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Daddy’s Story: First Time Under Fire in WW II

“I got sick crossing the English Channel. All the men got sick because the waves were high and kept crashing into our boat.

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Our ship was full of men, vehicles, equipment. We landed in Rouen, France, on December 1, 1944, and we disembarked on December 2.

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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.

The small box that held my switchboard needed to be protected. I sent and received messages during my shift with it. As a radio operator, I transmitted to the battery and division headquarters. Those messages kept up connected with one one another at all times.

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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 to support the 345th Infantry. As we unloaded the trucks, we could hear the light and heavy artillery in the east.

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 then like whams. I could recognize the sounds of our American cannons. Our howitzers sounded stronger to me. No one slept.

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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, and I was ready for breakfast and a break. Suddenly enemy bombing started again!

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.

VINTAGE 1944 WWII US  ARMY 5 PIECE LOCKING MESS KIT TRAY, PAN & UTENSILS

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I heard the whine! My training kicked in, and I hit the ground. Before I covered my head, I saw dirt flying up in the air and men running for cover.

Men fell, 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 in the sights of their artillery at chow time 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 had instantly killed the me inside. medics grabbed stretchers and carried the wounded from the breakfast line to a makeshift clinic. We put out fires. Order reigned again, but lives had been lost.

Within feet, I saw friends die. It was all about where we were standing.

I have never forgotten.”

Samuel Moore Collins

Thank you for your service, Daddy!

 

 

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Five Things About Me

 

A couple of weeks ago, my publisher, Ambassador International of Tales of a Cosmic Possum, asked me to write about five things that most people don’t know about me. It was fun, so I thought I would share it with you.

I love movies! Whether it is Disney, James Bond, a romance, a musical, a mystery, or a history, movies entertain me. Going to a theater or watching on TV, I become mesmerized into the story. There have been times that I have wanted to become part of the fantasy, because it deeply touched my emotions. My preference is for happy endings, but the reality check of those with unresolved conflicts or some form of estrangement is also thought-provoking. Though identifying with the characters is fun, movies also stretch my mind/world view to see life through someone else’s lens.

When I was around four, I met President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a long line of people, my parents and I were outside a church in Augusta, Georgia. (Since then, I have found out that it was the Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, where the President attended in that city.) I can still remember that it was Daddy, then Mother, then me. As the President walked by, he shook Daddy’s hand and then smiled and patted me on the head. It makes no sense that I can still visualize this occasion, but I do. I guess I am supposed to have this one in my memory bank.

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Pulitzer prize-winning photo of Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower.

My grandmother Lulu used to regale my brother and me with stories of our relatives, both the unknown and the infamous. Over and over, we would ask for her version of our cousin, Jesse James. He was the son of a Baptist minister, but he robbed banks and trains. Supposedly, his crimes were payback for the way he and his family were treated during the Civil War. (Perhaps this scenario was similar to the legends of Robin Hood.) Jesse James had staunch friends and family that protected him during his life of crime. So interesting now as an adult that I was enamored with the romanticized thoughts of a cousin that chose to be a thief, so he could provide for his impoverished family.

Jesse and Frank James, c. 1872Jesse and Frank James, c. 1872

Robert Ford (Credit: The Print Collector/Getty Images)

Both my grandmothers and mother made jelly and preserves every year. They started the spring season with strawberry preserves, following that with peach and blackberry preserves, and ending with apple jelly in the fall. It saw that it was hot work, as they all dealt with the steam from the jars boiling and the fruit being brought to a boil. But it wasn’t long after I married that I chose to follow in their footsteps. There really isn’t much enjoyment from the process, but there certainly is in eating the finished product. I, also, enjoy sharing them with friends and watching their eyes light up with anticipated pleasure. If I could only bake biscuits, like those three ladies, to go with those preserves, I would be truly be a happy camper.

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Crime or mystery novels have always been a favorite of mine. Patricia Cornwell, Louise Penny, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, John Hart, and Tom Clancy are some of my favored authors through the years. To go along with this choice of reading, one of my uncles worked for the CIA. Somewhere it became part of my outlook that I would make a worthy agent. In my imaginings, I would capture Russian spies, save America, and never be taken prisoner. Traveling from one exotic place to another, I would make friends on every continent, but remain savvy as I found traitors and enemies. No, this never happened. In real life, I research to find truth about my characters and and use my creativity to construct and shape the worlds they live in, that I will never see.

Louise Penny has one of her characters say,

“The four sayings that lead to wisdom:
I was wrong
I’m sorry
I don’t know
I need help”

Sounds like wise statements to me. Do you agree?

 

Happy Birthday, Daniel Boone!

Daniel Boone
The above 1820 portrait is the only known portrait of him created during his lifetime.

American explorer and frontiersman Daniel Boone was born on November 2, 1734, in a log cabin in Exeter Township, near Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, Squire Boone, Sr., was a blacksmith and a weaver who met his wife, Sarah Morgan, in Pennsylvania after emigrating from England. They were Quakers. Daniel Morgan, famous for his win at the Battle of Cowpens, was a first cousin to this Daniel.

Daniel, the couple’s sixth child, received little formal education. Boone learned how to read and write from his mother, and his father taught him wilderness survival skills. Boone was given his first rifle when he was 12 years old. He quickly proved himself a talented woodsman and hunter, boldly shooting his first bear when most children his age were too frightened.

Boone Home in Pennsylvania

At age 15, Boone moved with his family to Rowan County, North Carolina, on the Yadkin River, where he started his own hunting business.

Daniel Boone did not attend school. His older brother’s wife taught him to read and write. Though he mastered the basics, Boone’s grammar and spelling remained poor. Boone could sign his name, though, which set him apart from most frontiersmen, who used an “X” for their signature.

Boone traveled the frontier wearing buckskin leggings and a loose-fitting shirt made of animal skin. On his leather belt he attached ahunting knife a hatchet, a powder horn, and a bullet pouch. Many images portray Boone wearing a coonskin cap, which was popular with trappers. Boone preferred wide-brimmed beaver felt hats to keep the sun out of his eyes.

In August 1756, Boone wed Rebecca Bryan, and the couple set up stakes in the Yadkin Valley. Over a 24-year period, the couple would have 10 children together. At first Boone found himself content with what he described as the perfect ingredients to a happy life: “A good gun, a good horse and a good wife.” But adventure stories Boone had heard from a teamster while on march ignited Boone’s interest in exploring the American frontier.

1778 depiction of Boonesboro

Boone’s fame stems from his exploits during the exploration and settlement of Kentucky. One time he said, “I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” He first arrived in the future state in 1767 and spent the better part of the next 30 years exploring and settling the lands of Kentucky, including carving out the Wilderness Road and building the settlement station of Boonesboro.  His son, Nathan Boone, was the first white man born in Kentucky.

 Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851–52) is a famous depiction of Boone by George Bingham.

After his death, he was frequently the subject of heroic tall tales and works of fiction. His adventures—real and legendary—were influential in creating the archetypal Western hero of American folklore. In American popular culture, he is remembered as one of the foremost early frontiersmen. The epic Daniel Boone mythology often overshadows the historical details of his life.

Walt Disney hired Fess Parker to bring Daniel Boone to life in a series by the hero’s name. It ran for six seasons, and my brother and I enjoyed each episode. The theme song described this hero as the “the rippin’est, roarin’est, fightin’est man the frontier ever knew,” and we believed it.

As Daniel Boone said, “I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences.”

On September 26, 1820, Daniel Boone died of natural causes at his home in Femme Osage Creek, Missouri. He was 85 years old.

“Cotton Mill Colic”

Doffers and sweepers, 1908. Lewis Hine. New York Times

Doffers and sweepers in 1908

McCarn wrote “Cotton Mill Colic” in 1926. Released on record in August, 1930, it was soon being sung by striking Piedmont mill workers. Absolute truth about the lives of mill workers was real to the cotton mill families. Probably it is McCarn’s best composition; revealing with wry humour the often grim situation of the millhand unable to get straight financially.

When you buy clothes on easy terms,
Collectors treat you like measly worms.
One dollar down, then Lord knows,
If you can’t make a payment, they’ll take your clothes.
When you go to bed you can’t sleep,
You owe so much at the end of the week.
No use to colic, they’re all that way,
Pecking at your door till they get your pay.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

When you go to work you work like the devil,
At the end of the week you’re not on the level.
Payday comes, you pay your rent,
When you get through you’ve notgot a cent
To buy fat-back meat, pinto beans,
Now and then you get turnip greens.
No use to colic, we’re all that way,
Can’t get the money to move away.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

Twelve dollars a week is all we get,
How in the heck can we live on that?
I’ve got a wife and fourteen kids,
We all have to sleep on two bedsteads.
Patches on my britches, holes in my hat,
Ain’t had a shave, my wife got fat.
No use to colic, everyday at noon,
The kids get to crying in a different tune.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

They run a few days and then they stand,
Just to keep down the working man.
We can’t make it, we never will,
As long as we stay at a lousy mill.
The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer,
If you don’t starve, I’m a son of a gun.
No use to colic, no use to rave,
We’ll never rest till we’re in our grave.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

5. According to the photographer, everyone in this family photo works at the mill.

According to the photographer, this Spartanburg family all worked in the cotton mill.

16. This photo taken in May 1912 shows a young boy walking ahead of some adult workers.

The boy above was Eddie Norton, who worked in Saxon Mill, Spartanburg. He has just completed a twelve-hour shift, along with those behind him. He probably made around 40 cents an hour, but this contributed to the family’s finances.

High hopes and dreams of a weekly pay check, a home, and a steady job brought the first workers to the cotton mills. Leaving the Appalachian mountains, their lives became controlled by a mill whistle, but the families stuck together. Both young and old might stay “worn slap out,” but “if your blood kin, then ye stick together no matter what.”

The Mill Village Company Store

When new mill workers left their homes in the Appalachian mountains. they brought little. A farm wagon carried both the family and their household goods. The mills provided houses to rent, schools for the children, sometimes a rec hall, and a company store.

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Looking back at his childhood memories, Gerald Teaster recalls the  Company Store where his parents worked.

The best way to describe the Company Store is to say that it was a smaller version of a Wal-Mart store today. It was way before its time. It had many more items for sale than a typical small town general store of that era. It was a combination hardware, furniture, grocery, clothing, shoe and sporting goods store, all under one roof. 

There was no other store anywhere close to Pacolet that had the variety and quantity of things for sale that the Company Store had. In looking back, there were almost no stores in the city of Spartanburg that had the variety of things it did. Probably, the only store that could have come close to matching it would have been a Sears store. Spartanburg did have a Sears but I don’t think that it was opened until the early 1950’s.

As a child, I remember my parents taking me to the Company Store to buy me shoes and boots, usually when school started. (Many children, myself included, went barefooted almost all of the time from about May 1 until the first day of school in the fall.) 

When I came to the store with my parents for other things, I always left them to go and look at the sports equipment, particularly the baseball gloves and bats. The store also sold all sorts of fishing equipment, and if I remember correctly, rifles and shotguns, .22 bullets and shotgun shells. I think that you could also order coal for your fireplace and ice for an icebox at the store.

During the Depression, the mill sometimes paid their employees with their own script. These paper coupons could be used in the company store just like money. Also, employees could set up a charge account at the store. Charging items one week would be subtracted from their pay checks the next.

John’s mother bought most of her staples at the company store at the Union Mill. Lois had a twenty-five pound bin in a kitchen cabinet with an attached sifter, so she would buy that size bag of Martha White flour to fill it up. She bought five pounds of dried beans, ten pounds of sugar, salt, hog feed all in cloth bags. All these cloth bags were recycled into either clothes or household uses.

She filled her own metal cans from an available metal drum; Tom and John lugged it home for her. The Excelsior Mill made socks and threw away the tops when they were trimmed. All the women went to the mill’s trash bin to gather up the sock tops. Then they made hot pot pads with them. The boys used those pads to carry the kerosene can. (Those pads also made good Christmas presents.)

King Syrup was another staple in her household. This maple syrup in a one gallon can didn’t last long with four sons. Lois baked biscuits every morning, and they were drenched with homemade butter and syrup. A church key opened the can, and it had to be wiped clean after use to keep the ants away.

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Sewing notions were a popular item at the company store. Lois bought material, buttons, snaps, zippers, and thread. Using her pedal-driven Singer sewing machine, she was a whiz at creating clothes from her own patterns that she had made from newspapers.

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Mason jars were another staple in the Ingle household from the Company Store. Lois put up everything from her garden and fruit trees. Then whatever anyone else shared was canned for use later.

John and Tom owned a Radio Flyer. Each time, Lois went to the store, the wagon traveled with her. Empty on the way there, but filled to overflowing on the road back home.

Tomorrow, I am meeting some friends at a restaurant here in Spartanburg. The name is The Standard, and it is located in the old Company Store at Drayton Mills.”The building has a cruciform layout, a slate hipped roof, and pressed tin ceilings inside. During the mill’s heyday, the building housed a grocery store, post office, business offices, and other operations.”

Isn’t it a good thing when buildings can be restored? I believe I will wonder where the King Syrup and bolts of cloth once were available.

 

 

Christmas at the Cotton Mills

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There was always a Christmas program at the mill school. Children memorized parts of the Christmas story from Luke, stood in a row, and recited it, verse by verse. The children learned carols, and some sang solos. The school presented its program during the week of Christmas during school  hours. If parents weren’t working the first shift, they attended, sat in uncomfortable straight back chairs, and beamed at their children’s performance. Mothers were the mainstay of those in the audience.

The company filled the bags with just the right amount and variety of fruit, candy, nuts, peanuts, and jelly. Because fruit was scarce and sweets were dear, these bags were appreciated.  Folks who were unable to come to the mill received home delivery. Some mills gave each family a turkey for Thanksgiving and a ham at Christmas.

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Most mills presented to each employee of one year service or longer, a check in the amount of one week’s salary. Those who had been in the employ of the Mills for less than one year received checks in proportion to their time of employment. The workers, who were children, would receive monetary gifts of $1-$3.

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Fireworks were part of the celebrations in the village. Early in November, catalogs from distant companies arrived in the company store. Orders would be shipped by railroad express. Packages of All American Boy, Noisy Boy, and others would arrive for only a few dollars.

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Parents worked hard to put food on the table during the Great Depression. Sometimes the dad would trade for silver bombs for their sons. It made a powerful popping sound, and soon the air was full of those pops. Late-sleepers had a sudden awakening when a silver bomb was thrown on their porch.

Most families had a tree. Christmas trees were decorated with lead icicles and small  snow  flakes that the mothers crocheted. Strings of popcorn and berries were woven around the limbs.The cut trees were either a small pine or holly found in the woods and nailed to a wooden base.

The wives baked chocolate and coconut pies, fruitcakes, and chocolate and coconut cakes. They were for company and family who might drop by and couldn’t be touched until Christmas day.

Mill families lived a hard life. It took the adults and children working to make ends meet. Christmas didn’t erase this life style, but for a day they were forgotten.

 

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Bill Shephard writes about what he bought for his family in 1935 with money he earned by selling trees he cut down and splitting some wood for a neighbor.

My Christmas earnings now totaled ninety cents! If I didn’t earn another penny, I could purchase a gift for every family member and have some left for myself, and that is exactly what I did!

A small tea-set for my sister cost a dime. A pretty box of ladies handkerchiefs for Mom cost another dime. A necktie for Dad, which he never wore, and a pair of socks for each of my brothers, cost ten cents each. I still had forty cents left for myself! I purchased a box of ten rolls of caps for the cap-pistol I knew I would get from Santa, and six boxes of firecrackers, along with two boxes of sparklers. I still had a nickel left with which to buy a large bag of p-nut brittle for me.

Mr. Shephard learned early how to stretch a dollar.

Depression Hobos and Aunt Annie Mae

The two-story boarding house proudly graced the corner of Green Street and Boyce Street in Union, South Carolina. It faced the Union Mill.

     Painted white, like all of the other mill village houses, the windows sparkled in the June sun. Annie Mae Bobo was an excellent cook, but she also took pride in keeping her household spic-and-span.

     Her eight male boarders felt blessed to pay room and board for one dollar a week. Two men shared each of the four upstairs rooms. The bachelor’s ages extended from sixteen to nineteen.

     Annie Mae and her daughter Noddie, a family nickname for Norma, washed the sheets and swept the rooms once a week. She provided her own handmade quilts for warmth in the winter. Opening the two windows in each room brought in fresh, and sometimes cool, air in the spring and summer. Available for spit baths and shaving were a pitcher, bowl, mirror, and towels.

          A single, light bulb in a brass socket, dangling from the ceiling, provided pale light at night. Two, black wires loosely crawled up the walls and across to the socket from the switch beside the door. Green tape partially held the two wires together.

     The outhouse was only yards from the back door. That forty-yard dash was not inconvenient to anyone, and it was a two-hole necessary house.

These are the opening lines of the short story, “Annie Mae” in my new book, Tales of a Cosmic Possum. (available October 14, 2017) Annie Mae was one of my husband John’s aunts, and she had a open heart. She often reminded her children, as well as all within earshot, to “do right by the good Lord, he’p yer own kin, he’p others ye meet along the way.”

Hobos lived a life on-the-go; most of them traveled from one job to another by train.

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In the hobo villages, family safety was a concern, and ingenuity was the answer.

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Finding food was a constant problem. Hobos often begged for food at a local farmhouse. If the farmer was generous, the hobo would mark the lane so that later hoboes would know this was a good place to beg. They took jobs no one else would take.

Hobos created items to sell for some spare change. This cup was made from a tin can, a hollow stick, and some copper wire.

The Hobo Code was quickly learned; it was a survival tool. Life as a hobo was difficult and dangerous. To help each other out, these vagabonds developed their own secret language to direct other hobos to food, water, or work – or away from dangerous situations. The Hobo Code helped add a small element of safety when traveling to new places.

The diverse symbols in the Hobo Code were scrawled in coal or chalk all across the country, near rail yards and in other places where hobos were likely to convene. The purpose of the code was not only to help other hobos find what they needed, but to keep the entire lifestyle possible for everyone. Hobos warned each other when authorities were cracking down on vagrants or when a particular town had had its fill of beggars; such helpful messages told other hobos to lie low and avoid causing trouble until their kind was no longer quite so unwelcome in those parts.

Since Annie Mae and her husband Roy’s house wasn’t far from the railroad, their home would have seen many of these hobos. This couple had little in the way of worldly possessions or ready-money, but they believed in and daily lived out the Golden Rule.

Matthew 7:12 (NIV) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets.”

Whether a cup of cold water from their well, several apples picked from the apple tree in the back, or a left over biscuit from breakfast, Annie Mae shared what she had. She loved her neighbor.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Perhaps the question for me and you today is “Who is my neighbor?” Annie Mae would tell us anyone we meet “along the way.”