Monthly Archives: January 2011

Growing Up Juju (Part 10 in a Series)

Juju sat under the bridge and listened as her neighbor and sister convinced her that she was, in fact, adopted. Look how old our parents are, Junene said….they don’t even sleep in the same room for craps sake! Rod, their cross the street neighbor, and Junene started to weave a story that flowed as easily from their mouths as the slow stream of water at their feet.

This explained everything Juju thought…she knew she was different, suddenly all the pieces were falling together in her mind! She quickly ran down the creek bed, up the concrete side behind her neighbor’s house, and sprinted across Oak Street to her front door. Juju had a sick feeling in her stomach, but was excited at the same time. No wonder her siblings were so much older and a mystery to her, she was adopted!

Juju’s mother was washing dishes as she bounded into the room. Where is your sister? Juju, thought quickly of a fib, not wanting to tell her mother that Junene was at their secret hiding place smoking cigarettes with their neighbor, Rod. I think she walked up to the 5 and Dime. (Juju had to cover for her sister often and resented the fact that she had become adept at being a liar, maybe it would help her in a future career choice) She felt double guilt because she had seen on the TV news that menthol cigarettes could make your lungs bleed and she knew Junene preferred Kool Menthols…..because she thought they were kool.

Juju entered her bedroom and pulled out a photo album, she turned the pages to a group shot of her family. Scanning the picture, she started to notice dissimilarities in herself and the rest of the family. It was scary it was so obvious! Who are these people!?! What did Juju’s real family look like?? Thoughts were racing through Juju’s mind….what did her real parents do? Surely her real father was an US Ambassador to some country she had never heard of….and her real mother….oh, wouldn’t it be grand if her real mother was Rosalind Russell? Ever since Juju had seen the movie, The Trouble with Angels, she had loved the actress Rosalind Russell. She imagined visiting the film set and spending weekends on a California beach where the movie stars all lived.

Juju decided that her adopted parents had done a really nice thing taking her in….she loved them, but she would have to tell them she knew the truth now. Why had Junene waited until she was 9 to tell her? Maybe the tickle feeling in her stomach when she saw Captain von Trapp kiss Maria in The Sound of Music had something to do with her being adopted. Did other little girls want to kiss Maria?Maybe there were more people in California that felt the way Juju did?

Juju was sitting in the living room listening to her older sisters talk back and forth. Sometimes it felt like they were speaking a different language, or in secret code. It was Sunday afternoon and they had come by to eat dinner. Junene joined their conversation effortlessly as Juju sat on the green bean bag chair and listened. She had decided that she would confront her adopted mother Jewel that night.

Juju watched as Jewel sat on the couch reading the Sunday newspaper. Her father was sitting at the kitchen table, eating his second piece of pie. Junene was in the room she shared with Juju, listening to music. Her sister had purchased two, new 45s the previous day at the record shop in the Bellaire Shopping Center up the street. The records cost .95 cents each and after much thought, Junene had selected Sly and the Family Stone’s Family Affair, and Brand New Key by Melanie.

Juju noticed Jewel’s eyes peak above the top of the page of the newspaper. She looked at Juju sitting on the bean bag. I thought I told you not to eat in this living room? These are Smarties, no crumbs, said Juju. Before she could change her mind Juju blurted out to her mother that she knew the big secret! What secret, Jewel asked? Junene told me your big secret yesterday when we were playing down by the creek! I know what you and Daddy did to get me!! Jewel was taken aback and instantly furious at Junene for talking to a nine-year old child about the birds and the bees.

Juju listened intently as her mother began to talk about what happens when a man and a woman meet and like each other. There is more than kissing, Juju was starting to get disgusted and stopped Jewel! Stop, yes stop….that’s not the secret Junene told me! Jewel, looking somewhat relieved, pressed Juju for the story. I want to thank you and Daddy for taking me, but I know now that I am adopted! Juju’s father yelled from the kitchen, “what the hell did that kid just say?”

It took about forty-five minutes for Juju’s parents to convince her that she was definitely a part of their gene pool. They were somewhat upset that this didn’t completely make Juju happy! Juju still didn’t know what sleeping in the same room had to do with it…or what came after kissing and that was just fine with her. She knew now that even though she was in the right house, with the right family, there were still differences in her that someday needed to be answered.

Until that time, Juju delighted in watching her mother chase Junene around the house with the fly swatter, yelling, “I am going to make you wish YOU were adopted!!” Jewel was 49 at that time and didn’t catch Junene and Juju too often….she looked at it as her cardio.

Juju heard one of the swats connect on Junene’s backside and yelled above the commotion….SHE ALSO SMOKES KOOL CIGARETTES!!

What happened to sister loyalty? Well, that along with the big secret of the summer of 71 …it was all just water under the bridge now.

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Grab your Duds, it’s Fat Stock Show Time!

The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Exposition has been going strong since 1896. It is the country’s oldest continual running stock show and rodeo. We are quite proud of it here in Cowtown, it helps define us as a city. Fort Worth has been known as “Cowtown” since the post-Civil War days when cowboys stopped in for supplies here on their way to the Chisholm Trail. All natives of my hometown have stories to tell surrounding the Stock Show and their families, what follows just happens to be mine.

My father was a chef, I have blogged about that before today. From his post-WWII years until about 1971 he worked for a company called Coburn Catering, they were a multi-faceted organization. He supervised the food service at General Dynamics in Fort Worth, a major defense contractor, for Coburn. That was his full-time job, but for 24 days a year he worked at the Stock Show. Coburn Catering was responsible for all the food stands at the Show, along with a major daily buffet at the “Round Up Inn” building on the complex.

My father’s name was James…but the people that he supervised and all his friends called him “Bill,” the first four letters of his last name. Bill had one special job each year at the Stock Show. He prepared a dinner for the guest of honor at the rodeo. Now this was a big deal for big Bill and he relished the attention it brought to him. The likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had played the arena in their heyday. About the time I was old enough to put on my own chaps they had Jeannie C. Riley, Tanya Tucker, and Roy Clark hitting center stage.

Jeannie C. Riley was famous for singing “Harper Valley PTA.” I hate the song now, but as a six-year old in 1968, it made me tap my toes. My sister Junene and I memorized the song and were often called upon to entertain guests at our house. Picture two kids dressed up in their best cowboy duds, singing about adultery and drinking. With the cloud of cigarette smoke above our heads, I am sure our living room did resemble a honky-tonk. But anyway…I digress, there were top country stars coming through Cowtown, and my father, a Yankee was feeding them!

Every year we grabbed our duds and traveled down to the Show. I usually had on a pair of Wranglers and boots, leather vest, and of course, a real cowboy hat. My father actually wanted me to dress in frilly cowgirl skirts and boots…but what he got was a kid who looked like she stepped off the set of a TV western. One year I dressed up as a squaw girl, but most of the time the little queer girl in me was ecstatic with my outfit. I had two silver six-shooters and a holster slung low on my hips. The guns fired caps, although the Show always required you to bring your guns empty so as not to disturb the horses.

I got to meet some famous people, but the only one that I remember was Jimmy Durante. He was a famous actor and singer, known for his big nose…he called it his “Schnozzola.” I remember him because he was my father’s favorite of all the people he served over the years. My father cooked Durante a huge Texas T-bone steak with all the fixin’s. He liked to tell the story of how the actor praised the meal over and over…and even sang him a little part of a song. He sang “Inka Dinka Doo” to his personal chef…his trademark song…it was a great compliment to my father…one he never forgot. Every time the actor was on the TV…for the rest of my father’s life, I had to hear the story about the steak dinner and the solo serenade.

The people that worked under my father in the food preparation were mostly Hispanic. They would play the card game “Spades” on long catering tables on their breaks. In between chasing bank robbers through the poultry and swine barns, I would take my breaks with the workers. One of the men would say, “here comes Bill’s little Sheriff, let her sit in for a hand or two!” I would holster the six-shooters and sit a spell with the workers…in my mind I was in a saloon playing Texas Hold’em in Dodge City. Gunsmoke was my father’s favorite TV show. Ken Curtis, the actor that played “Festus” had been at the Stock Show the previous year. He was the comic relief of the show…I pictured myself more the Matt Dillon type…heroic and an excellent shot. Little wonder why I grew up to be a cop…I had already patrolled the cattle barns for years.

I called my father a “Yankee” as did everyone else that knew of his origins. A Yankee, to a Texan, is basically anyone that was born north of the Red River. Believe me, that was kept on the down low at the Stock Show. My father had lived in Texas for over twenty years, so he had learned to slow his speech and he sprinkled his conversation with “Texanisms” so as not to get busted. The Stock Show was about as country and redneck as you can imagine…assimiliation was a survival skill. I will give you an example of a Texanism: “Damn y’all, that was like kissing your sister, I tell you what…” Translation: That was second-best, not really good at all. The “I tell you what” part leads you to think perhaps that something else is coming…but not. It is merely an affirmation of what preceded the phrase in the sentence. My father couldn’t speak Spanish, but he did speak Texan and that was good enough for him to converse with his workers…good enough for him to work undetected in Cowtown.

The Stock Show has a section of rides and games beside the rodeo arena, much like any carnival you might have seen. Turns out Sheriff Matt Dillon was known to love cotton candy, often downing that and maybe a funnel cake before hitting the Carousel. I would mount my steed and envision myself galloping into the sunset in search of Miss Kitty.

After enjoying the Midway, I always meandered over to the emporium with my sister and bought a souvenir. That year, the year the Schnozzola first smelled the wonderful aroma of Texas beef, I purchased a tomahawk. All that Spring I used it to scalp the neighborhood boys…after I killed them with my six-shooter, I tell you what…