Sunday, December 23, 2018

"It Was Like Christmas"...

"Hey Winston," the little Dutch girl pleads..

In a moment of melancholy and in the time it takes to down a cup of hot coffee, Jenny told me a wonderful story about her days after World War II. Jen is a real piece of work, that's for sure. Sometime last year, I did some sketches of her from afar and posted a comment about my impression of this modern day Annie Oakley. ( Please checkout my article at: for a little background on Jenny )

Since that time, she still comes into Gus's restaurant like John Wayne enters a western bar, yelling about her triumphs of the morn, storming directly to the coffee pot. If there isn't coffee enough to pour herself a fresh cup, she proceeds to starting a new pot. Jenna, as some natives call her, apparently has carte blanche at Gus's. Every now and then, she will pull up a seat and vent her frustrations to me about some novice hired hand or a misguided owner who thinks they know more than her sixty plus years have taught her. And being a novice myself,  I have learned a lot about the equine business from her stories of how it is and how it use to be.

Jenny is one of about five women I have befriended over the years that are professional riders or caretakers of the equine. And it comes as no surprise that Jenny is the most eccentric, but this time around she drifted from her stable talk to a time when she was a little Dutch girl, wooden shoes and all, on her Daddy's farm just outside Rotterdam. As I recall, she was only six years old when the Nazis were driven out of town and aid was being airlifted to the populace.

Little Jenny recalls the villagers crying to the skies for food and medical supplies and tools to rebuild what was destroyed in the war.

"Winston," they called out as the transport planes flew by, "drop us medicine... drop us bandages!" Hey Winston, drop us can goods, drop us clean water to drink!" And the airplanes would belch out tons of supplies in parachute form. Jen remembers in wonderment how incredible this all was.

The villagers would ask the sky and the planes would drop via parachute what was needed.

"Mr. Churchill, send us more bread and milk and canned beans," they cried and the next day or so down floated life's necessities. "It was like snowflakes from heaven," she recalled.

Now, it just so happens that Jen somehow lost, at a very early age, I think she said at the age of three, her wooden wheel barrel that she used to help her grandfather clean the horse stalls. She didn't recall how it got misplaced whether it was destroyed or stolen by the Nazis, or if it was taken by a neighbor to help with the reconstruction of their village. All she remembered was that the little red barrel with one wooden wheel disappeared and she could no longer be with her grandfather and her beloved horses. So between 1945 and 1946, whenever the planes would now fly by to visit and unload their heavenly gifts, Jen run out to chase the aircraft to call out...

"Hey Mr. Winston, drop me a new wheel barrel! Drop me a new red wheel barrel, Mr. Winston!" Jenny said she figured everything came from Winston and the big airplanes, so why not ask for what she wanted.

"It couldn't hurt to ask, she said, but nothing ever happened."

With what seemed a moist eye and a softened demeanor, Jenny continued. "One day, my grandfather instructed, as my job for the day, to go the trees near the regular drop zone and wait for the planes to, once again, fly by. By now, I was pretty dejected having been ignored for so many times, but I always obeyed my elders and so I went off to wait for the big planes from Winston. Of course, when I got there, there was tied to a white parachute hanging neatly from the trees, a little, brand new red, wheel barrel.

"I could not believe such good luck. "It was like Christmas with Winston Churchill as Santa Claus!" "Life after the war was pretty tough and I was expected to carry my own weight, but having the little wagon to carry off the manure made my chore much easier."

"And how old were you, I asked, when Winston made the special delivery!"

"About six years old", she said as she stiffened back up and took a long last gulp of coffee,"I sure hauled a lot of manure with that little wheel barrel... I mean, a lot!"

"And", she added, as she got up from her chair and tucked her blondish white hair back under her baseball cap, "it never occur to me until much later that my grandfather set the whole scene up for me! He even created a note and attached it to the wheel barrel that said, "Your wheel barrel, ma'am," Sincerely, Mr. Winston Churchill.

Making no more eye contact with me, she turned and walked out the restaurant door with the same aplomb as she had entered yelling goodbyes to all who waved her farewell...

Till next time!

Copyright 2012/ Ben Bensen III

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stagecoach"…

A foggy celebration...

“It’s getting late and I think we should go,” my little brother said. “The river’s looking kinda foggy already.”

Twenty minutes later after shutting the campsite down, my brother escorted me out from the rain soaked dirt road that wound around one side of the Little Black River to the main road. We decided to take I-59 back to our homes, but when I checked my gas meter, it was pretty low. So I double blinked my brother to signal to him that I was gonna stop for gas.

I decided to take the more direct route home to Folsom. I took my brother’s advice in the morning getting to his campsite, but I did it accidentally. With the tank full, a fresh coffee in hand, and a half eaten apple fritter, I popped in a cd and took off south for home.

“Well, I been sorta worried about Santa Claus this year!”

It was the last day of the Thanksgiving holiday where many folks put up their Christmas decorations before the work week starts up again. I decided to bring along one of my patented Christmas cds that I duped from cassette tapes years ago.

“Santa’s Gonna Come in a Stagecoach instead of his trusty sleigh,” sang Buck Owens as I drove off from the gas station. The route was almost as straight as an arrow driving south from Lumberton, to Poplarville, then Bogalusa, Franklinton and finally Folsom. I figured it would take me a little over ninety minutes to get home in time for Sunday night football.

Little did I know it would take me a lot longer than that.

It was almost dark by the time I made it into Lumberton. Off to the side of the road in a culvert on the other side of the two lane highway were three cars. Lights were blinking red and blue but it wasn’t from a newly set up front yard Christmas display. Apparently, someone took a curve too fast and slid into the culvert. A tow truck was pulling the car out as a local patrol car was overlooking the operation.

As I recall, the morning trip did have quite a few curves along the way with warning signs of suggested speed limits but with some patchy fog settling in maybe the driver didn’t see what was ahead of him.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay”… Oh, tidings of comfort and joy” I sang to Chet Atkins’s instrumental version of the song as I drove away from the accidental mess.

I came up to what I perceived to be downtown, or the main drag of Lumberton. The drive was decorated by what appeared to be the city’s humble light show. It was short and sweet, but very cute.

Driving further south I saw in the distance a whirling light high above the pines. As I approached further, it was obvious the beacon light from the local airport and not a star from Bing Crosby’s, “Do You See What I See!”

Funny, because I never noticed it at all before. The beacon cast a strange light across nature’s trees and man’s square metal hangars.

It seemed the further south I drove the thicker the fog got. It was still in patches along the road and not so solid, but the visibility was getting worse. Although I thought the rain had passed during the day, it was now raining off and on, forcing me to turn on the wipers and then, turn them off again which seemed to blur the windshield even more.

It was until I almost ran over, possibly, a possum that I realized my vision could be significantly improved by having the defroster on instead of off. It certainly made a difference with wet, winding roads and oncoming pickup trucks sporting only one working headlight. 

So many times, I thought what was a motorcycle was instead a small truck. Yes, the defroster most certainly helped, but the fog was getting heavier and even though the rains had stopped, I was nowhere near Poplarville which should have been just seven or eight songs away on the Christmas cd.

Something was just not right. It seemed so simple to do. Just take Hwy# 13 south to Franklinton and then, Hwy# 10 to Hwy# 25 south.

All along the route, rural farms and home’s Christmas decorations had shown me the way through the rain and the thickening fog.

I was becoming a bit nervous and pissed off. I pulled out the, by now, stale apple fritter and attacked it occasionally washing it down with luke warm coffee. 

“Everybody helps to make the season bright, 
The houses turn on their Christmas lights at night…

“It’s worth the wait the whole year through,
Just to make happy someone like you. 
And, I’ll never outgrow the thrill of Christmas Day!”

I always loved that Beach Boys song sung by Beach Boy, Al Jardine. It kinda calmed me down as I sped up the van to find out where the hell I was. It didn’t take long…

Christmas beamed brightly on this Thanksgiving Sunday in Columbia, Mississippi especially downtown. I couldn’t believe it when I stopped in a McDonald’s to use my iPad and have another cup of coffee. 

Columbia, Mississippi?

Looking at the map, I found that somehow, some way, I had replaced 13 south with highway 13 north and was about forty miles and who knows how many songs away from where I was supposed to be.

“It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees,
They're putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace,
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”

It was the Linda Ronstadt version of Joni Mitchell’s song,“River” that came up as turned on the ignition and headed back south.

By now, the fog was just thick. It felt like a blanket that attempts to smother you in your dreams. As much as I wanted to speed up to make up for lost time, the fog was just too thick. Off in the distance were faint red tail lights that I decided I should follow to ascertain where the next turn would be.

Eventually closing in on him, I noticed it was a red, late model Ford Mustang. He was taking his time with me close on his tail. Ten minutes of this was making me crazy. It reminded me of my Los Angeles days having to tolerate slow, distracted drivers, but as I was gonna take a chance on passing him, he slowed down even more to find his house and driveway.

“Just a little bobsled we call it old Saint Nick,
But she'll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick.
She's candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel,
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel.

It's the little Saint Nick, Ooooo, little Saint Nick…

In time, I could once again see the Lumberton airport beacon which barely cut through low clouds and fog. It was almost like starting all over again! Driving through “downtown” Lumberton, I realized my big mistake where highway# 13 splits in two different directions. In the dense fog, I never saw the sign directing me to turn left to continue south.

Within no time, Poplarville, not Popularville, as I once thought it was pronounced, was in my sights… fog and wet streets notwithstanding! 

“Got laid off down at the factory,
And there time is not the greatest in the world.
Heaven knows I been workin' hard,
Wanted Christmas to be right for daddy's girl.”

“If we make it through December, we’ll be fine!”

Yeh Merle, and I’ll be fine whenever I get home. Now that we got our directional act together, it’s on to Bogalusa. Approaching that town, you can actually smell it before you see the welcome sign. There’s a paper mill in the center of town and it contributes heavily to the city’s olfactory mystique.

On the southern end of town, a skunk moseyed across the highway. Lucky for all involved, the fog was not so bad and I was able to see him in time. Perish the thought of a dead skunk in the middle of Bogalusa’s already pungent aroma.

By now the cd had once again rebooted itself and started replaying the festive vibes. The closer I got to Folsom the better the weather got. Now with Willie singing his original version of “Pretty Paper,” we were off to Franklinton. Continuing south the things that I could see, looked familiar to me. There was an antique 1940’s Chevy, I think, that was covered in decorations when I passed by it in the morning. Now, it was all lit up in sort of a haphazard way but nonetheless festive.

The colorful and sometimes blinking lights were a welcome sight. The fog, which was not so much a problem now, seemed to create a softer, kinda smeared kaleidoscope every where I looked.

In downtown Franklinton, the little Mexican restaurant across from the courthouse that we visited a year ago was no longer there. It didn’t look like anything replaced it. The courthouse was a real trip. My wife and I went there to have our passports renewed. Everyone there was so laid back and friendly. The office that we were there to see was closed for lunch. I think they left a bit too soon, but the attendant suggested a few places just down the block to have us some lunch too. The guards and the attendant apologized on behalf of their hungry employees and suggested we return around two o’clock.

Now, that’s my kinda of lunch break, ha!

Driving through downtown and crossing the Bogue Chitto River bridge, I was fog free and only a few more Christmas favorites to Folsom. 

Talk about “a Three Hour Tour!” 

One would ask why not use your GPS or let Siri guide you, and that would be a great question. But, I hate it when she burst into a favorite song to tell you to “Turn at the fork”… “Turn left at the fork!”

I must admit she did earn her eclairs in Europe, that’s for sure. But, this was such a simple drive. One that I completed earlier that morning with little problems… except when I missed the exit of I-59 and ended up at a Starbucks in Hattiesburg.

Well, turning off Hwy# 25 onto Hwy# 40 in Folsom, I was greeted with my two favorite holiday songs, Nat King Cole’s, “Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts”)… and the original song sung by Judy Garland from the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis,”…

“Someday soon, we all will be together,
If the Fates allow…
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,
So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now!”

And, have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, starting right now!

Copyright 2018/ Ben Bensen III

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Guess I'm A Button Down Kinda Guy"...

My momma taught me how to sew, so....
Ya know, there was a time when you could not find me in anything but a white tee shirt, jeans and Chuck Taylor Converse's. The Sixties came along and I can pretty much say that I made a fashion change, but only when I went out on a date.

Going to art school, I was pretty much back to the same teenage outfit always with the shirt tucked in. Only difference was the tee shirt, jeans and Converse's were usually covered in paint of one medium or another.

When I started making a living as an artist, the Perlis Shirt Company started a tongue in cheek response to the "uppity logo" of Ralph Lauren's polo player shirt by adding to their shirt a crawfish where the little polo player is located. I recall at one time Perlis advertised a polo shirt sporting an upside down roach.

Hilarious... I should have bought one. But, wearing the crawfish polo shirt to work or to deliver my presentation art to clients, I became known as the "Cajun Artist" though I'm not Cajun. It became a part of my"branding."

More than once, whether at home in South Pasadena or visiting back home in New Orleans, I was described as a "button down" type of guy. It was a moniker of sorts that I have always resented, quietly!

I knew the label was more about my personality than about the shirts that I wore. One friend knew me as the "Art Nazi" because I enjoyed aviation art. But eventually, when I began to wear glasses, I had to opt for shirts that had a chest pocket.

I got used to wearing shirts with collars.
I got used to wearing shirts that didn't require plastic inserts to prop up the collars.
I got used to wearing button down shirts in spite of my sensitivity to comments about my conservatism.

I'm a big boy now, I thought, and could give a care what people say or said.

The problem is that when one button pops off, which happens all too often, I have to sew on a replacement button, otherwise, you walk around with one side buttoned and the other loose like a "freak flag flying!" One side of your neck is conservative and buttoned down while the other side is liberally flying in the breeze. One side is red while the other is blue... if you know what I mean.

From my peripheral, I feel like I've been torpedoed and listing to one side. I feel off balance with things just not seeming right. Quite a distraction... all day long.

Safety pins, paper clips or staples only work temporarily and look cheap!

It's just one of those aggravating things to actually lose the button. If you do have a button jar like your mom used to have, you cannot find the right size button for the loop on your collar. I actually own dress shirts that provide you with extra buttons including that collar button. It is as if they know that eventually you will need to replace the button. It is like a pre-programmed defect... planned obsolescence!

It is like they know that it is time to thread a needle... or by another "button-down shirt"!

Copyright 2018/ Ben Bensen III

Monday, September 24, 2018

"How Dumb Can One Be!"

Good "how dumb can you be" Monday morning, y'all.
Last Wednesday, we attended a short talk about Post Modern furniture that NOMA had acquired. These pieces, as so often happens in art, were created as a reaction or followup to the kind of furniture Henry Miller and Ray and Charles Eames created in the 50's and 60's.
It reminded me of a time when I was Art Center, in my seventh semester, when we were allowed to peruse the employment bulletin board to make a little extra cash. Florence Kercheck, an administrator I seemed to get along with, called me about doing some work with some designers in Venice, CA.
In the late seventies, Venice was a place full of burned out hippies, transients, head shops and bike paths. My only connection with the city was that it was, once, the home of the giant plastic model company, Revell, Inc.
Shows you where I was coming from!
The square looking building on Washington Blvd was the studio of the legendary design team Charles and Ray Eames!
They invited me, 'cuz I needed the money, I guess, to create a storyboard from a scrip that they had written and sketched out for me. I wasn't sure how it was gonna be used. It turns out to be the film short, "The Powers of Ten."
"The Powers of Ten" illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. It begins with a close-up shot of a man sleeping near the lakeside in Chicago, viewed from one meter away. The landscape steadily moves out until it reveals the edge of the known universe. Then, at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the sleeping man’s hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. You can look it up at: since it is now, so well known.
Thing is, I had absolutely no idea who the two designers were until a friend, who was more into architectural and environmental design, Michael Sell, flipped out when I told him who I was working for.
"What?" he said incredulously. "Haven't you ever heard or seen an Eames chair?"
"Uh... no!"
Hearing the lecturer speak about the "new modern" as to the "old modern" just made a bit sad. The Eames's were a delight to work for and throughout the project I learned, in the very short time I was there, how to marvel at the simple things the world has already designed for us.
Sadly, one year later, Charles Eames died. Ten years to the date, Ray passed away, but for me, one lesson always remains. And that is to protect the child in you and the ability to wonder and marvel at this thing called life.
Most times, I forget that!
Third cup!

Copyright Ben Bensen III/ 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

"Tomato, Tomahto"...

How's it spelled?

Good "eclair" Friday, all bodies.
On our trip in France, we arrived in Amiens just in time for lunch. But, all we could find in the university section of the town were Burger King type fast food joints. Therese found a boulangiere called, "Nature de Pain."
It wasn't a store that fancies black leather outfits, masks, whips or chains, I found out. It was a French bakery.
We stopped and shared a salad, but I couldn't help noticing that small, soft, log-shaped pastry filled with cream and typically topped with chocolate icing. In New Orleans, there was a bakery well appreciated, especially on Sundays after mass. It was Lawrence's Bakery on Elysian Fields and they had the best eclairs I've ever had as a kid.
"I'd like that eclair," I said, pointing to the ones in the glass case. I pointed at it assuming the three college aged ladies didn't speak English. The server pointed the eclair back at me and I nodded in the affirmative.
She giggled.
"Yes, that "A-Clair!"
She pointed again and again she giggled, but this time she whispered into the other servers ears and the two other women giggled along.
"Aw, c'mon now," I said. I ain't no long tall Texan sportin' a ten gallon hat!" I said with a smirk and the best shit kickin' cowboy accent I owned.
They laughed some more as the one server bagged the tasty bit and rang me up.
"So, how do you pronounce the word, "A-Claire", I asked.
She just smiled and gave me our lunch complete with my A-Claire.
"Well, we're from Nouvelle Orleans and that's pretty much how this pastry is pronounced there."
I never did get the correct pronunciation.
"A-Clair", "E-Clair" or e'clair, who knows.
It sure was good!

Copyright 2018/  Ben Bensen III

Monday, July 9, 2018

"An Apple A Day..."

It Gets Around...

Well, Good "apple a day" Monday, all bodies.
Whew... talk about the fallout when one returns home from a two week vacation.
So irresponsible! It's not like we haven't had the time to enjoy reliving our trip together. Therese and I spent the afternoon at Giddy-Up talking about our good times and sifting through photos, but the mail, the paperwork, grocery shopping, clothes, the yard, filing away receipts, throwing away brochures... Sheesh!
One constant that has followed me all the way from London is this one lone apple. It is the last of four that I took from our Hyde Park hotel in London. I am not quite sure that it goes that far back because many of the rooms had prepackaged fruit in the room, but at one time having left Paris, I had four apples in my computer bag. I either ate the other three or they escaped somehow. This one made it through customs, TSA's, baggage checks, passport lines, underground rails, and two flights.
I had the chance to eat it in the many long boring lines one must endure to get around these days. I just never got around to eating this last one. It kinda became a symbol of our "bon voyage!"
Twenty days old and going for a record.
I made a fruit salad with yogurt this morning, but didn't have the heart to cut it up...C'est la vie!
First cup and then, Gus's...

Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Everybody's A Star... Including Captain Marvel!"

Not the guard mentioned here...

Good TGIFriday Day, y'all.

Gosh, it's been over a week since we completed our tour of Edwards, AFB. But I remember what I consider a rather cute incident that occurred as we enter the North gate of that high security airspace.

Over my "career" as an Air Force artist, I've entered, with or without an liaison, many an air base gate. The guards there are a courteous, smartly dressed, but rather intimidating maitre'd's, so to speak.
Usually dressed in camo fatigues, they are bristling with gear strapped to their person. Flak jacket, intercom, holster and pistol, "go to hell" sunglasses, billy clubs, ammo belts, and all kinds of intimidating equipment and topped smartly to the right side of the head a security forces beret... All to welcome you.
And, rightly so!
But, on our last day of the tour, we stopped to show our identification cards and was greeted by a female guard dressed in the standard security forces outfit.
Now, maybe the other guys did or didn't notice, but I sure did.
As the the guard returned our I.D.'s to Colonel Pestana, and crisply shared salutes, I noticed this guard was wearing a bit more makeup. Certainly understated, but noticeable to someone like me who kinda overdoses on all the testosterone that exists among the sights, sounds and smells of airplanes.
I even had to voice my observation to the guys.
"Gee, I guess I should've awakened a bit earlier this morning to apply my face before breakfast," I said with no response!
It all came to light when our schedule was a bit adjusted. Greeted by museum curator, Tony Moore, and apologizing for the crazies and being late, Tony mentioned, as two F-15's and one F-16 screen across the sky, that, today the base was being invaded by a Hollywood film crew shooting scenes for the new film,"Captain Marvel."
It suddenly appeared to me why the front gate security guard was so, so... so feminine!
Everybody is a star including me... First cup!

Copyright 2018/Ben Bensen III

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Aw, So Cute... Iitty-Bitty, Teeny-Weeny Ball of Trouble!"

Good "earless chocolate bunny" Monday, all bodies!
I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter/Passover Weekend and saved a bit of that chocolate bunny "for later!"
Our little nest of baby bunnies has broken camp and absconded in the night except one. There always seems to be one in the group that just doesn't get the memo till it is too late.
I let our dog, Pierre le Pooch, out Easter Sunday morning to do his 'le Poop thing, but got distracted straightening up le Kitchen only to hear le screams emanating from the garden below le kitchen window.
( I beg for your patience as I am taking French lessons online... Can't you tell? )
"That damn dawg is harming those baby bunnies again. I can't let him out of sight for a moment," I said to myself as I ran out the back door to see the damage done.
"HEY YOU, get away from that, that... that clump of grass there!"
Sure enough, Pierre had somehow found the one loner bunny hanging around waiting for the rest of the gang to show up!
My wife finally came out to inspect the bunny and do her "Aw, so cute... so soft, little biddy this, and little biddy that" Mommy kinda thing as I dragged "le pain in the ass" back inside the studio!
Later in the day, she
came back out to do some gardening and found the little biddy, teeny-weenie, so soft to pet with a fuzzy white tail... so cute bunny had split town!
And, if you think this is the end of a beautiful little 'le story, forgetaboutit!
Somewhere on this property romps five or six furry little bunnies and Pierre is determined to seek and destroy them. And, where is that little hussy of a mother? Probably, out entertaining another alpha male in the bushes somewhere!
Second cup!

Copyright 2018/Ben Bensen III