A knob Twister

Image From the Internet

More than fifty years have passed since I left the old home place. Standing on the cellar wall, peering into the ashes and half-burned timbers that fill the place where I spent my winter nights, I hear the voice of Bob Wills or Red Foley, or maybe Ernest Tubb. I cup one ear to be sure. But the restless cottonwoods assure me it’s my imagination run wild. I’m hearing the ghosts of my past.

In this sooty hole beneath what was once the living room I’d experienced the golden age of radio. With a wire in the cottonwoods and a white Arvin 5-tube radio I’d earned from coupons on hog feed bags I enjoyed The Grand Ole’ Opry, Louisiana Hayride, and another that escapes me. But these fun-filled programs were transmitted only on weeks ends.

During the weekday evening I enjoyed Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Whistler. The Shadow, and scores of other stories.

There were no full descriptions like those on television. I didn’t need them. I’d seen the girl with the yellow hair in the grocery store, just as I’d seen the guy with thick glasses in the drug store. I recognized my characters. Had you been sitting beside me during those winter nights you would have recognized yours too.

Great Legs

Jan Wilberg rung my bell the other day with a list of things she missed. We must be kin, somehow. Further down she mentioned having great legs when she was younger.  That rung a bell too.

Back in the 1950s when I was in boot camp sometimes shorts were the uniform of the day. As a result someone pinned the name Legs Laughlin on me. And it stuck.

So I asked a friend, “What the hell’s wrong with my legs?”

“I don’t know. They look twisted.”

“Thanks buddy. Thanks a lot.”

Cycling To Grand Canyon…er Almost

The temperature was up and the sky as blue as the Pacific the morning we drove into Williams, Arizona. After acquiring permission to leave our car parked at the visitor’s center we unloading the Burley Sama and attaching the Bike Friday Trailer. Our plan was to ignore the Grand Canyon Train that was waiting at the depot and begin the sixty plus miles to the South Rim. However, when we approached the gathering of anxious passengers a gunfight broke out. With no convenient place to take cover we sat on our tandem like two clay pigeons and watched two masked men make off with the strongbox. They hadn’t cleared the platform before the Williams Marshall appeared from nowhere and shot them both dead. Two young fellows came from the coffee shop and dragged the outlaws around behind the building.

Since our departure was already delayed we parked the bike and paused for coffee. While there, the marshall and his two dead men entered from the back and ordered coffee.

We were an hour behind schedule when we departed, but no worries. We’d go as far as we could and then make accommidations to suit the situation (this is what cycling is all about – keeping it fun).

Road repair was underway and we traveled between a windrow of red, volcanic ash and the shoulder. No worries. The windrow provided a welcome barrier between us and the speeding tour buses.

Some disance north of Williams we came upon a StarMart. Not knowing what may lie head, we wheeled in for coffee and donuts before proceeding, a welcome break, indeed.

We were about forty miles north of Williams when thunderheads appeared on the horizon. With them came gusty winds and a few rain drops the size of my thumb. Weather at this altitude can turn on a dime – more rain, hail, even snow. And there was no shelter available other than what we brought with us, bungied to the lid of our trailer. The tent.

Small, roadside stands of stunted trees offered a break from the wind. After choosing one large enough to accommodate our Burley and trailer we pitched our tent and settled in for the duration.

Morning brought no change, but with twenty more miles to go plus another sixty back to Williams we decided to turn back.

The undulating road was endless. The wind was relentless. At the crest of one hill our legs had turned to rubber. Leaning the bike against a tree we sat down beneath it to rest.

“We’re out of food, aren’t we?” I asked.

“Almost,” my bride replied, producing a very small jar of peanut butter from a pocket and a plastic spoon from another. The jar was half empty, only three servings each. But delicious, nontheless.

At the bottom of that hill we encountered the windrows of red ash which the tour buses had churned into rusty slurry. And soon we appeared one in the same.

We were exhausted by the time we reached our beloved StarMart. Inside, two ladies were folding Grand Canyon sweatshirts. The expressions on their faces told us how we must have looked as we pushed through the door. After drinking a full pot of coffee and  devouring a dozen donuts we resumed out trek toward Williams.

The comfort of the motel room we rented under the critical eye of the manager was delightful.

Would I make the trip again? In a heartbeat.

My Grandmother’s Hand

I’ve written about her before. She influenced my life as a young, single airman. Perhaps the most important thing she did – whether she realized it or not – was keeping a steady stream of letters coming to my mailbox. And each scribed with a pencil that should have been sharpened.

I keep a daily journal. It’s filled with the trivial things that occur during my day. For years I used only a PaperMate ballpoint, then I switched to a PaperMate SharpWriter. But sometime this past winter a yellow Ticonderoga #2 pencil caught my attention. After switching I began experiencing an intermittent comforting sensation, but nothing I could put my finger on as the cause.

This week – some 35 years after her passing – I’ve discovered that when my pencil lead turns blunt my cursive writing often resembles her hand from so long ago.  


Photo from air force

This is Tuesday. I should be ranting about something, but life seems to have smoothed somewhat. I can’t help but wonder if this calm is like the stillness that brings false comfort before an advancing hurricane.

Barb and I weathered several hurricanes when we lived in the West Indies. However, the positive life style we experienced there has caused those worrisome hurricane memories to fade into washed out images that have grayed with time.

The hurricane predictions for 1964 were so dire that six WC-130 Hurricane Hunters aircraft were dispatched from Mississippi and spent the summer with us. One of the crew members, a meteorologist, moved into the apartment beneath us. I came to know him quite well. Though much of his job was classified as a Need To Know, he shared a few aspects with me.

barometric pressure within a hurricane proper is so radical a typical barometer we might purchase from a store is useless. Instead, they depend on a radar altimeter my shop maintained at that time – a SCR-718. The aircraft commander relied heavily on this and had two identical systems with twin readouts which he monitored closely. If the readings indicated a difference greater than 50 feet between the two, he aborted the mission and went home instead of flying into the eye.

I asked about the ride. He told me the turbulence was so great the crew members remained strapped into their duty stations to prevent being thrown to the floor.
Eventually, the hurricane season passed. My neighbor packed his belongings and returned to Mississippi. And I’ve not seen him since.  

Boat Cat


While wrenching at a Chevrolet dealership in Salem, Oregon a gray, female cat was abandoned. Being the new guy, Tom didn’t know the former mechanic who drove into the garage to bid farewell to his friends.

“We are headed for Florida. Piss on this weather. Oh, and have a cat,” he said, opening the door and setting her on the concrete floor. And then he drove away.

Tom’s an easy mark for unfortunate animals, so he kept an eye on her, thinking maybe one of his friends might take the cat in. But no one else noticed the poor animal’s plight. As the day wore on a promised snow storm began showing its frigid face with a Temperature plunging some thirty degrees and sent a few warning flakes. The parts man gave Tom an empty cardboard box. With that in hand he  gathered the cat and took her to his  VW bus.

By quitting time the storm and deposited four inches of snow and Interstate 5 was clogged with disabled vehicles. Tom wasn’t sure he could make it the forty miles home, but he chained up and gave it a shot, arriving home three hours late.

The kids were delighted to see a cat and within a half-hour they agreed she should be called Smirfette. Life marched on. Winter eventually surrendered to spring and spring became summer. With summer came a vacation.

As Tom prepared the boat for a fishing trip he discovered Smirfette had given birth to five kittens and the entire family lived beneath the covered bow. Carefully, he made a new, sheltered place for them in the car port.

All vacation things packed and ready when Tom arrived home Friday evening. Loading up and hooking up the boat didn’t take long. Tom slept lightly, and by 0200 hours they were westbound, headed for Lake Tahkenitch. Arrival time: dawn.

Everything went on schedule. As soon as gray dawn permitted, they launched the boat and motored toward a point where trolling had produced planter trout during a previous trip. However, before reaching their destination five hungry kittens emerged from beneath the covered bow. They had no choice but to pull the boat and head for Florence for baby formula and a pair of socks to serve as nipples.

All five kittens survived to find new homes except a solid black one that had earned the name Boat Cat, and wore it well.


My Bucket List

Perhaps twenty years ago I reached the shores of Lake Superior – Albany, Wisconsin – an hour prior to dawn. I was early so I waited in silence and watched the birth of my new day. The creatures who greeting the morning with me were pronominal as each went about their routine. The experience was in a category of its own. Still is.

If I had a bucket list, repeating that experience would be very near the top.

The Store

It was sunny when you left home, so you didn’t take an umbrella. An hour later, you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you. Tell us what happens next!


A small brass bell catching the edge of the door, announcing my arrival. A pungent odor permeates the air. Old books? No, it’s something more, I say to myself. My eyes are adjusting to the dim light when an old man sweeps a curtain aside and enters the store proper. He’s definitely not prepared for customers.

“I was just getting ready to close for the day,” he stammers. “But maybe I can help you find something, a book, an end table,” he suggests, hastily shucking a soiled apron and casting it aside.

I wonder what he’s doing back there? Cooking? Baking? Though I’m actually in here because of the rain, I now feel obligated to buy something, but what?. I can’t think of a solitary thing I could ask for that he won’t have. I glance about. Nearby is an end table with four ugly frogs serving as legs. Further on is a battered roll top desk. A well used calabash pipe is nearby. It’s covered with a layer of dust, like everything else.

“I’m looking an autographed copy of *Blue Highways*, by William Least Heat Moon,” I tell him.

“Let me see, I think we have one of those,” the old man says, pressing a tobacco stained index finger to his chin. He turns and cripples down one of the narrow aisles, and returns in moments. “Here it is,” he states, blowing on the book, sending a cloud of dust boiling into the air. He sneezes three times. “Allergies,” he mumbles.

Opening the book, he shows me a scrawled signature on the title page. “How much are you asking?”

“This one isn’t in pristine condition. I can let it go for fifty.”

“Oh, I think fifty cents is reasonable,” I say, opening my purse.

“No ma’am, fifty dollars.”

“Fifty dollars?” I echo so loudly that he steps back as though he fears I might punch him out.

“Ma’am, it’s the last copy we have. This is a rare book.”

“Ralph, this stuff is going to boil over. Get back in here now,” shouts a male voice from in behind the curtain somewhere.

I see stress come over his face. He clears his throat and shifts his weight. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he sputters as he cups my elbow and ushers me to the door. He quickly closes it behind me and I hear the dead bolt shoot home. The rain has stopped, so I head for the corner bus stop. I’m nearly there when a swarm of silent police cars appear and a dozen uniformed policemen converge on the bookstore. I turn in time to watch them force the door and charge inside.

Words I don’t understand filter from within. I reflect the odor I’d smelled while in there. I wonder what was about to boil over?

Raspberry Pi Adventure (revisited)

MY Terminal Node Controller kit – PI-TNC – arrived last week. I don’t know how soon I’ll start assembling it. It’s will be the grand to our present day email. It’s wireless and very much slower. Due to bandwidth restrictions policed by the FCC our baud rate will be 1200 rather than tens of thousands. I’ve lost track. Next week I’ll publish a packet of an Arizona packet adventure that occurred in the 1990s. Pure hands-on fun.