Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Papa, Welcome Home

Today would have been Dad's 69th birthday.

Yesterday Dad's ashes were delivered to Garrett's house.

I can only think of one birthday story for Dad.  We would often go to Owasippe on the last week of July and the first week of August.  This would include Dad's birthday very often.

At camp when one of the boys would have a birthday someone from that boy's troop would send the message to the staff to call the boy up on stage at dinner.

You see, at a dining hall camp, each meal had a show.  For breakfast there would be a wakeup song like, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" or "The Grand Old Duke of York."  For lunch there would be maybe two songs and for dinner there would be a full show with a song and a skit.

Along with the program there would be "Staff Messages" (mustn't say, "announcements" because there is a long song that is launched into when an unsuspecting staff member uses the word).

So on Dad's birthdays one of the hapless staff members would go up on stage and say, "We have a birthday in the house."  At that point he might look at the note someone slipped him or repeat what he was told, "It is little Billy La Fleur's birthday, would Little Billy La Fleur come up on stage please."  With that Dad would stand up and go to the stage and tower over the startled staff member.

The idea of the whole thing is to embarrass some scout, but the tables would be turned and the staff member would find himself trying to lead a birthday song that goes, "Happy Birthday, ugh, Happy Birthday, ugh.  Death and misery in the air, people dying everywhere.  Happy Birthday, ugh, Happy birthday."

Then someone would shout, "To the lake!"  Meaning that the staffman should pick up the birthday boy, physically carry him to and throw him into the lake.  This would be when the staffman finally gave up.

Oh, did I mention that it was always Dad, himself that passed the note of the birthday boy, Little Billy La Fleur.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Papa on the Forth of July

I know this post is coming at the end of July, and I will offer no excuse.  Next year and years from now we will read this on the right date so here goes.

Papa never had a problem bending the rules.  He used to say, "I do not lie, cheat, or steal, but I am sly, cunning and alert."  He was also a big stickler on safety.  So when it came to Fourth of July we never had fireworks.

There was a police officer down the street who used confiscated fireworks.  Papa's safety urge battled with his competitive streak.  He told me that it wasn't right to use those fireworks, but it also wasn't right that when he went to his National Guard annual training period (which he always called, "Summer Camp") he used pyrotechnics, like artillery simulators and even nuclear bomb simulators which put all the other cop's stash to shame, and he couldn't use them at home at all.

One summer he brought home a smoke grenade.  He reasoned that although it was a pyrotechnic, it did not explode and was therefore safe.

It was a purple grenade and he let me pull the pin, let the spoon fly and place it on the sidewalk behind the house (where Collum transmogrifies into Kenneth ).

You'll see in the photo what we expected it to look like, and how it did indeed start.  However, it expands from what you see here and the photo is probably in a pretty good breeze.

That day there was no breeze at first and the cloud built up and expanded.  Then the very slightest of breezes crept up and gently guided the purple cloud of non-visibility across our little street, up the slight rise and onto the Kennedy Expressway (one of the busiest thoroughfares in the country).
It wasn't quite this bad
Traffic instantly stopped.  Under our own smoke screen we snuck away, never to deploy any types of fireworks on Independence Day again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Father's Flagpole

I was born in Garfield Park Hospital in Chicago.  My brother Shawn was too, and so was one of my brother's that couldn't stay with us.

Don't look for it, the hospital is gone now.

When they were tearing it down Dad drove by one day.  He noticed that they had not removed the flagpole yet.  He approached one of the workers, the one with the bulldozer.

"I'll give you $50 bucks to knock that flagpole down and if you deliver it to my house I'll give you another $50."

The guy agreed and took Dad's money.  He hit the pole with the bulldozer and knocked it over.  Then he moved to the other side and pushed it again the other way until it snapped at the base.

Dad left and didn't hear from the guy for a couple of weeks.  Finally one day there was a ring at the doorbell.

When Dad answered the door there was a man standing on the porch and there was a truck parked at the curb.  There was a 40 foot pole sticking out the front and back of the truck.

"Where do you want it?"

Dad asked him to drop it in the front yard.  He did and never collected the rest of the money.

Dad planted that pole in the front yard and it is standing in front of my brother Shawn's house to this day.
From Garfield Park to Kostner Avenue

Monday, May 16, 2011


My young Sophia did high ropes this weekend, which reminded me of when I did COPE and Dad shouted encouragements, "You're my hero, son."  I also talked to Boushette on Mother's Day about a story about Dad that I'd like to share.
All but Z, ready to go
When we were camping in Maine at the (then) National High Adventure Base, we canoed across Grand Lake Matagamon.  When we did, we tied our 5 canoes together and strapped logs to them for stability.  We hoisted a big tarp as a sail and crossed the lake in something like two hours.

As we were lazily sailing along, Dad said, "You ain't got hair on your ass if you can't walk across those logs."

Garrett and I couldn't let the challenge lie.  I tried first and fell.  Garrett went next and made it by putting his hand on the head of each man he walked past.  It was judged not to count.
G & me balancing paddles in our teeth
Then we goaded Dad, "Why don't you try it?"

We reminded him, "You ain't got hair on your ass if you can't walk across those logs."

He said, "That's why they call me 'Old Baldy.'"

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Cop

There's a new top cop in Chicago. Mayor-elect Emanuel announced today that he's bringing in the current Chief of Police in Newark, New Jersey. Before that he was in New York.

I thought to myself, "They couldn't find one good cop in Chicago?" I felt a need to call Dad and ask him about it, but then I remembered.

So today's story is from when Dad was a brand new officer in Chicago.

He was a young patrolman alone in a squad car when he made his first stop. It was a little old man.

As Dad approached the car the man rolled up his windows and locked his doors. Dad tapped on the window.

"Sir, please roll down your window and let me see your driver's license."

The man just sat there and stared straight ahead.

Dad tapped on the window again, "Sir, please roll the window down."

Nothing. Dad was confused and panicky.

He went back to his car and called for backup. Before dispatch could assign someone another patrol car pulled up behind Dad's. Two older cops got out and walked up to Dad.

"What's ya got here, rookie?"

Dad explained the situation.

One of the older cops tapped on the window and got the same reaction that Dad had.

"Lend me your nightstick." The older cop said. Dad gave it to him and he stepped over to the car.

"Sir, please step out of your car." The man in the car didn't move. The old cop took Dad's nightstick and bashed out the man's driver side window.

The two older cops pulled the man out of his car, held him by his ankles and shook him until his wallet fell out on the street. Then they put the man down with his eyes still rattling around in his head.

"There you go rook, there's his wallet, go get his license."

They got back in their car and left Dad standing there, next to the man laying in the street next to his car.

Dad looked at the man, shook his finger at him and said, "And don't do that ever again."

He jumped in his patrol car and drove off.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What Happened to the Streetlight

My Dad used to tell this story.  I don't know how true it is, but it doesn't really sound like Dad.

The story is that Dad and Mom were swimming in the back yard and Dad wanted to skinny dip, but Mom was too bashful with the street light bright over head.  With the light on, everyone on the highway (the Kennedy Expressway) could see them.

Dad went to the deck, took his service revolver and shot the streetlight.  By the time he had put the pistol back and turned back to Mom, she had run back into the house.

That light was out for what I remember to be several years in my dim, early youth.  I vaguely remember that after I heard that story I told people that I had always wondered why that light never worked.

True or not, it's a good story.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Papa in the Airlock

Not Papa in the airlock, but darn cute none the less.  Papa and Teeny
I hurt my back the other day and I'm suffering through it.  It's just a muscle pain, nothing to do with my spine, but it reminds me of a story about Dad when he was a cop.

Somehow Dad had gotten into one of those apartment building airlocks with a bad guy.  You know the places, where there is one outside door and another door a few feet away.  The outside-outside door doesn't get locked, but the inside-outside door is the one that has to be buzzed open from someone in an apartment.

I guess this bad guy was REALLY big and bad.  Dad figured he had to hit him fast and hard.  His only chance to get him was to hit first as hard as he possibly could.  So he did.  Dad hit him and he backed up against the door.

He growled and lunged forward, bent over like he was going to tackle Dad so Dad hit him in the side of the face.

He shook it off, raised his hands with a growl and charged.  He was still bent over so Dad hit him again, as hard as he possibly could.

He shook it off with another growl, raised his hands and went after Dad again, still bent over.  Amazed that he hadn't knocked the guy out, and afraid that if he let him stand up straight he would pound Dad into a pulp; Dad hit him again as hard as he could.

Finally the guy managed to talk.  Dad found out that they bad guy had been shot previously and the bullet had lodged near his spine.  When Dad backed him against the door he had pressed his back against the door knob and the bullet had been pushed so that it was pinching his spine.  He couldn't straighten up or raise his hands above his chest because of it.

All those times he shook off the hit was a growl, what he was trying to say was, "Please stop, I give up," and raise his hands in surrender.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Papa and the Train

This morning I was stopped by a train and it got me to thinking about Dad's train story. I got about half of it typed out on my phone before the train went by, but my phone played dumb and lost it, so now I'm walking home from one of the girls' friend's houses and I'm going to try again.

When Dad was about 12 some of his friends like to hop the freight train, hobo-style, and ride it to Gateway theater. The theater was at Jefferson Park, off Milwaukee Avenue, about two miles away from the house on Kostner.

The boys goaded Dad until he came with them one day. They jumped in an open box car, but by the time it got up to the theater it was going about 60mph. It wasn't a local like they were used to, but an express going to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The train didn't slow down the whole time and by the time the boys could jump off they were out of the state and good and scared. Dad was the only one brave enough to call his parents. In about an hour and a half they were picked up by his dad.

They all piled in the car and one by one my Papa dropped the boys off. He didn' say a word to my Dad the whole way. The fear built up in Dad until he could barely stand the wait for his punishment which was sure to come.

Finally they pulled up in front of the house and my grandfather said, "That was a damn stupid thing to do."

So fear was his punishment, and he got home safe and sound. I too have just gotten home so here ends the story.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Year Gone

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Papa's final adventure.  We spent the previous day at Boushette's house.  We had no ceremonies, and didn't really do anything special except my brother's and I smoked Backwoods Smokes (I still have one left for you Mike).

Ironically we had spaghetti for dinner.  I allowd myself ice cream even though I'm on a diet.

One story did come up, The Music Class story (really two stories).

Dad was, well, he couldn't sing.  When the nun came in the classroom to teach music she had a pitchpipe and she would go to each row and play a note.  I can still see Dad pretending to be the nun with the pitchpipe when he told this story.  He would hold his hand up to his mouth and say, "tweet."

Dad always sat in the sixth row, sixth seat.  When she got to his row she would stop.  "Is Bill La Fleur in this row?"

"Here sister."

"You don't sing."

Tweeeet.  "Very good."

He played in band once, only because everyone had to.  He played triangle.  Actually, he didn't play triangle.  They made him stand there and pretend to strike the triangle with the tiny little stick.

I have no snappy ending for this post so I will just say bye for now, keep a song in your heart.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2 for Second

Here are two stories from Dad's 2nd grade year.
2nd Grade Downfall

When Dad was in 2nd grade he moved into the house on Kostner and started school at Saint Edward's. Until that point he had been a model student loved by teachers and peers alike.

At St. Ed's Dad was seated in the sixth row in the sixth desk. When it was time to take their first spelling test the boy in the fifth row, sixth desk told Dad to pull out his spelling book.

"Lay it on the floor here between us, open to the chapter test. That way we can both look at it during the test. That's the way we do it here."

Dad complied and sure enough, when the test began the nun found the book almost immediately. Without asking the boys, she turned to the front of the book where Dad had dutifully written his name.

She moved him to a desk that she placed just outside the door of the classroom in the hall. He spent the rest of the year there, and in fact spent the rest grade school there. He also spent every summer in summer school. His grade school career had been ruined, and he would not recover until he joined the military.

From the Church on Kostner Avenue to the Church on Kostner Avenue

That same year, Dad joined Cub Scouts at St. Ed's, on Kostner and Sunnyside. I think it was Pack 3904 back then. It certainly was when we went to St. Ed's.

One night very early in the year Dad got kicked out of the meeting for being too loud. His Mother, Nani told him that it was okay and they would just go two blocks south to the Baptist Church on Irving Park and Kostner.

At that time the Irving Park Baptist Church had chartered Pack 3881 and Troop 881. The pack welcomed him and a grand tradition was born.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Daddy Was a Pistol and I’m a Son of a Gun

Dad used to say that there was a ghost in the house.  As prime evidence he would always tell this story.

I think this happened either when I was very small and before my brother Shawn was born or right after, because it was a time when my maternal grandmother, Boushia, was at the house a lot helping my mother.

My Dad arrived at work and realized that he did not have his weapon with him.  I don’t know if his holster was empty or if he didn’t have the whole holster, but he didn’t have it.

He retraced his steps, driving all the way home in exactly the same route that he had taken to get to the police station.  He did not find it.  He asked Boushia and my Mom to help him look for it and they tore the house apart.

Now remember that this was when I was either too young to walk or had just started walking.  I would have been far too young to have reached it wherever it had been, so I was in the clear.

They didn’t find it.  I assume my Dad either got another one issued or bought another one.

Six months later he went into the closet in the bedroom I was in and there, at eye level, sat the pistol he had lost.

My Dad said that this proved there was a friendly ghost in the house that had hidden his gun to make him much more careful about it, what with two small sons in the house.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Camp Shelby, MS

I got this great story from Mike McCormick last week. It isn't the type of story I had thought about when I was thinking of stories for this blog. I don't mean it doesn't fit; it certainly does and is a terrific story. What I mean is it isn't a story that came to mind for me when I was trying to think of stories. This story is more about Papa than a story he would have told, although he had plenty of stories from this trip. The other thing is that this trip had so many stories that are mine that I often forget that there were Papa stories from that time.

Mike asked me to add some details and dates as appropriate. I'll add what I can at the end. Before we start though, the name of the training site is Camp Shelby (famous from the Neil Simon play / Mathew Brodrick film Biloxi Blues). I'm going to have to do some more research on the dates, but I'm pretty sure it was 1991.

"The year of our NG summer camp in Mississippi, Papa was the CO of the signal battalion which was participating in a large Army radio network training operation that stretched from our site in Mississippi all the way over to Florida. My team of about 5 enlisted rank soldiers and myself (NCO) were actually on the remote site which was the very western end of the entire radio network. We had been camped back out in the woods on our own for a week or so while each separate element of the radio net worked to get their equipment up and running so they could each plug in the network and achieve the mission. Our stuff was working fine so after setting up our 75’ antenna, camouflaging the tents and trucks, and tuning in the radios, all we mostly just had to make sure the generators had fuel and nobody got bitten by any snakes.

Since we were in such a remote location, there was little chance of any brass showing up, we had a fair amount of unsupervised freedom, which myself and the guys in my team really enjoyed. Naps were plentiful, shorts and gym shoes in lieu of full uniforms, card games, and touch football ruled the day. A couple of times a day chow was brought out to us, and the fuel truck would make a delivery every few days. Bill, you remember you stopped by a few times, I think mostly just to get a break from the stress of the main company encampment.

We were fortunate to have assigned to us a pickup truck, which we used to take turns running down to the barracks for showers or to head into the nearby town for supplies. We had set up a Coleman gas camping stove and had a small refrigerator running off of the electricity from the generators. So we were turning down our noses at the “food” brought cold and soggy to us from the mess tent and mostly eating cereal and sandwiches and cooking on the stove. We also laid in a nice supply of cold pop, mostly RC which as you know was Papas favorite at the time.

Late one night near the end of the camp, Papa and his driver come down to our site from the road. As this was a unexpected visit from the Colonel, the guys with me panicked a bit. They only knew him as the hard charging boss of the battalion, and were worried that we were in some kind of trouble as we were not really following strict Army regulations and it was a very rare occurrence for the top man to show up unannounced. However, I took one look at him and could see that he was pretty much bushed out, as it had been a long and hard camp, and he had been pushing hard to get the battalion up to speed and complete the mission. This coupled with the late night, the excessive Mississippi heat and humidity, along with a butt load of mud (more on that later) and he was worn out.

I’ll never forget the big smile he cracked when I offered him an ice cold RC and then made up a thick salami sandwich on fresh French bread for him. He stayed with us for few hours, telling Army and Police stories and marveling that we had it so good on our little remote site way back in the woods. He had stopped by because he had wanted to talk over the radio net from our site at one far end all the way to the other end in Florida. I can’t recall if that happened that night, but I do know for sure that but after he took his leave of us, the guys in my team couldn’t stop talking for the rest of the camp about what a great guy he was and how much they enjoyed having that personal time with him.

I still marvel at the way he had turned their anxious concern for the reason for his visit and their trepidation of dealing face-to-face with the Colonel into such a positive and well meaning encounter for them. His innate leadership and natural ability to relate fairly and evenly to one and all, and his ability to inspire and provide confidence to them, caused all of them to regard him highly and to have complete loyalty and faith in his command for the rest of their time in the battalion. And all of this when he was completely worn out and tired, but never out of patience.


p.s. This was the summer camp with the unbelievable mud, when trucks and jeeps were getting stuck all the time. The wrecker never got a break pulling them free from the muck. One day in the Charlie Company area Papa and his driver were in his SUV sitting on top of a large hill (really a small cliff) that dominated the site. He instructed his driver to head down to the lower main area of the company site and instead of backing around and coming down the gravel road she just plunged the SUV over the edge of the hill (cliff) and they bounced and banged all the way down. He was terrified that the SUV was going to roll over and they’d be crushed or at least busted up and trapped. They made it ok, those old Army SUV’s were pretty tough. The guys standing at the bottom of the hill that he wanted to speak with couldn’t imagine what was so important that the Colonel would drop in on them like that."

I have more stories, the Blue Mud, the Ride Home from Shelby with the Most Expensive Driver in the Army, My Bordello Office, and the Battalion Formation God Canceled. I will share those another time.

What I can add to Mike's story is that I was at the main site and my job, as a brand new Second Lieutenant, was to supervise the engineering of the signal "shots." Our equipment was Korean War vintage and the signal they used was very narrow so that the antennas had to be pointed directly at each other to get the signal. All the signals shooting from and to our company were coordinated by my office. By office I mean the big aluminum box on the back of a 2.5 ton truck.

The time of the story I got on my radio and called Mike's site to see how things were going and much to my surprise, the Old Man (in more ways than one) was on the horn! He said he was going to sit there all night until the shot got in to Florida. That was just about the time I was supposed to hand over the controls to my NCO so I could get some sleep, but I suppose you can guess that I didn't. The shot never did get in, but there was a certain amount of extra emphasis that night.

Not to nit pick, but Papa was a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) at the time, not yet a full Colonel (COL).

BTW, the SUVs referenced were Chevy Blazers stripped of any comforts, given diesel engines and painted matte green. There is a little more to that cliff story that I will tell in a future post, but I will end this post with one more detail: I was the guy at the bottom end of that hill.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Ernie Story on this Blog - Winter 1967

I missed my own self imposed deadline of Sunday, but I will share a story this week.

Since we are in the dead of winter I thought I would share a double edged story this week. As usual, I will share what I think I remember and invite anyone who knows more, knows better, or just heard the story another way to chime right in.

One more aside that I just realized; many of Dad's stories had several different versions. Some versions were G rated and some; probably the more accurate versions were R or worse. There were also versions that developed over time, different things being highlighted, emphasized, or exaggerated as benefited the story. I would like to capture all the possible versions of stories. I think it adds to the enjoyment and shows the skill of the master story teller.

So, anyways, Dad always talked about the blizzard of '67. I was only a few months old so Dad was a brand new Father remember. He liked to boast that the whole city shut down and he walked to work down the middle of the expressway. I believe that he worked at the 11th district at the time so he would have had to walk down the Kennedy to the Eisenhower. According to Google Maps, that would be nearly 9 miles in the worst snow storm in Chicago history. That's a long walk.
I'm not sure if this next part was during that storm or some other time, but it involves his partner Ernie.

Ernie is a legendary figure of Dad's stories. Some day I will have to look up and see when exactly they were partners and what Ernie's last name was, or is, Dad never said (at least to me). There are many Ernie stories, and they usually lead one after another, but for this post I'm going to stick to just the one. You will get only the barest inkling of an idea of the character (if not the actual man, who may be lost to hyperbole by now), but I assure you that the other stories will be coming and you will get as much as I know of the legend.

Ernie and Dad were assigned two other guys to go around with them in their patrol car. I don't know who they were but I remember that they weren't Officers from 11. I have the feeling that they were from Police Headquarters or FBI or something similar. They weren't familiar with Ernie, that much is certain.

There were driving around for a while, getting in and out of the car for whatever reason. Ernie was driving and the two other guys were in the back.

At some point Dad or Ernie asked them how they were doing, or maybe if they were warm enough. One of the guys said that they were doing fine, "But it would be really nice if there were a drain in the floor. The snow from my boots has melted and it formed a pretty good sized puddle." He splashed in it for a bit of emphasis.

Dad thought to himself, "Oh no."

Ernie pulled out his pistol, leaned over the back of the seat and shot two rounds through the floor, between the guys feet.

Then he turned to the other guy, "You want a couple of holes too?"

"No! No, I'm fine, I like the water."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Papa and the Greeks

I'm sitting in my in-laws house right now, so I'm reminded of the first time I told Papa about my new Greek girlfriend.

I was standing in the kitchen and I had just driven up from Campaign.  I told my Dad that I had just started seeing a new girl and that she is Greek.

"Does her father work in a grocery store or a produce store?"

"He works in a produce store, how did you know?"  I asked, astounded because her father was indeed working at a produce store at the time.

"Does she have a brother named George?"  He asked.

"Yes, how did you know?"  I was really surprised because I knew this was the first time he was hearing about my future wife.

"All Greeks have a brother named George and all Greeks work in either a produce store or a grocery store.  Does she have a mustache?"

"HA, there you're wrong, she doesn't."

"Two out of three," he shrugged and wished me luck. 

Just to let you know, my Father and my in-laws got along great.  Also, after eating my Mother-in-law's, he refused to eat anyone else's lamb.  He would say, "When you've had the best, why have anything less."

Once when they were in Florida they went to a place famous for their lamb and the other people he was with goaded him into ordering theirs.  He did.

The maitre d came over and waited patiently for the verdict.   "Pretty good," he said, "but still not the best."  He then explained how to do it better.  The maitre d took notes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Winter Camping

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to sit my butt down and write a Papa story at least once a week so that I can post it on Saturday or Sunday.

I don't remember too many Christmas or New Years Papa stories.

I do remember going camping some winter and we had to dig out the ground to put the tent up. It was a family trip and we brought along some kid named Bobby something. We were trying to give Bobby an adventure, but part way through the night (probably before 8:00pm) we gave up, packed up and went home.

I also remember my Dad being very proud of a camping trip he took with the troop. I don't know what era it was, but I suspect it was the Bryan Albro years.

The troop went out one Friday evening and nearby a man pulled up with his RV. The RV man bundled up in a parka snow boots and snow pants, walked around the vehicle and cranked up his TV antenna. The rest of the night he spent inside watching TV.

The troop spent the night trying to stay warm. In the morning the ranger came by and told them that it had been the coldest night of the year (maybe much longer) and it was only going to get colder. They decided that descrection was the better part of valor and after spending the day out there they packed up and went home.

The ranger had spoken to RV man and he too decided it was too cold to stay out, because at the end of the day he bundled up again to crank his TV antenna back down. Then he drove off.

I remember my Dad saying that the boys felt ashamed to be giving up. He reminded them that they had camped through the coldest night of the year, and the RV man would probably go home and tell everyone that he did too, but that wasn't camping, what they had done was REAL camping.