Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cerebellar Tour ...

Let’s take a walk together. Actually I want to take you on a tour. We will have to walk softly and talk quietly. I want to show you around J. L. Giles Elementary School. Now that building no longer exists. They tore it down years ago. But let’s tour the school in my memory. Now I’ve got to ask you not to stomp and please do not kick the wall. I’ve got a little headache.

We’re going to enter the building through the south door. That’s the one that faces Church Street. This is the first door I ever used when I started first grade in 1940.

Ok, now that we are inside, let’s look into the first room on the right. Remember to be quiet. The students are busy at their little desks coloring pictures. That’s Mrs. Ruth Hill, the first grade teacher. She is easing down each aisle to see how everyone is doing.

Right there on the second row is Shirley Maxwell. My, look how red her hair is. Isn’t she a pretty little thing. Sitting next to her is Helen Wilshire. The boy behind her is Bobby Blanton. Bobby and I both were born on October 21. He is about two hours older than me. Next to him is Charles Fowler. He and I are pretty good friends. Oh, and look over there on the front row next to the window. It’s me.
Cute kid …

Mrs. Hill’s RCA record player is along the back wall. That crank on the side is what you use to wind it up. And in one of the front corners is the American Flag. And in the other front corner stands the Texas Flag. The door in front of the room is the cloak room. That’s where the kids hang their wraps.

Let’s ease on down the hall. The second room on the right is the second grade classroom. The lights are turned off and no one is in there. Know why? I skipped the second grade when they initiated the twelfth grade system. So, I have no memories of that grade. Let’s move on.

On the left as we proceed down the hall is the boy’s restroom. Next, on the left is the boiler room. I was always amazed at those two big tanks. I really did not know what a boiler did but I knew they were big. Now we’re passing by the school office. The office is right in the middle of the building facing the main entrance. But be especially quiet. We don’t want Mr. Lauderdale to come out and get fussy with us. Soon, he is going to transfer over to be principal at South Park High School.

The first classroom on the right just past the office is Mrs. Saxon’s third grade. Right now she is teaching a lesson in arithmetic. If we hang around for a little while, she will give out spelling words for the week. They will have a test on Friday.

Guess what is at the north end of the building? The end that faces Elgie Street. The gymnasium, of course. Let’s just look through the door. If we go inside the gym we might get hurt. I think that is Miss. Bland having her gym class play dodge ball. That’s why we do not want to go inside.

You will have to excuse me. We are about out of time. When the bell rings for school to dismiss for the day, kids will be running all over the place. Perhaps at some future date, we can take another walk together and tour the second floor.

As you depart, don’t slam the door.

I still have that headache.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Island, Buick, Jimmy and Me ...

The best way to go to Galveston back in the early 1950s was to drive along the beach road (Highway 87) and cross the bay on the Bolivar Ferry. Jimmy Cassady and I did that several times during our high school days.

My old 1939 Buick was quite the car in those days. Well it was the only car I had so that made it “the car” for me. I could carry up to 10 passengers plus myself. Of course 7 passengers in a sedan was the maximum number allowed by law. So the only time I crammed in 10 passengers was when our summer league baseball team wanted to go somewhere. The Buick was our team bus.

Beaumont Police Officer Sylvester Garbo put a stop to our excessive passenger load practice. He pulled us over one afternoon and said if he ever caught me carrying too many people in my car again, that he would write me a citation. Then he added, “And I’ll let the air out of your tires and call your parents to come pick you up.” Officer Garbo had a way of scaring the living daylights out of me. I didn’t mind the “citation” threat or the “air” threat. But the “calling my parents” threat caused me to get legal in a hurry.

Anyway, back to the Galveston story. One morning Jimmy and I drove to the ferry and “crossed over.” The Bolivar Ferryboat ride was an intriguing experience. There were seagulls in the air catching and eating whatever edible tidbits we pitched to them. The playful Porpoises swam alongside the ferry displaying their fascinating abilities to move about in harmonious formation.

On this particular trip, Jimmy and I drove along the Galveston seawall to view the beautiful scenery. If you have ever been a teenaged guy driving along that seawall then you will understand the “beautiful scenery” included more than the expanse of water and sky. But I digress.

Then we went down to the beach waters and walked along looking for sand dollars. On this particular day, we succeeded in finding only broken ones. We really couldn’t stay on the beach very long as we sunburned easily. So we went on to our next adventure.

That adventure was to explore one of the underground bunkers. There were bunkers still there from World War II. There was one bunker located where one of the nice hotels now is situated. I believe it is the San Luis Hotel. Anyway, we entered that bunker by climbing down a hole using a ladder that was embedded into concrete. Once inside the bunker we eased along with the help of a flashlight. My, it was musty and cool down there. There were rooms to either side. We were in kids’ heaven inching through the bunker.

We came to a big door that was closed. It was an iron door on old hinges. I grasped the handle and gave a tug. The door creaked opened. As I poked my head through the open door to take a look, a strong odor of gunpowder slapped me in the face. It smelled like someone had been setting off fireworks. The room was empty but there was a sign on the wall that read, “Ammunitions Room.” So I guess that is where they stored their arsenal of weaponry. It amazed me that the Nitrate odor or whatever was still so strong.

Later we ate at one of the several outstanding seafood establishments situated along the seawall. Finally it was time to return home. Again we rode the ferry, fed the gulls and watched the Porpoises perform their routines.

And the old Buick didn’t miss a lick.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Stranger Things May Or May Not Have Happened ?!!

Dad slammed on the brakes but not soon enough. We rear-ended a car that had stopped to make a left turn. You know when North 11th Street in Beaumont got wet back in the early 1950s, your tires would lose traction. We were taking my buddy home and he felt bad about Dad having the wreck while taking him home and so he apologized. My dad replied, “It’s all in a day’s work.” Of course most of you know this means that various things happen to everybody at one time or another. This was my dad’s turn to have a wreck. This idiom fascinated my friend.

An “idiom” is defined as, “ … a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words.”

For example, Franco and I were walking down a sidewalk in Balboa, Panama Canal Zone. He and I were fellow musicians in the 79th U. S. Army Band during the late 1950s. He was from Puerto Rico and spoke that form of Spanish. Although his English was not so good, I could understand him. He said, “Ambee, I am sorree I did not copee museec for you.” I replied, “No sweat, Franco.”

A few minutes later Franco said, “Ambee, why you say ‘no sweat’ because we sweat veree much?" I explained to Franco that in English, “no sweat” was an idiom that meant, “that’s OK … don’t worry about it.”

Franco seemed to be impressed with that idiom. In fact, a few days later I overheard him speaking to some friends in Spanish and he used the term, “Sudor Negativo.” Literally translated that said, “Sweat Negative.” His Spanish-speaking friends did not know what he was talking about. He was trying to use an English idiom in another language and it didn’t work.

Have you ever considered how difficult it must be to learn the English language with all the idioms we use?

Take this possibility. Some people are studying English and they know the word, “little” and the word, “bird.” Then someone comes up to them and says, “A little bird told me.” Now these people are trying to figure out how birds talk.

My wife knows that I had trouble learning Spanish. Conjugated verbs were not my best friend. Sometimes when I spoke Spanish she acted like, “my elevator didn’t go all the way to the top.” And sometimes when I tried to fix things around the house she mumbled something about, “An accident waiting to happen.”

And I always thought it would be extra cruel to, “beat a dead horse to death.” Isn’t it enough that the horse is already dead? Why beat him to death again?

Again my wife goes shopping and charges stuff on a credit card. Then when I pay the bills I sometimes end up, “paying through the nose.” Would you accept my currency if I paid you through my nose?” Yuck.

My wife and I seldom get into an argument. But when we do I have learned to, “walk on eggshells,” even if she tries to, “make a mountain out of a molehill.” “Make no bones about it,” when a couple learns to get along their relationship will function, “like a piece of cake.”

There are more than 2,000 idiomatic expressions in our English language. If you would care to “bone up” on idioms, go to . There you will find enough information to, “knock your socks off.” In fact, writing this column just about “drove me up the wall” because I almost “bit off more than I could chew.”

Oh well, as Dad said, “It’s all in a day’s work.”

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Garden Bolled Them Over ...

The other day, my memory was talking to me about “victory gardens.” Does your memory ever talk to you? Perhaps that should be a topic for another story on another day. But victory gardens came into my life in the early 1940s.
These gardens, also known as “war gardens,” were instituted by the Agricultural Department shortly after the U. S. was ushered into World War II in December 1941. A shortage of fresh vegetables had ensued. In fact, shortages had developed with food in general. The government rationed foods like butter, milk, cheese, eggs sugar, coffee, meat and canned goods. Also, gasoline was rationed. Citizens planting over 20 million gardens produced nearly 50% of all fresh vegetables consumed in the nation. It was a sudden change of lifestyle for our “land of plenty.” But my memory was talking to me about how all of this sudden change affected my family and me.
My family moved to Beaumont in October 1940. We lived on Pipkin Street in South Park. Our neighborhood was one result of the Federal Housing Administration’s effort to provide inexpensive new housing for young families who were trying to survive the aftermath of the Great Depression, and make the best of a wartime situation. Our two-bedroom house was situated on a small but adequate lot. The backyard was quite a bit larger than our front lawn.
When the call was made for families to plant victory gardens, my dad plowed up one-half of our backyard. He planted okra, tomatoes, potatoes and four rows of corn. Also, he put up a small fenced area and bought some chickens. The results of this were some fresh vegetables, corn and eggs.
Also, it caused this 7-year old boy (me) to want a victory garden. But there were some things I didn’t understand. For example I could see the okra and the tomatoes and the corn. But where were the potatoes? I thought potatoes should be on a vine or a bush or a stalk or something. I didn’t realize that they were roots and had to be dug up. I remember asking Dad how he knew where to dig to find the potatoes? He must have had a lot of patience to put up with my childlike curiosity.
Dad decided to give my sister and me a small section of our side yard so that we could plant our own victory gardens. I wanted to feel like I had a part in the war effort. My sister received the area of ground under her bedroom windows. I received a smaller area under our bathroom window. I planted tomatoes, cotton and one cornstalk. My sister planted Petunias. I chided my sister one afternoon about how in the world her Petunias were going to help the war effort. She retorted with something about how my one cornstalk and the cotton plant would help any cause.
When my cornstalk grew to about one foot in height, it died. My sister said in her southern drawl, “See there … what good will your cornstalk do now?” I let her know that my tomatoes and cotton would do more good than her Petunias. You know, big sisters can be difficult without even trying. Then when they try, they can be really difficult. But I digress …
Eventually, when the war ended in 1945, so did the government promotion of victory gardens. But many families including my family maintained their gardens for years. And you know what? We won the war. I was 10-years old by then. And I was too modest to tell anyone at the time, but I’ll share it with you now.
The cotton plant in my victory garden helped to win that war.

Winston Hamby