June 04, 2006

bitten and beguiled

At the corner of Nebraska and Massachusetts streets across from the Navy Department in Washington in 1944, stood a four story brown brick building. There was no sign or hint of what might have been its purpose; it was a building of no particular architectural significance and no one would have given it a second look when they passed by. To this day, only those directly involved with the highly classified activities of the naval personnel working there would remember or care.

It had been a long week on the midnight shift for Third Class Petty Officer Lilly Dalbey and she was ready for a little R and R. Her mind was numb from the boring and tedious job she had to do night after long endless night. If she had to look up another nonsense word in one of the decode books, she would go crazy.

For a quarter, she and her friends, Sheila and Annie, could catch Sinatra at the Loew's before the picture show. Lilly needed some Blue Skies and if she was lucky, there might even be time to stop at the Mayflower Hotel. The last time she was there, Lilly had spotted a young Marine with an easy and unpuzzled smile. Maybe this would be the night he would ask her to dance.

"You want to come up to my room and talk?” asked the Marine.

"NO. I came here to dance. Just dance", replied Lilly.

"You know there are plenty of girls here that would take me up on the offer", said the Marine.

That would be the last time she would see him, she thought to herself. The days slowly passed. Her shift rotated. First ten days of eight to five, then ten days of four to one, then ten days of midnight to nine.

The guys in the teletype room were attentive but they were as ugly as a cold wind in Utah. Still a girl has to think about her future.

One morning before the midnight shift was about ready to go to the mess hall for breakfast, a long skinny box arrived. With the one crimson rose inside was a card addressed to Lilly. It read, "Want to dance?"


Posted by roadapples at 08:26 AM | Comments (7)

May 16, 2006


In my basement on an old bookcase back behind the furnace, sits a typewritten manuscript. On one hundred and thirty six single space pages is a story I have not read in more than a decade. I don’t know exactly what made me search it out when I came home from a school concert at my daughter’s middle school but here is a little bit. It is told by my grandfather Elvis’s younger sister, great aunt Nettie. This episode is set in 1919.

One big event was my brother Elvis’ wedding. After he returned from the Army, he helped dad on the farm for a season. But he was a man now and wanted to get out on his own. There was a neighbor girl with bright and shining eyes who was willing to help and so they were married at her parents' home.

Dad and mom did not go to the wedding but Elvis and Elsie came to our house to stay for a few days and there was a shivaree for them by the folks around the neighborhood.

For those of you who don’t understand what a shivaree is, I will explain. A shivaree is a special party.

First, you have to notify everyone where the new bride and groom are spending their first night as a married couple.

Everyone takes some kind of noisemaker, including shotguns (with real shells) and all gather at a pre-arranged place. Then they sneak up to the house where the newlyweds are. Someone leads off with a shot from a real shotgun and then everyone else joins in whoopin’, yellin’, bangin’, and shootin’.

They keep this up until the bridegroom opens the door and invites them in. Then they have a real party with games, loud talk and good wishes. The bride and groom pass around candy or something good to eat.

It was in the wintertime and long after dark. I don’t know if the grownups were expecting it, but I surely wasn’t. Such a noise I never heard. There must have been four or five guns and a lot of people out there in the dark. I was so scared that I began to cry. Then brother Bill and sister Beth started to cry. Elvis finally went to the door and opened it. Then I think we had more noise inside the house than out.

Aunt Nettie wrote these childhood recollections and many others in the early eighties when she was in her seventies.

She was a god fearin’ woman who was fond of quoting the good book when she felt the need. One she wrote in this manuscript went something like this: “How firm the foundation, my faith in the Lord”.

Put in a good word to Saint Peter for me, Aunt Nettie. I am going to need it.

NOTE: In this 1913 photo, Aunt Nettie is with brother Jack on her right and brother Bill on her left.

Posted by roadapples at 10:04 PM | Comments (6)

April 01, 2006

home bound

The journey would last at least seven days with campouts in a tent along the side of the road for at least three nights. A good nights rest in a real bed would come in White Horse, Yukon Territory in northwestern Canada. When they crossed back into the United States in Idaho, they knew it would only be two more days.

It was time to go home. There were two sons growing up with out him back in Wisconsin and the big adventure in Alaska had run its course. The discontent and loneliness had become more than he could stand.

The year was 1985 and for the first time since 1914, the United States had become a debtor nation. It owed more money to foreigners than it was owed. Not so for John. For the first time in his life, he had a grubstake. He aimed to use it to scratch an itch that had been festering inside him for far too long.

He was tired of faking his way through life settling for the easy way out of every hard spot taking any dead-end job that would have him. Thirty-seven years was enough time to grow up and put down roots.

When the winter snows left the valley creeping its way back up Pioneer Peak and the wild Larkspur and Lupine began to peep through the leaf litter in early June, the two of them made plans to leave their Alaskan home in Palmer. They would only keep what they could get into the back of their half-ton. The rest they would sell at the auction.

Posted by roadapples at 04:56 PM | Comments (2)

March 19, 2006

apple cheeks

I see Paris. I see France. I see someone's underpants! She was the first of three sisters and two brothers. They played and fought together when they were younger. They are still playing but not so much fighting anymore.

The purpose of this post is two fold. I love old photos, and blogging. Not necessarily in that order. Meg at Mandarin Design gave me some new tools to use. So I am experimenting with the new tools and telling a story about my in-laws at the same time.

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey. There came a big spider who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away. Girl2.gif

My sisters-in-law have a strange Christmas custom. They steal objects such as cheese spreaders from each other's homes during the year. It causes all kinds of confusion for the victims because they think they misplaced it and spend the year looking for it. Then at Christmas time, the cheese spreader shows up wrapped in a pretty package. Then they giggle about it for hours.

Spider.GIFThe itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Along came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.

The brothers-in-law don't seem interested in this custom. Any strange customs in your family?

The photo above was taken in 1962. Twenty one years later, that little girl grew up and made me a very happy man when she agreed to be my better half.

The one below was taken in 1966 at my wife's first communion. The yongest sister is not in the photo. She was not born until 1968.

You can click on the photos below and above to enlarge.


Posted by roadapples at 09:13 AM | Comments (3)

March 18, 2006


The troop train pulled out of Kansas City at 8 o’clock on a warm July morning in 1944. By 10 o’clock, rolling fields of knee high corn and black and white cows were all he could see for miles around. It reminded him of the family farm back home in Gentry County. His old man said he would miss milking cows, slopping hogs, plowing fields, spreading manure and stacking hay but he doubted it.

Woodson settled into a bench in the back of the Pullman car, put his feet up on the opposite bench, and slipped his hat down over his eyes. Listening to the clickety clack of the big steel wheels of the train, he was drifting in and out of sleep.

Suddenly he felt a knee on his.

"Move it hayseed."

Woodson looked up at a mountain with huge ears and green teeth in a grimy Marine uniform. He swung his legs down and the big man sat across from him.

"You in the Army Air Force eh. I guess they like 'em kind of puny so they can get 'em in those flying coffins. You look kind of young. Does your momma know where you are? Want a chew? It'll put hair on your chest." The big man said as he held out a plug of tobacco.

Woodson did not answer. He looked around the car for another empty seat and spotted one four rows down. He stood up and started to walk when Green Teeth slipped a foot in his way - sending Woodson head over heels in to the aisle. The car erupted in laughter. Woodson picked himself up.

What could he do? Green Teeth was twice his size, he told himself. He had been bullied by much bigger boys in school before and like always he said nothing and tried to ignore the humiliation. But a voice in the back of his head told him that some how he had to take a stand for once. Stand up for himself like a man. He quickly walked out of the car and stood outside on the rear deck.

When the troop train arrived in St Louis, more men in military uniforms were waiting to board for the long trip east where ships were waiting to take them to the Europe. It was a chance for the passengers to stretch their legs.

Woodson walked in to the dark catacombs of the train station. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. On the far side of the center lobby next to the stairs that led down to the lower mezzanine, he could make out the figure of a big guy in uniform arguing with a dark skinned woman. It was Green Teeth. He moved closer trying to figure what was happening.

“By god – I gave you ten dollars you little beggar and I intend to get my money’s worth,” Green Teeth said as he grabbed the woman by the hair.

With out thinking, Woodson bolted directly in Green Teeth’s direction. He lowered his head and shoulders and sent the full force of his momentum into the side of Green Teeth’s hip, sending the big man down the stairway. He wound up sprawled at the bottom holding his head. In less than a minute he was on feet. He raced to the top of the steps but Woodson and the dark skinned woman were gone. It all happened so fast that Green Teeth did not know whom it was that got in his way.

Post Script: Many years later, this same hayseed would teach his inept nephew how to use a screwdriver. Remember, he would say, righty tighty - lefty loosey. He was the original handy man.

Posted by roadapples at 09:16 AM | Comments (3)

March 03, 2006

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month. I have never known a time when women did not have the right to vote for people who controlled their daily lives. In the middle of the 1800s when this nation was fighting a bloody civil war over the question of slavery, among other things, women in this country did not have the simple right to cast a ballot for even dog catcher.

On June 10, 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th amendment granting national suffrage to women. From 1846 to 1919, different groups of women’s rights supporters had focused much of their energy on winning the vote, though each pursued different strategies. Although Wisconsin had not been completely unenlightened in its approach to women’s legal rights (the rejected 1846 constitution would have given married women property rights), neither had it been on the forefront of the cause. Just seven years before the 19th amendment passed, a statewide referendum on suffrage had met with a resounding two-to-one defeat, so it was in some ways unusual that Wisconsin was the first to ratify federal woman suffrage.

If you would like to read more, here is a link:

Posted by roadapples at 11:52 AM | Comments (3)

March 01, 2006

hank and dorothy

In a Woolworth's shoebox, she saved every love letter he ever wrote to her. A cigar box wrapped with a purple ribbon held the tortoise shell comb and glass beads he won for her at the county fair throwing baseballs at milk bottles. In the top draw of her dresser in a little trinket box wrapped in pink tissue was the rose bud he sent her when she turned eighteen.

A woman like Dorothy does not let go easily, not even when his need to search for greener pastures left her alone. She loved him with all her heart and nothing was going to change her mind.

She was a young country girl still wet behind the ears and barely out of high school from the small farming town of Pulaski. He was a burly good-natured plowboy in his late twenties transplanted to the big city of Green Bay looking for adventure.

They met at a Sadie Hawkins dance at the VFW one night in late June in 1931. They were just two people out for a good time. It started with a slow song and bodies swaying. Then came a pair of strong muscular arms wrapped around a small soft waist. That is all it took. She was smitten. He was not - not yet anyway.

The west was calling Hank. He wanted to ride broncos and wander the pairie living the cowboy life before it was all gone. One day in springtime, he put away his cheese makers license, kissed Dorothy goodbye, and left her standing on the porch of her parent’s home.

It took two long years before he finally figured out what Dorothy already knew. His fate and that of his grandchildren was waiting for him in the heart of his little country girl.

Posted by roadapples at 02:32 PM | Comments (5)

January 22, 2006


In every photograph I ever saw of him, he always wore a hat. In 1948 he was twenty nine with two sons and counting. If he was in the right mood, he was an ex-marine who could clean out a honky tonk in the time it took to order a six pack to go. His daddy back in Kenucky taught him two things: how to dig for coal and how to use his fists. Many of his problems were solved with a good right hook and coal mining paid for the good times.

A man like Bud does not wait around when the world starts to close in on him. When number three came along in late December of 1949, it was time to make some choices. Sticking around Hannah, Wyoming working for the railroad digging coal to run the big steam locomotives and paying the never ending rent and grocery bills was one.

Warm sunny days in California wine country and a fresh start was the other. There was plenty of young women working the orchards there who would appreciate what he had to offer.

By June of the next year, he was ready to make up his mind. He packed his gear, fired up his 1946 Ford Deluxe and headed for his promised land.

Time can change a man - make him look at life and the choices he made with a broader perspective. It can make him regret those choices - seek redemption and a second chance. Sometimes fate lends a helping hand. Most times it don't.

In 1966, over powering guilt or the desire to relive the good times and correct his mistakes finally forced him to make another choice. He could do nothing and always wonder about the sons he left in Hannah or he could try to find them. But sixteen years of living can cover up tracks and make it hard to find the things he was looking for. He hired a detective to do the foot work. He had them located in a state in the deep south and a letter was mailed.

Things were looking good but fate would only tease him. Before he could make his move, he died suddenly on a lonely stretch of highway near Oakland, California. He had a blood alcohol level so high it was a wonder he could even find his pickup let alone start it.

He had no more choices to make - all the rest would be made by some one else.

Posted by roadapples at 09:28 AM | Comments (4)

January 08, 2006

easy rider


Before Kawawsaki there was BSA. Before Yamaha there was Triumph. And before Honda there was Norton. From the early fifties to the late sixties, sales of lightweight bikes smaller than 700 cc in the US was dominated by the Brits. The motorcycle you see in the photo above is a 1962 snortin' Norton. In 1970. a young fellow with meager resources could purchase a used one in fairly good condition for about five hundred dollars.

Of course, living in Wisconsin does not allow for riding year around. Winter time required one to drive the beater with one broken windshild wiper and a door that wouldn't open on the drivers side. Talk about living dangerously.

Being from Brittan, the Norton had metric size bolt heads and nuts. So the shade tree mechanic in the photo did not have the proper tools to help his nephew (the doofus sitting on the ground with the shit eating grin on his face) get his bike back on the road. The back tire was flat, the headlamp was out, it badly needed a tuneup, and the rods were knocking. Ok, ok, maybe it wasn't in fairly good condition like the newspaper ad said. But when it was running, that bike was more fun than you could imagine.

Posted by roadapples at 04:50 AM | Comments (10)

January 05, 2006

family tradition

Last night my oldest daughter asked, "Dad have there been a member of our family in every war?"

"Yes", I replied, "all the way back to the Civil War, as far as I can figure, there have been at least one if not more in every major war including Nam."

"Would you want me to enlist when I am older and fight in Iraq?"

Where did this woman child come from? Yesterday, she went shopping with her mom to buy a dress for winter formal. Today she asks me if I want her to go to some strange far off land on the other side of the planet and fight in a war I don't completely understand.

How do I answer her? I am a veteran and I come from a long line of veterans. Whether to seek adventure, fortune, or fame, my family has served as honorable as possible given the vulgarities of war. There is no honor in killing, even if it is to protect one's own. But this is my little darling daughter. I fed her, cared for her, and changed her shitty diapers. When she was 5, I held her hand as we walked to her first day of elementary school. I watched her grow from a gangly, little girl with more questions than I could answer in to a young woman of fifteen planning for college.

"No father wants for their children to fight and die in a war hon.", I said sheepishly.

But hell, if everyone felt like that, you couldn't get a decent war off the ground, as Archie would say.

Posted by roadapples at 01:38 PM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2006

coal miner's worst nightmare

President Truman, 1948

"Miners found alive" the headlines of the local morning paper screamed. This is a headline that will surely go down in national media history. But unlike the funny headline to the left reporting Dewey's presidential win in 1948 by a landslide no less, this will go down in press history as the saddest.

I can not even imagine how the families of the Tallmansville, West Virginia coal miners must feel right now. This is another case of media frenzy, greed, misplaced competition to be the first, and downright maleficence.

Posted by roadapples at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2006

grandpa elvis 1897 -1971

Hand me my reading specs, Johnnie. They're over there on the dinner table by the red sugar bowl, the one your Grandma Elsie bought in Alanthis Grove when we were first married. Yeah, yeah, I know, stop whining. I know you don’t like me calling you Johnnie. It aint fittin' and all for a grown man in his 20’s to be called by a boy’s name. Now what was it you wanted to know? Oh yeah, you wanted to know about the particulars of my birth. OK, for the hundredth time, I’ll tell you the story one more time.

It was in the dead of winter in 1897, and your Great-Grandma was helpin' to bring the cows in when she got the pains. The both of them, my mom and dad, were over in the lower 40, this side of Indian Creek, when she yelled for my dad to go fetch Doc Williamson. Men don’t stand around asking stupid questions when their womenfolk tell them to fetch the doctor. It don’t take a lot of high falootin book learnin' like you got to figure that out. All I needed to do farmin' in my day was what I got by the third grade. Besides, there was no time for such luxuries 'cause dad had nobody else to help him with chores and there were six younger kids to feed.

Get me one of them fancy sodie pops from the ice box, will ya. My throat is gettin’ kind of dry from all this jawin’. They’re back there behind the powdered milk next to the left over cornbread.

Now where was I? Uuuhh... Oh yeah now I remember. Well sir, Dad got mom in the house, hitched up Brownie to the buggy and went for the Doctor. It was a good thing it was late afternoon after the Doc had made his rounds to the neighboring farms, tending to the sick, or Dad would have had a heck of time finding him. Not that Gentry County was all that big, mind ya, but it had just snowed five inches the night before and some of the roads weren’t near cleared yet. They had to stop at the Rawley farm to get Sadie Rawley. She was the best midwife in the county and she didn’t mind fixin’ a little somethin’ for the men to eat, as long as they stayed out of the way and didn’t cause a fuss.

Dad told me the whole job wasn’t much trouble, but Mom had a different take on the situation. It seems, I was what Doc Williamson called a breach baby. The Doc and Mrs. Rawley had to work way up into the night trying to get me to slide out. I guess there was a whole lot of hollerin’ and carryin’ on but finally it was all over about breakfast time.

Mrs. Rawley cleaned up, fixed some cakes with molasses and sausages for the men, and helped Doc Williamson with his team and buggy. The date was February 22, and I was the second child born to Henry Jackson and Olive Larue Dalbey. My sister Elsie was the first and there were six more to come after me: Zelpha, Raymond, Jackson, Vernetta, William, and my baby sister, Ermel Elizabeth.

Posted by roadapples at 01:02 PM | Comments (2)

December 27, 2005

sailor boy


Just a few hours to go and he would be heading for Syracuse on a three day liberty. Helen and the rest of the femme fatales would be waiting for him and his buddies for the endless party to begin. After a week or two of living with guys, showering with guys, eating with guys, smelling guys, he desperately needed to be in the company of females. The anticipation of a chance to smell perfume scented hair, listen to an educated woman speak of things he only pretended to understand, and feel a soft supple body in the darkness was almost unbearable.

The year was 1966. The Mustang was the coolest and the Beatles were the hottest in the Army town of Columbus, Georgia. Like all the other young men in John's high school senior class , he was preparing for life after twelve years of public school. Most of them were checking out colleges trying to find the perfect party campus. But poor boys like John didn’t go to college. Mr. Johnson had a place called Nam for poor boys like him. But there was no way John was going to be drafted into the fuckin’ Army. He had enough of that from his step dad, the drill sergeant. John enlisted in the Navy; he wanted to see the world. He saw the world alright; he saw the inside of every bar and flop house in the Caribbean. It made a man of him just like his daddy wanted.

There were a few times in John’s life when Lady Luck smiled on him. This was one of them. Instead of going to Nam, John spent his two years on a LST home porting in Norfolk, Virginia and floating around the Caribbean for four months at a time training with jar-heads.

The Caribbean is where he learned how to play a game called “let’s see if we can kill the new recruit”. It goes something like this. First you take some smuck recruit to a nice little bar in a sleepy sea side town on a tropical island like San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then have him poor shots of rum down quickly followed by Heineken chasers. Then when you get the poor slob so drunk he'd screw the ugliest goat in the barnyard, you give him a glass or two of straight Bacardi 120 proof rum.

Sound like a fun game? John woke up from a 24 hour sleep back at the ship with vomit all over him. One of his ship mates took pity on him and rolled him over on his side so he wouldn’t choke to death.


USS Waldo County, LST1163

Posted by roadapples at 09:35 AM | Comments (10)

December 23, 2005

christmas '52

For many people, this is a melancholy time of year. The wife is shopping and the girls are at the neighbors; the house is unusually quiet and still. The dog and I are napping in the over stuffed leather chair by the tree. Like a fine mist, a ghost from Christmas past slips in under the door jamb and fills me with wonderful dreams. They warm me like a nice Christmas wine. Slowly I awake and shake the sleep from my head. Then I remember a photograph these tired old eyes have not gazed upon for many years. I must find it before I forget about him again.

The old man in the photo above is my grandfather John Elvis Dalbey and that's me in the middle between brothers Tom (L) and David (R). Elvis, as every one called him, was not a tall man in stature; he stood only five feet five. He was not a man of any importance. He never held high office, although he always went to the polls in Gentryville and voted Republican because Lincoln freed the slaves. He was not smart in the ways of book learning; he had a third grade education. But he could tell you how many cords of wood was in a stand of timber with one good look.

Nobody ever sought his advice or asked his opinion. No matter because he wasn't one to give it even if they had. He was a man of few words and even fewer emotions. His farm was not the fanciest or had the latest implements. He did not get a John Deere until long after all his neighbors had at least two. Old Whisky and Buddy was all the horse power he needed to work eighty acres. And when he died in 1971, he was as poor as a church mouse.

No my grandfather was none of the things most people use to measure a life fully lived. But he was always kind and gentle to me and he was my father figure when I needed one. I miss him and wish him well wherever he is. Godspeed grandpa.

Posted by roadapples at 03:41 PM | Comments (11)

December 21, 2005

girlie house

In my next life I want to live in a house full of men. Which means I will be single (possible), female (not possible) or a homosexual (out of the question). Oh sure they look cute and cuddly in this snap from 1994 but don't let that fool you. They were eleven years younger then; now they are teenagers and that means I live with one grown and two almost grown women. My life is pure misery.

Guys don't worry about wet towels on the floor or a few paper plates and cups left on the end tables over night after watching a football game or a good shoot 'em up. With guys, I wouldn't have to put up with every episode of "Friends" ever made on the telley, girlie things in the bathroom or long blond hairs all over my clothes. The women I live with complain about a few tiny insignificant grey whiskers in the sink. I mean they are hardly noticeable. I don't even see them if I don't have my specs on.

And I have to contend with female hormones dripping all over the house and puddelling in the women spaces where they tend to gather. They squabble with each other over the smallest things then they make up and get all huggie and kissie. Ya ya, I know I sound like a male chauvinist pig. But guys don't worry about silly things like feelings. All we need is "how's it going dude?" once a day and we're good to go.

I wouldn't even miss the good night kiss from each of my women at bedtime. I don't think I would miss the "I love you, pops" and peck on the cheek in the morning before I go to work. I almost forgot about the breakfast in bed on fathers day with the scramble eggs and cheese just the way I like them. Maybe I should reconsider more carefully how nice it is sometimes after a long day at school when my youngest sits on my lap and says with that special smile, ” how was your day dad”. Excuse me a minute; I seem to have something in my eye.

On second thought, I think this life is as good as it gets; please forget what I just wrote.

Posted by roadapples at 09:12 AM | Comments (6)

November 23, 2005

farm boy


Like I always tells ya, Johnny boy, life ain't fair. If it were, teachers would get a decent wage and ball players would get peanuts. If life were fair, the good guys would always come in first and right would always win out, but we know that ain't so. I'll tell ya somthing else; there are two kinds of people in this world. There are the haves and the have nots. In most countries, if you were born in one then chances are slim to none that you could move to the other. But t'ain't so in the good ole US of A.

Now you take me for instance. I was one of the haves when I was brought into this world. When I got married to your grandma, Elsie, my dad gave me 80 acres and a house. It was a good farm too with good rich bottom land and a fair stand of timber. We always had plenty of fire wood for the winter and there was peach and pear trees. With the vegetables we raised in the truck patch and the fruit from the orchard, we canned food enough to keep us through the winter.

But it takes more than hard work to work a farm. It takes a little brains and luck too. I was short on one and, in the thirties when the depression hit, I did not have much of the other. I watched my kids almost starve to death. Slowly, season after season, my spirit died a littke bit more every time we had to go on relief. I was never the same after that.

But you, on the other hand, was definitely one of the have nots from the moment you were born. This picture was taken shortly after your mom dropped you off at our doorstep. It was 1952 and you must have been about three months shy of your fourth birthday. The only clothes you owned were the ones you had on your back. We had to cut down your uncle's overalls for you to wear. Your mom went to St Joe to find work and tried to send money home for you and your brothers but life was hard for a single mom in those days. There was no welfare like we have now.

Now you mind what I say and remember your roots, Johnny boy, when life gets you down and you don't think it can get any worse. I am glad to see you turned it around and I will always be here pulling for ya.

Posted by roadapples at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)