Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Road Trip




I’ll be heading out on the road for a Thanksgiving journey for the first time in many years. Road trips at Thanksgiving wore me out back in 1996 & 1997 when I was commuting between Lockport, NY and Tuscaloosa, AL. I was not keeping a journal at that time of my life. However, the events of the trips are burned into my memory.

I was stacking aluminum radiator cores in Building 7 on the day shift the day before Thanksgiving 1996. This was a rate job I was very good at. My partner in sharing the center machine was Karen. She taught me how to stack and she was fast. Once we started work for the day we tried to keep the machine which made up our air centers running all the time. Starting the center machine from a dead stop would increase the chance of jam ups and down time. When our parts table would fill up, an electric eye would get covered cancelling out parts being sent. If my eye would get covered Karen would then get all the parts. She would yell.. “JIMMY my table is filling up!~!!!” That would always light a fire under my butt!!

Stacking was a rate job. I had made extra parts earlier in the week I did not record so I would give a legal count for my weeks work when I left early. This day I worked through my morning breaks and was able to get my count out just into my lunch. Karen promised to put my finished parts on the line, and record my count so I could head out on the road early. I ran out of that place to my truck and hightailed it to my house. The truck was packed with paving bricks and odds and ends.

I had moved most of my antiques south in October using a 17ft U-haul. Mom’s cat Fuzzie moved in with Chloe and me after her death in 1994. That October move was the trip my sisters found Fuzzie dead when they came to feed the cats. That was so horrible. There was no way I was going to leave Ron’s old cat Chloe behind this trip. From now on we would be travelling as a team. Chloe was startled when I scooped her up, plopped her into the cat carrier and carried her to the truck.

Chloe settled right in and travelled wonderfully. The traffic was as you would expect: Miserable. Naturally I hit Columbus, OH right around 5:00 p.m. I hate driving through this city. Rush hour makes it the worst. Cincinnati was not much better. I can still see in my mind the unbroken line of red taillights snaking into and through the metropolis.

Once I got over the river into Kentucky things calmed down a bit. I decided to stop for the night at what was then a Budget Host Motel in Erlanger, KY. I had stayed there before and knew there was not a problem with Chloe. Right next door was a White Castle. A BIG plus in my book.

Chloe was a trooper. She made herself right at home in her regal manor.

We got an early start Thanksgiving Day and had smooth sailing into Tuscaloosa. Chloe explored the new house. It met with her approval and she claimed a perch on top of boxes stacked up in what is now the back study.

Chloe made a number of similar trips the following year. She developed cancer: the Thanksgiving trip to Tuscaloosa in 1997 was her last. She was such a special cat. There was something mystical about her. When she would look into your eyes it was like she could see into your soul. Her ashes are in a tin in my front parlor. I have it in my will I’m to be cremated and our ashes are to be mixed together and spread off the Appalachian Trail.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Full Moon Reflections




It never fails…soon as I sit at the computer to write a journal entry, my little Dagney insists upon perching on my lap. This makes typing MOST difficult!

Sunday was a glorious day. We had a docent meeting at 2:00 to work out details of the upcoming house tour for the annual Dicken’s Christmas. These people are so disorganized, but I keep my mouth shut. I don’t need to get involved in organizing another function. I’m content to just be a house guide.

One of the main problems we have with the house tours is this antique Oriental rug. It was repaired and turned out to be extremely rare and valuable. It is silk and supposedly worth $60,000. That means we can’t have tours coming through walking on it. Putting runners over the rug can cause more wear and damage than people just walking on it.

The discussion went on forever. I kind of lost it and said, “Roll the damn rug up and take it out of the room. People on the tours don’t know about the rug and don’t care. They just want to look out the same window Elizabeth Shirley looked out to see the Yankee’s marching to Tuscaloosa to burn the city.”

The room lit up, and exclamations of “We never thought of that!” followed by, “Well that furniture is so rickety it falls apart when you try to move it.” I gave up at that point in time. It was time to head to the boat house.

We had a wonderful practice row. I rowed 5 seat in the “engine room” of the boat. Usually I’m in bow or 2 seat. The leaves are in as much colour as we get here in Alabama. The river was quiet traffic wise.

The days are getting so short. The sun was just about gone when we docked. It was one of the “Tiffany robins egg blue” skies with the clouds lit up a brilliant orange when we lifted the boat out of the water. Headed for home as I turned off Lurleen Wallace Blvd onto 11th st, the huge full moon was rising in the east

Stumpy was waiting in Michelle’s driveway for me. He wanted his wet food treats: He could not get into the house fast enough!! I got his treats and I heated up some leftover soup for supper. I just wanted something fast and easy.

The night was fairly warm; I bundled up a bit and settled into the deck chair with a glass of box wine. I just stared at the moon. My smudge pot lamps were flaming, Stumpy jumped and settled into my lap.

Over the old front door of the Lockport Public Library is the inscription: Books are like an open door to set the spirit free. How prophetic that has turned out to be in my life. Certain book have honestly changed and inspired my life. One such book was: “All but My Life" written by Gerda Klein. In this book she chronicles her early life under the Nazi’s and her survival of the work camps. I quote a passage from page 117 of this book.

“I heard girls toss and turn and here and there weep quietly. The night was starry and beautiful. From my bunk I could see the hills through a window. Slowly the full moon rose. I spoke dreamily to her. I asked her if she saw Papa and Mama. It seemed as if she said yes. In the years to come the moon became my loyal friend. My only friend that was free. Each month I counted the days until she returned, and often when she hid behind clouds I thought that she was avoiding the horror on earth.”

Looking on the bright moon I thought of Gerda and how she survived. That old moon has seen a lot of the follies going here on earth. Stump was purring and stretching out when the phone rang.

I answered that damn phone and it was a robo call for the 2012 election! I don’t like to use profanity but I was royally pissed to be annoyed in this way. If I have to endure election phone calls like I have the past three months for the next two years I’ll drop my land line service.

By the time I settled back in the deck chair, Daggy came down from upstairs and joined me. Stump chased bugs and ducked under the gate to visit Michelle’s back yard. My purring “little cat” calmed me down some and we enjoyed the evening: Daggy, the moon, and I

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Burger Chef Reminisces




I awoke to a steady rain and Stumpy’s big old paw on my face telling me he wanted his wet food! Every morning as I start my routine I think of my dad who had to feed our cat Stormy. Dad was always the first one up to get to his job at GM at 6:00. “Jesus, I have to feed that cat before I can even make my coffee!” was dad’s line.

Some things never change….the cats get fed before I can put the water on to boil for my drip coffee pot. Stump and Daggy are sacked out on the bed now with full bellies as I enjoy the last cup of coffee from the first pot of the day. I’ve checked out my news sites and NPR has gone through the morning news loop. Pandora Internet radio is now streaming as I put together this entry. Such is my everyday life….and I love every minute of it!!!

Sunday I had been cleaning out files and trying to make some order of my upstairs. I found the patch I saved from one of my Burger Chef work shirts from 1970. The memories of working at that place: I posted a picture of that patch to my facebook page and got lots of comments.

Let me just elaborate a bit more on working there as my clothes get washed. The sky is clearing so I should have a window of opportunity to have them dry on the line!

The owner of this Burger Chef franchise restaurant “Gordie” was there daily working the back line for the day shift. His wife Teresa worked the front line. No matter where you were stationed somebody was there to boss you around. They were hard bosses, but they instilled fast customer service. Many evenings they would drive by to make sure the front line was working as they should. I’ve been forever spoiled in what to expect from fast service restaurants from working at the “Grease Pit” as we called it.

Even back then we were expected to push the French fries if they were not ordered. In response to drinks, we were always supposed to question if they wanted the LARGE if a size was not specified.

My best friend in High School, Keith was also a “Burger Boy”. He was so smart in math: he could add up the orders in his head. For whatever reason, we were not allowed to use the cash registers to tally the orders. There were pads and pencils to write down and add up the customers orders on the front counter. At this point in history, sales tax was not collected on orders under $1.00. If I was ringing up friends or my “regulars” I would break the orders up and ring them up so no tax would have to be charged.

We were supplied with white shirts bearing the Burger Chef patch and aprons. Working the night shift we were often forced to wear previously worn day shift shirts and aprons if they were not too dirty. We were required to wear black clip on bow ties, and black pants.

I don’t venture into fast food places today so it is hard for me to do a compare and contrast to how we used to function. That grease smell from the deep fat fryer would permeate my clothes and every pore of my body. I kept my black work pants rolled up hidden away in the store room so I would not have to wear them home.

One afternoon I got a frantic phone call from Keith. He had gone into work early and learned Gordie had found my ratty work pants in the store room. Gordie was on the rampage and was going to rip me a new a—hole when I showed up for work.

The last thing I wanted too do was buy clothes for work, but I made a quick trip to my clothing store, Lerch and Daly’s and got the cheapest pair of black pants I could.

Showing up for work I was prepared for Gordies rage. When he cornered me on my old pants, I just said, “Who would wear those dirty old pants? Here are my work pants right here.” (Holding out my new black pants) There was nothing he could say!! Thank you for the warning Keith!!!!

Let me close with a favourite Burger Chef story….Keith and I were preparing to start our shift and were chatting away in the store room. Teresa came in to get some supplies…

Teresa: You two sound like two old ladies…

Jamie to Keith: (as Teresa was leaving) And then….she has even taken to driving her own buggy!!!!

Teresa: ARGGGGGGH!!!!!!

That line I gave to Keith was from the movie “Gone With the Wind” when Atlanta’s dowagers were dissing Scarlett for starting up her lumber business…..Keith and I just have to say “And then…” and we just break up…. 40+ years after the fact….life is good!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Early Veteran's Day Entry




The fighting of the “Great War” ceased with an armistice which took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. November 11th was celebrated as Armistice Day for many years. The “war to end all wars” was not successful in that aspect, so Armistice Day has morphed into Veteran’s Day to honour the vets of all the succeeding wars.

When I look back on my education, I’m amazed in how I was taught nothing in regards to WWI. In my high school, World History was taught in Junior year. My instructor was a displaced fine arts teacher who spent ¾‘s of the year teaching the glories of ancient Greece and Rome. When we finally got into the Renaissance, classes stalled as we learned about the artists and their painting styles. The industrial revolution, 19th and 20th centuries were covered by hurried reading assignments.

American History was taught in senior year. The NY State Regents exam for 1970 was centered on Supreme Court Cases. That was pretty much what I was taught. There were no classes for the cause and effect for any of the wars America fought. In hindsight this was ludicrous as my draft card was 1HS for the last months of my senior year. Here I was set up to be drafted into a war I had no earthly concept of: except according to the “Domino theory”, if Viet Nam went communist so would go the rest of Southeast Asia and the world would end.

The effect WWI had on the ensuing 20th Century is mind boggling. The flawed Treaty of Versailles set the ground work for the world depression of the 1930’s which set the stage for Hitler and WWII.

“To the Victors belong the spoils”: That is how wars end. Among the spoils of WWI was the carving up of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the discourse in the Middle East today can be traced back to that dismemberment.

When I lived in Lockport, NY my radio was constantly tuned to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Commission) FM Toronto station at 94.1. I trusted the CBC for my world news. The political satire shows “Royal Canadian Air Farce”, and “Double Exposure” were decades ahead of John Stewart and Steven Colbert.

Bob Kerr hosted an afternoon program called, “Off the Record”. I learned so much from his programmes. The music he introduced to me has so enriched my life. Bob would always have a stellar broadcast for “Remembrance Day”, the Canadian equivalent of America’s Veteran’s Day.

It was back in the mid 1980’s he broadcast Eric Bogle singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. I cried the first time I heard it. Never had the reality and horrors of war been explained to me with such poignancy.

I’ve only ever heard this song performed one time in the US. It was sung by Garrison Keilor on a “Prairie Home Companion” show many years ago. Doing a compare and contrast to the Youtube slideshow and the present day returning Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan breaks my heart. This video slideshow was originally put together for the Canadian Remembrance Day, but the message rings true universally..

Monday, November 8, 2010

Compare and Contrast




The book and movie Gone With the Wind had a great influence on me in my teen years. In my formative mind, Margaret Mitchell’s idealized antebellum south was summed up in dialogue between Ashley and Melanie at the Twelve Oaks Bar-b-que

Melanie: I like to feel that I belong with the things you love.

Ashley: You love Twelve Oaks as I do.

Melanie: Yes Ashley--- I love it as more than a house. It’s a whole world that wants only to be graceful and beautiful.

Ashley: It’s so unconscious that it may not last forever.

I grew up in Lockport, New York. Lockport is located on the Erie Canal at the set of locks which allow a change of some 50 feet of water level. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, the locks at Lockport, were one of the wonders of the engineering world.

The many industries located in Lockport afforded a sense of stability that was over the years considered a birthright. Good paying factory jobs were plentiful. Students graduating from the Lockport schools knew they could walk into a secure blue collar job upon graduation. The ominous words of Ashley, “It’s so unconscious that it may not last forever” applied to Lockport as well.

Harrison Radiator, Lockport’s General Motors Plant, produced all the air cooling and heating systems installed into GM cars. It was my workplace first starting in 1974 until I transferred south to Tuscaloosa, AL in 1998. Little did I think I would be witnessing the slow death of General Motors and industrial Lockport when I was called back to work in February 1976 after being laid off for all of 1975.

That security we once enjoyed and took for granted has long since shattered. My journals chronicle many of my personal experiences in the factory through that difficult time.

In the book The Savage Factory Robert Dewar gives an accurate description of the environment I worked in.

Back in 1979 a hated supervisor attempted to have me fired. What I endured on the shop floor, grievance proceedings, and a visit to a labor relations lawyer forever changed my “work view” towards my job and GM. How I wish I were able to thank that supervisor today. Through that experience, I learned what was really important in life. Just because a lesson is hurtful does not mean you can’t learn from it.

I began planning and saving for my retirement in 1979. I was determined to not spend one second longer on the job at GM than I had to. When I first began the paperwork for my retirement at the Corvette Assembly Plant, the human resource people remarked they had never seen anyone as prepared as I was for retirement.

If I ever do get my journal together into some kind of a book, I planned on a page like this as the foreword.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Turning Colder

It is turning colder out. I wore numerous layers of clothes for last evenings “learn-to-row” session. I know the intensity of cold here in Alabama can’t begin to compare to what I lived with in western New York, but none the less, I hate the cold. Whenever I hear the aria "Che Gelida Manina" (Your tiny hand is frozen) from Puccini’s La Boheme I get goose bumps. Not just from the soaring music, but because I know what it feels like to be that cold…..



Yesterday afternoon I sorted though my old wool sweaters so I could dress up a bit in case I decided to venture out to Art Night after the row. I discovered one of my favourite Lands End Shetland wool sweaters had acquired a couple tiny holes. Damn…. It is only about 15 years old… it is barely broken in. I’m thinking there is some repair thread packed away in mom’s old sewing basket. Back in the day Lands End was a fantastic mail order company to deal with. Any new clothes I used to buy were from them. That was years, opps… I can almost say decades ago. I have some socks to darn, so it looks to be a sewing day today!

I can tell it is cold out as Stumpy has decided to sack out on the bed rather than go outside. The thermostat in the hall showed my house temperature at 55° this morning. I held my breath and switched the control over to heat. The fan started and then I heard the “woosh” as the gas ignited in the heat chamber. I splurged and let the temperature climb to 65°.

I can’t believe that furnace is 16 years old: it was the first thing I had installed when I bought this house. For many years I carried a service contract with the firm who did the installation for seasonal check-ups to the heating and air conditioning units. As often happens, things turned for the worse and that company lost all their good service people. It has been a quite a spell since that unit has been checked by a “professional”. I keep the filters changed and have learned how to decipher the “flashing codes” on the motherboard when things screw up. So far I’ve managed to keep the thing running….

There is supposed to be a frost warning out for tonight. Time to move plants inside: Hopefully the David ferns will survive another winter. The mother fern was purchased back in 1982 from Plant City which was located on Main Street in Buffalo, NY. That fern has been divided and brought back from the dead more times than I can count!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Conversations with Daggy




Day two of No-Jo-Mo. November has so far been a glorious month weather wise. Today I awoke to temperatures in the 60’s at 4:00 a.m. The wind was blowing the dry leaves around so it sort of sounded like rain…..things are still dry.

The fall always puts a sense of urgency for getting projects finished up. It can be hard to work when needy cats demand loving. Daggy was sprawled out amongst the mums Sunday as I was working. It would have been a perfect photo. However, Daggy will not stay put when I try to snap her picture; she has to come to me for loves. This shot of my “tiny girl” was the best I could do!

I often converse with the cats while working around the house. It just so happened on Sunday I was holding Daggy reciting quotes from my favourite John Water’s films. The dialogue from his movies is priceless. “My Daggy does NOT have roaches in her hair. I’ll have you know she’s a CLEAN TEEN!” was my message to Daggy on the front porch, spoken just as some neighbors were walking by! Their heads turned and I just smiled and waved.

Opps!!! I gave up years ago living anything else but my life. The days of putting on a respectable/normal front are long gone.

Back in 1989 Ron and I toured the South. I picked him up in Columbia, SC and we drove cross country to his hometown of Tyronza, AR. On the way we toured the battlefield in Corinth, MS. I fell in love with that little town. That had to be when the first inkling of moving south developed.

I’ve always been aware of the “culture divide” between the north and south. As Ron and I were driving through the southern countryside I questioned if I would be hated for being from the north if I indeed did move below the Mason Dixon line. In his typical fashion Ron bluntly answered, “No Jimmy, people would just say about you, that’s that nice Yankee boy who moved here from New York.”

My street gets a lot of pedestrian traffic from the university students and neighborhood residents. One of the “pillars” of the neighborhood (I don’t like to use the word “dowager” as that can have a number of negative associations, but this neighbor is in the regal class!) used to pass my home daily to visit her daughter who lived just around the corner from me. We would always exchange pleasantries.

One afternoon she was walking by with her daughter. We all chatted a bit. The conversation went like this:

Pillar to her daughter: My, can you believe the work this nice man has done to this old house… and he’s a YANKEE!

Mortified Daughter: MOTHER!!!

Pillar: Well, he is!!!

Jamie: (Wanting to diffuse a potentially awkward situation) I can’t change where I’m from, but I’m proud to call Tuscaloosa my home now.

That did it and we all parted on good terms. Once again Ron was right.

How I wish he were here with me now and we could share good times again. It has been 18 years since his life was cut short by AIDS. My cats aren’t the only ones I talk to when I’m working around the house…..

Monday, November 1, 2010

November -Journaling-Month: Day 1




Here we go again, No-Jo-Mo is back where I try to get an entry a day out. More pictures have been posted on-line of the practice row we did Saturday morning on the misty river. The photographer had a VERY good camera… my little Kodak can’t even compare!!

Some more shots of the misty row Saturday morning;

Holding the “set”:

At the “release” and about to slide up to the “catch”:

Rowing back to the dock:

It was so good to be back on the river again. It had been over a week……

The warm weather we have been enjoying has been pushing me to finish up the jobs I’ve been obsessing over these past few weeks. The north side of the house is finally painted up. I snapped this “artistic” shot as I was reinstalling the double hung windows. If there is reincarnation, I almost hope to come back to earth as a couch potato/slug so I can relax in the next life!

Looking out the window of my study:

I need to throw a load of laundry in machine and hang it on the line before heading to the “Y”.

Check off day one of No-Jo-Mo!!!!

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About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.