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Nostalgia June 2014

An Old Man’s Memories

By Tait Trussell

I thought I was getting old when I reached age 21. Many around me at college were younger. They had not been in the service, as I had. So I took extra courses to graduate sooner – in 3 instead of 4 years – and get started with life.

We seniors all have memories to look back on. It may make one wistful. But that’s better than having few memories.

My first memory, still clear if brief, was as a babe age two, I recall sitting on the lap of my great-grandfather. While bouncing on his knee, I remember vividly his calling me “a real stemwinder.”

His reference to an old-fashioned watch was meant to be complimentary. I had nothing to say in response – I hadn’t learned to talk. But I enjoyed being bumped on his knee.

I have fond memories of the Booker family when growing up. Viola was our maid. Robert worked for my grandfather Galen, doing various jobs concerning his rental properties.

Robert was a huge black man. He was handsome, resembling Clark Gable. When I was of some pre-adolescent age before my voice changed, I tried to lower my voice one day to match that of a more mature friend who was visiting.

Robert was in the driveway below the front porch. When he heard me put on this deep falsetto, he gave a robust laugh and said, “You tryin’ to talk like a grown-up man? Ha, ha, ha.”

What an embarrassment. But Robert taught me lots about construction, as well as honesty.

At age 16, I learned how to work, even how to knead dough for bread, on weekends at the Swiss Pastry Shop.

The Gray family lived next door, on the other side of our large side lawn (which I mowed with a hand (unpowered) mower). The lawn was the site of games, day and night. It was baseball and football in the light hours. Red light, and other games in the evenings. We also threw objects in the air to watch the bats follow then down from on high. The Gray girls, Ellen and Caroline, played along with us boys.

Ellen was a good athlete. That, as well as her fine features, were what attracted me to her. I was maybe 10 and Ellen was a year or two older. I wanted to kiss Ellen. And I finally did. One kiss. That was it. But it was a deciding point. In a childish way, I considered her mine.

Sugarloaf Mountain, named for its mass of limestone on one side, was a favorite spot for family trips on many weekends. It was some 40 miles from our house. We could drive part way up. Then we would walk by a footpath to the top. From that peak, we could see for miles and pick out tiny farm houses below. Being there, gave one a feeling of superiority and other-worldliness.

Sunday afternoon family walks in the fall were special. The multi-colored leaves covered our pathways. I (the older brother) usually would race ahead and hide behind a large tree, waiting for the opportunity to leap out and shriek like a wild Indian at younger brother, Douglas. We also walked around our local reservoir – the four us —  as mother explained how the water was purified before it ran from our spigots at home.

We did have one spigot, on the kitchen sink, that delivered well water. It tasted a bit different. But, as I recall, it was cool and seemed more refreshing.

Grandmother Daisy, a jokester, once put a dead mouse in one of my grandfather’s socks. In retaliation, grandfather Galen placed a live lobster in the drawn bath to await Daisy. She never acknowledged it — the ultimate payback.

When Daisy cooked dinner, when Mother worked late on voluntary activities, you never were sure what some of the dinner ingredients were. But when she made apple pie, it was an unmatched delicacy.

We also had two-generation parties, where my parents’ friends also brought their teenage children. My mother loved throwing parties.

My father, singing bass, George Myers as tenor, and Clint Misson at the piano, was baritone. They made unforgettable music.

I thought I was getting old when I reached age 21. Many around me at college were younger. They had not been in the service, as I had. So I took extra courses to graduate sooner – in 3 instead of 4 years – and get started with life.

My first job in journalism was with the St. Petersburg Times, a Florida newspaper with a liberal editorial policy. In those days, the editorial policy of most respected newspapers was strictly separated from the news pages.

After covering some routine news, I was assigned to cover the County Commission, and apparently performed well enough that I was assigned to replace the newspaper’s Washington correspondent.

The job also entailed writing part-time for Congressional Quarterly, a congressional news and research service for subscribing publications and radio and TV stations. It also was owned by the Poynters, who owned the St. Pete Times.

I spent much of my time on Capitol Hill where news was being made, even by the Florida delegation, which was my main responsibility to cover.

There was a distinct culinary advantage being back home in Washington, including more than sufficient and wholesome food – a stark contrast to my time in Florida.

My pay as a starting reporter in St. Petersburg had been $40 a week. And the days were usually 10 hours long. That meant I earned 8 cents an hour. I had barely enough money to share the rent of a small apartment with another reporter. Also I ate only two meals a day. A fried egg sandwich for brunch and a cheap dinner.

Somehow I managed to buy an old car from a cop which I turned it in on an early 1970s yellow Chevy convertible. I treated myself once every weekend or so to fried shrimp and a beer at the St. Petersburg Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

I struck up an affair with a local beauty queen who was the sister of a photographer on the Times. Meals and other comforts came more frequently.

Now, as an old man, I can still bring to mind those long-ago pleasures. So, they live — even though they are gone.


Tait Trussell is an old guy and fourth-generation professional journalist who writes extensively about aging issues among a myriad of diverse topics.

Meet Tait