Friday Nights at the El Rey Theatre

El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona
El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. 1959 found me living in Glendale, Arizona. Dad’s duty assignment was at Luke Air Force Base. Base housing was under construction at the time, so we lived in town, not on the air base. Our family would move into the military housing in February 1960.

While living in Glendale, our family would go to the El Rey Theatre in downtown Glendale at 17 N. 2nd Ave. It was a special treat. Mother and daddy saved from dad’s meager $275.00 a month pay as a United States Air Force staff sergeant where we could go to the movies.

Friday night June 26, 1959, found my family excited about seeing Sean Connery and Janet Munro in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. The movie is a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. It was the scariest movie I remember seeing. As a kid the appearance of the death banshee and the cóiste-bodhar, a spectral coach driven by a dullahan, to carry the dead’s soul off to the land of the dead scared me.

The real treat that night was an educational featurette film we saw before the feature film. It starred Donald Duck. The title was Donald in Mathmagic Land. It was 27-minutes long.

In 1961, two years after its release, Donald in Mathmagic Land had the honor of being introduced by Ludwig Von Drake and shown as the first program of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

The film was made available to schools and became one of the most popular educational films ever made by Disney. As Walt Disney explained, “The cartoon is an excellent medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

I saw the film at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School each year from 1961 to 1963. Maybe that is a reason mathematics never scared or intimidated me. The film’s popularity was so great that my Cub Scout Pack saw the film as well as it being shown each summer during the base’s day camp program.

I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to take me to the movies where I viewed neat films like Donald in Mathmagic Land. I recently watched the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People on DVD. The banshee and death coach are still scary.

Oh, the architecture of the El Rey Theater in Glendale was amazing. It was an art deco theater. The photo is of the El Rey Theater that seated over 500 people.

Baseball on KBAT, 680, AM, San Antonio, Texas in 1963-64

1963 Houston Colt .45s
1963 Houston Colt .45s

In June of 1963 my family moved from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona to Seguin, Texas. Seguin was thirty miles east of San Antonio and near my mother’s family. The reason we moved was my dad’s orders to go to South Vietnam for a one-year tour of duty. He would be there from August 1963 to August 1964.

If anything good came out of a year’s family separation, it was my getting my very own electric AM radio. Dad also got me a one-year subscription to The Sporting News Magazine and well as Baseball Magazine’s 1964 season preview magazine. It contained all the official records for the then twenty Major League Baseball teams.

When we moved to Sequin, Texas dad made sure I knew the Houston Colt .45s baseball team’s games were easily found on my radio. He found the game on KBAT, 680, AM, San Antonio, Texas. He put a spot on the radio dial using red fingernail polish in case I lost the station. That way I could dial it back in. It would be years before digital dials would be available on radios. He also gave me a copy of the Houston team’s schedule for 1964. I lived my life with the ball games being the focal point.

Gene Elston and Loel Passe were the radio announcers. I spent almost every night with them talking on my radio in August and September of 1963 and then again in April through September 1964.

Today baseball gets a bad rap for being slow in the age of video games and Sportscenter highlights. Baseball is not boring. I like to call baseball a talking sport. I love the stories the announcers tell between the ebb and flow of the game. The stories start during the pre-game broadcast. Many times they would begin with a story from baseball’s past, sharing the history of the game. Yes, they would do a preview of the day’s game before moving to the action. I would get excited as Loel and Gene would comment on Houston Manager Harry Craft taking out the line-up card and meeting to opposing manager. I always like it best when the Colts played the Los Angeles Dodgers. They would mention Walter Alston taking out the line-up card. They had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

The pregame broadcast would be especially fun when the Colts played the Milwaukee Braves with Hank Aaron and Eddi Matthews. The Braves manager was Bobby Bragan. He was a southerner who later was president of the Texas League. Bobby Bragan could spin a yarn as good as anyone. His stories are still legendary.

Back in 1964 baseball games were only on television on Saturdays, so the radio was the window to the world. Gene and Loel could paint a picture with words. The grass was greener when they described it. The humidity in old Colt Stadium in Houston had me sweating 150 miles away.

The team wasn’t very good in 1964. It was a bunch of young kids and older players.  I didn’t care how bad they were. They were my team. Before the season ended manager Harry Craft was replaced by Luman Harris as manager. I still remember the players. Jerry Grote and John Bateman split the duties at catcher. Walt Bond played first base. He was the best offensive player on the team. At second base was an old Nellie Fox. The hall of fame would be in his future. It would be for his paly with the Chicago White Sox in the 1950s, not Houston. Eddie Kasko was at shortstop. I remembered him from his days with Cincinnati, third base was Bob Aspermonte, the outfield was Al Spangler, Jimmy Wynn and Joe Gaines. The pitchers were Bob Bruce, Turk Farrell, Ken Johnson, Don Nottebart and closer Hal Woodeshick.

Most games started at 7 PM and ended by 9 to 9:15 PM back then. I would sit on my bed reading the Baseball Magazine and The Sporting News while Gene and Loel told their never ending stories. That was the year I grew to love baseball. As a ten-year-old boy, there was nothing better. Television, playing with friends and everything else took a back seat to listening to the game on KBAT, 680, AM in San Antonio, Texas.

Listening to baseball on the radio was fun. It still is. I am listening to the New York Mets playing the Texas Rangers in the next to last exhibition game of the 2015 exhibition season as I type this story. No, I don’t have the game on the television. I am listening to it on the radio.

A Nickel’s Worth of Ice Cream

ice-cream-barOne of the scariest experiences I had as a military brat involved the ice cream man, my bicycle, and a nickel.

The seductive serenade of the ice cream man’s music blasted over a public address system mounted on his truck’s roof. One large speaker pointed forward with the music mystically announcing, “Here I come, get your parents to give you some money.” The second positioned to trumpet to the homes and people he had just driven past letting them know, “Hurry, it’s not too late.”

Like the moth drawn to the flame, I started dancing and crying out, “Oh please, mother. It’s the ice cream man. Can I have a nickel?”

Ice cream bars on a stick were only five cents.

“Jim, a nickel’s a lot of money,” mother said.

“He’s passing our house! I’ll take out the trash,” I pleaded and bargained at the same time. “Can I? Please?”

She quickly pulled a quarter from her purse. “Get four of the fudge ones,” mom said as she tossed me a quarter. “Bring me back the nickel he will give you in change.”

I raced out the front door, jumped on my bicycle and pedaled fast to catch up with the white truck carrying the sweet treats.

I quickly made the purchase, clutched my four ice cream bars in one hand and my nickel change in the other. That is when I realized I had a problem.  I was two blocks from home with my ice cream in one hand, a coin in the other and a bicycle to ride back home.

I knew I had to get back fast as the temperature was 110 degrees at Luke Air Force Base where I lived. I thought fast and had what I believed was a solution.

I put the nickel in my mouth, climbed on the bicycle, and clutched two ice creams in each hand holding their wooden sticks tightly. Somehow I made it home okay. I tossed down the bike, ran into the house carrying my four prizes.

Then it happened. As I started to speak, I gagged on the nickel. Well, I started choking on it before I swallowed it.

Mother yelled at dad and my little brother. She grabbed me and next thing I knew I was in the emergency room at the Luke Air Force Base Dispensary. As she arrives explaining what had happened, I was taken for x-rays. I still vividly remember the picture where it looked like the nickel was sitting on my rib.

The doctor explained the nickel may pass through my system during routine bowel movements in the next one to three days. He explained how I would need to squat over a newspaper when I had a BM. That way I could use a stick (he handed me a handful of tongue depressors) to check the feces for the nickel.

If I hadn’t passed the nickel in four days, they would do surgery! Yikes.

For the next three days, every time I went to the bathroom my then five-year-old little brother would come with me looking at my bottom as I did my deed. On the third day, he started screaming, “There it is, there it is!” as he could see the nickel.

I was relieved as were my parents that I wouldn’t have to face surgery.

What about the fudge bars? They melted on the kitchen counter. In my parents’ haste to get me to the ER, no one thought of putting them in the freezer.

Whenever I see an ice cream bar, I frequently remember the ice cream man, my bicycle, and a nickel. And I never put coins in my mouth. I know where they have been!


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His books Charlie’s Bells: A Short Story Anthology and Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection is available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of the forthcoming religious science fiction novel “The Rebuilder.”


The Library Card

Library Card
Library Card

In my mind, it’s Saturday, September 11, 1964. My family has just moved into base housing on Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. Dad had my little brother and me get in our 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 car. It was a beautiful Turquoise Metallic. Our destination was the base library. We have set off on a short drive to get my brother and me our first library card.

I kept my library card in my bedroom. Mother was not going to keep it for me in her purse. The card means I am old enough to pick out any book I want. I thought this was kind of cool.

We were given a tour of the library. We had the Dewey Decimal System explained. We visited the book stacks with the children’s, science fiction, history and biography books.

I remember dad had us walk back home from the library where he made sure we knew the way and made it safely.

We visited the library several times a week. It was a twenty-minute walk to the library. We always had adventures en route to the library, but not so much on the trip home. We couldn’t wait to get back to the house. At home, we could dip into the adventures between the book’s covers.

I remember how hush-hush the libraries were back then. It seemed all speech ended at the door. There were no computers in libraries in the 1960’s. No one was sending text messages or taking pictures on a cell phone. I can still hear the swishing of card catalog drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book-cart wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. They were some of my favorite sounds.

I recall all those book spines announcing the titles covered with the plastic covers. I would walk down the aisles looking, gawking.

Suddenly, there they were. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. I think I heard Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah Chorus when I found the books. I started reading both. I have been a fan of Bradbury and science fiction since that time.

I still remember the woman librarian’s pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it. There was a pocket glued to the front of the book. In it was a card. She took the card out of the pocket wrote my name down on that card. She filed it away. She then stamped the due date on the slip of paper inside the pocket glued to the front page of the book. I had the books for two weeks. Two adventurous weeks!

At home, I would retire to my bedroom and read for hours.  I would be it the cupola orchestrating the lights of town turning off at night. I would experience the rocket winter of traveling from Ohio to Mars.

I traveled to all those places for free in my mind. The base library became a favorite destination for me. Libraries are still a place of refuge and solitude for me and hundreds of military brats.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His books Charlie’s Bells: A Short Story Anthology and Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection are available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of The Liberator Series. The Rebuilder – Book 1 is available for pre-order on Amazon. The Mission – Book Two will be available Spring 2016, The Traveller – Book 3 will be available Summer 2016, and The Seer – Book 4 will be available Fall 2016.


Travelin’ Man

1958 Pontiac Catalina
1958 Pontiac Catalina

The spring of 1964 found this military brat living at 803 Jefferson Avenue in Sequin, Texas. Mother had just celebrated her thirty-first birthday that February. My father was in South Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force. At ten, I was the man of the house.

My brother was a third-grader at Jefferson Avenue Elementary School. I was a fifth-grader at the same school. My teacher was Mrs. Englebrock.

One of the neatest things that year was my house ‘s location. It was right across the street from the school. I could see the house and driveway with our 1958 black and white Pontiac Catalina out my class’s window. It allowed me to keep an eye on mother like dad asked me to do.

My school had an open campus. That means I was able to go across the street and eat lunch with my mother. While my younger brother took his peanut and jelly sandwich where he could eat with his third-grade classmates in the cafeteria, I liked to go check on my mother.

As winter turned into spring that year music became a major focus in the USA. The British once again had invaded the America.

Jefferson Avenue Elementary School jumped on the musical bandwagon. The principal decided the school would have a musical talent contest. No lip singing was allowed. The contestants were required to sing, play a musical instrument or both – sing and accompany yourself on an guitar, for example.

I had been trying to learn to play the guitar since I was around five years old. My fingers were finally getting long enough for me to play several chords like G, C, and D.

I decided to sign up for the contest. We did a fundraiser for the March of Dimes and Easter Seals I think. I remember the contest was somewhere around Easter. The entry fee was twenty-five cents. I mowed a neighbor’s yard to raise the money.

Spring of 1964 found my mother’s brother Vernon living with us and attending Seguin High School. One of the items, he brought with him were 33 1/3 RPM long play record albums. A favorite album he played was Ricky Nelson’s Travelin’ Man. I decided I would play and sing Travelin’ Man in the talent contest.

Travelin' Man 45 RPM - Ricky Nelson
Travelin’ Man 45 RPM – Ricky Nelson

I remember mother wasn’t so sure I should do it. She knew my singing voice wasn’t solo quality. She didn’t know if I had the poise to do it. She feared I would embarrass the family and myself.

My fearlessness confused her. She couldn’t understand how I could be so calm.

Well, the big day arrived. Mother was nervous. My brother just said I better not shame the family or him. He never mentioned me. I promised I wouldn’t. Neither one was so sure.

I had my six-string acoustic 1958 Gibson Hummingbird Guitar. I placed the capo on the second fret and fingered a C chord. I strummed it a time or two in the ready room trying to find the right pitch.

Then it was my turn. I loved hearing my name over the loudspeaker. I walked out on stage. I stood in front of the microphone.

Gibson Hummingbird Guitar
Gibson Hummingbird Guitar

Showtime!

I played the song on my guitar without any problems. I remembered the lyrics and sang flawlessly. I wish I could say that. Oh, my guitar playing was beautiful. My pitchy voice did the best it could. I didn’t win, but the applause warmed my heart.

What surprised me was how my efforts, while flawed, had the girls oohing and awing over me. I became one of the most popular guys in my grade.

The spring of 1964 showed me that the joy wasn’t in a perfect performance, but in the journey and the effort. It didn’t hurt that the girls suddenly wanted to be with me and be seen with me.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His short stories The Cup, Invasion of the Prairie Dogs, Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story, and The Paintings as well as Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection are available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of The Liberator Series. The Rebuilder – Book 1 is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released October 2015. The Mission – Book Two will be available Spring 2016, The Traveller – Book 3 will be available Summer 2016, and The Seer – Book 4 will be available Fall 2016.


General Omar Bradley was my mentor.

General of the Army Omar Bradley
General of the Army Omar Bradley

For an eighteen month period in 1964 – 1966 being a Boy Scout was one of the most significant happenings in my life. The Boy Scout troop on Biggs Air Force Base at El Paso, Texas consumed most of my time. I loved the uniform, the discipline, the hiking, and camping. Well, you get the picture. I liked being a Boy Scout. I advanced from being a Tenderfoot to Second Class to First Class in record time. My goal was to be one of the youngest Eagle Scouts ever.

To achieve my goal I had to earn merit badges. Merit badges are awarded based on activities within an area of study by completing a list of periodically updated requirements. The purpose of the merit badge program allows Boy Scouts to examine subjects to determine if they would like to pursue them further as a career or vocation.

Back in my day the program also introduced Boy Scouts to the life skills of contacting an adult they hadn’t met. It required arranging a meeting, having the adult as your mentor and then demonstrating my skills, similar to a job or college interview. In more recent years, more merit badges are earned in a class setting at troop meetings and summer camps.

I decided to seek the God and Country Merit Badge. I received a mimeographed list of available mentors. I called the man I selected. The made the appointment.

I told my father I needed him to take me over to Fort Bliss to meet my mentor. Dad said okay. Kind of in passing, he asked who my mentor was.

I picked up my paper. I said he told me he was retired from the US Army. Dad nodded. I told dad the mentor’s name was Omar Bradley. It has GA after his name, whatever that is. I knew rank abbreviations but had never seen GA before.

“General of the Army Omar Bradley?” asked dad with a gasp.

 “I guess,” I recall replying.

Dad told me who he was. I gasped.

General Bradley was kind. He had been an Eagle Scout. I remember asking him what he did to relax during World War II. He said he and General Eisenhower used to work calculus problems. He said you can’t think of anything else or worry when working a real math problem. That’s when I learned calculus was math.

I was too young to appreciate the access I had to my mentor but am in awe that such men would help boys grow into our country’s future leaders. Thanks, General Bradley.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His short stories The Cup, Invasion of the Prairie Dogs, Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story, and The Paintings as well as Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection are available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of The Liberator Series. The Rebuilder – Book 1 is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released October 1, 2015. The Mission – Book Two will be available Spring 2016, The Traveller – Book 3 will be available Summer 2016, and The Seer – Book 4 will be available Fall 2016.


Uncertain Seasons by Elizabeth Shelfer Morgan


Elizabeth Shelfer Morgan, wrote Uncertain Seasons in 1994. It was published by University of Alabama Press. It contains the unedited letters from her uncle, 1LT Howard Shelfer, who was with the 9th Infantry Division, 60th Infantry, B Company in North Africa, Sicily, England (as S4 ) and France. He was killed on Aug. 11, 1944 during the counterattack near Mortain. Uncertain Seasons may be of interest to 9th Infantry Division veterans. This book has been awarded the Best Book for Young Readers by the Florida Historical Society (1995). It is an excellent example of using letters as the premise for a book. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.