Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Ralph DeCamp...last guy on the left.

Today is Memorial Day 2012.

This morning, my wife and I drove to Muncie to place flowers on the graves of my mom, my dad, my brother, and my little niece that died in 1967.  Standing there at the graves of my parents and my brother, I struggled with my emotions.  I truly miss them, and while it is easier to just go about my daily life without the pain of stopping to consider the hole they have left in my heart, I do very much appreciate the opportunity that Memorial Day provides to REMEMBER.

I probably sometimes spend too much time remembering…especially during my periodic trips to Muncie.  I go there for business from time to time, and I often find myself driving past my folks’ old house.  It looks so much the same that I feel like I ought to be able to trot right in the back door and check out the contents of the refrigerator.  Even the grape arbor that my dad built when I was a kid is still standing.  Today, I went by and there was smoke coming from a grill in the backyard.  No one was around…probably all inside…but, it was nice to see some life in the yard.  One day, I’ll see someone outside.  Then, I’ll stop and ask him or her how the old house is holding up.

Of course, Memorial Day has its roots in the remembering of our American military veterans.  I thought of that too as I looked at my dad’s brass stone with the US Army insignia.  I’ve mentioned his service before, but I thought I’d share (perhaps again) a couple of his stories.  I wish I had taken the time to talk more with him about these things while he was available to me, but isn’t that how it always goes?  We take too much for granted until we no longer have access.

My dad was in WWII.  He was in the Army Air Corp…the precursor to the US Air Force, and served in the European Theater as a crewman on a B26…the Martin’s Marauder.  After he passed, I took a close look at his military records and found numerous decorations: six bronze stars, air medals with silver clusters, etc.  I once tried to find out the details on the reasons for those medals, but unfortunately, the military no longer has the records because of a fire at a major records center years ago.  It seems I have more detail than the US government on his service.

One document I found was a typed paper from one of his commanding officers that details over 70 missions in which he participated.  This alone is amazing when you consider two things: the life-expectancy of an individual serving on one of those big planes was not very good, and the normal number of missions before a person was sent home was only about twenty-five.  Dad had told me that he had gotten way ahead of his actual crew and they wanted to send him home, but he refused to go until the rest of the guys could go.  He got so far ahead because he started volunteering to fly with other crews on days when his own crew was not scheduled to fly.  He would fill in for crewmen who were ill, injured, or otherwise found some reason to not get off the ground.  I am amazed at the courage that he demonstrated, and I only wish I had one ounce of that in my own bones.

Contrast that record with what he told me about his very first mission.  They were flying into heavy flack. (If you want to know what that was probably like, watch the invasion sequence from “A Band of Brothers.”)  They were under fire, and my dad was scared to death, so he prayed.

“God, please take away my fear!”

He said that after the prayer a sense of calm came over him.  He was no longer frozen with fear and he was able to serve in every way necessary and even beyond.  I can only imagine the intensity of that situation, and it builds my faith to hear the story of how God placed His hand upon my father at that time and in that situation.

That is not to say that there weren’t some serious close calls.  On one occasion, they were on another dangerous mission and under fire.  They were hit and the plane greatly damaged.  The pilot radioed back to the rest of the crew:

“Boys, I don’t think we’re gonna make it!” he said.  “You better get your chutes on!”

All of the crewmen grabbed their parachutes and fastened them on…except my dad.

“Ralph!  Get your chute on!” they said.

“Look at my chute,” replied my dad.

They took a look and the shrapnel had shredded his parachute.  It was useless.

Obviously, the plane made it home, since I’m here to retell his story, but I can’t image the incredible intensity of that moment.  I suppose it is in times like that you simple have to let go.  You’ve done all you can do, and then all that is left is to let God do what He will do.  I am thankful that He saw fit to bring my dad home.

As I write this, there is a new DeCamp in the US Air force.  My great nephew, Nathan just finished his Basic Training in San Antonio.  To see him in his uniform with “DECAMP” printed across the chest makes me proud.  He is a good man with a good heart.  I know that he loves God.  I pray that God will give him the same courage that He gave my dad sixty-eight years ago.  I trust that he will serve his country with the same honor.

Ah, well.  Time to stop contemplating the past and eat some burgers off the grill.  I hope your Memorial Day holiday holds some special thoughts for you as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-Horse Crap & Horseplay

As a boy, I loved horses.  I never had one, but I always wanted one.  I used to beg my dad for us to move to the country so I could play in the woods, and so I could have a horse.  I suppose you could blame it on all the old cowboy shows…Marshall Matt Dillon…Little Joe…The Lone Ranger…they all looked so strong and cool up on those big beautiful horses.  By the time I was sixteen, my interest in them faded as my interest in girls overtook my senses…but, at fifteen, I still liked them very much.  So, when my best friend Tim…Tena’s brother*…asked me to go help him with his job at the stables on Cornbread Road, I jumped at the idea.  (*See "The Crush")

Tim was a couple of years older than me, but we spent a great deal of time together.  At this point, he had his driver’s license, and a car.  Riding with him could be somewhat life-threatening, but I survived.  He had a job cleaning out the stalls at a horse stable, a stable with a huge barn with multiple stalls.  The job entailed driving a tractor around the barn pulling a manure spreader.  At each stall, he would scoop out the horse waste, being careful to not overly disturb the horses, and then drive the spreader out into a field to spread it around.  Following that, he needed to fill a wheelbarrow with the sawdust from a giant pile in the middle of the barn, carry it to each stall, and spread it down under the horse to absorb the next round of waste…until the next day when the process was repeated.
The deal with helping Tim out was that it meant he could get it done much quicker if we tag teamed it.  He scooped out the stalls and drove the tractor.  Then, I would spread out the new sawdust.  I would have loved to have driven the tractor; driving anything with an engine at fifteen was cool and fun…even if it was only pulling a pile of horse crap.  But, no.  I drove (pushed) the wheelbarrow.  I think he let me try it out once, but actually running it was not going to be an option for me.

For some reason that escapes me now, I agreed to help him clean nasty horse waste out of all those stalls…for free…from the goodness of my heart…just because we were friends.  What did I get out of the deal?  Read on, my friend.  Read on.
We drove on out there.  He showed me the barn…the stalls…the horses…the pile of sawdust…and the tractor.  I don’t recall the make of the tractor, only that it was engaged with a clutch.  You depressed it to stop, and you let it up to make the thing go.  The more you let it up, the faster it went.  All the way out was one speed…not fast, but quick enough…and very powerful.

The work started normally enough.  He scooped out a few stalls, and I started the process of replacing the sawdust.  My process worked like this:  Fill a barrow full, unlock the stall, dump the sawdust, push the barrow out, spread the dust around, close and latch the stall, start again on the next one.  Generally, when I pushed the wheelbarrow out, it was facing directly away from me, and the handles would be sort of wrapped around my legs as I turned to latch the stall door.  On one occasion, that became problematic.
One thing I hadn’t mentioned was Tim’s tendency for horseplay…no pun intended…and his slightly dangerous sense of humor.

Anyway, at this one stall which was situated on a corner, I ran headlong into that precarious idea of fun.  The stall was the first one on the right as you entered the main doors.  The gate to the horse was facing away from the barn door.  To the right was a drive that led to the fields where you dumped the manure.  I had dumped the new sawdust, had pushed the barrow out as normal, and was busy latching the door with my back to Tim on the tractor; the handles of the wheelbarrow wrapping my legs.  I heard the engine start to rev up.  I turned to look.  That was when my life was almost sacrificed in the name of horse-crap.
Tim thought it would be hilarious to scare the poop out of me with the tractor.  When I turned to look at him, he was driving that thing directly at me and acting like he was planning to hit me with it.  That was when his foot slipped off the clutch and the tractor lurched forwarded and slammed into the barrow.  It drove the little cart directly at me, trapping my legs inside the handles!  Obviously, the power of the tractor was not going to be halted by the wooden handles of that cart, so I dove.  I dove to my left as fast as I could, and the tractor continued until it drove the wheelbarrow all the way through the stall door, breaking it loose!

At this point, I didn’t yet know that this was all an accident.  All I knew was that the guy who I thought was my best friend had just nearly crushed me with a tractor.  Was he going to back away from the stall and come at me again?  I didn’t know.  My leg was hurt.  I crawled…as fast as I could… I crawled out of the barn and rolled to the left so that he couldn’t get me directly.  I was scared, and adrenaline was coursing through my system.  Flopping over on my back, I grabbed my left knee with both hands and hoped he wasn’t going to come after me again.
Sometime later, I’m not sure if it was thirty seconds or several minutes, Tim came running out of the door looking for me.

“Mike!  Are you okay?  Are you hurt?”
“What did you do?!  Why did you hit me?!”  I nearly screamed at him.

“I’m sorry.  It was an accident.  I was just trying to scare you, but the clutch slipped.  Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.  I think I’m okay, but my knee hurts pretty bad.”

“Oh, >bleep  I’m gonna get fired.”
“Is the horse okay?”  I asked.

As it turned out, he had driven the tractor all the way into the stall door breaking the latch, but other than being frightened, the horse was fine.  Tim helped me up, and I hobbled into the barn with him.  I wasn’t bleeding, but I had hit my knee really hard on the handle of the wheelbarrow as I dove out of the way of the hurtling tractor.

Standing safely out of the way, I watched as he backed the tractor away from the stall.  We both examined the damage, and Tim decided he could fix it up pretty well.  He was hoping no one would notice the cracked wood after he nailed it back together.  With an uninjured horse and a repairable stall, the only remaining factor that could lead to his dismissal was my injury.

“Don’t tell anyone.  Okay?”  He pleaded.

“Tim, I’m hurt pretty bad,” I said. “I can barely walk straight.  Someone is going to ask what happened to me.”

“So make up something.”

“You know I won’t lie.”  And I didn’t.  I suppose I had to have been the most honest fifteen year old boy in Muncie in 1977.  “If someone asks me what happened, I’m not going to lie about it.”
“Please, Mike.  I really don’t want to get fired.”

A few minutes had gone by, and the initial pain was beginning to subside. 

“Okay, I’ll do my best.  I won’t tell anyone what happened, and we’ll hope no one notices.”

Ultimately, I forced myself to walk normally for weeks afterward.  When alone, I limped like one leg was shorter than the other, but whenever any adult was around I swallowed the pain and hid the hobble.  I should probably gone to the doctor, had X-rays, and some sort of treatment, but I wanted to protect my friend.

I think you all may be the first to know the truth.  The jig is finally up.  He kept his job…at least for a while…and I never had any knee ramifications….at least not yet.  I’m not sure how I was able to hide that injury because it hurt like the dickens, but I did.  But, there is one thing that you can be assured of…

I NEVER helped Tim clean out horse stalls again!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Henry the Preacher Volume 1 Number 2

I hope you enjoy this new Henry the Preacher cartoon.  This is my first foray into color for Henry.  My wife (the mother of my children) liked it...and that's all that matters on Mother's Day...Right?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-The Great Pop Bottle Caper

“Hey Mike! Let’s go to a movie!” suggested my nephew, David.

“Sure,” I said. “How much money you got?”

“Maybe fifty cents. You?”

“A dollar.”

“We’re gonna need more than that,” David stated the obvious.

“Maybe we can cash in some pop bottles!” I suggested.

This is just an example of a conversation that I must have had with my best friend and nephew, David a hundred times when we were kids. As a boy in Muncie, there were only a few ways to get money. There was mom…not too reliable. There was dad…he was either asleep or at work. There was mowing yards…a good source in the summer.

And, there were the pop bottles.

All you had to do was collect them, get someone to transport you to the Wise Supermarket, and all the sudden you had money. Ten cents a bottle was the going rate when I was a kid.

Some folks actually got sustenance money by riding around on bicycles looking for discarded bottles. In those days, most sodas…Cokes, Pepsis, Dr. Peppers, Mt Dews…came in glass bottles. Most of those bottles were recycled…unlike today when most of the plastic bottles are either thrown in the trash or tossed out the window to collect in the weeds. Oh, to be sure, back in the day, people still tossed them out the window. I guess folks never change that much. However, the difference was that the glass bottles had value, so other people would come along and pick them up.

We did some of that, but mostly we just saved them up from various trips down the street to Cantrell’s Barber Shop. He had the coldest pop in town. It wasn’t unusual to open your bottle to find ice floating in the drink. Some of my fondest memories are of quick trips down the alley to the pop machines on a summer afternoon, or late night strolls down Hackley Street in the summer to get a Dew to sip on the front porch while watching the cars go by. After two or three weeks in the summer, we’d have three or four eight-bottle cartons ready for deposit, so I’d nag my mom until she’d drive me to the store to cash them in.

There was one summer when a “person that I know extremely well” was “up at the lakes” with his other cousins. “Up at the lakes” is what we called it. The actual place was a little house on a channel leading to a lake near Wolcottville, Indiana. This “person” would go up there for a week or so almost every summer, and this summer was no different. In this story, the “person” and his cousins shall remain unnamed because I’m not sure of what the statute of limitations are for their actions.  (Wink, wink.)

Anyway, this particular trip found several of the cousins all together at one small lake house. They were all boys…all teen boys…and they decided to camp out in tents in the yard. This yard was down the road and around the corner from a little general lake store called Bill & Casey’s Landing. It was one of those places where you’re not really sure if the front door is by the road or by the docks on the other side. They sold food and various boat/fishing supplies. You could get bologna and cheese out of one refrigerator and worms out of the next.

You could also cash in pop bottles there.

The thing was, it was a small little place. All of their storage was taken up with various goods for sale, so there was no room to store all of the bottles they took in through the deposit deal. As a result, they would stack them behind a little wall…outside…a practice that did not escape the notice of certain teenage boys.

A plot was hatched.

The cousins would wait until about midnight when everything was dark and quiet, then they would walk down to the little store and swipe all those pop bottles, and subsequently cash them in all over again the next day. Masterminds at work.

Night came. It got late. It got dark. The boys made their way to Bill & Casey’s. While one kept a nervous watch due to his reluctance to take part actively, the others snuck behind the store and reemerged with the empty bottles.

“What are we gonna do with all of ‘em?” asked one cousin. “We can’t take them home ‘cause our folks will want to know where we got ‘em.”

Another mastermind responded, “We’ll drop ‘em in the grass along the way, then we can get up in the morning and collect them just like we found them.”

“Good idea!”

As the boys made their way back to the little lake cabin, they began to drop a bottle or two every few feet in the grass and weeds. Brilliant! No one would know the better. Soon, all the bottles were safely stashed along the way, and the boys were back snug in their tents.

Excitement turned to slumber, and the night soon became morning. Eager to go “find” their treasure, the boys were quick to get up, and while trying to act nonchalant they made their way up the road. If their parents were looking, the very fact that they were all up and walking down the road so early would have made them wonder what was going on, no matter how nonchalant they were about it. Even so, the idea was to just act cool and sort of stumble upon the bottles. Then, collect them up, take them home, and later take them back to Bill & Casey’s store to get the deposit.

“I know I put one right here!” said one cousin.

“Where’s it at?”

“I don’t know.”

They began to trot up the road….looking in the grass along the way…..

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. There are no bottles anywhere to be found. Sometime between midnight the night before when all those bottles were dropped and early the next morning, someone had come along and collected every one. The great pop bottle caper had failed, but to that “person that I know very well’s” great relief there were never any ramifications.

Whether a random stranger picked them up much earlier in the morning, or their parents had seen what they did but never spoke of it, or even perhaps some neighbor of the store turned in the caper but they weren’t nabbed, none of them ever knew. It was a great mystery to everyone involved, but soon their attention turned to more important things…

Teen girls in bikinis.