GRAPES of CHOICE - Segment 3
Should the “values” be celebrated that my mother tried to instill in me? The answer may be found in this segment's subtle revelations.
Moral, ethical, and cultural “values”, for whatever reasons have assessed me throughout my years. My emotions, intellect, assertive personality, and personal conduct silently, if not mysteriously challenged my Grapes of Choice. I think this was also true relative to my friendship with the natural world of trees, flowers, birds, and animals.
First, let me say that my mother was always amazed when I, as a four and five year old, spoke of the creative power and expressed desires of non-human forms of life. For example, I said, “Mommy, look at that big fir tree. It does not like to stand in the mountains. When it is all grown, it wants to be a telephone pole. It wants to carry power and it wants to listen to people talk. It wants to be where a lot of people see it.” Another example is: “Birds sing and squirrels talk. I know they want to be on the radio.”
More openly, however, were those unfiltered moments that examined the sunrises and sunsets of my parental training, including my spiritual beliefs. Then there were those rudimentary situations like obedience to my mother; and more basics like my personal honesty to her, my siblings, and myself. Other than my mother, my other “teacher” was my “big” brother, Colin Jr., three and a half years older. In our mother’s letters to her mother, she wrote about his “gifted intellect” and “near perfect behavior” … “a model child and student”. Colin, Jr. was the one who helped me learn to read at an early age, learn to ride a bicycle, and learn proper social skills. He was a very conscientious boy.
Here is a picture of Colin Jr. (ten years old) with me (seven years old) and our dog, Happy (four years old) standing by the side of our Fontana ranch house!
Did I show respect for others’ rights and points of view? It seems as though each day’s events in someway or other had their certain meaningful challenge … as a matter of testing … testing the magnitude of a day’s value in my life.
Speaking of “values”, there is one more thing I should mention. Some of the values to which I am referring were like examinations, unique circumstances as though they were tests to examine a particular value’s consistency, endurance, fruitfulness, and fitness. It seems as if the most challenging inner and external confrontations also became my most impacting memorable moments, negative and positive. This is why I chose to begin this segment in 1943 (age 5) and end it in 1947 (age 9) on the subject of “values”. Five Grapes of Choice challenges quickly come to mind.
First, I had a terrible fall (five years old) hitting the back of my head on a sharp corner of the concrete slab under the door stoop. Blood was all over the slab. My mother rushed me to the doctor in her 1937 Dodge four door sedan. Upon examination the doctor said, “Ronny will be o.k. He has a big bruise with a wide deep hole in his scalp. I will clean it, and put some iodine and a bandage on it. Keep the wound area clean. He should be just fine in a few days.”
When we got home, for some reason my mom felt like I was one child that needed “Divine protection”. She had me lie down on my bed, since the sight of blood on myself made me feel very faint. Keeping her voice lowered and reassuring, her tones were gentle: “Ronny, I need to pray with you now, honey, that God will send his angels to protect you. I believe that you are special, and you are going to need angels around you. Let us pray together and ask him to help me take care of you … Dear Jesus, Ronny needs some help that I cannot always give him. Please send some of your caring angels to be at his side. Thank you, dear God. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Little did she know that there would be an incredible number of events, which would yet occur throughout my lifetime. There would be occasions, which would go so far as to challenge my right to have breath and live! Yet, I believe that my mother knew that Jesus Christ was the God of miracles. She was in tune with the living Almighty God, and her vital relationship with him brought about her request for angelic protection of her “baby”.
Having no insulation in our one room “garage” house, meant that when the weather was cold and damp, cold was really cold! We heated our home using a potbelly wood stove. It was made of heavy cast iron, and when it got hot, it was very hot, sometimes red hot. On the other hand, during the summer months it could be a “sweat house”.
At the end of one winter day, my mother agreed to keep another preschool boy for the night! Yes, the potbelly stove became the ultimate source of great pain! It was on this wintery night that my second Grapes of Choice met its test as follows:
Standing close to the hot potbelly stove was a common thing for me. I was small for the age of five (I was called a “runt”), and my slight build at that time did not keep me warm either. Well, the “extra” boy in our house pushed me directly at the stove. My instant reaction was to raise my left arm as a shield. Sizzle, sizzle!
The entire underside of my left forearm burned severely. Immediately my mom, who was standing at the small kitchen sink washing dishes, rushed to the other side of the room and got a tube of KIP in her dresser drawer. In the midst of my screaming, her reassuring touch was confident and tender as she applied the salve. She then wrapped my forearm with fresh clean white gauze, held in place with bandage tape. After my arm healed, the burned area left a wide elongated scar. Interestingly, by the time I was a teenager the scar was gone, completely comprised of new skin. I knew that God was my healer, and I knew that he loved me as much as he did everyone else.
Wow, God loved me as much as he loved everyone else? I eventually learned that my sprouting beliefs had no real substance unless they were more than mere beliefs. Concerning the boy that pushed me into the hot potbelly stove? Well, I do not specifically remember his name, or his size. Nevertheless, I do remember the occasion, the result, and the fact that I did not carry any grudges against him.
One of my beliefs was that God loves sinners - evil doers and that his heart is a heart of mercy and forgiveness. However, that belief required translation in my life in order to be understood my others. People should be able to see and experience my perspective of God's love. How? I needed to render expressive proof of what God's love is like by delivering its character through my actions and words.
Here is my third Grapes of Choice challenge. Look at the picture of this car. It is a 1937 Dodge four door sedan similar to my mom’s, except that my mom’s car did not look as good as this one. Her car looked terrible, faded black, highly oxidized! Notice how the doors mount on this car. The front and back exterior door handles are side by side. The door assemblies for backseat passengers soon gained the infamous name of “suicide doors”.
One morning my mom drove her 1937 Dodge into Fontana on the main highway link from Los Angles to San Bernardino, CA. I rode in the back seat (in those days seat belts were not a safety option). When she got the car up to her usual driving speed, “fifty miles an hour,” I noticed that one of the back doors was not entirely closed. “Mommy, that door is not closed.” “Ronny, do not open the door! I will pull over and stop about one mile up the highway. There is a safe place to stop.”
Now then, one mile was too great a distance for me. Subsequently, I stepped over to the door … grabbed the inside latch … tried to make my muscles very strong while bracing my feet … barely opened the door … and swoosh … instantly the wind caught the door and I was flung unto the highway pavement, rolling over and over until I stopped on the side of the road.
Terrified, my mom quickly pulled over, stopped the car, and pulled the emergency brake. She did not back the car to where I lay. No! Not at all. With great haste, she got out of the car and ran as fast as she could to where I was in the dirt. However, before she got to me I jumped up and started running toward her, afraid that she might drive on and leave me! Her fear of what might have been, perhaps made my hurt … hurt more than it did. One bandage is all that it took to cover a small bleeding area on my left elbow. “Ronny, do you remember how we prayed that God would send some angels to protect you? Well, he did!” “Yes, mommy, I know.”
“Ronny, I am going to take you to the doctor this morning and ask him why you are not growing much.” That was my mom’s voice. Her concern for me and her other children was as intense and common as is the situation of every loving mother. Because of that trip to the doctor, my mom gave me liquid vitamins with fresh cow’s milk on my uncooked rolled oats every morning. Soon, I began to grow and grow to normal height with a stocky build.
Since I was bigger now, my Grapes of Choice met their challenge once again. I could eat more at age six than I could at age five, so I really looked forward to Thanksgiving Day in 1944. These were very difficult times during World War II. Money for food was hard to come by. “Live weight turkeys” were forty-three cents a pound, very expensive in those days! Not only that, we had to kill the turkey we were going to eat; pluck its feathers; clean it, and then either boil or bake it. Needless to say … on this particular Thanksgiving Day, I ate and ate as much turkey as possible. I ate so much, that I could not walk! Talk about a glutton! I could only lie down on the floor, groaning and moaning! After that experience, I did a much better job of controlling my food intake. Nearly every lesson learned, for me it seems, had to be experienced based. Was that your situation, too?
Here is a positive food intake story, plus a bit of World War II history. Early in 1944, my dad worked as an electrician at the Manzanar Japanese American internment camp, about 15 miles north of Lone Pine, CA.
Historically (according to Wikipedia), March 26, 1872, a large earthquake struck Lone Pine and destroyed most of the town killing 27 of its 250 to 300 residents. Today, Lone Pine is still located between several major tourist destinations, such as Mount Whitney, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Mammoth Mountain, Death Valley National Park, and Yosemite National Park.
My 1944 food saga is this: my mom, sister, brothers, and I visited my dad at Manzanar, about 15 miles north of Lone pine. Unbelievably, my dad offered to take our whole family to dinner at a restaurant in Lone Pine. What a time we had. Each of us ate and ate our fill including milk and dessert. Now the cost for our meal is likewise unbelievable. The total dining bill for our family of six was $2.76. (The actual cost was something I learned about from a letter my mother wrote to my grandmother Hartmann.)
I just came across a letter that my mother wrote to her mom, my grandmother Hartmann, on January 23, 1945. I thought you might be interested in seeing how she wrote and expressed her observations of her children at play. Here you will observe my fourth Grapes of Choice of behavior in this segment. My mom wrote:
“You should see and hear all these kids play marbles. I practically roll on marbles all the time. The boys all have their pockets bulging with marbles, sacks of marbles. Even Penny gets down on the floor or ground with the boys, and all of them are bottoms up in the air! They shoot for keeps. The boys admit their sister is a good player. Ronny is the boss of the gang. You should hear him boss the older kids around, and his word seems to be law! He will give anything he has for more marbles. Today he couldn’t find his horde, so begged me to let him give his new jeep to Davey for a bunch of marbles. I wouldn’t let him give it away, but after awhile he came to show me a handful of marbles he had won. He had somehow or other, talked or bribed the other boys to let him use some of their marbles, and in playing, won their marbles from them. He’s a 'clever' youngster!'”
As I reflect on that story, written by my mother, I am now thinking that I must have had a number of "culprits" in my character. Some of my “clever ways" most likely brought about some of my sour Grapes of Choice in various situations, particularly throughout my childhood and teen years.
Meanwhile back in Fontana, 1947, a friend my age rode his bicycle to my house. He rode along the edge of Arrow Boulevard, a two-lane highway. I wanted him to go with me to Merrill Avenue where a new elementary school was still in its early framing stage. I wanted to fill my pockets with nails that spilled on the ground, nails that the carpenters would not stoop to pick up and use. With plenty of nails, I could finish building a new tree house in the Eucalyptus trees by my house.
The following account is my fifth Grapes of Choice in this segment:
Just when our jean pockets were stuffed with nails and we were ready to leave on our bicycles, a gang of 15 junior-high age boys approached us. The leader said, “Do you boys want to smoke? Do you?” I said, “No.” “Oh, come on”, he said, “You need to be like us! Here, take a cigarette!” “No, we do not want to smoke”, was my repeated response. “Listen, you little boy. Listen good to what I say. Either you smoke or you fight us! Get that!” … “I heard you, but we will not smoke and we will not fight!” …“O.k. then! If you will not smoke and you will not fight, we will smash your bikes. We will take the pedals off, take the cranks off, and throw the bearings out in the sand. We will take the handle grips off the handlebars; take the handlebars off and throw them far away. We will take the chain and wheels off; stomp on the spokes; and throw everything including the wheel bearings out in the field! What do you, little boy, say to that?” … “I say, we will not smoke and we will not fight.”
With that, the gang of boys did exactly as they said they would and could do, since they were carrying wrenches with them. Afterward they just walked away and left us alone. They never so much as touched us.
My friend, Bobby, and I picked up everything we could find. With our arms and hands loaded, we strenuously carried the pieces of our bicycles with our pockets full of nails to my house, three miles away. My mother had recently purchased my bicycle brand new for Christmas. It was a Firestone, a beautiful bike, which cost her a lot of money; $25.00 of hard earned money! What was her response? “Ronny, remember when we prayed that Jesus would send some angels to protect you?” ... “Yes, Mommy, I do remember and they did. They helped both of us boys.”
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