The Incredible Misadventures of Hurricane Michael versus the Lewis Family part2 The No Luck Affair

The Incredible Misadventures of Hurricane Michael versus the Lewis Family part2
The No Luck Affair

One particularly miserable and infamous October night near the Choctawhatchee Bay, a mist of misery and cold, heavy air created a depressing sensation for all under its power. Sunset came early, so early that six in the evening was already in full darkness. I found myself awkwardly standing in a heavily wooded front yard of our former host of the last post-hurricane thirteen days staring at the flood light reflecting off the muddy puddles.
A friend was kind enough to offer us shelter until we were able to find our own since our house had been destroyed in the hurricane. Basically, everything we owned was blown away or crushed. To make the situation even more difficult, my shoulder ached as it hung suspended in a sling. The hurricane may have been just a couple of weeks earlier, but my shoulder replacement surgery was also that plus one day. The cold mist caused a shiver to rush down my back as I waited for my wife to load into the back of my truck the last of the bags and items, we had been able to salvage.
The time finally arrived for us to depart our kind, albeit impatient, host and venture forth to our hastily rented one-bedroom apartment. I climbed into my truck, shook off the cold mist, and waited for my wife to move her car forward so I could maneuver out of the tangle of woods that was our host’s front yard. My fingers had become stiff in the cold and made my strained efforts to turn the key difficult. Each finger was straining and screamed for warmth. I reached to turn the ignition and was met with only a hollow and forlorn click, click. Lonely drops of the persistent mist formed on my windshield and trickled down to the hood reflecting the yellow flood light nearby. I retried the key and the ignition once more and barely made a click, click. After another deep breath, I tapped my head against the headrest in exasperation. My battery was clearly dead. No big deal, I thought, nothing that a pair of jumper cables could not fix. The mist had turned to a light sprinkle and the cold air just became colder. I figured a few more uncomfortable and cold minutes and we would be on our way to our next chapter in this series of unfortunate events. Now, where were those jumper cables?
I slid from the cab of my truck and met my wife half way. Quickly forming muck squished upon every step. “Do you have the jumper cables?”
“Uh, no,” my wife replied. “They were in the garage at the time of the hurricane. They are probably in another county after that wind.” She continued, “Let me try and see if I have better luck.”
“Sure,” I said.
My wife got into the cab of the truck and tried to crank the engine and failed too. She took the keys and put them in plain sight on the center console. As she got out of the cab, simultaneously, a strong breeze swept through the area and slammed the door closed. Click. The door automatically locked. She turned and tried to open the door. “Dave,” she dropped her countenance. “I just locked the keys inside the truck.” Her voice started to shake, and the weight of the night took instant toll on her. I reassured her we could just call AAA and get the door open in short order. I grabbed my phone, clicked on the AAA application. In a few minutes, we had the promise of a locksmith. The wait time was less than an hour. That was a very long and wet hour to be sure.
After the promised locksmith arrived, he dutifully introduced himself and began to instruct us on the details of the locksmith trade. He told us more than we ever knew or ever wanted to know. With a serious passion for his trade, he slowly realized that all we wanted was our door unlocked. He took out two simple tools, a long flat blade and a screw driver. In about two seconds he had the door opened and gleefully continued to tell us about the details of the locksmith’s trade, apparently a very lonely job and a skill set that is technically difficult to master.
As the gleeful and victorious locksmith put his tools away and had me sign a tablet, I asked him if he had a set of jumper cables. He smiled and brushed back his long, wet, red hair and robotically replied, “No, I am not permitted to do that. It is against my company’s policy to jump anyone.” He promptly got back into his locksmith van and sped off. I just stood there with my mouth open and my spirits continued to fall second by second.
I shrugged. “I guess I will have to walk back to our former host’s house and see if he has a set of cables.” I truly had wanted to be long gone by now, but it was becoming just one speed bump after another impeding our progress. We had fervently tried to make our stay as short as possible by searching for temporary accommodations with earnest. Our departure earlier this evening was not under comfortable circumstances and going back to the house was not something I relished doing. Though we were no more distant than a few hundred yards, the cold sprinkling of rain, and the unfamiliar dark wooded lot was quite foreboding as I approached the hidden front door. Necessity being my motivation, I knocked on the door twice.
Our former host came to the door with a look of surprise on his face. I quickly told him my battery was dead and did not have my usually handy jumper cables due to the storm. He gave a surly humph sound and replied he had a cable in his shed. After a few moments, he disappeared into the darkness of a partially hidden shed. I could hear him rumbling and grumbling as he rummaged through what was probably a mess of a shed. He soon surfaced with a dangling pair of ancient jumper cables and just handed them to me as he went back inside. He mumbled as the door closed shut and locked, “Just leave ‘em on da porch.”
I paused a moment and started the short slippery walk back to my truck. The cables slipped out of my hands and landed on the bumper. The hood resisted for a moment but quickly gave way as I pushed it with one arm to its full extension. I let go of the raised hood and started to reach for the cables when the it slammed down onto my head. “Umph, ouch.” Quickly, a small goose egg appeared on my head and ironically, I saw stars on that cloudy night.
“Are you okay?” my wife asked. She instinctively grabbed the hood and pushed it back to its raised position and held it while I examined my new goose egg.
I knew I had no time for a headache or even a cut; we had to get out of the cold rain and into a place of refuge and soon. “I’m good. Just hold the hood and I’ll connect the cables to the truck and then to your car’s battery.” I rubbed my head with my good arm and then tried to connect the cables. After connecting to my wife’s car battery, I tried to crank the truck again, only this time it clicked only once; a sure sign of a dead battery. No amount of jumping was going to crank my engine. A quick thought entered my mind, time for another call to AAA, my trusty old standby in circumstances like these.
A quick tap on my smartphone’s AAA application again and I had a chat started that gave me a glimmer of hope that this horrid and dismal evening might actually come to an end. The chat went pretty smooth until we reached the part where the AAA associate told me the waiting time for assistance to arrive, three hours. I had no idea what to do next.

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The Incredible Misadventures of a College ROTC Ranger: The Tragic Incident of the Great Fall

The Incredible Misadventures of a College ROTC Ranger
The Tragic Incident of the Great Fall

Suddenly, a shot of electric pain travelled mercilessly from my buttocks all the way up to the base of my skull. The sudden stop had not only surprised me, but had drawn the attention of numerous cadet candidate rangers all around me. I sat on my natural padding; a rock protruded partially into my humility, and a full-fledged angry Ranger cadre ran towards me to chew on my self-respect for damaging his mountain.
I sat there with the rappelling rope still winding through my carabiner (D-ring) and a very obviously absent cadet that should have been manning my belay rope. I thought how in the dickens did I get here and was sure glad I was not dead after that semi-controlled sixty foot fall. Where was that piece of wasted-human-flesh that did not stand-to and belay me as he should have after I slipped on the wet training cliff? I looked around and nowhere was the dirt-bag to be seen. The top of the cliff just stared at me as numerous dangling ropes still swaying from the weight of descending trainees indicated that my fall was not going to stop the days’ training; although it was doing a pretty good job of stopping me in my tracks.
My college years at Augusta College in Augusta Georgia were typically filled with educational stress; however, the one reliable and non-chaotic circumstance I thoroughly enjoyed was my time in the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC). I so thrived in that environment that I became the cadet commander of the Cadet ROTC Ranger Unit. We even wore the signature berets, but only if we had successfully completed the mountain phase of the actual Army Ranger School in Dahlonega Georgia, Camp Merrill. I was privileged to attend this awesome training as a college student three times and had many adventures and many more misadventures.
The training at the camp always started with a shock and awe demonstration of the difference between Ranger training and everyday life. The one good meal you received was intentionally deceptive. After arrival, cadet ranger candidates were given the rules, their hooch number, duty roster assignment, and training schedule. The first meal was a big one and the last meal served for the entire duration of the training. The rules were simple: do what the Cadre said to do immediately; never walk around the camp- only running permitted; and never be late for anything.
The first day was exhausting with all the running around getting ready for training to begin as soon as possible. We all expected the training to begin early the next morning. Nope! Surprise-surprise. The training began as soon as it got dark and our first introduction to night patrol techniques. That began a long, long period of time without much food, sleep, or rest of any kind. Go, go, go was the routine for weeks, not hours, not days, but weeks.
Night patrol introductory lesson was not a lecture, but instead a short lesson from an expert, the sacred Ranger Handbook, and straight into a patrol. After a full night of wandering around in the dark in a cigar formation and listening for every sound that could be the enemy, we were able to return to the camp and our hooch for a faux nap of about one hour and a serious ‘lessons-learned’ before the next training session. The rappelling and mountain climbing lessons began right after physical training. The excitement among all the cadets was palatable because the most thrilling part of the cadet Ranger course was of course the rappelling and mountain climbing sessions.
First, a quick meal ready to eat (MRE) for breakfast and then knot class. Everyone was organized into small teams and gathered around small rope corrals with a single practice rope for each cadet ranger candidate draped over the rope corral. Each cadet then was instructed on the various knots needed for the next practice event, namely rappelling. In short order, everyone was taught, tested, and certified to be knot-proficient. Then it was off to the training cliff for actual rappelling practice.
The training cliff was a sheer granite cliff about sixty feet high and about a hundred feet wide. Small streams of water seeped out of the heavy mountainside and made the granite perpetually wet and subsequently slippery. Each station for the cadet ranger candidates was marked by a secured heavy rubber door mat just hanging over the edge of the cliff. After a quick demonstration and a single coached launch over the cliff side, all the cadet ranger candidates start learning by doing. The routine was to line up at the top of the cliff, grab a rope and rig it onto the ranger seat, then lean backwards over the edge of the cliff and yell, “On belay.” After a corresponding response from another candidate at the bottom of the cliff, “on belay,” the rappelling cadet would take a leap of faith down the first six, wet, slippery, scary feet of vertical granite. If all went well and the trainee adjusted his feet, stance, and brake hand properly, a thrilling controlled vertical descent down the sixty feet training cliff unfolded. Every successful completion of rappel endowed the trainee with a grand dose of self-confidence and serious warrior skills.
If the procedures were not followed exactly as taught, serious injury was not only possible but probable. So, everyone was studious and careful on every detail, except for my rappelling team mate. He was supposed to belay me as I descended. If anything went wrong, he would be able to easily pull on the working end of the rappelling rope and stop my descent cold. If the belay agent did not stand his station and something went wrong on the cliff, the descending teammate would likely fall to the bottom of the cliff in a semi-controlled descent, albeit still dangerous.
When my first turn came, I was noticeably nervous, but was driven to complete the descent successfully. I hooked up to the rappelling line through my D-ring, a cadre checked to make sure I had not made a ‘suicide hook-up’ mistake, then tapped me on the top of the helmet indicating I was a ‘go.’ The long awaited tap on my helmet came and I began to back up to the edge of the cliff. The rope extended strongly in front of me securing my life for at least another few minutes. My heels extended over the edge and then I had to take my leap of faith and start the actual vertical descent. I took a deep breath and took a short hop backwards keeping my brake hand tight and my feet close against the wet cliff wall. I looked up and the rope was secure against the edge of the cliff and I was free to begin a full descent. I could either take a few daring bounds or just gingerly take the descent one step at a time. I chose to take a bound and see if I could handle it. I shouted, “on belay,” and the reply came immediately.
I put both of my feet together, bent my knees and pushed really hard away from the cliff wall. I released my brake hand a little bit to allow for the rope to move quickly through my D-ring as I bounded down a few dozen feet. But, my feet slipped simultaneously with my brake hand release and an uncontrolled fall started. I yelled, “belay,” but nothing happened. I kept falling as I tried to regain control of my brake rope until the ground slammed into my buttocks. I nearly lost my helmet as the shock of the stop went through my body and travelled to my head. A shot of electric pain travelled mercilessly from my buttocks all the way up to the base of my skull. After the butt-chewing the cadre spilled over me, I was commanded to either get up and take the cliff again or leave the training cliff and return to my hooch for out processing.
“Not a chance,” was my only thought. So, I carefully dragged myself to a standing position and feigned no pain as I limped over to the trail that wound its way back up the mountain to the cliff. I was barely able to walk- let alone run, which was required. I made the ascent and successfully continued the training for the rest of the day; however, at my only resting moment at the end of the daylight training I check my humility and discovered a massive bruise and knew that I was going to be sore for the rest of the training. I hid the pain as much as I could, which was difficult. I certainly had my character enhanced by the experience. The lesson I learned was to not depend on someone else for your life unless they have the same at risk as you. I also learned that I could take more physical punishment than I could imagine. I took one more step toward becoming a full-fledged warrior.
My fall became the topic of many a story among the other cadet candidate rangers after we returned to the college. Though, not a legend, it was certainly a point of comedy in many stories as I must have looked pretty goofy during the sixty feet fall. I am only sorry I was unable to witness my own fall, kinda’.

The Incredible Misadventures of Hurricane Michael versus the Lewis Family (Part 1) An Unfortunate and Tragic Blessing

The Incredible Misadventures of Hurricane Michael versus the Lewis Family (Part 1)
An Unfortunate and Tragic Blessing

There was a popular movie titled “A series of Unfortunate Events.” Based on a children’s books series, the movie speaks of siblings tragically separated from their parents by death and the series of unfortunate circumstances that followed. It was as if throughout the story that the children could not get a slice of good luck. Just one bad thing followed by another bad thing happened to them, yet they somehow survive and even adapt. My last two months, October- November, have been very much like a series of Unfortunate Events.
On October 9th, I was scheduled to have a long awaited and badly needed shoulder replacement surgery. As we prepared the day before by packing for the short stay in the hospital, I overheard a weather forecast for the panhandle of Florida that a potentially serious storm was headed our way. I ignored the forecast and completed my preparations for the next day’s journey and subsequent life-changing surgery. As we travelled toward the not too distant town where the surgical hospital was located, we overheard on the radio a repeat of the weather forecast; the storm had changed and grown more severe. Again, we just put the information in the back of our minds and concentrated on the surgery ahead.
The surgery was completed without incident and very little pain. I awoke in my room with a bandage around my shoulder and my beautiful wife sitting next to me in a chair. As my eyes cleared and my mind came back from its deep anesthesia induced slumber, I became aware of the television on in the room. “The storm has strengthened to a hurricane with winds topping-out at over one hundred miles an hour. Hurricane Michael is expected to strengthen in the next…”
My wife shut the television off and asked, “How is your pain?”
I attempted to speak through slurred words, “Not bad. Stings a bit, but not as bad as my knee replacement.”
She replied, “The doctor said there were no difficulties encountered and that you were in fact just bone-on-bone. The surgery should stop the pain I was previously having.”
I mustered a weak smile and asked, “What about that storm? Is it going to be a concern?”
My wife just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Not sure. We will have to wait and see. It is not supposed to hit landfall until sometime on the 10th.”
I thought to myself that we had been through several hurricanes before and nothing too bad came of it. We had always said if the storm was a category three that we would flee and since we were not at the house at all, there was not a concern. After all, I had gone to the trouble through the years to prepare our house and property as best as I could for a severe storm. So, I was confident that it was not going to be any big deal. Then later that day, which was the 9th, there was a late evening weather forecast saying that the hurricane was headed straight for Panama City Florida and was a strong category 3. Further, the conditions were right for the storm to strengthen. Immediately, my stomach clenched as I knew anything bigger than a category 3 was going to be horrific and possibly catastrophic.
My oldest adult daughter, her boyfriend, and our dog and cat were going to ride out the storm in what I believed to be the safest house on the block. The day the hurricane made landfall the weather forecast had confirmed that the storm had indeed strengthened and was very, very dangerous. The local authorities continued to warn the locals emphasize the mandatory evacuations for certain zones of the county. My house was not in any of those specific zones marked for mandatory evacuation.
The day started with the requisite rain and wind and quickly the storm made its presence known by strengthening to a category 4, a for sure catastrophic scenario. An hour before landfall, the folks taking refuge in my house decided to leave and go to the house of daughter’s boyfriend’s mother. Over the phone I could hear the voice of my daughter sounding worried.
I sincerely did not want them to leave my house, but knew that their decision as adults and actually being there was probably better than my judgement a couple of hundred miles away sitting in a hospital room waiting to be discharged and subsequently to come home. It became increasingly obvious that we were not going to be able to go home but would need to stay in a hotel until the storm passed, then we could venture out and head back to the homestead and our waiting comfortable bed. As we left the hospital and headed to a hotel, we got a phone call that the storm was very bad and we should considering staying in the hotel for a couple of days. We agreed and settled in for the night as Michael stormed ashore with an agenda all its own.
No one was prepared for the next morning, the 11th. A phone call from our neighbor warned us that we would not be able to return to the house because it was no longer habitable. We were in shock. I asked my very kind and brave neighbor to take a picture and send it to me. She agreed, but warned us that we were likely not going to be prepared for what we were about to see. In a few minutes, a single picture appeared on the screen of my phone and immediately I knew that everything was going to be different. One wall was clearly caved in. The bricks scattered all around. The entire roof was nowhere to be seen. The screened in patio was complete gone and a part of what appeared to be either some of my roof or somebody else’s roof was lying on top of what used to be my patio and hot tub. Every tree in the picture’s background was destroyed. Sunrays were visible through the front window, as there was no roof. I could not recognize the blob of destruction as anything that even closely resembled our house. Truly, everything was going to be different from now on. My wife and I just stared in shock at the single picture in silence. Only a few hours ago, we were sitting in our den watching television and now the entire structure was destroyed by a powerful and unforgiving wind in excess of one hundred fifty-five miles an hour. One report indicated that gusts were detected of over two hundred miles an hour.
On the news via the television in the hotel room, a picture taken by a stunned reporter showed an entire train of sixty-thousand pounds each box cars had been blown completely off the tracks and were silently and defiantly on their side beside the thin rails. No one could believe the massive power that had been Michael. The visual of the derailed train was just the beginning of many tragic pictures as people ventured out to see and document the damage.
Through what I believe to be divine coordination, no one was in the house when it was destroyed. Though a tragedy to be sure, we were to become more aware of the hidden blessing it was in the days to come starting with the realization that it was no accident that at the last hour, everyone left the ‘safest house on the block’ and headed to take refuge in another house. Truly a tragic blessing.

Hurricane Michael and The Lewis’

This will be short. As you know, I live in Panama City Florida. Likely, you also know that recently a hurricane plowed through the Panhandle of Florida with its category 4 power focused on Mexico Beach and Panama City. Fortunately, I was scheduled for sholder replacement surgery at the renowned Hughston Memorial Hospital during the arrival of the maelstrom. Additionally, my daughter, who was house sitting at my home, decided at the last minute to ride the storm out at her boyfriend’s mother’s house. So, consequently, there was no one in the house when the brunt of the storm arrived. A picture of the devastation would not do justice to the overall community’s new appearance and paradigm.

My house is a pile of fallen bricks and splintered studs. Truly a totally destroyed abode.

We lost everything, but still have everything that matters- family. We will recover and have many more adventures and misadventures; however, in the meantime we will take each day’s challenges in stride and pray for the strength to complete the journey. I will, therefore, not post as frequently, so please enjoy any of my previous posts, of which there are many.

The Incredible Misadventures of a Young Army Lieutenant (Part 6) The Case of the Chess Master in Disguise

The Incredible Misadventures of a Young Army Lieutenant (Part 6)

The Case of the Chess Master in Disguise

 

My first unit assignment as a second lieutenant after my basic officer’s course was in the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 91st Chemical Company, 2nd Platoon, as platoon Leader. I was super excited to finally get out of schools and into a real army unit with a real mission other than classes day after day. I had successfully graduated from the Medical College of Georgia with a Bachelor’s of Science in Respiratory Therapy and was a graduate of the United States Army Chemical Basic Officer’s Course or COBC for short. The Army in all its wisdom told me that since I was a medical sort that I would be perfect for the newly reactivated Chemical Corps. Go figure. I submitted and found myself at Fort Stewart, Georgia as a Chemical Platoon Leader.

Though the journey to become a platoon leader had been strange and in many instances quite painful, I knew the journey was well worth the suffering through all its twists and turns. I arrived at Fort Stewart and reported in to the Replacement Detachment. After a brief episode of filling out papers and getting my combat equipment draw, I headed out to find a place to live. Temporarily, an old family friend that lived in Savannah, a forty mile road trip one way, agreed to give me a bedroom for a short time. Immediately took advantage of their hospitality and began looking for a place to live. I checked in at the post housing office to sign-up for bachelor officer’s quarters, but was told there would be a six week waiting period before suitable quarters were available.

Once again, an old family friend stepped in and pointed me in the right direction. My former pastor as a young boy, Rev. Lavelle Waters, lived nearby in Richmond Hill and I had always kept in close contact with him and his family. Preacher Waters, as I always called him, was like a second father to me. He had baptized me and was destined to preside over my wedding. Preacher Waters advised me to look into a trailer that was for rent in the park that he lived in and I wisely followed his advice.

The landlord ran a small gas station nearby and was very gracious to show me ‘the brown two-bedroom’ trailer near the back of the park. The attraction to having my own trailer was big since I was no longer burdening and imposing on my family’s friends anymore. The day finally came for me to look at the trailer and decide if it would be suitable for my needs. I arrived one afternoon after I got off duty and met the landlord at the gas station. I noticed a young boy just outside the gas station sitting on a concrete block with an old tattered chess board and men. He was quite dirty and had overalls on. The blond boy wore a small baseball cap and occasionally adjusted the brim as he studied the men on the board. Smugly, I thought how if I had a chance I would teach the kid how to play chess.

My dad had taught me how to play chess at an early age. We traditionally played on a brass table with heavy copper and brass men. The entire set was very large and acquired while we had lived in Tehran, Iran. My dad was especially proud of the chess set and routinely trounced my naïve offensives with what seemed to be too-easy maneuvers to the inevitable checkmate.  Nevertheless, I learned and thought I was pretty good. I thought when I had some time I would offer to show the kid in overalls a few things I had learned.

I always noticed that the kid was never playing with anyone. He was always alone. I asked the gas station attendant one day if the kid ever played anyone or had anyone show him how to play. He chuckled and challenged me to ask the kid to play a game myself. I thought the chuckle was a bit odd, but nodded that I would do just that.

On one of my rare Saturdays off, I was able to sleep in and enjoy the benefits of my own trailer which included my own bathroom, kitchen, and small bedroom. A just right size living room was next to the kitchen and suited my needs perfectly. I thought after I got up that Saturday that I would clean up a bit, do some laundry, and if the kid was nearby I would challenge him to an instructive match of chess. Sure enough the kid was just where he always was, at the gas station sitting on a concrete block staring at a chess board with chessmen scattered around seemingly randomly.

I approached the kid and stared at his chess board for a moment hoping for an opportunity to ask him if he wanted to play a game. Without looking away from the board, the kid said, “Hey mister, know how to play?”

I quickly replied, “Yeah, sure. Want to play a game?”

“It’s called a match and yeah, we can play a match or two.”

I grabbed my laundry bag and said, “How about at my place, on the front porch, after I finish my laundry…say around four this afternoon?”

“Sure thing. Got a chess board?”

“Yip, and a real nice one too.” I turned away with my laundry bag in hand toward the nearby laundromat.

The kid, still staring at the chess board said, “Hey mister, what is your name before I kick your butt in chess?”

I confidently chuckled and replied, “Lieutenant Lewis and I’ll go easy on you at first so as not to embarrass you.”

For the first time the kid looked up and just rolled his eyes. “You really don’t know me do you?”

“Sure don’t. I just moved in to the brown trailer and I am pretty new to the area. I’ll see you at four, my place.”

The kid just nodded and rolled his eyes again. In the doorway of the gas station the attendant shook his head and snickered as he walked back inside to finish a sale to a waiting customer.

Four o’clock came around pretty quick and I had successfully finished my chores and laundry. My boots were spit shined, my green fatigues freshly ironed and ready for Sunday afternoon formation, and my field gear cleaned and ready for the field training exercise the coming Wednesday.

Knock. Knock.

I grabbed the box of chess pieces and the chess board and headed for the door. As I opened the door, already completely set up and ready for play, was the kid and his super special chess set.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “That is a pretty nice chess set. Like a competition set for sure.” I instantly got a knot in my stomach and knew I was in for a challenge.

The kid held his two closed hands in front and said, “Which one?”

I said, “Right hand.”

He opened his dirt covered right hand slowly as if wanting to build some sort of suspense. A white pawn appeared indicating that I would go first. The chess board was already correctly aligned and he started to stare at the board, just like he did all those times I saw him at the gas station.

“Your turn.”

I started my typical chess opening trying to set up common trap called ‘fools mate.’

In an instant, he had moved his horse and successfully blocking any further attempt at ‘fools mate.’ I suddenly had a vision that maybe I was the fool.

His chess moves appeared to be ad hoc as mine were obviously strategic genius. In less than ten moves he had me in checkmate and I became dizzy with disbelief. I had not seen it coming. I stared at the chess board trying to make sense of the very, very short chess game. My genius did not even a have a chance to teach this young kid anything I knew and was now pretty sure he did not need any lessons.

“Warmed up?” He  asked.

“Oh, yeah, yip. Glad that was just a warm up.” I knew my face was blood red with embarrassment. Yet on this kids face was dirt, grease, and a slight smile that curled only on one side of his lips. Over by the gas station I could see the attendant sitting on the concrete block laughing and slapping his knee while smoking a stogie. He seemed quite amused about something.

The next game went a bit longer, but only a bit. I lasted seventeen moves before he captured my queen and subsequently put me in checkmate. I heard a woman two trailers over yelling from her porch, “Gene, Gene…you come home now. Dinner’s ready. “

“Hey, mister, that’s ma’. If you want to play again, just ask. Hey, if you want, I could show you a thing or two to help you play better.”

I could only humbly nod as I had been put in my place. I had been playing for almost fifteen years and been taught by the best chess player I knew, my dad. This kid had beaten me almost with his eyes closed. I was not even a challenge for his skill level.

“Oh, mister, another thing.  Don’t feel bad that I beat you. I am the Liberty County Chess Champion three years running.” He pulled from his pocket three medals and laughed as he packed up his board and chessmen and skipped back toward his ma’s voice.

I played that young man, no longer a kid in my estimation, several dozen times and never once did I ever come close to beating him. A few weeks after I had arrived at the trailer, I received a call that a bachelor officer quarters had become available. I knew that since I had a lease with the landlord that had a mandatory military clause that I would able to break my lease and move onto post without any concerns. I always thought about that young man and how he taught me a grand lesson in humility.

The lesson I learned was not only humility, but also to never judge a person’s skills based upon their looks and that lesson has served me well these many years, for sure.

 

Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.

Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.

The Incredible Misadventures of an Elementary School Nerd (Part 4) The Day of Fang Affair

The Incredible Misadventures of an Elementary School Nerd (Part 4)

The Day of Fang Affair

 

Every wild-kid must have something to put a check on the ‘wildness’ and a pet is just what the Creator ordered. A dog can be super loyal, unwavering in trust, and love without conditions. Such an unlikely relationship as this is the thing that teaches a boy the unteachable. I have had three such companions in my life and count myself among the most blessed because of those companions. 

First, there was Fang the brave, and then there was Yeller the awesome, and currently Roxy the loving who follows me everywhere.  I had Fang as a boy and she ushered me lovingly into my adulthood. Fang was a beagle mixed with who knows what, but she surely received the best of the stable genes. She lived for sixteen wonderful years and gave me many adventures, frights, and companionship.

Yeller was my dog during my family’s tour in Iran and was mainly a family guard dog, to which he performed with the greatest courage and voracity. Yeller was part wolf and part Labrador, a lethal-yet-loyal mix to be sure.

Currently, Roxy stays close by my side, but was at first my daughter’s pet until my daughter became an adult and moved away. I am the primary care giver now to this old girl. Roxy is standing tall and loyal and has been for almost twelve years. She is of the most intelligent and loving breeds, a golden retriever.

Each of these most valued companions taught me specific lessons that were important for my maturation. One such lesson in life is the subject of this story. I call it ‘The Day of Fang Affair.’ I was given Fang as a puppy on a day that remains the most infamous of my younger years. Early on the morning of the day that I received puppy-Fang from a family friend, my dad left for Viet Nam. To make the day even more memorable that was the day I had my front teeth knocked out at school at a pseudo-fight between the much larger Raymond Frye and me. After I arrived home from the University Hospital emergency room, my lower lip sewed back on, and the holes where my front teeth had been were packed with gauze, I was met with small welcoming group of family friends.  My face was noticeably swollen and red. I remember as I walked through the carport door and into the living room there were our family friends the Gordon’s and my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Sholango.

I could hear what sounded like a small dog yelping nearby, but I could not see where the sound was coming from. I was greeted warmly and with questions of how did it feel and was I alright. My words were a bit garbled as articulation had become very painful. Mom quickly packed some ice in an ice bag, made a small drink of water in a cup with a straw, and gave me a pill to help with the pain. The couch was ready made for an invalid in my eyes and I was that invalid. I intended to milk this as long as I thought I could get away with it. That was not going to be for very long.

Susan Gordon, daughter of Mom’s friend Mrs. Gordon, sat at the end of the couch and told me that she had a gift for me that they hoped would make me feel better. My eyes widened with anticipation as Susan got up from the couch and left the room. I wondered briefly what it could be, maybe a new fishing pole, a new baseball glove, or maybe, just maybe a new bicycle. I was soon to realize that I was undershooting the value of their gift. A moment passed and Susan came back into the room with a large cardboard box. For just a second, my hopes sank, but then I heard a rustling come from the inside of the box. Susan reached in lovingly and picked up something very carefully. Before my eyes a small, black and brown floppy eared puppy appeared. It squirmed and squirmed until she placed the puppy in my arms. The ice pack fell to the floor, but I did not care. The little bundle of energy fell into my lap and almost immediately we made friends. She settled down and went to sleep as if to say, “Home at last.”

A year passed, I healed, Fang grew in size and energy, and dad finally came back from Viet Nam. Dad was delighted when he saw Fang for the first time. We had sent descriptions of her in letters, but he said that she was better than what we had described. Dad asked me if I had trained her yet. I replied that I did not know how. So, Dad told me to find out and to train her. He emphasized that her training would make her a better friend and that she would better understand how to please me. Otherwise, she was going to go her own way and that might not be the way of the family. The urgency conveyed was clear.

Fang wore a Sergeant’s flea and tick collar. On the back of the box was an advertisement for a small booklet offered for free to any who would ask on how to train your new dog. I jumped on the opportunity and quickly wrote away requesting the booklet. A week went by and the mail was disappointing, but then at the end of the second week a thick manila envelope arrived with the Sergeant’s emblem on the cover. I tore opened the envelope and there was the long awaited training book. I wasted no time in reading every page making sure I understood the process. The next day I started Fang’s official education.

First, on the curriculum was the process to train the word ‘no.’ Next were the commands ‘come,’ and ‘stay.’ Then the fun began. I quickly tackled the concepts of ‘sit,’ ‘lay down,’ and ‘roll over.’ Fang was a quick study and mastered all the fundamentals in a couple of weeks. During the process she and I grew closer and the trust between us also increased; just as it should have.

It was my responsibility to care for Fang in its entirety. She was an outside dog, for the most part, and I was responsible for her feeding, watering, de-ticking, nursing any wounds, and bathing/grooming. Dad and I built her an outside dog house and it was a grand sight for sure after it was finished.  Fang followed me everywhere: to the sandpit, to the swamp, to the woods behind our house. The one place she was not allowed to follow me was to my school. Mom would bring her inside the house until the requisite time had passed for me to make the journey to Wheeless Road Elementary school from our driveway. One day, as Mom went out to the laundry room, Fang slipped out and disappeared. Mom did not know Fang had slipped out for a couple of hours, after which she went outside and tried to call Fang back to the house, but Fang failed to return.

My day at school was like any other day. When the final bell rang and it was time to walk home, the last thing on my mind was that Fang would not be home to meet me. It was my custom to stop at the corner gas station after crossing Deans Bridge Road and get a Yoohoo chocolate drink from the vending machine. As I pried the metal top off the cold bottle, the gas station attendant came over to me.

“Young man, I have seen you walk to school through here every day. Do you have a black female dog by chance?”

I looked up at the quiet large man, surprised at his question, and replied, “Yes, sir. My dog’s name is Fang. But she is at home.” At the mention of the name ‘Fang,’ I heard a pitiful yelp coming from somewhere behind the station.

The station attendant asked me, “Come with me and see if this is your dog by chance.”

I followed him around the corner to where he had stacked old tires. One such tire on the ground had a towel over it partially and inside the tire was indeed my best friend Fang. She was obviously seriously injured. The attendant told me that she had followed me and when she had tried to cross Deans Bridge Road a truck had hit her. He had rushed out to see if she was alright, but she was unable to walk and was obviously seriously hurt. He told me he thought she belonged to one of the school kids and was planning to ask as many as he could after school let out if they owned the dog. I was his first interview.

I was thankful and overwrought that my dog Fang was injured so badly. I told the attendant that I would run home and get my dad. I petted Fang and reassured her all was going to be fine. I took a handful of water and let her lap it out of my palm. She looked at me with her longing eyes and I could see she was sure I was going to help her. I had to tear myself away from her and force myself to run home.  I did not want to leave her, but knew she needed to get to a veterinarian quickly.  I ran home trying to see my way through the uncontrollable tears of anguish; a rare moment in the life of a wild-kid, to be sure.

Consequently, Dad drove the car to the station with a load of old towels in the back seat for the dog to lie on. He very carefully examined her after we got to the station. He peered over into the tire and talked to Fang in the calmest voice. She seemed to understand. He looked for any obvious open wounds, but found only a few cuts and scrapes. When he tried to pick her up, she yelped in pain. He decided to use the towel she was on as a litter and pick her up with that. The idea worked and it was off to the veterinarian.

She underwent an examination and had an x-ray. The veterinarian confirmed she had a broken hip and would require surgery to repair it. Dad agreed and she was taken back to the surgical wing of the clinic for care. After surgery, she stayed in the hospital for a period of about a week or so. Then on the day she was to come home, we were given a series of exercise play therapy to help her fully recover. It was a wonderful day when she finally arrived home after the tragic injury. From that day on she became mostly an inside dog, much to my agreement.

We had many more years of companionship after that horrible day. I could never get out of my mind the pain and hopelessness she must have felt lying in an old tire all day in the hot sun, waiting for someone she knew to come to her aid. The station attendant was a life saver for sure and showed Fang the best care he could, given the circumstances.

I learned from her stalwart loyalty on what had to be the worst day of her life that when the chips are down, be patient and wait on those you trust to help you through the difficulty. Also, I learned to remind Mom not to let her out of the house until I had gotten to school, about thirty minutes or so. I was thumbing through some old photos the other day and saw a picture of Fang as she lay on her blanket in the house. She was a stately old girl at the time the last of the pictures of her were taken; probably she was fifteen or so years old. A true friend if there ever was one. I miss her greatly.

 

Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.

Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.

 

 

 

The Incredible Misadventures of a College Kid on Break (Part 2) The Three Days and Three Thousand Miles Dilemma

The Incredible Misadventures of a College Kid on Break (Part 2)

The Three Days and Three Thousand Miles Dilemma

 

The most memorable adventure I have had in my life may well be my four week trek across the United States from Augusta Georgia to Sand Diego California in a blue Ford Pinto. It was during the summer break of 1978. I remember with mixed emotions my hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I remember with awe the scenery while crossing the desert between Arizona and California. I remember seeing the entirety of the Milky Way Galaxy in the night sky and almost crying at the extreme beauty hidden from many folks behind city light pollution.

One memory from that awesome four week trip stands out as typical foolish chance-taking that young men are oft known for. Let me explain. We, Keith and I, had travelled across the entire United States and hit every national park and tourist trap we could find on the map. I have several cousins in California that we planned to stay with a few days and use as guides for the local sites. However, California was so entrancing that we overstayed our planned visit by two weeks. In fact, we had planned to leave and travel back to Georgia via Interstate 10 and hit a few super southern tourist sites, but we waited until we had only three days to get back to Augusta and start the next session of classes.

During our trip westward to California we realized that our minds had tricked us. We thought that when we had reached Texas that we were half way to the west coast. Oh, but we were very mistaken. A quick look at the map would have shown us that after Texas, going westward, was another two thousand miles. With that erroneous mindset we doomed ourselves to inevitable dilemma.

In a near panic, after realizing the dilemma we had put ourselves into, we grabbed our map atlas and planned a direct route back home. After adding the total mileage and calculating our travel time into those miles, we discovered a serious time-space quantum problem. We had to be in Augusta in three days so we could attend classes starting on the fourth day out. We decided on a risky plan that only two very healthy and young men could pull off, namely, to drive straight through to Augusta in three days. We knew we would have to drive around the clock for three straight twenty-four hour days.

With no time to lose, we packed, said our goodbyes, grabbed a couple of cheese sandwiches, and sped into the east. The first five hundred miles was a cinch. We had jointly decided to intentionally trade-off driving every two to four hours to extend our driving time. This seemed like a good plan and actually worked pretty well; however, there was a period of time somewhere in the blur between day one and half and day two that we had reached our limit. I remember so well while driving through the dark desert, my attention would erroneously focus on the road stripes as they sped by and the oncoming headlights making me wide-eyed enough to nearly hypnotize. So, I stopped after finding a roadside rest stop, put an alarm clock on the dash, and in seconds fell asleep right in my seat. Two hours passed so fast and when the alarm clock sounded, neither of us really wanted to get up, but that time-space quantum problem was not going away.

Keith was by far the better driver and could drive safely and longer than me without becoming overly sleepy. Nevertheless, driving with the air conditioner on and the windows down helped keep us both on our toes when the fatigue started to take its toll. When neither of us could safely drive, we always would stop on the side of the road and catch about two hours of ‘ZZZs.’ Believe it or not we actually completed the entire three thousand miles in three twenty-four hour days of driving. Our total amount of sleep was only about six hours for the entire journey. It goes without saying that we were zombies when we robotically drove into our neighborhood.

I dropped Keith at his house about four in the morning and knew I had only three hours before my first class of the day. That was enough time to get home, unpack, take a shower, and head to classes at the Medical College of Georgia for the fall session. I remember walking into class and someone commenting that I looked like crap. I was so tired I could not even describe what the last seventy-two hours had been like. The class began as I took my seat and the rest was a blur. I could not concentrate one little bit and I kept dozing off. Lucky for me my class was pretty tight and someone let me borrow their notes later.

After the day was finally over, I went home, spoke to my family briefly, and then went to bed. I easily slept fifteen hours straight. That was just enough sleep to energize my brain adequately to enter into lecture-survival-mode. All in all, the decision to leave California when we did was at least a week too late. I vowed never to put my mind and body through that kind of torture again and I have not, with the only exception that several times I drove from Dallas Texas to Augusta Georgia (999 miles) straight through.

Ah, but what a great adventure and treasure trove of memories that trip provided me. I have often thought of that trip and wished that I could do it all again, only now, do it with a driver or drivers so I could enjoy the beautiful vast vistas that make this country amazing. Perhaps a cross country train trip would be enjoyable, but that is an adventure for another day.

Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.

Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.

 

The Incredible Misadventures of a College Kid on Break (Part 1) The Grand Canyon Hike Affair

The Incredible Misadventures of a College Kid on Break (Part 1)
The Grand Canyon Hike Affair

College life was an amazing adventure for me. I had so many questions answered and so many questions created that my lifelong love affair with learning truly received a boost. During my enrollment at the Medical College of Georgia, the program I studied under was very rigorous, so, when the four week break between academic quarters at the juncture between my junior and senior years came, I was very thankful. My brain needed a refreshing. A close high school friend, Keith, and I had been planning a grand trip for over a year. Finally the day arrived for us to depart on our road trip across America. For the next four weeks we intended to see everything we could see. The two of us left Augusta Georgia and headed for every tourist spot we could see on the map until we arrived in California, then after a few days headed back on Interstate 10 high-tailing it to the old homestead and classes again.
Along the way we stopped at relatives I had in Arkansas, Texas, and California. We visited battlefield national parks, the Grand Canyon, and numerous other awesome picturesque places that everyone in America should visit at least once in a lifetime. Camping in the Grand Canyon requires reservations that we had made a year in advance, so mostly the trip hinged on the pivotal arrival day at the check-in entrance to the Grand Canyon camping area. The long awaited day finally arrived.
With a tent in the back of my blue Ford Pinto, camping stove, sleeping bags, some cash, and all the gear that we thought we would need, we stopped at the entrance with our reservation in hand to check in with the Park Ranger. He was a very polite and tall man dressed in the stately National Park uniform. I remember very clearly the shocking words he said to us at the gate, “You are here one day too early. Your reservations are not good until tomorrow noon.”
Our hearts sunk, after almost a year of planning and anticipation we were told we had no place to sleep. Well, college kids being college kids, we smiled, took our reservation slip, and did a U-turn back to the highway that had taken us to the entrance in the first place. The sun was beginning to set and we passed a number of folks on the side of the road that had pitched their tents just off the shoulder of the desert highway. Tents were scattered among the boulders, sage, and desert brush that decorated the landscape. We stopped and asked what they were doing and one family explained they too had arrived a day early and consequently had to set camp on the side of the road for the night.
I looked at Keith and he nodded. So, we found a small, just right size area, pulled off the road a bit, being careful to not get stuck in the desert sand, and set our tent for the night. Not long after we had settled in a highway patrolman stopped and asked what we were doing. He was obviously making rounds through the make-shift camp area. After we explained that we were there only until morning, he told us to go ahead and make a night of it, but be sure to be gone in the morning and to leave nothing behind, i.e, no trash. We quickly agreed and within a few minutes we were fast asleep.
The night did not seem to be very long and certainly not very restful. As soon as the sun jumped over the horizon, the rustle of ad hoc campers starting to break down their gear and stow it away overcame any nature sounds that were around. The clink-clank, zip, and roar of engines were coupled with the sun’s desert rays slamming into the fabric of the tent door and raising the temperature inside our tent dramatically. It seemed that the world did not want and would not let us sleep in, even if we had been driving for over fifteen hours the day before. So we dragged ourselves out of our ‘fart-sacs’ (sleeping bags) and quickly broke camp. The entrance to the Grand Canyon campground was not far, but already a line had formed for the campers that had ‘too early reservations’ in hand from the previous day. The heat waves from the highway created a mirage of the near side of the Grand Canyon. One could swear that the canyon was only a mile or two away. Nevertheless, our hearts beat just a little faster at the prospect of realizing the long anticipated hike to the bottom of the canyon. Little did we know what an amazing misadventure lay waiting for us.
Finally, the entrance gate was at hand and we were ready for this part of the trip to begin. The park ranger took our reservation, examined it, and then looked at a map on the wall behind him. He turned to us after writing something on our reservations form and said, “Welcome to the Grand Canyon National Park. You will be in camping area D, pad nineteen. You have reservations for three days and three days only. Your site must be clean and clear by noon on the third day. Here is a map to your camp pad. Enjoy your stay and do not feed the wildlife.”
With that we darted off in the Pinto and headed for our camping pad. In a few minutes we had easily found our site and were very happy at its location and amenities. There was a grill, picnic table, a nearby shower and latrine (Thank God.), electricity outlet, water faucet, and the hardened clay tent pad just perfect for our tent. We quickly set up and grabbed our brochure to find the nearest trailhead to start our long awaited hike down to the canyon bottom.
We noted the route to the trailhead and headed toward adventure. The day was still early and we knew we had plenty of time to do whatever we wanted. The route was clearly marked and the stream of cars was easy to follow. Seems everyone else had the same idea. We first passed the famous Grand Canyon lodge and nearby were signs to the donkey canyon ride tours and rental and the canyon trail head. A quick turn and a short straight-way revealed the perfect parking place for the Pinto. We were not very far away from the camping area and if we had looked carefully enough, we could have walked to the trailhead.
We each climbed out of the low riding Pinto, pivoted toward the canyon, and then it hit us. No words were exchanged and if we had such words, they would have been inadequate for what our eyes beheld. Words like amazing, ‘Oh My God,’ or unbelievable were coming from everyone standing in awe with cameras clicking like a choir worshipping in church. Every picture I had ever seen was a poor simile of the actual experience of standing in front of the Grand Canyon. The vista was from the horizon left, front and right. The twists, turns, colors, wadis, ridges, and all that was the Grand Canyon absolutely overcame us. At least five minutes passed without a word. I glanced toward the sign marking the trailhead and beside it was a large information sign with free maps, a displayed overview map, and a series of warnings and safe hiking tips to assist hikers on their journey to the bottom of the canyon.
We noticed that the distance from the trailhead to the bottom of the canyon was only three and half miles. “Shoot,” I foolishly said. “We could almost run that all the way down and then back up again.” So, we started our short-long journey down the steep trail to the canyon bottom. The first half mile was a winding and just-wide enough trail for those coming back up and for donkey convoys to pass safely. The edge was always perilously steep, but enveloped in striking natural beauty. Reds, oranges, browns, greens, blues, and even creams were among the colors of God’s creative palette that the canyon wore like a tuxedo. We walked, and walked, and walked, until we finally began to realize that we had not brought water. Big mistake! Very big mistake!
Keith is very tall, while I am pretty short, so his pace was at first always slowing down for me; however, that quickly got old and he ventured forward at his own pace. We passed through every type of environment on the way down to the canyon bottom. There was a small wooded layer, a desert layer, a temperate layer, a rocky steep mountainous layer, and others. The temperature varied with the layer we found ourselves hiking through. Though we had good walking shoes, we did not have on proper hiking shoes and began to suffer the consequences. Frequent rocks in the trail offered numerous opportunities to twist an ankle and summarily end a great hike. It did not take us very long to get to the bottom and the ice cold rushing waters of the Colorado River offered a great place to put our tired and hot feet and cool off before we began the sojourn back up the canyon trail. We found a small drinking fountain at the ranger station at the bottom and drank our fill. Unfortunately, we did not bring our canteens for water, so, once again, we began the trudge back up the trail without water.
There was a sign that pointed the way to a trail that ran parallel to the near side of the river and went to the famed Phantom Ranch. We discussed the possibility of hiking there, but as we were very tired, decided to head back up to the top. Keith was stronger and quicker than I, and I had a bad knee that was beginning to remind me that it was there. The aching began first as a sharp pain medially, and then spread around the knee to completely encase my left knee in throbbing pain. I dared not complain, for as every wild-kid knows, complaining about pain showed weakness and I was not about to show weakness. However, physics and biology have a way of ignoring our desires and doing what they were designed to do without prejudice.
After taking his fill of cool water from the Ranger Station water fountain, Keith led the way, fully refreshed from his short leg-dip in the cold waters of the Colorado River and. I followed, though with a slight limp. I was not worried because I knew the trip up was exactly as far up as it had been coming down. Boy, was I delusional. Three and half miles down-hill might take a healthy young man about an hour and a half, but going back up was twice as hard. The trip back up the trail ended up taking Keith three hours, which made a grand total of four and half hours of difficult hiking in total without taking water. Stupid college kids.
Keith became pretty agitated at my falling behind and took off at his best hiking speed. He left me in a dust cloud at least two hours behind him. The trip back up the trail took me five hours, which for me totaled six and half hours of hiking…all without water with me. My knee ached so bad that I was driven only by thirst and exhaustion to get back to the top. I had given Keith the keys to the Pinto as he walked ahead so he could take the car back to the camp site when he got to the top. I knew I was going to be far behind him and did not want him to just sit and wait for me. He did not resist and did exactly that. I felt dizzy, nauseated, and tired of pressing uphill never endingly. When I finally reached the top of the trail, I did not look back as the Grand Canyon thumped me on the back of the head, reminding me of its beauty and danger. The water fountain that I had barely looked at before I started the hike, now looked like a cold waterfall that I wished I could jump into and swim in. I took a long and refreshing drink before I started back to the tent. After finally completing what should have been a short hike, I took a deep breath and started toward the camp site for another half hour of hiking onto my total.
The tent never looked so good. I got back there and Keith had already fixed his supper and was cleaning up. He asked, “What took you so long, whimpy?” I did not have the energy to answer, though for no good reason I was a little angry at him. I, nevertheless, kept silent as I crashed into my sleeping bag and fell asleep. Had I been fifteen years older, I might not have made the hike without permanent damage. At the very least I was dehydrated and the very most I was suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. I slept very deeply that night, without even taking a shower or changing into my night clothes. Ah, but that was not the end to the misadventure, nope, not quite yet.
At three in the morning, we were awakened by a Park Ranger tapping on our aluminum tent pole. I am sure it took a few minutes for us to wake up. Though a bit confused at the sleep interruption, I unzipped the tent door flap and stepped out onto the hardened clay surface. A flashlight beam was at my feet and the Milky Way spread out over my head.
“Mr. Lewis?”
“Yes, that’s me. What’s wrong?”
The ranger paused and then said, “I am sorry to awaken you, but you father, Mr. David Lewis, called the Ranger station and left a message for you. Again I am sorry, but your Grandmother Lewis passed away yesterday. The message further stated that you were not to come back to Arkansas for the funeral, but to continue on your journey. Everything was being taken care of and there was nothing you could do.”
My gut clenched and a storm of sorrow overcame me. I was very close to my Grandmother Lewis. Keith and I had left Hot Springs just a few days earlier after a couple of days visit, and then we left to come to the Grand Canyon. Grandmother Lewis had many small strokes the last few years of her life and finally, a big one had taken her home. I thanked the Ranger and he quietly left.
I walked over to the picnic table and just down and quietly cried to myself. Keith remained in the tent and slept the rest of the night, but I just stayed up and stared at the Milky Way thinking about all the great memories of my time with Grandmother Lewis in Hot Springs Arkansas.
The lessons I learned from this misadventure couplet were to first to take water when on hikes of any distance and also to appreciate every moment you have with your loved ones being careful not to take their presence for granted.
Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.
Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.

The Incredible Misadventures of a Young Army Lieutenant (Part 5) The Jolly Jim Cairo Conspiracy

The Incredible Misadventures of a Young Army Lieutenant (Part 5)

The Jolly Jim Cairo Conspiracy

 

Every year for a number of years, the U. S. Army would participate in joint maneuvers with the esteemed Egyptian Army deep in the desert sands of that most ancient land. The code name for the maneuvers was “Operation Bright Star.” During Bright Start ’83, the unit chosen to deploy from the mainland United States was the renowned 2nd Squadron-9th Cavalry (aka 2/9 Cav) from the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) formerly located in the sticky hot swamps of south central Georgia also known as Fort Stewart. The 24th, the Tarow Leaf Division, has long since been deactivated and replaced by the fighting 3rd Infantry Division, the Rock of the Marne. But the Bright Star ’83 remains to this day to be remembered affectionately as the infamous operation that made virtually all the officers deathly sick.

The deployment from Fort Stewart via convoy to the port of Savannah had its own misadventures, which included destroyed public roads from a convoy comprised of seventy-two ton Abrams tanks, thirteen million dollars damage to one of the bridges over the Savannah River by the departing LST ship conning tower, and a forty million dollar ram into a Greek dock. Other than those misadventures, the deployment went off without a hitch. Well, kinda’.

After all the vehicles and personnel had arrived at the bivouac area near Gabel Hamza, not far from Cairo Egypt, the basic life necessities had to be set up around the US contingent. Though an advance party had set up the security and chalked in the camp element locations, much still had to be completed to ensure the entire Bright Star ’83 US Army unit would be comfortable and safe for the next four weeks. The camp included perimeter security, sleeping areas, command tactical operations center (TOC), ammunition storage area, fuel storage and dispensing area, the field mess hall, shower unit, laundry unit, antenna farm, and of course the most important of all life’s necessities- the latrine. 

In order to keep a bivouac habitable for several hundred men, there had to some rules about hygiene and where and how to relieve themselves. Additionally, there had to be numerous hand washing stations throughout the camp as well the hard and fast rule that no one was to venture out to the perimeter to relieve themselves. If this rule was not in place, after only two nights in the desert with several hundred soldiers relieving themselves wherever they wanted, the camp would become unlivable and unsafe.

We used our specially trained support platoon to create a luxurious, GP large covered, ten foot deep/fifty feet long trench, complete with a modular ply wood constructed thirteen hole cap and seating assembly. For all the facilities we constructed and put into place, the latrine was the one project that we took the most pride in. As far as field latrines go, this one was a Cadillac. It even had actual toilet seats secured over each of the fortified and open latrine’s thirteen holes.  Each hole had its own roll of military brown toilet paper on a peg beside the seat. For the most part, the thirteen holes were never supposed to be used all at once, though the entire assembly had been fortified to support substantial weight if need be.  Generally, there was not more than two or three in the latrine at a time. The primary asset the latrine lacked was privacy. Probably the lack of privacy is what kept the number of personnel in the latrine to a minimum. Folks would time their visits to when there was no one or almost no one in the tent. Additionally, the day time temperatures were so high in the latrine that almost no one used it during the blistering sunlight hours.

Now, all these latrine details will become important as I finish telling the story of the Jolly Jim Cairo Conspiracy. After two and half weeks of joint training with our Egyptian partner unit, the squadron commander scheduled a maintenance day. That meant the intense work and optempo of the last two and half weeks would be cut in half and allow for some badly needed personal time. We could take showers, get the unit barber to give as many haircuts as possible, write letters, submit clothes to the laundry unit, and maybe get some time to visit the ancient city of Cairo. Our host Egyptian unit provided a liaison officer to act as an interpreter and guide for the small groups approved to leave the camp and visit Cairo.

The ancient city of Cairo has lots of super interesting sites to visit, the pyramids, the great sphinx, the internationally famous Museum of Antiquities, the gold souk, and of course the renowned western-like restaurant “Jolly Jim.” The unit’s physician assistant (PA) warned everyone that to avoid dysentery we would all have to drink only hot beverages or from a recognized brand water bottle. Additionally, salads and foods not heated substantially and cooked were to be avoided at all costs, which included the famous flatbreads. Since I had lived in Iran as a boy, I took the warning’s serious and shared my strong encouragement to heed the warning to my fellow staff officers.

I was immediately made fun of and called a wimp because I advertised that I was not going to eat the best cold food that Cairo had to offer. I repeated the warning in concert with the PA’s cajoling, but to no effect. After the tour group was organized and set off in civilian clothes in a rented set of vans, we rode to adventures unknown. First, on the itinerary was the camel rides around the great pyramids and then a quick tour of the nearby great sphinx. The temperature was easily one hundred fifteen and time outside without proper gear was limited. The group voted and Jolly Jim won the ballot. We headed off to the famous Cairo western-like restaurant and had high hopes of a truly memorable and satiated gustatory experience to close out the day.

The guide went inside with a pocket-full of cash we had collected from the group he intended to use as baksheesh (a bribe) to get us in to the exclusive restaurant and subsequently in good seats. The plan worked and we were ushered into a private dining hall with a dedicated band of servers. At every seat was a single bottle of Perrier, a menu, fine silverware, crystal glasses, and what looked like high-class plates, saucers, and coffee cups.  The menu was easy to read, as it was not only in Arabic, but in English. In a very few moments, all the servers had written down everyone’s menu choices mainly by pointing to each item on the menu. This method was a bit awkward, but got the job done in short order.

I noticed after a few minutes that several of the officers had received either a fruit plate or a common dinner salad complete with salad dressing and all the fixings. I just shook my head. Some of the officers had ordered and received a type of cold salad that closely resembled a type of thick relish, not unlike the southern dish of chow-chow. I shook my head again knowing that though these dishes were probably very tasty and had a kick to them that was not going to be pleasant.

I ordered a roasted lamb dish with fire roasted potato flats. I had no salad or any other type of food and beverage that might harbor the feared ‘kick.’ No one blinked an eye as they ate their fill of the gorgeous foods. Truly, everyone had enjoyed the break from class B rations back at the bivouac. The tour day was drawing to a close and the road trip back to Gabel Hamza was safer if completed before dark, so, we started back as soon as everyone finished their meal. I knew that the feared ‘kick’ was stewing away in each of the overconfident officers. It was only a matter of hours before…

The sunset in front of us as we left Cairo and traced our way back to our home-away-from-home along a long thin stretch of soft black asphalt covered highway that at times was severely encroached upon by the never ending assault of the desert sands. As was the procedure, we all signed back in at the TOC and headed to our sleeping tents. All was well for a couple of hours, until around three in the morning when at first only a couple of officers began to trudge their way under the bright Milky Way toward the Cadillac latrine. No one took notice of what was slowly unfolding as a potential catastrophic event until about three-thirty a.m. I got up to relieve myself as well, but not because of any urgent irresistible gastrointestinal need, just a normal one. As I approached the latrine, I noticed under the starlight ten officers lined up back to back, dancing around as if in distress waiting for a hole to become available. Every now and again an officer in his skivvies, holding his stomach, would carelessly dart off into the desert toward the perimeter and dive down behind a sand dune.

From within the latrine, from all along the line of waiting officers, and even from a few distant sand dunes one could hear the grunts, groans, and general sounds of men in severe gastrointestinal distress. I, on the other hand, as well as the PA only had basic needs without any urgency. I dared not make any joke for fear of a severe beating when everyone was able, but for the time being, no one was going to beat anyone. I chuckled to myself as I decided to wait until morning to relieve myself and walked back to the sleeping tent shaking my head and saying out loud, “I warned y’all. I warned y’all.”  The PA on the other hand did not have the luxury of ignoring the plight and general distress of virtually the entire leadership chain of the unit.

He set up a small medi-station near the sleeping area using a field table, a field chair, small light, a hand washing station, some basic medicines, and a small file box. As the officer’s finished with their first of many to come violent and stormy ordeals at the latrine, they would invariable stumble by the PA’s station. He had medicines already in small medicine cups lined up and ready for the eventual visit from distressed officers.

The commander of the squadron, who had not gone to Cairo, was awakened by the orderly at the request of the PA. The commander wound his way passed the sleeping tents, the line of groaning officers at the latrine, and finally arrived at the ad hoc medic station in the middle of the camp. “So, what in Sam Hill is going on?”

The PA replied, “We have a medical/ leadership problem. Virtually, every officer, save three, i.e., you, me, and Lewis, are suffering with severe diarrhea and stomach cramping. I warned them not to eat any cold food, but…Any scheduled training for tomorrow will be unlikely.”

The commander stood a moment, shook his head, peeked back at the line of miserables behind him and said, “No, the training will go on. Give all that is sick the medicines that will help them, but the training will go on.”

The PA replied, “But sir-“

“Don’t worry captain, I have a plan. But first, I have to give my orders to the night shift TOC officer.”

The next day all the officers remained in their tents, at least between visits to the latrine, while the junior leaders that had been briefed took over the unit’s training missions. Every master sergeant, sergeant first class, and staff sergeant had been given the absent officers’ duties, while the buck sergeants and specialists four were taking the rest of the slack. The training went off without a hitch, much to the chagrin of the sickened officers. I just took my normal duty as the jump TOC officer-in-charge and darted to a preplanned location in the desert as an alternate command post in case anything was to happen to the main TOC.

My NCO, M113 track driver, and I sat back out in the desert, listened to the radio traffic, kept the maps current with the training status, and ate our fresh-clean-diarrhea free MRE, and chuckled about the arrogance of the others and the price they paid for thinking they were exempt from the laws of biology. I learned a great lesson from the misadventure; never eat cold foods from third world countries, thus testing the limits of one’s own gastrointestinal flora balance. But, I already knew that. Chuckle…

 

Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.

Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.

 

 

 

The Incredible Misadventures of a Wild-boy in Summertime Georgia (Part 1) The Infamous Yellow Jacket Offensive

The Incredible Misadventures of a Wild-boy in Summertime Georgia (Part 1)
The Infamous Yellow Jacket Offensive
Summers in Georgia are always hot, sticky, and full of adventures mixed in with a few misadventures. When I think back on those wonderful days of forts in the woods, fishing in nearby ponds, or roaming the woods in search of adventure, I always reminisce about the infamous yellow jacket offensive. I was in the fourth grade so about ten years old and full of energy and empty of fear. Nothing frightened me, snakes, wounded possums, or even wild dogs, but one thing made such a lasting impression on me and was very successful in getting my full attention, that to this day I will go out of my way to avoid.
Joey, Jerry, and I were best friends in those early days of elementary school. We would collectively ride our bikes to the pond or hike around in our woods always searching for a better fort site or some other adventure. We especially got excited when we stumbled upon a rich supply of muscadines and blackberries. With the addition of sour grass, we were able to snack at will all day, which of course meant staying out in the woods longer. When we found one of these treasure troves we would always mark a secret trail so we could find our way back to the riches at any time. We so prided ourselves in marking the secret paths that we often would brag about being able to follow them with our eyes closed.
I lived at 2431 Ridge Road in Augusta Georgia for many years. I have often looked at the current state of the property I knew so intimately well as a kid on Google. Much has changed, but I have always wondered how much is the same. Our gang actually buried a small time capsule in the far back left corner of the backyard and never dug it up. I wonder if it is still there. Likely, I will never know, but even better than secret buried time capsules was the wood behind our house. There was a small one hundred feet wide and deep wood that we used as our test site for our many fort designs and pilot construction projects. It was covered in short leaf pine, scrub oak, wait-a-minute vines, poison ivy, and a host of small creatures.
One such very successful fort was actually underground, which made it very cool in the Georgia superheat. We worked on the fort for at least a couple of weeks, digging in secret, and camouflaging our fort as we progressed. After all, it was our secret mission. Finally, the day arrived for us to test the stealth and rigor of the fort. Basically, it had a hidden entrance that was not much more than a branch covered hole that led to a set of descending carved steps. Then it opened up into a underground room complete with fireplace (never worked), a chimney (a waste of time), and places to sit along the dirt walls. The roof was completely made of cut limbs and camouflaged with grass and dead leaves. If you walked unknowingly through the wood, you would have never seen the fort at all. It was our get-away place to hide when trying to avoid neighborhood bullies. It worked like a charm. We used it so much that the secret path became worn and therefore visible.
We took a secret ballot vote one sultry day to start another project, namely, to camouflage the path and develop another secret path to the fort. Work began almost immediately and after a couple of days we had successfully made the old path disappear. Now we had to find another path that would hopefully remain secret. After a little work, we created a circuitous path that looked more like a maze with blind paths and trails that led to nowhere. Unless you were ‘in the know’ the actual route through the maze of trails, finding the actual-official path would be impossible. At least we hoped it would be. We became so adept at finding our way through the maze that we challenged each other to try and navigate the maze with our eyes closed. Oh, such are the wayward ideas of idealistic wild-kids without any fear in their existence. We set ourselves a few practice runs and then we decided on a date and time for the contest. The prize was a week of free and sole access to our secret muscadine vine location deep in the much bigger wood nearby called the ‘swamp.’
At that time, the neighborhood of Brookwood Estates was growing and young. Many houses that are now old were just being built then; therefore, numerous workers were always present on the newest homes being constructed. The constant sound of hammering, the scream of circular saws, and the coarse language of the carpenters decorated the neighborhood with much local color and character. One such new house bordered the back side of our one hundred feet wide and deep wood. There were always workers there. Probably they were oblivious of our presence or just ignored us as we were just kids running around in the wood doing as wild-kids do. On this day, we all were going to be very happy that they were there and at least to a small degree, paying attention to our shenanigans.
Joey lined up first at the secret entrance to the new path, Jerry was next, and I took up the rear. The rule was that we would follow each other closely, but all had to keep our eyes closed. I know it does not make sense today, but to us wild-kids, it was a chance to prove to ourselves how awesome we were. Joey stepped out first and we, like lemmings, followed. Yes, with our eyes closed- kinda’. The first few yards were simple, fifteen paces straight in, three paces slightly to the right, then ten more paces around the pine tree and old sugar maple stump. All went well as we progressed down the path, but somewhere along the path we stepped into the underbrush. The moment we did that our lives changed.
Joey, being first, screamed with pain and yelled the only words that scared the scabs off our many cuts, “yellow jackets.”
The sound of thousands of buzzing, especially angry, yellow jackets filled our ears, our pants, our shirts, under our caps, in our nose, and everywhere they could find a target. Joey, Jerry, and I no longer had our eyes closed, but danced in a screaming panic as hundreds of yellow jacket stings decorated our bodies with thumb sized whelps. The pain was incredible. Ironically, my eye lids swelled shut so I could not see where to run, so I just ran. I ripped into several wait-a-minute vines which in turn ripped my bare legs to shreds and striped my arms all up one side. I could hear Joey and Jerry screaming and running as well, but at this time it was everyone for their self. I tried to rip off my shorts to swat at the cloud of yellow jackets that seemed intent on pursuing me as I ran helter-skelter through the woods, but just tripped and fell. I jumped up and tried to run again in any direction my now numb legs would carry me. My head started to swim and a massive headache overcame me. I became nauseated and knew I was going to faint. Then out of the blue a strong hand grabbed me and a strange voice said, “Don’t worry, I got you now.” Then the voice picked me up and rushed me out of danger.
A worker had heard our cries and jumped the fence, ran down to the wood, and grabbed each of us in turn, subsequently taking us out of harm’s way, but not until after we had amassed several hundred stings each. As I lay somewhere on the ground, I could hear the distant siren of an ambulance and a fire engine coming closer quickly. In a few moments, all three of us were on our way to the emergency room. I also became aware of other worker’s voices. I heard one say that “Jim,” the worker that had initially saved us all, was on the ground and not looking so good.
Much later we learned that Jim had suffered numerous yellow jacket stings as well, ignored them, and succumbed to the subsequent volume of toxin in his system, and passed out. He also went to the hospital, but later died from a heart attack brought on from the large number of stings he endured to save and shield us from. All of us stayed in the hospital for about a week to stabilize our systems and support us through the pain and swelling. It was at least four days before my eye lids were able to open again and allow me to see.
The doctor talked to my parents upon admission to the hospital and after initial treatment in the emergency room and said, “Your son has been stung by yellow jackets to the tune of approximately three hundred to four hundred stings. Normally, that number of stings would kill a grown man, but somehow the three boys are going to be fine. I predict that they will likely acquire an allergy to the yellow jacket stings after this, but they are fortunate to be alive. Unfortunately, Jim, the man that saved the three boys, died from a heart attack shortly after he arrived in the emergency room. The boys owe him their lives.
Unbeknown to me and the other guys, Jim, had a supply of ice at the work site and several of his coworkers covered us in ice in order to decrease the swelling and hold off the pain as much as possible. Though I have no memory of any ice being put on me or of feeling cold, I was thankful, nevertheless, that his quick thinking had saved us.
When we were all released from the hospital and went home, my dad took us to the wood to show us what the fire department had found. We had walked into a half buried hollow log about four feet long and filled with one of the largest yellow jacket nests anyone had ever seen. For all that happened, my dad told us that we should have been killed by that many stings. For several weeks the whelps remained and swelling slowly decreased. With whatever medicine we were given, we had also learned a valuable lesson that if applied properly would prevent any such foolish stunts from ever happening again. The lesson was twofold: never walk through the woods with your eyes closed because dangers are everywhere and hidden better than the best camouflaged fort; and someone had selflessly given his life for ours without a moment’s hesitation. We had to be thankful to God and Jim for the sacrifice one man made for three wild-kid boys.
Adventures and misadventures in a young man’s life are what make manly character. I had plenty to be sure, but I understand in today’s culture that many young men do not have the same opportunities that I had; therefore, I write stories to capture the imagination of young men and ignite their innate sense of adventure as they travel the world of my mind’s eye.
Please, listen to some of my twenty minute long short stories on SoundCloud, and then rush to buy the volume they came from, “Stories Around The Campfire.” Be sure to frequently check this blog for updates and new postings highlighting my newest offerings and bring to you a piece of my imagination and amazing life as a boy. When all is said and done in your busy day, go to my Amazon Author page and peruse my library and maybe, just maybe, buy a few of the books that interest you. And remember to always Read For Fun.