Cracker Crumbs by Chuck Thurston

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nyoka

When my brothers and I went to the Saturday matinees at our local theater in the 40’s we could look forward to a news reel – usually an update on WWII activity – a cartoon, a comedy and a serial – all before the main feature, almost always a cowboy movie.

The serials were very formulaic, but always fun. Every episode would end with the hero in some dire situation that seemed impossible to get out of. We would have a week to speculate on just how he could save his hide. The following week’s episode would begin with a short clip of the predicament he was left in – and his miraculous escape.

One of my favorite serials was “Nyoka, The Jungle Girl.” Nyoka ran around the jungle and desert in shorts and safari jacket and carried a pearl handled revolver. She was a tough and resourceful girl.

In one episode, Nyoka and her male companion are captured by indigenous evil doers of an indeterminate sort (jungle inhabitants, robed Arabs and oily mercenaries all show up at one time or another) who have tied them to a stake encircled by a ring of fire. Outside of this fire ring, snapping crocodiles are licking their chops. The chief evil doer gives an evil laugh and announces to the hapless pair: “When the fire goes out, cracker crumbs!”

Whaaat? Cracker crumbs? Cracker crumbs? We left the theater astounded. In what fiendish torture could cracker crumbs possibly be used? This was a totally new twist to us and we puzzled over this until we sat in the theater the following Saturday and watched the repeat of the predicament Nyoka and her buddy had been left in. We leaned forward in rapt attention as the insidious villain taunted the couple with a repeat of the week before: “When the fire goes out, crocker comes!”

Of course…crocker referred to the waiting crocodiles who would certainly come when the fire died down. We never admitted our confusion to anyone else, but for many years it became an inside joke amongst us. “Oh, yeah…sure…that’s as clear as cracker crumbs!”

 

 

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Christmas, Peace and a Soft Wool Dress by Heidi Thurston

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The aroma of the Christmas goose drifting from behind a closed door, mingling with the scent of pine from yet another quickly closed door. Coats and boots dripping with melting snow, falling on my feet and the hallway runner. Large mysterious packages quietly slipped through a door behind which nothing but velvet darkness lingered. A soft green wool dress swirling in a darkened hallway and patent leather shoes reflecting white silken knee socks. These were all part of a very special night in Copenhagen in 1945, the first Christmas Eve after World War II had ended.

Earlier, leaving our apartment with armloads of gifts, my parents and I had eased into the warm seats of an awaiting taxi and watched the holiday lights reflect on the black exterior of the moving car.

As the auto rumbled through city streets, we observed hurrying crowds bustling from store to store on last minute errands, while others, like ourselves, were carrying gifts wrapped in bright Christmas paper. All were dressed in warm coats and mufflers and everyone were headed for the homes of family and friends in order to share with them this exciting evening.

This was THE big night and it all began with the new dress, sewn from soft green wool, embroidered in red and white holiday flowers and made especially for me for this occasion. The very feel of the gown, as it fell softly around my knees, held promises of a wonderful time at my grandmother’s home where, in addition to my father’s mother, we would be joined by his bachelor brother and maiden aunt.

Traditionally, every Christmas Eve began with amber-colored sherry, sparkling in antique, crystal goblets and the bell-like clinks as five adults toasted, while a smaller glass, bubbling with red soda tickling my nose, helped heighten my festive mood.

Grandmother studied cooking in France. On this night, she served succulent goose, mouth-watering red cabbage, tiny potatoes browned in butter giving them a caramel look and a tempting aroma.

When all this was devoured, it was my turn to help in the kitchen. With a starched, crisp, white apron wrapped around me, protecting the new green dress, I stood on a small stool, chest just above the counter, and beat the metal whisk until small peaks swirled from the ice cold, heavy cream. This would be smoothly blended with fruit, nuts and rice into the rich, traditional Danish dessert.

After the holiday meal was over, I would sit on the kitchen “hot-box” filled with musty newspapers and country-fresh straw, where previously the dishes had been kept warm. Seated, I sang Christmas songs for my grandmother while she prepared steaming hot coffee for the adults and warm, delicious cocoa for me.

Then, after what seemed an eternity, my father and uncle would call from behind the sliding doors leading into the previously closed off living room. As the doors squeakingly receded into the walls, they revealed a dark fir, shining with lighted candles, gold and silver ornaments, saved from years past and now reflecting my bright eyes.

My grandmother and my father each took my hands as we joined up with my mother, uncle and great aunt, and slowly circled the stately tree. Old Danish hymns rang out in bass, tenor, and one small soprano voice while thin tinsel strands fluttered from the fragrant branches like silver rain.

Later, as a feeling of peace fell on the room, I sat on the smooth carpet, family and presents all around me, and watched the flames in the coal stove sputter against the glass window.

At the age of five I was too young to know that some day the green woolen holiday dress would become an important part of my memories. I would recall that this was a time when the tiny kingdom, the home of Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Mermaid, had again returned to a fairytale land; coming out from its long years of darkness and into the lights. The presence of the Nazi regime would be gone, but not forgotten; the King would resume his daily ride along the streets near the harbor, and my mother and grandmother would again take their Sunday stroll through the walking street in the inner city.

I would remember this time, as I still do, with a warm heart and recall that this Christmas Eve in 1945 would forever symbolize peace on earth and good will toward men.heidi-xmas-montage

I Take The Con by Chuck Thurston

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Every now and then, Captain Kirk orders one of his starship Enterprise crew to “take the con!” as he beams elsewhere to handle other business. It’s usually Spock, but if Spock joins him on his mission, the con passes down to Sulu or Checkov, or…who knows? In a recent movie, so many of the high level regulars were elsewhere, that the duty might have passed down to a surprised ship’s steward, as he delivered coffee to the bridge.

Just what is the “con” and what does one do with it? The expression originated on early battleships and cruisers, and dates as far back as 1840 sailing warships. These ships were built with “conning towers” – a raised platform on a ship, often armored, and usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility of the entirety of their own ship, and of ocean conditions and other vessels. The officer could “con” the vessel, i.e., command or “conduct” the operations of a ship during battle by passing orders down to the helm. The Star Trek crew assumed a lot of Naval terminology as they sailed through the stars.

I was always obsessed with airplanes. As a young boy in WWII, I collected books and pictures of the warbirds of that era. I wanted to be a pilot. One of my idols was the lead character in a movie serial, “Don Winslow of the Coast Guard.” Commander Winslow piloted a seaplane on the lookout for spies, saboteurs and other enemy agents that might be threatening America’s Pacific coast.

Some years later, I had the con for a very short time.

I never did get to pilot training, but I did get to fly – and I had the best seat in the house. I joined the Coast Guard, went to Aviation Electronic School and flew as radioman on the principle search and rescue aircraft of the day – the Grumman Albatross amphibian, military designation UF1G. The radioman’s seat was on the flight deck on a slightly raised platform directly behind the co-pilot – one looked over his shoulder, as a matter of fact.

grumman-albatross-in-flight-copy

On one SAR flight, the co-pilot had to answer a call from nature and went aft to the plane’s small head (toilet, to civilians) – smaller than a phone booth, and located in the very rear of the aircraft. As he left, the pilot turned to me and said, “Like to sit up here, Radio?” Did I! I hurried up and strapped myself in before he belayed (rescinded, to civilians) the order. After a minute or so, he spoke again, “How would you like to feel the plane?”

To this day, that short query remains among the most exciting offers I have ever received. I can’t describe the feeling as I took the yoke and gently moved it up and down just a bit, while watching the artificial horizon gauge on the instrument panel. I had the con!

I’d like to say that I spotted something in the ocean below, turned and banked, and roared over the object of our search – a distressed soul waving frantically from a life raft. Of course that isn’t true. Soon enough, the co-pilot finished his business, returned to claim his seat and I went back to mine. My four or five minutes at the con were over.

 

Chuck Thurston is a retired IBMer living in Kannapolis, NC. He is married to Heidi Wibroe Thurston and both are published authors. In another life, he flew in US Coast Guard search and rescue aircraft as a radio/radarman. Chuck has published two books of essays and remembrances – Senior Scribbles Unearthed, and Senior Scribbles Second Dose. He is currently working on a full length mystery thriller, The Coroner Takes A Ride.