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Archive for August, 2011

Alex and Me

I begin to inch closer and closer to the driverless boat as it was doing donuts in a tight circle. Three quarters of the way around the circle the 10 horse motor ran wide open, then almost choked down for a quarter of a turn. It was at that spot I was hoping I could swim up and grab the throttle and cut it off. Timing was everything because I was afraid of that propeller. What started out as a great day of fishing with my childhood friend, Alex Mills, was now one of desperate survival in the back waters of Lake Worth.    

Turning 16 and getting a driver’s license was just as important to a young person in the 60’s as it is today. Every kid has that desire to learn to drive and get their license. Some of my best memories were when I was teaching my three daughters how to drive. Living on the farm, they learned many years before they got their license. In my case, having a license also meant that I could take my dad’s boat and go fishing. And growing up in Albany that meant Lake Worth, where I had a honey hole up the river behind Chehaw Park.

During the summer months, Alex would cut grass in the neighborhood to earn spending money, as several of us did back then. However, Alex had made it into a small business. I can still see him pushing that lawnmower around the neighborhood with his gas can. On this particular day I helped him finish his last one, so we could go fishing. We hooked my dad’s 12 foot fiberglass boat to my Uncle Tom’s truck up and headed to the lake. Back then we heard next to nothing about weather news, and didn’t realize that a storm was coming. It started about 30 minutes into our fishing, and we decided that we had better leave. Alex had never driven a boat and wanted to, so I showed him how and down the river we went. The water was getting a little rough and the boat was bouncing over the chops. It was here that I decided to do one of my many stupid stunts, and got up on the bow of the boat and with my feet on both sides of the boat and rode like that with my hands in the air. As we left the river and rode into the open waters of the lake, the chop got worse and on a big bounce I came down in the water. When this happened, Alex turned the boat sharp to the left to come back and get me, and with him being no bigger than a minute, the momentum of the turn ejected him out of the boat.

Talk about up the creek without a paddle, (well, we had one, but it was in the boat), we were in a real pickle in the big lake during a bad storm. The boat was turning circles with me on one side and Alex on the other. It would run wide open then almost choke down. I knew that at that point was my only chance to stop it. I yelled to Alex to stay clear as I slowly got closer to the boat. Several times my timing was off and I had to swim away fast. Finally, I saw a chance and made a mad dash to the boat and grabbed the sides just as the boat took off again dragging me with it. Around we went with my feet under the end of the boat very near the prop. When it made its turn and started to choke down, I grabbed the throttle and cut it off, I just hung on the side of the boat.

Alex swam over and climbed in the boat then helped me in. All my adrenalin was gone. My left leg was bleeding and my greatest fear realized. I was hit by the prop, which had cut a nice slice in my leg. The scar is there today to remind me of this adventure, of which my whole life has been filled with.

I’ve had 30+ trips to the emergency room for injuries, eight rides in an ambulance, (one of those trips required two ambulance, since we had a wreck in the first one), one life flight and over 20 broken bones to testify to that, but what memories. My time with Alex back then was special. He is gone now, but not forgotten.

David Butler

2011

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Memories of an old man.

Lash LaRue, dressed in all black, came riding up at the last minute, and with that famous bull whip he used to pop the gun right out of the bad guy’s hand. We were already on our feet cheering when we saw him coming, but the Liberty Theater erupted when the bad guys were taken down and the girl was saved. Our hero saved the day and we could not wait until the next movie of the double feature started, with Roy Roger, or Eddie Dean, maybe even Gene and gang. It was a good Saturday when we got to laugh at Gabby Hayes or Frog Milhouse. That was a well spent 15 cents back then, made even better if we had another 15 for a Jimmy’s Hot Dog and a 6 oz. Coke Cola before we made our way home.

I guess it’s true for most folks that reach my age, to sort of spend time reminiscing our days of youth, if no where else but in our own minds. For me, those Saturdays spent at the theater were special as were the times when we sneaked into the “Capitol Drive In” that was in front of our house on the Moultrie Road. It was there as a young teenager that we sat through the, “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” I remember we were scared out of our wits and loved it, but then I had to walk home through the woods in the dark. I saw that creature behind every tree.

Our neighborhood was filled with boys my age, or nearly so, and our summers were spent outside all day. There were girls too, but it was a few years before we noticed. At least when we would ride our bikes by their house, we would pretend not to see them in the yard. I can close my eyes and see all the kids of my youth. My mom and dad raised 7 children and having the gang over to feed was common. Our days were spent bike riding, camping out, and swimming in the nude at a spring not far from us called “Green Hole.” There was a time though when a mother of one of the guys came down to get him and caught us that way. We stayed in that cold water until she left, which was a lot longer than we wanted.

Speaking of swimming, when they developed our neighborhood, they built a retention pond in front of Jimmy Wages’ house. It was at that pond one day while swimming in the “Storm water run off” with Jimmy, that I first met Larry Ladd. He had come up to live with his sister. He just walked to the edge of the pond and dove in and swam to the middle where we were. Larry became my best friend growing up. With Larry, life was always an adventure. Radium Springs was also another place where we spent many summer days where we swam and then danced under the pavilion to the music of Chubby Checker, the Beach Boys and so on. Of course, that was after reaching the age where we finally noticed girls. That awareness created its own special problems, especially when showing off on that diving board at the spring. “That didn’t hurt,” was one of the big lies back then. Those tricks remind me of what Forrest said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Then there was River Bend, on down the road from Radium Spring, which had a pool and skating rink, owned by Paula Deen’s grandparents, (“Hey y’all”). Of course her name was Hiers back then. That’s where we liked to go once we got driver license, or knew some kid that did. I don’t know if I ever skated with Paula or not, with her being younger than me, but I remember the thrill of holding hands with girls and skating, even if I didn’t want to show it. There again, showing off on skates can be dangerous. Wonderful summer days there still flood my memory.

Many summer days were spend water skiing on Lake Worth and Lake Blackshear in my dad’s ski boat. That was family time at its best. There was usually a picnic lunch that included fried chicken and potato salad. Uncle JB’s family was most often there with Aunt Virginia and cousins Dewey, Tommy and Carol. I was fair on the skis, but my brother, Irv, was a real pro.

However, what sticks out most in my mind about that time in my life was how safe the neighborhood was back then, where we walked to church every Sunday, and played ball at the triangle. None of us knew anything about drugs, cell phones or computers. The doors were never locked at night, but even if they were, it would have done no good with the windows open, since no one had air conditioning. I had only seen a television set at Sears until we got our first one. So we played outside together.

We played from morning ‘till night with our parents never worrying about us, other than about our getting our necks broke. My mom was always telling us we were going to break our necks if we were not careful. I guess we were because I never knew a kid that had one, even though riding our bikes “flat out” down suicide hill, and making the hair pin turn at the bottom, should have produced at least one. I also remember a tree house about 20 feet up a big tree in the woods, from which we would jump to a small sapling and climb down. One day Jerry Hobbs made his first jump after stating, “I only have one life to live,” and missed the sapling. We hauled him home in a wagon behind the bike. But no broken neck.

Ah, the memories.

I could go on, but this is a blog, not a novel.

David Butler

2011

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Papa Gene

Master Builder

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. I have a long list of them, of both men and women that have had an influence on my life. To reach hero status on my list is not easy, as I’m not a worshipper of man for any reason. A hero on my list rarely has to do with something as heroic as saving a life of another, even though Papa Gene has done that. Neither has it to do with going in harms way to protect others, something he has also done many times. No, with Papa Gene it goes deeper than that.

I have had the privilege in my career to supervise many construction projects, which will total well over 100 million dollars. One of these was at the Prison at Lake  Butler, Florida. It was call RMC, short for Region Medical Center. We were building a new work camp, and it was not going well. I had hired Gene Griffis as my masonry supervisor, which, by the way, was not his chosen vocation in life. He had recently retired from Corrections as a lieutenant having served 38 years. His accolades as an officer would fill a large room. Gene has a page donated to him in the History of  the Florida Department of Corrections for his heroic rescue of two women hostages held by two inmates trying to escape. He effectively ended the standoff by shooting both inmates with a two-shot Derringer hidden in his Red Man Tobacco Pouch. He is a true legend. And now he came to save the day again.

As I said, things were not going well with the project and I needed to make a change in site supervisors. I had been watching Papa Gene and saw that even though he had limited construction experience at the time, he was a leader of men. The staff and inmate workers respected him, and on the advice of my right hand man, Lieutenant Crawford, I promoted him to site supervisor. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my line of work. We finished the project on time and under budget by a quarter of a million dollars.

From that time on, he has become the most sought after site supervisor in prison construction within the department of corrections. His work ethics are legendary even in his 70’s. His building skills make him a master. He is Papa Gene, my friend and hero. He is “The Master Builder.”

David Butler

 2011

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The Gym

Candi crawled through the front door, and laid down on the floor whimpering. BJ wobbled to the bathroom, got a shower and went to bed. When I asked how it went, all I got was, “I don’t want to talk about it.” So much for the first day at Charlotte’s Gym.

 

 

The week before BJ called Charlotte to see about her and Candi joining her gym. I’m not real sure about all this. I mean BJ has not exercised in a very long long time. Now Charlotte being the kind and caring person she is, naturally said, “Sure come on over.” And I’m thinking, “Are you nuts?” You want Charlotte to be your trainer! We are talking about the person that body slammed Myron for just saying the toast was kind of dark, are we not? But she and Candi were enthusiastic to get started.

 

So off they went talking about getting into shape and maybe even a little body building. The next morning I manage to get a little from BJ about what happen. She talked about lifting weights with her legs and pushing things with her arms. She tried to show me but could not move her arms. I held her coffee cup for her to take another sip, and heard about being on her knees and moving back and forward and other terrible things. She finally said that it hurts to talk about it, so she went back to sleep, mumbling something about that “Woman.” I checked on Candi before I left for work, but she was still comatose.

 

The next trip over,Charlotte met them at the door in a tee shirt that said, “No Pain, No Gain.” On this night they were introduced to the “Gut Exercise Thingamyjig, dumbbells, and the stair monster. Candi said, “That woman wanted me to work on my triceps, and kept telling her I don’t have any.” BJ said that the only advantage she could see in exercising every day was that you would die healthier, so what good is that. I tried to be the encourager and tell them that they are starting to look better, only to get the reply, “Looking half dead looks better to you?” The next afternoon when I came home they were watching the History Channel, which I thought a little strange, but when I ask about it, BJ said she was glad I was home so I could push the button on the remote and change it, that 12 hours of it was a bit much.

 

Life is good!

 

David

2011

 

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