Air Force Sketchbook

I was rooting around in my “barn” (outbuilding shed with a barn roof) and found my sketchbook from when I was in the Air Force standing guard over America 😉

Anyway, I started this sketchbook when I was in technical school to learn to be a weather observer. The school was at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, which is not far from Champagne Urbana and a goodly train ride south of Chicago. Now that you know exactly where Chanute was (because it is closed now) on with the story. My plan was to keep a record of my Air Force experience in the form of sketches. Unfortunately, I stopped sketching in my sketchbook not long after arriving at my first duty station, which was George AFB in California. I wish I had stayed with it. The images that follow are from that sketchbook with a few clarifying comments. Enjoy!

I arrived at Chanute in Late January of 1969, and for the seasonally challenged, that is winter, and for you southerners, it is colder than a witches tit up north in winter. Thus most of the images show airmen in winter coats. We were met by a Red Rope. These are one striper students like I was but had volunteered for leadership positions in the student squadron. We had Green Ropes, Yellow Ropes, and Red Ropes in ascending order. They tend to over-assert their authority and the one who met us in the middle of a January night after lights-out emphasized he would tolerate no insubordination from us “pings.” Ping is the sound of the tiny sprouts of hair popping out of our basic training shaved heads and what we airmen fresh out of basic training were called.

We had to march in formation to class and back every day, and they had a code system that told us what we could put on by way of uniform parts. Code C did not allow rubber overboots.

Ken Epperson of Ottumwa, Iowa became my best friend in tech school. Ken was a bit of a rebel and refused to lower himself to march to class in the squadron formation. He “straggled” to class and back every day and never got caught. Ken was also not the tidiest of airmen and was a bit unkempt, thus this drawing of Ken.

We had to march past a B-36 bomber on static display. That thing is huge! It was populated by a whole bunch of pigeons, and dead pigeon carcasses could be seen on the inside behind the plexi nose. I had some fun with it in a couple of sketches.

 

As I said it was cold. The airmen in fire control school were also in our squadron, and since they spent so much time outside, they were issued arctic parkas. The rest of us had to get by with cotton field jackets with an insulated liner. You could really disappear inside those arctic parkas. They issued one to me in California and again in Alaska. I loved it and considered claiming it had been stolen so I could keep it. But then what would I do with it in Louisiana?

Nightly hallway hockey games kept us entertained before lights out. A rolled up sock served as a puck and a broom our hockey stick. The uniform was whatever you had on, which usually wasn’t much. They could get quite rowdy.

All of us had to pull two-hour dorm guard shifts, including all through the night. I got out of losing my beauty rest because I was tall enough that I was the second man in the first squad (left column) in our formations and pulled road guard. Road guards run out ahead of the formation and block vehicular traffic at intersections. Our weapon for stopping disobedient second lieutenants in their Mustangs was a flashlight with an orange tube on the end. We would stand there in the middle of the road at parade rest with our flashlights extended down from our outstretched right hand waving it back and forth like a pendulum, daring them to run over us. I got out of dorm guard duties because of that but got quite a bit of exercise. Dorm guards got a little relaxed on weekends.

Eventually, all these fun-an-games came to an end when we finished tech school and got orders for our first duty station.

We had passes that got us off base on the weekends. The four of us who hung together usually hitched a ride to Champaign to a pub called the Red Lion. I wonder if it is still there? I just checked and it is!  This sketch is our last night at the Red Lion before we shipped out for PCS leave after graduating from tech school. We were kind of sad to be breaking up the gang.

We left Chanute in a rented car headed for O’Hare Airport in Chicago with fond memories of our time there. (Snork!)

Home at last! I left New Orleans for Lackland AFB basic training on Dec 3, 1968 and arrived back in NOLA in June of 1969.

And thus began my Air Force experience.

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Shark!

This isn’t going where you think. It isn’t about sharks that swim. It’s about Sharks that vacuum clean the house. Yes, Janis decided we needed a Shark vacuum cleaner, one of those semi-autonomous devices that meander around your house sucking up dirt. Or, if you have a dog that leaves stool piles lying around, it redistributes that all over your house. Fortunately, we no longer have inside pets, so that was not a concern.

You can manage these things from your iPhone now, but it requires you to give it a name. You can leave it as the default name, which is something like “Shark,”  but I decided to name mine “Tank” because it reminds me of a round tank, like the one Leonardo Da Vinci designed around 1485. That was the beginning of “Tank” becoming a family pet.

As soon as I unpacked him, I released Tank and followed him around to see what he would do. Turns out you have to get wires and other small entanglements up where he won’t run over them. Tank gets snagged on the fringe of the carpet in my den. He struggles and usually fails to free himself then cries for help. No, really, he does. Tank beeps out a distress signal. I guess if you could translate the beeps, he would be saying something like, “Help! I’m stuck!” If you don’t come to his rescue soon enough he shuts down. Tank’s final beeps might be translated, “Oh well, he isn’t coming. Screw it!”

He has sensors that tell him when he is close to some object, and he changes direction. He also has sensors that detect stairs so he won’t take a tumble. Tank wouldn’t last long if he wasn’t so equipped.

Tank seems to move in a completely random pattern. He will run from one room to another never finishing what he started but often coming back a dozen times to run over the same three square feet, like the dirt in that spot is particularly tasty. I am compelled to wonder if Tank ever vacuums everything or very thoroughly? His little dirt compartment does, however, get full, so he is doing something—or my house is really dirty.

Tank is afraid of direct sunlight. (Maybe there is some Transylvanian vampire blood in him?) Whenever he hits an area of the floor illuminated by direct sunlight, he backs off and changes direction. So, any sunny floor area never gets vacuumed.

Tank has a docking station where he goes to recharge his batteries when they become exhausted, you know, kind of like a feeding bowl for the cat. He uses Wifi to find it and makes several jerky lunges at the dock before he gets properly lined up and plugs himself in. I swear I heard him sigh when he docked.

I guess by now you have figured out that Tank is almost like an electric cat and just about as affectionate, but at least, he cleans up after himself, in a manner of speaking.

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Cherry Bounce Update – AT LAST!

 After the three months of “maturing,” my last batch of MB’s Cherry Bounce is ready! I strained off the mash and bottled the juice in an empty Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon bottle pressed into service. That and the deer head stopper are what I had available.

It yielded about 1 liter of finished product, plus a half quart jar of cherries that are now flavored by the Sazerac Rye Whiskey they soaked in for three months. I am amazed at how much of the whiskey flavor the cherries retained.

And, man, is it good! The Cherry Bounce is smooth and sweet when consumed straight and will go well over ice cream and in most any other concoction I can dream up.

Someone asked if letting the mixture soak for a longer period of time would improve it? I can’t imagine it getting any better. I tasted it every few weeks as it was maturing, and you could detect the changes taking place. The alcohol burn tended to overpower the flavor in the beginning, but as the three months passed, the cherry flavor took over and it smoothed out considerably.

As for the Sazerac Rye soaked cherries that are a byproduct, Janis made up some miniature pies using little finger-sized pie shells with filling made with the leftover cherries and some Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cherry Preserves. It is to die for!

I am declaring this little experiment a complete success. Now I have to wait for Bing cherries to come back in season to make more. Meanwhile, I am on the hunt for a wild cherry tree so I can try the recipe using Louisiana wild cherries. Everyone I mention this to remembers having wild cherry trees when they were kids but no one has them now. Maybe a well-stocked nursery?

This will be a continuing story …

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Sometimes You Win One…

I have been accused of many things, and one my wife often zings me on is when I fail to notice the new haircut, new blouse, new dress, or new whatever. She is usually right. I did miss the new “whatever”. But sometimes the new “whatever” doesn’t look all that different from the old one, but that is no excuse! And I get zinged with, “You didn’t even notice (fill in the blank).”

But sometimes you win one.

Notice the pic of me at the top of this post. Now, notice the one below it. See the difference? I mean besides the one at the top is a better pic, and it was also taken years ago when I was younger. Yeah, the goatee is gone.

Here is the rest of the story.

I have worn a mustache most of my adult life since I first grew one while in the Air Force.  The goatee came along only a dozen or so years ago. About once a week I needed to trim my facial hair. I used a barber type razor with an attachment over the blades that limits the depth of the cut. I would leave my beard about 1/4″ long when I trimmed it. One evening I was attending to my weekly beard trimming ritual and was only barely paying attention to what I was doing. Bad move. I was blazing away, working over the goatee part perhaps a bit too casually. Zipping right along and taking quick strokes, I failed to notice I had lost the attachment that limited the depth of the cut. And before I realized it, I had taken a swipe and completely removed my goatee on the right side. Half of it was missing!

What do I do? Do I pretend it is still there and attempt to grow it out, hoping no one will notice it is misshapen? Nah! Maybe cut the other half almost as short? Nah! Or just cut it all off? I went for the latter and zipped the rest of the goatee off and then lathered up and shaved the stubble away.

As I am doing this, I have a moment of evil brilliance. I decided I would not tell my wife and see how long it took for her to notice most of my facial hair was gone. It was bedtime and little opportunity for her to notice, so I gave her a free ride for that day. The next day was Sunday, and we went to church—and she said nothing. We went to lunch—and she said nothing. We spent the afternoon doing what, I don’t recall—and she said nothing. But that evening as she is changing out of her Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, she holds up the blouse she had worn all day and announces, “You never noticed the new blouse I was wearing.”

Gotcha!

I faked my surprise and chastised humility. As I did so, I stroked my chin and replied, “You are right. It is a lovely blouse. Forgive me?”

She is looking at me suspiciously. I think the grin on my face and exaggerated stroking of my bare chin suggested I was up to something. Then it hit her.

Sometimes you win one. But such victories are extremely rare. Men, enjoy them when you can.

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Them’s some ugly women!

The Kenner, LA of the early post-war period was a wonderful place to grow up, but forms of entertainment in Kenner back then were somewhat limited and often locally-generated.

We had one local movie house on the corner of Minor and Fourth Streets. A second was built in the fifties. We had our parades; that would be St. Rosalee.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars cranked up after the war, and out of that came a carnival krewe called the Knights of Malta. They didn’t parade but they did do a nice Mardi Gras ball at a hall connected, if I am remembering right,  to the Raziano restaurant and bar on Airline.

About once a year a “circus” would come to town. It consisted of a few lame rides (by Pontchartrain Beach standards) and a bunch of game booths designed to take your money and give you a cheap stuffed toy if you actually won, which was rare. The circus set up in the (then) empty lot where the OLPH school is now. Back then it was a full vacant block where we played baseball and football as kids. The best part is it was only a block from my house. With a dollar in change in my pocket, I would have the time of my life at that traveling circus, seeing and doing things that I never got the chance to do without a trip to Pontchartrain Beach, which was very rare. That usually lasted for a few days before they packed up and moved on to another town.

Of course, Kenner High football and basketball games were big sports draws for the locals. No Saints back then, and LSU or Tulane sports required a road trip, especially LSU games, or a gathering around the warm glow of a radio. Live telecast? Didn’t happen.

There were various dance reviews, plays, very non-PC minstrel shows, and other entertainment gatherings usually held in the Kenner High School gym, and one such event is where this story is going.

Bet you didn’t know that Kenner had a bunch of men who liked to dress up as women? I’m not kidding! Transvestites, right here in River City—I mean Rivertown.

I don’t recall exactly when this happened, but I’m thinking it was around 1949, only a few years after World War II ended and Kenner’s veterans had racked their M-1s, docked their ships, and parked their P-51 fighters and C-47s for the last time and come home. This bunch of battle-hardened vets fresh from the killing fields of Europe and the Pacific decided they wanted to dress up as women. War does strange things to a man…

The event was a play called “A Womanless Wedding.” It was a so named because it was indeed a wedding without women presented by a bunch of men in drag. I dearly wish I could remember more details about it. All I have is this old photo I found in my Mother’s stuff. I do recall it was held in the then-new Kenner HS gym, and the men in drag dressed in the old gym, which became a cafeteria for the school.

Them’s some ugly women!

I recognize some in the photo. Dave Goldberg was the bride, who evidently was “pregnant” by the groom in the snazzy suit, who I think was Eddie DiGerolamo. Bobby Cristina (my FIL) is the bride’s father with the shotgun. (“Shotgun wedding.” Get it?) The three bridesmaids over on the left are Bob “Son” Manard (near) and Joe Fletcher (far), but I’m not sure who is between them. I originally thought it might be Bob Schyler. I have been unable to identify any of the others.

With this bunch, the “wedding” must have been a hoot!

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Cats Hold Grudges

As many of you know, I am feeding four feral cats. That number shifts up and down as new ones move in for the free groceries and others move out for whatever reason. Right now the number is four regulars, two red tabby cats and two solid black cats. All four are neutered and wear clipped ear tips to signal that. They live outside all year. They do have a place to go in bad weather, an old chicken coop I converted to a “cat house” complete with warm bedding and even a small space heater in cold weather.

The two tabby cats are from a litter their feral mother “gifted” me with back in 2006. There were originally six, but through attrition, we are down to four total. I have two and a neighbor down the street has two more from that same litter.

One of mine, a short hair I named “Sugar” because of her sweet personality, bonded with me before any of the others. She is a very intelligent cat, but she holds grudges.

Sugar and I have a ritual. When I put out the garbage at night, she waits for me, and as I walk back to the side door of my house, she follows and meows to me. She wants attention. I take a seat on the steps, and she hops in my lap for a scratching. She especially wants me to massage her ears. I surmised from this that she has ear mites and bought some eardrops at Jefferson Feed to treat her.

The directions called for treatment twice a day for five days. I laughed at that. There was no way she would allow that. I figured I might fool her twice at the most. I was right. The first night, I slipped the small squeeze bottle in my pocket, and Sugar and I did our ritual dance. She hopped in my lap, and I whispered sweet nothings in her ear as I scratched her and eventually moved to massage her right ear. With my free hand, I reached down and retrieved the bottle of ear mite drops, and without her seeing it, I eased it up and squirted some in her ear.

There was a brief moment of confusion where she must have been thinking “What the…?” before she bolted like she was shot out of a cannon.

One down.

The next night, I was hoping she has not yet associated that “unpleasant experience” with me. She hadn’t. She was waiting for me, as usual, and hopped up in my lap. I stroked her and whispered sweet nothings again as I eased up to her ear and massaged it. Once more, with my free hand, I reached for the bottle of ear mite med and gave her a squirt. This time there was no “what the…” moment. Gone!

I figured that was the end of the treatments at least until I could win her confidence again. My plan was to do our little evening meet-ups for a few nights but not administer any meds, and maybe—just maybe she would forget about it, and I could sneak in at least one more dose.

Nope.

As usual, she came to me the next night, but the second I touched her ear, she decamped post haste.

It rained for the next two nights, and Sugar didn’t show. I wrote that off to the weather. On the third night, it was a nice clear evening, and she was waiting for me. Our little ritual went exactly as it always had, and she followed me over to the steps and waited for me to take a seat. But this time, she stayed out of my reach and took a seat about four away and glared at me. Yes, she glared at me. She had the distinct expression on her face that said, “You won’t fool me again.” No amount of cooing and coaxing could make her change her mind. She remained seated and glaring at me.

Then she did something I was not expecting: She stood, turned around, and sat down again with her back to me! The ultimate cat insult.

Cats hold grudges. And Sugar still isn’t speaking to me.

 

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Cherry Bounce Has Arrived!

After months of experimentation, I arrived at a recipe for Cherry Bounce I am most happy with. The last experiment finally reached three months maturity—well—one week short of three months; close enough for gubmint work, yes? So I acquired some cheesecloth, strained it, and bottled it. Oh, and I also tasted it.

YUM! It is fantastic!

I emptied the last dregs of a tequila bottle I had and put the strained final product in there. That required a quickie label. This is probably not the final version, but it will do for now.

As you can see from the image, I got about 350ml out of that last test batch. Not to worry, however, a “production” batch is currently maturing in the darkened confines of my kitchen pantry. That one used a whole 750ml bottle of Sazerac Rye, so I expect it to yield as much or a bit more, depending on how much juice the cherries throw off. It is, however, only a month into the maturing process. It should be good and ready for Thanksgiving. I would make more for Christmas gifts, but cherries are evidently out of season.

The label says it is “MB’s Cherry Bounce” made from a secret family recipe handed down from generation to generation—all lies—well, mostly lies. MB did inspire this, but since I could not find his original recipe, I had to experiment. And the recipe isn’t really secret. It is attached below for anyone who wants to make a batch of their own.

MB’s Cherry Bounce Recipe

2 lbs ripe sweet Bing cherries

1 cup Turbinado sugar

juice of one lemon

1 750ml bottle Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Remove the pits from the cherries. In a saucepan, add cherries, sugar, and lemon juice and set aside to allow the cherries to throw off some juice (at least 30 minutes or so). Simmer and stir over low heat for 20-30 minutes until sugar is dissolved and the cherries are just about to begin breaking up. I like to keep them whole for later use. You should have then substantially more juice that cherries, whereas before there was very little juice with the whole cherries. Let cool and add rye whiskey. Mix well and store in a clean covered canning jar in a cool dark place for three months. Check often to be sure there is no fermentation that would build up pressure in the jars. (There shouldn’t be with the rye whiskey in it.) Once “mature” strain through cheesecloth and bottle. Save strained cherries and refrigerate for other uses like over ice cream or as an ingredient in cocktails, or maybe make some jam with them. I don’t know how long these will keep refrigerated. You may want to freeze some in small batches to be thawed and used as needed.

The finished Cherry Bounce can be sipped straight or as an ingredient in a cocktail. See my recipe for MB’s Cherry Bounce Old Fashioned Cocktail here.

Cheers!

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The Day Fairyland Burned

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … oh, wait, wrong intro. But it was a long time ago, maybe about 1953 or there-about, when this disaster took place. And the galaxy was Waveland, MS at the summer home of my aunt and uncle. They owned twenty acres of kid-friendly heaven in Waveland. Translation: lots of woods to play in and minimal to zero adult supervision.

It began simply enough: Fairyland caught fire! GADS! That place of wonderment we kids thought possessed mystical qualities because our parents told us (liars) that fairies lived there, was burning!

Fairyland is the yellow circle. Red square was my uncle’s property.

Actually, Fairyland was a garbage dump on the neighbor’s property, because there was no garbage pick-up “a long time ago in that galaxy far, far away” of Waveland. Careless burning initiated by our parents must have caused the fire?

And then again, maybe it was caused by us kids and our Labor Day fireworks?

Whatever, Fairyland was in flames, and a conflagration of epic proportions was rapidly spreading. Where would all the displaced fairies live? Oh, the humanity!

We begged our parents to get involved. “Ummm, adults, there’s a forest fire out behind the house…”

Their reaction was immediate and decisive. “Sure sure. Can you get me another cold Regal from the ice chest?”

We kids resumed our fire-watch as the flames marched ever closer to the house, eating its way through the dried pine needles that littered the ground like a brown carpet everywhere you looked in Waveland. WE ARE ALL GONNA DIIIEEEE!

Finally, FINALLY, we were able to motivate our parents into action. Actually, the smell of burning pine needles may have been more of a motivator? Picking up his beer, Boo, my uncle trudged out of the comfortable confines of the screened porch around to the side of the house, and he saw it. His response: “Oh crap!”

There was an immediate call to action. “FIRE!!!” Well, maybe that is overstating it just a bit? Boo returned to the screened porch and said something like, “Umm, we have a small problem we probably kinda-maybe should take care of—like soon?”

The others looked up from the Chesterfield cigarette smoke and Regal beers. “Like what kind of a problem, exactly?”

“A small matter of a fire behind the house.”

We kids all chimed in then, “Yeah, and Fairyland burned down, and all the fairies are now displaced, refugees! Where will they go?”

With that, the slightly inebriated, adult fire brigade sprang into action with Boo shouting orders, and the others stumbling around attempting to obey. They dragged out a garden hose and attempted to reach the fire with it only to come up short by about fifty yards.

We kids formed a fire brigade of our own and commandeered a toy wagon and several buckets, which we filled with water at the free-flowing artesian well. Buckets filled, we dragged the creaky overloaded wagon to the site of the disaster. The terrain was a bit rough, so by the time we got there, most of the water had sloshed out of the buckets. We made trip after trip as our parents shoveled and batted the fire down with wet sacks and sandal-shod feet (ouch!).

And the world—well, at least all of Waveland—was saved from a flaming disaster. In other words, we finally got the fire out. Much relieved and exhausted, not to mention thirsty, they retired once more to the screened porch for fresh cans of Regal, Falstaff, and Jax beer. We kids rewarded ourselves with Nehi sodas, RC colas, pop rouge, and 7Ups.

Back at school Monday morning, we shared, with our classmates, our tales of derring-do, fighting the great forest fire that destroyed Fairyland.

And all was well with the world again. Except for the fairies who were left homeless and wandering aimlessly around Never-Never-Land, that is.

 

Dedicated to my cousin Bobby.

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More About Waveland

I have written about Waveland, Mississippi on more than one occasion. (A few such tales here, here, and here.) That is because the place holds so many memories from my childhood. During the summers, we generally went over to our little cottage in Waveland every other weekend. As soon as MB closed the office Friday night, we hit the road and did not return until Sunday night, usually quite late. MB would close the office in the summer for a two-week vacation, and guess where we went? Yeah, you guessed it.

I was poking around Google Maps, looking to see what the old hood looked like these days. It has changed a lot! Most of the houses there now were not there then and the area was more wooded. But it still brought back memories. The screen grab above shows the neighborhood. The big red square was twenty acres and originally belonged to my aunt and uncle (Margie and Son “Boo” Manard). The smaller yellow square was our property. The blue roof is the original house built by MB and his friend, Pete. Back then the yard was full of pine trees. Hurricane Camille eliminated most of those. None of the other houses inside the red square were there, and only two of those across the street existed then.

In Waveland, we fished, swam, crabbed, floundered at night, ate hamburgers, soft-serve ice cream after swims, and cold watermelons, and once watched Boo chase Jim, the horse, around his twenty acres. The kids drank pop rouge and Nehis, and the adults consumed adult beverages, mostly cold Falstaff or Jax beer (even Regal before they closed the brewery) all while exchanging gossip or playing cards. On “party nights” (when we had guests with us) they brought out the “big guns,” which was usually Seagrams 7 and 7Up or Coke. And that could lead to trouble, like the night Maxine D. fell in the bathtub and couldn’t get out. I guess she was drunk enough she didn’t hurt anything. It took three men to get her out. The fact that all four were snockered and giggling like it was the funniest thing they had ever experienced tended to hamper the operation.

When not engaged in the listed activities above, we boys were roaming the woods with our BB guns and sometimes getting into our own form of trouble but having a wonderful time. We hung out at a place near the back of the property we called “Fairyland.” (Yellow circle in the image above.) It was actually used as a dump by some of the locals, including us before we got environmentally conscious and started hauling it to the town dump. No garbage collection back then. There were a bunch of small ponds back there and lots of crawfish chimneys. It looked like a fairyland to us. I’m not sure I ever went to Waveland that I didn’t visit Fairyland.

Back behind Fairyland was a small creek that drained toward the Gulf and went under the railroad tracks. The culvert under the tracks was big enough we could stand up inside with only the need to stoop over a little. That culvert was the scene of the famous “you’ll shoot your eye out” gunfight Buck and I had—and I nearly shot his eye out. (The smaller red circle in the image above.)

No AC. in the “old days.” I slept under a huge window fan that sucked the air out of the house and across me in my bunk bed. The vacuum created in the house was filled by the cool night air. What a life!

There was no town water then, either. Our little piece of heaven was a one-acre plot carved out of the corner of a twenty-acre square originally owned by my uncle. He had an artesian well over near his house, which was on the opposite corner of that twenty acres. MB drilled a shallow well on our property, but the water tasted like rotten eggs. He decided maybe stringing all that pipe from the other corner of twenty acres wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Thereafter, we drew our water from an artesian well.

They sold the place in 1973. I wanted to buy it, but I was fresh out of the Air Force and, at the time, unemployed. Waveland is gone. My main regret is my kids didn’t get a chance to experience something like Waveland when they were young.

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1943 Gets a New Cover

I recently updated 1943 with a new cover and newly edited interior files. The cover change was driven by a feeling the existing cover, which I liked, was not expressing the story very well. The book is written as a contemporary romantic comedy, but the cover suggested something more military and probably a turn-off to its audience. I added two secondary characters to the cover” Pug the dog and the monkey, which never had a name in the book beyond “The Monkey.”

The new cover will start showing up on Amazon in a few days. The paperback still needs to have a proof review by me, and that may take another week.

Yes, I did the illustration and cover design.

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