What should go into a person’s autobiography? Some only want the good parts! Some want
the funny parts . I would like to try, in some way, to convey to the reader how
my life has been shaped by the things that I did and
did not accomplish. This is a very-condensed version of a satisfied life.
I was born in
Buchanan County in the state of Virginia. It was impoverished when I was a child, and still is because of location and lack of industry.
Some folks have made millions from the coal and natural gas industries, unfortunately, none were my close kin.
I was considered bright in elementary school. I won all the spelling bees from an early age. The older boys called me Frank Sharp.
In high school, I was a little stymied by all the uproar and seeming confusion. Even, with all that, I was able to come out second
in a tri-state spelling bee in Abingdon, Virginia in the tenth grade. The girl who won had to do some powerful spelling. The word
she won on, I had never heard of, and still cannot remember it to this day. I could not even afford lunch money on the trip!
When I left home for the United States Air Force in 1960 I was cutting brush with a bolo hook, for small bushes, and a heavy scythe
for all the smaller weeds and bushes, all for a whopping, fifty-cents an hour. As I have written before, bees, yellow jackets, bumblebees,
and wasps were my constant companions.
I surely did not wish to spend my life in a coal
mine as my dad and older brother did. I had worked around the mines doing odd jobs as well as cutting the props for holding up the
top headers. Seeing how dog-tired the coal loaders were at the end of the shift helped sway me away from the coal mining region. Black–lung
was beginning to be talked about when I left home, better known as silicosis!
My next venture
was to enter the U.S.A.F. Some of the D.I.’s wrote in my report that I was “very back-woodsy’ having come from an unsettled part of
the country!” My actions reflected this in many ways. After two weeks of training I was ‘set back’ into a new flight where I became
more confident and my new D.I. came to find favor with me. I graduated from ‘boot camp’ having attained the rank of Airman Third class
After basic training I was sent to Mather A.F.B. to train as a ‘Special Vehicle
Repairman’ that included towing tractors, fire trucks, and general use vehicles. I attained the rank of Airman First Class in twenty-seven
months, not because I was a first-rate mechanic, but because I had an aptitude for passing tests. I was also trained at Chanute Air
Force Base, in Illinois (on temporary duty TDY) as an R-2 Re-fueling truck repairman that refueled the jet aircraft. This went well;
When I first entered the classroom I could see that the instructor was not too sure of
his ability to teach. He wished us to learn everything according to the book, which sometimes is not the best way. Being somewhat
assertive, I went to the barracks and concocted a song for the learning of the different valves (quite a number) and how they connected
to each other. I did this to the tune of ‘These Bones Gonna Rise Again’ an old African American Spiritual. It goes: The head bone
‘nected to the neck bone, neck bone ‘nected to the shoulder bone, shoulder bone ‘nected to the spine bone, etc. until you get to the
feet bones! The tone gradually drops as you descend or raises as you ascend. They used my method thereafter.
On returning to Mather A.F.B., an N.C.O. was needed to run the Base Quartermaster Station, I was chosen. I spent the rest of my duty
running this station. I had around 15 guys who were answerable to me. At one time, I was called onto the carpet because gasoline was
seen being dispensed into private vehicles at night, supposedly observed from the base water tank adjacent to the station. The O.S.I.
was involved and two men lost their rank down to Airman Basic because of this. No gasoline was missed after this as long as I was
in charge. I might add that I did not ‘rat’ on the two who were ‘busted’. They were caught in the act by an officer of the O.S.I.
While at Mather I became acquainted with an N.C.O by the name of Joseph P. Katzberg originally
from New York City. Joseph’s stage name was Jody Gibson. Jody was one of the most versatile musicians I had ever met. He played Banjo
very efficiently, Guitar to a tee, and could usually play anything with strings after a short time. He traveled around the base in
a 1932 Rolls Royce, accompanied by a German Shepherd with his ever present, Martin Guitar. We became known as ‘The Muleskinners’ named
after a group that ‘Jody’ had while stationed in England. They recorded several cuttings under the Parlophone Label, and before England,
Jody had cut a rendition of ‘Muleskinner Blues’ titled ‘Good Morning Captain’ on the Tetra Label. This song was copied by quite a
few singers afterward in the same manner that Jody sang it. This earned Jody a spot in the Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame. This 45 single
can be had on EBay for a nominal fee. I did not make the Hall of Fame! Jody spent his remaining years in the Newport Rhode Island
area doing folk music festivals, night clubs, and he became a most proficient singer of sea shanties as well as an excellent sailor,
and an expert at martial arts.
I tried my hand at singing night spots after being discharged
from the Air Force. The groups, I was connected with, spent long hours practicing the songs we were to do on gigs. We ended up making
about 10 cents an hour after all the time jamming, begging for spots, and, sometimes not even being paid. Hank Williams thought he
had it bad!
My career was cut short when I was converted, and decided, with the help of my wife, Sharon, that I was not cut out to
be a Country Music Star! I now sing for school classes, old-folks homes, or any other person that will listen to a broken-voiced troubadour!
I have to say that I am better in the afternoon. The old folks seem to like what I do, of course, they do not hear as well as they
I have been a Shipping Clerk, Custodian, Professional Housecleaner, Hardware Store
attendant, handyman for richer folks, Bible Study Instructor, Author, Journalist, Activist, School Safety Expert, and when I retired
I was called Chief of Operations for a school district. I have used every legitimate means to make and honest dollar.
I still do ‘book talks’ for school classes and Bibliophile Societies on the value, both enjoyment, and monetary values because of
rarity, condition, and several other points. Some people have referred to me as an expert on the subject of books. I just simply tell
them; “I love books!”
I am now called ‘Poppy’ by my four grandchildren and great grand-son
as well as by a host of other adopted children, grand-children and great-grandchildren from the Asian community, Indian community,
Iranian community, Chinese community, Spanish speaking community, and most everyone else I become acquainted with. I guess I just
I owe several people for my ability to write and sing: Obra R. Simpson who
was my English Teacher in High School, Grace Wooldridge who taught me the finer points of music, Stella Shortt, my mother, who taught
me my first songs, Jody Gibson, who gave me confidence, Sterling Warner, Professor of English at Evergreen College in San Jose, who
taught me how to write correctly, William Bellou, owner and editor of the Evergreen Times in San Jose, Ca. who allowed me to write,
and Ron Cruger, Owner and editor of the Spectator Journal, who has allowed me to ‘write what I please’ throughout the past few years.
I might even try my hand at writing a full Autobiography or a book of fiction one of these days, if I ever find the time! Thank you
all for helping me.
If you notice, I did not go into the negative parts of my life, my
bouts of drinking when I was young, smoking, restlessness, and general carousing, etc. This will have to be woven into another story.
Maybe that book I have often talked about!
Hank Thought He Had It Bad
‘Til you’ve walked a mile in my shoes
things I’ve done
Don’t go judgin’ my appearance
Thinkin’ I’ve never had much fun.
Sure, I’m dressed up like a dude now
But you didn’t
know me when I
“Was poor as a country church mouse”
God knows how much I did try,
To hit every joint in Nashville,
Try some weed and
all kinds of booze,
Run around with all sorts of girls.
Back then, what did I have to lose?
Our group began in San Jose
Way back when
country wasn’t cool
We’d have to cut our way inside
Then after actin’ like a fool,
We’d cut our way back outside
Jump into our old
beat up truck
Dodge all the over-ripened fruit
Downing more stale beer just for luck.
Old Hank, he thought he had it bad,
shirts and Stetson hats
Hank even had a Cadillac
Boy could we have used some of that.
We drank our soup made of catsup
Begged like a bum for jobs we got
Tryin’ to spread our music over town.