Sunday, April 10, 2011

Victor the Rasslin' Bear

It's been such a lazy weekend. Again, short on cash so I stayed home and had a shred-a-thon with old mail... mostly bills! *sigh!*

Earlier this evening I went upstairs to the attic with a small camping lantern and decided to take a look-see at some of the boxes hidden in one of the little side rooms. I haven't really touched anything in the attic since Mom passed away. I haven't even looked to see what in the world is up there!

My 19-year old niece moved in with us recently after her mother (my older half-sister) kicked her out (that's a whole other blog entry!) She told me that her mother told her that I sold all of my Mother's belongings so they will get nothing from the house. When she told me this I walked over to the closet and pulled out my Mother's purse, still intact with all contents that she had in it the day she died - her checkbook, her chocolates, hair brush and antacids, etc.. Then I took her to the attic and opened the door. It's really a wonderland of Mom's belongings - still there... untouched.

My sister, ugh.

With my camping light I crawled back into the small room and saw some boxes stacked up. They were out of reach so I grabbed a long wooden decorative goose (yes, goose!) and used the beak as a hook and pulled a couple of boxes toward me. I grabbed two of them and brought them downstairs to go through. The first one was filled with air mail envelopes... 20+ years of my parents correspondence and love letters. Whoa. I can't even being myself to open one of those letters right now. Maybe later. The next box had a bunch of reel to reel tapes - I can't even imagine what is on those! I remember my parents recording us back in the seventies! I would love to hear what my voice sounded like when I was a child! I'm sure I was a total brat! I think the old reel to reel player is around here somewhere! I wonder how much it would cost to get those digitally recorded?

At the bottom of the box were a bunch of miscellaneous papers and things that my Mother saved over the years. My old Brownie and Girl Scout badges, old cards we gave our parents, things we made in elementary school - I swear that my Mother kept everything we ever gave her and every newspaper clipping that pertained to the family! One of the things that I found was this hysterical clipping from October 1976 when my Father was going to wrestle a black bear named Victor.

Let's see... In 1976 my Dad would have been 30 and I would have been 7. I remember that time clearly. My Dad was a Navy recruiter in Danville, Illinois. We lived in this tiny town called Oakwood, which wasn't too far from Danville. We lived in a mobile home park called Lake Bluff and our "house" was all the way at the back of the park. For some reason our next door neighbors didn't like us and I remember that the girls that lived in the trailers next to us were kind of mean to me. Their names were Kendra and Mishere and they were best friends. I remember that my Grandmother bought me a pair of orange coulottes with this really pretty finge belt and when I wore them to school Kendra and Mishere made fun of me and I went home crying. As always, my Mom told me to just ignore them. A couple of weeks later Kendra and Mishere had coulottes, also. Hmph! I found Kendra on Facebook last year and we are now friends... she doesn't remember the rivalry like I do. Isn't funny the things that stick with us?

Oakwood was a very small town where everyone knows everyone. The trailer park we lived in didn't even have paved roads. The elementary school went from Kindergarten to the 8th grade if I remember correctly. There was one store - a mini mart for grocery needs. I don't remember there being a a regular grocery store there. I think we had to go to Danville for that, although my Mom always went to Chanute Air Force Base for all her shopping at the commissary. We would load up two to three carts full of groceries - enough to last for a couple of months. We had this huge freezer that my parent's kept covered in fabric in the living room... classy! I'm sure my Mom put some crazy decorations on it to deflect that it was a freezer! For a long time there was this blue denim-like fabric on it that my Mom kept for years. When I was in high school I tie-dyed it and made a wrap-around skirt with that fabric. From freezer to fashion - that's how I roll!

I remember in 1978 we had that crazy blizzard that paralyzed the entire Midwest and Northeast. They had to dig us out of our house and people came around on snowmobiles to take grocery orders because there was no way a car could drive on those roads... actually, the roads were covered with several feet of snow. A pregnant neighbor went into labor and they had to take her to a Danville hospital on a snowmobile. I'm sure that wasn't fun!! Being a child in blizzard conditions was nothing but fun! The snow drifts were as tall as a house and we played Kind of the Mountain all day long! This was prime sledding weather! Of course I learned years later how much of a pain in the ass it was to deal with snow as an adult, and because of that I now loathe even the smallest of snowflakes.

I have some really strange memories of our days in Oakwood. I remember there was this rock quarry that they turned into a makeshift lake. It was called Fairmont Beach. It really wasn't a beach at all. When you drove into the quarry there was a big sign with a painting of a boy diving frog-like into the water. The actual water went pretty deep and it had a boardwalk/pier on the left side of it - was there sand? I seem to remember that there was sand - not sure how I can confirm that. One day I remember wading in the water and turning around to see a snake swimming toward me. I must have let out a scream because the next thing I know, a total stranger on the boardwalk pulled me out of the water. I was also pulled out of the water another time by a stranger when I went under and swallowed some water. I couldn't breathe... where was my Mother??

Fairmont beach was also filled with fish. I remember one time a fish bit the birthmark on my left leg. I suppose it thought it was a tasty morsel - a surprise for both of us! I also remember catching pollywogs in the small pools of water there. Fairmont Beach was kind of gross, actually, now that think about it.

In those days my Mother was quite an adventurist. There was a town near Oakwood called Catlin where we lived for a short while. On the way to Catlin there was this bridge that we always called the "Singing Bridge" because when you went over it the car would hum for a couple of seconds (I'm not sure why we didn't call it the "Humming Bridge!") The bridge went over a small river and my Mom would take us down there to swim. Of course we totally trusted our Mother but I know for sure there is no way I would ever do that as an adult because of snakes!! I remember my Mom repeating over and over that there was a drop off and for us not to go too far from the edge of the river. What was she thinking?? We were all under the age of 10! From then on I've always feared the fantastically scary "drop off" in every body of water. I know it's always lurking there waiting to suck me under!

Near the "Singing Bridge" was the yard with the apple trees. One day my Mom saw the trees and the apples all over the ground and pulled over to the house. We had no idea what she was doing. She knocked on the door and returned a couple of minutes later after talking to the owner. Apparently she made a deal with the owner that we would "clean up" his yard of all the fallen apples. We were to be the worker bees. We returned the next day with laundry baskets, bags, boxes - you name it and picked every apple that wasn't rotten. My Mom, the queen of all things DIY, took those apples and canned every last one of them making apple butter, apple jelly, cinnamon apples, applesauce (my favorite!) you name it! We even returned to the house and gave the owner some of the finished canned product. This deal lasted for several years while we lived in the area.

My Mother was also in the lilac "borrowing" business. In Illinois lilacs bloom everywhere! Whenever I see wisteria here in Charleston it always makes me think of Mom and her lilac obsession because they resemble each other so much. Mom LOVED the smell of lilacs! For some reason she wouldn't approach the people who owned the lilac bushes... she made us do the dirty work. We would go up to the house and ask the people if it was okay to pick some lilacs for our mother. What they didn't know is that we were equipped with trash bags to stuff them into! We would have lilacs in every corner of the house - I'm sure some were even decorating that freezer in the living room! She also did this with cattails. My Mother was a nut.

Ahhhh, Oakwood. So many weird, crazy times in the seventies. One of the things that I remember vividly about Oakwood is that it was a VERY Caucasian community. My parents never really talked about race and to be honest I really didn't know any black kids until elementary school in Connecticut. From 4th grade to 7th grade there was only a couple of black families that lived on base with kids my age. Those families (because of the Navy) were the same kids that I knew when I moved to Washington State. It wasn't until I moved to South Carolina that I was really exposed to the African-American community. In Oakwood I remember being at the mini mart and seeing members of the KKK there. I was only a kid so I had no idea what they were doing. They were actually in white robes. I can't even imagine seeing that in this day and age unless there were a demonstration or something (even then it's unfathomable!) To see that as a kid is a little frightening. I don't remember asking my parents about it, but I'm sure I did. I wonder how they explained it to me.

I remember back during that time we would get fliers in our mailbox advertising the KKK. My father kept one of them. I found it recently in some of my parents things. I remembered it from when I was a child and recognized it immediately when I saw it. It is blue and has a picture on the front of it of a black gentleman. In big letters it says "He may be your equal, but he's not ours - Ride with the Knights of the KKK" Inside there is an application to join. Totally appalling. I remember my Dad telling me that I must never tell anyone that we had this. He kept it for history sake but was still scared of anyone's reaction - especially a misunderstanding of why he had it. I'm glad he kept it. People forget and it's so important to remember. I don't know of anyone else that has witnesses that sort of thing as a child. Of course back then you just stare in an uncomprehending sort of way. Innocence is so precious and short lived.

I just checked the 2000 Census of Oakwood and the racial breakdown is: 99.33% White - 0.13% African American - 0.20% Native American - 0.07% Asian - and 0.27% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.53% of the population. Wow. Not much has changed as far as ethnic diversity since I lived there in 1978!

So, how did I get on this crazy rant about my life in Oakwood when I fully meant to write a blog about my dad rasslin' a bear? I have no idea.

So, like I said, my Dad was a recruiter. His office was one of those buildings that was underground for tornado purposes. We used to walk on the roof of the building and think that was totally cool since it was only a foot off the ground. We would go to the office when there were tornado warnings (which was often!) and play with all the recruiting paraphernalia. My Dad's office had loads of Navy stickers, key chains, pencils - you name it! For a kids that was some fun stuff! Of course we would always get in trouble for wasting the stickers, etc.

The night my Dad was going to wrestle Victor I remember that he and his buddies had a couple of beers... okay, a lot of beers. There was a pretty big crowd and the guys that were wrestling came out and were announced to the audience. I remember my Dad was wearing pants, no shirt and had a couple of Navy bumper stickers taped around his head in a crown-like fashion (nobody could say my parents weren't fun!) There was a boxing ring set up with lights all around and the first match began. Soon after it started it was stopped because Victor was acting "strange" according to his trainer. It was explained that the noise, the crowd or the lights was making Victor act unusually aggressive so the wrestling was stopped - you would have thought Victor would be used to this sort of thing. So, the night my Dad was to wrestle Victor was a flop.

Now that I think about this whole situation I can't really condone this bear rasslin' thing. I mean, the 70's were a totally different time and of course in modern day these sorts of thing don't happen because PETA would be right there to bitch-slap some animal rights sense into you (and rightly so!)

The 70's were just this crazy magical time for me and when I think back about my parents and all the kooky stuff they did. Well, I really wouldn't change it for the world. Who else can say their Dad was going to rassle' a bear??

1 comment:

Clytie said...

I was hooked from the first words, and by the time I got to the rasslin' bear story, I was feeling happy and very nostalgic. What a childhood you had! The 60's and 70's were quite different ... in some way more free and fun for the kids. I can remember spending all day playing in the woods, or walking clear to town (5 miles each way) to buy a candy bar ... just us kids, no adults. Can't do that now-a-days!

Thank you for this wonderful story! I'm still of the opinion that you really need to publish some of your writings!