The Persimmon Tree That Ate Superman

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, before twenty-four-hour cartoon channels, Disney apps, Nickelodeon, YouTube, and such, there were Saturday mornings.  Every Saturday was like Christmas except better.  Well, maybe not better, but Christmas only came once a year. Saturdays came once a week. 

For a child, it was the best morning of the week.  Sitting in front of our black and white TV with a plate full of Dad’s pancakes watching the good guys beat the bad guys without anyone drawing blood until the Saturday afternoon movie reruns took over or Dizzy Dean, singing “The Wabash Cannonball” with his little pardner Pee Wee Reese doing the color commentary, brought us the Major League Game of the Week sponsored by Falstaff beer.

From the time the local TV station’s test pattern was replaced by a US Flag with forty-eight stars and the National Anthem played, Saturday mornings in the Fifties and Sixties were dedicated to children’s programming.  Looney Tunes,  Merry Melodies, Tom and Jerry, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bill, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans, even a Japanese Sci-Fi cartoon about a battleship turned into a spaceship, Star Blazers…wait.  That was in the Seventies.  I guess I never outgrew cartoons.

I liked the cartoons.  I did.  But there was something about the syndicated serials that ran along with them. “A Fiery Horse With the Speed of Light, a Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Heigh-Yo Silver! THE LONE RANGER!” Let’s not forget his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, or other oaters like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and The Cisco Kid, “Hey Cisco, Hey Pancho”.  There was even a modern cowboy, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”, flying in his faithful steed, The Songbird. Modern for the Fifties. Finally, Captain Midnight, pilot of the Silver Dart and leader of the Secret Squadron, spoiled saboteurs while hawking Ovaltine and secret decoder rings.

I watched them all but my absolute favorite was something else entirely.  George Reeve was the man of steel, and he didn’t need a horse or an airplane.  He could fly!

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

Intro to the Adventures of Superman. YouTube

.38 caliber bullets bounced off his chest like popcorn and he twisted the pistol they came from into a pretzel, crushed coal into diamonds, used his X-ray vision to see through walls or burn up asteroids, and he could fly.  He was my guy! 

Oh, Noli, my grandson, I remember the four-year-old you in your Spiderman costume.  You had all the Spider moves down pat.  Me?  I was limited to a red union suit with one of Mom’s towels safety-pinned to my shoulders. The things you did to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

I did have a small closet to use as a pretend telephone booth and twin beds to “fly” between. Clark Kent might have a problem in these modern times since there are no telephone booths to make quick changes in.  Bummer.

Too many times I heard, “Son! Quit jumpin’ on that bed before you break it down!”  I was reduced to running through the house pretending to fly. I got yelled at about running in the house and finally took the game outside.  “Quit slammin’ that screen door, boy!”

Reduced to running until the fateful day I walked into the  Woolworth Five and Dime and saw the Transogram Superman Flying Toy.  For less than a dollar, I could watch Plastic Superman fly, soar, bank, loop, glide, or dive.  It said so, right on the package.  I imagined the flash of red and blue sailing through the air.

The Superman Flying Toy was a plastic glider powered by a slingshot affair that would tear your arm up if you weren’t careful despite the package assurances, “Safe for children of all ages.” Right!  It taught lessons, painful lessons I’ll say.  He was also a blond-headed Superman that looked nothing like TV Superman.

I had to beg for a three-week advance of my allowance, but I walked out with the last package and into hours of fun with Superman…until that damnable tree intervened.

A huge persimmon tree sat, majestically…no…ominously, to the left of my grandparent’s home.  It was a pain when the fruit began to fall.  A pain for me, not the possums that reaped the tree’s bounty. How many times did I come in with rotting persimmon pulp oozing from between my toes?  Persimmon pulp mixed with dirt, resembling puppy poop one might have stepped in.  At least it didn’t have the same aromatic properties and the possums partaking of the fruit seemed to like it.

The bottom limbs had been lopped off to allow the blue Rocket 88 my grandfather drove to park under it.  Without lower limbs, it was impossible to climb unlike the pecan tree on the other side of my grands’ front porch.  It also created persimmon Kryptonite for my Superman glider.

At some point in time, I found it necessary to replace the long and thick rubber bands that powered Superman and set about to do so when the thought occurred, “What if you double the bands?”  Twice as much umph, twice as much distance or flight time thought I. That thing would fly a country mile, especially if launched with the wind.  Against the wind?  It climbed higher and higher…circling and circling, right into the clutches of the persimmon tree from one of Krypton’s mountain tops.

An updraft took Superman to the top of that tree.  I prayed to the “gods of Krypton” he would clear but he didn’t.  “Charlie Brown, I feel your pain.”  I wonder if he could have told me how to get Superman out of the tree. Ole Charlie seemed to have a lot of experience with kite-eating trees.

I threw rocks, even the Chinese oranges from the bush with the sharp thorns that tore at my clothes, sometimes my arms.  I ran out after windy thunderstorms with hope in my heart only to have my hope squished flat. Mostly I just stood and shook my head in anger and despair. My parents didn’t seem inclined to call out the volunteer fire department to help. “Son, file this under lesson’s learned.”

I never got Superman down.  He spent years as a lonely sentinel in the top of a persimmon tree until I finally outgrew him and he disintegrated due to loneliness.  Rubber band airplanes, bicycles, my Combat Thompson machine gun, my genuine Rifleman Winchester air rifle, and such replaced him much in the same way Jackie Paper replaced Puff the Magic Dragon.  Later girls would entice me to buy more expensive toys.

Funny, I don’t remember many of those girls, but I remember Superman and the persimmon tree that ate him.  I remember the best day of the week and the childhood memories it sparked. 

Don Miller’s author’s page maybe found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0pjd3sx2XSojL9YQGsygAqHaAp6MfY7pm_ywvteFSDLLII20gZN7hbk6A

Image from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/380LY

Etiquette Lost

 

“Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, Thank you, ma’am, Please!”  The little ditty echos inside of my head like basketballs rebounding off of walls.  We’re tryin’ to help our daughter and son in law teach our grandbabies to consistently say “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir….”  My bride, Grandmommy Linda, is big on this little saying which is why it is repeating over and over again like a never-ending loop.

In the world we presently live in, the learning process is somewhat tougher than it used to be.

Etiquette is not a Southern exclusive but there was a time when Southerners of any class, race, or religious affiliation displayed good manners.  It was a priority.  Our good manners were a badge of pride.  Remember “Southern Hospitality?”  We seem to be less hospitable these days, displaying poor manners.

I don’t mean knowing which spoon or fork to use, outside in folks, but the polite, “good” manners which seem to be eroding as I write this.  Some folks would ask, “Who died and made you Lord of the Manners?”  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

When I coached, I periodically admonished my charges to “Remember where you come from (your parents), who you are representing (your parents, your school, me), and what you stand for. (Truth, Justice, and the American Way?)”  In other words, “Don’t disappoint your mommas and daddies.”  Disappointing momma was a big deal.  Good behavior was an expectation and most of the time it was realized.  That included baseball caps taken off inside the building and worn with the bill pointing forward.  I am old school.

It seems we have misplaced our manners and please don’t think I’m denigrating today’s generation; I’m not.  They are not the guilty ones.  Erosion takes place over time and today’s generation reflects what they are being taught and those who taught them…or didn’t.  Some of us are failing our charges, failing the next generation, and this has been going on for multiple generations.

Please don’t point a finger, blow out your chest, and pontificate, “Not me!”  We can all do better and there is no one cause.  That being said….

I happened upon an article in Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.”  Should have said, “used to follow” but to their defense, it was an old article.

Using today’s world view some of these seemed Draconian.  If you read the article one might think most Southern manners revolve around eating and they do.  I learned most of mine while eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and washing it down with sweet tea so sugary it set my teeth on edge.

I’ll come back to the article in a bit, but I just had a thought.  The undermining of Southern manners may have coincided with the rise of fast-food eateries specializing in fried chicken.  KFC, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes, Spinx…wait…Spinx?

Spinx is a glorified gas station founded in South Carolina offering gas, oil and about anything else you might need to outfit a wilderness trek through the Australian Outback.  Offerings also include slow service but pretty good Southern fried chicken.  You know the kind, crisp and greasy at the same time.

The problem is not Spinx but what I call “stand up food”.  The food rests on waxed paper and you stand around eating out of cute little pasteboard “boats” in red and white checkerboard.  Greasy fingers wiped on dirty jeans; baseball caps still perched backward on heads kind of food.  There’s the problem.  There isn’t a table to learn your manners around and the people you are eating with have no better manners than you do.

Once upon a time, Grandmamma went out and chopped the chicken’s head off, gutted it, dipped it in boiling water and plucked it clean.  All before she got around to cutting it up, dipping each individual piece in the batter of her choice and frying it to a golden brown.  You damn well were going to sit at a table, “minding your manners”, while you ate it.

If you didn’t mind your manners, you might find yourself going to bed without your supper instead of waiting for the adults to be served so you could get your chicken wing.  I was twenty-five before I evah got a pully bone.  Manners have eroded with the death of the sit-down, family meal.

Matching the world we live in, we have become grab and go consumers.  I am just as guilty of grabbing a piece of pepperoni pizza after gassing up my truck…having never left the gas station.

Let’s look at the article, shall we?  I won’t hit all the points because I am assuming you can read as well if not better than I can write.  These are just some “manners” that were hammered into my head…or beaten into my backside.

“Never eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full”  Son, you are sprayin’ food everywhere!  At least cover your mouth.  Alternative reminder, “Children should be seen and nevah, evah heard.”

“Get your elbows off the table!  If you are that tired you can go on to bed.”  As I stood in line at the local Chick-fil-a, I saw a bunch of folks who needed a nap.

“Never wear a hat to the table…or inside a building.”  This one…!  For some reason this is the pinnacle of rudeness for no other reason than my father, who worked in a greasy, lint filled cotton mill weave room, always removed his hat when he entered the cafeteria.  It was the polite thing to do and if I didn’t remove mine it might be nailed to my head ala Vlad the Impaler.

Addendum, “Always take your hat off in the presence of a lady…and all women are ladies until proven otherwise.”  If the sun was particularly bright and hot, one might get away with a simple tug on the bill or brim and a nod.  Sunstroke and sunburn trumps manners.

“Never sing or whistle at the table or talk about unpleasantries.”  This one was tough if asked, “Did you behave at school today?”  Sometimes the answer might prove to be unpleasant in regard to the response.  I didn’t understand the singin’ or whistlin’ but never did I….

Addendum for the next eight months, “Nevah, evah talk politics at the supper table.”  Definite unpleasantries.

It seems like there are many Southern manners related to gender, doors, and entries…”Ladies and girls first”, “Always open the door for a woman, a girl or your elders”, “Adult ladies first in the food line”, “Always stand when a woman enters the room (and when she sits, stands or leaves the room} and pull out the chair and help her seat herself.”  Not that she needs help, it is just the gentlemanly thing to do.  I think assisted seatings dates from the days of corsets and layer upon layer of petticoats and crinolines.

I ran afoul of the “opening the door” thing back in the late Sixties when I opened the library door for a cute, little coed.  There was an ulterior motive.  This was during the “burn your bra” period of history.  She burned me a new one and it wasn’t a bra.  Turns out she needed no help from a man.  I knew such but old habits are hard to break.  I still open the door for my wife, and she seems to appreciate it.

“Never go to a gathering empty-handed.”  The South is the casserole and banana puddin’ capital of the world for this very reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is a house warmin’ or a funeral, bring something other than yourself.

Politeness, civility, and graciousness seem to be the casualties of today’s war on political correctness.  Bullying, apathy, and indifference have replaced our good manners.  I don’t know we will ever get them back.  In lieu of manners, just be kind.

Please feel free to add any you are enamored with, in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.  Y’all hurry back now.

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The article may be accessed at https://www.southernliving.com/culture/unspoken-etiquette-rules

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Roots….

As we grow, if we are fortunate, we put our roots deep into the deep, rich soil of life.  We anchor ourselves in the lessons we have learned.  No matter how far away the branches of our limbs reach, we are still anchored, still attached…to home.

As I’ve gotten older, old, I find myself slowly meandering back toward my roots, the memories, the lessons, the people of a place that no longer exists.  Not true, it exists quite clearly in my mind.

I was triggered by a rerun of an episode of The Waltons.  John Boy reads an editorial he had written that spoke to family roots and the destruction of an old home in the name of progress.  Before the quote was completed and fully formed in my mind, I was wondering why progress seems to create so much destruction.

Once more, my broken kaleidoscope of a mind sent me down a pathway toward home, a home that only exists in my mind.  A home that was destroyed in the name of progress.  A dusty dirt road, a white clapboard house with hip roofs sitting on a hill, a wide front porch, gently rolling fields of hay and stands of pine trees, people and places gone but not forgotten.

The often-quoted African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to my mind.  It was true in the 1950s and 1960s as I grew up and may still be true in some isolated areas.  Unfortunately, the villages have been swallowed up by a monster named Urban Sprawl and the changes in the world we live in have destroyed extended and nuclear families and the pearls of wisdom they might have imparted.

Growing up on my particular wide place in the road, I was surrounded by family on all sides…it seemed I was related to everyone.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins from one side of the family on a hill beside us, aunts, uncles, and cousins from the other side of the family on the hill opposite.  My grandparent’s home sat on a hill above us…looking down to protect and teach lessons for a lifetime.

Further on up or down the road, more family.  On a five or six-mile stretch of highway between my grandparent’s home and my great grandparent’s home it seemed every other house was occupied by a family member, some distantly related, others more closely.  Cousins, aunts and uncles, family friends, all intent upon raising all the village children.

As I moved into my dating years a discussion of who might have been on my family tree was a must it seemed.  Even then I sometimes went out with distant female cousins.  The pool of eligible consorts was very, very small.

The area east of a western meander by the Catawba was sprinkled with small villages.  Most took the name of the church that was close by…or maybe the opposite, the church took the village’s name.  Belair, Pleasant Hill or Pleasant Valley, Osceola, Steel Hill.  In addition to the church, usually, there would be a small general store to serve the smattering of homes around it. These communities tended to overlap and were a part of a bigger area named Indian Land.

There were names like Yarbrough Town or Camp Cox and six or seven miles to the southeast, a true village, Van Wyche.  Northeast there was the town of Fort Mill and right across the river, a true city, Rock Hill.  Additional family members had settled there, raising us too.

When I was young, I didn’t appreciate the “village raising the child.”  It seemed any news of trouble I might have gotten into traveled at light speed, alerting my parents or grandparents before I got home.  Punishment would be quick and decisive…more often than not, it was well deserved. “Whatever you get at school, you’ll get double at home.”

I’m sure time has softened the focus of those days…maybe my memories are of a time I wished to be rather than was.  The front porch probably wasn’t quite as big as I remember but the roots of my family tree have dug deeper into the fertile ground I remember.

The villages are gone, and family dynamics have changed.  Monsters and socioeconomics have changed them.  Few parents can make ends meet on a single salary; others find themselves working multiple jobs.  Latch key children and helicopter parents are a rule, no longer the exception.  Child care is expensive and does little for family dynamics.

Grandparents are working longer and can’t provide or are unwilling to provide the safety net my grandparents provided.  We are unable to go back to those “thrilling days of yesteryear” but must somehow realize children don’t raise themselves.

I’ve got to do a better job of imparting my own lessons.  Actions over words, practice what you preach.  I have grandchildren who are growing up too fast.  I feel I have been somewhat absent, an absence they can’t afford…I can’t afford.  I’m not a village but I have lessons to be taught, stories to be told.  I hope there is still time to teach and to tell…time to impart wisdom and lessons.  Past time to help them put roots into fertile ground.

“Work for a cause, not for applause.  Remember to live your life to express, not to impress, don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”     —Gail Lictenstein

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Don Miller, a retired teacher, and coach writes on various subjects.  His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The interesting image is a drawing by Jillian Deluca and may be purchased at https://www.saatchiart.com/print/Drawing-Deep-Roots/985383/3619990/view