Old Mack’s Tales

November 26, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:31 pm

November Storm

Down here in Florida things tend to happen in November. Rarely do any hurricanes strike us after the middle of November, but one did back in 1950 and it surprised me as much as the natives.

On the first of the month I rented an efficiency apartment. It was in the half-basement of a house in Lake Worth, and an easy walk to my job; I was carrying block and mixing mud for a mason, who was building a new show room for the Chevy dealer, when that late hurricane came ashore between Hollywood and West Palm Beach.

A few days before the storm hit I had phoned my father, who was out of work in Middle Tennessee and waiting for a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He had jokingly said as I was leaving: “Write or phone if you find work.” I didn’t know the joke, which he later told me was common during the Great Depression, when I was but an infant. So I called him, collect, and boasted that I had a job paying 50 cents an hour and had a nice apartment. “Come on down,” I’d said.

I couldn’t believe it when my father, his wife and their kids showed up. But there they all were. Claude doesn’t take up much room, but his wife, Edna, was a buxom big woman and her daughter, Kathy, was a basketball player. My half-brother, Charles Lee, was only ten and skinny as a rail, so he took up the least amount of space. Charlie and I slept on pallets on the floor; Dad, Edna and Kathy shared my big double bed.

On the first day we were all up before sunrise. Dad went off on foot to look for work. I hiked to my job. And Edna and Kathy were there in my apartment sorting the bag of pinto beans for rocks and putting them in the kettle to soak.

Someone must have been warned that the storm was coming because county and city workers were out taking down traffic signs and business owners were taping their plate-glass windows and boarding them up. We were pouring the tie beam and buttresses with concrete that day and it was messy, hard work. I ate my bologna sandwich at noon. But we didn’t do anything else that day but gather up stray boards and tools and store them inside the roofless building to keep them from blowing away. And the whole time my mind was on beans.

Edna might not be the best cook I’ve known, but she can sure cook a great batch of beans, if given the butt of a pork shoulder to flavor them. She had baked a pone of yellow cornbread to go with the beans and boiled some dandy lion greens she and Kathy had picked. All four of us sat on whatever was handy with our bowls of beans on our laps eating as if it were about to go out of style.

We hadn’t no more than crawled into our beds when Charlie moved his pallet closer to mine and asked if I was scared. I admitted I was, but just a bit. The wind was howling and the fronds of those two royal palms out front were clattering like crazy, but the house above us was solid brick and had weathered storms before. Charlie was glad to hear that, and fell asleep with his back side tight against mine.

It was after midnight when Edna got up and turned on the lights. Water was spraying on the bed. A thin, vertical fan of water was being blown in through a hairline crack between the front windows. We shoved the bed to one side of the large room, but nobody was going to sleep in it that night.

“Did you wet the bed?” Charles asked me. I cuffed the back of his head. And then I saw that our blankets were soaked and there was half an inch of water covering the linoleum flooring.

Water was coming in under the door—which opened into the back yard—and it cascaded down the steps. Edna found a dust pan in one of the closets and a small wash tub. Kathy and Charlie and I began sopping up water with bath towels and wringing them over the tub, while dad scooped water up with the dust pan. Edna found a mop and was busy mopping and wringing. When the tub was full, dad carried it up the steps and emptied it out in the yard.

Lord knows how long we bailed water before those fronds from the royal palms began to flog the windows. Both trees had blown over; had they been a few feet taller they would have smashed the front of the house.

When the sun rose we could see that those palm frond had saved us. A red boulevard stop sign was tangled in the branches of the palms and screeching as it fluttered against the brick exterior.

There would be no work in town until the insurance adjustors did their jobs, so we all decided to move north to Lake Eloise; an advertisement in the paper said they needed pickers to harvest the citrus crop. We rode up on the Greyhound bus together. It turned out that I was the only one in the family who did any picking. Dad got a job in the packing plant. Edna was busy making a home in a cheap apartment house and getting Kathy and Charles Lee into school. Before Christmas they all went back to Tennessee, but I remained in Winter Haven until January.

Caveat emptor:  1950 is a long time gone, but to best of my memory the storm mentioned came ashore between Halloween and Thanksgiving that year; I know it was after my birthday and prior to Christmas, for sure.  But records are scarce; 1950 was the first year hurricanes were named, and if the storm didn’t kill many people or destroy millions of dollars worth of property, they were not too newsworthy.  I’m pretty sure, given allowances, that this blow came after Hurricane King, but I will not bet money on it.  Individuals named in the tale are all long gone, every one.


November 3, 2012

The Camera Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 10:30 pm

The Camera Girl

I cannot remember her name, but I can picture her working.  She’s wearing tan slacks and a smock.  Her hair is still in curlers, but it’s light red and short and curly when she takes the scarf off.  I think she’s older than my cousin, Erlie, but I really don’t know, because “it’s not polite to ask a woman how old she is.”  She’s very pretty, like all of the women Harry Gordon hires to work in his locker club.  Harry and the sailors who did business at the Bay City Locker Club called the girl “Red.”  But I wasn’t supposed to call her “Red.”  Maybe her name was Betty, or Mary, something common and easily forgotten.  But I can remember watching her take pictures.

Betty had a section in the Locker Club all her own, and a Dark Room too.  There were all sorts of funny things the sailors could show their faces through and have their picture taken.  One was a muscle-bound guy flexing next to a Hula Girl and a background that looked like a beach, with painted palm trees and the luxury liner sailing in the painted ocean.  A lot of the sailors who came into Harry’s to use his lockers, or to have their picture taken, had been to Hawaii and even to China.  I didn’t really know where China was, but I knew that if you dug a hole in San Diego deep enough you’d come out in China.

Betty had a lot of cameras, but the one she used when I was there to watch was a camera like you see newspaper photographers use in movies with flash bulbs that pop out after the picture is taken.  She had the camera mounted on a three-legged stand and operated it with a cable while she stood away from it and tried to get the sailor to smile.  They couldn’t keep from smiling when she made silly faces at them.  I was always surprised when the flash bulb went off.

It was a rainy day when Betty took my mom’s picture in Harry’s office.  I remember that because my guardian had driven me into town to have my teeth drilled at “Painless Parker’s” and had said several times that having a cavity drilled didn’t hurt as much on rainy days.  That was a lie.  It really hurt, but maybe it would have been worse on a sunny day.

It was December Twenty-first, my mother’s birthday, in 1942, the day Betty took her picture in Harry’s office; maybe you can see the calander on Harry’s office wall, which still shows March, but it was really December and I was only there to visit my mother because it was her birthday.  I had to use a pencil to do the subtraction, 1914 from 1942, to figure out that Ruth, my mother, was twenty-eight that day.  Betty made several prints of the picture she took that day and she put one of them in a cardboard frame so I could take it back to La Jolla and show it to my friends at school to prove I really had a mother and that she really was as beautiful as any movie star.

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