RFD VET: The Car © – Possum shares his tales with us.

(Possum travels and honors us with the tales. Please journey within and share your story. – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

My father was a country veterinarian.  He traveled many miles every year across local county roads which were not always in the best of condition.  His vehicle was always the same sort, a station wagon, packed with the tools necessary for farm work.  The memories of that car are many and varied.  This is a collection of thoughts about Dad’s car.  Come along, children, as we visit the farm call vehicle in another of the possum’s tales.

My father (I always called him Daddy until I was a teen and then changed to just Dad) always drove Chevrolet station wagons which he purchased new each year.  By the time the year was up the car usually had endured about 50,000 miles of really hard driving.  The roads around our home were mostly gravel, often rutted, and generally just tough on a vehicle.  The cars were pretty well done by the time they were ready to be returned to the dealer as a trade-in.  One car died in a spectacular way on the road when both front wheels broke off the suspension.  Dad had the wrecker (in those days we had wrecks and wreckers instead of accidents and tow trucks) take the car to the local Chevrolet dealer.  The broken vehicle was traded in and Dad drove off in a new car without further ado.  While we loved the idea of the car falling to pieces like that, Dad saw more of the danger and failed to see the humor the same way we kids did.

My earliest memories are as a very young child riding in the passenger front seat.  My feet did not touch the floor of the car in those days.  I remember being somehow honored that my father took me along in those days, but he always did seem to take interest in his children and shared as much of his life as he was able with us.  Sometimes he’d take Mother or another brother along, too, but there was not room for more than two passengers.  Every one had to sit in front as the entire rear of the car was filled with work stuff.

The car had a distinctive smell of medicines and various manures.  That smell endures in memory to this day even though replicating the odor would be nearly impossible.  The farm smells that accumulate in a vehicle are distinctive and are a special part of the particular vehicle.  The various odors were supplemented by my father’s smoking habit.  He kept a carton of Camel cigarettes under the driver’s seat for all the years he drove those cars.  The smell of tobacco was a constant addition to the mix in his life.  His cigarette supply was the beginning of my teen smoking, a habit that extended about 10 years from start to finish.  Ahhh, the things we learn from our fathers.

The inside of the car was always dusty.  The dashboard was deep enough in dust that we kids could write our names there.  No matter how many times someone cleaned the surfaces, the gravel roads and dusty byways insured the car would be dusty.  Some of the dust moved from car to car with the changing of equipment every time a new vehicle came along.  That way most of the longtime smells were carried right along to the new car.  The new car smell lasted only a few days in those vehicles before the various farm and medicine smells took over again.

The entire back portion of the car was filled with a large box fitted out with various drawers.  Every item had a special place in the different compartments.  Over the course of years and traveling with Dad each of us kids learned the system well enough to restock at the office or to retrieve the necessary item on the farm.  A two-way radio was in the floorboard behind the driver.  In those days those devices were large, heavy boxes filled with tubes, not the tiny electronic radios of today.  Buckets, pails, and larger tools were stored behind the passenger seat.  Somehow all fit just right even if a few rattles were noticeable.  At least nothing flew about during travel times.

The rear of the car was so heavy that the headlights pointed too high in the air.  People were always blinking their headlights at my dad thinking the bright lights were on.  In fact, the ground nearest the car was never properly illuminated due to the elevation of the front end.  The car had all the appearance of a whiskey bootlegger’s car, but the local policemen (no women on the force in our town in those days) knew my dad and never bothered him for the car’s appearance.  He did get a speeding ticket one time, but that is the stuff of a whole ‘nother story day.

Early on after I got my first driving license, dad let me drive on a call.  Coming home I misjudged the driveway length and nearly knocked down our brand new carport wall.  The front of the car missed that brick wall by only a few inches, but even so Dad always let me drive thereafter whenever we were doing calls together.  He was always the supportive sort toward everyone in his life and especially toward his children. 

Those days of traveling about the countryside with my father are special indeed.  So many fine memories.  Today his spirit lives on in memory and in his stories.  He told many tales of his youth along the way.  Most of our discussions in the car were either stories of his own childhood or talking about the farmers we were about to visit.  Dad never seemed to tire of talking about life and the lessons to be learned along the way.  Ohhh, the memories, the wonderful memories.

Down Home: Childhood Christmas © – Possum Tales

(We all have our memories, traditions, and tales. Please share stories of Christmas with Possum . . . – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

Holiday times tend to be special for each family and even for each individual.  In my childhood each holiday season was met with its own series of happenings in the household.  Today we are well inside the holiday season so today I offer a remembrance of Christmas long past.  Pull the easy chair up close to the fire and snuggle up for another of possum’s tales.

Christmas in my childhood was always a time of family and sharing times.  We were a joyous if not very religious bunch who really had fun during those days.  The season began with the Thanksgiving weekend.  About that time my father would fish out the outside lights for the house and begin to hang them on the edge of the roof.  This was in the days of large bulbs and heavy wires so the chore was not an easy one.  My dad was not usually taken to the use of profanity, but climbing that ladder many times, stringing the lights, and replacing the faulty bulbs often seemed to drive him as near to cursing as any other event in life.  By the end of the day the house was well lit on the front side for all to enjoy.  The bulbs were sometimes but not always replaced if one happened to burn out later, but for the first day all were lit.

As the days passed by gifts would begin to arrive from distant relatives.  We had cousins, aunts, and uncles in town, but our grandparents were in Florida at the time.  As younger children we were allowed to open gifts from the grandparents upon arrival.  That meant we sometimes had presents to enjoy as early as the first of December.  For us kids that just heightened the excitement and anticipation of the season that much more.

Grandparent gifts were always somewhat fraught with peril.  Somehow when they sent clothes their gift always seemed to fit a younger and somewhat smaller child.  That seems logical now since we saw them only once a year or so and we were growing children, but in those days those gifts were not the most popular.  Other gifts such as toys and games were more appreciated by us kids than were the clothes.

Tree cutting time was another fine event.  We picked the first good weather day to head into the fields in search of a tree.  At about age 12 or so I was put in charge of my two brothers for the expedition.  We headed out the back door and into the surrounding fields in search of the perfect cedar tree.  Mother always wanted a cedar tree in those years for reasons I have never been able to fathom.  In later years reason prevailed and she gave up those scratchy things in favor of Scotch pines. 

But back to the expedition.  We boys were dressed in winter garb with a hand saw (the ordinary wood cutting type, and not a timber saw of any variety) and off to look for a tree.  Being the young and rambunctious types we were (folk talk about all boy-that would have been us when were out from under pretty close supervision) we tramped over fences and through the fields with careless abandon.  Our part of the country had lots of cedar trees growing along the fence rows so we had lots of trees from which to choose.  Naturally that meant we found three different trees to which each of was unalterably attached.  Somehow or other we’d finally decide on the one to take home.

Then began the sawing.  We’d crawl up under that darned scratchy thing and work in shifts as we never had a really sharp saw.  Finally the tree would come down and we’d start for home.  Now we were faced with dragging the tree back over those fences and through those fields we had traversed earlier.  We always managed to find the one tree farthest from the house.  By the time we got home the tree had suffered somewhat and we were scratched on all our exposed parts, but Mother somehow always saw our yearly find as the best tree she had ever seen.  Amazing how mothers can be sometimes.  Her constant support of her children continues pay benefits to us as adults to this day.

Tree decoration was another complex affair for us.  We began with strings of those old large bulbs that have been displaced by the LED lights of today.  We used multicolor lights and were always trying to make sure we didn’t have too many of the same color right together.  Ornaments were either simple homemade items such as strings of popcorn and cranberries or the oldtime, translucent, red glass balls.  The light shone through those balls to make a marvelous sight.  That memory remains indelible to this day. 

Once all else was on the tree the tinsel came out.  Those were the days of single stranded aluminum tinsel.  In our household we threw the tinsel on the tree in small batches (usually 3-5 strands per toss, but sometimes more if we boys were tired of that venture).  We had obsessive friends who strung their tree with single strands, but we never were that perfect in our household.

By the time of Christmas eve we had gone through the ritual of the coconut cake baking (homemade from a real coconut and the stuff of another story), worked over the divinity and homemade chocolate fudge candies along with numerous cakes and cookies, had enjoyed the tree for days, and were watching a pile of wrapped gifts mounting under the tree.  On Christmas Eve we played traditional music on the record player and continued eating goodies until we were all stuffed.  We children were banished to bed by about 10PM, which was a late night for us farm boys.  In those years we three boys shared a common bedroom; so we kept one another awake with mounting excitement. 

A single major present was always given to each child according to his wishes that year.  These were left under the tree, unwrapped, by Santa.  Knowing that was the case led to nighttime adventuring for us boys.  We spent all our waking time after we thought our parents were asleep trying to sneak a peek into the living room.  We would take turns in the effort.  Most often we were caught and sent back well before we had any real information.  Still the stoked imaginations ran wild and the adventures kept up.  We had an early rising deadline of 6AM most years, but the parents usually gave in about 5AM and let us into the living room while they headed for the coffee pot. 

After attacking our individual main gift, we three took a bit of time to rip the packaging off the wrapped presents.  On some occasions we even slowed down long enough to see what the parents had under the tree.  One pretty amazing year Mother got a rabbit stole from my dad.  The joke that year and for years after was he charged the jacket in the store and Mother had to write the check to pay the bill as she was the household bookkeeper in those days.

Once affairs settled enough we’d have breakfast together.  Most years my dad had to go to the office or maybe make a farm call (he was a farm call veterinarian worthy of more stories in the future).  Once all the work was done, we’d usually mount a hunting expedition.  That time of year was rabbit season and most years we’d end the day with our Christmas dinner of game we had killed earlier in the day.

Some years we shared the day with our cousins once we were all in our teens, but as younger kids we usually had Christmas Day to our own family.  In those days Christmas Eve was often a time of wider family sharing.  All in all the memories of good times and family remain very strong to this day.  Those were really marvelous days for which I am eternally grateful.

Crossposted at Never In Our Names. and Daily Kos

In Country: Enemy Country

(Today as I stood at the Peace Corner, I learned more than I imagined.  An older man who crosses my path each week, and has, on occasion, questioned my efforts, admitted to me, were he told to fight for his country today, he would rather go to jail.  The World War II veteran said, during his time in battle he realized, combat is not righteous; it is political.   – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

copyright © 2006. © Possum Tales.

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

War stories are as many and as varied as the soldiers who had the experience.  Each person sees the events of the time in different ways and over the course of time we all come to interpret our experiences in various ways.  Today we follow one more day in my life with an infantry company in the highlands of central Vietnam.  So put on your boots, grab up your gear, and walk with me down  the trail for one more of the possum’s tales.

Most of my Vietnam experience was pretty calm even to the point of real boredom.  This particular day began just like so many others but the signs were truly foreboding.  This time we had been in base camp for 5 days already.  For us that was an unexpected and welcome relief from the fatigue and routine of the field as our usual breaks were only 2-3 days at most.  This time like so many before we were given orders for departure the next morning.  All was in readiness as we prepared to climb aboard large trucks (“deuce-and-a-halfs,” two and a half ton open back cargo trucks) for road transport to our area of operation.  In loading one man caught his wedding ring on the truck and injured a hand badly enough to need medical attention.  The rest of us crowded into the trucks with all our belongings and set off for another adventurous day.

Most times like this we were dropped either by truck or by helicopter with orders to move from our landing zone to a new spot somewhere in the mountains.  We mostly served reconnaissance missions and rarely faced any real enemy along the way.  The biggest enemies we had were heat, fatigue, and the food which came in the form of C-rations.  This day was said to be different.  Headquarters informed us we were moving into the area of operation of a very large contingent of VC (Vietcong, the enemy insurgents).  To that end we divided into platoons so that we had four lines of engagement instead of the more usual single file used for regular days’ troop movements.  As began our preparations the fear was palpable.  We chattered and joked and stomped about nervously as though all this was just another walk in the park, but underneath that facade of normalcy we were all very frightened.  Fear hung in the air like early morning fog over a swamp.  You could almost cut the fear with a machete.

We began our march about midday with a trek across a rice field and maintained our four lines of attack quite well until we reached a sizeable creek in the middle of the field.  Radio silence was broken so we could decide how best to proceed.  A single crossing in the middle of the company was the only was we could find to get to the other side.  In spite of the reported danger, we went into our single file, crossed the foot bridge, and regrouped in four lines on the opposite side. 

As we continued our four column march up a hillside and across other areas of both farmland and thin forest the fear mounted.  Radio silence kept any real communication to a minimum.  At least we heard no firing either from our own or other forces.  The fear mounted with each passing step.  As the day wore on we penetrated farther and farther into what was supposed to be an enemy stronghold, we continued to find nothing of any value and encountered no resistance of any sort.  We saw not one other human being for the entire day’s march.

As darkness began to fall we reached our objective hilltop and set up camp for the night.  The moon was bright and full that night as we sat in open territory.  So many nights were in full jungle that the moonlight was a remarkably fine piece of life that night.  We in the headquarters platoon were still suffering the mental high that comes from spending a day of abject fear.  A poker game was soon underway in the moonlight.  We sat on our helmets and played our cards on an ammunition can.  Five card draw was the standard game due to the limited playing surface.  Cigarettes were lit and we were as jolly as could be in the circumstance.  Sentries began to call and complain about both our noise and our lights from matches and cigarettes.  Still we persisted far into the night without real thought as to the danger we might invoke.  Bravado was the real name of that game.

Near midnight, with nerves at long last quieted a bit we divided the radio watch into equitable segments and turned in for a night’s sleep.  One more 24 hours in country had passed and we all remained safe.  In spite of an ever present fear for our days, I among others was grateful for another benign day.

Crossposted at Never In Our Names and Daily Kos

Down Home: Hunter’s Stew © – Possum Tales

(This is a Possum Tale! Dear readers, we are so very privileged. Possum is cooking tonight. Dinner is served. Please join in the delights. The smells coming from the kitchen are delicious. I am hungry with anticipation, are you? – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

Cooking was a ritual experience in so many ways in my childhood.  Family reunions, church suppers, supper at home, and the occasional special dinner were all associated with cooking rituals that were observed in religious fashion among my family members.  Follow out the door, hover over the kettle, and listen, children, to another of the possum’s tales.

My father was an old timey country cook who apparently learned both from his mother and from the school of hard knocks.  Of course there were lessons in his college time working in a cafeteria.  All added together to make Dad a pretty fine cook in his style.  Once a year my father put on a special dinner for invited men (only men, no women or children allowed for this one).  The main course was Kentucky burgoo, a traditional hunter’s stew for which basic recipes are all similar, but then each cook made his own variant.

Each year Dad started a wood fire early in the morning.  Always an early riser, on these days he was out even earlier.  The cooking was done about 100 feet from the house in a very traditional spot behind the crape myrtle hedge, beside the old office (now a dog kennel).  Wood was always the fuel of choice and was obtained in advance from local farmers with woods on their property.  The stew was prepared in a large cast iron cauldron (probably about 30 gallon capacity).  Water was heated to near boiling before foodstuffs were added.

The recipe varied from year to year depending on what we had left in the freezer.  Various sorts of game animals (rabbit, quail, venison, duck, goose, squirrel, or any other available) were basic to the recipe.  Beef or pork were used as supplemental meats if the freezer was not well stocked.  Fish was not added to this particular dish, or at least not by my dad.  Vegetables including carrots, potatoes, peas, celery, tomatoes, and beans were added fresh from local farms or the market just down the road.  Seasonings including copious amounts of salt, pepper, and various spices were added to the mix.  My father was particularly fond of Tobasco sauce and vinegar in all his cooking and so large amounts of each were poured right in.

Tasting went on all day as the mixture simmered slowly.  By the end of the day the stew was a dark brown, thick mixture that could be smelled for quite a distance.  Once guests began to arrive, us kids were herded into the house.  We were allowed plates of the stew, but we were not encouraged to eat heartily.  This party was for the men.

Those dinners were held in our large, old, two-car garage.  Tables were made of planks on sawhorses.  I never knew where chairs were found.  As I remember there were usually about 50 men consuming stew and drinking fine whiskey on those evenings.  The stew, by the time of eating was cooked down so far that all meat was off the bones.  A plate of leavings would have a small pile of bones, but all the thick, rich gravy was sopped up with bread by the men.  Loaves of white bread from the grocery store were my father’s choice for those meals.  We boys were long asleep before the event ended and folk went home.  We awoke to the leavings the next day and were encouraged to help with cleanup.

One fateful time Dad was cooking about mid-morning when vinegar time arrived.  The amount of vinegar consumed in our household meant we always had gallon jugs of vinegar in the closet.  In those days every liquid came in glass jugs or jars including laundry detergent.  For reasons that will never quite be clear, Dad picked up the detergent instead of the vinegar and ruined the entire batch of stew.  Such sadness was rarely expressed by my father in all his days.  The stew was poured out.  The party was called off. 

My father was a quiet and soft-spoken man who rarely ever expressed any feelings about life.  He had opinions about how life should be lived, but otherwise he kept pretty quiet.  He never talked about politics or religion for fear of offending someone who might be a client.  We as a family were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves for the same reasons.  Never again was that batch of stew mentioned in our household and never again did Dad cook burgoo.

Crossposted at Daily Kos and NION.