“Another Unfinished ‘Ku”

(March 21, 2019)

im pretty close to

mostly (calling this one off

as ive not courage)

John Richards, my father, in retirement captured chores by the bucket: this time he engaged himself, my chainsaw, an axe and heavy-duty pruning shears to take down – with the further help of an hydraulic jack, his truck’s tire jack and of course two shovels – one of which he left to entice me to help – in removing a 35-year old camphor tree in the side yard which was blocking the Winter sun from his and mom’s favorite room. I was there taking a few days off mid-week to help with mom’s heavy housecleaning – before her bug exterminator and housekeeping lady came the next day whereupon I would go fishing in Lake Monroe with The Old Man, murthering specs (speckled perch, more commonly called Black Crappie almost everywhere else but Central Florida. Fine eatin’ and by early Fall the freezer shelf of sectioned grapefruit, and its juice, and naval orange, Orlando tangelo and Dancy tangerine juice – one of my annual chores picking, washing, cutting and squeezing – was depleted enough to restock with frozen – en block with old waxed milk containers or other such surrounds to ward off freezer burns. We were poor: so poor I thought everyone had gardens, hunted and fished to fill a 25-cubic foot industrial freezer, went to the beach at least twice a year to catch crab and mullet and rake oysters…the mullet were smoked though later I learned they are fine fried. I did not learn to “dip” shrimp until much later when I was sports editor of a Titusville newspaper and would tote home one-pound frozen-fresh blocks of Indian River shrimp – and later rock shrimp which, if you keep the two rows of orange-pink shrimp-fat after removing the “sand vein” down the tip middle you get a broiled in-shell shrimp tasting more like lobster we had as kids in Newfoundland and our parents learned to love in Maryland and later Rhode Island, and a salad was a mandatory even if you had cole slaw and two vegetables not counting some kind of potatoes to go with either fish or meat. All else we three boys learned to acquire on our own with jobs ranging from lawnmowing, newspaper delivery, and in the case of the youngest, buying an old pre-World War II jalopy and hiring a licensed driver (he was fourteen-years-old at the time) to take him around town where he would arrange for other boys he knew to do odd jobs – for a percentage of “the take” of course. Even had one girlfriend to ride him around on the handlebars of his bike: she was the one who helped him with his schoolwork. Mom did too. Both she and Jan never did take the bows they deserved when he walked up across the state in Gainesville to accept his Doctorate of Philosophy in Urban and Regional Planning after having heard most of his academic career in Sanford “why can’t you be more like your older brothers, Storm? With grades like these and test scores like those I doubt you would even be able to get into the Army. ” Of course, at 5-foot 5-inches many were sure he’d never be a high school nor a junior college high hurdler, which he was along with a 400-meter hurdler and 3,000 meter runner. The moral of the story: Storm’s father, John, was a 5-foot four-inch U.S. Navy Golden Gloves boxing weight division champion on the USS Hornet (CV-8) in between flying as an on-board aviation motor machinist’s mate and rear gunner on a carrier-borne scout/bomber during battles off Guadalcanal, and Midway Island and at The Coral Sea before fate made him take a swim, survive to visit Seattle where he got a new ship to fly off from and go to New York City and meet his best friend who taught him lots of things a poor little guy who was a guide and trapper in Lake of The Woods, Minnesota when not playing fire warden and when flying Navy converted B-24 Billy Mitchell bombers as one of the world’s first Hurricane Hunters out of Patuxent River Naval Airstation’s test bed division after two years of making runs as carrier escort (USS Card CVE-11) through two separate Nazi undersea warfare campaigns called ominously The Battles of The North Atlantic, keeping England and Russia fed and armed and helping land George Patton in the Mediterranean underbelly of France after the Normandy Invasion, with a side trip or six to Malta to keep Britian’s Island Fortress in control of those vital sealanes to believe that no 50-foot tall, six-foot wide tree was gonna tell him you can’t chop me down, Buster. But he did love to fish and even put up with my mocking ways. So if my brothers – Glenn I can not tell you about: his wife forbids, even if all I know is he is my real hero, not Storm and not Dad. He used to go to places he called Greenland or Fiji and after he’d been there for some time the government would fly his family somewhere else and he’d have a little vacation between bouts of winning The Cold War. Glenn also was the big bully brother I loved to fight most. We boys were not allowed to get into fights, but if it was with a brother, why, then how could it be a fight? Right? Only thing; if your broke your brother you had to do his chores – and his side jobs – until he was fixed. Never had to throw a newspaper for Glenn and even when he whacked me across the knees with one of mom’s aluminum clothesline poles after I enticed him into chasing me ’round the house one Summer’s afternoon that I got so far ahead of him I was laughing so hard I did not notice he had stopped chasing to ambush me as I rounded the last corner and wound up rolling ’round the ground yelling something unmannerly I am sure. Smart. He always did ALL the problems Archie Cannon and Ethel Riser assigned in geometry and trigonometry, not just every other problem every-other page. Where he got the money to pay me for typing his homework I never asked. But I did find out a lot about what he did during those four-to-five a.m. portions of his newspaper route. I was such a slow learner then. And, still.
My father, John Leslie Richards, prepares for his 1984 Walt Disney World second retirement (Navy, 1961) by chopping down and de-stumping one of two then-30 year old camphor trees in the South side yard of his Cedar Avenue, Sanford, Florida home. With his pickup to pull, he did all the chainsawing, digging, and hauling. I just happened to come home for a brief visit in the early 1980s to witness the feat. Cocky little bastard. The above second photo of a two-photo series shows not the whole stump – the first picture shows about one-quarter of the stump he pulled in in portions. A mature camphor tree does not have a tap root but forms a “shield” many feet in circumference and sometimes more than a foot or two thick. All that work just to avoid mom’s domain when he could have just took her out for a beer and come home and fooled around. And they say sailors aren’t slow. I showed up to take the photographs and declined the kindly offered second shovel. I was there to do mom’s “heavy housecleaning” before her regular monthly house-cleaner arrived – and her exterminator fella would be right behind. What I do to get a great meal and a chance to lie to Mom. Fishing the next day with Dad was just lagniappe. The second tree was younger but still a chore. I managed to miss that one entirely. I had a football game to go cover for my Titusville newspaper that weekend so I couldn’t stay to help on this first victim. I did, however, harvest a bushel of camphor roots about 1″ to 2″ inches thick and up to a foot or so long. Scraped off their bark and split in half those camphor roots would claim pride of place along the inside window ledges and help discourage flying and crawling pests from engaging the screens for a way inside back in Tidy-Town across from Kennedy Space Center. As a kid I learned to strip a bunch of camphor leaves and rub them on exposed skin as a mosquito repellent. Summer sweat defeated that idea mostly. But the inner bark, the soft kind that would easily bend and conform to a rubbing hand could be rubbed along jeans cuffs – both inside and out – and the same with the waistband as well as the tee shirts openings. But I always saved a goodly portion of the inner bark to rub across the inside of each window screen in my bedroom because there is nothing better in a Florida rainy night than to wheel open the jalousies of those old-timey windows so I could hear the tree frogs and the rainsplatter – and sometimes even hear a treefrog plop onto a ligustrum leaf or best-of-all against an open window pane. That was all before Dad installed for him and Mom their first air conditioner in one of their bedroom windows. Soon enough – sometime after three boys left home, another a/c unit was installed above their after-dinner livingroom seats as Jeopardy and Wheel preceded his watching pleasure. I possibly earned Mom’s eternal gratitude when I got them cable installed. But it was new in those days and all they had to change the channel was a slide-affair which Dad used to run the route of all the then-possible channels instead of his “Honey, could you…” and sh’e get up and turn their black-and-white channel selector to one of the three VHF stations and the one UHF public radio which Dad consented to watch Sundays for Justin Wilson’s Cajun Cooking Show and sometimes the New York Philharmonic. When I got them the color TV – with it’s remote channel flipper for a time Mom had to drive ’cause Dad wasn’t so much into either “new” or “fangled.” But he caught on soon enough. I even taught him the “flashback” feature for which I lost points at The Chef’s Table.
Photos and copy (c) 1984 and 2019 by J Richards

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