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By John M. Findley
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 John M. Findley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy Life's Journey Begins
As a young boy I was always busy doing what all boys do. Getting into trouble. Summertime was my favorite time of the year. Naturally, I had chores that had to be done like mowing the grass, taking out the trash, or an occasional painting project, but I hurried through these tasks as quickly as possible. Once these things were taken care of, the rest of the day was mine to do with as I pleased, and in Bloomington, my hometown, there was always plenty to do.
I loved to swim, and the abandoned limestone quarries around Bloomington were ideal swimming holes. Like most boys I was deadly with a slingshot and after dark; the frogs in our local ponds were fair game. I was a real kid and loved to go exploring. And, of course, I often did lots of stupid things. The following stories will give you some idea of the kind of life I led while growing up.
It was 1931. I was a little tow headed five-year-old boy, with two sisters, seven and three. My Mom had died when I was two, and my Dad was on the road trying to make a living selling vacuum cleaners, so us kids were handed over to our grandma to raise. I still remember one special winter evening. Christmas was only two days away.
It was about time for bed and grandma, my two sisters, and I were all sitting in the front room of our small three-room house in Lynhurst Addition, on the north edge of Franklin, Indiana. Franklin is a small Hoosier farming town twenty miles southeast of Indianapolis. Grandma was sitting in her rocking chair reading by the light of a kerosene lamp, while we three kids played on the floor in front of our 'Warm Morning' heating stove. When it came time for a popular radio program called "Lum and Abner," we all stopped what we were doing to listen. Suddenly there was a loud knock. Grandma turned off the radio and went to the door. My sisters and I crowded around grandma's skirts and gazed up, open mouthed, at what appeared to be a giant of a man. He was in a uniform of some sort, and behind him, parked in front of our house, was a fire engine with blinking red lights.
Grandma let the giant in, and soon two other big guys, carrying a box, crowded into our front room. Our shyness quickly disappeared, as they, laughing and joking, pulled my sisters and me out from behind grandma's skirts. The first one sat down in the nearest chair, pulled me up on his lap, and handed me a package to unwrap. When I opened it I found a beautiful metal airplane. It was for me to keep, and I could hardly believe it. Next he unwrapped a flashlight and showed me how to turn it on. I now had my very own flashlight that worked. (I still have it today.) My sisters both received dolls. We were overwhelmed. Those kind and generous firemen added a very special touch to our Christmas that year which I will never forget.
Grandma tried to make Christmas special for us every year. She would pop popcorn and pour maple syrup on it, to make popcorn balls. It made our hands and faces really sticky, but we loved it. I suppose we were poor but we didn't realize it. We lived in a small three-room bungalow, with the rooms arranged in a row. They were all the same size, about 10 feet by 12 feet. The front room was our living room and the middle room was our bedroom, where my sisters and I slept in a feather bed. Grandma slept on the couch in the living room. The kitchen was at the end and had a wood-burning cook stove with a hot water tank on the end. Besides cooking our meals, it was also used to heat Grandma's irons. Grandma had three irons but only one handle which she could attach to the hot one she was using.
The floors were wood with some throw rugs here and there, except in the kitchen, which was covered with linoleum. We didn't have electricity or running water, but that wasn't unusual. A lot of homes didn't. In the evening grandma used a kerosene lamp to read by, and we listened to the radio, with "Lum and Abner" in their "Jot Em Down Store" being our big favorite.
I caught a mouse in the house once and tied a red corncob to its tail. When I set it down on the kitchen floor, its feet spun like crazy on that linoleum but it never moved an inch. Later, I felt sorry for it, took it outside, removed the corncob, and let it go.
About a half a mile west of where we lived, across the highway that led to Indianapolis, was a farm where my grandmother bought eggs. We always went with her. A boy my age lived there and we became friends. His name was Junie Bingham.
In the summer time, grasshoppers were everywhere, and when you walked out through a field, they would rise up in waves with their wing's whirring. Once, when we were over at Junie's to get eggs, he caught a flying grasshopper and tied a long string to its tail. I didn't know whether grasshoppers had feelings or not, but since I did, I thought they did too, and when he tied the string to its tail, it made me flinch. I thought that had to really hurt. Every time that grasshopper flew, Junie held on to the end of the string and the grasshopper would sail out ahead of us for about 20 yards before being stopped by the string. It reminded me of the time I had tied a string to that mouse's tail. I was ashamed of it, so I didn't tell Junie about it. It seems cruel to me now.
Across the road from grandma's house was a large field with a dirt path, leading to a small grocery store, three blocks away, on the highway. When we went to the store with Grandma, the dust was so thick on the path that it would spurt up between our toes. I thought that was great fun, and sometimes I would stomp my feet on purpose, just to make the dust fly.
Every night us kids took turns setting on the back stoop, with a dishpan full of water, and washed our feet. That was okay, but while we were washing our feet, we got attacked by mosquitoes that whined around our ears in droves. In those days there were big black pinch bugs, that were about the size of a half dollar, and every once in awhile one would buzz past and bounce off of the screen door behind us. If a pinch bug hit one of us in the face it was no laughing matter because those things had huge pinchers and were as hard as a rock.
My grandmother usually took us with her when she went to the store, but on one occasion she decided to leave us at home. I think she was in a hurry and decided to risk it. Or perhaps she had had enough of three frisky kids and needed some quiet time. Before she left she laid down the law. There was to be no monkey business while she was gone.
As soon as she was out of sight, I ran for the kitchen, pulled up a chair, and reached up on top of the stove to get some matches. I loved to play with fire, but I didn't dare take too many matches because I knew she would miss them. We had one of those 'Warm Morning' heating stoves in the living room, but since it was summer there was no fire in it. I soon had it stuffed full of old newspapers. My younger sister just watched, but my older sister said that if I didn't stop she was going to tell grandma. I just ignored her and kept pushing the papers in.
When I lit the first match, I was fascinated as the flames grew and grew. I probably should have closed the stove door, but then I wouldn't have been able to watch. Soon the flames were shooting out of the open door and up toward the ceiling. I had too many newspapers in the stove, and some of them, still blazing, fell out onto the fireproof mat in front of the stove. I was scared to death and tried to shut the stove door, but so much paper was burning on the floor that I was in danger of catching my pant legs on fire. Besides I was bare footed.
My two sisters were in a panic and screaming their heads off. I finally managed to get the stove door closed, and then used a shovel to carry the rest of the burning paper outside. The fire in the stove finally burned out, and I hurriedly began trying to clean up the mess. My two sisters got over their fright and began to help. It wasn't long until all evidence of the near disaster had been erased.
The place looked okay, but now I was worried about the smell. I propped the back and front screen doors open, and, using a large towel, began fanning it briskly from one end of the house to the other, going back and forth. I must have been doing that for twenty minutes when my trusty lookouts reported that grandma was visible in the distance, coming across the field. When she arrived there was a comment about the smell, but we said we had not noticed anything, and thankfully no more was said.
Our home was surrounded on three sides by a garden, so every day but Sunday was spent working in that garden. Grandma worked harder than any of us. Some days we pulled weeds and others we spent debugging row after row of beans. Sometimes the tomato vines had big fat, juicy, green, tomato worms on them that had to be pulled off. There was always plenty of work to do in the garden. Hoeing and raking was a never-ending job, and pushing the garden plow was especially tough. We always went to bed completely worn out. As a five year old boy, I loved the summertime, but I promised myself that, when I grew up, I would never set foot in another garden.
Sunday was my favorite day, but even Sundays had their drawbacks. On Sundays, I had to get all washed up, put on my Sunday clothes and shoes, and walk with grandma a mile to church.
Those Sunday shoes gave me a blister every time I wore them, and I hated them. The minute we got home, off would come the shoes and the Sunday clothes. I considered the time after after dinner as mine. I almost always climbed our back fence and took off across a large cornfield to the big woods beyond it. I loved to explore, and I spent many Sunday afternoons doing just that. My grandma scolded me many times for being late for supper.
One Sunday in the fall of the year, the corn had all been cut and stood in shocks all over the corn field in back, looking like small Indian tepees. I was returning across the field, alone as usual, from a long day in the woods, playing Cowboy and Indians, with the Indians getting the worst of it. It was a little before dusk and as I got closer to home I could hear someone pounding with hammers. Two men were up on ladders working on our nearest neighbor's roof.
I suddenly got a wild idea. Don't ask me why. I can't explain something I did when I was 5 years old. I gave a loud scream, fell over on the ground, and lay still. When I peeped out at them from under my arm, nothing. The two guys on the roof were still hammering away and hadn't heard or seen a thing. Boy! What does a guy have to do to get some attention around here? I got back up on my feet, and screamed really loud this time. Buck Jones couldn't have fallen into the dust more convincingly than I did that time. When I sneaked a quick look, both of them were looking my way and climbing rapidly down the ladders. I lay as still as a dead rabbit as they ran to the back fence, climbed over it, and pounded towards where I lay, in a pitiful, helpless heap on the ground.
I hoped to time it pretty close, and it was just about perfect. I let them get to within about 10 feet of me when I leaped to my feet and took off like a scared, very live, jackrabbit. They came to a screeching halt and stared with open mouths as I bounded away. Then they let loose with a string of words I had never heard before, shook their heads, and started back toward the fence. I had learned a bunch of new words I could use the next time I stubbed my toe. One of the last remarks I heard before I got out of range was "Dumb Kid." Well! Maybe they were right. I couldn't have been too bright to pull a stunt like that.
All Tied Up
As I mentioned in the previous story, I was a little blonde headed, raggedy barefoot boy, five years old, living with my grandmother, and two sisters. We lived in a three-room bungalow on the north edge of Franklin, Indiana.
We had a small yard in front, and in back a long path led to our outhouse which was against our back fence. All the rest of the land, on three sides of our house, was devoted to our garden.
Every spring, an old weathered black man, with dark wrinkled skin and a gray beard, would stop his mule drawn wagon in front of our house. He had a straw hat, pulled down to shade his eyes, and wore clean, but patched, bib overalls. He would come to the door and politely ask my grandma if he could plow our garden. There would follow a short discussion about the price, but my grandma always ended up by saying yes.
He would unload his single bladed plow from the wagon and hitch his big mule to it. Humming to himself, he started plowing the first furrow. I will never forget the nice clean smell of that freshly turned earth as the plow blade rolled it over. The birds must have agreed with me because it wasn't long before a flock of them, mostly robins, would be busily pecking away pulling worms out of the ground in the wake of the plow.
Every once in awhile he would say "gee" or "haw" and give a tug on the reins which were looped around the back of his neck. The plow had wooden handles that he held to control it. When he reached the end of a furrow, he used the handles to turn the plow around.
I know now that I must have been quite a pest to that poor fellow. I dogged his every step. Finally he stopped and went to his wagon. When he returned, he tossed me a rope and said, "Let's see what kind of a cowboy you are." He pointed at my good old collie dog, Brownie, who was nearby. "There's some livestock, try lassoing him." Hesitantly, I tried to make a loop, using a slipknot, and tossed it a few times at Brownie. He gave me a dirty look, and slunk out of sight around the corner of the house. I heard the black man say "Whoa" to his mule, and he turned and took the rope from my hands. Quickly he tied a knot in one end of the rope and formed a loop. He showed me how to hold it so the loop would open when thrown. He said to me, with a twinkle in his eye, "Take off." I turned and ran, but hadn't gone over 10 feet when I was brought up short with the lasso around my neck. He asked if I was good at untying knots, and did I want to try to get loose if he tied me to the shade tree in our front yard. He had a kind face, so I said, "Yes, I'd like to give it a try." He tied me to the tree with my hands behind my back. Then, he went back to his plowing in peace!
I struggled in vain to get enough slack in the rope to get loose, but my efforts only seemed to make the knots tighter. After he had made several trips back and forth, he asked, "Give up?" I replied, "Not yet." I already knew that it was hopeless, but I hated to give up.
When he untied me later, he patted me on the back. "You did a good job, sonny. You just got in too big of a hurry at the start." With that, he took a big slug of water from a brown jug he carried in his wagon, said "Giddap" to the mule, and finished plowing our garden. I will always remember the kindness of that black man who took the time to play with a poor little white boy.
I was about seven year's old living with my grandma and two sisters in Franklin, Indiana. It was winter, and Dad was taking me to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis about 25 miles away. Riley Hospital is a children's hospital, and I had been having bad stomach pains for over a year. Dad had taken me to most of the local doctors, but none could find the cause of my problem. The pains came and went about five times a week. When I didn't have the pain, I felt fine and was just your normal dumb kid. But when the pain hit, all I could do was lay across a folded pillow and wish it would go away.
On our way to Riley, the winter roads were very slick, and I remember that Dad's car did a 360-degree spin at one of the intersections. I thought it was fun and wished Dad would do it again, but Dad turned a little white and drove a lot slower after that.
At the hospital they gave me some tests and then decided to keep me in hopes of finding my problem. I was assigned a bed in a large open dormitory for boys only. The dormitory had a row of eight beds down each side. In the following days they took so many X-rays of me that my eyeballs must have glowed in the dark. My stomach pain continued to crop up periodically. In between the painful periods I felt fine and played games with some of the other patients.
Excerpted from Just Lucky by John M. Findley Copyright © 2010 by John M. Findley. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout the Author....................i
My Life's Journey Begins....................40
Destroyer Duty in World War II....................105
Life Isn't All Play....................170
A Walk on the Wild Side....................213
Caves Are Not For Sissies....................349
Skydivers Love To Fall....................419
The Best of the Best....................521
Bed Pans Don't Flush....................569
Swimming the Grand Canyon....................590
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A must read for the adventure seeker. Skydiving, spelunking, scuba diving, and more. Swims alone 53 miles through Grand Canyon. Published in Arizona Highways.