pressmen would take an empty barrel, tape a sheet of paper over the top and pile paper on top. Here would come Ershman with hands clasped into a double fist, stand on his toes, raising his hands as high as he could reach. Occasionally, he made a beautiful nose dive into the empty barrel, but most of the time, only his arms and head went in. The rim of the barrel would strike his rib cage, tip over and scoot across the floor. Ershman would lay there face down in wads of paper. I know it hurt, because he for a few seconds, he would just lay there, then slowly get up on one knee. Bracing himself with one arm, he would hold his ribs with the other. Head bowed, I didn’t know if he was prayin’ cryin’ or cussin’ - probably the latter. Then he would get up, run up to the first person he saw, shake his fist in their face and scream, “I’m going to tear you limb from limb!” This came as quite a shock when an editor or executive would come down from the offices to check on the status of their printing job. Like being flogged by a Bantum Rooster.

For a while after one of these nose dives, Ershman would check each barrel before packing it, but after a few days went back into his old habits. Then a pressman would do something almost cruel. They would turn the barrel upside down and pile paper on top. Here came Ershman with his double fisted pile driver. With his fingers intertwined, when his fists hit the solid barrel bottom, each finger felt as though it broke off. He would just stand there for a few seconds as though trying to keep from wetting his paints. Then ever so slowly, separate his hands, one finger at a time. As soon as he was able to make a fist again, he would shake it in the face of the nearest person and suggest they were about to lose their arms.

One of the neatest pranks ever pulled on Ershman was during the Second World War. Ershman drove an old grey sedan. I have no recollection of the make, it was just old and grey. During the War, gas was rationed and everyone tried to save as much as possible. Ershman began to talk about how good of gas mileage he was getting. This gave the boys an idea. Every couple of days, they would pour a quart of gas into his car. Soon, he was getting fantastic gas mileage. Everyone knew what was happening and always asked and razzed him about it. Eventually, he was getting over 80 mpg. Then, they started siphoning gas out. When he got down to about 10 mpg, he quit checking it. Everyone always asked, but he never replied. I always wondered how many sermons Ershman used this as an object lesson - you know, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Dec 4, 2006

Remembering Thomas VandeWierd least I believe that was his name. During the late 40s through the mid-late 50s, dad and his brother Granville were farming together. We had leased 2 adjoining farms for a total acreage of a little less that 500. Granville worked full time on the farm, but since dad was employed in town, we always hired a guy to take his place. Granville’s two sons and I always split milking duties and I spent most of every summer working on the farm. I always felt (because I was told) I had to out-work anyone we hired. If I slacked off, then any hands would slack off also. This applied to both regular and seasonal help. So, I had to set the example. We had a bunch of great hands over the years, but we had our share of nuts too. Which brings us to Thomas VandeWierd.

Tom was a short, skinny, nervous little fellow which now reminds me of Don Knotts. It’s hard to watch an old Andy Griffith show without imagining Tom shaking his gun as Barney Fife. He was just as jumpy. But Tom had a very good reason for his jumpy behavior. One day he confided in me that when he was in WW2, he was captured by the Japanese. Then over the next many months, he told me horror stories of how the Japanese would run slivers of bamboo under his fingernails to get him to talk. Don’t know why they needed to do that, he never shut up on the farm. Hmmm, maybe they didn’t know he could speak a little Japanese. He also told me never to get my finger in his mouth because he could bite it off without knowing it. See, his captors pulled out all his teeth without using any pain killer. He still didn’t talk. Later, they put in false teeth plates and attached them with screws bolted into the jaw bones. That way, he didn’t have any feeling in his teeth so he could bite a nail in half without knowing it. I sure kept my fingers out of his mouth from then on.

Another thing he cautioned me about - never, ever slip up behind him without him knowing it. He was trained in jungle warfare for his overseas duty. He was so highly trained, if someone startled him, his reflexes would take over and he could kill or maim before he had time to think. Boy, I always whistled or sang where ever I went. I didn’t want to scare him and take a chance on getting killed. A regular Rambo he was. For years after he was discharged, he didn’t sleep at night. He was so highly trained, he could go for days without sleep. He must have forgotten his training by the time he worked for us, because I caught him in the fields napping many times instead of working. At night, he told me, he would walk the borders or fences, always on lookout for anything that might bring harm to him. He really didn’t have any worries about that on our farm. The most harmful varmint we had were skunks. I found out if you whistled and didn’t sneak up on them, they wouldn’t attack and kill you either.

One day Tom came to our house and asked to use the phone. Mom and I were the only ones in the house so we went into another room to give Tom some privacy. Later, Mom passed by the phone and saw Tom had left a piece of paper with a phone number on it. Under the paper was a thin paper neatly folded. Mom never let privacy get in the way of curiosity, so she unfolded the paper. It was his Army discharge papers. He had only been in the military a few months when he was discharged. He had never been captured, or overseas. He never had jungle training or any of those things he told me about. We were not familiar with the discharge code on the papers. The next day, Dad asked some of his buddies who served in the military what the code meant. They told him that was a psychological discharge - he was a nut case! Strangely, Tom never told me any more war stories. Looking back now, I doubt if he even knew how to speak Japanese.

I remember one day Tom was in the field with the tractor and Granville and I was working on some machinery at the barn. It was standard practice to fill up the tractor and a spare 5 gallon can with gas each morning. This would more than last until noon. After lunch, you will fill up the tractor and spare can which would last until time to milk the cows that night. About mid-afternoon, Granville and I looked up as Tom walked into the barnyard. Granville asked him what was wrong. He said he had ran out of gas. We asked why, Tom said he forgot to fill up at noon. He was empty handed so Granville asked, “Where’s the gas can?” Tom stopped mid-stride. He looked at the ground for a few seconds, then, as if fighting back tears, yelled out “I forgot it. It’s still in the field!” As he turned around and headed back toward the field, Granville, who was never one to be overly sensitive to another’s feelings, yelled back, “How do you expect to carry the gas - in your hip pocket?” Tom spun around, fists clenched and tears running down his cheek screamed back, “Alright, by God, I quit!”

We thought that would be the last we would see of Tom, but that was not the case. A few days later, we received a phone call from him. Seems as though he tried to hop a freight train to get out of town. Just as he jumped, he slipped. One leg went under a wheel and was cut off just below the knee. Dad talked to the Frisco Railroad a few days later. They said it was a good thing he missed the train. Just a few feet away, were tall grain storage elevators. The Frisco guy said there was not enough room for a person between the rail car and the elevators. He would have been crushed to death had he not slipped and fallen.

Ironically, that location was in front of what used to be Roberson’s Feed, Coal, Grocery Store and Gas Station. Both Dad and Granville worked there when they first came to Springfield and before they were married. Rail cars would stop there and Dad, Granville, and several others who remained life long friends would unload the coal and feed.

That particular location holds a lasting memory for me. One Sunday after church, we stopped there for gas. Dad was outside the car filling it up and chatting with the Robersons while mom and I sat in the car listening to the radio. All of a sudden, mom begin to yell at everyone to come and listen. The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor.

When both of our daughters were youngsters, Donna and I bought an old 3 story house just a few blocks away from that intersection. I always loved that neighborhood and it seemed more like “home” than any place I ever lived. I miss the good times we had there and occasionally drive around the old neighborhood just to see how it looks. It hasn’t changed much - our old house is still in great shape, but the Roberson’s store has long disappeared. I share a lot with the old neighborhood - I’m in great shape - for the shape I’m in.

Dec 3, 2006

Remembering Grandpa Atwill

On my maternal side is William Evert Atwill who I had to call PeePaw. I had an uncle that was only 6 years my elder and cried when I called his mother grandma. So we had to call them meemaw and peepaw. I always hated that! All my friends had “grandparents”. I was stuck with mees and pees. But now I am old enough and have broken away somewhat from that side of the family, I will take the well deserved liberty to call Bill Atwill: Grandpa. To say Grandpa was mischievous when he was a kid is a gross understatement! He was a onery cuss. I like to think I take after him. He was Scottish. Story goes that when the first two Atwill brothers came to America, the authorities miss-spelled the last name of one brother. Being true to the Scottish tradition, he was too tight to spend the fifty-cents to correct the mistake, therefore a whole clan of Atwells sprang up. But as I understand it, we are all cousins.

Grandpa and his family grew up in Iberia, Missouri, a little town north of Waynesville/Fort Leonard Wood area. Great Grandpa Atwill was the town blacksmith and all of his sons learned the trade. Later, when the new contraption called Model T became popular, great-grandpap Atwill started the first Ford Agency in that town. It is still in operation today, or at least was the last time I was there. The Atwills sold out to the Eads family and then it became Eads Ford Agency. However, one of Grandpa’s brothers (Oral) married the Eads daughter, so the dealership is back in the Atwill family. I always wondered, did he love the daughter and got the agency in the deal, or did he love the agency and was stuck with the daughter? I’ll never know.

In addition to Grandpa Bill, some of the names of the Atwill boys were Oral, Earl, Floyd and Spurgeon. Teri has posted more info on her blog. Check on the link. Grandpa had a million stories of his youth. I’ll try to remember a few and pass them on. So I better do Grandpa’s blog in several parts.

The Principal’s Model T.

All the Atwill boys hated school and everybody associated with it - especially the principal. They burned down 3 schools, and those are just the ones they admitted to. Halloween appeared to be their favorite time of the year. They never had time for the treats, just the tricks. Since they were all crack mechanics, on several Halloweens they would dismantle the principal’s Model T Ford. Then tote it to the roof of the school and re-assemble it. The principal, of course, knew who the guilty parties were but was never able to prove it. He refused to hire Atwill Ford to get the car down. Instead, he got a crane and military personal from Fort Leonard Wood to lift it off. The whole town always turned out for the occasion. I can just imagine the school yard filled with people sipping their hot mulled cider, spiked coffee or ‘shine from a Mason fruit jar and eating fresh gingerbread while watching the troops on the school roof. They were probably making bets on whether they would drop the car and would it start after it was safely on the ground. What a wonderful time to be alive!

Dec 1, 2006

My Most Forgetable Character

That be me! This 69 year old Ozarks hillbilly is quickly reaching The Great Age - that’s the age of forgetfulness. Recently, I was trying to remember whether I was going upstairs or had just come downstairs. Then remembered we don’t have stairs in our house. Or trying to remember if I was going to the bathroom or had already gone. At my age, it really doesn’t matter, I had to go again.

The real reason for this blog is working with my youngest daughter in her quest to find all the limbs to our family tree. Now, if I were a tree, what kind would I be? A mighty Oak that would withstand the harshest north winds, or a Willow that would sway in the gentlest breeze, or maybe a pretty Magnolia with it’s dark deep green leaves and fragrant blossoms. Nope, none of that for this old man. I’d be Hickory - full of nuts not really edible except for the squirrels, which is the only things that hangs out with me. Hickory has scaley bark - yep, that be me. And it’s limbs are stiff - that be me also. When forced to bend, the limbs snap, crackle, pop, and grind. Let’s see, me, me, me and me. Yep, I be a Hickory. Now, where was I going with all this? Oh yeah, I remember - talking about my daughter. Her handle is TeriBoop. She is a great fan of Teri. Or is it Boop? Hummm, I forget.

Well, let’s get started with the blog. So far we have uncovered my great-grandfather is a double murderer. I have family members that belonged to the KKK, at least one owned slaves, and one was a personal friend of Frank & Jessie James. But the ones I’m most ashamed of is the lawyer, the judge and the politician. Lord, hope we don’t find a banker in the family. Don’t believe I could cope with that.

Well, I’m puttin’ on my thinkin’ cap and trying to remember the people I’ve met, places I’ve been and stories I’ve heard. Bear in mind, I may on occasion bend the truth slightly to make an interesting story. Other times I’ll just outright lie.

Grabbing my cup, is this coffee fresh, or did I make it yesterday? At least it hasn’t started growing mold yet. It’s never too old until moss grows across the top like dark green pond scum. Really, I don’t mind the moss, except when it sticks to my tooth.

Nov 30, 2006

Remembering Racine

In the late 50's my sisters decided to take accordion lessons. For a teacher, our Mother looked at the only place she ever considered at times as this - the local Bible college. There, she discovered Angelo. Angelo was the typical Italian boy from Niagara Falls, NY. He was a little too loud and pushy for this mid-western farm boy, but I accepted him as one of the family, which he quickly became.

Although Donna and I were newly married and had our own lifestyle and interests, we were expect to participate and support just about everything Angelo did. This included helping to start a little church in the community of Brown’s Spring. I never saw the spring, but assume there was one. At least it existed when the community was named and before the spring became polluted or dried up.

This is where we met Racine. To say Racine was a homely girl would be very flattering. She was probably in her 20's but it was hard to tell. Life had been hard on the gal. If it wasn’t for her Adams apple and knee caps, she wouldn’t have had any figure at all. And hair - remember Cousin It from the old Adams Family TV show? That was a short version of Racine - with hair to match. Her hair was parted in the middle - of her entire head! Not front to back or even side to side. Just in the middle. Her hair grew below shoulder length in all directions. She looked similar to a sheep dog with hair covering her eyes. And this gal had the longest arms I’ve ever seen, second only to an Orangutan. She was very nervous and shy. When she talked to you, she would wrap her arm around the back of her head and grab a handful of hair from in front of her nose and pull it back behind her ear. Instead of letting the ear hold her hair in place, she held on to it as though protecting it from the person she was talking to. Then, with the other arm she would wrap it around the back of her head and the arm, grab the remaining hair from the face and pull it back to tuck behind the other ear. I guess she didn’t know what to do with her hands, so she just left them there. She looked like a contortionist. I bet even Houdini couldn’t do that trick.

Racine wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, she was not only a few fries short of a Happy Meal, she was short the burger too. But what she lacked on the exterior, she made up on the inside. Her lack of looks and intelligence was replaced with an abundance of sincerity, love and affection and a willingness to help anyway she could. She had a heart of gold and it was impossible not to like her and feel quite sorry for her. Which presented a problem, especially with all the church picnics Angelo held. Never to turn down a free meal, Angelo loved to have church picnics on the grounds. What’s the problem? Church picnics are great. Everybody brings their best dish and the feast is on. Well, the problem is Racine always brought food also. Not that she wasn’t a good cook, we never found out because we couldn’t eat any. The reason? That brings us to her house. It was a house only in the academic sense. It had floors, at least in most rooms, and plastered walls. Some rooms even had plaster on both sides of the studs, but not many. They had doorways - no doors, just doorways. Even the exterior doors were missing. Oh, they had one screen door, not a complete door mind you as some of the bottom frame was missing. But this allowed the dogs, cats and chickens (yes, chickens) to have full access of the house.

I was only in the house one time, and Racine’s dad (or uncle, I never knew which was which) asked me to be seated. He even shooed away the red chicken perched on the chair’s back. But I graciously declined his magnificent offer. You see, the chicken had left her calling card on the chair’s bottom which would end up on my bottom. And that would verify what my new father-in-law thought about me. I can just hear him, “See, he not only is one, he’s wearing it on his pants”. But I loved him dearly and I think he loved me. However he never forgave me for marrying his daughter on the 27th of December as he lost a whole year of tax exemption on her. But that’s another story.

Describing Racine’s house, picture Granny Yocom’s house in Dogpatch, or the Clampett’s house in Tennessee before they struck oil. They were mansions compared to Racine’s house. Visualize the Green Acres farm house. It was the Taj Mahal compared to this place. I don’t believe I have ever seen such a dirty place in all my life, and that is saying a lot for the Ozarks. So when it came to church picnics and covered dish lunches, we always made it a practice to point out and brag on what Racine brought. Oddly, no one ever ate any of her food. She never understood why.

Racine lived with her dad and uncle. I don’t know where her mother was - I was afraid to ask. The relationship was strange to me, a young girl living with 2 old men under such dirty conditions. The three of them together didn’t have the IQ of a door knob. Of course they didn’t have any door knobs, didn’t need them. They didn’t have any doors.

I’m not sure what ever became of Racine. Many years later, my sister was traveling in the Brown’s Spring area and stopped at the local general store. Asking about her the store keeper said she was still around and living with her dad and uncle. She asked my sister if she knew Racine had a baby. My sister answered no. The shop keeper said she came in several times while she was pregnant. No one knew who the father was. Could have been a local farm boy but they doubted that. Probably was the uncle’s or even the dad’s. No one knew and I bet Racine didn’t even know. One day Racine came in the store after the baby was born. Inquiring about the birth, Racine explained she was walking in the woods when this bad pain hit her. She fell on her knees then all of a sudden, whoosh, out it came. The shop keeper asked about what happened to it and Racine answered in that sweet, matter-of-fact innocent manner of her’s, “Oh, the dogs ate it.”

This blog is dedicated to the Racines of this world. May God hold them in the hollow of His hand.