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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Pete

Like most of us, my dad had a best friend. His name was Pete. They grew up together in the neighborhood along Orleans Avenue near City Park. Pete’s folks owned a barroom at the end of Orleans and North St Patrick where Orleans meets Marconi Drive. The building is still there and now occupied by an insurance agency. After the Casteix family decamped from the pharmacy/residence on Bourbon Street (the place where MB tried to launch the squeezin’s from his Cherry Bounce from the attic across Bourbon Street—and failed), they moved to a house on Orleans. This was in the thirties. Since neither MB nor Pete is here to ask, I assume that is when they met.

Both played baseball, and Pete went semi-pro for a while. MB was a semi-pro boxer in the featherweight division. Then came World War II, and MB went to the European Theater of Operations, and Pete went to the Pacific. They reconnected after the war and remained fast friends for the rest of their lives.

Pete was a very interesting fellow. He worked for the Post Office and did contracting jobs on the side. He had a 1957 Chevy BelAir (Sea Foam Green, of course) and a 1957 Chevy former telephone service truck for his contracting jobs. More on that later.

MB and Pete almost never bought anything new. They were “tight” and bought (or scrounged) used and/or fabricated what they needed. MB did buy a new boat, but he had mismatched scrounged motors on the back, and not even the same brand. One was an Evenrude and the other a Johnson. While the stuff they “manufactured” might have been functional, it wasn’t pretty, but “pretty” wasn’t their objective. This was definitely a case of function over form.

Pete helped MB build our “summer house” in Waveland. This was back in the mid-1950s.  In fact, Pete had a bedroom designated as his own in that house. Most of the materials came from a house Pete tore down. They stacked all the salvaged windows onto a trailer to haul them from New Orleans to Waveland, Mississippi. Since it was an “MB and Pete enterprise,” the trailer was homemade (function over form, remember?). It carried stuff well enough, but lacked that final je ne sais quoi—in this case, shocks. In other words, it bounced a lot. Also, notice that I said they “stacked” the windows. They were not stood on end or edge as they should have been but laid flat for traveling. Mistake. After the hour and a half drive over Highway 90 to Waveland with all that trailer bouncing, there was not an unbroken pane of glass left in the windows. They had to re-glaze them all.

MB and Pete did all the electrical wiring in the house themselves (neither was a licensed electrician as we shall see in a moment) and finished the job late in the evening about suppertime. We were staying in my uncle’s house nearby, so they ate supper and returned to the construction job after dark to test their wiring. Yeah, you guessed it. The switch in the kitchen turned on the front bedroom lights. The switch in the bedroom turned on the bathroom lights before it blew all the fuses, throwing them into the pitch black Waveland night. MB tried to walk through the walls between the studs to get to the fuse box and forgot they had put spreaders between the studs that day. One caught him right across the bridge of his nose.

Pete was a consummate scrounger and always looking for some “free prize” in life. Other’s cast-offs might be his diamond-in-the-rough. After a weekend in Waveland, we had to carry our garbage to the dump—no county garbage collection back then. Pete always managed to find some “prize” at the dump, and the standing joke was we always came back with more than we hauled to the dump.

Pete’s garage was a tinker/scrounger’s dream and full of just about anything you could think of that he had accumulated from various scrounging expeditions—like to the Waveland dump. That ’57 Chevy BelAir was in there after he moved up to a newer model. It had a cracked block, and I have no idea why he kept it. He lived on a busy street, and every time he left the garage doors open for any reason, someone would stop and ask about buying that ’57 Chevy. He also kept that ‘57 truck, but it was in the yard. When Pete’s wife passed away in the eighties, he offered both the truck and the car to me. Unfortunately, I had no money to restore them. I managed to get the truck and store it in a garage belonging to my wife’s family. My expectation was one day I would find the resources to restore it. Never did. Sold it. It was a unique truck with that telephone company box on the back instead of a pickup bed and probably more desirable than a regular ’57 pickup. The car went to Pete’s grandson, and I have no idea what happened to it after that.

Pete was someone you just enjoyed being around. He had a great sense of humor and was a perfect partner for MB in their many adventures. Pete passed away some ten years or so before MB. I know he missed him a lot.

NOTE: That image of Pete was in MB’s wartime photo album. It looks like he is wearing a military khaki uniform, so I think this was taken during the war when Pete was overseas, probably in India.

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“Buffalo Woman” is LIVE!

It took a while, but we are finally there. Book 4 of the Catahoula Series, Buffalo Woman, is now live on Amazon. This is the fourth in the series and takes our heroes forward five years to 1872 and the tour of America by Grand Duke Alexei of Russia. Ethan and Angel get sucked into his vortex and head out West to go buffalo hunting and then New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I have posted excerpts from the book here,  here, and here, and below is another. This one finds Angel demonstrating her skills with the sling to the Grand Duke’s party. Enjoy.

*****

Alexei then remembered Angel’s claim of her prowess with the sling and that he had previously requested a demonstration. “Miss Angelique, you told me you could hit a pigeon at thirty paces with your sling. Would you be so kind as to demonstrate the weapon of King David for us?” That was followed by a few shouts of encouragement I imagine meant to express doubt that she could do what she said.

I looked at her, and she was blushing. “You bragged and now you have to back it up.”

She stepped forward and bowed to the Grand Duke, then turned and did likewise to the gathered crowd. She stepped over to Clayton, and just as he was about to take a sip of whiskey from his tin cup, she snatched it from him. After sniffing its contents in an exaggerated manner, she pinched her nose and tossed the liquid into the fire, which flared with a bright flame burning off the alcohol.

As I watched her antics, I was beginning to think that she was quite the show person. I noticed that Buffalo Bill must have also thought so. He was watching her with arms crossed and a curious expression with half smile upon his lips.

Angel continued her show. She held the cup aloft for all to see, even tossed it into the air and caught it in a most theatrical manner. Holding the cup aloft, she marched over to the woodpile for the campfire and placed it upon the top log in such a manner that the open end of the cup would face her. In the exaggerated manner of an accomplished thespian, she gestured toward her cup target then stepped off thirty long paces as the crowd counted along with her. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying her show.

Very dramatically, she took her coat off and tossed it to me. With yet more drama, she withdrew her sling from her trouser’s pocket and stretched it out and held over her head for all to see that it was only two thongs and a leather piece to hold the projectile. The audience applauded. She then withdrew a .44 caliber lead ball from her pocket and pinched between forefinger and thumb, she held it aloft for her audience to examine.

Alexei stood to the side obviously much amused by her antics, and Cody was very clearly interested in what she was doing.

Angel carefully and deliberately placed the ball into the leather pouch of the sling and went to twirling it. I had watched her use her sling on many occasions, but I had never seen her twirl it the way she did that evening. While still facing the audience, she spun it on her right side, then on her left side, then alternating sides, then overhead. That spinning sling held her audience in its hypnotic grasp. As I said, she wasn’t even facing the target, it being on her left side some thirty paces away. Suddenly, she let out a Rebel yell, spun, and stepped toward the tin cup, letting fly the ball at her target, which promptly disappeared from the woodpile with a satisfying clang. Her audience cheered and applauded. Angel threw up her arms in victory. Cody was applauding enthusiastically while shaking his head in disbelief. Alexei stepped up to Angel and took her hand and held it aloft. She then curtsied like the finest lady-in-waiting in any European court. I reckon then that she had learned something in that expensive finishing school after all.

Buffalo Bill ordered the cup retrieved and brought to him for examination. He found a deep dent almost dead center in the bottom of the cup.

After receiving her accolades, she came over and stood beside me with a broad grin on her lips.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Never did it that way before.”

“And you attempted such before an audience?”

She looked up at me with the expression of a child caught in some mischief. “Too much champagne. I think maybe I’m a little drunk.”

*****

And Book 5 is already in the works…

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Black Talon

I used to be an avid deer hunter but gave it up about 20 years ago. I just sort of burned out, and my interests shifted elsewhere. If you hunt or just like shooting, you have probably accumulated a few firearms. Among them is likely one that is very special to you, one that when you handle it, your mind is flooded with memories, hopefully, good ones. I have such a rifle.

It is a rather strange creature that started out its life just over 100 years ago, in 1917 to be exact. It is a Model 1917 rifle, often referred to as the U. S. Enfield or American Enfield (More on that later). It began life as a military rifle, probably serving with the Army. Its history back beyond 1970, when I came in possession of it, is known to me only through what has been recorded by historians writing about the M1917 in general. When the U.S. entered WWI, the standard infantry rifle was the Model 1903 Springfield, a marvelous product of American gun making. However, upon entering the war, America was woefully short of M1903s, and it would be impossible to increase production fast enough to meet the war needs. But there was a solution. It resided in the form of a rifle Remington Arms had been producing for the British to supplement their shortage of what the Brits called the Mk 1 Short Magazine Lee Enfield, or SMLE (pronounced “Smelly”). They had been working on a replacement rifle in caliber .276 Enfield instead of their then standard .303 caliber when the war started. This rifle was called the Pattern 13 or P13. They quickly canned the idea of changing calibers as impractical with a war cranking up.  With British gun makers pumping out SMLEs as fast as they could and maxed out, they approached American gun manufacturers to make the new rifle but in standard British caliber .303. That stop-gap rifle became the Pattern 14 Enfield or P14.

About the time America entered the war in 1917, the British had finally reached the point that their supply of rifles was meeting demand, and they canceled the remaining orders with American suppliers. This was fortuitous for America. Unable to meet the demand for M1903 rifles for U. S. needs, it was determined that since Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone had all the tooling in place and ready to make rifles, it would be much quicker to simply convert the British P14 from the British .303 caliber to the standard American caliber .30/06, and a new rifle was born, the M1917. Mine is a Winchester. More M1917s served with American Expeditionary Forces in Europe than M1903s.

When the war ended, America reverted back to the M1903 as their primary rifle and relegated the m1917 to war reserve status. It was brought out of reserve status during WWII and issued to some rear area troops, used for training, and loaned to allies. With WWII ended and the American semi-auto M1 Garand rifle developed just before WWII in active service, the U. S. began ridding itself of the surplus M1917 and M1903 rifles. Many of these found their way into the civilian market. The M1917 was particularly liked by gunsmiths to build custom rifles in magnum calibers. The reason it was preferred is that the action was very robust and able to stand the higher pressures of these magnums. My particular Winchester M1917 went through this process and was converted to a sporting rifle with a scope sometime before I acquired it. It was left in .30/06 caliber and retained its original barrel.

I traded for my rifle in 1970 and took it to Alaska with me when I was transferred to King Salmon AFS in 1971. I hunted with it there in the fall of 1972 and took a nice caribou bull. After I was discharged from the Air Force, I hunted whitetail deer with it in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, taking numerous deer. The rifle always shot well even though the barrel’s bore was pitted from the use of corrosive ammo during its military career. Along about 1990, I decided the old girl needed a facelift and had her re-barreled with a brand new barrel. Then I had the whole works Parkerized. Parkerizing is a protective metal finish used by the military on small arms. It is usually a dull greenish-gray or charcoal black finished. Mine was a working rifle and not a safe queen, thus I thought Parkerizing was more appropriate than a high-gloss blue, which would have been prettier. In addition to re-barreling and refinishing, I bought a new stock for her, a nice laminated wood stock, which I shaped to my desires and needs. I chose resin impregnated laminated wood instead of some fancy grade of walnut because it is virtually impervious to weather and warping. I did this for the same reason I chose the Parkerized finish. I finished off the rebuild with a really nice new Burris scope. In effect, I had a brand new rifle, and the only remaining parts of the old was the heart, the action.

It is fairly common for gunners to name their favorite firearms. I had never done that for my 1917 and decided it was time. In testing ammunition loads in my “new” rifle, I discovered she really liked Winchester Black Talons and easily put three shots in a group well under an inch at 100 yards. So, “Black Talon” she became, and I even had a small nameplate made and mounted on the side of the stock.

Black Talon is semi-retired now, but every time I take her out of the safe for a cleaning, my mind is flooded with the memories of the many adventures we shared together.

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Filed under Family History, Firearms, Growing Up