Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Putt-Putt Here and a Putt-Putt There ...

A brand new adventure began one day during the summer of 1946. My dad came home lugging a box under his arm. The shape of the box led me to believe that he bought a new vacuum cleaner. However, he marched right into our garage, took the gadget out of the box and mounted the gadget on a board. It was definitely not a vacuum cleaner. All I knew for sure was that it was green. The box which dad completely shredded trying to get opened had some writing on the outside. It read, “Elgin/Sears.”

I was familiar with Sears but had never heard of Elgin. You know, an eleven-year-old boy can be full of questions. So follow along with dad and me in the following conversation:

Me: “Daddy, what’s that thing?”

Dad: “This is an outboard motor.”

Me: ‘Is that why you stuck it up on that board?”

Dad: “No, I just put there to get it going.”

Me: “Where’s it going, Daddy?”

Dad: “It’s not going anywhere right now.’

Me: “But …”

I decided not to pursue the matter. You could always tell when dad was not in the proper frame of mind for a conversation.

Dad proceeded to pour some gasoline into the motor. Then he mixed a bit of motor oil in with the gasoline. This was more than I could bear:

Me: “Daddy, why did you do that?”

Dad: “Some motors mix oil with the gasoline. This one is an Elgin 1.25 horsepower one cylinder air-cooled outboard motor.’

Me: “Oh.”

I was hoping dad would think I understood his adult explanation.

Then dad took a rope and wrapped it around the top of the motor and gave a yank. The motor said, “Putt.” He wrapped the rope again and gave another yank. “Putt …”

Me: “Daddy, why are you doing that?”

Dad: “Winston, why don’t you go find Mama and see if she needs any help with supper?”

I took the hint and went into the kitchen and told Mom the story of dad’s strange behavior. Mom explained that men sometimes acted that way. Suddenly there was a loud “Pow” and a “Putt Putt Putt Whirrrrrr …” Dark blue smoke belched forth from the open garage door. I ran back out and looked inside the garage and yes that motor was running. Dad looked all proud and was grinning from ear to ear. I thought he looked funny with his glasses slid down over his nose but I didn’t say anything. This was another one of those rare moments when an eleven-year-old boy displayed wisdom far beyond his years.

You see, two years earlier, dad began taking me out to fish. He rented wooden row boats. Dad ended up doing most of the rowing because I was not strong enough for the chore. On a good day my biceps looked like Grade AA chicken eggs. Usually Dad rowed upstream to his fishing spots. Then in the later afternoon he let me row. But rowing downstream was a lark. All you had to do was use the paddle as a rudder because the current carried you in the right direction. Then dad bought the Elgin outboard to ease the strain on all biceps concerned.

And so began the new adventures of a dad, his son and an Elgin 1.25 Horsepower one-cylinder air-cooled outboard motor. And oh yes, did I mention Prissy our dog? Prissy went with us on most all of our excursions. Our favorite place was on Pine Island Bayou off of Cook’s Lake Road north of Beaumont. You could rent a row boat there for two dollars.

But those are stories for another day.

Winston Hamby

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How To Go Fly A Kite ... ??

What did the Beaumont Enterprise have to do with an oak tree that was growing behind J. L. Giles Elementary School during the summer of 1951? I’ll explain.

I was fifteen years old and had just completed the ninth grade at South Park High School in Beaumont. My family still lived in the 1300 block of Pipkin Street just one block from Giles School.

Now bear in mind that my mother was quite the collector of various and sundry items. Seldom would she throw anything away. One worthwhile result of this was a collection of historic newspaper headlines. Her source for this activity was the daily Beaumont Enterprise. She had a cardboard box partially filled with front pages from that newspaper. I remember one that read, “Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor.” Another one announced the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. My mother saved these headlines along with others in what she called her “keeper” box. OK, hold that thought.

Here I am a young teenager with no driver’s license and a summer of free time. So, what to do? Always this is the burning question with a young teenager. I decided one afternoon to fly a kite over at Giles School. Problem was that I had no kite. In those days, kites were available only during kite season which transpired every March. But this was the end of June and there were no kites to be had. The solution was to fly a homemade kite.

I gathered up the supplies. There were sticks from old kites. There was the little jar of paste. And I had kite string. The missing ingredient was the paper to fashion a kite. In previous years, I used butcher paper from Parina’s IGA grocery store over on Brockman Street. Other times I used newspapers. You know, newspapers always flew like a kite. I mean really. There was great joy in using newspapers to construct kites. The weights and balances generally were ideal.

So the frame took shape with string holding the wooden sticks in place. Now it was time to paste paper around the frame. But first the appropriate paper for the task had to be located.

As I think back it was quite ironic that my mother’s “keeper” box of historic headlines was right there in the corner of the room. Talk about convenient. She had so many headlines she really would not miss just one.

I grabbed hold of the headline on top of the stack which was the last one my mother had deemed worthy to save. It read, “Truman Fires MacArthur.” You see, earlier in 1951, President Harry S. Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for being over zealous with the Korean conflict. My mother considered this newsworthy and saved that headline.

The page made a great kite. I had the headline positioned front and center on the kite. I carried the creation over to the back campus of Giles School and allowed the determined breeze to give flight. I could still read the headline. But wait a minute. The Truman side of things began leaning off to the left. General MacArthur started reeling. Those headlines crashed into the top of one of the several elegant oak trees that lined the Giles School campus.

Of course I pulled and tugged but ended up shredding that newspaper to pieces. I cut the string and left Truman and MacArthur up a tree … literally.

My mother never missed that headline and most certainly I saw no point in ever calling it to her attention.

And now you know how that the Beaumont Enterprise and an oak tree behind Giles Elementary School became partakers in a story of yesteryear during the summer of

Winston Hamby