Random B. Whimsey-Tales and Travels A PROLOGUE

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MY YOUTH :   When I was a young lad of nine years, my parents died suddenly of a strange sickness. No one ever told me of what the illness was, but I was taken to live with my dear aunt Antonia, my mother's sister, and her stern, taskmaster husband Chester. They lived in a big, rambling three story house, located in the best neighborhood of a small town in Indiana. I was given a spartan, small and ugly room on the top floor under the dormer, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. I was made to work at the family emporium toiling at all of the many cleanup jobs plus those tasks that no one else wanted to perform. I was required to be ready for work at 6 AM every day and was not allowed to leave my post until at least 7 PM at night. , except for Sunday. Often my supper was some cheese and bread that my aunt would slip me as i left in the morning without my uncles knowledge. My aunt and uncle, being very religious folk, suffered no foolishness or folly on the Lord's Day. We all walked the 3 miles to church early in the morning, returning home for dinner promptly at 1 PM and the rest of the day, I was required to read the bible and not speak. Bedtime was promptly at 8 PM. My aunt was constantly under uncle Chester's control and never spoke up for me when the mistreatment became excessive and severe. All of this was such a shock to a young boy who's life had heretofore been tranquil and filled with days of hours spent like any other boy living on a small farm in the green rolling hills of Kentucky. Where time never really mattered as long as you went to school on time, did your chores as asked, was on time for supper, and didn't talk back to your elders. Ruffy, my 75 pound mutt I had found abandoned as a pup by the creek, and I would explore and search out new places to fish or just I would just lie on my back and stare at the clouds deciding what shapes were forming as they moved across the skies. Ruffy was content to be with me or he would search out a lizard or chase a scampering cottontail. Those were now all just memories along with my wonderful father and dear sweet mother.

I endured this abuse and maltreatment for 2 years and four months. Not ever being allowed to return to school, I would sneak books from the town library and read everything I could lay my hands on. I had made my decision, after considering it for many months, to leave this place forever. One deciding factor was when I came home with a stray, sweet gray and white kitten. My uncle just looked at me as if I had done some horrible thing. " That useless beast will just eat and make a mess in my house. " He walked over and grabbed the kitten by the neck, dangling and screaming and marched out the back door with great haste. He returned in about a half an hour and washed his hands, muttering to himself about handling that foolishness and it better not happen again. Nothing was ever said about the affair after that. I imagine that he had walked to the river close by and drowned the poor thing or maybe something even more heinous. I got up at midnight that very night and gathered my few possessions, plus the small amount of clothes that I owned. My only warm coat was the one I had had since I first came to live at the house, now ragged and much too small. I had grown 4 inches in that 2 plus years. I sneaked down the stairs in stocking feet, shoes in hand and out the back door. I stopped briefly, turned to look at the house one last time, and I knew my misery was to end that day. I was determined to carve a better life for me from that day on. On that last walk that freed me from my recent past, I decided to change my name, then and there. I was no longer going to be known as Sylvester Gottfried Fassbinder. It took me almost a week of silently calling myself a collection of names to finally settle on Random B. Whimsey! So it shall be Random because that is how I will live my life, randomly. B. is to be, and Whimsey because I decided to have it daily, whenever and wherever I chose. My parents were gone to heaven, or perhaps a place with a warmer climate, and my treatment and existence at my Uncle and Aunt's hand had squelched any chance for whimsey at all in my life so far.

I rode the rails, hitched a ride on a wagon of a kind hardware peddler outside of a little town in Mississippi and numerous other forms  of conveyance and transport. For some reason it escapes me why I found myself headed in the direction of Texas. Maybe it was the story I had read about Davy Crockett when I was much younger, him killing bears and being brave at the Alamo. I kept the course, no matter how rigorous or dangerous.  Crossing the border at Texarkana some 6 months after leaving Indiana, my first view of Texas was at best, disappointing. I still was determined to keep moving onward. I did find the inhabitants kind, possessors of a warm hearts and quite benevolent. Always willing to share a meal with a sad boy on a long and strange journey. No matter how plain and simple, an honest  repast, shared with kindness from folks with smiles on their faces and souls plus a genuine fare the well for a strange traveler is much appreciated . These are the things from what  life long memories are crafted.

Heading south through Fort Worth, Dallas, and towards Austin, I finally found my journey entering the outskirts and train yards of San Antonio. This seemed to have a strange impact on me, one I could not easily explain. Adjacent to the stock yards, the many slaughter houses there had an overwhelming stench from the debris of cattle carcasses and blood, creating a foul scenario in the hot summer Texas sun. Seeing poor starving Indians and ragged children pawing through these putrid piles did not deter me from choosing this city as the final end to my journey. I located an ornate public fountain with fresh, cold, clean running water, tore the tail off the most ragged of my two shirts and cleaned myself as might be appropriate to meet, the citizens of my newly adopted city. I put on my one remaining pasable shirt, made a crude brush from some dried palm fronds and my jack knife to brush off the road dirt and caked on mud from my jacket and trousers. I searched out a chunk of solid beef tallow at the edge of the putrid piles, rubbed a goodly amount on my hands and slicked back my still wet mop of unshorn curly brown hair. Firmly holding the shiny piece of tallow in my fist, I rubbed my boots with the holey soles liberally until well coated. The rubbing and polishing soon made the old boots shine and appear more presentable. My goal was to find some employment today or at least a kind stranger who would stake me to a solid meal. Having not eaten in 24 hours is a motivation that I was getting too used to since leaving Indiana.

Passing a small patched canvas tent, I saw a crude table laden with bowls and stew pots that smelled of wonderful things. I stopped to see what they were making to sell. I assume that my sad look had an impact on the lovely rotund Mexican lady in the bright colorful skirt with red flowers in her hair. In broken English she said, " Some beans, tortillas and chili meat senor? " I smiled at her kind manner and said, " I am sorry ma'am, but I find myself without coin to purchase your fine food today . " " You are a traveler?, " she inquired. " Yes I have been on the road for many months." " I have cinco ninos. they not go hungry as long as I make fresh tortillas on my comal. This is for you. Sit and eat. " She handed me a plate piled high with foods I had never seen. I took up the spoon offered and started to shovel the wonderful smelling beans, big chunks of hot, spicy red beef and a stack of warm tortillas. Stopping briefly, I glanced over at two men who were eating across me at the table, wanting to see how one was properly supposed to eat this wonderful new food. Copying their lead, I took a tortilla and spooned on some beans and meat and made sort of a package. It tasted wonderful. I bit off a large piece of the strange red vegetable on the side of the plate and soon felt my tongue on fire. " Jalapeno," she said as she laughed at my discomfort and handed me a cup of coffee. I took a big swig and that seemed to help with the sting, but not completely. I did not eat any more of the vegetable. I was so hungry that I savored every bite of the food, wiping up the gravy with the last of the tortillas. When I finished, I handed the plate, spoon and cup back to the lady. By this time some children has arrived to be with her, and quickly started helping her with preparations. " What is your name, ma'am?, "  I asked kindly. "  Catalina es mi nombre. You name? " " I am Random B. Whimsey. I want to thank you so much, Mrs. Catalina. I will return, eat again and pay you the 5 cents I owe as soon as I can. " " No es necessario, Senor Random B Whimsey. Adios, " she responded with more smiles. Her children were also smiling and waved as I left. I knew then that if I was to fare well in San Antonio I would have to find a way to learn Spanish as Texas was surely to become my new home.

I asked a man, back by the fountain, playing a melodic tune and singing on a Mexican guitar and wearing a red sash and an elegant black sombrero edged with ragged and worn gold trim, what was the best route to the downtown business district. He directed me to the Alamo, and The Menger Hotel. San Antonio was a bustling and colorful city in the summer of 1890. I had never seen so many different costumes and attire.  People speaking languages that I had not heard before, mostly Spanish. Brightly dressed and painted ladies with elaborate combs in their hair, smartly dressed businessmen, more musicians, and the occasional mustachioed policeman twirling his shiny nightstick and strutting with a pompous air of authority. I saw fine and fancy carriages roll by, shiny and pulled by 2 matching horses with expensive tack and harness. On my walk, while trade wagons heavily loaded with assorted goods, burly teamsters sweating while they handled the 4 or 6 horses need to pull the massive loads. All together the sights, sounds and smells was something I would not soon forget. I decided that I best make it my goal to certainly learn to speak Spanish with the citizens like Catalina and her family, since I now was to become a Texan. Heading past the hotel, I continued walking on East Crockett street. No doubt named for the famous Davy Crockett, I stopped to look at the street sign for a minute or two and the elegant tall buildings that surrounded me. I loved history in school and missed the classroom and learning wonderful stories and events from the past. I thought to myself that this was truly a fine city and I was glad to be here.

Soon my travels down East Crockett street found me standing in front of an old and worn storefront, peeling paint and dirty front windows. In the bottom right corner of the front window had been placed a hand scribbled sign which read " Strong honest boy needed to sweep up. Do odd jobs. Must be hard worker and able to read " I peered above the sign through the dirty window at a room jam packed with all manner of furniture and statues and what not. Above the big front doors was a tattered green awning and a sign that read, " Horatio's  Oddities and Treasures--- Bought and Sold--- Fair Prices Since 1865 " I opened the door and once inside, it was much cooler than the street had been. The scene in the large room was one of organized chaos. Items were stacked and arranged willy nilly, but the results had a strange elegance to the origin of the contents. It was a place that made one want to stay and explore further.

In the center and towards the back of the room, I spied a stained glass and carved wood display case full of and stacked high with various items that appeared to be of high value. " Ho! Who enters my fine store? Horatio here. Pray tell me your name, young lad," echoed a strong booming voice echoing from the area close to the display case. The room was very dark and the only light was coming from the front windows and a single ornate stained glass lamp on the case and it was difficult to see well, much less to locate the origin of the strong greeting. I aimed my answer at a shape, a shadowy figure in the very back, behind that same ornate case. The figure was of no particular form. " I am Random B. Whimsey. I saw the sign in your window. I am seeking gainful employment at a pleasant establishment where I would prefer to stay for the long term. I am a hard worker and I don't eat much, sir. Please excuse me sir, if I am mistaken. I am assuming that meals are provided in some manner or t' other. I even can cook a few things pretty well. My aunt Antonia has said that in the past. "  " I like your bold and candid declarations, Mr. Whimsey. This job pays $3.00 a week and the money is made available on Saturday evening.. We are closed Sundays. I am not a church goin' man, but I guard my own brand of spirituality and I do observe the laws for merchants and shop keeps. You are not a " holy roller " by any chance young man?," he continued as he emerged from behind the counter. An old man, probably 70 years. Slight of build and well dressed in a dark green, paisley silk vest, white shirt with perfect paper collar and cuffs, pressed gray worsted trousers, charcoal jacket with velvet lapels. He was wearing highly polished horsehide Cordovan shoes fastened with small gold buckles on the side. He was limping , dragging his left leg and using an ornate dark wood cane with a silver handle. " Does the pay suit you, Mr. Whimsey? And the days needed to be here ready for hard work? "

" Well yes to your questions and thank you for the added important information. No I am not a holy roller. I am not sure that I have decided on the state of my spirituality, I am still studying that complicated issue." " I understand. Mr. Whimsey, consider yourself hired as of this moment. Where are you living at the present time?, " " I am looking for a suitable place where the tariff is low and within my budget, mister,........ah, I don't think I know your name sir." " I am terribly sorry, young man. Age has made my responses to be often incomplete. I am Horatio, like the sign over the door. Horatio Alexander Beane. My father was a life long mariner. A captain of whaling ships out of New Bedford, Mass. and thus a world traveler. He was an avid reader on those long days at sea. He read everything published about Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Royal Navy. I was thereby given Nelson's name, and a fine name it is. I was born after my father retired from the sea going life.  I have been here at this store in San Antonio for 40 years. I am originally from the great state of Vermont. My accent has long left me these 40 odd years, I am sure. I now consider myself a Texan. Proud and smug about that fact and I freely will tell anyone who wants to know, or doesn't for that matter." " Yes, I know. Vermont well, The Green Mountain State. Famous for Ethan Allen, Robert Rogers of the famous Roger's Rangers, who fought the French gallantly and their Indian mercenaries during the French and Indian War. His involvement and bravery was instrumental for the British winning the war and keeping the USA out of French colonization," informed Random. " I see you are well versed and have retained your lessons. I, too, share your affinity for history. I feel that we will fare well, Mr. Whimsey. Assuming you are on time and perform your duties as described. " Yes sir, Mr. Beane. that is my goal here. I have always enjoyed  school and excelled in some courses and subjects, but had to drop out to work at my uncle's Emporium. The details I would prefer to leave  telling for a future time. " " I understand. Call me Horatio, everyone does. "

" I see we have both intimated that you are to be employed at Horatio's. We have discussed the wages and days to work. Time? Work starts at 730 AM will continue to 6 PM.  There are no other employees, except for Carlos Ramirez Ramirez. I count on him to come by and move some heavier and more bulky items around the floor, if I make a purchase or a sale. He also has an ancient, beat up old wagon and along with his mule Useless and his younger brother Hector they will deliver items when requested by a customer. Thank goodness Hector is not useless. Well, neither is that old mule. She is damned stubborn some times and one just has to wait out her bad mood. At some point she will start  moving again and plod along to the needed destination. Step back behind this display case and you will find a cozy spot at the corner of the room by the hallway. It is a space that is warm in the winter and you will find it somewhat cool in the summer. The flue for the wood stove is in the wall behind that corner, offering winter warmth. The ceiling fans do generate some relief from summer's relentless heat. We can put up a tapestry to give you some privacy. You can choose from many, you can find one of your liking, I am sure, from that stack over there against the wall. Be warned, they have occupied that stack for many years and are pretty dusty. Some might have been home to a family of field mice at some point. There is a hot plate you can use to cook on, although if you make something that smells up the place, fair warning, there will no more cooking. Cabbage? I love cabbage myself, but we cannot be cooking any here, and for obvious reasons. Mrs. Ramirez will often bring by some of her wonderful tamales. A penny each and 10 cents for a dozen, is a good price. They are toothsome, but a little spicy for an old man's stomach. Consequently, I partake less often that I would prefer of Mrs. Ramirez's tamales. A fine meal can also be had for 5 cents down in the plaza, very close by, "  Horatio shared. " Just this afternoon I was the recipient of some wonderful Mexican delicacies at the table of a fine lady named Catalina. It was just an hour past, " said Random. "  We have a large utility sink for mop and cleaning uses and such, and the outhouse is out the back door. I had the plumbing for the sink installed just recently, but the outhouse remains a bit of a jaunt out back. Be sure to keep the grass cut close, it helps deter the snakes. You will need to identify the difference between the coral snake and the milk snake. Be most careful that coral snake will grab you and hold on. Very bad wound and can be fatal. We have cottonmouths and copperheads all over. The river close by gives them the environment they need. There are all manner of rattlesnakes too. With them at least, you might get a warning. I would carry a shovel and a good kerosene lamp when you go out in the dark, then you can whack the bastards in half if encountered. Be sure to bury the head though, it is still deadly after the demise of the serpent. Nasty bastards, but they do keep the rodent population under control. "

Horatio took an ornate gold pocket watch attached by an antique chain from his vest, flipped open the case and exclaimed, " Time to close. The brooms are down by the sink with the mop. Give the floor a good sweet of all cigar butts and various debris, empty the spittoons out back, flip over the open sign to closed and then you can turn in. You look a bit haggard. I have a pretty good library of books purchased from estate sales and such. Feel free to use them as much as you like. You mentioned that you like to read. You may not be in school, but I can help you learn new and important facts. Using the books will help. I am getting more all of the time. I might make you in charge of sorting through what ones we keep that come in and ones we donate to the Methodist orphanage." Reaching into his inside coat pocket,  he retrieved an ornate Masonic key chain, heavily laden, then removed one key. " Here is your key, Mr. Whimsey.You will find it fits the front and back doors. Make sure they are locked at all times. I am an extremely good judge of an honest man, and Mr. Random B. Whimsey, I now trust you with my life's work, all of my possessions in this store. The local law enforcement will be coming by and rattling the front doors, some time later this evening, so I would not be moving about in here tonight, or leaving to go for a stroll. I will stop by the local precinct on the morrow morn to inform them of your presence here and for the future. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a broken front door and a night in jail. I would not recommend a trip to the hoosegow here in San Antonio. It is filled with some bad and unsavory characters. Understand?"  " Yes, sir." " Just Horatio. That will do fine. I am not your father or your commanding officer. Now take the key and lock it as you leave. I need you to go down the avenue and wave down a cab for me. I prefer that privacy instead of the mode of transportation of one of those contraptions with 20 people or so on board. My guess is that Gustav will be in the neighborhood around this time. He has been my chauffeur for nigh on to 25 years or more. I forgot to mention this earlier. Often he will drop by a big pot of his wife Hilda's lentil soup.  He makes these homemade sausages, a recipe from his home country of Germany and the soup has generous chunks floating amid the vegetables and the thick broth. She usually sends an enormous loaf of her homemade pumpernickel bread with sweet butter too.  On a chilly day in December, we shall truly enjoy a feast, thanks to them. That is something to look forward to as our humid Texas summer winds down, Mr. Whimsey."

Soon Random returned and Gustav was out front of the store, his shiny carriage waiting for Horatio to make his way to the cab, shuffling along slowly and steadying himself with his cane. Gustav grabbed his arm and helped climb into the seat facing forward, his favorite view. Once comfortably seated in the cab, he turned, waved and smiled as Gustav commanded his hard working team of horses onward. Random watched as the cab headed up East Crockett street and he paused for a moment. His busy day was spinning around in his head. He truly was a fortunate man, at least he felt like a man. Shouldn't a man feel like this? A wonderful meal, a new home with a warm safe bed, a new job and he had the key in his packet, a shelf full of books to read and a grand old gentleman for his new boss to replace that fool of an uncle. This must be how a real man feels.

NEXT TIME. Random B. Whimsey's life journey continues- Volume I