Ramblings of Charles Prier – Writer-Insomniac-General Know-it-All

Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

My Friend Finis

Although some would say he was a sissy, having Finis as a friend was advantageous; he lived nearby, was usually available for an adventure of some sort and best of all, he had a brother-in-law. Having a brother-in-law was always an asset if you were 13 or 14 years old. It gave you access to all sorts of information about sex and girls and women and more or less made you an authority to all your other friends on these and other grown-up subjects.

Finis was not particularly creative but had an unusual imagination. For example, when someone asked why his brother-in-law put an envelope instead of money in the plate when it was passed around at church each Sunday, he said it was because he and his sister were married in the church and had to write on the envelope the number of times they did it each week.

“Everyone who puts their offering in an envelope is reporting the same thing. Even the old people that were thirty or thirty-five,” he said. “These were read by the preacher and the deacons to make sure that the marriage was going okay.”

You would be surprised at the number of his friends who actually believed he was telling the truth. Of course, he was speaking from the authority of having a brother-in-law, so no one could dispute him.

Finis and I used to camp out in the woods or in a field nearby. I don’t believe we ever stayed out all night because Finis had large and very sensitive ears. He was good at hearing scary but imaginary sounds no one else could hear. He would get scared of some monster, often a panther he heard in the woods and we would break camp and go home.

I remember his mother as being an older woman who suffered from some nervous disorders. She was not like my mother or the mothers of our other friends. I always wondered why she named him Finis. Of course Finis does mean the end and he was the last of her children.

I have some fond memories of Finis and some of the things we talked about during our adventures together. He always had cigarettes or roll-your-own tobacco and could make a nice campfire. We told jokes that we both had heard before and always laughed when hearing them again.

The last I heard anything about Finis he had passed away. I had a moment of silence out of respect and thought of the bicycle accident we had riding in tandem down Dennison Hill.

Rest in Piece my old friend.

The End (No pun intended)


Ol’ Vernon

Some believed Vernon to be a good Christian man. Others believed the goodness might just be camouflage for his vitiated character. This contrast is varied among those who knew him. I believe there is clear evidence for both conditions. I knew him when I was a young teenager. My spiritual consciousness had not been awakened at the time so I was able to observe, probably with prejudice, evidence favoring camouflage.

He was a distant cousin of my mother and, as my dad used to say, from the halfassed side of the family. Me and his son, Elvin, who was a couple of years older than me, ran around together some in those days.  I can remember spending nights at his house. On those nights, after dark we would sit around the living room chatting, playing a board game or working on a jigsaw puzzle, Vernon would abruptly stop everything and read a chapter or a passage, out loud, from the Bible. He spoke with a dry monotone voice and thankfully added no commentary. After the Bible reading, he would insist that all the lights be turned out and we sat silently in the dark for a period of time. He held a flashlight and would randomly click it on for a second or two. I reasoned that it was to check that no one was asleep. Near the end of the dark time he would creep to the front door and appear to listen intently for anything he might hear outside. I wanted to ask why but didn’t.

Sitting there in the dark was awkward for me. I didn’t know what to do. Usually I would just fantasize about stuff I don’t wish to discuss here. . . Okay, just this one thing. His daughter, Joann, who was a little younger than me, frequently sat on the porch up at the store and ate ice cream. It was rumored that if you would buy her an ice cream cone, she would let you look up her dress while she ate it. I don’t know if that’s true since I never had the money to buy her an ice cream cone. My fantasy was more about having a nickel than buying her an Ice cream. Thinking back, Joann gained a lot of weight that summer.

Vernon used to ask questions that lacked grace. If I wore a new shirt he would ask, “How much did it cost?” I always answered with a lie. He often asked how much money my dad made. I always said I don’t know. His facial expression told me that he didn’t believe me, but actually I didn’t know.

Vernon used to take up collections for people. This was in the days before abundant welfare programs, and whenever someone was down sick and couldn’t work, the custom was to take up a collection for them, a love offering so to speak. Vernon was the first to begin taking up a collection. I wondered how much of the collection made it to its intended recipient and how much of it went into Vernon’s pocket.

Vernon was able to spin elaborate stories of those ailing and needing a collection. “Ol’ Ted Atkins  ’as been laid up for a while,” he would say. “You know he had appendicitis and an infection set in after that. He ain’t been able to do a lick of work in more than a month. It’s good that they don’t have no rent to pay but he and his family has to eat. They’ve already eaten a bunch of their chickens. Only have a few left, just enough for a few eggs. And them hens don’t lay very much since they only eat what they can scratch out of the ground. The kids are doing the chores around the house and keeping wood pile up. And Nellie, she takes care of him, cooks and keeps the house up, though some say not so good. She’s never worked outside the house. So, anything you could give would sure help them out and we’ll see they are taken care of as best as we can,” he’d conclude.

Vernon died in 1995. I hear someone took up a collection to help pay for his cremation.  –CP

Karo Nut Pie

When I was a kid mom used to make pecan pies as a special treat. In those days we called them Karo nut pies because Karo syrup was used in the recipe. That was about the only place Karo syrup was used. It wasn’t very good on pancakes, or a buttered biscuit where sorghum molasses heated and poured on was preferred.

Making Karo nut pies was a big deal. The syrup was store-bought and because of sugar rationing during the war, was in short supply. The nuts had to be cracked and the goodies picked out. Pecans were used most often but black walnuts or even hickory nuts could be used. Even as a kid I helped with the nut cracking and goodie picking. We would sit under a shade tree and crack the nuts with a claw hammer on a big flat rock. I had to crack a lot of nuts because I ate about every other goodie. I remember that when we were cracking walnuts our hands would be stained black and look dirty for about a week afterwards. The pies made with walnuts were especially good but for digestive reasons you shouldn’t eat but one piece.

Years later during Navy boot camp, a bunch of us were sitting around talking about what we missed from back home, I mentioned that I sure would enjoy a big slice of Karo nut pie. A recruit from New Jersey asked, “What’s a Karo nut?”

There were giggles from some of my Arkansas buddies. Then one of them said “they’re nuts that come from Karo trees.”

“I never heard of a Karo tree,” he said.

“That’s understandable; they only grow on the side of the mountains in Arkansas.” The buddy responded. The others nodded in agreement and no one laughed.

I have a habit of looking at license plates as I drive about and especially on trips. When I see a car with New Jersey plates I always smile and wonder if the occupants have ever heard of a Karo tree. –CP


“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” –Anonymous

Lifting or Leaning

From many years back I remember the gist of a little poem about Lifting and Leaning. The author’s premise is that there are only two types of people in the world “those who Lift and those who Lean.” Although I can’t remember many of the words or the author’s name, the little piece made an impression on me.
When I was young and inexperienced I believed that I was certainly a Lifter and that Leaners were of lesser character and should learn to lean upon themselves instead of us Lifters. I found it easy to dislike someone if they appeared to be leaning in any manner and felt that lifting out of love was surely a commitment to endure a heavy burden.
Later in life I began to evaluate my own actions in terms of Lifting or Leaning. I was horrified to observe that much of my own behavior was the leaning type; these, at first, were in mundane and unimportant areas of life, of course.
Time and experience have taught me that people sometimes lift though often they lean. I have learned that Leaners frequently believe they are Lifters and Lifters who complain about having to lift are really leaning. I believe that true Lifters enjoy lifting, and often seek opportunities to Lift almost as frequently as Leaners look for help.
It’s my carefully considered conclusion that there is really only one type of people in the world, “those who Lift, AND Lean.”

My Singing Career

When I was in the fifth grade a special teacher “Mr. Wren” came to our school for a brief time. He was a music teacher. He gave piano lessons and had a class in choral singing that included some music basics like how to read some of the notes.  Almost nobody paid much attention to that part. I was always curious about how someone could look at notes printed on a piece of paper and decipher a tune or melody. I still do not understand how they do that. Mr. Wren left suddenly before school was out. I didn’t know why, I didn’t take piano lessons.

I did enjoy the choral singing. Mr. Wren taught us more sophisticated songs than “Farmer in the Dale” and “London Bridge” but gave up on sophisticated songs like “Santa Lucia” or “O Sole Mio” although he did try; he settled for “Row, Row, your Boat” as our main song. For this rendition he separated the class into two groups and directed the second group to start singing the first line when the first group started the second line. It was fun singing that way especially after some of the high school boys changed the words to:

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream.

Throw your teacher overboard

And listen to him scream …

After which Mr. Wren changed our main song to “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” I didn’t know anyone named Bonnie, but I liked the song, sometimes after class it would run over and over through my mind and I would find myself humming it.

My daddy used to read to us on those winter evenings. That day we were standing around the pot-bellied stove waiting for Daddy to continue reading Robinson Crusoe. We were anxious to hear more about Friday who had just joined Crusoe at the last reading session. As we were warming and waiting my sister sang a little nursery rhyme tune, to fill the lull, I burst out with my rendition of “My Bonnie …” which had been running over and over in my mind. Perhaps it surprised everyone, they were all looking at me; then Daddy said “Lord son, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

Daddy could sing, play a guitar, play a harmonica, and as far as I know he never lied to me. I gave up singing that day. Some say he shouldn’t have said that; perhaps that’s true but it don’t change the fact that I can’t carry a tune and should only perform musicals in my mind for my own amusement and nobody’s endurance. –CP

The Duck That Thought He Was a Dog

Back in the early 1970’s our kids were small and we lived in Tennessee. Each year around Easter a local establishment offered baby chicks and ducklings in various artificial colors for sale. These cute critters were sold for the amusement of the youngsters whether or not they had the means or aptitude to take care of them. I believe this practice has since been abandoned.

Often these pets would die before the Easter eggs were all gone. Henry, our Easter duckling, didn’t. In fact, he thrived in our unfenced backyard and by summer was a full grown, swanlike duck. Henry had no role models except for the miniature (and ugly) bulldogs that lived in the fenced yard next door. Henry believed he was a dog. He imitated their mannerisms, from trying to growl and bark to running to us when we went outside.

By early fall Henry’s welfare had become a constant concern and his increasingly competent canine impersonations were becoming a little embarrassing. After a somber family meeting we decided to take Henry to a nearby lake that was inhabited by other ducks. Henry was curious but his uncharacteristic quack frightened the other ducks. For his own good, as soon as he was slightly distracted we made a beeline for the car. I’ll never forget the sad but amusing sight of Henry in my rearview mirror, running behind our car barking as we sped away.

Here’s to you Henry (or Henrietta) you are a pleasant memory that will live here for a long, long time.–CP



The Firestones

My father and I took the long path, the one that led us through the pasture and behind the woods finally merging with the road that leads to our house again. The path was wide and littered with smooth white stones of varying size. The sun was low in the autumn sky. Occasionally, as we strolled we would pause to send a rock whirling through the air into the long shadows of the trees.It was a time to just be; a time to feel an independent relationship with my father.
We came to a grove of cedar trees on the left side of the path. The center of the grove held a pile of smooth white stones. It was not a neatly organized pile pretending to be a fence or a tower but a random gathering of stones larger than those on the path. My father hurled a stone into the pile. Sparks shot out on impact, bright in the twilight shadows. I delighted in seeing the fire from the stones. We lingered a long time while father tossed stones into the pile one after the other. I thought the woods would catch on fire. I was amazed. Father was amused.
I asked my father where the fire came from. Although wise for his years, my father was not an educated man. He satisfied his curiosity and developed an understanding of how things worked by using his imagination and making comparisons to things he could observe. He said that the fire was inside the stones and that when two hit each other a tiny crack would let some of the fire out, but the heat from the escaping fire would quickly seal the crack back so not too much could get out. My new independence would force me to think it through for myself.
It was almost dark when we walked down the road to our house. I didn’t tell mother or my sister about the fire stones.
For days later, I thought about the fire stones. I imagined that the pile of rocks was really a gate to hell and that the stones were brimstones that had bubbled up to live by the path. Why else would they have fire in them so anxious to escape? I reasoned.
One bright sunny day I wandered down the path by myself. I came to the grove and tossed in a stone. I couldn’t see a spark and as I stared in to the grove, I saw something rise up from the pile. I heard the stones roll and a rustle in the leaves. I could feel something looking at me. I ran but it followed. I could hear it behind me! I stopped at the road and looked back; there was nothing there but I could feel it looking at me.
Today, more than fifty years later, I sometimes feel that something looking at me – just watching. I shudder, and then remember that special day with my father. I suppose that if there is anything watching, it is the ghost of the little boy I left behind that day my father and I found the firestones and I grew up a little bit.–CP

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