GRAPES of CHOICE - Segment 4
Ruby Jewell Hartmann - a picture of my mother on her 16th birthday, 1927. I was born in 1938. To me, my mother is a magnet of unforgotten care, kindness, determination, and unrestrained love. Throughout her lifetime, thousands of other children knew her that way, too. “Ruby Jewell’s Music Preschool” was her business and livelihood for nearly 40 years.
Have you ever been rejected by someone who should love you; one you should be able to trust?
I easily relate to this question. Most likely each of you who are reading my life story know what it means to have someone ignore you … one who could have/should have taken time to be responsibly attentive toward you.
This brings me to the “how” parents, their children, and others socially interact toward and with each other. Social-cultural interactions (traditional and unconventional; positive and negative) powerfully foster selection of an individual’s Grapes of Choice. From those experiences, lasting memories stir one's being; consciously and subconsciously; even so far as to dominate future Grapes of Choice throughout life.
I was 7 ½ years old December 11, 1945. This day was the first and only time my grandmother Greenlaw visited our family, ever. Later that day, my mother wrote the following words to her mother, my grandmother Hartmann:
“She (grandmother Greenlaw) was very friendly and affectionate toward the children, especially Penny, but not to Ronny. I think Ronny embarrassed her. He would sit and stare at her and eye her up and down, and she couldn’t figure him out, so she had no kisses for him.”
I have almost no memory of my dad's mother, my grandmother. He never talked about her either. How could any details of her life ... things she may have directly spoken to me or done with me, influence even one of my Grapes of Choice during my lifetime?
So what are the odds that I would appreciate this grandmother as a person, or even begin to understand the challenges she faced during her life? She was opposite to my grandmother Hartmann in terms of relating to my siblings and me. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows, however. Truly, I wish that things had been different, because I have always wondered about her. Regrettably, we never got to know each other ... of the same flesh and blood. Yet, I sat facing her … waiting … waiting for a word, a touch, a hug, a kiss from my grandmother Greenlaw; and that was 65 years ago. I did not know her; I did not understand anything about her personal life, or family life, except that her parents (Zieglers) were German immigrants, living in Palo Alto, south of San Franciso, CA.
It was so easy to communicate with great-grandma Ziegler. I only saw her two times, and she will always be vivid in my memory. She made the best "Coffee Cake", and let me have my fill, too! Great-grandma, Ziegler, hugged me and showed me all around her house, never shutting me out! She had a big garden and there was a very large water tower (with a shop under the tower) in the back yard. I did not get to know my great-grandpa, Ziegler, because he always got drunk and threw-up while stumbling through the back door when we went to their house. He had a sufficient source of wine and beer in his shop, under the water tower.
My Great-grandparents; the Zieglers enjoying their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Well, have you ever said or thought words such as I did as a child? Note the next few lines as I engage in some self-reflecting talk...
“Didn’t you know I wanted you to talk to me? Have you never heard me crying in bed? Have you never heard my heart sobbing because I needed someone to hold me … to make me feel wanted? I mean … I mean it was you … it was you who I wanted. I wanted you! I wanted you to hold me! I believed that you had a gentle loving touch to touch a chord in my mind so I could remember you in a special way, forever. Don't you understand, I need to feel wanted; wanted by you … I wanted you to touch and heal wounds in my heart ... wounds that I don’t altogether understand.”
Something very spiritual rings as a sacred chime from the passionate words I wrote above.
To me that "self-reflecting talk" rings with the sounds of a Bible verse that I once learned. Its words are from the mouth of Jesus Christ in John 6:37 -
“…Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Sitting on a covered swing at my Grandmother Hartmann's house (a happy place to be), Glendale, CA. From left to right: Teddy - 9; Penny - 9; me, Ronny - 7; Colin Jr - 10.
In my childhood experience, I gravitated toward other children and adults who really enjoyed having me in their world … those who were kind, helpful, and were thoughtful instructors. For some reason, I wanted WISDOM more than any toys or entertainment. This particular bent of mine was, I believe, due to knowing a lot about the one who had become my greatest hero. His name ... Jesus Christ.
Why was “Jesus” my hero, my Grape of Choice? My church-upbringing taught me there was a “Daddy” who was always with me; who wanted me with him. I learned that he loved me even before I was born; that he loved me as a growing young boy; and that he would always love me, too! That teaching was encouraging and hopeful; very powerful in my life!
My brother, Ted, 14 years old was driving our 1921 Model T Pickup in 1950.
Obviously, I was a boy who needed a daddy at home on a regular basis; one who would do things with me in my world, and let me do things with him in his world. Therefore, since I did not have an attentive father at home, I believe that I had an immediate attraction to “Daddy” … Jesus … who conveyed the following words whenever he saw children, wherever he was at the time:
“Let the children come to me, and do not keep them away, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke 18:16.
From that one Bible verse, I understood that Jesus’ Kingdom was a “world” full of happy children, children who loved each other, children who loved the realms of nature … glistening waterfalls, abundant animals of all kinds, endless flowers that are always in bloom … flowers that never fade or die. This incredible Kingdom was one where Jesus was always available to run and play with us, tell us stories, and sing happy songs!
Of course, why wouldn’t I choose "Jesus" to be my "Daddy", to be my Grape of Choice?
At 12 years of age, in 1950, a whole series of experiences waited for me in Los Molinos, CA. There was the good and the bad, many challenges.
Mostly, I loved to go fishing … fishing right after school … fishing on weekends … fishing every chance I got. Mill Creek was full of Bluegill, Rainbow Trout, Bass, and Salmon. I caught some big ones too, including a 32-inch Rainbow Trout; a 40-pound Salmon; and a 12-pound Striped Bass, many 3 – 7 pound wide-mouth bass, and endless eighth-pound to half-pound Bluegill!
I never have told you the story when Denny Latimer, Pharmacist, took me fishing way back in the far hill country of Mill Creek, have I?
Well, after driving a long way into the foothills, Denny parked the car at the end of the road. We climbed over a long steel gate … walked a long way through a vast field of Longhorn Steers … climbed over the north-side fence with our fishing poles and gear … and continued down a steep slope to Mill Creek following very narrow wild pig and deer trails to the water’s edge.
After fishing for about a half-hour, not catching even one fish ... suddenly a horde of large wild-tusked pigs came running our way. They were determined to catch us! Denny Latimer shouted, “Ronny, run with me as fast as you can! Hurry, Ronny! Run, Ronny, Run!” And, I did! We barely made it back to the fence, cutting ourselves while throwing our fishing rods and gear over the barbed wire fence as we climbed over at the same time! Wow, the wild pigs were nearly to our heels at that moment. Then, the Longhorn Steers heard and saw all of the commotion. We picked-up our stuff and started running. The Longhorn Steers (like in the picture below that I got off the internet) began running toward us ... full speed! We ran as fast as we could back to the gate near the car … threw our fishing rods and gear over the gate … barely getting over the gate just as the herd of Steers came to a screeching halt at the gate ... dust flying everywhere! Talk about scary! That was scary!
Denny and I experienced multiple Grapes of Choice that day … and they gave us unmistakable instructions ... run, run, run!
My usual fishing routine was to ask my mom for 10 cents. With that, I would go to the small store on the corner of Josephine Street and highway 99E … right across from Diamond Match Co. and the tiny S & P Train Depot. With that money, I always bought 10 long sticks of black licorice, folding them three or four times so that I could carry them in my right Jeans pocket, just below my three dollar pocket watch. The licorice was my “Stash” to eat as I waited for fish to “bite”. Of course, my transportation was my “Firestone” bicycle … the one smashed in Fontana, CA, by the gang that insisted that I smoke, but I refused! Do you remember that story which I already told you earlier?
The “Firestone” bicycle lasted me many years, until I was 18. I loved to ride it on back-country trails; breaking new trails to explore wilderness areas; mountain-bike riding (but no gears) on old logging trails; many spills, especially when sitting on the handlebars riding backwards, or riding down steep back-country dirt roads as my brakes generously smoked until the brake-spring hook melted … way over heated! I carried extra springs with me, just in case. To repair the brake problem, I simply had to remove the back wheel, sprocket, and hub – take out the scored spring – insert a new one – and I was back to peddling once again. I was thrilled with all of my out-door adventures. These ventures were great GRAPES of CHOICE for me.
Here is the hard, the ugly, and the bad! One balmy Saturday afternoon, I rode my bicycle five blocks from home in Los Molinos, CA. I saw a young mother walking with her five children and parents one block to the east (there were no houses between me and them, only open fields). Since I knew them from Church, I decided that I would ride over to see them. Then something held me back! I got off my bicycle, standing there with my hands on the handlebars.
A car stopped by this little family … many loud words followed … the car drove on about one-half block. A man got out of the car with a deer rifle. The young mother ran as fast as she could toward him saying, “Don’t kill the children … don’t kill the children."
Bang! One shot rang-out, and the barrel of the gun smoked as she swiftly ran past the man who was trying to reload his single shot 30.06. However, she kept running past him and collapsed on a bed that was sitting outside on the lawn of a small house, just to the left of where she had been shot. She quickly bled to death. I was the only eyewitness to that murder on a balmy Saturday afternoon.
Riding my bicycle as fast as I could, I wanted to tell my mother to call an ambulance in Red Bluff, CA, about 17 miles to the north. Forty-five minutes later, an ambulance drove up and removed her body. Two big men wrestled the man who shot the gun, and tied him up with a rope until the police arrived. I appeared in the Tehama County Superior Court several times as the only eyewitness to that murder. During the Court sessions, the suspect shouted loudly at me while I was on the witness stand. He shouted, "You boy, I will kill you next when I get out of prison."
As you might expect, I had nightmares over that entire incident for a long time. That situation was not a sweet GRAPE of CHOICE.
This, now, is a far more enjoyable story. My father was the only physician in Los Molinos for the three years that we lived there. His patients in this very small rural community would barter for their medical services. For example, one gave him a horse; another gave him a saddle and bridle for the horse; another gave him a dump truck full of a couple hundred large watermelons, dumping them on our front lawn.
Well, I quickly came up with a solution, my GRAPE of CHOICE for the watermelons was to give them away! So, the local mechanic welded a two-wheel wagon together, which could be pulled behind my bicycle. The wagon held “two” watermelons. I made nearly 100 trips, ultimately riding several miles, just to carry two watermelons each trip going door to door … knocking on doors saying, “Would you like “two” watermelons? They are free!”
I loved sheep. I always wanted to own my own sheep! Sheep had a special attraction for me. They were non-threateningly curious, cuddly, funny, friendly, and most of all peaceful. Their natural tranquility possessed a welcoming spirit. Therefore, I determined that I wanted my own flock of sheep. How could I do that, since my mother did not have any extra money to buy sheep and certainly, no money to buy feed for them?
All I wanted as an eleven - twelve year old were “sheep”! So my mother said: “Ronny, if you want to be a shepherd boy, you must find out how much one sheep will cost. Then you must find out how much it will cost to feed your sheep. Afterwards, find a job and earn the amount of money you need to get your flock started. Once you get your flock started, you can sell young “lambs” or “yearlings” to earn more money. With that money, you can increase the size of your flock by selling some lambs, keeping others, and selling their wool.”
“Remember, Ronny, we do not have a pasture or fencing. So you will need to build a movable Shepherd’s Sheep Pen, and move it every day. Plus, you will need a five-gallon bucket to carry water to them more than once a day!”
Well, I got a job during prune picking season. At 25 cents per large field lug, I was able to earn $180.00 in 1950. I bought three fine wool producing Columbia-Rambouillet ewes that where guaranteed to be pregnant. They cost me $37.50 USD each. Then I wanted a registered black-faced ewe, too. She cost me $50.00; a beautiful Hampshire! This is how my flock started and this is how I became a Shepherd Boy!
In 1952 my parents started their divorce proceedings. From Los Molinos, CA, my dad moved to Roseville, CA, and my mother took my siblings and me to Angwin, CA. At Angwin, there was no place for my sheep! So, we hauled them to Turlock, CA, were I left them with my Uncle Gustav. He had a dairy and a flock of more than 200 sheep. My sheep were mixed with his sheep. I no longer had my own flock. Would I ever have my own flock of sheep again?
The most tragic part of this story is this: I never got to see all of my sheep ever again! About one year later, my mother received a call one day from Uncle Gustav. He said, "Ruby, you must bring Ronny here as quickly as possible. A large portion of my sheep and his sheep have died due to some kind of worms that got into the clover pasture."
Needless to say, the next weekend we went to Turlock, to Uncle Gustav's house. There were many sheep dead all over the pasture, that had died that day. Uncle Gustav looked me strait in the eyes saying, "Ronny, your friend "Tubby" is very ill. She is close to delivering twins again. We must help her deliver the lambs, otherwise they will be born dead. We might be able to save them.
Now here is the hardest part of my GRAPES of CHOICE sheep story, and this is how this story ends...
When Uncle Gustav was ready to start the C-section, he gave me a gun, saying: "Ronny, Tubby is nearly dead. The instant you shoot her in the head, I will deliver the lambs."
Unfortunately, the lambs were already dead! So with a lot of tears I prayed:
Dear God in Heaven ... How can I ever be a Shepherd Boy without "Tubby"? Some day I want you to give my special friend, "Tubby", and her lambs back to me.
Here I am, the Shepherd Boy, 13 years old in 1951, with my flock's first increase, all because of "Tubby". I named her twin lambs, Andy and Randy. She was my favorite sheep, my best sheep friend ... my GRAPE of CHOICE.
- GRAPES of CHOICE -
Segment - 5 is Coming Soon!