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Howitzers and Can Openers

“Tell me again, Granddaddy. I want to hear about how those German guns missed you! Tell me just one more time.” Sam’s grandson smiled encouragingly.

Sam knew the ten-year-old Scott wouldn’t give up until the story was told once again. The boy was a persistent rascal!

The two sat on the bank of Page’s Lake in Spartanburg, South Carolina. After Sam cast his line, he carefully sat down in a lawn chair and held his cane pole. Scott would expectantly stand closer to the water for a while and then suddenly plop down beside his granddaddy. There was no pattern to their fishing ritual; it was all about lazy enjoyment.

The fish weren’t biting, but the two weren’t ready to leave yet. They both had pulled in a few carp but threw the scavengers back. It was a fine, spring Saturday, and they didn’t have an agenda.

Sam had stopped to buy a can of worms at A & B Aquarium on their way to the lake. The can was full of red wigglers, Scott relished the challenge of trying to pull just one worm out from the wiggling mass. Then he struggled to bait the hook; the worm always lost.

“I remember you got sea sick crossing the English Channel. You said all the men got sick because the waves were high and kept crashing into your boat.”

Scott’s blue eyes looked straight into his granddaddy’s blue eyes. The young boy searched for the adventure story, and the older man blinked at the horrific memories.

“What was that town’s name in France where you landed?” Scott questioned. “It’sbeen a long time since you told me the story, and I reckon I forgot.”

“The town was Rouen, Scott. We landed there on December 1, 1944. Our ship, full of men, vehicles, and equipment, crossed the English Channel, and we disembarked on December 2. We bivouaced…”

“Granddaddy! I don’t remember what bivouac means!”

The seventy-five year old patiently replied, “It’s like the camping you do with your Scout troop. You plan to stay only a night or two, so you don’t have much equipment. You say camping, soldiers say bivouac.”

“That’s right; we can’t carry much in those backpacks,” Scott nodded.

Scott’s grandfather smiled at the equipment his grandson packed. Sam had helped Scott pack for many of his Scout camping trips. In 1944 Sam’s pack was certainly not crowded with packages of beef jerky, hot dogs, ramen noodles, marshmallows, and peanuts.

Sam pictured many of his meals during World War II. The army C-rations werepacked in twelve-ounce cans; the meat and vegetable hash was the best. The potatoes and carrots were recognizable in those cans, but the soldiers didn’t want an ID on the meat. Beef jerky and peanuts were never included in their C-rations, but cigarettes were.

As Scott walked over to cast his line, Sam began reminiscing again. “We set up our general headquarters in a small building next to the main house on a large farm. The smell of the former inhabitants, cows and horses, permeated the space, but we were grateful to be out of the cold.”

“Your radio needed to be out of the weather, didn’t it, Granddaddy?’

“Yep, the small box that held my switchboard needed to be protected. I sent and received messages during my shift. As radio operator, I transmitted to the battery and division headquarters. Those messages kept us connected with one another at all times; we communicated through telephones and switchboards.”

Sam raised his voice a smidgen for emphasis. “You know, Scott, in wartime, knowing where your friends are is just as important as knowing where your enemy is.”

Scott’s granddaddy never missed an opportunity to share life lessons with him.

“Sometime earlier, the farm had been attacked; the fields and buildings were badly damaged. My unit was called the 334th Field Artillery Battalion. Our mission was tosupport the 345th Infantry. As we unloaded the trucks, we could hear the light and heavy artillery in the east. Do you remember the difference between light and heavy artillery, son?”

The boy grinned and turned to his granddaddy. “Yes, sir! Every time I visit the Citadel with you, you show me the howitzers at theend of the parade field. Those howitzers are light artillery, and you had bigger cannons in the war. Heavy artillery cannons could bust up and level a building. They were awesome!”

“That’s right, Scott. There were hills around that farm. All night long the booming of the cannons pounded our ears from those hills. Their howitzers and our howitzers were in a relentless drumming contest. Sometimes they sounded like thuds and sometimes like whams, I could recognize the sounds of our American cannons. Our howitzers sounded stronger to me.”

“Guess it was sorta hard to sleep that night, right Granddaddy?” interrupted the younger fisherman.

“It was almost impossible,” murmured his grandfather.

Sam laid his fishing pole down and opened the cooler beside his chair. It was too early for their picnic lunch, but it wasn’t too early for a pack of Nabs and a Coke. The Coke bottle was cold to his touch. He agreed with the slogan, “There is nothing like a coke.” Sam believed in the Coca-Cola product so much that he had purchased 100 shares of stock in that Atlanta-based company.

He reached for his tackle box to get out his bottle opener. Just the other day he had found three of his P-38 C-ration can openers. Sam was going to give one to Scott to take on his Scout trips. He opened the bottle and took a long swig.

“Scott, put down your fishing pole, and let’s take a break. Before I continue my story, I want to show you the army’s best invention.”

In seconds, the pole was lying on the ground. Scott reached for his Coke and crackers. Sam handed him one of the can openers.

“Is this a new opener, Granddaddy? I haven’t seen this before.”

“New to you, but old to me,” responded Sam. “I carried these during the war. Every soldier had at least one; some carried extras on their dog tags. It is a P-38 C-ration canopener. It won’t rust, break, and never needs sharpening. Besides being a can opener, it could be a knife or screwdriver. Sometimes I used it to clean my boots or fingernails.”

“That’s a strange name for a can opener,” remarked Scott

“Well, I heard two stories about its name. One was that it got its name because it took thirty-eight punctures to open a C-ration can. Sometimes I thought one of the puncture-counters didn’t pass third grade math. It took a few more punctures than thirty-eight when those cans were frozen.

When we were in the Ardennes forest, everything was frozen, even us. My feet got frostbitten; I couldn’t feel them when I walked. It was days before they started tinglingwith blood again. And that’s why I don’t like snow to this day!” Sam adamantly said.

“Granddaddy, I love sledding and snowball fights, but frostbite probably wasn’t fun at all.”

They both shook their heads at the same time.

“I also heard the can opener was named after our P-38 fighter planes. Besides being a good cold-weather plane, it was the fastest fighter plane in the American arsenal. Whichever story is true, these can openers are a symbol of my life during the war. Take this one on your Scout trips from now on; it will come in handy.”

“Thanks, Granddaddy. I’ll put it to good use.”

“Now, let me finish my story. Then we can get some more fishing in before lunch.

It was our first night in France, and I had been on duty taking and sending calls since midnight. My switchboard was set up about ten feet inside the building. It was early morning around daylight, and I was ready for breakfast and a break. Suddenly bombing started. I was in the Coast Artillery at the Citadel; I had trained on the large artillery and recognized their sounds. The Jerries had zeroed in on us right at breakfast time. Many soldiers were standing in line with their mess kits to get breakfast from the mess truck.”

The veteran stepped back from his vivid memories for a moment.

“In fact, Scott, your camping mess kit is almost exactly like the one I carried during the war.”

Looking across the lake at the horizon, Sam restlessly leaned forward in his chair. He could still hear the shrieks of the bombs and the screams of his friends. He swallowed hard.

“My training kicked in; I hit the floor! Before I covered my head, I saw dirt flying up in the air and men running for cover. Men fall where minutes earlier they were standing, drinking coffee, and talking. Several soldiers piled in around me, and others ran under trucks and toward the cellar for protection. The enemy had us! We were zeroed in the sights of their artillery at chowtime with no cover. In minutes, the barrage was over. Our howitzers began firing back; the firing wasn’t one-sided any more.

We all ran to help our buddies. A shell had fallen on a truck cab; it instantly killed the men inside. Medics grabbed stretchers and carried the wounded from the breakfast line to a makeshift clinic. Fires were put out. Order was restored to our camp, but lives had been lost. That was my first encounter with enemy fire.”

The memories brought Sam’s words to a standstill.

Scott reached over, grabbed his granddaddy’s hand, and squeezed it.

“I sure am glad you weren’t in that breakfast line, Granddaddy.”

With a broad smile, Sam turned to his grandson, “Me, too, son, me too!”

(Before my dad died, he told me about this first experience in WWII of being under fire. I wrote his memories as a short story and decided to share it. Our celebration of Veteran’s Day is soon, and I will miss calling Daddy to wish him a great day and thank him for his service.)

“The Screw that Saved America”

Suzanna M. White shared this, and I thought it was worth reposting. I had never heard this story of the printing press.

“The Screw that Saved America”

The year was 1620. The crowd of passengers crammed into the small vessel numbered 101. Among them were adventurers, seekers of fortune…and a group of Separatists who wanted a fresh start in a new land where they could worship as they saw fit.

We’ve all heard the story of the Mayflower. But I confess that for many years it was just a tale trotted out at the end of November, and I had always been far more interested in making paper-bag Indian vests and coloring my cornucopia than in some of the finer details of the Pilgrims’ journey. Of course, that was before I became a history nerd, so it’s only to be expected that now, as I’m reading those old stories to my kids in our homeschool curriculum, they’re the ones coloring happily away while I pause in my reading to go, “Wow, I never knew that! Just think of it…”

Just think of it. This collection of Separatists who called themselves Pilgrims were starting an entirely new life in a new, unfamiliar world. They had to bring with them anything they might need for the first year.

Seeds for planting.
A printing press.
A fishing boat, to set up a trade.
Lamps and oil.

The Pilgrims saw God in every aspect of their lives, every event that took place. They trusted Him to deliver them to their new home in His way. But I imagine as the storms rocked the small Mayflower, as they had to batten the hatches and huddle together in a space the size of a volleyball court yet again, a few of them probably wondered if they’d made the right choice.
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882

But this storm was worse than the ones that had come before. This storm howled and raged. The Mayflower was tossed through the waves. Boards groaned. Wind ripped. Small children whimpered and hid their faces in their mothers’ skirts.

Hushed assurances turned to panic when the Mayflower rolled to her side. They would go down, surely. The lanterns swung. The hull moaned. Then boom!

A sailor rushed belowdeck. “Watch out, everyone!” he called to the frightened mass of people. “The crossbeam that supports the main mass has cracked! It could give way at any moment!”

Everyone hurried to help. All the men tried to hold that crucial timber into place. But this was beyond what mere arms could do. Brewster and Bradford, leaders of the Pilgrims, looked to the wide-eyed captain.

“We must pray,” Bradford said.

They did. And the idea came instantly to Brewster. “The printing press! We must find it!”

Now, as an author, I’m all for words saving the day. But in this case, it wasn’t what the press could produce that saved the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, and hence America as we know it. It was the press itself.

The people scrambled to the hold where they’d stored all their furniture and larger items, and soon enough a shout came out that they had found the press. Brewster hurried to it and took off the enormous screw that was the press, the thing that applied pressure to put ink on page. This giant screw was then hauled into place on the cracked beam.

“Slowly,” Brewster cautioned. “Carefully.”

And it worked. The screw pushed the beam back into place–and held it there. The Mayflower survived the storm, and at that point she was closer to the New World than the old. They pressed onward. Forward.

To a land that would soon become home to so many.

I’m not sure when Brewster could reclaim his screw press, but you can be sure he did–the Pilgrims put high stock in education and the written word. A mere 16 years later, they founded Harvard College. And helped forge a nation that would never forget them.


Charleston Firsts

In 1952, the First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Charleston published a small booklet called Famous Charleston Firsts. I found a copy of it in my parents’ memorabilia and thought you might enjoy some of them, too.
1. First book jackets in America were made in Charleston by Issac Hammond in 1890. He opened a book store at 10 Broad Street and designed the jackets to protect rare editions. A salesman from Harper Brothers took the idea back to his New York City publishing house.
2. First woman artist in America was Henrietta Johnson, who worked in Charleston between 1707 and 1720. Her subjects were mainly women, but her best work is a portrait of Robert Johnson, Governor-general of His Majesty’s Province of Carolina.
3. First weather observations ever to be recorded were made in Charleston by Dr. John Lining in 1738. He took a daily reading from his home at Broad Street and King Street. As a physician, Dr. Lining studied the effect of weather on the human body, seeking to find out how a rising thermometer affected people.
4. First fire insurance company was organized in 1736. Known as “The Friendly Society for the Mutual Insurance of Houses Against Fire,” the company maintained its own fire fighters, who carried buckets and ladders. After 4 years, the huge Charleston fire of 1740 consumed half the city and ruined the insurance company.
5. First American cotton exported to England was shipped from Charleston in 1748. The shipment consisted of 7 bags and was valued at roughly $875.
6. First submarine to sink a man-of-war in actual warfare took place in Charleston harbor in 1864.The Confederate submarine Hunley sank the USS Housatonic by exploding a torpedo under her. The wave thrown up swamped the submarine.
7. First railroad in America was built in 1830 from Charleston to Hamburg, SC. The first passenger train, “The Best Friend,” made its initial trip in 1831. Newspaper report said, “The passengers flew on wings of the wind, annihilating space and leaving all the world behind at the fantastic speed of 15 mph.”
8. First building in America of fireproof construction was the “Fireproof Building” overlooking Charleston’s Washington Park. It was designed in 1826 by Robert Mills, designer of the US Treasury Building and the Washington Monument. (It is now the home of the SC Historical Society.)
9. First independent government in SC, and the second in America, was formed in Charleston in 1776 in what is now the Exchange Building on Broad Street. The assembly authorized the issue of $600,000 for start-up.

Our state has much to be proud of. Its history has spanned centuries, and South Carolinians still choose to remember its influence.

At a writing conference yesterday, I read part of this list to teachers and encouraged them to look for the stories in research. Dry facts do give us information, but it is the people who make those facts come alive.

“Charleston is an extraordinary place. There is a deep connection between the residents and nearly three hundred and fifty years of history, and those ties between daily life and the distant past are strengthened by the occasional glimpse beyond the veil.”
― James Caskey, Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City

National Angel Food Cake Day

Who knew that this delicious cake had its own special day? Truly, Facebook is full of information.

This is John’s favorite cake, and I enjoy making them for him. A slice with strawberries and ice cream would be his preference. This is always his birthday cake.

It is light, soft, and virtually fat-free. A knife isn’t necessary, because it can be torn apart. I have seen children mix it in a bowl with ice cream. (Yes, I admit I was one of those children.)

Here is one recipe.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup cake flour

12 egg whites

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon salt


1 Move oven rack to lowest position. Heat oven to 375ºF.
2 Mix powdered sugar and flour; set aside. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until foamy. Beat in granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, on high speed, adding vanilla, almond extract and salt with the last addition of sugar. Continue beating until stiff and glossy meringue forms. Do not underbeat.
3 Sprinkle sugar-flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over meringue, folding in just until sugar-flour mixture disappears. Push batter into ungreased angel food cake pan (tube pan), 10×4 inches. Cut gently through batter with metal spatula.
4 Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until cracks feel dry and top springs back when touched lightly. Immediately turn pan upside down onto heatproof funnel or bottle. Let hang about 2 hours or until cake is completely cool. Loosen side of cake with knife or long, metal spatula; remove from pan.

This cake can be a secret weapon when it comes to dessert ideas. Even if you buy one from a grocery bakery, a showy homemade dessert is yours in no time .

Here are Pinterest boards with more ideas on how to serve this cake. and They are all finger-licking good to me.

Enjoy your angel food cake. I do believe I have those twelve needed eggs in the refrigerator!

Pumpkin Bread

Ten more minutes before I take out my first two loaves of pumpkin bread. It is such an easy recipe, and now my whole house smells like a bakery.

The wind is sweeping the branches in the back yard. Would you believe I have the little heater on in the sun porch and the back door is open. I guess I want our backyard to smell the bread, too.

My recipe makes two loaves, one to keep and one to share, I enjoy that kind of baking, don’t you?

Toasted pumpkin bread with butter is on the breakfast menu for tomorrow, and we will enjoy those smells once again.

It’s the rhythm of this season, just as there is natural rhythm in this poem written during the Victorian era.

“When the Frost is on the Punkin”
By James Whitcomb Riley

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …
I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

No, we haven’t had that first frost yet, and the apples are still a’plenty, but it won’t be long before “…the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”

“The Gingerbread Boy”

Some of the Appalachian stories have become well known as folk tales and are even taught in schools. They are usually quite short, except for the Jack tales. The Scots-Irish brought them into our country in the 18th. century.

The calendar says it’s fall, and the clear blue skies and color-changing leaves attest to the truth. Pumpkin patches are open for business, pansies are for sale, and mothers hunt packed up sweaters for their children.

My grandmother passed on her gingerbread recipe to my mother, and it was a favorite whenever it was served. It is different in the additions, and I thought you might want to try it. Using your own favorite gingerbread recipe, serve it in a bowl topped with sliced bananas, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then several spoonfuls of brown sugar sauce. Not only does it make a picture presentation, but its sweetness will be remembered. In my opinion, it is worth every calorie!

Here is “The Gingerbread Boy” written in dialect.

One time there was an old woman and old man. They had a little boy and a little girl.  The old woman decided to bake some gingerbread. She made out one gingercake in form of a boy an’ put it in the baker an’ put the led on it an’ some coals on the led an’ went out in the garden to he’p her ol’ man do sump’n an’ told the boy an’ girl to watch it.

            She hadn’t been out of the house long till the baker led jumped off an’ the gingerbread boy jumped out o’ the baker an’ took out o’ the door an’ right down the road. The little boy an’ girl took after it an’ the old man an’ woman seein’ them a-goin’ took after them.

            They run an’ run, but the gingerbread boy just kicked up his heels and run off an’ left them. He run an’ he run till he passed by a field where some men was workin’. “Where’ye goin’ Gingerbread boy they said. Stop an’ we’ll eat ye. “No ye won’t,” said the gingerbread boy, “I’ve outrun a little boy an’ girl an’ an old man an’ woman an’ I’ll outrun you.” An’ he just kicked up his heels an’ run off an’ left ‘em.

            He run an’ he run till he come to dog trottin’ down the road. “Where ye goin’, gingerbread boy,” asked the dog. “Stop an’ let me eat ye.” No you won’t,” said the gingerbread boy, “I’ve outrun a little boy an’ girl, an’ old man an’ woman, an’ some men an’ I’ll outrun you.” An’ he kicked up his heels an’ run off an’ left the dog.

            So he run an’ he run till he come to a cow feedin’ in a pasture. “Hey,” said the cow, “where ye goin’, gingerbread boy?  Stop an’ let me eat ye.” “No ye won’t” said the gingerbread boy, I’ve out run a little boy an’ girl, an’ old man an’ woman, some men, a dog an’ I’ll outrun you.” An’ he kicked up his heels an’ run off an’ left the cow.

            So he run an’ he run till he come to a fox comin’ out of his den in a cliff. “Ha, ha,” said the fox, “where ye goin’, gingerbread boy, stop an’ let me eat ye” No ye won’t” said the gingerbread boy, I’ve outrun a little boy an’ girl, an’ old man an’ woman, some men in a field, a dog in the road, a cow in the pasture, an’ I’ll out run you.”   

        “Wait a minute,” said the fox, “I didn’t hear what ye said, I’m almost deaf. Come a little nearer.” The gingerbread boy went closer an’ said “I’ve outrun a little boy an’ girl, an old man an’ woman, some men in the field, a dog in the road, an’ a cow in the pasture, an’ I’ll outrun you.” “Can’t hear a thing you say,” said the fox, “come a little closer.  The gingerbread boy walked right up to the fox an’ the fox grabbed him an’ eat him up.

I had the privilege of teaching kindergarten for several years, and this was one of my favorites to share with them. We even went on a hunt to find the gingerbread boy who had been carefully hidden ahead of time. They loved the repeating line of “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.” There were clues to follow, and he was always found. Then we brought him back to a gingerbread feast.

So run, run  to the kitchen as fast as you can to bake some gingerbread. The smell will fill your house, and you will know it is fall.

“Shall We Gather at the River?”

My husband John was baptized in a lake in Union when he was 13. After he was baptized, he struck off across the lake to the other side.

His mother stood on the bank hollering “John William, get back here.” Finally deciding that this was not swim time, John turned and swam back to the shore where he started. Mom’s hissy fit subsided, and all was well.

I have a picture in my mind of this adventure that always causes me to laugh. Mother and son had a word of prayer later, and the other adults in the congregation must have had a good laugh, too. They were also probably quite content that their children had not chosen to swim after their baptism.

Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist pastor of several large churches, and a music editor at Bigelow Publishing Company.

One hot afternoon in July, 1864, as he was resting on his sofa, visions of heaven pervaded his senses. There was an epidemic in the city causing many deaths. In his imagination, he saw the bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful, cool, crystal, river of life. He began to wonder why there seemed to be many hymns that referenced the river of death, but very few that mentioned the river of life. As he mused, the words and music to “Shall We Gather at the River” came to his heart and mind.

“Shall We Gather at the River” became a favorite song of camp meetings, water baptismal services and funerals.

We used to drive to Hendersonville to visit my great-grandmother. Sitting out under the trees beside her house, her sons, daughters, grands, and great grands would gather for visiting on those Sunday afternoons. There was a lot of storytelling and singing; that family loved to sing. We, children, would often march around to those old gospel songs; “Shall We Gather at the River” was one of them.

Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?M

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

This song brings smiles to both singers’ and listeners’ faces. The rhythm is catchy, and I know it can easily sweep children into a march.

Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

Whether singing in the shower, loading the dishwasher, or with a group, singing is a good thing.


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