Chapter 3 – Deep South (1953-1957)

I started school in South Carolina. The school was attached to the Air Force base and almost all the kids were from military families. I was an average student during first grade at the local school. Midway through second grade, Dad had to attend Officers training in Montgomery Alabama. Never in all our family life were family separations acceptable to Dad. So, the entire TPF moved temporarily into rental housing in Montgomery, Alabama.

In school in South Carolina, we were already learning to write in cursive (real writing). In Montgomery, kids were still printing with those big pencils. All the water fountains had “White Only” notices. But, there were not any black students. I did not fit in with those folks or their school. “Pie Are Square”. Months later, when I finally returned to my old school in South Carolina, I was way behind. To me, everyone else was using some sort of Sanskrit and I was really struggling.

Eventually, I was tested for the cause of my lack of literacy skills. Eye tests, blood tests, square peg in round hole tests were performed and nothing showed up as a cause. It was even suggested that I might be just plain lazy. That is how I invented Dyslexia. But, even today I wonder if the lazy diagnosis was on track.

The other side of the coin was that we were close to my Dad’s home town of Clanton, Alabama. We made several trips to the deep (and I mean deep) South. To this day, I get excited remembering the midnight-drive through dark pine woods. When we got to the Coosa River, Dad laid on the car horn. The man that ran the ferry got out of bed and directed us on to his raft which took us to the other side of the river. You can’t do that anymore.

Clanton, Alabama was a true to itself small southern town. Dad’s family provided material for volumes of stories. People’s names were wonderful; Grandma Minnie, Uncle Dack (for Dallas), Aunt Ora, Baylou, Billy Bean, Aunt Lude, Chester, Robert Earl, Aunt Claudy, Buford and Commodore just to name a few.

Once, I hid under the front porch listening to the grownups talking about someone called Bo and how he had made good as an Air Force Officer even though he had married a Yankee girl whose father was a gangster.

They even had their own language, “Heah Tommeh, give yo ole Aint sum sugah an hug huh neck an I’ll carry you over to the Piggly Wiggly foe some cream.” (Translation: “Hey Tom, give your Aunt a kiss and a hug and I will drive you to the grocery store for some ice cream.”) The first time I was offered “cream”, I politely declined. When my brother Dan and sister Debby came out of the store with Dixie Cups and those little wooden paddles for spooning out the delicious frozen nectar, I felt like crying.

We stayed at Uncle Dack and Aunt Ora’s house. They lived in a “shotgun” house. You could fire a shotgun through the front door and the buckshot would go cleanly out the back door without hitting anything. The front porch had a much loved porch swing and was the center of social activity. Uncle Dack invited every person who walked by to come in and eat.

Every meal was an event, especially breakfast. I remember jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, and how cold that floor was on my bare feet. Rushing into the kitchen was like entering a parallel universe. The cast iron wood stove was glowing and there was always a feast to be had. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You be the judge – fried pork chops, sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits, sorghum, cornbread, buttermilk and grits. These are memories of an 8 year old kid. I suspect there was a lot of belt tightening when we weren’t visiting.

[Bulletin: You can use grits to test a person’s character. If they don’t like grits, they may not have any… it’s true!]

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