Friday, November 29, 2013
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"The Child" is the first book in the series. It highlights the life of a boy from the age of six until he graduates from high school at age seventeen. During that time he discovers music, girls, learns to dance, and becomes self-aware.
"The Soldier" is the second book. Thankful Strother spent four years in the United States Air Force. He was stationed in Germany where he learned to speak German, met his future wife and traveled throughout Europe.
"The Adult" is the last book in the series of three. Thankful returns home from Germany. He settles in Detroit, gets married, starts a family and buys their first house. He goes to work in the automotive industry, learns to program computers, enters the corporate world and becomes a successful real estate investor. The Series end after his promotion to District Sales Manager of NCR Corporation and the family moves to a Detroit suburb.
Friday, November 22, 2013
I was in the eleventh grade when the fellows whom I hung around with tried to get me to do things that I had been taught were wrong. Those three fellows were my best friends. They drank beer, wine, and whiskey, and they kept trying to get me to join them. I always came up with some excuse not to participate, and most of the time, they left me alone. But one night after basketball practice, one of them had a cheap bottle of wine, and we all had to take a drink from the same bottle and pledge our everlasting friendship and loyalty to one another. This time, I could not escape. So I took just one drink and was about to leave when one of them suggested that we break into the school cafeteria and steal whatever we could carry. They told me that I had made a pledge, and I couldn't chicken out on them now. We found a window that had been left unlocked, and we climbed through it. Once inside, I began to get cold feet. I could visualize getting caught and going to jail, embarrassing my parents, never completing high school, and destroying my life. What do you think happened? Well, I stole whatever I could carry, and that was a box of twenty-four small cartons of milk. I took the box of milk home and asked my father if he wanted to buy it for $2.25. He said yes and wanted to know where I had gotten the milk and if I could bring home more tomorrow. I told him that I had gotten it from school, and I would try to bring home another box tomorrow. No crime or lie ever goes undetected.
The next day, my father wanted to know why I ’hadn’t brought home more milk. I told him that the school sold out of extra milk. But he ’wasn’t satisfied with my explanation. He visited the school and spoke to the person I said had given me the milk. He asked him about the milk that I had brought home. My father wanted to be put on a waiting list if the school ever had any more extra milk for sale.
The person who talked to my father came to me afterward and said.
“I know that you and your friends stole from the school cafeteria. I will not report you, but I am disappointed in you. It would break your’ parents’ hearts if they ever found out what you have done. So stay out of trouble and get a new set of friends.”
I can't drink milk today without getting sick. I guess that’s my punishment.
Friday, November 15, 2013
The 1967 Detroit Riot
was burning, and there weren’t enough policemen,
firemen, or equipment to put out all of the fires and arrest all of the
looters. We heard the sound of fire trucks and police sirens and someone
speaking on loudspeakers. The smell of smoke from the fires that had been set
all over the city left you wondering how long it would be before the worst of
the riots would reach our side of town. Detroit
Off in the distance, you could hear the sound of automatic weapons firing late into the night. It reminded me of Fourth of July firecrackers all going off at the same time. The noise would be so loud and then suddenly stop. Silence for a few minutes, and it would start all over again. Each subsequent time, it would seem to get louder. That is where the similarity with the Fourth of July ended.
Things had gotten so out of control, and the
police could not
contain the riots. The Michigan National Guard had been activated but wasn’t
able to make a difference. There was talk of calling up reserve military
personal. When the riots broke out in July of 1967, my greatest fear was that I
would be called up for active military duty as a reservist. I was eligible to
be called until November 1967, two years from the date of my discharge from the
US Air Force. Detroit
The mayor of
asked for help from the federal government. The Eighty-second Airborne Division
soldiers were sent to Detroit
to stop the rioting. This was the same group of soldiers who had been fighting
in Detroit .
It was dangerous, scary, and unbelievable. These soldiers patrolled every
street in Vietnam . Detroit
I had spent four years in the US Air Force, and during that time I hadn’t seen any combat, but back in the city of
, I was living in
a combat zone. As the soldiers walked past our houses, they were offered
something cold to drink. They had been told not to get into discussions with
the citizens and to keep moving. Detroit
The entire city was under a curfew. Everyone was asked to stay put until further notice. You were allowed to go places in the daytime, but you could not travel after dark. Things didn’t calm down for a solid week. Not before forty-three deaths, eleven hundred injuries, and over seven thousand arrests had occurred.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
One evening the three of us went to the Stockholm Carnival in the park. That night, up onstage performing was Louis Armstrong with his orchestra, and they were fantastic. What a nice treat and surprise. It didn’t even cost us any money. It was considered a cultural event and was paid for by the Swedish government. There was no seating, but we were able to stand close to the stage. When we moved even closer, it became obvious to the orchestra members performing onstage that we were also American.
I remember someone from the orchestra coming over to us at the edge of the stage. Now I would like to tell you it was Louis Armstrong who came over, but I am not that sure anymore. I am sure what he asked us.
“Where you cats from?”
We told him we were from the US Air Force base in
“What are you doing here in
He asked. Stockholm
“We are on vacation,” I said.
“Well, I hope you enjoy the show.”
After that brief exchange with a member of the orchestra, we became very popular. We had no rejections when we asked young ladies for a dance that night. Now that event is very special to me. At the time, it was just another experience that occurred at random. But it was a unique scene because of the world-famous black jazz musicians onstage performing. While three young black American men were in the audience watching them performance in
in 1965. Sweden
Another different experience occurred that summer in
that was viewing the midnight sun. During our two weeks, the sun was out most
of the time. It was difficult to adjust your sleeping to the daylight. In June
the sun began setting at 10:00 p.m., but it wasn’t completely dark until
midnight. The sun would come back out at about 3:30 a.m. Daylight lasted close
to twenty hours. Sweden
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, I was at a basketball game on the base, and the game was interrupted. We were told to go back to the barracks. The entire base was put on stand-by alert after the announcement, waiting for more news about the president. Later on we found out that he had been assassinated. You can imagine the kind of things that went through our minds. We had just gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 with the
natural suspicion was to think that the Russians had something to do with the
We didn’t know if we were going war. “This is it,” I thought. “The end of my life, and I am so far away from home.”
was the ’
first line of defense. We were in imminent danger with United States Russia being so close to . Do you
know what it feels like to be frightened for a few minutes? Now try to imagine
what that must feel like for a month. No one could leave the base until it was
clear that we were not going to war with the Russians. It took at least six
months before we began to feel like the world was not coming to an end. Germany
Sunday, October 27, 2013
My next job was a temporary-duty (TDY) assignment to try to make some extra money. On that job, you were given money for your expenses, and it was always more money than you would use. At the end of the trip, you were expected to have a few extra bucks. The job was transporting top-secret materials to various military locations in
On TDY, you would be away from the base at least three and sometimes four days. Germany
I looked forward to the morning when I would begin my long trip. The vehicle was loaded overnight with classified materials. My destination was near
a long way away from Ramstein Air Force Base. Czechoslovakia
That first day I drove about halfway there. I stopped at a US Army post and slept overnight. The next morning I got up at 6:00 a.m., had breakfast, jumped into my vehicle, and was on my way. I had anticipated arriving at my next destination ahead of schedule. It was about 10:00 a.m., and I was making good time. The roads in
were very curvy and narrow,
and I was probably going a bit too fast. I went down a hill, and it curved
around a bend and up toward another hill, and when I got to the top of that
hill, I lost control of the vehicle and was heading toward a tree. When I
attempted to turn the steering wheel, the load shifted and made my vehicle lift
away from the pavement. I could not hold on to the steering wheel any longer. It
seemed to have a mind of its own, so I just let it go and put my hands on the
seat to brace myself. A short distance in front of me, walking in the road, was
a German woman pushing a baby stroller with a baby inside. Headed in the
direction of the woman and baby, I held the steering wheel again trying to prevent
an accident from taking place. I tried to change the direction of the vehicle, but
it was out of control. I could feel the
vehicle slowly turning over after sideswiping a tree. Germany
Hanging upside down in the vehicle with my seat-belt attached, I begin to smell gasoline and heard dripping from the ruptured gas tank on the side of the vehicle. I panicked and couldn’t get unattached because of my weight on the seat-belt. Finally getting my seatbelt off and falling to the inside roof of the vehicle’s cabin, I was a bit disoriented because everything was upside down. Wanting to get out of the vehicle quickly, I made an attempt to kick the window out, almost breaking my leg. I must have seen too many movies thinking that would work. So then I rolled the window down, crawled out of the vehicle, stood up, and ran a short distance away from the upside-down vehicle. I noticed that the woman with the baby ’wasn’t hurt, and a crowd of people had gathered. Walking toward the crowd, excited that I gotten out of the vehicle alive, I pulled out a packet of cigarettes, took a cigarette from the pack, and was about to light it when the crowd begin yelling.
They had noticed that I was covered in gasoline, and with the flick of my lighter I was about to blow all of us away. So they all were yelling.
“NEIN, NEIN, NEIN!”
Stopping me just in time, I yelled back to the crowd, “Danke schon” (“Thank you”). Soon after that, the police showed up, but they did not arrest me. They took away my driver’s license.
An investigation would take place to determine what happened and if I should be held responsible for the accident. I was grounded and assigned to the motor pool, washing vehicles, while the hearing was being conducted.
A month later the investigation was completed with a decision about what should happen to me. In
damage a tree, you must pay for the damage. The amount varies, depending on the
age of the tree and the amount of damage it suffered. If the accident was your
fault, the military made you pay for the tree and for the cost of repairing the
vehicle. Money was taken from your pay every month until the items were paid
Upon completion of the investigation, I was found not guilty of any wrongdoing. Luckily for me, the German woman pushing the baby stroller told them that I drove up over the hill, saw them in the road, and in order to avoid hurting her and the baby, I flipped the truck over. I got a clean bill of health because of the German woman’s testimony. It turned out that I was a hero for not hitting the woman and the baby.
She told them what she thought had happened. But honestly, I had no control over that vehicle; it had basically taken its own route and flipped over. After that, it was decided I would not be sent on any more temporary-duty trips.
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Thursday, October 17, 2013
My German friends took me to this village called Roden, close to the city of
. We would often go to a guesthouse named after the owner, Agnes. At first appearance it looked like any other guesthouse that we were used to visiting, except the young women waiting the tables were in their late twenties and early thirties. They were older than the other young women that worked in other guesthouses. Saarlouis
Normally, guesthouse seating had tables with four chairs and nothing else. Agnes’s guesthouse also had that type of seating in the daytime. The place was rearranged differently at night and especially on weekends. Two sliding walls were opened up to reveal what looked like living rooms. They had nice, soft couches and chairs with low tables in front. Candlelit lamps sat on end tables, and beautiful maroon drapes hung in front of the windows.
We went to Agnes’s place during the day most of the time, when beer cost less. At night the beer and other drinks would double in price.
Agnes, the owner, looked to be in her middle fifties, was about five feet six inches tall with dark, short hair, and was a little on the heavy side but not fat. When she spoke with you, her voice sounded confident and clear; even though she displayed a motherly type personality toward everyone, you knew that she was the boss.
Her husband Nickolaus was a small man about the same height as Agnes, and his hair was beginning to turn a little gray on the sides, which made him look older than his wife.
Their daughter, young Agnes, was five feet seven inches tall and in her late twenties. Her skin looked as if it was naturally tan all the time. She had a beautiful face with shoulder-length black hair, which complemented her slender figure. You would never guess that she had two children. Her husband Josef was a handsome man who looked about thirty. He was six feet tall with brown hair and a muscular build. He was very friendly and very jealous. When we went to Agnes’s guesthouse, I would speak German with her, and she would help me by correcting my German. Everyone working in the guesthouse helped me. They treated me like a family member.
Their home was in the same building as the guesthouse, with a kitchen on the first floor and their bedrooms on the second floor. I was invited to their home one Sunday morning to have breakfast with the whole family. I noticed that the young women who were waitresses also lived with Agnes. They joined us for breakfast. As we sat and had breakfast, Agnes asked me if I could bring them some liquor from the base. Nickolaus said that they would pay me ten times more than it cost me to purchase on base. I happily agreed to their terms.
I brought them liquor every time we visited their guesthouse. Liquor was rationed to servicemen monthly. My allocation was four bottles per month. This turned out to be quite a little profit-making enterprise for me.
On Friday nights, Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons, the guesthouse was always packed. The living room sections would be opened up to provide additional space for the mostly male customers. The waitresses would remain in the living room with their customers. The men bought expensive bottles of champagne, wine, and shots of liquor for the tables in the rooms. About every hour a male customer would leave the living room with his waitress and go upstairs. She would give him a tour of the bedrooms, and she ’wasn’t even a real-estate agent.
Agnes and family were the owners of a guesthouse that turned into a brothel at night and on weekends. At the same time, the young women waitresses would turn into prostitutes. You could make arrangements to have sex with them for a price. Prostitution was a legal business activity in
On Saturday and Sunday, it was very difficult to find a parking spot close to Agnes. Their backyard was used for VIP parking. The yard would be filled with expensive German vehicles. Several waitresses would be sitting in the living rooms next to their customers. Young Agnes would also be sitting with the executives. Her section was filled with the wealthiest executives; they bought the most expensive drinks.
On Sundays when we visited the guesthouse, young Agnes would ask me to take Josef (her husband) away for a while to Luxembourg because he was extremely jealous. He could not watch his wife sitting on the coach drinking with other men without saying something to the men. So Agnes paid me in US dollars many times to take him anyplace for several hours.
I almost never had to buy drinks in Agnes’s place, because usually the young waitresses and the owners would just bring drinks and leave them on my table. Drinks that had been purchased by the customer seated in their section
About every six months a new group of young women would come from other parts of
Europe to work at Agnes’s place. Each one of them had a unique appearance or distinctive personality. While in , I never though very much about Agnes’s guesthouse being a brothel. Now when I reflect back on the situation, it was an incredible experience I had as a nineteen year old, selling liquor to the owners of a whorehouse. Germany
Are you wondering if I was ever paid in trade? I will never tell.