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?

Is Johnny Crawford from “The Rifleman” in Your Company?

chuck_connors_johnny_crawford_the_rifleman_1960Remembering the events of my seventh-grade year at Ben Milam School at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas inspired this poem.

On the six o’clock evening news one night the announcer did a story that the actor Johnny Crawford from the hit television show “The Rifleman” had been drafted. He had reported to Fort Bliss, Texas for United States Army Basic Training.

The events in the poem took place a few weeks later when our physical education class was on the playground, and United States Army basic trainees were marching down the adjacent dirt road. I still remember this event like it was yesterday.

Is Johnny Crawford from “The Rifleman” in Your Company?

We pressed our faces up against the chain linked fence.
We were supposed to be playing soccer during physical education class.
But we ran toward the chained linked fence that separated our schoolyard from the dirt road.
We stared at the young soldiers marching to training.
They looked so army soldier in their fatigues, helmets and carried their rifles at right shoulder arms.
They appeared like a scene out of “Combat” that we watched each week on our televisions.
While barely just four or five years older than us, they looked all grown up.
A cute seventh-grade girl got up her courage and yelled,
“Is Johnny Crawford from ‘The Rifleman’ in your company?”
There had been a news story of Johnny Crawford’s arrival at Fort Bliss for his basic training.
A kind three stripe sergeant responded, “No miss, he’s in a different training company.”
“You boys are going to Vietnam after basic?” asked the P.E. coach who had walked over and joined us.
“Maybe so, but first we got to survive this!” said a smiling boyish faced trainee.
“Quiet in the ranks!” screamed the drill sergeant.
The dust was getting thicker as the soldiers continued marching.
Most of the seventeen and eighteen-year-old troopers looked at the lovely thirteen years old blonde girl.
Some were thinking of their younger sisters back home,
Some were thinking the thoughts seventeen and eighteen years old young men have when seeing a pretty, young teenage girl, and
Some were wondering if they would live long enough to fall in love, marry, and ever have a daughter of their own.

Written by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Originally published on http://www.johnnycrawford.com, February 2008. Photo credits: Photo of Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark, from the television program “The Rifleman.” This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.


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 and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Sun Tea

Sun Tea

Making Sun Tea was a fun way for this military brat to enjoy the hot summers of the Phoenix, Arizona. I lived at Luke Air Force Base, in the Valley of the Sun from 1958 to 1963. We also made Sun Tea in Seguin, Texas during 1963 – 1964 and El Paso, Texas 1964 – 1966.

Sun Tea is a technique of brewing tea slowly. It uses the heat of the sun to pull out the flavors from dry tea leaves.

I recall my mother placing a gallon size glass jar full of water and tea bags out on the cinder block fence. It was placed up high where the kids and the critters couldn’t get to it.

The sun shined down upon the liquid reminding me an offering to the sun god placed upon an altar. My mother used the hot sun to brew her tea.

Mother would fill the gallon glass jar with war and tea bags. Next we would go with her as she placed it on the cinder block fence just before lunch. We would retire to the kitchen for the noon meal. Following lunch, she would send us to our afternoon naps. We would rest for a couple of hours. Mom would let us get up from our rest in time to watch American Bandstand. It was still a daily show way back then. When Dick Clark signed off it was time to go get the jar of tea.

The clear water in the jar was now a medium to dark brown color. I got the glasses from the cabinet and the ice trays from the freezer. I filled the glasses with ice cubes. Mother poured the warm brew over the frozen water. At least half of the ice always melted. We enjoyed the liquid treat with our supper.

In researching Sun Tea online I was surprised to learn there has been some recent debate about Sun Tea being unsafe. It has been identified that bacteria can grow because the water doesn’t reach a temperature of 190 degrees or more.

The Snopes article I read says the bacteria found in sun tea comes from the water used to make it, not the tea itself. That would mean that the water is the real issue.

Information for Sun Tea Brewers (from: http://www.mommyskitchen.net/2010/07/sun-tea-my-favorite-summer-drink.html )

  1. Always us a clean glass jar and not a plastic jar. Make sure you choose a container that has a metal lid. Do not use a plastic one. Always place your sun tea jar in direct sunlight.
  2. Scrub your Sun Tea container with hot soapy water after every use I always clean mine by hand and run it through the dishwasher after each use.
  3. If you want, you can use distilled water instead of tap water if that is a significant issue. Don’t leave the Sun Tea to brew for more than 4 hours.
  4. The key is not allowing Sun Tea to sit out and come to room temperature. Refrigerate and drink as soon as possible. Don’t prepare more than you can drink in a day or two. Throw out the leftovers after day two.
  5. Also, throw away tea that has turned thick and syrupy or that has ropey strands, which are bacteria. I mean who would drink that? Use common sense here.

Sources with recipes:

http://www.mommyskitchen.net/2010/07/sun-tea-my-favorite-summer-drink.html)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/photos/how-to-make-sun-tea-a-step-by-step-guide.html

 

 

Is Johnny Crawford from The Rifleman in Your Company? by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Chuck_Connors_Johnny_Crawford_The_Rifleman_1960

Remembering the events of my seventh-grade year at Ben Milam School at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas inspired this poem. On the six o’clock evening news one night the announcer did a story that the actor Johnny Crawford from the hit television show “The Rifleman” had been drafted. He had reported to Fort Bliss, Texas for United States Army Basic Training. The events in the poem took place a few weeks later when our physical education class was on the playground, and basic trainees were marching down the dirt road adjacent. I still remember this event like it was yesterday.

Is Johnny Crawford from “The Rifleman” in Your Company?

We pressed our faces up against the chain linked fence.
We were supposed to be playing soccer during physical education class.
But we ran toward the chained linked fence that separated our schoolyard from the dirt road.
We stared at the young soldiers marching to training.
They looked so army soldier in their fatigues, helmets and carried their rifles at right shoulder arms.
They appeared like a scene out of “Combat” that we watched each week on our televisions.
While barely just four or five years older than us, they looked all grown up.
A cute seventh-grade girl got up he courage and yelled,
“Is Johnny Crawford from “The Rifleman” in your company?”
There had been a news story of Johnny Crawford’s arrival at Fort Bliss for his basic training.
A kind three stripe sergeant responded,
“No miss, he’s in a different training company.”
“You boys are going to Viet-Nam after basic?” asked the P.E. coach who had walked over and joined us.
“Maybe so, but first we got to survive this!” said a smiling boyish faced trainee.
“Quiet in the ranks!” screamed the drill sergeant.
The dust was getting thicker as the soldiers continued marching.
Most of the seventeen and eighteen-year-old troopers looked at the beautiful thirteen years old blonde girl.
Some were thinking of their younger sisters back home,
Some were thinking the thoughts seventeen and eighteen years old young men have when seeing a cute, young teenage girl, and
Some were wondering if they would live long enough to fall in love, marry, and ever have a daughter of their own.

Written by Jimmie Aaron Kepler
Originally published in http://www.johnnycrawford.com, February 2008.

Photo credits:

Top photo: Photo of Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark, from the television program The Rifleman. This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.


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.


“Is Johnny Crawford from ‘The Rifleman’ in Your Company?” is also available in the book

Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection
by Jimmie Aaron Kepler
“Invasion
Available on Amazon

Changing Schools – A Recurring Great Adventure for the Military Brat

Portsmouth Junior High School (now Portsmouth Middle School), New Hampshire

How many schools did you attend growing up as a military brat? Do you remember this as a great adventure or gut-wrenching trauma?

I attended ten public schools for my twelve grades of schooling. Eight of the school changes were during my very formidable years of grades five through nine. Yes, I changed school eight times during the time all the changes of adolescence were happening. For me, it became gut-wrenching after my father retired from the military, and we transitioned to the civilian world. Only by the grace of God can anyone survive such trauma.

I had an unusually difficult period from August 1964 to August 1967. If you are a military brat, I know you can relate.

In August 1964, my father returned from his first tour in South Vietnam. I had just completed the fifth grade at Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Seguin, Texas. I remember my mixed feelings of excitement and fear as dad returned home from his tour of duty. Would I recognize him? Would he know me? Would he even want to be involved in my life anymore?

Mother was all of thirty-one years old when he returned home. I was a grown-up ten years old. Mom was wise. She talked to me and my brother before dad’s arrival. She made sure we understood it would take some adjustment. She wanted us to know not to get under his skin or pester him too much.

I still clearly remember the day we went to the San Antonio International Airport to pick up dad. His flight arrived on time from California. He was wearing his khaki United States Air Force uniform with the stripes of a technical sergeant on the upper sleeves. He was tan, standing military erect and outstretched his arms as he and mother quickly moved to each other, embraced and kissed on the lips for several minutes. He whispered in her ear, and I remember the big smiles. I lip read “I love you” as he held her tight.

After their embrace, he hugged my brother and me separately. It was beautiful to hear him say, “I love you, Jimmie Aaron. I sure missed you.” He said he wanted me to tell him all about what was happening in baseball. He set an appointment with me for Saturday afternoon after lunch. One whole hour with me. He kept his word. I had him for an hour.

We quickly shut down the household at 803 Jefferson Avenue in Seguin, Texas. We took a brief vacation to Jamestown, Ohio to visit dad’s family before returning to relocate to El Paso, Texas where I started another school, my third I three years.

I attended the sixth and the first semester of the seventh grade in El Paso, Texas at Ben Milam School at Biggs Air Force Base. Biggs AFB was home to the 95th Bomb Wing of the USAF. It was a B-52 bomber and KC-135 tanker base. From the school grounds, I would watch US Army draftees march down the long dirt road into the desert as they went through basic training in preparation for going to Vietnam. I could be scary giving there. Sometimes we watched aircraft doing an emergency landing knowing one of our parents could be on the plane. We lived there from August 1964 to February 1966. Biggs Air Force Base was shut down and turned over to the US Army.

The second junior high school I attend was Portsmouth Junior High School in historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My father’s assignment was at Pease AFB, home of the 509th Bomb Wing. The 509th is the unit that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. It was a B-52 and KC-135 base. Frequently parts of the unit were on temporary duty on Guam, which they used as a base to bomb North Vietnam.

The school was a couple of blocks south of downtown Portsmouth, NH on Parrot Ave. Only two blocks away was the historic John Paul Jones Home and three blocks another direction the historic Strawberry Bank. Across Parrot Avenue was the South Mill Pond. From the second and third floor, you could see the Piscataqua River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The St Patrick’s Catholic School that went through 8th grade was on Austin Street two and one-half blocks to the west. The nuns would chase us away from the school if we got off the bus early to look at the Catholic school girls in their cute uniforms of a white blouse, plaid skirt, and knee socks.

My father retired from the USAF the end of April 1967. We moved back to Texas and lived with my mother’s parents for the month of May 1967. Have you ever lived with the extended family? I did while waiting furniture to arrive from the previous posting of my father. It is fun and different.

The fun was having aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as grandparents. The minus was not knowing or being involved in the lives of these close relatives for years. I wondered who are they? Here I had my introduction to country music and living.

I attended Nixon Junior High School (now Nixon-Smiley) for a month. I went from a military influenced school with nearly 300 in the eighth grade to a rural school with 14 in the 8th grade. They just didn’t have new kids transfer in during the school year. Related to over half the class, it was the one place that I felt I did not fit in. A dairy queen across Texas state Highway 80 was my view. I had a 15-mile bus ride to and from school.

When the school year ended, we moved about 50 miles away to Schertz, Texas. There I started the ninth grade at Samuel Clemens High School. It was the year they changed the name from Schertz-Cibilo High School to Samuel Clemens. It was adjacent to Randolph AFB, so I was back in a comfortable military community. By mid-semester, we sold the house and moved two-hundred and fifty miles north to the Dallas area to DeSoto, Texas.

Dad had taken an engineering job with Ling Temco Vought (LTV Aerospace). I started another school. This time it was in a non-military high school. The change was traumatic. I had always been the class president, the student government leader, on the honor roll, and star baseball player. All those roles were filled. No outsider was going to replace someone in their role.

Close friendships formed quickly on military bases and military influenced schools. That did not happen in this Dallas, Texas suburb. It was also the first time I was in a school that wasn’t totally integrated. It was my first non-integrated neighborhood. I had transitioned to the real world wasn’t happy with what I found.

Maybe your experience was similar. I would love to hear your story.


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.

Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter

As a military brat, the end of the school year always meant Little League Baseball. As an eleven years old boy in May of 1965, three things occupied me life. They were Boy Scouts, baseball, and a little garage band I had just joined.

Spring and the start of the baseball season never failed to give me dreams of playing professional baseball. “Tryout Saturday,” as we called it back then, was a day when coaches and managers could see your talents. They woul have us field ground balls, catch pop flys, and take batting practice.

I could catch or knock down any baseball hit my way. My father had taught me to get in front of the ball and let my body help knock it down if it missed my glove. I could then pick up the ball and throw out the runner. I could hit the cover of a baseball in 1965. I was the only kid my age that was a switch hitter. When batting right-handed I could hit the ball over the fence with regularity. When hitting left-handed I was more a contact hitter. I would knock the ball to all fields hitting for a high batting average. I was good. I knew it. My dad knew it. The coaches and managers knew it.

Selected second overall, I went to the Cardinals. Also on my team was Bobby Mars. He was in the band that had recently asked me to be their rhythm guitarist. Bobby could do something I could never do consistently. He could sing lead. I’m talking about a pop star, rock idol, lead singer quality voice. He had a voice that the girls swooned over.

Bobby got all the boys on the team to sing. The song of choice was Herman’s Hermits (featuring Peter Noone on lead vocals) “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” I started bringing an acoustic six-string guitar to baseball practice. I put my handkerchief close to the bridge of the guitar body to mute the sound. It gave an almost banjo-like sound. We would sing “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” over and over.

The first time we would sing using the correct lyrics. Then we would begin substituting the last name of the every boy on the baseball team like “Mrs. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” instead of “Mrs. Brown”. We would always end with Mrs. Mars You’ve Got a Lovely Martian and giggle. We sang the tune with a heavy, fake British accent.

One of the things that made the song, so appealing was Peter Noone. He was barely five or six years older than me and the boys on the team. Many had brothers his age. When we watched him on Shindig, American Bandstand, Hullabaloo and Where the Action Is. Peter had a charisma that we only saw elsewhere in The Beatles.

The musical summer of 1965 was special. The music of Herman’s Hermits “Mrs. Brown” and The Beatles “Ticket to Ride” captured our imagination. The Beach Boys “Help Me, Rhonda” and The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” blasted from our little AM radios. The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” became the first rock anthem our lives. Herman’s Hermits “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” had us singing along once more with Peter Noone.

We also followed the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball teams in the newspapers and on the radio. After all, El Paso where I lived on Biggs Air Force Base, was about halfway between Houston and Los Angeles.

Music filled the summer days. Baseball filled the summer nights.

Camp Wehinahpay

Camp Wehinahpay, New Mexico
Camp Wehinahpay,
New Mexico

In the 1960’s, military brats made good Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was a Cub Scout in Arizona, a Webelo in Sequin, Texas and a Boy Scout in El Paso, Texas.

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Every Friday night from November 1964 to January 1966 found me attending Boy Scouts. I learned many life skills. I learned many skills I used in the US Army. It was fun spending time with the other boys. It was exciting hiking and camping every month. I still remember the Boy Scout Oath or Promise:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

In the fall of 1965 my troop went camping in the mountains of southern New Mexico at Camp Wehinahpay Boy Scouts Camp, 319 Potato Canyon Road, Sacramento, NM 88347. We road in US Air Force provided transport vehicles from Biggs Air Force Base to the camp.

I earned my totem chip there. It gave me the right to carry a knife and hatchet. We learned compass skills, how to pitch a tent and prepare it for rain. We needed that rain preparation as it rained on us the first couple of nights. We had bears come snooping around the tents and camp another night. I remember smelling them as the walked and brushed up against my tent. I hid in my sleeping bag.

In the evening, we sat around the campfire singing Kumbaya and other folk songs. I had played the guitar since I was nine years old. I brought my six string acoustical on the camping trips. The scout leaders transported it for me where I didn’t have to carry it. Playing the guitar made me “cool”. I enjoyed the attention and adoration.

One of the best parts of camping was my dad being one of the sponsors. He was the smartest and coolest dad ever. I’ll tell about camping as a Boy Scout in the deep snow during the winter another in another post.

The Boy Scout Motto is Be Prepared! Boy Scout Slogan is do a good turn daily.


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 and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.