My Week of Wonders in Augusta, Georgia

 

The Master’s at Augusta National begins today, and it always brings back memories of a time when, as a callow youth, I saw things in and around Augusta, Georgia, that I had never seen before or since.

After basic training, the Army sent me to Fort Gordon, just outside of Augusta, in December of 1958.  On the Army bus to the base, I looked out the window and saw a chain gang of Blacks breaking rocks with sledgehammers.  It was a scene right out of The Defiant Ones, which had appeared in movie houses earlier that year.

A few days later, in downtown Augusta, I saw a pair of drinking fountains, one of which read “Whites,” the other “Coloreds.”  As a naive kid from Southern California, I was somewhat taken aback.  What passed through my mind was this:  two basins and spigots to purchase, two signs to paint, and two sets of pipes for the plumber to install.  Surely such a crazy system couldn’t last much longer, and in fact, it didn’t.  Only six years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregated facilities.

The Army had sent me to Fort Gordon because they wanted to teach me how to climb poles and string telephone wire before I was shipped to Europe.  Then when the Ruskies invaded Europe, I would be able to string telephone wire so that the generals could talk to one another when all the European telephone infrastructure had been destroyed by the Red Hordes.  At least that was the theory.

So that’s what I was doing in Augusta, Georgia, learning how to climb poles.  That’s when my luck began to turn south on me. Dead south. Total uey.

It was the Christmas season and the Army held a lottery to see who would go home and who would stay on base.  That lottery, influenced by the malignity of the universe that was about to come down hard on me in the next week or so, picked me and three or four others to stay on the base during the Christmas season.  Everyone else in my company, about two hundred lucky soldiers, could go home and enjoy the Christmas season.

We unlucky ones got the weekend off, so I bused into Augusta and bought a car.  I was never without a car.  This one cost, oh, about fifty bucks.  Every part of it, including the empty hole where a radio had once resided, rattled.

So off we went, me and my new buddy Marino, in the ugliest car in Georgia.   The next state over, South Carolina, sounded kinda exotic (Marino was from Brooklyn), so we headed for the border.

Not far across the border, we stopped at a threadbare traveling amusement show, not much more than a freak tent (which featured a lady with a half-formed baby growing out of her belly — I can still see the poster), a few ball-throwing games, and a tiger (said to be a man-eater). Kicking up dust and trash as we walked around, we stopped in front of a small tent that advertised that, for a mere buck, we could see a naked woman doing wondrous things. (This was hardly a family carnival.  It seemed to draw mainly from the soldiers at Fort Gordon, but it was apparently just out of reach, being in a different state, of the Fort’s brass.)

Could two Army privates resist such a come-on?   Not Marino and me.  I can’t go into what the naked lady did for fear of the Ricochet moderators, bluenoses all, but Marino and I had never seen a naked lady perform tricks with — oh hell, even euphemisms will get me in trouble here.  I’m going to move on.   In fact, I had never seen a bare naked lady, with the exception of that time I walked in on my mom.

When she was done with her act, the carny announced that for an extra five bucks, we could go up and touch the performer anywhere we wanted to.  I would have taken them up on it, but five bucks was about a quarter of a week’s pay. (My E1 pay was 78 dollars a month.)  I urged Marino to give it a try, he was too shy to do it.

I would like to say we emerged into the light feeling dirty, but we actually felt that we had gotten our money’s worth.  Hell of a show, we both agreed.

We wandered over to a little crowd standing in front of a wheel of fortune, most of whom were merely gawking at the wheel and listening to the patter of the carny. With almost my entire month’s pay in my pocket, I played the big shot by putting a buck on the odd numbers. Within a few seconds, a good-looking woman sidled up beside me.  I should have suspected something.  No good-looking woman had ever sidled up beside me. I tried to sidle up to one once, but she sidled off.

At any rate, I knew about shills and crooked wheels.  I wasn’t totally naive. My first bet, my precious buck, doubled.  Then it quadrupled.  Man, this was going well, as my new lady friend agreed. All of my sophistication was going out the window.  I won’t go into the embarrassing details from this point on, but they involved the pretty woman at my side urging me on (“Double up, honey, you’re on a roll”), her pneumatic body occasionally brushing against my side.  The odds of my winning were growing better with each spin of the wheel until there were only two numbers on the wheel that were losers.  Of course, when the guy running the wheel has his foot on its brake, it matters little how good your odds are.  And darned if I didn’t land on one of those losing numbers.  I lost my entire month’s pay.

My hard luck didn’t end there.  On the way back to the base, a car came alongside my Ford junker and the driver hollered that my car was on fire.  It turned out that my car was spewing oil out the bottom of the crankcase.  The oil had caught fire from my car’s hot pipe and muffler.  So Marino and I jumped out and watched my car burn up.

None of this was funny at the time. But time has worn off the hard edges of my travails, and I now look back and smile.

Postscript:

“Ah, youth.  Do you know what I would give to be young again?”

”No, what?”

”Nothing.  In fact, you’d have to pay me.” — Jon Skovron

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  1. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    As usual, @kentforrester, funny stuff. If being young again encompassed still knowing what I know now, I would take you up on that.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KentForrester: . . .for fear of the Ricochet moderators, bluenoses all. . .

    Yeah, those guys!

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a great story, Kent. Thanks.

    • #3
  4. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    My mother’s family is from Augusta.  “Grandpa Mike” in family lore (my mother’s great-grandfather) came from Ireland to Savannah, acquired some property, sold it, moved to Augusta, married into the small upscale Irish society (think Scarlett O’Hara’s crowd) and became a dry goods wholesaler and cotton broker.  He sold a lot of supplies to the Confederate government (with barrels full of Confederate money in the cellar for years after).  He was still wealthy enough that he had to petition President Johnson to get his citizenship back (former Confederate officers and civilians worth $20,000 or more needed a pardon).  We have copies of all that correspondence and the signed pardon.

    His son was a friend of Ty Cobb and advised Cobb that investing in some startup (Coca Cola) that sold sugared soda water was silly (Cobb, of course, made a fortune).  

    The family had a huge house in town on a hill.  My grandfather’s WWI draft registration had his name, his occupation (“Factor”–he was employed by and later inherited the brokerage) and his address was just “The Hill.”  He lost the business in the Depression.  My eldest aunt recalls that her father told his wife and kids at dinner that they were about to be broke because he thought it would be dishonorable to declare bankruptcy and leave a bunch of farmers and sharecroppers holding the bag.  So he honored all the futures contracts, bought it all at the agreed price at a time when the market for it had collapsed, sold the big house, and cashed out everything.  

    I have never been to Augusta.  I have always wanted to visit.  Two of my grandsons were born in Savannah (son-in-law stationed at Ft. Stewart) within a mile or so from where Grandpa Mike got off the boat.  I hope to take them to the locations of family lore when they are older to see it together and tell them the stories.

     

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I have never been to Augusta.  I have always wanted to visit.  Two of my grandsons were born in Savannah (son-in-law stationed at Ft. Stewart) within a mile or so from where Grandpa Mike got off the boat.  I hope to take them to the locations of family lore when they are older to see it together and tell them the stories.

    I hope you get there. It’s a great family history, @oldbathos.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My mother’s family is from Augusta.

    My family was from the other side of the state.

    • #6
  7. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    My mother’s family is from Augusta. “Grandpa Mike” in family lore (my mother’s great-grandfather) came from Ireland to Savannah, acquired some property, sold it, moved to Augusta, married into the small upscale Irish society (think Scarlett O’Hara’s crowd) and became a dry goods wholesaler and cotton broker. He sold a lot of supplies to the Confederate government (with barrels full of Confederate money in the cellar for years after). He was still wealthy enough that he had to petition President Johnson to get his citizenship back (former Confederate officers and civilians worth $20,000 or more needed a pardon). We have copies of all that correspondence and the signed pardon.

    His son was a friend of Ty Cobb and advised Cobb that investing in some startup (Coca Cola) that sold sugared soda water was silly (Cobb, of course, made a fortune).

    The family had a huge house in town on a hill. My grandfather’s WWI draft registration had his name, his occupation (“Factor”–he was employed by and later inherited the brokerage) and his address was just “The Hill.” He lost the business in the Depression. My eldest aunt recalls that her father told his wife and kids at dinner that they were about to be broke because he thought it would be dishonorable to declare bankruptcy and leave a bunch of farmers and sharecroppers holding the bag. So he honored all the futures contracts, bought it all at the agreed price at a time when the market for it had collapsed, sold the big house, and cashed out everything.

    I have never been to Augusta. I have always wanted to visit. Two of my grandsons were born in Savannah (son-in-law stationed at Ft. Stewart) within a mile or so from where Grandpa Mike got off the boat. I hope to take them to the locations of family lore when they are older to see it together and tell them the stories.

     

    Old Bathos, what a great family history.  Thanks for responding.

    • #7
  8. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Thanks Susan.  

    • #8
  9. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Great story, Kent, but still no Bob photos. Or did I miss that post you promised?

    • #9
  10. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Fantastic account; I’m very happy that I missed Fort Gordon.  

    I would never want to go back to some of those “bad old days” but if they want to reinstitute chain gangs for the Antifa thugs and BLM rioters, it’s fine by me.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Great story, Kent, but still no Bob photos. Or did I miss that post you promised?

    Next time, Jim.  I promise  

    • #11
  12. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Great story Kent!  I lived in the Augusta area for about a year and a half recently, not far from ol’ Fort Gordon.  Despite its political tendencies, it seemed a decent place for a family to be, which is good because Fort Gordon and some of the other big businesses in the area (like the nuclear power plants under construction) drew them in.  Prior to living there I’d never had reason to be there and, except for a few friends wouldn’t see a reason to go back, but the people were generally pleasant and it was close enough to larger cities to get to greater offerings without the hassles of having them in your back yard.

    • #12
  13. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    jmelvin (View Comment):

    Great story Kent! I lived in the Augusta area for about a year and a half recently, not far from ol’ Fort Gordon. Despite its political tendencies, it seemed a decent place for a family to be, which is good because Fort Gordon and some of the other big businesses in the area (like the nuclear power plants under construction) drew them in. Prior to living there I’d never had reason to be there and, except for a few friends wouldn’t see a reason to go back, but the people were generally pleasant and it was close enough to larger cities to get to greater offerings without the hassles of having them in your back yard.

    Melvin, i wouldn’t hesitate to live there now.  You would know better than I, but I suspect they’ve largely abandoned their old fashioned racial politics.  It’s a beautiful area and has one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, though you have to be a very rich insider to be a member.

    • #13
  14. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    @kentforrester, this was a delight to read. :)

    • #14
  15. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Midwest Southerner (View Comment):

    @ kentforrester, this was a delight to read. :)

    Thanks Midwest.  It was fun to write.

    • #15
  16. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    KentForrester: …pneumatic…

    Evocative descriptor.

    • #16
  17. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    KentForrester: Within a few seconds, a good-looking woman sidled up beside me.  I should have suspected something.  No good-looking woman had ever sidled up beside me. I tried to sidle up to one once, but she sidled off.

    This bit might be James Lileks-quality writing.  Good story, Kent.

    • #17
  18. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    KentForrester:

     

    Postscript:

    “Ah, youth. Do you know what I would give to be young again?”

    ”No, what?”

    ”Nothing. In fact, you’d have to pay me.” — Jon Skovron

    Ditto. No way I would want to relive my hormone burning, insecure, shy teenage years. Very happy where I am  

     

    • #18
  19. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Mountie (View Comment):

    KentForrester:

     

    Postscript:

    “Ah, youth. Do you know what I would give to be young again?”

    ”No, what?”

    ”Nothing. In fact, you’d have to pay me.” — Jon Skovron

    Ditto. No way I would want to relive my hormone burning, insecure, shy teenage years. Very happy where I am

    Yeah.  It would be nice if I could send a message to myself in the past, detailing what stocks to buy before those companies had explosive growth.  Maybe a few pieces of relationship advice.  But I would not want to go back and re-live the years of my youth.

    • #19