FOUNDED: February 9, 2001
|02-26-2003, 12:38 AM||#1|
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(8/16/01 7:30:08 am)
Reply JUST CALL ME PAPA.
JUST CALL ME PAPA
1948 Greeley, Iowa USA
It was not the best of times in my life. In my youth I had never led a privleged existance so here, late in my life, I
must qualify those remembrances ---- it was not the worst of times either. I lived with my maternal Uncle
Archie and his wife and child on an isolated farm North of the small Iowa town of Greeley. My uncle was a
typical sharecropper of the time---living on a landlords farm--- sharing 50-50--- all receipts and expenditures---
in exchange the use of the land. All the back breaking chores and grueling labor seemed without end. Most
times the sharecroppers and their families would labor entire lifetimes without ever getting ahead--- always
saying ‘when we get outta debt’. I remember so many times the dispair and the discouragment---of not having
decent shoes or even the basic-basic clothing--- it was very common---today it would be said that they lived in
The raging battles between the Free World countries and the Communist hoards of North Korea and the
New China had not yet commenced. Names such as Haifa, Turkey, Greece, TelAviv, Jerusalem, and Berlin
grabbed the front page headlines of the DesMoines Register and Tribune----Truman, Dewey, McCarthy,
Wallace, were either sitting, or in contention to sit, at the head of government. Merchandise labeled MADE IN
JAPAN, drew sneers and even outbursts of rage--- it had not been that long since the ravages of World War II
had come home to haunt the Americans. It was the age of the GI BILL and a name to come much later in the
century--- conception times for the ‘Baby- Boomers.’ Well deserved rewards for the victorious American
warriors. The stars of the silver screen were names like Gable, Grable, Powell, Wayne, Tracy, Flynn, Cooper,
Autrey, and don’t forget Roy, Dale, and Trigger. The most foul word in the movie scripts had been uttered to
lovely Scarlet by dashing Rhett Butler who had told her he just did’nt give a damn anymore. Just think, no bad
words----no questionable ratings, but oh, how we were entertained!
I was a student at Greeley Consolidated High School-- a good student---gifted by one teachers evaluation. I
did’nt have much spare time to study--- no electricity, running water, or inside toilets on the farm where I
lived----just lots of work to do. Though Uncle Archie may have been a deep thinker--- he was a very shallow
worker---when he thought his profound thoughts, he slept a lot more that most people. Part of his pointless
meditation process was to tinker with his old rattle-trap cars and then take them on road tests for hours at a
time. Uncle Archie was a very gregarious individual, always inviting important city dwellers out to the farm to
go hunting, fishing, and maybe apple picking. I’ve often thought the man would have made a good
politician---like the Huey Long type---Old Kingfish.
Some of the elective subjects I remember taking that year in school was Junior Business Training, English
Composition, Home Economics, and most importantly, Beginners Journalism. Required reading was a must---
from my favorite teacher Mrs Griffith it was the Old World authors especially Macbeth--- those authors of our
own time made up a well rounded menu for my reading--- Jack London, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, John
Stienbeck, Hemingway, and then there was the very risque young Southerner named Erskin Caldwell. His
novel, GOD’S LITTLE ACRE, was banned from the entire school---of course for that reason it was the most
read novel of them all!. Another good old boy from the South, Tennessee Williams, would launch Marlon
Brando’s career of grunting and yelling ‘Stella’ when his sucessful novel STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE made
the Hollywood scene.
The season of the year was around Thanksgiving vacation time. The early winter weather made for
miserable working conditions. The livestock had to be sheltered and cleaned after-- that increased the work load
more that ten-fold. Days labor began early on the farm--- with the winter days shortened, kerosene lanterns
became like an extension of ones arm. Kerosene oil lanterns are not only fire dangerous but also foul smelling
things in the closed up confines of the outer farm buildings, only to continue the same sickening smell inside the
farmhouse. In days to come, electricity would be such a blessing to the farmers. A windmill provided the
power to operate the well pump for supplying water to man and animals. Great large, galvanized tanks were
kept filled with the well water for the animals to drink from. In the freezing Iowa winter those large tanks
would freeze so solidly that the metal sides of the tanks would buckle outwardly, and sometimes burst. A device
called a water tank heater was used every day to thaw the ice in the cattle drinking tank.. It was a submersible
device with a 6 foot tall chimney to carry the heavy smoke away. Corn cobs, wood sticks, straw--actually
anything flammable, was used for fuel in the heater. It was no better for the farmers comfort, for inside the
uninsulated farmhouse during the nightime it was so cold that the water reserivor on the end of the old wood
burning cook stove would freeze and need to be unfrozen every morning.
Of course Iowa, the Tall Corn State, grows corn--- great tall stocks, sometimes 8 foot high. Near the end of
the corn growing season the ears of corn are wonderous things to behold---sometimes 10to 12 inches diameter
and 18 inches long---golden and dimpled--- mature and almost flint-like in their hardness. The corn is either
shelled off the cob or stored in well ventilated buildings called corn cribs. Corn becomes the staple to feed milk
producing cows--- working horse teams---to fatten hogs for market---and oh yes, I almost forgot, contrary to
popular belief, this same type of corn is ground up to make corn bread mix. Show me an American male who
does’nt praise his wife’s cornbread, and I’ll show you a guy that kicks dogs.
Iowa farmboys had dogs........mine was a scruffty old collie with the long snout and long yellow hair. Old
Shep had real scraggley teeth because he had been kicked in the mouth so often by the cows. He’d run up and
nip their heels as he brought them in from grazing in the brushy pasture. As I’d do my chores and work in the
fields, Old Shep was always nearby. Shep was frightened of guns so he never went hunting with me.
That time of year in Iowa it would snow--- sometimes it misted rain or sleeted but still the animals had to be
cared for and cleaned after. It was a charge most of the time I felt blessed to do but sometimes the farm chores
just would become overwhelming. In addition to the winter chores, there was sometimes the husking, picking,
or gathering the corn. When the winter storms arrived early, the corn may have not been harvested, so it was
necessary to go out into the field--- wet and cold and miserable- on the already short days of winter and dig
those ears of corn out of the snow and muck--- to get them into the horse drawn corn wagon, and then into the
corn crib, and knowing the next day that it would happen all over again---- well life gets tedious, don’t it? Any
person raised in Iowa during that period of time can surely relate to the sights and sounds and the smells of the
events I have recalled . The corn wagon was a great wooden box, rectangularily shaped, 5 foot deep, with extra
tall boards on the left side, called bang- boards. The purpose of the bang-boards was so that the ears of corn
being flung by the picker could hit the bang-boards and then fall down into the wagon box. The corn wagon was
mounted on four steel wheels. A long wooden pole called the wagon tounge was straddled by a team of two
large work horses. They were like the well known Budwieser beer wagon’s large maginificent horses---- I think
of my team so long ago---my team was Pete and Pat---loved those old horses. That day as I dug the ears of corn
from the muck, caused by an early winter, old Pete and Pat fed contentedly on the corn fodder and ears of
corn--flaring nostrils and munching mouths filled the cold air with clouds of steam and the smell of slobbered
over corn. As the gentle old team pulled the corn wagon up the rows of yellowed and frost-browned corn
stocks the sounds of squeeking leather harness, the steel wheels on the frozen ground, and the rythmic banging of
the ears of corn, hitting the bang-boards and falling into the wagon.... Show me a man, with soul so dead, who
can’t recall the sights, sounds, and smells of youth and I’ll offer you a reflection or remark, ‘brain-dead’. The
reason for the last remark may or may not be completely fair....I have always been favored or blessed with a
good memory but in recent months I’ve began to recall so very vividly times, places, events, and people. Here
almost 50 years later and with a little encouragment from my wife and my peers, I began to pen these
memories...first stories of Clint and Mina Culbertson--the grand old folks who allowed me to come live with
them and further, giving their permission for me to enlist in the Navy following my graduation from Greeley
High--- my boyhood dream. That was 1951 so I must regress back to 1947.
During the corn harvesting season pheasant hunting is not unlike the country gentlemans sport---you know
like the fox and the hounds thing. Affluent city dwellers will rub shoulders with the poor tillers of the soil when
seemingly at any other time of the year, scarcely acknowledging knowing their country counterparts. My Uncle
Archie was all excited this day for he had important guests to take pheasant hunting. Even as a youngster I’d
had a distainful feeling for those who would slay such magnificant creatures for sport and not as a meal to feed
hungry bellies. To make this particular hunt more pitiful for me, my Uncle had told me that I would be the
‘dogger’ for the hunters. This demeaning, loathsome task called dogging required the ‘dogger’ to preceed the
hunters up the corn rows, and when the game was flushed to the wing, immediately fall prone so the shooters
would have a clear field of fire----I might add, a frightening job also.
This day I had returned from husking corn about noon. I shoveled the corn into the crib, unhitched Pete and
Pat and led them down to the water tank. When I laid the cover back on the water tank for the horses to drink,
great billowing clouds of steam rose into the air from the warmed water. Even though they had experienced it
many times before and knew better, the old team snorted and showed the whites of their eyes in mock terror, as
they lowered their slobbery, corn smeared mouths into the welcome water. They drank deeply, for they knew it
was their last drink of the day. They were anticipating the fresh oat straw in their stalls and the sweet alfalfa hay
in their managers. They had already consumed a full capacity of corn out in the field. I should have thought to
ask if times were good or bad for them. In their stalls I removed the heavy leather harnesses and hung them up
nearby--- old ‘busy-body’ Pat turned his head and thrust his messy old mouth up against my chore jacket. I
surmised immediately what he and his partner wanted for as soon as I covered their backs with the old moth
eaten woolen horse blankets they started munching contentedly on the sweet hay, totally ignoring any further
attention from me.
Shortly after noon Uncle Archie’s guests began to arrive. He was not home---a short time before, I had
heard his old Chevy missing, gasping, and backfiring as he’d departed. Without him saying anything about his
destination I knew he had gone to the local ‘boot-legger’ to get the liquid refreshments for the hunt.
Dr. Ted Lichter from nearby Edgewood, the banker Jim Hunt from Greeley, and a fellow classmate of the
Uncle Archie’s, now a prosperous farmer named Burt Beohm, stood out in the yard, near their cars, smoking
and talking. The Catholic priest from the Edgewood rectory was due to go with the group but he seemed to be
delayed. I remembered him from the previous year as I dogged for that hunt also. He had given me a .410
gauge shotgun as a present and had talked to me kindly. I believed now, looking back, he had counseled me in a
fashion common to priests, even though I was not of his faith----why do you suppose I remember that , after all
Uncle Archie returned in a cloud of noxious smoke--- the old Chevy was retching and gagging like a kid
taking cod-liver oil. He coasted to a stop near the other vehicles--- tumbled out of the old rattle-trap car and
greeted his ‘fair weather friends’. Hand shakes, gut laughing, back slapping all around and I heard Uncle Archie
tell his buddy Mr. Beohm, that he was going to borrow Lee Bissels coon-hound so they could go coon hunting
that evening---some more boozing, is really what he meant!
The sun reflecting off the windshield of an approaching pickup silenced everyone--only one other person was
to join the party---- the Catholic priest from Edgewood. As the pickup neared the watching group, they could
see the priest had a passenger in the cab of the truck with him--- near enough now to see an unrecognizable
The pickup was brand spanking new---- a beautiful black truck with wooden rails around the trucks bed. A
freshly painted sign spelled out to the onlookers---Frank Welterlen - Edgewood Iowa---Ph. 475.
The priest stopped the beautiful new truck within three feet of the speechless gawlkers---like they all wanted
to say to him ‘why do you deserve that pretty, gussied-up pickup truck’!
The Catholic priest looked as I remembered him---tall and kind of lonely. The man who was with him just
now was rolling out of the small trucks cab. He looked like a giant--- a red faced giant with very black eyebrows
and laughing brown eyes----when he grinned, I noticed his teeth were large and blunt like those of Theodore
Roosevelt I had once seen in a picture. When he was introduced to the hunters by the priest, his smiling
continued. His teeth reminded me of the white, square pieces Chitlets brand chewing gum.
All the while I had been standing off to one side-- waiting--- listening-- watching. As I listened over the
roccous sounds of male bonding, I detected a speech impediment in the big redfaced newcomer---not really a lisp
or a cleft-palate, but something---his laughter was truly boisterous--- he was a big man and that laughter came
from deep down in his generous belly. Even in the chill winter air, his face was grossly red and his forehead
glistened with sweat.
Now the priest and his companion was heading my way---both smiling and as they neared where I was
standing. The priest exclaimed and not in a shy way ‘John’-- ‘John’, and now near enough to thrust out his
hand and again in a most joyous fashion, ‘John, it is so good to see you again’ ---to this day, I recall such a
feeling of his sincerety and warmth as he pumped my hand.
Then the big red faced man was introduced to me by the priest and as he shook my hand and when he spoke
to me, the smell of liquor was very pronounced ---why did I think of a big bear--- a big red-faced bear, with teeth
that looked like peices of chewing gum--- a bear, who did’nt have claws but large fat, hair covered fingers. His
more than firm handshake left my own work worn fingers, white and wrinkled from cut-off circulation. A very
strong big red faced bear I thought......
The priest was the most sophisicated person of the group and as he talked with me, Mr. Redface stood near
to him, listening.
How was my school----had I developed a prowess with the shotgun he had given me--- was I a safe
hunter----what subjects did I take in school --- and on and on with the typical questions from a senior to a kid.
When he asked me what I was going to do when I finished school I told him I intended to join the Navy. The
priest wandered off to talk with Dr. Lichter leaving me to talk with his friend, Mr. Redface.
I was kind of embarrassed that I had’nt understand his hunting partner, for when the introductions were
given earlier, I did’nt hear his name properly. Then as soon as I mentioned to the priest that I was taking a class
in Journalism, the big redfaced man had joined into the conversation. As he talked to me my perception of his
having a speech impediment kind of faded--- almost unnoticed now. In fact he grabbed the conversation....
He told me that his friend the priest had borrowed the new pickup from the Edgewood Ford dealer, Mr.
Welterlen, and that very morning, had driven down to Dyersville, Iowa to pick him up from the large Catholic
seminary located there. It seemed that Mr. Redface’s family roots were put down in Dyersville by his
Grandfather almost 100 years before. The big man further commented that now he resided in Cuba with his wife,
Mary. First time I had ever talked to someone from someplace like that---wow!
As he continued to talk he remarked that walking over rough ground caused an aggravation to old war
wounds he had received during WWI. He continued that he had been an ambulance driver in Italy and France
during that war. He commented most vigorously of my decision to be a sailor instead of a ground-pounder-- it
sure seemed to meet with his unsolicitated approval. I inquired, very tactfully of course, if he would be able to
join the hunters in the rough cornfield. That brought on a bout of good natured teasing from his friend, the priest
who had returned to stand near the big man. He told of having been on an African safari---and ‘running with
the bulls’ he called it, in Pompa Loma Spain, and about the glory of the bull fights in Cuba and Mexico...I was
quite taken aback by his grand deeds, however, they sounded most believable.
Finally it was time to do what they had come for. The hunters began to don their hunting gear---shirts and
caps ---- mostly of a large, red and black check pattern with olive-drab boots. Most of the hunters had
pouch-type hunting vests, undoubtly to hold the game. Once again I thought of those beautiful birds--- colored
so grandly almost every color of the spectrum---soon to be blood smeared and lifeless and not a single one of
these overweight, overfed, specimens of manhood needing a meal--- what foolish folly.
The man with the large strange looking teeth wore a most unusual looking cap---it was red and black
checked and it had a visor in the front and a visor in the back---the group discussed it features at length. Finally
the man who limped and occasionally sounded funny said it was his Sherlock Holmes hat..Enough said that day
about his strange looking hat. It would be years later before I would learn who that guy was---you know the
Sherlock Holmes guy--the English detective from Scotland Yard.
As the weapons were removed from their carriers it was visually clear there were guns of all different styles.
The priests partner exposed a beautiful shotgun of a type I had never seen. I learned later in the day that it was
an Italian made weapon, 16 gauge, over and under barrels, with fine hunting scenes delicately engraved onto the
guns receiver. The walnut stock and foreguard glowed richly from gun oil and frequent polishing.
Later out in the corn field the boisterous, bragging men developed their respective techniques. When the
weapons were fired, each had their own sound or signature. As I ‘dogged’ for the group and flushed the game
and sometimes with my nose dug into the frozen ground so the hunters would be free to fire, I can still recall the
crack, or the bang, or the thud. One sound above all the others was the distinct ringing sound of that Italian
masterpeice....it seemed to always be the first to fire---two rounds in such rapid sucession I could scarcely tell
that two rounds had been fired and then the crashing sound of the various birds on the wing, falling amongst
the dried and broken corn stalks.
There were not only the beautiful pheasants slain that day but quail, grouse, woodcock, and dove. The
pouch around the big redfaced game hunters body stood out full --- dripping blood and gore. He put his actions
where his mouth was---quick on the trigger---a dead shot---I pondered in my young mind if something was
wrong when someone enjoyed killing that much.
Once that afternoon when the whole group was resting, the good natured bantering and bragging continued.
I realized the whole party had been nipping on the bottles---the Doctor, Banker, Priest, and farmers. It may have
been that Mr. Redface, who I had been calling ‘sir’ because of not knowing his name, did’nt want to drink
anymore liquor. He asked me for a drink of wa-wa--- sure enough, there was that sound I had detected
earlier---the speech imperfection and as I responded, in a most respectful way with a brisk, ‘yes sir!’.....
Those brilliant brown eyes, surrounded with an array of crows-feet, sparkled good naturedly and he
exclaimed--- ‘did’nt I tell you to call me PAPA....? ‘Sir’--- is what they called my own dear Father, young
man---I appreciate the sir thing, but you just call me PAPA’. He continued on--- ‘I knew when the Padre
introduced us, that you did’nt hear my name so I told you then to just call me PAPA’.
He went on to tell me of his priveleged boyhood--- of his family, his hobbies, his school
pursuits---sometimes those brown, brown eyes sparkled with obvious good humor and in then in the next blink,
appear distant, dull, glazed over, like a cameleon. The priest was talking to Dr. Lichter and Banker Hunt so the
man named Papa directed this serious delivery to me.
He was a forceful speaker---a gifted storyteller and to my impressionable young mind, a purveyor of
wisdom. When I started to tell him about my life it turned out that he was a sympathetic listener also....In an
almost confidental manner I told him of my Mother having had her children taken from her by the State and sent
to a woman’s reformatory and that was the reason I lived with my Uncle Archie---I told him of my Father being
incarcerated in the State insane aslyum and dying there 5 years earlier in l942.
He inquired as to my own goals in life and I reminded him of wanting to become a Navyman. He repeated
himself again when he said that he wished he’d have been a sailor instead of a ground-pounder. He asked if I
read much and what kind of stories I liked--- of course then the remarks of mine about ‘reading everything I
could get my hands on’ were well taken in by him. He had remembered my telling his friend, the priest, that I
was taking a Journalism class that year in school. He asked me if I had ever read any of his writings. I replied
honestly that I did’nt think so because I did’nt know what he had written.
‘Sure don’t want to brag John---Mary tells me I brag too much, especially when I’m around those damn
Cubans’ he chuckled as he leaned back against the splintered fence post.
A far away look come over his flushed face and he began to recall--- ‘let’s see now --- FOR WHOM THE
BELL TOLLS---ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES----he turned and looked at me inquiringly,
waiting and then continued on-- ‘I’m now working on THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA’.
I suddenly realized it was not from the authorship of his books he was telling me about but recalling now so
very vividly the picture on the front of LOOK magazine back in the book rack at school. The picture showed
PAPA as he was deep sea fishing off the island of Cuba ----he was wearing a white, long billed cap and holding a
modern looking fish pole with an enormous reel. The fishing rig was bent downward so far it was as if he were
trying to land a gigantic sea monster. I remember reading about him before I left for the Thanksgiving holiday...
I knew who the man named PAPA was....
I knew and my face must have shown it for he began to smile broadly, showing those large square teeth and
squinting those brown eyes with the crows feet all round.
‘Damn John, it’s a good thing you’re not a gambler for your eyes getting big like dinner plates would sure
as hell give you away’ as he reached across and punched me on the arm--- .
‘But you can write stories someday yourself if you really want to---just let the whole world become your
research library--- make sure you can do everything that you write about---never try telling some poor
bed-ridden man who’s been crippled up his whole life how it feels to run before the bulls--- unless you’ve felt
their hot, stinking breath and slobber on the back of your neck or have those big sharp horns so close to your
back-side that they’ve poked holes in the seat of your britches’. The big man named PAPA paused as if to
gather his thoughts and then continued ‘---or the agony of loosing a comrad in battle after you try and help him
stuff his guts back into’ ---he stopped talking again as a sound not unlike someone clearing their throat racked
the big man’s whole frame---he noticably shuddered and rambled on--- ‘unless you were there when he breathed
his last’. ‘May I have another drink of that water, John’? I passed my old Boy Scout canteen across to PAPA
and he drank deeply---hurriedly in fact, for some of the liquid run off the black-grey stubble on his chin. ‘Or the
folly of drugs and booze unless you’ve puked your guts out in some putrid, slimey, rat infested gutter
yourself’---- he screwed the top back onto my canteen slowly, as if counting the turns.....
‘Yes son, my Christian name is Hemingway and though I hate the name Ernest, seems I’m stuck with it. I’ve
had friends in this world who were bullfighters and mountion climbers and just about any damn foolish thing you
can think of being ---- some of them who died doing what they loved to do. I never faulted anyone for doing
what they loved doing and perished while doing it. If I ever loose the joy and thrill of my writing, I’d be
lost---could’nt go on--would’nt want to’, he declared with a resigned sigh.
‘You know John, if you ever see me out there in the world again, I’d be so pleased if you come up to me and
say loud enough for everyone around to hear “Hello PAPA, I’m John Wilborn, you remember me--I’m the kid
from the farm in Iowa who took Ernest Hemingway and Father Cross pheasant hunting that time --- the young
man who was going to join the Navy and maybe write stories himself someday’.
Yes, the big man sure had a way with words--- and he was a storyteller of much renoun--to be honored by
his peers and admired around the world... Still I ponder why it took so long for these memories to surface from
the hidden archieves of my own mind. Is it time for me to begin writing my stories-------------after having spent
20 years in the Navy all over the world, I’m sure I have that reference library PAPA spoke of. Yes, and they will
be things that really happened to me.