And now for the continuing drama of the life of William Cuthbert Pringle. In previous tapes, Bill, I have pretty much covered everything. But as I have been reminiscing these last couple of weeks, there are just little incidental experiences that I've had that, fitted with the rest of it, might be of some small interest. Small is not a word that can be used with my interest in all of these stories, Dad!
For instance, one of my weekly duties at home in England on Saturday was to make tapers for my Dad. They were for lighting the fire in the hearth. I would have to take newspapers and fold them into long, slender tapers which were placed in a container on the mantle. And these were used by my Dad to light his pipe, and also to light the hearth in the morning, should it need it.
Speaking of the mantle, one thing that was common. I say common, and I remember it being there, but perhaps it was seasonal. However, it was something called bee wine. In what I remember to be about a gallon jug or jar on the mantle, there was a pale amber liquid, and in it were little balls, something like pussy willows. These balls would just continually rise from the bottom to the top, and then sink, and then rise from the bottom to the top again. I really don't remember what these were, but I think it was a kind of yeast. In any case, when these little balls stopped being active, they were removed, and the rest was wine. Bee wine, they called it, and obviously the name came from these little balls that were flying around in the liquid. I don't remember anything about the taste of it, or if I ever tasted it.
Also while I was still in England, I remember so well my Dad bringing me home a present. A sail boat, which was just what I wanted, until I got it. Then I discovered that on the bottom of this sail boat was a long metal object. I was about to say triangular in shape, but not really. I think it was more nearly described as trapezoid. But I didn't like it because the boat wouldn't sit on the shelf or anyplace, really, except in the water. Dad had the hardest time convincing me that this is what real sail boats had. And without this keel, the boats wouldn't float. It would capsize. I also remember the first time I had it down at the beach, I sailed it in one of the ponds that formed on the beach, and then later in a little cove in the ocean itself. Well, I had it only the one day, because when I put it in the cove I was saying goodbye to it without knowing it. The wind took it out, and onto the North Sea it went.
The next, perhaps I did cover. In the summer of 1923, the county council or the coal board decided to wire all the houses in Horden. I remember sitting on the stair way on the last day when the work men were finishing. But when the last work man walked outside, I ran down stairs and flicked the switch, which is a toggle type switch, and looked at that bulb which was hung from a wire from the middle of the ceiling. I watched that light go off and on, and I thought this is the age of miracles. In line with that, I can't help but remember that when we did come to America in September of that year, the first home we lived in had gas lights with the traditional gas mantle, which you might be familiar with. This was quite a come down, I thought.
The next little experience would occur not too long after we came to this country; certainly within the first two years. It was in the winter time, and about four or five of us, including one Harry Miller, and probably there was a Bill McCall and Mike Carnes, but I do remember Harry Miller because he had a Racer Racer Flexible Flyer, which was just the very end of the sleds. I had a little Lightning Guider. We were out on the river, which was solid.
Incidentally, we would play there as the ice melted. Some times hopping from one piece of floating ice to another. I know that if my parents had been aware of it, I would have been grounded for the winter. But in this particular place, the ice where we were playing was solidly frozen against the shore, except for this one place where a hole had been caused some how or another. When we first started fooling around with this hole, it was possibly a foot or 18 inches in diameter. Each of us started taking our sleds and taking a run at this hole, doing a proverbial belly smacker and sliding over the hole. And of course as we did this, the hole was gradually enlarged to a larger diameter.
I remember that I had the smallest sled, the Lightning Guider, and it came to the point where everyone was afraid to go over the hole with their sled because the hole was getting so big. Well, I had to be a show off. I said that I would ride a sled over that hole, but I wouldn't do it with my sled because it was so small. So I was offered the use of Harry Miller's Racer Racer, and I remember the length of it must have been five or six feet long. Now, I was just a little boy at the time, and I might be exaggerating, but it was the longest sled that I can remember. In any case, I got back several yards from the hole and started my run. Just before I was to slam the sled down on the ice I slipped, losing most of my momentum. I wound up on the sled at not a great enough speed. The sled went right to the hole, tipped over, and I went down in it.
I remember my fear at the time, thinking that when I came back up I hoped that I would still be in the hole. Because had I not been, I wouldn't be taping this right now. But fortunately, and obviously, I came up for air. I was still in the hole, and the guys grabbed me and hauled me out. The sled, incidentally, did not go all the way in. I don't know if some one grabbed it, but the sled was almost vertical in the hole.
I next remember being taken to Harry Miller's house, having my clothes taken off in front of the big fire, drying everything, and going home. I'm not so sure my mother ever knew; I might have told her when I was grown. I think I did tell you about the other experience in the same river with Kenny Bradshaw. I'm sure I did. This was in a point right in the same area.
Another experience I'm not at all proud of, and I'm wondering if I should even tell it, but I will. It was in the same general period; it was while we lived in Valley Camp, our first home in America. This is where I lived when I used to go over to Spezzano's to get "A ha' pound a boil'd 'am and a packet a camels." so you remember its in that same general area.
In the area from my house and going up Camp Avenue there was nothing but woods. It received its name because that area was at one time a Summer Camp Grounds. In fact, even within the time of which I speak it was used as Camp Grounds, but cottages were occupied 12 months out of the year. In any case, for Christmas one year, and this would have to be 1925 or 1926, I received from Santa Claus a single shot Daisy BB gun. I was so proud of it.
One day in the spring, I was in this camp ground woods with a friend, who also had a BB gun, but his was a 50 shot. In any case, we started shooting at objects: up in the trees, on the ground, and in the woods. Until my friend, and I don't remember who he was, saw a bird on the tree. He took a shot at it and hit it. I'm saying hit it, the bird was apparently hit, but it did get away.
I'm a little surprised at myself as I tell this, because I just can't imagine my shooting at a bird, however I did and we walked up through the woods, and on a branch of a tree there was a nest. Above the nest I could see the head and shoulders of this bird. Without thinking too much, I made some comment that it was my turn, so I aimed the rifle, pulled the trigger, and the birds head fell forward and became erect again. I aimed the rifle again, shot again, and the bird fell forward again, this time to stay. I ran up to the nest, climbed up the tree, looked in the nest, and there were three baby birds and the dead mother. Well, I broke out in tears, dropped the rifle (I don't remember seeing the rifle after that, but I probably did) and I cried and ran all the way home.
Dad: Harry Kemp had a BB gun. We used to set dominoes up in the big tree next to his house and shoot at them. We got pretty good at it, so one day we were walking in the field between his house and Saint Emma's convent. There was a bird on a telephone wire in front of us, and Harry took a shot at it and missed. The bird still sat there, so I took a shot and hit it. We ran up to where the bird fell, and it was still moving slightly. I felt sick, and never aimed anything at a living thing since.
It was also right around in that time period that I was in third grade I believe, standard three, which was the first year, 1924, up at Valley Heights School. I experienced a practically total eclipse. We were at school at the time, and there was no forewarning, at least I don't remember any advance discussion in the newspapers. Radios were almost unheard of then; there were a few crystal sets. But I remember that everyone was quite frightened when all of a sudden in the afternoon, everything got dark, just like night. Later in life, I've never checked that eclipse, I'll have to do that. Surely there will be a record of it, certainly the exact date. I can't think of anything else of interest in that general time area.
Did I ever tell you about the experience I had in the Liberty Theater at an amateur night? In New Kensington, at Cooper Brother's Store there was a piano teacher, perhaps he was also a salesman, but his name was Al Bryan, and he was a pianist. There was also a woman in town who I sort of knew, I think I knew her from church, whose name was McNealy. In any case, I got a telephone call one time from Mr. Bryan, who asked me to stop at Cooper Brother's Store some time and talk to him about arranging a trio. I did, of course. I would go just about anywhere to sing something, but this Al Bryan was not the usual person, particularly for a pianist. You think of a pianist's hands as being supple, very flexible, but his fingers barely seemed to move, and he would flop his hands down on the keyboard. I'm sure that a musician would not call his technique good, but he was a musician, and he did write some music, or at least arrange some music.
In any case, he explained to me that he and this Mrs. McNealy were looking for a third to form a trio. I was agreeable to try, and we did start rehearsing. He was explaining to us, or particularly to me, I suppose, that he wanted to create a professional trio that could go out and perform in the professional world. He would take songs and arrange them in a more or less complicated manner. I do remember there was a song called "Great Day": "When you're down and out, pick up your head and shout, It's gonna be a great day." Well, that was the basis of the song. But he also had parts of other melodies interwoven into it. One was called "I was Lucky." Any way, we had rehearsed it and practiced it quite a bit, but it was too much for me. I was not a musician, I just liked to sing.
But we met at least once a week. In 1935 I was working at a White Tower at the corner of Broad and Larimer streets near the Liberty Theater. In any case, at this one rehearsal, Mr. Brian announced that we had an offer of a job in East Liberty, not explaining what it was, and that we were going to sing this "Great Day." I protested, I said that I didn't know it, but he assured me everything would be fine, and we were going to do this on a certain date.
Well, I understood that it was going to be broadcast, but I didn't know until I got there that it was an amateur night. And they had the proverbial hook, which incidentally they didn't use on legitimate contestants; they used it only as a gimmick when they ran some one in as a gag, and they used it to pull that someone off the stage. As I remember this evening, they might have used that hook.
Act after act went on, and I don't really remember too much about it, but eventually I found myself on the stage next to the piano between Mr. Bryan and Mrs. McNealy. We started to sing, and I was scared stiff. We hadn't sung many lines, and I was faking it, but not very well, until some one in the audience started to applaud. And of course this led to some one else, and finally there were hisses and boos, and quite a loud protestation from the audience. As I said, the hook was not used, but we managed to get to an end. We really didn't sing it all, but Bryan brought it to a conclusion, and we went off the stage.
I was so humiliated, particularly because I had let the people at the White Tower where I worked know that this program was going to be on the air, and these people would be listening to it. I also found that my mother and family were listening to it, and God bless her soul, I remember my mother trying to comfort me: she said, "Never mind, Willy, it took two of them to make it so bad." I don't know if there is any connection, but they tore the Liberty Theater down some time after that.
I did have more pleasant experiences, however, speaking about radio, on WKPA. It was after I started with West Penn Power Company, and I received a call from Mrs. Zipporah Willmore. This lady was a composer. She wrote music, and she had a program Saturday or Sunday for 15 minutes, in which she featured her own music. In line with that, there was a Mrs. Holste, the wife of the principal of Arnold High School. She read this poetry in between the songs in this 15 minute period. I don't remember their names, but there were three girls, two who sang a duet, and one who was a soloist. But the four of us did the singing and Mrs. Holste would read a poem or so in between the songs. This was aired I think 3:45 on Saturday afternoon for a while and then it shifted to Sunday afternoon.
It was my privilege to sing the theme, which was a song written by Mrs. Willmore called
"Castles in the Air," and with your kind indulgence I will let you know how it goes:
Once I dreamed of Castles in the Air
Proudly living there with you.
Once before I dreamed of falling heir
To a million dollars too.
Then one day I woke up to discover
All my dreams were of you.
Now I'd live most anywhere
And climb up many stairs
To castles in the air.
I just listened to that. I was a little flat in a couple of places, but it will give you the idea. It sounded fine to me, Dad.
You know, as I look back in a general sort of way, I am led to conclude that my life has not been very exciting. And yet, since I have been involved in these tapes, life hasn't exactly been dull. There are certain things about my experiences have not been unique, perhaps, but they are certainly unusual.
For example, how many people can say they spent their 9th birthday and their 46th birthday aboard ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Not many people can say that they had a radio program. I did, of course, in 1942 at Ardmore Oklahoma, WJPA. Incidentally, the other program that I was just describing was WKPA.
That brings to mind another situation. We started this program at the request of the station manager of WJPA in Ardmore. And I was lucky enough to have the services of Sergeant Major Jack Probin as a pianist. He was quite a good accompanist, and he really couldn't read music. This worked to my advantage, since he learned the songs the way I sang them. I had chosen as a theme song, "Memories."
How well I remember that first day. Jack and I went to the studio at again 3:45. (That must not be prime time.) on Sunday. I fully expected to have someone in the studio with me, or at least in the control room to introduce me, and Jack, and to introduce any songs that we might have selected. I was not prepared to act as my own master of ceremonies. You can imagine my surprise, and concern, when the man in the control booth merely gestured for me to come to the microphone, and then said so that I could hear him, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Bill Pringle of Ardmore Army Air Base. Take it over, Bill."
Well, we sang the theme song the first program, and I remember I made some comment, really I was groping for something to fill the time in between songs. I said that we had chosen the theme "Memories" because we were going to be singing old songs, with the hope that they would be the favorites of the audience, too. I also suggested that if they liked the songs and the program, they could drop us a card, which would be greatly appreciated.
Well, the second program, I had arrived in town early, and the first sergeant, Sergeant Pittinger, and I had a room above the USO in a hotel. We rented the room by the month, $9 a month. Pittinger paid one month, and I paid the next. Well, as I said, I went into town early, so I went up to the room and lay down, just resting. The next thing I knew I was awakened by someone pounding on the door. It was 10 minutes after 4:00. The program, which had been scheduled for 3:45, I had slept through. The time had been taken by, I learned later, the control engineer and Jack just having a chat about one thing or another. It was assumed that I had been held up on some mysterious military duty.
Oh, right along in that line, in connection with that program. I'm not sure I mentioned this, Marilyn Freeman accompanied me on one program. She was also the accompanist for Gene Autry. After all, that is something not everyone can say, in fact, not many can say it. Come to think of it, a lot of people wouldn't want to say it. Dad, I was just thinking of that when I heard you say it on tape!
But referring to our first program, I had mentioned telling the people that if they liked the program, to write cards which would indicate that they did like it. So, when about 10 or 12 months after or first program, we were going to go off the air. When we were closing that particular program, I said, "Do you remember when we started this program, I suggested that if you liked our program, you should send us post cards? Well, we've been on the air several month, and you didn't send us many postcards, so I guess you didn't like us, so we are going off the air." Now as I was saying this, the engineer in the control room was jumping up and down, waving his hands and shaking his head, indicating that you should never say this on the radio.
Dad: Here is another spot where the tape mustn't have been recording. Do you know the start of this story? ... and lo, and behold, I had a mouse in my hand. I remember running into my mother's bedroom yelling, "Look, Mother, look at what I've got!" and she said "What is it?" She told me later she thought it was a bird. When I told her it was a mouse, well, words fail me.
Who else can say he picked up an owl on his own driveway? I can. I was coming home one night after dark, entering Paxfield Farm, and right at the entrance where the big gate is, the headlights of my car lit on something in the middle of the driveway. I didn't know what it was, but my car went right over it. I was curious what it was, so I backed the car up so my headlights were back on it. I still couldn't figure out what it was, so I stopped the car and got out with my head lights shining right on it. I walked up to where it was, and here it was an owl. I thought it had been hurt. I reached over, it must have been asleep, or hypnotized or whatever. When I picked it up, it tried to escape, so I went over to the wall along the bank, and went to put it down there, but it never reached the ground. As soon as I released it, it was off into the night.
Who else can say that he fell from an iron stair way aboard an ocean liner? I can. This, of course, was when I was coming over as a boy with my family. There were two other boys with which I had become friends. Dicky and Franky is all that I remember. I think I did tell you about Franky. It was his family that shared our table with us. I told you the story of "Franky want a bun?" Dad: Yes, it was on an earlier tape. Well, the three of us were playing hide and go seek. I don't remember who was it, but I do remember running up this stairway in the corridor or aisle way up onto a deck. I started to run down the open deck, and there was an open wrought iron stairway up to a closed door several feet above the deck. I didn't know what it was, but I remember thinking, "Gee, if I can make it up those stairs before the other guy comes around the corner, he'll never catch me. On the other hand, if he does see me, I can't get away."
So I started running up the stairs, and as I did, I was leaning a little bit to the left, looking down at the deck, when I lost my balance and fell over to the side of the stair way. The distance between these stairs was slightly less than the size of my shoes, anyway. My right foot wedged between the two stairs, and I hung over the side of the stairway by one foot. My friend by now was on the deck, and had seen me. He called for help, and what I have always described as a "big sailor" came running from the upper door, grabbed me by my belt, and set me down on the stairs. He said, "Don't do that again," and I replied, "You don't think I tried that, do you?"
I had another experience aboard ship. There probably weren't too many passengers, particularly in the second class group, that actually saw, or met, or spoke to, the captain of the ship. But I did. Either Dicky or Franky and I were down in one of the wash rooms one time. These were all ceramic tile; the baths were sunken on the floor. Incidentally, that was the first bath tub I was ever in. I remember my Dad trying to give me a bath, and I was afraid to put my face under the water. I was nine years old, or at least within a couple of days of being nine.
Anyway, this friend of mine and I were in the bathroom and started fooling around. We were squirting water, and one thing led to another, until finally in our `activity' I knocked a glass into one of the wash basins, and it broke. I was scared. I remember running out of the bath room, up onto the deck, and I must have been appearing quite excited because some guy in uniform grabbed my arm and wanted to know where I was going, could he help me, and so forth. But I said I had to see the captain. He told me that he was an officer, and he was sure that he could do whatever I needed of the captain, but I wouldn't tell him.
So, after at least a few minutes discussion, he took me by the hand, and took me to what I later learned to be the bridge. We went into the little office, and I remember three sides were all glass: the front and the two other sides. He introduced me to a man he claimed was the captain. I heard him explain that he tried to get from me whatever it was that I had in my mind, but that I had refused and had insisted on seeing the captain. So, the captain called me to him, I went over and stood in front of him, and he asked me what this was all about. I was scared, but finally I stammered that I broke one of his glasses. Then he wanted to know what had happened. I explained what had happened, and he shook his finger and said that I was a good boy for coming to him and telling him about it. Just to prove that everything was O.K, I could go down and break another one. Later, when I told this to my mother, she told me that the captain didn't realize that he was taking a big chance by telling me that.
Did I ever tell you about the `Cundy'? I don't know how to spell it, I've even looked it up in an English dictionary, but there is no such word. As I think about it, it was probably a distortion of the word conduit, because the Cundy was in Horden between the town and the sea. It was really a storm drain of concrete underneath the railroad. It was quite long. I, of course, as just a child, picture it as nine or ten feet in diameter. I do know that adults could walk through the Cundy. There was usually a small trickle of water through it, so you had to walk with your feet apart on the sides of this circular drain.
There were two features about the Cundy. First, that it was curved, so that you could not see from one end to the another. Next, some where near the center there were two or three steps that one had to negotiate. The standard practice, regardless of which end you were entering, was that you stood at the entrance, facing into the Cundy and shouted, "Anybody coming through?" If anyone was coming through they would answer you. The reason was obvious: it was awkward if you met someone inside the Cundy; it was possible, but the common practice was to wait.
Incidentally, when I went back to Horden in 1960, I went down to find the Cundy again, but it was no longer there. I talked to a gentlemen in the area where I believed it to have been, and he sort of remembered, and he thought the whole thing had been filled up. In any case, I couldn't find it.
Another experience which is certainly uncommon, I believe. Incidentally, these are not in any chronological order; in fact, this experience I had when I was in the CCC in 1933. I was up in a camp in Renova, called State Camp at that time. After we were there a couple of weeks, I was appointed the doctor's assistant, or nurse, as some of the guys called me. I received that appointment by virtue of the fact that I had worked at a drug store a couple of years back around the time I was in 7th or 8th grade; perhaps even freshman.
In any case, on this one particular day, a couple of guys came running up to my tent. They said that one of the fellows was on the way here, but they thought that I should go down to meet him because he had been bitten by a snake. Well, by the time I realized what was happening, he was already at the tent. So I brought him in and put him on the bare bed. On his right calf there were two spots that he claimed had been bitten by a snake. He didn't know what kind of a snake it was, and of course I had no way of knowing.
So I proceeded to give him first aid treatment, which amounted to making a couple of cuts along the wounds and then sucking the blood out and spitting it out. I later bandaged the wound, and then a bunch of us went to the area where he had been bitten. We did find a snake there, but it was a harmless snake; we used to call them garter snakes, I guess they are really grass snakes.
Incidentally, that reminds me of another experience I had with a snake. It was also at the time that I was working as a nurse. This was before we had water piped in to the streets. We were still in tents. We did have a dining hall which was wooden. I had to walk down to a spring, which was the full length of the company street. I went down with a bucket in each hand. As I passed behind the tents, I was in what would be the alley behind the company street. I saw something flash in the corner of my eye. I turned to look, and here was a snake which was about a couple of feet long, a grass snake. I thought nothing of it, and I went on down to the spring. When I came back, the snake was still there. So I put down the buckets and went over to the snake; it didn't move, so I picked it up by grabbing it behind the head. Now I was looking for a place to put it.
It so happened that I was near the tent that I shared before I was appointed nurse. These tents were usually shared by six people, and I was one of those six. I remember a Bill Christman, who was the squad leader from Bessemer, PA. That is the only name I can remember. In any case, I found a card board box and a piece of card board to serve as a lid, and a brick. All the time I'm carrying the snake around in one hand. So I put this box inside this tent. I put the cardboard on it and the brick. I then slid the cardboard aside, dropped the snake in it, put the cardboard back, and left. I thought it would make an interesting conversation piece when the guys got back from their days work in the woods. This particular camp was a reforestation camp; our main purpose was to cut fire trails. As we continued our work, the crews went farther and farther away from the camp. And so it was that this time, some time just before they were due back to the camp, probably around 4:00, I decided to go back and check on the snake.
I walked in to the tent, over to the box, slid the cardboard aside, and there was no snake there! Well, this didn't particularly alarm me, but I started looking around. There at the leg of one of the iron cots, near the head of the cot, was a mirror. This was customarily hung in the center post of the tent, but any activity against the tent would cause movement and the mirror would fall. It became a habit of any one of us who was using it, when we were finished using it, we would remove it from its place on the center post and lean it against the bed. And that's where this mirror was, in an upright position, almost completely vertical.
Right in front of this mirror was this snake. I judged that there was perhaps four, five, or perhaps six inches of the snake still on the ground. The body of the snake went straight up to its neck; its neck was bent so that it could stare straight into the mirror. It was completely still, at least so far as my observation was concerned. I couldn't see a tremble on it; it just stood there, staring into the mirror. I had never seen anything like it before. I decided to just leave it there. Hopefully, it would be there when the guys got home. Well, I never saw the snake again, and it wasn't there when the guys got back to the tent.
You know, mentioning that CCC camp really brings back memories. I was only in the service four months altogether, but it seemed like a very long time at the time. I have many memories of the life itself, and the people.