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Archive for September, 2011

I was just sitting there minding my own business drinking a cup of coffee, when Lee walks in and drops a dead snake in my lap, and asked what kind of snake it was. Me, the coffee and the snake went flying.

One of my favorite sections in the Reader’s Digest has been ‘Humor in Uniform.’ The rare escapes from reality in a military environment often produced funny incidents or brought on some practical jokes. We sure had our share, and I’m just as sure that some of the humor that we enjoyed at Fort Hood Texas during the early 70’s was not appropriate for the Digest. But it made for fun and funny times for us, and gave me a gold mine, rich in stories of  ‘remember when,’ that I never tire of telling.

I spent three years at Fort Hood after I returned from Viet Nam. My company, HHC 13th Aviation Battalion (Cbt), was located on Gray Army Air Field, and our platoon, was located at the very end of the runway. We were very isolated down there. We had just a few helicopters and staff  left after we downsized, and had most days with a lot of time on our hands. We were a only a couple of miles away from the spit and polish, dress right dress, but it might as well been 10 miles. Our choppers for the most part were for the top brass, and if they were not flying, we were idle, and idle hands are the devil’s work shop. Very few people came down to our hanger and bothered us.

We played cards for hours or other games, such as snow ball fights, oil squirt can fights, using water, anything to break the boredom. That squirt can caused a soldier to get in trouble one day. We were having our water fight, but tired of it and put the oil back in the cans and went back to work when Sergeant Johnson, our Platoon Sgt. came in and sat down. One of the guys, (can’t remember his name), didn’t realize that we put the oil back into the cans, and took one and told Sgt. Johnson that he was going to shoot him in the face with that oil, thinking that it was still filled with water. My friend Randy told him he had better not. This guy said, “Yes I am.” Randy said, “You had better not.” Well, he shot Sgt. Johnson in the face with that oil, with him looking right at him. That just oil covered his face. I can still see the look on both of those faces. Randy just quietly said, “I told you not to do that.”

As for that dead snake in the lap, I was leaving early one day on my Yamaha Bike, going by the way of the back roads and came across a small grass snake. I caught the snake and went back to work, walked in the office and dumped the snake in Lee’s lap and ask him what kind of shake was that. While dead snakes didn’t bother him, live ones were something else, and that pay back was a joy to see. However, even that came back to haunt me. On another day, I left work on the bike when a dog came out to chase me, and I crashed. I was hurt and needed help, but there was no one on that back road. I got the bike up and started, then went back to the hanger all hunched over the bike calling for help. They all ran from me thinking that I had another snake in my shirt.

And while I’m thinking about it, there was another time when no one came to my aid when I wrecked my bike. I walked out of the hanger one day on my way to the cafeteria, when I saw my friend Randy and a new pilot getting ready to take off in an OH-58 Helicopter. I decided that I would show off my bike riding tricks, and pop a wheelie. When I did, the rear tire caught an aircraft tie down and I crashed hard. The new pilot asked Randy if they should shut down and go help. My friend Randy said, “No, that’s just David, he does that all the time,” and they took off. Thanks Randy, I think about that every time I touch that scar.

Trying to get back at Randy didn’t always work either. Putting rocks in one of his hub caps made for a good laugh, but Randy, the practical joke king, just  rode around in that VW Bug with the rocks banging away in there, as if  it was the normal sound. However, when I rode with him and we pulled into a parking lot, with a lot of people around, we made a big deal out of it. We acted as if something was very strange going on with the bug. I would say, “Back up a little, there, do you hear that? It sounds like a wheel is getting ready to fall off.” We would look all over the wheel, pushing the car up and down, and comment that we may wreck if we drove it far.  We would then just get in and drive away making a loud clanking noise, with people giving us that look.

Our office was inside of the hanger and had no windows, so when we want to play cards we had to set up a labyrinth early warning system. First we would shut the hanger door so anyone coming in would have to come in through the walk in door. To that door we would attach a string that would go to a plank that propped up a pallet on the roof of the office. That pallet also had a string attached to it that was tied to a board that had a paint bucket full of leftover hardware setting on it. The paint bucket was tethered with a string to a rafter at a 450 angle. The idea was when someone came through the door, the first string would pull the board out from under the pallet, which would fall and make a loud crashing noise on the office roof. When the pallet fell it would pull the board out from under the paint bucket which would swing to the far metal wall of the hanger also making a very loud noise. That would give us time to get rid of the cards. It worked great on several occasions till one day we were scheduled to have our big annual IG Inspection. We were ready hours in advance so, on inspection day, when they did not show up at the time we were expecting them, we decided to play cards until they got there, counting on the early warning system to alert us. Only someone forgot to attach the string to the door. There we were playing cards when in walks Sgt. Johnson followed by the inspectors. Ouch!

Sgt. Johnson is gone now. He was as good a man as I knew back then. He worried over us and endured our jokes, like the time we were in the field for a few days and I caught a six inch long ring snake and put it his shirt pocket with his cigarettes, when he had his shirt off. Now that was funny, (to us). Ah, life in the army. I love to remember when…

They say that in the army

The coffee’s mighty fine

Well, it’s good for cuts and bruises,

But it tastes like turpentine!

Oh, I don’t want no more of army life

Gee Ma, I wanna go home!

David Butler

 
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The Golf Ball Caper

We had 581 golf balls, I know because we counted them, and I have remembered that number all these years. It will stay with me until I draw my last breath. I can’t for the life of me explain why we took them. I talked to Larry the other day about this and asked him if he knew why we did that. He said he didn’t have a clue, that we knew absolutely nothing about playing golf 50+ years ago. Today, I had rather stick needles in my eyes than take something that doesn’t belong to me. However, on that night many years ago, I and three friends of my youth, created quite a stir in our neighborhood by stealing every golf ball that was left out on a golf driving range over night, 581 to be exact.

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the South East Side of Albany, Georgia. It was a new subdivision with lots of kids my age or near my age. We played outside from morning till dark during the summer school break. Then there were a few times when unbeknown, (good South Georgia word), to our parents, we would climb out our windows after everyone was asleep and roam around. Of course getting caught was a bummer, because my mama didn’t spank me, she beat me where ever that switch landed on me. It might not have been so bad if I didn’t try to get away from her. All that twisting and turning expose all areas of my body to that hated switch. One day getting a switching caused me to hate our newpaper boy. I had broken a mama rule and had one coming, but I ran from her, and the paper boy was coming by about that time so she told him to catch me, and he did. Boy, did I hate him after that. I can’t remember his name, but he lived up on the Moultrie road and his mother had a long chicken house out back.

So, one night I was sleeping in my bed just minding my own business, when I heard my best friend, Larry call my name outside of my open window. He, Jimmy and Bobby were out there and wanted to do a little exploring. Since I was out numbered I had no choice but to go. How we ended up in the sand dunes I can’t remember, but from there we went to the golf driving range on the Radium Springs Road. They had left the balls that were hit out on the range after they had closed for the night, so we started throwing them around. The next thing I remember we were putting them into a basket left there for that reason, counting them as we did. All 581 of them! We left them none!

It took all four of us to tote that basket back over the dunes to Larry’s house. We threw a few and dropped a few as we went laughing all the way. What a great joke on those guys when they find their balls gone. There was no way they would trace it to us. We all went home and to bed and about the middle of the next morning judgment came in a hurry. It took them all of 30 minutes to follow our trail to find the balls. Lucky for us they did not call the police. I’m sure they felt that we were going to pay heavily for the caper, and they were right. But since it was hard work picking the balls up, I thought that they would at least said thank you. But, alas, they took their balls and left.

I have told this story many times over the years, but never to my kids that I know of. And I have struggled about writing this story knowing they will read it, but in the end I believe they will find the humor in my telling it, because they know I do not condone such behavior today.

One last note about the Sand Dunes of Albany, I sure wish we would have preserved them the way they were. Parts have been, but there is a housing development carved out of part of the dunes today. I have vivid memories of how beautiful and strange they looked back then, and it is so sad to see the change…

David Butler

2011

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Diving for Artifacts

Larry said, “Look at this,” as his head popped up out of the water. He was holding what looked like a smoking pipe, but an old one. I had seen that type of pipe before but only in old paintings, or rather pictures of old paintings in books. It was made of clay and had a very long stem with a small appendage at the bottom of the bowl. On the stem was the word, “Holland.” That was over 50 years ago. Larry was born and raised in Newport, Florida, and  I think a descendent of Daniel Ladd, one of the original settlers of Newport. He had moved up to Albany to live with his sister and from the day we met, we became best friends. We had many great adventures together, but the one summer we spent with his father in Newport was one of those that you remember forever. I was around 14 years old then, and the things we did during those four weeks would have made Ole Huck Finn proud. We lived on that river, fishing, swimming, or diving everyday. It was a five minute walk from Larry’s house to our boat, and we would run to save time.

Newport had about 30 residents back then. It wasn’t a ghost town yet, but was a long way from the time when it had nearly 2000 people, with its wood plank road going to Tallahassee. The ‘Old Plank Road’ is still there, but under the dirt now. Fifty years ago the draw bridge was the most prominent feature with the bridge operator’s house and the two catwalks underneath. I can close my eyes and still see Larry and me in cut off jeans and nothing else, fishing off the catwalks. The draw bridge and catwalks are gone now, and the residents are down to just a few. About all that is left are the memories, and the following is one that tops them all.

We had swim mask and snorkels and did some diving when the tide was out, and one day we were diving about a hundred yards down the river from the bridge when Larry found that pipe. After checking out the pipe, we both went back down and saw where the bottom was covered with debris on one side of the river. We saw a lot of broken dishes with most having a blue pattern, along with broken old bottles and clay pottery. We brought several pieces up and put them in the boat. After a couple of more dives, I found a pipe bowl, then some stems from the pipes. All in all, over the next couple of weeks, I found 11 pipes bowls and about twice that many stems. Larry found about the same, but neither of us found another like the first one that Larry found. One of my Pipes had the letters TD surrounded by 13 stars. That was a real prize. I still have the pipes and stems today, however, after dropping the box they were in, I had to glue some of the bowls back together. One went missing at a “Show and tell,” at school. Another prize was a clay bottle in near mint condition that I found on one of my dives. That bottle sits on my window sill with its sister today. I have since learned that it is an old civil war relic, a ginger beer bottle.

I have also recently learned that the TD on the pipe may have stood for Thomas Dormer that was once a popular English pipe maker active between 1748 and 1770. It was his trade mark, and it was copied for many years afterwards. The 13 stars stood for the 13 original states, and this style of pipe became popular during and after the war of 1812. How the pipes came to be at that spot, was believed to be a wrecked boat, or one that was overturned. As word of what we found got out, a couple of divers with scuba gear showed up one day and started looking around and found a lot of civil war era Minnie Balls, and other items of that time period. In 1865, Some say that the Union Navy tried to go up the river from the town of Saint Marks on the river that bore its name, but could not make it. So the Union Army in an attempt to capture the capitol marched to the natural bridge up the river from Newport and was defeated there. That is now called the Battle of  the Natural Bridges. So the natural assumption is one of the union boats might have made it as this far and was attacked at Newport and sunk or capsized. At any rate that seems the only logical reason why so much stuff of that time period was found there in that one spot. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

That area has been picked clean over the years and I doubt there is even one item left. Even the University of Georgia had a team come down years later to dive on the spot, but that is another good story altogether that I must tell later. As for Larry and I, we grew up and went our separate ways, but remain friends even today. I’ve been back many times camping at that bridge with other men and young boys from church, but those childhood memories are still the best.

Oh, and those two divers I was talking about? Larry sold that “Holland” pipe to one of them for 10 dollars. Something we both regret today. But the adventure was priceless…

David Butler

Post note: If I thought that Florida History would be served I would gladly donate my pipes to a local museum to share with others.

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Remembering 911

What are you guys looking at?

There was a crowd around the TV in the lobby at the headquarters for the Florida Department of Corrections inTallahassee, as I walked in. On the screen I could see a burning building, and ask what was going on. Someone told me a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York City. Someone else said it was an airliner. Another said that they think it was terrorists. Remembering the bombing in 93, I said that they sure don’t like that building, and I sure hope it was an empty plane. Little did I know!

I was on a task force to develop a special tool cart, and procedures for the inmates to use on the prison compound to perform minor maintenance. Security had changed over the last dozen years regarding inmate tool usage, but the need for inmate labor remained and we needed some guidelines to operate with. We tried to get started, but the talk kept coming back to the World Trade Center. It wasn’t long before someone walked in and said that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. We left to find a TV. Word came down that they were worried about the safety of Governor Bush, the president’s brother, and we all may have to leave. Rumors were flying. Then the towers fell and our hearts sank to our stomachs.

How can anyone forget that day? Our country has had a few of those kinds of days and it is a shame. I for one believe we are the greatest country in the world, and do not understand the hatred. There is nothing you can tell me that will change that. Sure we have made our mistakes. We have been involve in wars and places that maybe we shouldn’t have. I have often questioned my two tours in Vietnam, but I have no doubt that I would do it all over again.

So, I woke up this morning thinking how I’m lucky to be an American. In this world of instant info on the internet, people who truly seek freedom, know by what they read, that we are truely blessed, and they long for the same opportunity. The ones that trash our country don’t count. Rather than wanting the freedom to pursue the American Dream they would rather just take ours away. I will not however, give them any more thought, but rather reflect on why I love this country.

To start with our country has great religious tolerance. Without fear I am free to worship God, just as others may worship their god or gods. I may not be in agreement with their beliefs, or they of mine, but still live in peace as neighbors. Since the early days of our country, one has the opportunity to own land and develop it. Most have done so for the betterment of mankind and for profit, which is another great freedom of ours. There is nothing sinful about making a profit. Can it become sinful? Of course, but I don’t need to lecture on that. In a free country like ours innovation has been the key, what we didn’t invent we improved. The fact that some profited from it was the reason that it became affordable.

While agriculture exists in every country and culture, our country made it possible to feed the world. The fact that it doesn’t is no fault of the farmer, but rather governments. Our farmers can, and do, grow anything. With what our country has invented or improved in farming technology, I believe they could plant stones and make it grow. That is not limited to crops either. Look at our cattle, pork, fish, and poultry industry. If we Americans see a need for something we find a way to cultivate it. I have a neighbor that raises more quail in pens than what we have in the wild through out the county. Yes, we are a great country.

This country has rushed to the aid of nearly every country on earth in their time of need, yet we are still hated. I simply can not wrap my brain around that. I said that I would not dwell on them, so I will just pray that some day that will change, so that my children and their kids will know a time of peace. Surely God has blessed us and it is up to us to be worthy of that blessing. Thank you God for my America…

David Butler

September 11, 2011

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One of Florida’s best keep secrets is the State Park at the Saint Marks Lighthouse below  Tallahassee. As a teenager I spent a lot of time there on week-end trips before it became a state park. Later on I took many boys there when camping in the campground at Newport. And now it was time to introduce my two youngest grand daughters to that wonderful place. BJ and Candi packed a picnic lunch and we head out, arriving around nine in the morning. Having not been there in a while, I was surprised at the improvements made in the park. Several overlooks were added for wildlife viewing, along with restrooms and butterfly gardens at the Picnic Pond. Hiking trails are well marked and info centers everywhere telling what to look for and the history of the area.

Our first stop was the lighthouse, and it was just like it was 50 years ago when I first saw it. It is such a majestic sight that you see long before you get there. Built in 1842 it has grown up with this part of our state, surviving hurricanes and war. I love history and this is a vital part of our wonderful states history. The marsh and pond were filled with birds and gators, and the girls spent a lot of time looking at them through their binoculars. They loved the butterflies and took a lot of photos of them. It was a treat to see the alligators. We saw deer feeding by the ponds and a large king snake. On the way to a restroom break we saw a bald eagle in a tree. The girls could hardly contain themselves.

Later at the Picnic Pond, we spread the food that the ladies had prepared on a table and made our sandwiches. It was such a beautiful place where we watch the alligators and many kinds of birds. It was there where we had a real treat by seeing a half dozen Roseate Spoonbills feeding at the edge of the pond. At first Lee and I thought they were flamingos, because of the pink color. They are rare in this area. However, the crème de la crème was when a pair of bald eagles were soaring over our heads. It was very windy and they just stayed over us for about five minutes, and one even lit in a tree about 30 feet away. Candi got some great potographs of them. Bald eagles and a chicken salad sandwich, it doesn’t get any better than this.

We are planning a trip back down here in October for the Annual Monarch Butterfly Festival, when the beautiful large butterfly makes a stop on its way over the gulf to Mexico. Hopefully some of the migratory birds will be there. We just might get to see a whooping crane.

Later we headed out with stops at the river in Newport where I regaled them with stories of the many camping trips there, of which I must write about soon. Then it was a nostalgic stop at Wakulla Springs, the worlds largest and deepest freshwater spring. We made the girls a promise to come back and take the glass bottom boat ride, so we could see Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish. With two tired girls we headed home.

What a great day.

Life is good…

 David Butler

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The wounded bobcat leaped from the rafters and landed on a chicken and with those sharp claws and teeth, ripped that chicken to shreds. Then she started leaping for me in large bounds, and there was no where to go.

Chicken farming was not really my thing, even though I worked hard at it for 10 years, I wasn’t that good of a farmer. But, because I did work hard raising them, I would come unglued when a critter got into the chicken house and killed some of my chickens. Wild house cat were a big problem, and of them the half breed house cat/bobcat cause me the most trouble. I guess I killed at least 20 of them during those 10 years. However, on two occasions I met and killed the real thing in a one on one battle.

After church on Sunday night, my brother-in-law, Lavon and I went to check the 10 houses we had, to see if everything was ok. The chickens were scheduled to be loaded out the next night. They were full grown and we did not want to lose any now. As we drove up to the last house nearest the woods, I immediately saw that something was wrong. The chickens were very agitated and at the center of the house they were up against the wall and there were several dead ones in the middle. They were covered in blood and I knew right away we had a cat in the house. I grabbed my 22 automatic and because Lavon does not see very well, and it was dark, I had him walk behind me and hold on to my belt. I told him that, “When I turn, you turn, when I stop, you stop.” That way I would not have to worry about him when I started to shoot the cat.

We started down the dimly lit chicken house looking for the killer of my chickens. Lavon was in route step with me holding my belt from behind, and after about 30 yards I saw two eyes looking at me from the rafters. I told Lavon to stand still, and I aimed at the dark shadow of a body and shot. It was a bad shot, because I hit her in the gut. Now the last thing you want to have is an angry gut shot bobcat coming for the one that did that to them. That cat leaped off the rafter, and killed the chicken she landed on and was coming for me. She was so close that I could not get another shot off. All I could do was yell for Lavon to back up. I’m backing up all over Lavon, but he can’t see over me to see what is happening and we are not getting anywhere. All of a sudden the cat is there and leaps for me, and I do the only thing I can and hit her in midair with the butt of my rifle, breaking the stock on it, but killing the 30 pound bobcat. If that don’t get your adrenalin up, nothing will.

The other time I met one was also in the chicken house, when I had nothing but a shovel for a weapon. The cat saw me and took off running down the house to get away. I ran after it, and as he tried to ram his way out through the wire at end of the house, I caught him and laid him out with that shovel.

Now if I had met that cat in the woods, I probably would have ran away myself, not being a hunter, and never was a good one when I did hunt,  but like I said I go a little crazy when they are after my chickens.

Life is one big adventure…

David Butler

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You can’t ponder long without drifting into philosophical reflection on how, why, and what could have been. I, without the slightest hesitation, believe that I am great at pondering. Not the greatest, but at least honorable mention. However, I do tend to center my ponderings on personal experiences, friends, and family, rather than on some of the heavy questions of today that need pondering. For that reason alone, I may never earn the coveted title of ‘Pondering Champion’. I just never could properly ponder heavy questions like, “If all is not lost, then where is it?” Much less, “If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?” Questions like that are just too heavy for me. So most of the time, I just ponder, or mull over, those things that have shaped my life.

Another reason I may never become a champion ponderer, is the “Nothing box.” I more than likely have missed out on many great ponderings because of  that box. Mark Gungor said that men have everything in their brain compartmentalized into boxes, and each box has only one item in it, such as the car, kids, work, wife, etc. He also said that men have a nothing box and that was man’s favorite, where he would go and think about nothing. While that may be true for most men, it is a hindrance to a ponderer like myself. However, like most men I find myself in that box often. I can be sitting in my favorite chair just mulling away, when all of a sudden I open that box and jump in and shut the lid. No rhyme or reason for it, but there I am, just thinking of nothing. I can think of nothing for hours.

There was the time that I tried to go outside of my norm and ponder the great question, “What would a chair look like if your knees bent the other way?” And just when I thought I had the design in my mind, I slipped into that box. After that I could never wrap my brain around that question again. I guess that is one reason I shy away from the great questions. Sometimes a friend would ask, “What do you think?” Being the great ponderer that I am, I would respond with, “I think about it all the time,” which was a little white lie. No sir, the nothing box is not my favorite place to be.

BJ, on the other hand, doesn’t have a nothing box. She forever has many things going in her mind all at once. I guess teaching school for 36 years has given her power to be in thought all the time. I had reasoned that when she retired she would find time to relax, but little did I know that even before that date, she was preparing for a full plate that required constant thought. From chairing the county’s “Relay for Life” events, to being on the board for the, “The American Cancer Society High Five,” not to mention helping with our grand daughter’s home schooling, tutoring neighbor’s kids, quilt making, ladies retreat team, etc, etc. No, the nothing box does not exist in her mind.

So men, take heart when your wife ask you what are you thinking, and you tell her, “Nothing,” and she says that you cannot possibly be thinking of nothing, you are not alone.

Someone said, “Thinking of nothing is still thinking.” Not true. Right men?

David Butler

2011

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