An object lesson for your children – 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.

My story would make a good object lesson for your children or grandchildren. I guarantee if you hold up a nickel between your thumb and pointer finger, make sure the children can see it, and look at it from time to time while reading my below story, you’ll have them washing their hands and not putting coins in their mouth. You’ll even find yourself washing your hands more often after handling change.

Go ahead, have your children and grandchildren gather around and tell them my story —

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 as change for giving him the quarter.”

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 quickly 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 told 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. I never put coins in my mouth, and I always wash my hands after touching coins. I know where the coins have been!

I Believed I Could Fly

                                                            Superman

Greenville, South Carolina

In 1956, my father returned from a one-year tour of duty in Turkey. Our family moved to Greenville, South Carolina. The United States Air Force stationed dad at Donaldson Air Force Base, a C-124 airfield that emphasized air transport and called itself the “Airlift Capital of the World”.

My first memories are from living at 201 Maco Terrace in Greenville from 1956 – 1958. That was also the first house my parents owned.

Faster than a speeding bullet!

My favorite TV show during those days was Superman. Superman always began, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman! … He fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”

In 1956 and 1957 I would run around the house with a towel for a cape and wearing only a t-shirt and my tighty whities pretending I was Superman. I would have my arms stretched out in front of me, my head down as I was flying around the living room and kitchen.

I would try to fly.

One evening I decided I would try to fly. I got on the couch, then used the arm of the sofa as a step before I was standing on the top back of the sofa. Suddenly, with arms outstretched I jumped toward the television.

Instead of flying, I feel like a rock. My forehead found the corner of the coffee table. I didn’t fly but instead received a big cut.

The emergency room

We had to get in the car and drive to the emergency room at Donaldson Air Force Base. The wound was so severe that even with my mother holding a washcloth and applying pressure on it, blood was flowing from my forehead into my eyes where I couldn’t see.

I asked my mother if they would get me a seeing-eye dog if I went blind. Suddenly, the laughter filled the car. My parents were laughing at me.

Fifteen stitches

The doctor also chuckled as I received the fifteen stitches to stop the bleeding as mother retold the story. I have heard the seeing-eye dog story for over fifty years. I last heard my mother tell the story on my sixty-first birthday. She was in the hospital and shared the remembrance with the nurses. Sadly she passed three weeks later.

The happy ending was I got stitches, didn’t go blind, learned I couldn’t fly, and learned my mother had a great memory.

Growing up a military brat was a never-ending adventure.

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 than through the guidance of a mentor.

I decided to seek the God and Country Merit Badge. I received a mimeographed list of available mentors. I called the man I selected and made an 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 the mentor 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 General Bradley what he did to relax during World War II. He said he and General Eisenhower used to work calculus problems. They would challenge each other with advanced mathematics. 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. He kindly led me through the process of earning the God and Country Merit Badge. Thank you, General Bradley.


Photo Credit: Public Domain

Portsmouth Junior High School

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In August 2016 I found myself standing in front of Portsmouth Junior High School (now Portsmouth Middle School) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I attended the school from February 1966 through the end of April 1967 when my father Technical Sergeant Jimmie Kepler retired from the United States Air Force.

While the school added a couple of additions since I had left, if I stood in front of the school it looked exactly the same. Standing there it was as if time had stood still.

Earlier that same day, I had taken a nostalgic tour of the former Pease Air Force Base (now the Pease Air National Guard Base, Pease International Trade Port and Portsmouth International Airport at Pease). As I drove the streets of my adventures as a seventh and eighth grader, I was once again a thirteen years old boy building snow forts, playing baseball, and having his first interest in girls.

You will have as much fun reading as I had remembering and writing about growing up as a military brat. All the events are true. I have changed the names of the boys and girls in my remembrances.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination, The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry & Prose Magazine, and vox poetica. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his literary habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs.


Fourth Grade New Year’s Day Memories from January 1, 1963

USC Mascot Traveler with a Trojan Warrior rider.

The first New Year’s Day that I clearly remember was New Year’s 1963. I was nine years old and a fourth grade at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School on Luke Air Force Base, Glendale, Arizona. I remember the big deal that year about the Rose Bowl Football game. The University of Wisconsin was the Big 10 Conference Champion and ranked #2 in the country. The University of Southern California (USC) was the Athletic Association of Western Universities champion (see note) and ranked #1. This was the first time that the number one and number two teams had ever played each other in a bowl game.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jensen. I had also had her in the third grade which seemed weird at the time to have her get promoted to the next grade along with me. Mrs. Jensen was a USC graduate. She had been a cheerleader way back in the 1930’s. She showed us pictures of her as a cheerleader, but we all thought that had to be her daughter as she could have never been that young. She had been born the same year as President Kennedy. That was 1917.

She asked how many of us had watched the Rose Bowl game. Almost every hand in the classroom was raised. She asked questions about the game. Who won? USC. What was the score? 42-37.

In spite of the score, in the fourth quarter, USC leading, 42-14. That is when many who had started with the game on the telecast turned off their television or changed channels. Even at the Rose Bowl some began filing out.

Then the comeback began. It is what some have called the greatest Rose Bowl in history. USC desperately fought to hang on for a 42-37 victory.

I like what LA Time sports writer Earl Gustkey wrote. He said, “The (Wisconsin) Badgers simply ran out of time against the Trojans, who had run out of gas. They scored 23 unanswered fourth quarter points, but still lost.”

Mrs. Jensen had been at the game that Tuesday. She hurried back the 375 miles to Glendale, Arizona for school on Wednesday. She asked if we knew what Wisconsin’s mascot was. We all yelled Badger. She asked if we knew USC’s mascot. We all said in unison, Trojans. She asked if we knew what the name of the white horse was that carried the Trojan warrior on its back.

There was silence.

We then learned that The horse’s name is Traveler. We found out that when USC scores a touchdown, Traveler gallops around the field as the USC band plays “Conquest.”

I learned many trivial things as a military brat. The story of Traveler has stayed with me. I was the first person Mrs. Jensen asked when she wanted the name of the horse. I didn’t know and the class laughed at me. The stopped laughing after she asked each boy and girl and no one knew the answer.

Note: What is now the Pacific-12 Conference or Pac-12 has had several names in its history – Pacific Coast Conference or PCC, 1915–1959, Athletic Association of Western Universities or AAWU, 1959–68, Pacific-8 or Pac-8 1968–78, Pacific-10 or Pac-10, 1978–2011.

Photo Credit: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Bestweekevr at en.wikipedia

Tumbleweed Forts & Snow Forts

Snow Fort in New Hampshire
Snow Fort in New Hampshire

In January 1966, I was digging foxholes and building forts in the desert near the military quarters my family lived in on Biggs Air Force Base located in El Paso, Texas. My friends and I would dig big holes in the sand and surround our fort with tumbleweeds and other desert vegetation.  Nature camouflaged the fort’s site from prying eyes.

While we were building our prized base, another group of kids would do the same thing building their fortress several hundred yards away in another part the desert. One team would be the American soldiers.

A second team would be the German Soldiers. Pretending it was 1942 and 1943 we would play a dismounted game of “Rat Patrol” where we chased each other around the desert. The goal was to surprise and defeat the bad guys and their leader, General Erwin Rommel.

It would be hot, sandy and lots of fun as we played Army. Many times we took home huge amounts of sand home with us in the cuffs of our turned up blue jeans and in the blue jean pockets. Sometimes we added intrigue using water balloons as hand grenades.

Just a few weeks later in February 1966 my family relocated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Pease Air Force Base. There my role-playing and mischief continued with a new group of friends. Instead of sand, tumbleweeds, and water balloons we graduated to snow forts and an endless supply of snowballs. We would sneak up and destroy the enemy’s creation.

It would be cold, damp and lots of fun as we again played Army. This time we played pretending we were German troops on the Russian front facing the Red Army. It was sometimes confusing as we had trouble understanding how the Russians could be the good guys in this scenario. After all, this was in the middle of the Cold War, and the Russians were the Evil Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, the fun was endless as we would dash in running and throwing snowballs. Sometimes we would ride our sleds and swoosh into action. Growing up a military brat was endless fun. The never-ending supply of kids your age made the fun that much greater.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is an award-winning short story writer, poet, and indie author. He is the creator of the science fiction with faith series, The Liberator’s Helper.

Jimmie is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with minors in English and military science where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army upon graduation. He served as a commissioned officer on active duty for three years and then five years in the US Army Reserves. He earned Master of Religious Education and Master of Arts degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also holds a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Administration. He sold his first magazine article over 35 years ago and has been writing professionally since then. He lives in a north Dallas Texas suburb with his wife and very demanding cat.

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Tumbleweed Snowman

Tumbleweed Snowman

I lived in two desert communities when growing up. The locations were Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.

In the 1950s and 1960s, both areas had little snow and lots of tumbleweeds. The residents tired of the same old snowless Christmas. There was almost no hope of snowfall. Without the snow, there would be no snowman.

Some creative person came up with the idea of building a snowman from tumbleweeds. It was simple. You obtained three. They were abundant in the desert. You placed the largest on the bottom. The middle-sized one went in the middle. The small one made the head. Some people spray painted them white.

Adding a hat, eyes, and mouth to the creation gave it personality. Sometimes we even added an old scarf as well.

A tumbleweed snowman can become a fun holiday tradition for your family. It is easy to create one of these eye-catching figures on your lawn.

My family did this when we lived on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas.

Growing up as a military brat allowed me unusual experiences like a tumbleweed snowman.

If you were a military brat, what holiday traditions did you have?