‘Little Suzi’ and Tony the Pony

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi saved a small part of her lunch every day to feed it to her new friend, Tony, the pony who lived in a grassy lot between two tall houses on the city block between her school and her happy little house on Azalea Avenue.

In a lot surrounded completely by a farm fence exactly as tall as Little Suzi was a tiny grey barn. For a long time, Suzi thought it was an empty barn left over from the olden days of the town. She often imagined the pigs, goats, and chickens that must have lived there years ago. Little Suzi wished the animals were there still and that she could feed them and take care of them in the barnyard.

In her mind, Little Suzi saw pigs wallow, baby goats jump up on their mothers’ backs, and sheep dogs herd lambs back to the pen. All these things she had seen in books her mother read to her when she was even more little than now. All these things she saw in her imagination.

While she stood at the fence beside the sidewalk, Little Suzi absent-mindedly took a red apple from her lunch bag and began to take small bites. She hadn’t had time to finish her lunch at school because Albert, her invisible friend, wasted too much time putting up their paints and glue. Of course, Albert never actually ate any food. He kept Little Suzi company while she ate quickly so that she could sit up close in front of the teacher for story time. That’s why she often had an apple left over from her lunch. Apples take a long time to eat.

It was exactly the apple from her lunch on this particular day that Little Suzi was eating when she first met ‘Tony’ the pony. Of course, he did not introduce himself to Suzi and Albert when he came clip-clopping slowly out of the shadow of his small barn. Suzi and Albert waited excitedly by the fence.

“I wonder what his name is?” Little Suzi said to Albert. Continue reading

Living in the Shadow of the Nuclear Warhead – A ‘Glow in the Dark’ Memoir

During the nation’s historic period of the Cold War, I was busy growing up in a small town—a Secret City—wholly and specifically constructed by the federal government during World War II to develop and produce the world’s first atomic warhead. The Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, made components for nuclear weapons, and the K-25 plant made highly enriched uranium for the same purpose. As a direct result, my civic duty as a five-year-old boy moving to the town with his parents in 1957 was to attend school during weekdays and otherwise stay out of the house, because when my father was off shift from the Y-12 plant, he needed sleep. The facility operated around the clock, and my father’s rotating ‘shift work’ schedule meant that he must sleep during the daylight hours some weeks, midday hours some weeks, and at night other weeks. Life for me became complicated.

My days were taken up with school and my afternoons with play. I spent the remainder of my time reading or sleeping. On weekends, I stayed at friends’ homes or Mother took me out for almost any activity at all, including something as mundane as seeing some kid’s new puppy in a box or as crushingly boring as a ‘pasting party’ for S&H Green Stamps. Imagine two or three mothers and their hostile kids—having been pressed into service—arrayed around a kitchen table sponging stamps and filling the pages of those onerous, wrinkled trading books (although my mom did trade them in for a nice set of TV dinner trays once). To be fair, we kids usually got our fill of sugar cookies and milk in the bargain.

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‘Little Suzi’ and Ol’ Patch

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Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi moved at the end of summer with her mother, Wilma, into a small apartment in a town that was new to them both. At first, Little Suzi didn’t want to move at all, because it meant leaving her grandparent’s house in a city where she had lived all of her seven years so far. And, worse yet, it meant leaving her granny and granddaddy behind.

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“You’ll miss me too much,” Suzi told her granddaddy. “You won’t have anyone to play checkers with or watch boxing on TV. And who’ll help you dig dandelions out of the yard before you mow the grass?” And later, Suzi told her granny, “Who’ll lick the big spoon when you make chocolate icing? And who’ll watch the cookies and cakes in the oven so they don’t burn?”

Little Suzi’s mommy didn’t want her daughter to feel sad, but it couldn’t be helped. “I know you don’t want to leave Granny and Granddaddy,” Suzi’s mommy explained. “Neither do I, but we must. The old factory where I work—the one Granny and Granddaddy worked in years ago—well, it’s closing down. I was lucky to find a new job in a town near here. It’s not really very far away. We can visit Granny and Granddaddy on weekends.”        

Little Suzi understood, but something else was worrying her now. “How will I get back here to my school after we move?” She liked her school and she liked her teacher at the red brick schoolhouse in the city. And she liked her little friends in her class. 

“Will a bus pick me up and bring me there?” she asked her mommy.

“Oh, no, darling!” Suzi’s mommy answered. “It’s much too far away for that.”

“You mean I can’t go to school anymore?”

Little Suzi was nearly in tears at the thought of being alone all day with nothing to do and no grandparents or friends to play with (except, of course, her imaginary, invisible friend Albert).

Suzi’s mommy smiled at her daughter. “I would never move to a town with no schools! You’ll have a new school in our new town and you’ll make new friends.” Then she hugged her daughter close to her skirts and patted her hair to comfort and reassure her.

Little Suzi’s invisible friend Albert had been quiet until now, but he couldn’t hold out any longer: Well, that’s too bad. I could do without any old school. First grade was alright, but now that place takes up a lot of our play time, what with all that useless readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic and such.

        

Suzi heard what Albert said, but she decided to wait until her mommy left the room to scold him. “I like school,” Suzi told the silly boy. “Besides, you need to go to school. You don’t want to grow up ignorant, do you?!”

But Albert apparently didn’t care about growing up ignorant, because he answered her by crossing his eyes and sticking out his devilish tongue at her.

 

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***

It was not very long before Little Suzi found herself living in the new town with her mommy and getting ready to start her new school. They did miss Granny and Granddaddy, but Suzi would be very busy in school, so the sunny autumn days would go by quickly. All was well—and even Albert had to admit their new garden apartment in the town was a nice place to live—but there was one big change that Suzi had not expected. Continue reading

My Best Day Fishin’…Ever

I looked forward to retirement more than many, I think, because I longed for a day of leisurely fishing not rushed by weekend chores and family commitments. And it’s not like I don’t live close enough to good fishing holes to make it easy for me to get out there. A number of man-made lakes and outstanding fishing creeks are located less than an hour from my home in East Tennessee.

Crappie run well here in the spring, so one Saturday morning a fishing buddy from across the street and I hooked up my 17-foot skiff just after daybreak and took off for Clear Creek cove on Tellico Lake. The ‘creek’ runs as a current about 30 feet below the surface off the main reservoir built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1979.

After our drive across the Fort Loudon Dam bridge that morning and our arrival at the Clear Creek boat ramp, the boat engine started right up on the second crank after sitting idle through the whole winter. In just a few minutes, we were off the trailer, through the highway overpass, and on our fishing hole for a promising day.

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‘Little Suzi’ and the Rotten Bananas

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi and a little boy named Denny played together behind his house atop Highland Avenue. Suzi’s mother often brought her over for a visit, because her mommy, Wilma, and Denny’s mommy, Nancy, had been best of friends since high school, and they lived only one block away from one another even to this day.

On a particularly nice Tuesday in June, Suzi and her mommy got up early in the morning to have breakfast before getting ready to go to Denny’s house. They decided to have pancakes and maple syrup, which Suzi called ‘maple surple’ because it was fun to say. (She learned that from her granddaddy.) When they had finished eating and then scraped their plates into the kitchen garbage can and washed and rinsed them in the sink, Suzi’s mother reminded her to go wash her face and brush her teeth to get ready to go to Denny’s house.

“May I take Albert upstairs with me? Or do you need him to stay here in the kitchen and help you?” Suzi asked her mother that morning.

Albert was Suzi’s imaginary friend. He was a little boy her own age who went with her everywhere—even to school—and sometimes got her in trouble. When she was little, before she grew big enough to go to school, Suzi often talked to Albert out loud. But after she started first grade and some of the kids at school teased her about it, Suzi whispered to Albert, unless she forgot.

“You can take Albert upstairs with you. I won’t miss him,” her mother replied with a slight smile. But then she added, “I don’t want to hear any more sob stories about how you can’t find your hairbrush because Albert used it on the neighbor’s dog or how you can’t clean your teeth because Albert lost your toothbrush…again. I found it between the towels in the linen closet this time, you know.”

“We had better get on upstairs, Albert,” Suzi whispered to her imaginary friend.

Okey dokey, dominokey, Albert replied to Little Suzi. That was one of Albert’s favorite sayings. He also liked ‘easy peazy, lemon squeezy,’ and so did Little Suzi. Continue reading

What Are You?

One day in May, a strange animal swam about in a pond.

He asked every animal he met the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a frog.

“I’m a frog, of course. Why do you ask?”

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“Am I a frog?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have webbed feet like a frog. Do you jump like a frog?”

“No, I do not jump,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a frog,” said the frog.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond.

He asked every animal he met the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a duck.

“I’m a duck, of course. Why do you ask?”

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“Am I a duck?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have a long flat bill like a duck, and you have webbed feet like a duck.

Do you quack like a duck?”

“No, I do not quack,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a duck,” said the duck.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond. He asked every animal he met

the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a beaver.

“I’m a beaver, of course. Why do you ask?”

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“Am I a beaver?” the animal asked the beaver.

“Well, you have a wide flat tail like a beaver, but do you have big sharp teeth

to cut down a tree?”

“No, I do not have big sharp teeth,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a beaver,” said the beaver.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond. He asked every animal he met

the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked an otter.

“I’m an otter, of course. Why do you ask?”

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“Am I an otter?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have a slick furry coat like an otter, but do you have a long tail

to help you swim under water?”

“No, I do not have a long tail,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not an otter,” said the otter.

Finally, the strange animal stopped swimming about

and thought to himself: 

I am not a frog, but I have webbed feet.

I am not a duck, but I have a long flat bill.

I am not a beaver, but I have a wide flat tail.

I am not an otter, but I have a slick furry coat.

What kind of animal am I?

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“Why, you’re a platypus, of course. Why do you ask?”

 The End

‘Little Suzi’ and the ‘Noculation

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi traveled downtown to see her doctor with her mommy, Wilma.  For this visit, they did not travel the several city blocks there on a bus or in a cab, as they usually did. Instead, they rode in a car that Suzi’s mommy borrowed from her friend Nancy (her best friend from high school days who now lived only one block away).

“We’re running a little late for Suzi’s pediatrician appointment,” Wilma had told her friend over the phone at noon on this beautiful but hot summer day. “Suzi isn’t back from helping her granddaddy tie stakes to his tomato plants next to his backyard shed. I need to borrow your car if we are going to make it to the doctor’s office on time.”

“Well, my little Denny is still taking his nap,” Nancy told her friend, “so why don’t you walk over here to my house and get the keys and drive yourself?”

“That’s wonderful of you,” Wilma replied gratefully. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

And so Suzi’s mommy put on her red lipstick, picked up her black clutch purse, put on her sunglasses, tied her new sky blue silk scarf around her hair—to block the wind from the rolled down car windows—and walked briskly up the block to Nancy’s house.

“Thanks so much, Nancy,” Wilma said on the front porch as her friend handed over the keys to the four-door Buick parked on the street outside. “You’re a life saver.”

It was just a week before school would start for Little Suzi in the first grade at the red and white brick schoolhouse only two blocks away from their small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue. And so Suzi’s mommy needed to get her child’s inoculation record up to date to show the school nurse on the first day of class.

“What’s a ‘noculation?” Suzi had asked her invisible friend Albert after hearing her mother talk about it to Miss Nancy on the phone earlier in the week.

I don’t know, Albert told his friend, but I think the nurse sticks medicine in your arm and then gives you a lollypop if you’re good. Can I have one too?

“A ‘noculation?”

No, a lollypop!

“Sure,” Suzi told Albert. “You can have mine if the nurse won’t give you one of your own.”

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‘Little Suzi’ and the Cat-tastrophe

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Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi was sitting quietly on the back stairs of her house and reading a favorite book about a brave girl who had great adventures, met many odd people and creatures in strange places, and even fought a dragon once.

“I want to be like Alice when I grow up,” Little Suzi told her imaginary friend Albert who was sitting beside the little girl (hoping that she would read to him out loud, which she very often did).

I want to be like Alice, too! Albert exclaimed to his friend.

“But, she’s a girl,” Little Suzi was careful to explain. “You’re a boy.”

Oh, replied Albert with disappointment. Well, read to me anyway.

Little Suzi had just started a new chapter when Denny, her play pal from up the street, came walking through the alley that ran behind and between their houses atop Highland Avenue. As usual, Denny was proudly wearing his Roy Rogers cowboy hat and shirt and his cowboy boots. The pant legs of his blue jeans were tucked inside the boot tops, the way a real cowboy would do.

Denny often came over to Suzi’s house on Saturdays to play ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Little Suzi would be Pocahontas (she had real Cherokee moccasins of her own) and Albert would be her papoose—whenever she could talk him into it.

But this particular morning, Denny carefully cradled an old shoe box in his arms, and from Suzi’s perch on the back stairs, she could see something furry and small moving about inside it, which interested her very much.

“Want a kitten?” Denny asked cheerfully as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “Mommy says I can’t keep it.” Continue reading

Turtles at the Beach

A ‘Kylie Anne’ poem

A little girl turtle swam in the sea
Alongside her mother and father.
They took her on swims in the swirling surf,
And they fed her whatever she wanted.

At night is when they liked to swim most
(like little kayaks, but rounder than boats).
At morning light, when the air was soft,
They would climb out and go about crawling.
All that swimming, you see, was tiring for three
Turtles with tummies empty and gnawing.

Out on the beach, there’s not much to eat
For turtles all weary and hungry.
So what might they like? What might be tasty?
Could it be strawberries and pastry?

If it’s not what the pelicans swoop down and dive for
Or what the seagulls hover and cry for,
What would you think might light up their eyes
When they stop at their ‘seaside diner’?

Like blueberry pancakes for granddaughters like you,
What makes these turtles so happy?
Do you have a guess? Do you have a clue?
If not, let me help you think it through…

If you had a beak, and not your teeth,
You might like things that are crunchy.
Not spaghetti, not cheese,
Not honey from bees,
Not biscuits and blackberry jelly,
Not hot dogs and beans,
Not cake with ice cream,
No, not even cotton candy.

For turtles big and small,
Just so you will know,
Their favorites are…
Seaweed and jellies!

‘Reservations Knot Required’: Locking through with the Tennessee River Boys

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 “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”—Benjamin Franklin (attrib.)

If ever you’ve been on a quiet lake in summer, late in the day when the sun is low on the horizon and your body and mind are at peace with the world, you might be privileged to witness the spectacle of thousands of shimmering diamonds of reflected sunlight dancing across ripples of waves on the surface. It’s a soul-mending suspension in time like a liquid dream. But let me stop you right there, because my dream of a trip down the Tennessee River began with a discussion about bologna and beer, not a crock of wimpy poetic stuff.

I had only contemplated the idea—just the possibility, really—of taking a long-range river trip before I got too old or too lazy. I started thinking about it after I discovered through my lovely, dear wife (she may be reading this over my shoulder right now) introduced me to Jack, the spouse of a former teacher colleague of hers. The introduction was well-intended as our wives knew we had a love of boating in common, but they later regretted it, because at every opportunity from that point on, we discussed boats and taking a boating trip ad nauseam. Jack and I had our first serious phone conversation about a trip down river several months after our first meeting. It occurred at the very end of winter at the height of our cabin fever and went something like this:

“How many days would it take to go from here all the way down the Tennessee and back, do you think?” Continue reading

BINGO! The Education of ‘Schoolboy’

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In 1970, Cookeville, Tennessee, was just another gas stop off the interstate between Knoxville and Nashville, but it did have a reputable state-supported college that I could afford to attend if I got a night job and watched my savings account closely. At first, I was staying in an inexpensive ‘business class’ motel just outside of town while I looked for a place to live. I had arrived a week earlier from a small town in the Cumberland Mountains—where I grew up—and registered for classes using money saved from my job at the Valu-Mart working nights and weekends during high school.

The college had dorms, but I needed to find a place I could afford on my own. Checking the bulletin board in the university center for ‘spaces to rent’ from local residents, I spotted a couple of likely ads. But the first one turned out to be a made-over garage behind a widow’s house, and the ‘apartment’ was more like a tiny warehouse with a cement floor, a half frig, a laundry sink, and a single bed tucked in a back corner. It may not have had a tub or shower—I can’t recall now—but I know it didn’t have a real door. To get in or out, you had to open and close the garage bay door. I confess I was attracted to the idea that I could sleep with my car—you know, like a cowboy might sleep in the livery stable with his horse. But I never went back to the place for a “second viewing,” as the real estate agents say.

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“Bears” in the Camp­ground!

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a boy named Ken became a Boy Scout because he loved to hike in the mountains among the trees. Before he was old enough for the Scouts, Ken had often imagined himself as a young Daniel Boone in the pioneer days, scouting for deer or bear in the woods and camping by the streams at night. These were great adventures that called on him to use all his bravery and skills to survive. So as soon as he was old enough, Ken joined his friends in sixth grade who were already Scouts. They sometimes hiked all day among the trees and streams, cooked their dinners in the evenings at campfires on the mountain, and pitched their pup tents near streams that ran down over the rocks and into the valley.

In spring and summer, the mountains were cool on hot days. Fog shrouded the creek banks and coves until the mid-morning sun burned off the mists and heated up the trail. Deer ran quietly through the lowlands at dawn and dusk. They were far off and beautiful as they crossed the damp grasses and jumped over old stone or split rail fences in the fields.

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