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With the turning of the year, I was reminded of this story, which took place around the New Year, fifty three years ago.

Dad was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Afterwards, he couldn’t tolerate cold weather. All through childhood, I heard him threaten to move to Florida to get out of those Upstate New York winters. When I was around twelve, he and a friend actually took a trip south to scope things out. There, his car broke down, so he bought a Chrysler New Yorker and brought it home. That car was destined to return to Florida. A few years later, my parents sold the house, paid off debts, and we moved.

This car is similar to the one we took to Florida,

Our car was similar to this one.

It may sound crazy to load up the family and take off on a 1000 mile move with no solid goal (as in job or place to live), but that’s what we did. Of course, there were preparations. Dad built a utility/camping trailer with a canvas top. Clothing and dishes were packed inside and our mattresses laid on top. The canvas lid could be propped up like a lean-to roof, and with a camp stove and ice chest, we had all the comforts of home, right? No need to buy ice—Dad yanked a couple of ice sickles off the eaves of the house. They were as big around as my arm and people in Florida were astounded.

Our other belongings were left with my grandparents or loaded on the back of Dad’s truck which he stored in a friend’s garage. The plan was to return for the truck in a few weeks. (Those few weeks became a few years.)

Dad's old truck years later. It used to be green.

Dad’s old truck years later. It used to be green.

So, one cold day in late December, 1963, we set out in the Chrysler. This was long before mini-vans, and even a station wagon wouldn’t hold all of us. Have you ever traveled with a half dozen or so kids crammed together in the back seat of a car?  It was the middle of winter, so we huddled together for warmth. We didn’t fight among ourselves. We couldn’t. There was no room.

Besides, we were off on an adventure, fulfilling a dream.

In the middle of the night, somewhere in Virginia, Mom was driving and hit a deer. I woke when the car stopped. Mom was in the front seat, but Dad wasn’t. There’d been no damage to the car, but the deer didn’t fare so well. Later, as Dad told the story, another vehicle stopped but they couldn’t find the deer. Suddenly, the injured animal leaped up out of the roadside brush and one of the men whipped out a gun and shot it. Dad thought this was a good time to leave. He said, “Well, boys, you got yourselves a deer!” Then he high-tailed it back to the car, jumped in, and off we went.

With eight kids and limited funds, you don’t stay at motels. We were geared up for camping, but it was too cold, so we kept going. The Interstate Highway System hadn’t been built yet, so travel took more time than it does for most folks nowadays.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with our first taste of Mountain Dew, which at the time was a “hillbilly” soda. I thought it was delicious. The formula has since been changed, and/or my tastes are now more refined.

When we crossed into South Carolina, two very disparate things greeted us: a palm tree and South of the Border, tourist trap extraordinaire. The palm was a sable (or cabbage) palmetto, symbol of the “Palmetto State,” also the state tree of Florida. At the time, South of the Border straddled 301 and sold artifacts from Mexico. Now days, it caters to I-95 traffic and sells cheap souvenirs.

Sabal Palm

Sabal Palm

In Savannah, I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. A high bridge took us over the river, and off to the left was a sparkling patch of blue. In much of Georgia, the highway ran through mile after mile of pine forests. My parents commented on the lack of guardrails along the deep, water-filled ditches. If someone went off the road, they’d never be found. We rolled into Florida on January 2nd.

We stopped in the Ocala National Forest, near Salt Springs, for a few days. Dad pulled up to a little country store and asked where we could camp. The proprietor gestured to a tree on the edge of his parking lot and said people sometimes camp there, so we did. The man was very nice, but instead of a Southern drawl, he talked so fast I couldn’t understand him. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I wonder if he got tired of us asking, “What?”

We were now in sunny Florida, so we put on shorts and went for a walk down a sandy road through a hammock of palm, oak, and cypress. It was sunny, all right, but it was COLD. An arctic blast had followed us south and we about froze to death. After a day or so, my parents decided to go farther south.

We settled in Moore Haven, on the south side of Lake Okeechobee. You couldn’t see the lake because of the levy around it, and you could get to it only by boating down a canal. We stayed in a campground near the lake until Dad got a job and we rented a house.

In reflection, it’s amazing how much has changed in the last half-century. In some ways, though certainly not all, this was a simpler, more innocent time. Not many children today are privileged to have the remarkable experiences we did.

You can read more about Moore Haven and our other early adventures in Florida in “Hurricane Dora”: https://marieqrogers.com/tag/hurricane-dora/

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Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But then, maybe it never was. When I was a child, we didn’t call it Trick-or-Treat. It was Halloweening. We didn’t dress up and go door to door anonymously collecting loot from strangers. In my neighborhood we had friendlier traditions.

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My family lived in a rural community of small farms and households whose occupants worked in town. The neighborhood encompassed about a square mile, a small school district once served by the one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. After I finished first grade, the school was closed and we were bussed into town. Since we all rode the same school bus, everyone was acquainted.

Halloweening was a ritual. When we knocked on a door, the family invited us in and tried to guess who we were. That was fun. The better the disguise, the more difficult it was to recognize us. Seldom were costumes store-bought. Usually we made our own. Old sheets became ghosts, scarecrows emerged from rags, and dress-up clothes and hand-me-downs outfitted princesses, witches, and anything else our imaginations could conjure. Some clever mothers sewed elaborate, almost professional, costumes for their offspring. Everyone wore masks or makeup to change their appearance. After the family guessed us right, we unmasked and they gave us our treats.

Walking two or three miles was a lot for one night, especially for small children, so we spread Halloweening over three nights. Two days before Halloween, as soon as we got off the school bus, we’d dress up and head out. One evening we’d walk up East Maine Road, down the road another night, and the third night we’d canvass Reynolds Road. The only time our parents drove us was over to Finch Hollow where Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived. Pretending to be neighborhood kids, instead of calling at the kitchen door as usual, we’d go to the front door and make them guess who we were.

Grandma always made popcorn balls for Halloween. In those days, we didn’t worry about razor blades or poison, because we only went to homes of people we knew. Years later, I was appalled when a friend told me she went through her children’s Halloween bags before they were allowed to eat anything, and she threw out all the homemade treats! But she was one of those who took their children to neighborhoods where they didn’t know anyone, prosperous areas where they could get lots of loot. Better than candy were the homemade goodies from our neighbors, and of course Grandma Masters’ popcorn balls.

Only once did anyone question our arrival before Halloween Night. A new family moved into the neighborhood. We went to their house because their kids rode the school bus and we knew them. “But it’s not Halloween yet,” the man said and refused to give us treats. I’m sure someone set him straight by the following year.

Parents sometimes accompanied their children. My mother went Halloweening with us when we were young. Once she dressed as a scarecrow with a straw hat pulled down over her face. “I bet this is Barbara,” a lady said, as she tugged the hat up, and both of them laughed. Another new neighbor brought her children around so she could get acquainted. When my brothers and I were older, we went by ourselves and took our younger siblings with us. It could turn dark before we got home, but no one worried because all children in the neighborhood were out Halloweening.

One year I made a papier-mache Frankenstein mask at school. Somehow, word got around and my mask became the talk of the neighborhood. I was quite proud of it, but come Halloween, I knew if I wore it, everyone would know who I was, so I dressed as something else. That proved to be a disappointment to neighbors who had been looking forward to seeing “Frank.”

There was always a little mischief in the neighborhood, but nothing serious. Although most homes were modern, a few outhouses remained. Grandad had a little rental cottage with no plumbing, only a well pump and an outhouse, which was routinely tipped over every Halloween.

Ancestral Ourhouse

Ancestral Ourhouse

The schoolhouse had two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys. Apparently, the boys’ was adequately secured to its foundation, but when I was in first grade, someone tipped over the girls’ outhouse and we had to use the boys’ until it could be set right again. Today the culprits would be hunted down and charged with criminal mischief, but in those days, it was just part of Halloween.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls' outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls’ outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

When I was older, our school district elected a trustee who let his position go to his head. He began making decisions contrary to the wishes of the parents, who got up in arms. The teenagers, aware of their elders’ discontent but too young to vote, took matters into their own hands. On Halloween night, the trustee found out what is meant by “tricks.” No real damage, only toilet paper, eggs, and garbage thrown at his house. He called the police, but as I remember, nothing much came of it except that the next election saw him voted out.

After we moved away, I was disappointed that other people didn’t practice Halloweening. When we went to neighbor’s houses, they’d just shove candy at us and send us on our way, no guessing or socializing.

Today, Halloween has fallen into disrepute. Some people think it has something to do with devil worship. Actually, the old Celts of the British Isles celebrated Sondheim, a harvest festival. They dressed up in costumes to trick the evil spirits, so they could do no harm. The early Christians adopted the holiday and called it All Hallows Eve, meaning the evening before All Hallows or All Saints Day, November 1st. What’s ironic is that those who today substitute “Fall Festivals” for Halloween have returned the holiday to its ancient Celtic purpose—a Harvest Festival!

 

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I thought about Aunt Hazel a lot today. Like her, I crochet. I usually buy cheap yarn at Wal-Mart, but for a special project I bought a skein from Yarnworks, a little shop in Gainesville. This yarn came in a long loop that had to be wound into a ball before I could use it. I remember Aunt Hazel had a contraption, called a yarn swift. You’d stretch a skein on the swift and as you pulled the yarn to wind it into a ball, the swift would turn and let the yarn out in an orderly fashion without tangling. I wish I’d had one today. Having none, I hung the skein over a chair. It worked for a while, but little by little the strands twisted together and before long, I had a tangled mess. It took over an hour to unravel it.

When you grow up with a person you seldom appreciate her accomplishments. Aunt Hazel never married and lived with her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Brown, until they died, then with her sister and brother-in-law, Grandma and Grandpa Rogers, for the rest of her days. Not much to brag about, but looking back on her life, I realize now how much she exceeded expectations for a maiden lady of her time.

With Mutt, October 1964

Aunt Hazel with Mutt, October 1964

Aunt Hazel was born in 1904, the youngest child in her family. Grandma and Grandpa Brown had a daughter and a son who died before my grandmother and Aunt Hazel were born. Such was infant mortality in those days. Grandma must have been healthy—she lived to be 96. Aunt Hazel, however, was “sickly,” suffering from epilepsy as a child. Probably because they’d lost their first two children, her parents sheltered her. She was also near sighted and wore glasses. Boys called her “four-eyes.” No wonder she never married.

In rural America in those days, respectable unmarried women lived with family and seldom worked outside the home. Aunt Hazel went to school and did housework. When the family moved to a farm, she and Grandma helped with farm work.

When Grandpa Brown died, Aunt Hazel and her mother moved in with the Rogers. After Grandma Brown died, Aunt Hazel stayed. Where else was she to go?

She never lived independently, but Aunt Hazel became a career woman. At first, she crocheted. That’s where the yarn swift comes into the picture. I remember as a child watching TV in their living room. Aunt Hazel would take a skein of yarn, loop it around the swift, and keep her hands busy winding the yarn into balls. Then she’d crochet. She made baby sets to sell—matching bonnets, sweaters, and booties of soft pastel yarn. These she’d pack in paper-lined boxes and take to McCrory’s, a five and dime store in Johnson City, where they were sold. Aunt Hazel must have made hundreds of those beautiful baby outfits. Curiously, none of us got one, but she also made baby blankets, and I still have mine. It’s too fragile to use, but a treasure, none the less.

This is close to what I remember Aunt Hazel's looked like.

This is close to what I remember Aunt Hazel’s yarn swift looked like.

Later, she became an Avon Lady. She didn’t earn just pocket money. She was a powerhouse of a sales woman, taking each campaign by the horns, and winning prize after prize for sales. Her route covered Johnson City and Binghamton. When she visited a customer, if the woman wasn’t in the market to buy, they’d just have a friendly chat. Quite often, the lady would remember something she wanted for herself or as a gift, and Aunt Hazel would make a sale, after all.

Few women of her generation drove a car, but Aunt Hazel was different. Since Grandma didn’t drive, Aunt Hazel would take her to deliver butter every Thursday. She owned a series of cars, always a Plymouth. She patronized a certain gas station in town. In those days, filling stations were also auto shops and her mechanic kept her on the road. One time when I accompanied her, I was shocked to hear him call her “Hazel.” How rude! The only people who called her by her first name were my grandparents. People outside the family called her “Miss Brown.”

We lived with my grandparents until I was ten. Aunt Hazel was like a third grandmother in the home. She would rock us, read to us, sing to us. She taught us “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” and “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.”

Sometimes adults can be indiscreet. If he was upset with Aunt Hazel, Dad would call her an “old maid” behind her back. Once I won a prize at school and chose a deck of Old Maid Cards. In all innocence, I proudly showed them to Aunt Hazel and said, “Look, I’ve got Old Maid Cards, just like you.” I distinctly remember the silence that followed. I think Dad watched his tongue afterward.

As she aged, Aunt Hazel developed diabetes. She attributed this to indiscretion while working her Avon route. Instead of eating a proper lunch, she’d grab a pastry. She managed her blood sugar by close watch on her diet, but she slowly declined until she could no longer work. Then she developed dementia. The day she died, I cried all morning, not knowing why, until I got the news. She was only 75, young for our family.

It’s interesting how events shape our lives. In a generation where women were almost exclusively homemakers, Aunt Hazel was a saleswoman and Grandma ran a dairy farm. Had their brother survived, leaving the Browns a son to help work the farm, these ladies may have grown up to fill more traditional feminine roles. The necessity of doing men’s work gave them the gumption to become modern 20th Century women.

I thought about all these things while I untangled that almost impossible knot of yarn. By stubborn persistence, I succeeded and now am prepared to crochet.  I wonder what became of Aunt Haze’s yarn swift? I sure could have used it today.

For more on Grandma’s dairy business, read Binghamton Butter to Texas Kolaches.

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djibouti-map

Djibouti is a tiny country in the Horn of Africa, sandwiched between Eritrea and Somalia, where the Red Sea flows into the Gulf of Aden. If you look at a map, the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula points right to it. The capital city is also named Djibouti. My sister Lorraine and her family live there.

I visited them in 2004.  At the time, they lived in a two story house surrounded by a gated wall, a typical residence for well-to-do Djiboutians and middle-class expatriates. Next door, in a similar house, was the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Although Djibouti enjoys peace and good relations with the Western world and has not been a victim of the unrest that plagues the nations around it, I found it a little unsettling, at first, to stay next door to the Saudi Embassy. Not to worry, Lorraine and John assured me. They got along quite well with their neighbors. Indeed they did. When I wanted a sample of my name in Arabic, Lorraine sent their watchman next door and someone at the embassy wrote it on a piece of paper for me.

However, I hadn’t been there more than a few days, when one night I was jarred from sleep by explosions and lights flashing in the sky. I jumped out of bed and ran to my window, certain that we were under attack, that the wars raging throughout the Middle East had invaded peaceful little Djibouti, or the embassy next door was being bombed, but I couldn’t see anything except flashes of light. I knew it was no thunderstorm. So I ran to another window.

I’m not sure whether John’s sleep was disturbed by the explosions or by my running through the house. He accosted me on my way to a third window and said, “It’s all right! It’s all right. It’s only fireworks.” And so it was. We couldn’t get a clear view of them, only enough to know we weren’t about to die. Afterwards, we had a good laugh.

This is what it sounded like that night.

This is what it sounded like that night.

At home, I can hear the Fourth of July celebration eleven miles away in Lake Butler. My neighbors shoot off fireworks every July 4th, New Year’s Eve, or whenever they have a party. Those don’t alarm me. But we Americans can hardly wait until dark for the pyrotechnics to begin, and that night in Djibouti, not only was it well after dark, it was late enough that we were in bed asleep. There’d been no notice of a fireworks display and we never did learn what the occasion was. Someone in the city was celebrating something and fireworks was part of the entertainment. I wonder how many other people woke in alarm that night thinking the city was being bombed.

But it wasn’t. Did my expectations that this part of the world was dangerous cause my reaction? Or was my alarm reasonable? I’ll never forget the terror of the moment, yet I was safe. When I think about people who live in actual war zones, whose days and nights are disturbed, not by festive fireworks, but by actual bombs, my heart goes out to them. If the unexpected sounds of that night remain etched in my mind twelve years later, I can’t begin to imagine what effect it has on those who are exposed to violence on a continuous basis. Here in the USA, we have so much to be grateful for.

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The first time I watched the movie Labyrinth with David Bowie, I recognized those ugly little things disguised as Muppets. They had plagued me during my most dire illness.

I was in high school when I came down with strep throat. I’d never been so sick in my life. For an entire week, I went to school with a sore throat and low grade fever because I hated to miss school. Instead of shaking it off, which I might have done had I stayed home a few days to rest, I became too ill to go anywhere but to a doctor. I lost a week of school and a noticeable amount of weight. During the worst of my ailment, I suffered hallucinations.

It was winter and our house didn’t have central heat. My bedroom being the coldest, I was allowed to sleep on the living room couch, near the fireplace. Only I couldn’t sleep. Every time I dozed off, goblins would fly out from behind the couch, fill the room, and squawk loud enough to wake the dead. I didn’t know how anyone else in the family could sleep. I was too sick to be frightened by them, too sick even to wonder at their existence. (The goblins didn’t bring David Bowie with them, but even if they had, I was too sick to care.)

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Finally, I got up and went to my parents’ room to tell them I couldn’t sleep because, “Those things in there are making too much noise.” What things? I got no sympathy. The goblins’ racket apparently hadn’t disturbed their slumber, but I had. I was told to go back to bed. They didn’t even get up and shine a flashlight behind the couch to show me nothing was there. Maybe they thought I was old enough to figure it out for myself.

During the day, with sunlight to chase the goblins away, I was finally able to rest. Lying in the living room in my feverish malaise, I heard my little sisters whispering. An elderly friend of ours had recently died. My sisters thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear them. One of them (You know who you are!) said, “Is she going to die like Mrs. Brant?” I actually was miserable enough to die, but since I was more amused than offended by what they said, I didn’t wish for the Goblin King to carry them away.

The medication kicked in. The congestion in my throat began to break up and I started to cough up phlegm. With it came copious amounts of blood, too much for a few tissues to handle. I ended up in the bathroom. Too sick to stand at the sink, I sat on the floor by the tub, hacking and spitting. With all that blood, I thought I really was dying, but my parents didn’t act very concerned. As I hung over the bathtub, coughing up my guts, I saw something I’d never noticed before.

Our house was old and the bathtub probably older still. Our well water contained so much iron it stained everything. The tub, originally white, was almost entirely orange. Many months of diligent scrubbing had reduced the stain somewhat, and as I stared at it for what seemed hours, I saw that beneath the stains were pictures— black ink drawings of cowboys, as though someone had painted them on the bottom of the tub before the artwork was covered by iron deposits. I marveled how those pictures had survived years of staining and scrubbing. I wondered why no one had noticed them before.

When my throat took a breather from shedding bloody phlegm, I told my mother about the pictures. She must have thought I was crazy. As my fever receded, so did the drawings on the bottom of the tub. What had been so distinct was no longer apparent. After my recovery, I searched the floor of the bathtub for anything, even a rust stain, that could be mistaken for a cowboy, but I found nothing.

Fortunately I didn’t develop schizophrenia or any other delusional condition and haven’t hallucinated since. From time to time, like everyone, I see things that turn out to be something else at second glance, such as a stick mistaken as a snake. But I tell you, at the time, those goblins and cowboys were as real to my vision as the words on this page.

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I was sixteen when we settled in our house in Scrambletown, Florida, and probably in college by the time my family acquired another dog. They owned a series of them, including Rattler, Dammit, and some whose names I have forgotten. My little sisters (I won’t mention any names, but you know who you are) immortalized three dogs in a little skit they’d perform for the family. The girls would march onto the stage on all fours and chant:

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

My name is Speckles.

My name is Blackie.

My name is Jake.

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

After this, they would exit on all fours, keeping in step.

Speckles was white with black spots and Blackie was, of course, a white dog.

I finished college, moved on with life, and became a mere visitor to the homestead. Whenever I arrived, my family’s dogs never greeted me with hostility. They might bark to let everyone else know someone was there, but they seemed to sense that I was not an intruder, that I somehow belonged.

Duke was Dad’s special dog, his companion. Duke was a black Labrador, very intelligent and talented. He could climb trees–can you imagine a large black dog halfway up a live oak tree? Although Dad was not a biker, he had a motorcycle that he’d ride around for fun and into the woods to check his beehives. Duke would ride behind him on the bike. Somehow, he could balance and hold on. That was a sight to see.

Duke on a ladder

I couldn’t find a picture of Duke on the motorcycle or in the tree, but here he is climbing a ladder. He could climb down, too.

Dad’s last dog was a Rottweiler named Bee Bear. Actually she was half Lab, but she looked full Rottweiler. My only previous experience with a Rottweiler was brief and unpleasant. One day as I returned to my car in a parking lot and started to open the door, I heard a vicious snarling that made me recoil with alarm. A Rottweiler sat in the passenger seat of the car beside me.  He was probably only protecting his owner’s property, but if not restrained by that closed door, I think he would have attacked me. Upon reflection, I sure the poor dog had been mistreated because his reaction to me was brutal, not a mere territorial barking.

On the contrary, Bee Bear was a sweet, gentle dog. Only her appearance was fierce. I was never afraid of her. Dad took Bee Bear everywhere with him. She rode on the back of his truck on trips to Arkansas and other places. No one would bother his truck as long as Bee Bear sat there! Dad was not a cat person. He’d tell Bee Bear that a cat was a bear, and she would chase the cat, but I don’t think she ever harmed one.

Bee Bear and girls

This is Bee Bear with some of my nieces. These are not the girls who performed “We’re Three Dogs,” but are the offspring of one of them. (I still won’t mention any names.)

I remember when Bee Bear passed away. She was quite an old dog. It was Dad’s 80th birthday. Every one of his children surprised him by showing up at the farm in Arkansas. Even my sister Lorraine flew in from Djibouti. But Bee Bear was dying that day. Sadly, she died on his birthday, but at least he had family around. We buried Bee Bear in the back yard and my bother Ed, who is a preacher, gave a brief service over her grave. Surrounded by all his children, I think Dad had a good day despite his grief.

The last dog my parents owned was Valerie, a tiny part-hound who was terrified of thunderstorms. She would whimper and hide under the desk, and no one could comfort her. After my father died, Valerie was caught harassing the neighbor’s livestock, and she had to go. My mother is not a dog person.

Next week I will write about dogs I owned in my adult life.

(PS If you look for Scrambletown on a map of Florida, you won’t find it. It’s one of those places with no legal designation, but it has a colorful history. Google “Scrambletown” and you can find out how it earned its curious name.)

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Until I was about ten, my family lived upstairs in my grandparents’ house. When we were little, my brother and I shared a bedroom. On the wall above the bed hung a photograph of a young boy, Dad’s brother Donald, who died many years before I was born. That photo remained on the wall for decades, until my grandparents sold their farm and moved to Florida.
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I could not find that picture, but here is Uncle Donald and his baby brother Russell with their grandfather, George Brown.

In their cellar, hanging on the back wall under a thick layer of dust, was Uncle Donald’s bicycle. No one rode it. Even when my siblings and I were old enough to want bicycles, Donald’s stayed on the wall. No one offered it to us and I doubt any of us asked to ride it.

Who was this young man whose spirit remained a living presence in the lives of those who knew him? Donald was my father’s only brother, about three years older than he. He was a well-behaved child and a good student. By comparison, my dad was the wild one, mischievous, non-compliant. But he loved his brother more than he could express in words. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t talk much about Donald.

Uncle Donald suffered from health problems but no one seemed to know what was wrong with him. We only know that he died in his mother’s arms. Donald was only seventeen and had just graduated from high school. My dad was about fourteen. Losing his brother threw Dad into a tailspin he never seemed to recover from. In the middle of World War II, he quit school, joined the army, and was sent to the Pacific theater. I can only imagine my grandparents’ anguish, their only remaining child fighting in a war half-way around the world.

When my youngest brother was small, he developed a seizure disorder. I remember my father’s panic when Billy had seizures. That was uncharacteristic. Dad was quick to anger but not to panic. I remember him yelling that his brother died of a seizure. This alarmed me no end, so I asked my mother. She said Donald had seizures, but that was not what killed him.

One day I broke the code of secrecy and asked Grandma what Donald’s medical condition had been. She didn’t know its name, but said when he got sick he would have albumin in his blood. His doctor knew what to give him for it, but in his last illness, the doctor was out of town. Under the care of another physician, unfamiliar with Donald’s disorder or its proper treatment, and probably refusing to listen to the patient’s mother, he died.

My grandparents hoarded Donald’s possessions until the end of their lives. After they died, my parents packed up and moved from Scrambletown in the Ocala National Forest, where they lived for over thirty years, to Blackfork, Arkansas, where they’d bought a farm. Dad built a big house on the farm, large enough to store two lifetimes of accumulated treasures. Among them were Donald’s belongings, but I had no idea of their existence until this summer.

At our biennial family reunions, we always have an auction to raise money for the next one. Family heirlooms are in great demand. Before our reunion this summer, Mom and my sisters went through boxes of old pictures, ledgers, letters, knick-knacks, and diaries. None of these has much monetary value, but to us they are precious. They went to the auction block where they garnered high prices. Among them were Uncle Donald’s belongings.

From the handsome but sickly boy who had a bicycle, Uncle Donald emerged as a full human being. His high school class ring was among the auction items, in pristine condition, of course, since he didn’t live long enough to wear it out.

Books, lots of books. Apparently, Donald liked to read. What survived was a collection of popular fiction for boys, among them: Army Boys in France, Working Hard to Win, Young Eagles, and Penrod Jashber by Booth Tarkington. These were gifts from various relatives and even neighbors. The books are not in pristine condition—they have been read, probably by many people.

Perhaps the most interesting relic was Uncle Donald’s baseball. We knew he was a farm boy as well as a scholar, but an athlete? Those were the days when kids used a stick for a bat and anything they could throw, including rocks, for a ball. Uncle Donald must have been fortunate to own a baseball.

He and my father attended a one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. Dad told a story about Barnum Hill’s undefeated baseball season—they played one game with Deyo Hill School, and won. We surmise this was the game ball from that historic event.

I find it interesting that my father and his family talked freely about other relatives long gone, yet they were almost silent about Uncle Donald. Historically, the Rogers have not handled grief well. Unspoken memories of Donald were gathered in their hearts much as his belongings were stored in boxes. Not until the last person who knew Donald was gone, did these tidbits come into the open. Although Donald’s life was as unremarkable as it was short, he touched deeply the hearts of those who knew him, and he continues to live on in our memories today.

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