Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Go Up to Yonkers & Turn Left

When Grandpa Locker, my Dad’s Dad got out of the Navy, he was discharged in New York City (this was probably about 1927).  The Navy gave him enough money to get him back home to Dayton, but he was young and footloose and decided to see the sights and sound of the "Big Apple" for a while before returning.

Grandpa in about 1980

Well he ran out of money fairly soon (the Navy home transport stipend was only enough for the cheapest method of travel – bus).  He picked up a little money doing some odd jobs, but after a few weeks he’d seen enough of New York and was ready to head for Dayton.

He planned to hitchhike, since he'd spent his transportation funds, but he really wasn’t sure how to get to Dayton.  He and a friend went to the Public Library to look at some maps and plan a route.

After they’d looked over the maps, his friend turned to him and said, “Well it looks like you go up to Yonkers and turn left.”

That was all the directions Grandpa needed.  Off he went.

On the way back he made one detour -- he's always wanted to see Niagara Falls.  His ride wasn't actually going to the falls, so he was dropped off a few miles away and he began to walk.  As he got closer to his destination he began to suspect that something was wrong with his hearing.  There was a buzzing or roaring noise that wouldn't seem to go away.  He wondered if it was a problem caused by the loud noises he'd been exposed to in the Navy.

Tom, John, Nina & James
Niagara Falls 2009
The roaring keep getting louder as he walked.  The thought came into his mind that the noise was coming from the falls, but he dismissed that as he was still a long way away and he couldn't believe that the mere sound of water going over a cliff could be that loud so far away.

Of course, Granddad had never seen anything like Niagara Falls -- the noise he'd heard so far away was inded the "mere sound of water going over a cliff."

He viewed the sights only for a few minutes before he stumbled across someone heading to Ohio.  A few days later he was back on Air Street.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Accent & the Chelsea Boys

Even though they speak the same language, often people who live in different parts of a country have regional accents which differentiate the way they speak.  Often residents of one part of the country are amused by the accents of those from elsewhere.

When I was a kid and we visited Massachusetts the people we talked to there often commented on our “accents.”  Of course we Ohioans all thought that we talked “normal” and that they were the ones with accents.

Here is a story that my Mom tells about an accent-related incident that occurred in Chelsea when I was about 10.  I don’t remember this, and actually might not even have been aware of it when it happened, but Mom was there and witnessed it.

There was a boy who lived right across the street from Daddy Con for several years.  He was in the house on the northwest corner of Clark and Webster.  I wish I could remember his name because we became pretty good friends and I remember being sad the summer when we came for our visit and discovered that his family had moved.  Of course, I never saw him again.

Anyhow, one day this boy was playing out in front of his house with a local friend of his.  I was across the street on the sidewalk near Daddy Con’s house playing with some toy soldiers.

The boy said to his friend (Mom heard), “See that kid over there?  He has a really funny accent.”

“He does?” the friend asked.

“He sure does. Listen,” then he called out, “Hey Tom.”

I looked up and said, “Huh?”

The boy turned to his friend and said, “See!”

Monday, March 19, 2012

In the Trenches With Daddy Con

Daddy Con served in the US Army in WWI.  I’m not sure exactly what motivated him to join, but he was able to gain US citizenship by doing so.  He was in Company C of the 321st Regiment of the 81st Division.  To get a good idea of what his experience was like, I recommend reading Fix Bayonets by John William Thomason, Jr., which he wrote just after the War.  Thomason’s book is about the Marines, but the Marines and the Army had very similar experiences and assignments in the “Great War.”

Some of the soldiers in Company C were from Massachusetts and some called it the Massachusetts Company.  Although there were men from all over the US in these all of its units, the bulk of both the 321st Regiment and the 81st Division were made up of men from North Carolina.

When the Division was put together in the Spring of 1918 they trained at Camp Jackson, S.C.  There is a stream nearby called Wildcat Creek. During their training they created “Wildcat” shoulder patches so they could identify each other quickly in combat. When they went to France in August 1918 they called themselves the “Wildcat” Division.  With a few short breaks they were in combat from that time until the war ended on November 11, 1918.

81st Division Shoulder Patch

The Division participated in the Meuse-Argonne & Alsace-Lorraine campaigns.  A short book about Daddy Con’s Regiment – The History of the 321st Infantry: with a Brief Historical Sketch of the 81st Division, was written by Clarence Walton Johnson just after the War.  Daddy Con’s name is on page 167.  This book is still in print and available for purchase.

Company C's most intense day of combat was November 11, 1918.  The Armistice wasn't assured and the Army's attacks went forward as planned.  Just before dawn, the infantry of Company C prepared to go "over the top." Knowing nothing about the armistice, they climbed out of the trenches and attacked the Germans at 6:00 A.M. The advance had scarcely begun when the Americans were met with heavy machine gun and artillery fire.

“We were lucky that morning. . . . ” many soldiers of the 81st Division recalled. “They would have killed us all if it had not been foggy.” Under intense fire, they attempted to run forward a few times. But every time they started, the Germans “cut weeds down around us” with machine gun fire.

The men of Company C were having a difficult time, “We were taking machine gun fire and we were crawling on the ground. The shells were bursting overhead and the machine gun bullets were hitting all around.”

The soldiers of the 81st Division endured five long hours of combat. Then, all at once, everything stopped. It was exactly 11:00 A.M. no one knew what to do. Some remained on the ground until they saw officers walk out in front of them. One officer hollered, "It’s all over, the war is over, it’s all over and you can go home now!" They started getting up pretty fast after it got quiet, and some of the boys were hugging each other.


Map of 81st Division travels
after landing at Liverpool
Daddy Con told several stories about his time in the trenches.

There was a Sergeant who made it obvious that he had a great dislike for Daddy Con and a few other soldiers in their squad (Daddy Con suspected that this dislike might have been triggered by their penchant for filling their canteens with wine instead of water.).  One day the Sergeant selected a group of men to go on a "night raid" -- a patrol to reconnoiter enemy positions and to capture a prisoner (for interrogation) if possible.  Everyone knew that these were dangerous and that it was possible to run into a great deal of trouble. 

Here is how one WWI combat veteran described these raids: "[A] raiding party with blackened faces and armed with wire-cutters, grenades and bayonets would crawl across no-man's-land to its assigned target...  once the raiders reached the target they would charge [the enemy] and immediately bring back as many prisoners as survived."

While they were on the patrol Daddy Con realized that all the soldiers sent on this assignment were men that the Sergeant had expressed his contempt for.

As it turned out, the patrol was uneventful and no prisoners were taken.  Daddy Con and another soldier reported in to the Company HQ afterwards to give their report.  While they were reporting to the Company Commander, the Sergeant who had sent them walked it.  Daddy Con said his face showed obvious surprise to see them. Daddy Con believed that the Sergeant had expected/hoped that some of them would not come back.
81st Division Infantryman


During an artillery shelling Daddy Con and another soldier were huddling together in one of the trenches.  The shelling was noisy and frightening, but they’d been under fire before and felt pretty safe as, unless there was a direct hit, the trenches offered pretty good protection.  Some of the shells the German fired were “airbursts.”  They exploded while they were still in a the air, a set distance above the ground, sending warhead fragments (shrapnel) down on the target, spreading out much like shotgun pellets (only much bigger and traveling faster).

Moments after one of these “airburst” explosions, the rifle (an Enfield M1917) Daddy Con’s companion was holding across his lap broke into a thousand pieces.  A piece of shrapnel had hit the rifle, destroying it.  Neither of them were injured, but they both knew that if the fragment had followed a slightly different path, they could have been seriously wounded or killed.


One day during WWII Daddy Con showed Mom a picture in the local paper of a French town recently liberated by Allied troops.  Daddy Con told Mom, “I was on that street during WWI.”  He pointed out a restaurant in the picture.

During a time when his Company had been pulled out of the line, some had been given leave in this town.  Daddy Con wasn’t given leave – he was put on Guard Duty.

John with M1917 .30'06 Rifle like
the one Daddy Con carried.
“My job,” he told Mom, “was to parade (march back and forth) in front of that restaurant and not let any soldier get in there to get a drink.  I didn’t feel too good about that as I thought, after what we’d been through, that if a man wanted to wet his whistle, he ought to be allowed to.  But I didn’t want to get sent to the stockade for disobeying orders either.

“But I knew that they couldn’t punish me if someone snuck in when I wasn’t looking.  So I’d march down the street.  When I got to the end of it, I’d stand there, with my back to the restaurant, for about 30 seconds. Then I’d turn and march back to the other end of the street, and again, I’d stand with my back to the restaurant for a time before turning around.  I never saw a single soldier go through that door, but every man who wanted a drink managed to get one.”


This website has some good information about the 81st Division.

SS Manchuria - the ship Daddy Con came home on.
After the war Daddy Con returned to the Boston area.  He mostly worked as a “fireman” tending the steam engines that powered the equipment in the textile mills in the area.  He was working for Maverick Mills when the company decided to relocate to South Carolina (this was probably in the 1950’s) to be closer to the cotton growing areas and to take advantage of cheaper labor.  The company was happy with his work and wanted to employ him in a similar position in the new location.   Daddy Con decided not to go.

His decision was at least partly based on his experience in South Carolina when he was training there during WWI.  He didn’t like the way the people there treated Blacks and Catholics.

Ranger Things

When you work outdoors as a Ranger and Ski Instructor, as I did for most of my life, you are very aware of the weather and the change of seasons.

Rangers have a very precise way of determining when the various seasons begin.  Summer begins the first day that you decide to eat your lunch in the shade instead of sitting in the sun.  Fall begins the day you decide to sit in the sun while eating your lunch, instead of the shade.

Winter’s first day is when you decide to sit inside your vehicle to eat lunch.  And Spring begins when you think sitting outside in the sun feels better than staying the vehicle.


 Out in the forest one day shortly after I transferred with the Forest Service to California I noticed a fern-like plant with little white flowers.  I asked a co-worker what it was called.

“Oh,” he replied, “that’s bear clover.”

What an odd name I thought, “Why do they call it that?”

He leaned on his tool for a moment, looked up at the sky and then said, “Well, I guess it’s ‘cause it’s not clover and bears don’t like it.”


Friday, March 16, 2012

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman's Chinese Theatre is a movie theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. It is on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame but is probably most famous for the concrete blocks in its forecourt, which bear the signatures, footprints, and handprints of many movie stars.

Mom & Dad were both very interested in it and the first time they came to California (1976) it was high on their list of places they wanted to see.

I’ve seen two movies there.  In the spring of 1977 I was visiting LA with friends from Shaver Lake who had family near LA.  Looking in the paper I saw that there was a science fiction movie playing at Grauman’s.  I’d always wanted to see the inside of the theater (I’d been in the forecourt before, but not inside the theater) and I liked science fiction movies, so I suggested to my friends that we go see it in a matinee.  None of us knew anything about this movie, but everyone thought it would be a fun way to spend the afternoon.

When we got to the theater we found that there was a bit of a queue.  I was surprised as having to wait in line to get into a movie was very rare.  I could only remember this once or twice before and those were for movies which “everyone” was trying to see.  We’d never even heard of the movie we were intending to see.  Eventually we got in and found seats – the theater wasn’t crowded. 

It was a gorgeous theater and quite interesting to gawk about.  We knew that many world premieres had been held there, as well as Academy Award events, so as we waited we speculated on which famous stars and celebrities had sat in our seats at one time or another.

Finally the movie began and it began spectacularly.  The music and sound effects were incredible.  The first scene was a space ship coming in low at the top of the screen and it was so realistic that I wanted to duck my head.  Moments later an even bigger ship came onto the screen and the feeling of needing to duck was even more compelling.

So, do you know what the movie was?  It was the first Star Wars (now called A New Hope).  Yes, I first saw it at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and had not heard anything about it before then.  I saw it before anyone I knew saw it and before it became the phenomenal hit that it became later that summer.

The next time I was in there was May 16, 1984.  Again, I was visiting LA with friends.  The Natural, a baseball movie starring Robert Redford, was playing at Grauman’s.  We went over to see it.  When we came out into the forecourt after the movie there was a “buzz” in the air.  It was immediately obvious that something notable had happened.  There was a security guard standing nearby and I asked him what was going on.

He replied, “Lucas and Spielberg just put their hand and foot prints in concrete over there.”  He pointed to a group of people standing across the forecourt.  “You just missed them,” he added, “They just left about five minutes ago.”

We walked over and looked at the still-wet concrete, roped off and heavily guarded.  I think there were actually some LAPD officers there, it wasn’t just private security.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daddy Con & the Red Sox

Daddy Con in about 1925
I’ve always loved baseball, especially when I was a kid.  Back then I knew the starting lineups of just about every team, where they were in the standings and where they had finished in prior years.

Before I started High School we used to go visit my Mom’s family in Boston every summer.  Daddy Con was an ardent Red Sox Fan.  He’d sit at his chair by the back door looking out over his yard and Broadway listening to the games and smoking his pipe. Boston was usually losing in those days and I can remember him standing up and saying, “I think I’ll get another bottle of beer.  Maybe that’ll change their luck.”  He’d go down to the basement for a bottle of Old India Pale Ale, but I don’t remember it ever changing the Sox luck.

During our visits Daddy Con and I frequently argued (good-naturedly) about which team was better – my favorite, the Cincinnati Reds or his, the Boston Red Sox.  My argument was that although Boston had some good players (Ted Williams in particular) they were losers, as, during my short life, they usually finished each season near the bottom of the standings.  Although I didn’t realize it, looking back, the Reds weren’t much better during that era.

Now that I’m older I realize that about the time Daddy Con, a teenager or very young man, moved to America and settled in Boston, another young man (only six months younger than Daddy Con) was also just beginning life in Boston.  That man was Babe Ruth.

Ruth warming up for the Red Sox
at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1914.
Yeah, that’s right Daddy Con and the Babe are almost exactly the same age.  While most connect Babe with the Yankees, he spent his first five years in the Majors with the Sox.  He was a great player right from the start.  And those early years with the Sox were Daddy Con's first years in America

It’s easy to see how Daddy Con became a Red Sox fan.  I’m not sure exactly when he came to America, but the Sox were very successful around that time, winning the World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916 & 1918.  It’s easy to imagine a young man, eager to “fall in love” with his adopted country, being swept up in the excitement of rooting for the Sox, especially with a charismatic player like Ruth on the team.

Daddy Con never mentioned ever attending a game, so I don’t know if he ever saw Ruth in person.  In 1961 Dad, Uncle Johnny and I attended a game at Fenway.  They played the Cleveland Indians (and since we were from Ohio I rooted for them).  We sat in the right field stands and Ted Williams hit a homerun that came right towards us although it landed many rows in front of us.  Jimmy Piersall also played in that game, for the Indians, and hit two homers – one of which cleared the screen above the “Green Monster”.  I was very impressed by that.

In 1993 I was in Boston.  Mom & Dad were there too.  We decided to see a Sox game and went to see them play the Twins.  As we talked we realized that, for all three of us, it was the second game we'd seen at Fenway.  The game Dad & I had seen with Uncle Johnny was our only other time in Fenway.  It was nearly 32 years previous.  Mom couldn’t remember what year she'd seen her previous game, but she did remember that Lefty Grove pitched for the Red Sox.  Grove’s last season with the Red Sox was 1941, so it had been at least 52 years since Mom’s last time in the Fens!

Now to change the subject a bit – Babe Ruth was of German heritage.  So are we on my Dad’s side.  In fact, the maiden name of one of my Great-great-grandmothers was Ruth.  Ruth is not a common surname, so there is some chance that we might be related.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dad & Ol' Thunder

When my Dad was a boy for a time he raised Homing Pigeons.  He never had them do any cross-country flights.  He just kept them in a coop in backyard of the house on Air Street and took care of them with food and water.

I’m not sure how many he had, but one was a large male he called Ol’ Thunder.

This is about how Dad described Ol' Thunder
 It might seem barely credible, but Dad could easily recognize Ol’ Thunder, even from a distance.  Dad explained that while Ol’ Thunder’s basic dark grey/light grey feathering was pretty common, “There was something about the way he looked that I could just recognize.  I couldn’t explain to anyone else how to tell him from the other pigeons, but he was unique to me.”

Dad said that sometimes Ol’ Thunder would follow him around the neighborhood.  “I’d see him on a branch outside school, then later in the day he’d be on the telephone wire by our baseball field.  But he came home every night.”

At least once, Dad told me, he and his Mom took the bus downtown and Dad saw him on a building ledge near the store they visited.