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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

King of the Wild Frontier

In August of 1955, I turned 3. My mother was pregnant with Gary, who would be born the following January. I was a quiet and "good" child, but do not mistake that for "lifeless" or "dishrag". I was enthusiastic about many things. Just not unruly or untidy. A birthday party was planned, of course. It would be held in the yards of the two uncles who married the two sisters who lived next door to one another. It was a good location for hosting 50 people or more.

I was a passionate fan of Davy Crockett, having made his acquaintance by watching the Mickey Mouse Club most afternoons. I was also a fan of Annette and Karen and Cubby and most of the other Mouseketeers, except Roy. Roy freaked me out a little. Roy still freaks me out a little when I think of him mixed in with all those children. But I digress. It's Davy Crockett I was mad for. I liked Davy's rugged, but youthful, look and I was wild about the coonskin cap. I had a coonskin cap of my own and I wore it with panache, with dresses, with pajamas, with anything. [I still own a coonskin cap that sits on the shelf in my living room coat closet. I should bring it out to display, perhaps on the wall.] I liked that Davy was a grand hunter and shooter and knew how to live off the land.

But probably the most attractive thing to me about Davy was that he was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, and my Granny-O was born in Tennessee. That must mean that Davy was a good, fine man. My hero worship was indulged, and this birthday party would feature Davy Crockett streamers, balloons, paper cups and plates, tablecloth, and whatever else in the world was sold with Davy's image in August, 1955. At least a dozen cousins dashed around the yards wearing coonskin caps, tugging at the tails hanging down the back. Those who didn't have a cap tried to pluck one off of the head of a luckier child. Games were planned, party favors waiting to be given to excited kids. It was some kind of day! An odd little snippet of reminiscence remains with me: when all of the cousins were gathered, there could be seen every hue of red hair known to man. From strawberry blond to deep copper, these were some redheaded Irish American kids. And more freckles than the law allows! I was the only one with dark hair and no freckles (and later Gary). I always remember playing outside with the cousins and the sun glinting off of their red heads.

The women worked in the kitchens of both homes, slicing tomatoes, forming hamburger patties, fixing potato and macaroni salad. The Davy Crockett birthday cake was featured as the centerpiece on a large dining table. The men fired up multiple BBQ grills and filled coolers with ice and canned drinks. An important task remained to be completed. Someone needed to pick up Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha. My father and Uncle Ed were deemed to be the best candidates to transport elderly blind people, and I'm sure that had nothing to do with the fact that my dad had a brand new 1955 Chevy he wanted to show off to his brother-in-law.

The reader should know a bit about my dad and Uncle Ed. Although in-laws, not brothers, they were very much alike. Both were short, slight men with attitude. My dad had been a pretty remarkable boxer in the Air Force, and Ed has been described to me as the toughest human being who ever lived. This is based on his survival of the last days of World War II in the Philippines in hand-to-hand combat. He was tough physically and tough mentally. But my dad is no slouch! Both men possessed deadly wit, but were also sensitive. Uncle Ed was a lifelong reader of the poet, Robert Service, and my father has been known to silently weep watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie [recently]. Neither man was particularly well-educated, but both were extremely intelligent and articulate. These were also self-sufficient, no nonsense kinds of men. Neither was ever known to brook any measure of any type of bullshit from anyone. Never. None.

So, off they went together, Dad kind of show-offy in his new two-tone, driving on the freeway for a short distance, even though it wasn't necessary.

Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha were ready, waiting with their birthday gift for me - a child-sized piano. Either someone had helped them, or maybe Uncle Ralph did it, but the gift was very credibly wrapped. Ralph strode confidently across the living room to the front door, cane tapping, rattling the keys with which he'd lock the deadbolt. Martha angled her elbows into the air so the two men could first hoist her out of the chair and then guide her outside. They did so. Ralph asked a couple of questions so he could understand where and how the car was parked. Once he imprinted that information, he walked quickly across the driveway to the curb, stepped down, walked in the street around the back end of the car, opened the driver's side door, pushed the seatback forward and got in the back seat. Dad and Uncle Ed were still maneuvering Martha toward the steps of the porch. Now it was their turn to learn that Martha was a leaner, a grasper, a clutcher. They were perspiring pretty quickly. It was high August and this was hard work!

Uncle Ed died in 2001, but he never altered one word in the retelling of this tale. My father has told it precisely the same way for 54 years and he still flushes bright red remembering that torturous trek across 25 feet of concrete to the car. The unholy trio shimmied like a hula dancer, traversing the two steps down from the porch to the driveway. It took them more than 10 minutes. Dad and Uncle Ed spoke encouragement, "Martha, step down 6 inches with your right foot and then just stop and wait." She extended her left leg as if to cross the mighty Mississippi in one step, began to wobble and nearly took the two men down. These two bright, efficient sorts wondered if she'd ever descended those stairs before, knew that she had and wondered why she seemed to have no recall of how it was done. The walk across the driveway was uneventful, but took a long time. Back at Party Central, the women thought it was about time for the car to arrive carrying party guests. Little did they know!

Arriving at the curb next to the car, Dad opened the passenger side door, flipped the seatback forward, assessed Martha's bulk, moved the front seat forward to allow more room and flipped the seatback forward again. Then began a 45 minute rodeo of the vilest sort. They tried first to give verbal instructions, but Martha seemed incapable of understanding right from left, inches from yards, forward from backward. She exhibited a fine understanding of hanging on to these men around their necks, as if for dear life, however. They knew they'd have to get physical with her - directions weren't getting the job done. They decided Dad would support Martha upright while Uncle Ed picked up her leg and put it inside the car. Then only one leg and the rest of her body would remain to be moved. She nearly toppled all three of them over backwards. They stood her in the gutter thinking she'd understand all she had to do was step up into the car, one foot at a time. They could even assist by lifting her legs for her, one at a time. Nope. She almost threw them all to the sidewalk.

It was Uncle Ralph who came up with the idea that worked. "Martha, bend into the car and give me yours hands." Uncle Ralph was going to pull. "Men, you know what to do next." Dad and Uncle Ed looked at each other, shook their heads from side to side, squared their shoulders, and each one tucked into one side of Martha's hind end. I've heard their analogy all my life: like pushing an elephant through the eye of a needle. Martha landed in the back seat a little worse for wear and tear. Her nylons had runs and her knees were banged up. Her (unnecessary) eyeglasses were askew and the floral pastel dress was rumpled. Uncle Ed always spoke of how her gray pincurls bobbed for a moment or two, like tiny springs on her head. Uncle Ralph helped settle her on the back seat and they rolled off to the party.

Lest the reader think these sweating, frustrated men were a little severe with an old, blind woman, consider this: Dad and Ed did not take a running start at Martha or execute a flying wedge maneuver up her backside. No jerking movements were made that might have harmed her neck or back. They simply dug in and pushed together against a seemingly unmovable mass. The slow forward momentum caused Martha to begin paddling her feet and legs, her body finally catching onto what her head hadn't been able to grasp. One foot got purchase on the curb and the other finally made contact with the carpet in the car. Uncle Ralph pulled for all he was worth. I wonder whether it might have been easier to install Martha in the front seat. For part of the difficulty was caused by the contortions necessary to squeeze between front and back seat. Up and into the car was not the only challenge. But it was the 1950s and those two young men didn't think to put Martha any place other than in the back seat next to her husband where she should sit.

One of the bigger kids saw the car approach and announced its arrival at the party. Some of the adults walked out to the driveway, concerned at how long it had taken to bring Martha and Ralph to Gardena. One look at Dad and Ed, and most of the adults in the clan knew there was a rich story to be told. The party began in earnest now, good food served, games played, prizes awarded. Scattered groups of kids belted out, "Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free . . . " When I opened the gift of my piano, Uncle Ralph sat behind me and showed me how to place my fingers on the keys to play more like a concert pianist than Jerry Lee Lewis. "The story" circulated quietly among the adults, most of whom had to step behind the garage for a laugh out loud. My cousins and I were not timid about approaching blind people and starting a conversation, so both Ralph and Martha were chatted up repeatedly by kids of various ages. Martha managed to do my serious, sensitive cousin Mark out of his coonskin cap by using her tried and true line, "I'm blind." I am uncertain why she thought she needed a kid's coonskin cap, but I am now a 57-year-old woman who owns one, so perhaps I should not cast aspersions upon Martha. But at least I bought my own.

At dusk, the women began to gather dishes and tired, cranky children. The party was officially over. Granny-O decided she and Grandpa should take Ralph and Martha home. Ed and Dad watched over the fence in disbelief as Martha fairly hopped into the back seat of Grandpa's Impala. My father ranted in the car all the way home about the agony of moving Martha. There was no laughter in the Chevy, as my mother was still sensitive about her shopping adventure with that good woman. When we arrived home, Dad was overcome with guilt about sending Granny-O and Grandpa off alone to deal with Martha. They were old. He and Ed were young, but had barely been able to manage. He dialed the telephone, having decided if Granny-O failed to answer, he'd drive to Ralph's home to help offload Martha. Dad was slightly surprised that Granny did pick up the phone. "Mom, I was concerned you might need help getting them inside." "Oh, it was uneventful," replied my grandmother. "Earl never even turned off the engine, I had them inside so quickly."

In my ears right now: What do you think? Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so's he'd know every tree, killed him a b'ar when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.

Something that charmed me:


  1. Oh my gracious great good heavens! You've done it again. This time you got me at "paddling her feet and legs..." Oh, the images in my mind from this post....and the laughing out loud. I also loved your 'wall' post. The things we put on our walls really are very telling, aren't they?
    Are you really hearing the Davy Crockett theme, or is it just in your head?...(like Susan Boyle's version of 'Wild Horses' is after hearing it on the Today Show...can't get rid of it)
    WV=stswerat - 'saints swear at' me all the time

  2. Good morning, Kass ~ yes, I'm actually hearing it because I've been singing it since I started to write this piece. I've never forgotten the words. I'm glad you liked this story. It's been retold countless times, but it was told best by Uncle Ed and Dad.

    Agreed about what we put on our walls - I like dimension and items of curiosity. I'm not as much for a framed picture.

    I'm afraid I missed Susan on Today and I'm struggling with this, as I hold Wild Horses pretty holy. I don't think Wild Horses should be messed with. SUSAN BOYLE? Funny, true story: the Badger and I were dancing at his daughter's wedding, to Wild Horses. One of the new in-laws from Iowa tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew who sang the song. He was about my age, and I thought he should have known the answer, but I was pleasant and said, "Oh, the Rolling Stones." I couldn't look at the Badger's face. I'd have burst out laughing.

    VERY good word verification! I feel like the saints swear at me, too.

  3. I agree about no one messing with 'Wild Horses.' That's why I can't get Susan's version out of my head. Please, please, go away. Off to go hiking now. It's a beautiful day here. How about there?
    WV= miship - yes, I am little miss 'Hip.'

  4. Some things aren't meant to be done differently. There's a show here with (I think) Cheap Trick doing Sgt. Pepper live. WHAT? John Lennon said it couldn't be done live. He'd know. And who told Cheap Trick they could do that? McCartney (whom I dislike intensely)? I think I'm glad I missed Susan's version of Wild Horses. " . . . no sweeping exits, no offstage lines . . . " Mercy.

    Today we're crisp and started out beautifully sunny but now the clouds have come in. We're threatened with thunderstorms tomorrow. We never get any, you understand. We just get threatened.

    You have my vote for Little Miss Hip!

  5. If Davey Crockett had to choose between the Alamo and getting Martha into that car, I bet he would have chosen the former!

  6. VERY good, Kirk. I agree. What's a raging battle and possible death compared to pushing an elephant through the eye of a needle? You should hear my dad go off - after 54 years it still makes him get crazy.

  7. Glad to hear your Dad is also still alive. I guess we had the same day here, weather-wise yesterday. Started out sunny - went cloudy, but I still hiked with my friend. I made a blog for him so that I could download all the pictures I like to take. The story of Greg is long and complicated. We've known each other for 14+ years - have very little in common - conversation-wise, but like to hike and bike and go to restaurants. You've heard about Emotional Intelligence - this is where Greg is lacking. Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing some other great man by hanging with him so much.
    Here's his (my) blog if you're interested:
    The Other Greg Gorman
    WV= gentakey - is this an omen? Should I be telling Greg, "Gent, take ye a hike?" (alone)

  8. Hey, Lady ~ yes, both parents still very much alive. Remember, they were children when I was born, so they're not even "old" yet. Hmmmm . . . you've sent me rather pensive. Complicated situation, huh? 14 years worth? Spend time with him and not meet other potential matches? I need to bubble on that a little before I comment. On a lighter note, I missed plenty of great men, I imagine, by hanging in a 32-year marriage. I'll check out that blog - I salute you for managing so many of them at once! You are GOOD with the WV in the morning, Kass.