Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Just before my sophomore year at Coffee High ended in Florence, Alabama, dad gave us the news that we would be moving to Harriman, Tennessee as soon as school was out. He had gotten transferred by TVA to the Kingston Steam Plant on the Tennessee River near Kingston, Tennessee.

This was the only time I remember moving that I did not have a girlfriend. In a way that might seem sad, but at least it was not near as sad as spending the remaining days pining over each other and looking deeply into each other’s eyes while explaining that you had " control over things, and besides we will stay in contact and meet up again someday soon." I suppose our young and tender hearts actually believed that or we have just run away somewhere and starved to death on the fruits of love!

The real pain of such partings came while looking back through a rear car window and slowly waving goodbye while mouthing, “I love you – I’ll write you” to the fading image of a little heart broken girl. All the time, I was trying to keep my emotions in check and hidden from my parents in the front seat. Besides, I was not speaking to them for ruining my entire life – again!

We had lived in Harriman before from the second part of the first grade in 1953 until the middle of my fourth year in 1956. Therefore, I had high expectations of knowing at least a few people when school started in the fall. However, I had to spend the entire spring and summer of ’62 without friends or at least that is what I expected.

Turns out I met “Jaybee Whale,” or that is what the neighborhood kids called him. His real name was Bennie, but we rarely called him that. He was and has always been “Jaybee” to me, and if you ask anyone in these parts about ol’ Jaybee, they know about whom you speak, since they will probably not remember his first name either!

The “Whale” part was added by someone because of his size, which was befitting an Our Gang character and official “He-man Women-haters Club" member! Truth be told, “Jaybee” did not have a lot of friends and played by himself in his basement most days.

“Jaybee” had an exclusive club himself and that was my first introduction to his world. Having been invited to visit the club in the basement, I found him to be a funny guy, not funny – funny, but very humorous, quick witted, and very talented. He was at least four years younger than I was, but he made me laugh frequently and we soon had comedy and model cars in common.

His passion was the model car demolition setup he had fashioned from plywood. If you had model cars, and I had plenty, then you would quickly be inducted into the “crash club” at “Jaybee Whale’s” demolition track! Guys all over the neighborhood showed up at the “demolition derby” once a week, having worked the rest of the week at reinforcing their plastic models to win the next “smash off!”

Anything went and nothing was illegal as long as the car was still the original model on the outside and had its original working wheels.

I soon learned to pour molten lead inside the front fenders and around the grille area, using aluminum foil as an insulating shield. Extra strips of plastic, like those long round pieces the pretty chromed parts came attached to worked well…just like 2'' reinforcing pipe used in real race cars. A whole tube of glue might be used in one “welding” session!

During the event, opponents ran their cars down two opposing eight-foot sheets of plywood and into each other at full speed…by the end of the tournament, owners would be using full-arm shoves to increase the speed to that necessary to crack the opponents car into splinters! What fun - juvenile yes, but loads of fun!
“Jaybee” and I were fast friends that summer and he kept me from being bored and lonely for those few weeks before school.

Soon, summer ended, school started, and as I got reacquainted with former classmates, I soon put the childish things aside. “Jaybee” must have been hurt when I began to ignore him for my older friends.

I never went to his basement again after the summer of ’62; however, as I passed by “Jaybee’s” house with a new friend or date, I would see him standing alone in his yard. I thought about the basement and even longed, at times, to be laughing again with him as our cars exploded into a hundred pieces – probably much like his heart did as he watched me pass.

1 Corinthians - 13:11. When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.


Alex said...

Sorry, bub. I can't abide cold beer. I like it kept in the cool basement, but nothing under, say, 45-50F.

If you're drinking real beer (i.e. not Michelob or Bud), you're just killing the flavor by overcooling it.

Mushy said...

Drank it hot for a year...didn't like it. I drink good beer now, but don't like it warmer than 40. I am a true American beer drinker.

Fathairybastard said...

I used to hate moving all the time as an Air Force brat. Lost a lot of friends and always hated to be the new kid. Dad had no idea what he put my sister and I through, over and over. He and mom had made the decision to stay in the service, due to the opportunities it offered versus what existed here in Bell county. They had decided to make it their life, and we were dragged along with no chance to make the choice. And so my sister and I grew up as vagabonds, never keeping friends for more than a few years. My sis had it worse. She had to move more often, often once a year, because she was around when dad was a junior officer. By the time I knew what was going on dad was a Lt. Colonel and we were moving every 3 years or so. Just enough time to get settled in, feel like you have a home, and then you're off again.

My folks grew up with all their relatives and grandparents surrounding them. Friends they'd known all their lives. Couldn't understand why sis and I had problems. She responded by learning how to become popular quick. Do what everyone else is doing and go along. I went into myself. Your friend Jaybee reminds me of myself in those days. Friends were always going away, growing up and getting girlfriends, and then I was on my own again. I always felt more comfortable playing with younger kids, having missed out on some sort of socialization stage that would have shown me how to move on. Built model tanks and used to play with them in the back yard, throw dirt clods at them to simulate artillery. Found a circle of friends in a similar interest in school, and we all stayed to ourselves. Nerds. Anyway. your post brings back lots of memories, as usual.

Suldog said...

I was one of the very lucky ones - grew up in and stayed in my same neighborhood for the first 37 years of my life. I never had to say "goodbye" to anyone unless they moved.

Very touching story, Mushy. You, too, FHB.

Jose said...

You know, I never had to say goodbye but once and that was when I left Mexico, being the last one of five children to be brough over, I didn't mind leaving anyone behind as the reward was to be reunited with my dad, mom, and four sisters. We have been together ever since, exception being my little sister because she still leaves in California but for bid events it's not too long a drive.

Shrink wrapped scream said...

Oh, powerful writing Mushy, you have a gift, which I'm glad you share. I was very moved by this post of yours. I, too, moved to so many places, even now I can't recall where half of them was. I guess I became a bit like FHB's sis; I soon learnt to fit in and become whatever I was expected to be, so much so, I never really got to know who I actually was 'til many more years down the line.

I think my "Looney Tunes" post explains it best. Looks like you've touched a chord with more than just me. I am so glad to have crossed your path, my friend!

Mushy said...

Again...very kind words from you all and I appreciate it.

I haven't written much lately and I'm taking today to catch up on my list of future posts. It feels good to write something you feel good about. This one fell a little short of my goal, but has gotten me back at the keyboard again. usual, you have posted a great piece within a comment...I love what you had to say and feel like you and I have a bond of sorts over similar childhood experiences, and current interest. I hurt for you sometimes, because I think I know what you are feeling based just on what we knew as kids, and of course from what you write.

I hope you aren't as lonely as you sometimes seem to be - remember ol' Mushy is here to listen and share anytime.

BRUNO said...

I'm sorry, Mushy ol' pal! I know you intended this post to be serious! But I about blew an "anal O-ring" when you told about the demo derby! Mainly because the wife was reading over my shoulder, and said out-loud the same, exact thing I was thinking to myself, which was: "Sounds like somethin' YOU might've been in on!" Why weren't both of us on a NASCAR team, figuring out new and better ways to cheat!

Kinda gives me an idea for my next blog installment! But I gotta go dodge hailstones and lightning bolts at the moment....

Mushy said...

Bruno...we could have been a pair!

Keep your head down and your tail curled under! They are headin' here for the next 3 or 4 days too!

Fathairybastard said...

Thanks for the kind words guys. I'm much healthier now than that earlier comment makes me sound. I think I went into a funk from reading the post and seeing myself in a guise that I hadn't had to think about in a long while. Oh well, sis still has issues with past things, but I'm over the hurt of it, for the most part, and I've learned to appreciate the coolness of having the life I did have. Living in England and Missouri made me who I am, and I've grown to like who I am.

As an adult I've found a way to be this fat hairy island, of a sort, without caring too much what others think about it. Sis and I both went through childhood thinkin' that we would've had a much better life here surrounded by relatives, but it wasn't in the cards. Once we moved here, our different life had left us so different and distant from our cousins lives that we really don't have much to do with them now ether.

We both grew up having to learn how to build our own circle of friends where we are, and I think that's what I've done here. You guys out in the bloggosphere are the latest evolving set. Feels good to have this interaction with cool folks, so thanks for the thoughtful post. You make me realize that lots of other people had the vagabond life, even if they weren't service brats.

Miss Trashahassee said...

Awesome post -- awesome comments.

I need a tissue!

David Sullivan said...

I had friends that I stopped hanging with (for one reason or another) who when you saw them around the neighborhood or at school felt like seeing an "ex".

Nice post.

jan said...

I met my "Jaybee" thirty years after I had abandoned him. He only remembered the good times we had and not that I had treated him badly. It made me feel good that we could pick up where we left off.

*Goddess* said...

It's ironic that you mentioned race cars, I was just talking to my husband last night about this little figure 8 shaped racetrack with two plastic cars that we had as kids. We'd sit there for HOURS "racing" those two stupid cars on that track. That just strikes me as so funny when I think about it now.

phlegmfatale said...

Aw, poor Jaybee! Those smash-ups sounded awesome!!!

Mushy said...

Again...your memories are so interesting to me and I have to work so hard to get them out of ya!

Mushy said...

The good news is that Jaybee and I are communicating again. He lives in Dallas and comes to Harriman frequently. We'll get together again one day...I can't wait.