As I said before, I spent most of my time at the river. The river was my friend and I enjoyed it. After Mother got more used to me going to the river and staying all hours, it became easier. I don’t know if she began to believe I had a guardian Angel watching over me or she just got a little tired of fighting a losing battle with the river and me
I often went all the way up to the Hughson Bridge, the upstream limit for me. Many times I would find a log and float the four or so miles down the river at a very leisurely pace, just kicked back and enjoying the feeling of buoyancy and the caress of the water. I found many places in the bank, mainly the northern bank, where the tree roots came out over the water. There was one big oak tree that had extremely thick roots that reached way out over the water, about six or so feet. Water had washed away much of the dirt under the tree and the roots showing were very strong and thick. The water at the back there was pretty deep, around five or so feet. I swam under the roots and dug out a large hole in the bank, mostly under the roots, but partly down stream, also. I could swim under the roots and come up out of the water under the bank and breathe. I could put my feet on the bottom and stand straight up. I didn’t tell anyone about my underwater fort for a long time. Every time I went up to the Hughson Bridge and floated down, I’d stop and go into the fort. It never occurred to me it might fall in. I had been in there many times the summer I made it. That winter the water came up quite high and flooded away up the bank. The next year when the weather got warm enough to swim, I went to the fort and found it had caved in. The tree was all right and is probably still standing.
Just being winter wasn’t always reason enough to not go in the river. My sister, Joan, and I went to the river one winter and broke the ice at the edge of the water to swim. We didn’t stay in for long but it was fun while it lasted. Joan and I did a lot of things together when we were young. Like me, she spent some time on the river.
It is impossible to put specific times on some incidents I remember so I will just tell of them as I recall them.
I mentioned about the dump ground being a half-mile or so from our house. The dump was a part of my life in many ways. A lot of things went to the dump that were very usable to people like us. My mother never dug in the dump but I did. In those days it wasn’t a disgrace to dig in the dump. We considered the dump to be just exactly what it was; a place for a lot of good things to be discarded by people who no longer wanted them. I was forever finding things I could use in some way. I found toys and clothing and books among other things. The main thing I searched for was magazines and funny books. A couple of times I got lucky and found a large number of funny books that had been neatly stacked and tied with string. I considered that a bonanza! Funny books were very valuable in the lives of the kids in Little Okie. They were read and traded extensively. They were about as close as any of us kids would come to reading anything promoting morality and honesty. Heroes like Superman, Captain Marvel, Tarzan of the Apes, Dick Tracy, Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman were revered by us and imitated as closely as possible. Some other popular heroes were Plastic Man, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, Joe Palooka, Popeye, The Phantom, The Flash and Archie. The movies, also, made serials of Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, the Iron Claw and the Shadow. Some western serials were Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy, Zorro, Lash LaRue and Johnny Mack Brown. Buck Jones was a silent movie Cowboy who was popular even after the talkies came out. Charlie Chaplan was popular as was the East Side Kids with Muggs McGinnis, also known as Slip Mahoney. The Little Rascals with Alfalfa was a show that stayed popular for years.
On Saturdays we listened to radio programs such as, Mr. District Attorney,(Champion of justice, defender of human rights) Let’s Pretend, Straight Arrow and the Lone Ranger and his faithful companion, Tonto, (that program was the first taste of classical music for most of us, the Lone Ranger theme, ‘William Tell Overture’) and the popular horror program with the squeaking door, Inner Sanctum. Some detective programs were Mr. and Mrs. North, the Thin Man and later, the Fat Man. There was, also, Sam Spade. Remember, “ Henry,-Henry Aldrich!- Coming Mother!” And don’t forget The Great Gildersleeve or Amos an’ Andy as well as great shows like Jack Benny and George Burns and Gracie Allen. Of course Bob Hope was the most popular war effort comedian. He and Dorothy Lamour, the sarong girl toured the Army, Navy and Marine camps at home and overseas in WWII and Korea. The most popular legs in the war were those of every soldier’s pin-up girl, Betty Grable. Phil Harris was a popular program.
Mother, like most mothers, had her programs to keep her company during the day. I think Ma Perkins and Stella Dallas were the two most popular of the daytime shows. It wasn’t long before those daytime shows were being referred to as soap operas because of their popularity with the housewives of America. There was, also, Lorenzo Jones and his wife, Bell and Young Doctor Malone.
When we listened to the radio we listened for Johnny saying,” Call for Phillip Morris,” and, “I’m Froggieee, Froggie the Gremlin,” also, “That’s my dog, Tag, He lives in a shoe, I’m Buster Brown, look for me in there, Too!” Just like today, some of the commercials were as popular as some of the programs. Another commercial that was popular was the program, Grand Central Station’s Bromo-seltzer add; ‘ Fights acid three ways, Bromo-seltzer,Bromo-seltzer,etc., and on and on sounding like a train engine. And, of course, the most popular ads in the nation were the Burma-Shave ads. They had witty rhymes on them and were scattered along the highways from coast to coast and border to border. They were good to break the monotony of traveling.
Back to the dump.
The dump was the place where tree stumps and grapevine stumps were dumped. There were acres of them and the roots of the big trees were perfect for burrowing around in and making forts. My stepbrother, Floyd, and I made many forts and trails through the tree roots. One time we were at the dump and Gene Burgin and another guy (I can’t remember who) were also there. We decided to play a game of shooting at each other with our nigger shooters. (Now they are called slingshots) The idea was to come as close to each other as we could without actually hitting anyone. We would sneak around through the trails and try to sneak up on each other and get a shot in that was so good it couldn’t be considered anything but a hit. When one or the other side had both parties hit, the game would be over. To call time out, one had to hold up two fingers in the v style. Floyd and I were doing pretty well and had gotten in a couple of pretty close hits. Then Floyd wanted to call time out so he held up two fingers. The problem was that he raised up behind his two fingers. Eugene shot just as Floyd raised up and the rock went between Floyd’s fingers and hit him in his eye. It barely missed his eyeball and knocked a chunk out of the side of his head. He yelled and the blood started spurting out of his face. We thought his eye had been put out and we ran home as fast as we could. Luckily, Mother was there and she always knew just what to do. She was a whiz at nursing wounds. She looked at it and made sure Floyd’s eye wasn’t in any danger then she did what she always did. She cleaned it up, put some Merthiolate and a bandage on it and told us to be more careful. And we were for a while.
I think Mother used Merthiolate because, in addition to its healing power, it burned worse than fire. I think that was the biggest reason we were more careful.
I went to the dump one time and found some violets. I brought them home and Mother planted them in an old tire. She laid the tire flat on the ground and filled it with dirt. That was my planter. Those violets soon filled the tire and flowed over the sides of it.
Another thing we kids used from the dump was grapevine roots. Grapevine roots are partially hollow and, when lit on one end, make a pretty good, if terribly harsh, cigarette. We smoked them sometimes although not for long at a time. They burned our throats so badly that we would be hoarse after a few puffs. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off of the grapevine cigarettes.
The dump was a place that made kids look forward to searching. It was full of treasures of all kinds. The trash that was dumped there was dry trash. There was no garbage mixed with it. That made it better through which to root. It is amazing what people threw away. I found coins, medals and a lot of costume jewelry. I kept a cache of wonderful things I had collected from the dump in a cigar box. Those were the good old days!