Earth Angel

I’d relegate such an angel to stand on the fireplace mantle rather than our coffee table. I think that’d be a mite too close to the uncovered bowl of M&M’s.

Earth Angel

Making telephones out of string and tin cans was something my brother and I did as kids.  The crude instruments worked fine as long as the twine was kept tight.

Jim was quite clever in coming up with a more advanced system.  He started collecting empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls while having friends do the same.  After several months of accumulation my brother finally had enough cardboard tubes to begin taping them together.

In the classic 1954 Walt Disney film, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, Captain Nemo of the submarine Nautilus used tube phones to communicate with various sections of his boat.  Early day submarines and ships used similar arrangements.

By splicing the tubes together my brother created a 20-foot long communication device.  Jim was proud of his accomplishment.

Before we had a chance to try things out mom shut the operation down.  She deemed the tubes unsanitary, instructing him to chuck the disgusting things into a garbage can. That only temporarily slowed my brother down. Jim discovered that a length of garden hose replaced his beloved tubes just fine.

Oddly enough a prized gift given to mom by me was constructed from a TP tube.   My teacher in 5th grade brought in a box of tubes along with paste, glitter, cloth, pipe cleaners, and other miscellaneous items.

It was near Christmas and Mrs. Drake had students use the components to create special earth angels.  The tubes became torsos or bodies.  There’s no telling where Mrs. Drake got hers?  Back then kids didn’t care. They probably still don’t!

The earth angel I made for mom didn’t last long as it was quickly destroyed by our boxer dog, “Jet”. I suppose he was attracted to the odor.  The angel contained gobs of paste which gave it a sweet tantalizing aroma.

The other day I was browsing through Hobby Lobby when I spotted a clear plastic bag full of cardboard tubes.  The bag label had one of those yellow recycle logos on it.

I’m not sure if they were the real deal; size and shape was exactly the same.  I know all kinds of paper items are recycled these days, so perhaps these tubes did at one time hold sheets of Charmin or Angel Soft. If that was the case there’s no telling where they’d been. My mind went numb thinking of all the bizarre possibilities.

If one of my grandchildren wants to make me an earth angel I’d be tickled to death. Hopefully the tube used to construct such comes from their home.  If it hails from a bag of tubes purchased at Hobby Lobby I’ll still accept the gift of course. What loving grandparent wouldn’t?

I would relegate my angel to stand on the fireplace mantle rather than our coffee table. I think that’d be a mite too close to the open bowl of M&M’s.

Kimberly Therese Herndon

I like to believe that father and daughter have been together now for close to 60 years in Heaven.

Our next door neighbor in Selma, Alabama, Lt. Richard Neal Herndon, was killed in a T-33 training accident on September 19, 1959 close to where we lived. He was an instructor pilot at Craig Air Force Base. Herndon’s student, Lt. Donald B. Wilcox, also perished.

Mrs. Herndon (Mary) was my babysitter back then while mom worked at Vaughan Hospital. I believe she made the transition to New Vaughan Memorial Hospital as well. My family lived in Jones Trailer Park at the time.

Lt. Herndon (Dick) always took time to talk to my brother and me. He even fixed a flat on Jim’s bicycle. While dad was away in Korea we kind of adopted him. He was our hero in being a jet pilot. After the accident I never saw Mary Herndon again. I still remember a wreath hanging on the Herndon’s small trailer door.

I didn’t find out until much later that Richard Herndon and his wife lost a newly born daughter on January 28, 1959. The little girl, Kimberly Therese Herndon, was only two months old. She’s buried at New Live Oak Cemetery in Selma. Mary Herndon lost a husband and child in eight months.

Kimberly Therese Herndon’s gravestone was nearly undistinguishable from algae and grime. Thanks to the efforts of Doug Buster and his Cemetery Preservation Group, the small white monument was cleaned and looks as it did 60 years ago.

Kimberly’s dad, Lt. Richard Herndon, is buried some 2,038 miles away at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

I like to believe that father and daughter have been together now for close to 60 years in Heaven.

Obituary from the January 29, 1959 – “The Selma Times-Journal”

The Flying Chapel

Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition.

Front row left to right: 2nd Lt. Daniel C. Smoke Jr. (pilot), Flight Officer George Pendarvis (co-pilot), Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen, 2nd Lt. John Strong. Back row left to right: Sergeant John White Jr., Sergeant Harold Stone, Sergeant Richard Burres, Sergeant Elmer Koepsel, Sergeant David Sala.

Daniel Collier (D.C.) Smoke Jr. was born in Selma, Alabama on July 23, 1923. He lived with his family on Rural Route 2 – Old Orrville Road. Daniel had an older brother, Joe, and a sister, Georgia Angelyn.

The young man attended local Selma public schools graduating from A.G. Parrish High in 1941.

In 1942, he enrolled in Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn majoring in aeronautical engineering. He was one of the prestigious school’s brightest students. After two years of study he left and enlisted in the Army Air Corp for flight instruction. Assigned to bases in Biloxi, Mississippi and Savannah, Georgia, Lt. Smoke was trained in the operation of multi-engine aircraft.

On November 23, 1944, before leaving for Europe, Lt. Smoke married his sweetheart, Nancy Lewis, of Citronelle, Alabama. The couple’s wedding announcement in the Selma Times-Journal portrayed it as a gala affair. 

Lt. Smoke departed the United States on February 18, 1945 as command pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Boeing aircraft were called that, because of their ability to defend with 50-caliber guns mounted throughout the fuselage.

A letter sent to his parents and wife mentioned that plane and crew had safely landed in England. The newly crowned pilot indicated that it’d been a beautiful trip.

Several weeks’ later tragic word was received that on March 19, 1945, Lt. Daniel Smoke Jr. was killed in an airplane crash along with eight others. This was only the second mission for Lt. Smoke and his crew. His B-17 nicknamed “Flying Chapel” mysteriously collided with another plane on a flight to their target. The crew of that B-17 survived after parachuting from their damaged craft. Turbulence or propwash were some of the possible factors mentioned for the planes coming together.

Lieutenant Smoke left behind a grieving widow. The young couple had been married for less than four months. On a bizarre twist of fate, Georgia Angelyn, Daniel’s sister tragically passed away from illness 14 months previous to his death.

The airman was initially buried in France before his body was exhumed in 1948 and shipped to Selma. His funeral was conducted with full military honors. Daniel Smoke Jr. is buried in New Live Oak Cemetery along with his father, mother, sister, and brother.

Ironically, the B-17 that Lt. Smoke was piloting that day had been in several serious accidents previous to his taking command. On December 24, 1944 it was extensively damaged from German fighter planes strafing the tail section.

The airplane (serial number 43-38038) received its “Flying Chapel” namesake by former crew members. It seemingly limped home after each mission only through the power of prayer.

This battered Flying Fortress had four complete wing replacements during its short life span. Like many such airplanes during WWII, it was quickly repaired then put back into service. Just how thorough some of those quickie repairs were finalized will never be known.

A black & white photograph shows a side of the aircraft literally blown apart. Sections of aluminum fuselage is missing. Lt. Smoke’s B-17 was structurally compromised without question.

Those killed in the crash along with 2nd Lt. Daniel Smoke were:

Flight Officer George Pendarvis

Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen

2nd Lt. John Strong

Sergeant John White Jr.

Sergeant Harold Stone

Sergeant Richard Burres

Sergeant Elmer Koepsel

Sergeant David Sala

On a parting note, Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition:

“When the last bell rings, at the close of each school day, we separate from our comrades, and homeward wind our way. The days are flying swiftly; yes, time still marches on: and before we have time to stop and think, our life is half-way gone.”

Daniel Smoke Jr. and his family were devout members of First Christian Church in Selma.

* After the accident Lt. Smoke was posthumously bestowed the rank of Captain.

This photo shows “Beverly Jean” (43-37969). The other B-17 that crashed.
From an article in the October 24, 1948 “Selma Times-Journal”
Grave marker in New Live Oak Cemetery – Selma, Alabama
High school photograph.

The Other Side

“Dream big and dare to fail!”

Colonel Norman Vaughan

This story marks #100 for my WordPress blog as some might call it.  I don’t like the name. Blog sounds too much like blah. I see the site as a literary junkyard for a small portion of the junk I’ve written. These completed and published stories eventually get towed and parked here. On occasion I’ll yank one out to salvage a paragraph or sentence for use in another tale.

One-hundred is a significant number in many arenas. I always thought I’d make it to the century mark where living is concerned. At age 50, I remember thinking I’m only halfway to my goal. These days I’m not so sure. I’ll keep trying as Colonel Norman Vaughan would have me do.

Colonel Norman Vaughan was an Alaskan adventurer and mountain climber. He made it five days past his 100th birthday before passing away. I met him many years ago at a lecture he gave regarding his journey to the South Pole with Admiral Richard Byrd.

After the meeting was over Colonel Vaughan signed a book for me, my son, and one for Aunt Dora. During this seminar I learned that Norman Vaughan coined the phrase,

“Dream big and dare to fail!”

For me, Vaughan’s statement refers to never settling for less where life ambitions or goals are concerned. This saying is intended for young and old people alike.

Norman Vaughan’s book is called, My Life of Adventure. He wrote another titled, With Byrd at the Bottom of the World.

There’s a mountain in Antarctica named after Norman Vaughan. He successfully scaled that 10,302 foot peak in 1994, at age 88. After his accomplishment, co-workers and I constructed a temporary monument to him at our place of employment. The Anchorage Daily News picked up on it and printed a near full-page photograph, along with a story on how such came to be. Colonel Vaughan made a personal visit to thank us.

My Aunt Dora was tickled pink to get her signed copy. She almost made it to 100, unfortunately passing away at age 99. Colonel Vaughan would’ve been proud of her for daring to fail.

God is the only one knowing how much time we have on this planet. For the rest of mine I’ll keep praising him and adding more stories to my literary salvage yard.

This is the latest addition to my collection. I dedicate it to the memory of Colonel Norman Vaughan and my Aunt Dora Guyton-Hankins. I know in due time I’ll see both of them on the other side.

Climbing Mt. Vaughan

Fresher than Fresh

During my life I do not believe I’ve ever come across a sign advertising fresh frozen fish. Would that be an oxymoron?

Several years ago a restaurant in Lake Havasu City, Arizona had a sign out front advertising fresh fish. My wife and I decided to stop and try some.

Joleen asked our server, Don, where the fish were caught and just how fresh were they. The fellow had no problem answering,

“They’re Alaskan cod and we received them this week!”

That didn’t tell me a lot, but Joleen was happy to hear they weren’t farm raised. I’ve never heard of farm raised cod although catfish and bass are a different story. I decided not to push the issue with my wife.

The cod tasted fine. It didn’t have a fishy smell indicating the seafood was not old. I had a final question for Don.

“When you say fresh you mean they weren’t frozen?”

“Oh, no sir.”, he replied. “All the fish we get are frozen. That’s how we keep them fresh.”

I sensed at this point we were playing a game of semantics. This fellow’s interpretation of fresh was as flawed as Bill Clinton’s analogy of the word, is. In other words, our server hadn’t a clue what fresh fish or fresh seafood really was.

Years ago my brother and I visited Aunt Katrulia in Mobile, Alabama. Aunt K as we called her took us to a rustic seafood restaurant near the docks that served scrumptious po’boy sandwiches. The shrimp inside each bun had been caught early that morning. The buns were still warm from the oven. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Now that was definitely fresh stuff!

When I was a teen I went on a camping trip with another friend, Jeff Cloud, to Salmon Creek near Seward, Alaska. Jeff was an outdoorsman extraordinaire. He loved being in the wilds.

We caught several Dolly Varden right off the bat. I lit a fire while Jeff degutted then fileted the fish. Tossing them into a cast-iron pan with squeeze butter and a pinch of salt & pepper, he fried them up. Never has anything tasted so good. I bet those fish hadn’t been out of water for more than 10 minutes.

My friend did the same with a silver salmon we’d poached, only this time he wrapped it in foil and placed things on top of rocks underneath the fire. He let it bake for perhaps an hour before removing.

A tiny portion of the fish was burnt but the rest was cooked to perfection. Once again butter from a squeeze bottle with salt & pepper was added. That was some of the sweetest salmon I’ve ever tasted. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher unless it’s swimming.

During my lifetime I do not believe I’ve ever come across a sign advertising fresh frozen fish. Would that be an oxymoron? You tell me. I’m sure Wikipedia has their opinion but I choose not to always believe that site.

I shouldn’t be so concerned. The other night for dinner Joleen served cooked vegetables. I asked her if they were fresh and she said yes. After eating I was curious about something.

“You say these vegetables are fresh, yet they came from the freezer?”

“They were frozen.”, she replied. “That’s how I keep them fresh.”

It was evident a bit of Don’s culinary mis-intellect had rubbed off on my wife. Another puzzling question cropped up after Joleen mentioned that.

“Are frozen vegetables considered fresh?”

According to information from Green Giant they’re fresher than fresh. I suppose if anyone should know it would be him!

The Same Dress

At this point I’m not sure what I’ll be wearing to the reunion.

File photo

“My 50th high school reunion will be here in three years and I’m in a tizzy as to what to wear!”

That statement is not the least in my mind, but I bet there are some 1972 East Anchorage High graduates already thinking about such.

We’re lucky to have a group of hard-working alumni currently putting this most special reunion together. Pam Painter-Jones heads it up.

I plan on being there; Lord willing. Taking life one day at a time seems to work best for me. Avoiding stress goes along with that philosophy.

Avoiding stress isn’t the easiest thing to do. With the extra years placed on my chassis, medical visits have increased. There’s nothing fun about going to a doctor even for routine visits.

The worst part is dealing with miscalculated medical bills afterwards. Where do they find these billing people? No wonder so many seniors have heart problems.

In a way I look forward to my 50th reunion, yet on the other hand I realize I’ll be three years older. Regardless of what some say, getting old is not a walk in the park. If anyone claims different they’re a blatant liar.

Senility goes with the aging process and it seems I’ve picked up my fair share. Ten years ago I would’ve never called anyone a blatant liar.  I’ve only added blatant the last two.

At this point I’m not sure what I’ll be wearing to the event. My corduroy jeans no longer fit. Why that material went out of style we’ll never know?

I suppose Levi’s® and a flannel shirt will work just fine. They seem to be fashionable for all occasions. I don’t believe spandex shorts and a fishnet shirt would go over so well. Not that I have either.

I glanced at an online photo of another 50th class reunion to see how people dressed. There were some attendees sporting suits but it appeared anything is allowed.

I’m not inclined to haul a suit from Arizona to Alaska inside a carryon bag. Something tells me it wouldn’t look fresh after the trip. From the appearance of one attendee, beards are acceptable on the guys.

I’m avoiding stress by not fretting on how to dress. I realize there’s still plenty of time. On the other hand, I may call a few friends to see what color suspenders they’ll have on.

Just as a gal would hate to be caught wearing an identical dress as someone else, I’d cringe seeing some other guy sporting red, white, and blue suspenders.

Two old geezers having them on would be totally uncool!

At the Cross

It sounded like a good flick to me as I’d always wanted one of those cool switchblade knives.

I went to church a good portion of my early life. Selmont Baptist in Selma, Alabama was one of them. Various unnamed, non-denominational military churches in Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas make up the rest.

In Lubbock, I attended a midnight-mass Catholic service with a friend, Steve Carrico. I didn’t make it to midnight after becoming ill from the incense.

Early in my church attendance I learned Bible stories like David and Goliath. Jonah being swallowed by a whale greatly held my attention. I often wondered what Jonah found floating around in a whale’s stomach? To me the thought was mind provoking.

As the years moved forward I became lost while sitting on hard church pews listening to adult sermons. Much of that preaching was way over my head. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was lost from the beginning.

My years as a young person were generally spent trying to entertain myself. Fishing became a favorite pastime during junior high. I learned to tie flies and used them to fish for salmon at Russian River and Bird Creek in Alaska.

I put to work the infamous Lujon lure, snagging fish when it was legal to do so. That’s a story in itself. One thing I’m thankful of is that alcohol or drugs were never part of my entertainment.

Once I entered high school, cars, motorcycles, and snow machines became a passion. The trio took up a good portion of what free time I had. Working for dad after school kept me busy.

I met a fellow in 11th grade named Jeff Thimsen. Jeff’s dad, Dean, was a missionary preacher and bush pilot. Pastor Thimsen moved to Alaska in the early 1950’s with his wife, Virginia, and infant daughter, Jean.

My new friend told me tales about his family living in rural native villages. I couldn’t imagine residing in a home with no bathtub or shower; even worse, having to use an outhouse in winter.

During our senior year Jeff asked me to attend a movie called, “The Cross and the Switchblade”. He had free tickets which was righteous as I liked to say. My pal mentioned that only young people would be in attendance and there’d be plenty of girls. It sounded like a good flick to me as I’d always wanted one of those cool switchblade knifes.

One of the kids I grew up with had a switchblade. It was a cheap piece of junk his dad brought back from Japan. One day he was showing some younger fellows how it worked.  He flipped the switch and the blade swung out before dropping to the floor. I can still hear those boys laughing.

At the conclusion I thought the film was okay, but it needed more action. Telling us to please remain seated, some guy came on a microphone asking for those feeling led by the Lord to come forward. Many did just that.

Jeff asked if I wanted to walk up there saying he’d go with me. I told him not really, but maybe if we hurried there might be some popcorn left. It too was free that night.

A year after graduating (1972), Jeff and I were out cruising. We’d driven in circles all evening long checking out cars and girls. That evening Jeff drove for whatever reason to the baseball fields at Pine Street and DeBarr Road. We never went that direction for anything. He pulled into the parking lot to turn around when I sprung this question,

“Is this what life’s all about? We drive in circles until we run out of gas?”

Jeff realized I was being serious for a change. We sat there and talked for several minutes. He told me that God had bigger plans for my life than cars and cruising Northern Lights Boulevard. That’s when he asked me something,

“If you died right now do you know for sure that you’d go to Heaven?”

I told him that I hadn’t given it much thought.

“Would you like to know for sure?”, he replied.

“Sure!”, I shot back.

Jeff informed me that if I was sincere in what I’d just said, I needed to repeat a simple sinner’s prayer asking Jesus Christ to come into my heart and change me.

That night in Jeff’s 1965 Chevrolet I did just that. After doing so, it felt like a million pounds was lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t a huggy guy back then, but I did shake his hand.

I’m eternally grateful for Jeff showing me how easy it was (through Jesus Christ), to know that I wouldn’t be going in circles for the rest of my life. I finally had direction after 19 years of being lost.

On that September evening in 1973 I came to the cross and I’ve never looked back!