Little Johnny is Getting Old!

In the Beginning before my birth

Wilburn “Tennessee” Ryder was born in a mining camp near Copper Hill, Tennessee, November 19, 1906, the oldest of nine siblings. His father worked in the copper mines at Copperhill Tennessee. He helped his mother raise the other siblings while his father worked. As time went on and getting a job was hard to find during the depression Wilburn jumped on freight cars to get from place to find what ever work he could. He ended up in Jefferson City Tennessee and worked at the Zinc Mines. While there he met Mary Margaret Jones. Mary was going to college at the time and her father was a school teacher. Mary’s mother took care of the home on George Street where the Jones lived after selling the farm and moving to town.

Wilburn and Mary dated for a time and as time went on they fell in love. Wilburn gave Mary an engagement ring and soon after they decided to get married. Wilburn found a better job, paying more in Morristown so they moved. Wilburn sold Singer Sewing Machines and was quite good at it. He also sold pianos to help. Was not long that Mary was with child and her collage days came to an end. Months later a 9.3 pound baby boy came into this world. They named him John Hoyt Ryder. The John was for my grandfather in Jefferson City. The Hoyt was for my father Wilburn Hoyt Ryder. While still a baby, Wilburn went to New York City to work helping to build the subways, tunnels and bridges there. A while later he sent for Mary to come there too and bring me. While there I was in my crib drinking my milk and the bottle slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor. The bottle hit the floor with a loud crash and broke letting the milk go everywhere. Being somewhat of a little dare devil I managed to pull myself up by the bars on my crib and get my foot just over the top. Continuing to struggle I managed to get myself over the top and fell right on top of the broken glass. Then I must have screamed or cried very loud because mom and dad came running. They saw me lying in a pool of blood with my head split open. I guess it must have scared them a bit because they took me to the hospital very quick and there I received 18 stitches on the back of my head. Still have a big scare there today to prove that was a true story. My grandmother was very unhappy with the thought of us being in New York and mother brought me back to Tennessee.

On my mother’s side my grandfather was John Paul Jones and my grandmother was Maud Jones. They owned the house that I grew up in Jefferson City, Tennessee. They had a large farm about two miles from town and grandfather taught school in a one room school house for many years. He had received his education from the Carson Newman College in town. He also farmed the land with my grandmother and their two children Mary and Ralph, my mother and uncle. As things got tough in the 29 crash he sold the farm and moved to town. He bought several acres in town and built a house.

Early Years

After learning to walk As a baby and up to time for school. John and his life during these years. Don’t remember much before I started walking. Other than I didn’t like squash all mashed up. Yuggggg, I still don’t like squash even today. My grandmother “Maud” took in a 12 year old girl that her family said they couldn’t afford to keep. Her name was Sara and she was my best friend. As a matter of fact she put her life on the line for me. I crossed the street in front of our house and a car came flying down the road. Sara felt sure I was going to be killed and she ran like a flash of lightning and pushed me out of the path of the car. She was not so lucky and the car hit her and ran over her legs. The rest of her life Sara had scars and a limp to live with. What more can a friend do? Sara was a true friend until the day Jesus took her to himself.

Well you need to know and get that same warm feeling about the area around the place I had to run, play, learn and to be sure dream. I was at a wonderful age with the world for the taking. We had a big shed, barn, chicken lot and two big fields just for me. There were cherry trees, pear trees, apple trees and a big strawberry patch. Yep, we had roses and blackberry bushes with thorns that could pierce to the bone it seemed sometimes. I got to climb in the barn to the loft, in the trees and even on top of the chicken house. We hung burley tobacco in the barn and that was great, because I had tobacco sticks to use for my trusty horse as I rode all over the place. A branch that I broke and made my six shooter came in handy as I chased the bad guys away. It was hard times during the big depression and my grandmother made my shirts from sacs chicken feed came in.

Bread was nine cents a loaf and the movie cost a dime. Salmon patties were a main meal with cornbread. We didn’t have running water, electricity, an indoor bathroom, refrigerator, car or horse but we made it fine. We had a cistern on the back porch with a hand crank, a wood cook stove with a tank on the side to heat water for washing dishes and me, a path to an outhouse, an ice box to keep things cold and two strong legs to move along. We had a Warm Morning Stove in the living room that we put coal in to heat the house, ha ha heat the house. If you were not in the living room or near the wood stove in the kitchen you better have a coat on in the winter. I had the job of getting the coal to the house and the wood to the kitchen. When the big blocks of coal were getting low we would fill brown bags of coal dust to feed the stove. After filling a few dozen bags of coal dust we would be completely black with coal dust.

At three years old When I was three years old at a neighbor’s house, the Moore’s on the back porch I put a real chill in the air for everyone in the house. The men had been hunting that morning and left their shotguns on the back porch when they took the hunting clothes off. Well being a little boy with a lot of curiosity over to the shotguns as soon as I saw them. They were too heavy to pick up so I just played with them standing up and all of a sudden BAROOOOOOM and a big hole appeared now in the ceiling on the back porch. All the Moore family, mother and Sara thought the worst, that little Johnny would be in a pool of blood. As they ran to get me and stop the bleeding they heard “I just touched the gun and it went BANG and hurteee my arm when it jumped.” That back porch still has a hole in the ceiling.

Aunt Pearl worked for the WPA and helped folks during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program for young men from unemployed families, established on March 21, 1933, by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many in Jefferson City worked with the CCC. They built roads, state parks, soil erosion control, build telephone and power lines. The CCC had camps where the young men lived and worked out of. The New Deal ended with World War II. As Roosevelt himself said in December, 1943, “Dr. New Deal” had given way to “Dr. Win the War.”

My grandmother rented rooms upstairs to the workers building Cherokee Dam and made them lunches every day to take to work. She and Sara fixed sandwiches and a piece of fruit or cake and put coffee in a thermos flask in a bag for them to take. They fixed breakfast for them before going to work and had a home cooked meal for them at supper time. The workers built a bathroom on the back porch and the city had just run water down our street. Man that was wonderful. Now when it was cold and raining I didn’t have to go to the little house beside the chicken yard, about 150 feet from the back of the house. We even got a 30 gallon hot water tank and now had a shower in the bathroom on the back porch. Before that happened the men had to go to the barbershop to get a shower and it was twenty-five cents to take a shower there. I never got to do that. We had a big galvanized wash tub we put in the kitchen. We would fire up the wood cook stove to heat the water in the water tank on the side of the stove. The hot water was dipped up and put in the tub along with some water from the cistern. The curtain was pulled between the kitchen and dining room. Now it was bath time, Saturday night, to get ready for Sunday School and Church in the morning. That Saturday afternoon we would kill and pluck one or two chickens and put in the ice box for Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner was normally fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, greens, beets and biscuits and/or cornbread. Then it was pie or cake to round it off. Uncle Arch and Aunt Pearl came most Sundays for dinner and Clifford and Juanita came many times. After the dinner which would last at least an hour, everyone would go to the living room where a card table was set up and the rook, rummy, or author cards came out.

December 7, 1941 – Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor and I remember that day as if it was yesterday. It was dusk and the paperboy was walking down George Street shouting “Extra Extra Perl Harbor bombed”, “Read all about it”, “Extra Extra Perl Harbor bombed”. Such a quite surrounded me as a soft breeze touched my skin and it was a scary eerie feeling that evening. President Roosevelt came on the radio as everybody gathered and sat quietly paying intense attention to each word coming from that AM cackling sound that huge radio was making. I had a hard time trying to sleep that night and my prayer just did not seem to comfort as it normally did. My mind was running a hundred miles an hour trying to understand why someone would do such a thing to us. I was five at the time. Four days later Hitler declared war on the United States. Neighbors and my kinfolks were drafted or joined in to defend my country and me too. Every evening we would sit around that big radio and listen to the news of what was going on with the war. All gave some and some gave all. My uncle Grafton was lost at sea in the Pacific. Many of our neighbors lost loved ones and it was a very sad time.

Oak Ridge was built in 1942 northwest of Knoxville with a mission to create the Atom Bomb. Uncle Vincent was the Army photographer and assigned to Oak Ridge. He was like a Godfather to me and his wife, Aunt Alma, went to college with my mother. Aunt Alma’s family just two blocks from our house. We went to visit Uncle Vincent and Aunt Alma there several times. It took a month to get a pass to enter this super secret base and the Army ran the bus to enter the gate. Everyone was searched and men with machine guns rode the bus with you and you had to go to the address on the pass. Anytime you left the address on the pass you must have an escort by one of the people on your pass. This base had been built overnight and all the huts were plywood on a concrete pad and or tents. The roads were gravel and red mud. When the war was over Uncle Vincent gave me lots of patches and things he used when in the Army. He seemed to be as proud of me as I was of him.

Well mother had to go to work to help us get food to eat so she became a secretary at Tennessee Coal and Iron right here in Jefferson City. They mined zinc that was used to galvanize tin, buckets and the like. That would keep the iron from rusting and extend the life of many products. The comptroller at the mines would pick her up and bring her home from work every day. She had a typewriter at home and would do a lot of work at home too.

Grammar School years and the times. Grammar School Grades 1-6 We didn’t have what they call preschool today, we just started school when you were 6 years old. Neither did we have free lunches or a school bus if you were in the city limits. It didn’t take long to find out that you got two spankings if you were late getting in from recess. One from the teacher and one when I got home. Recess was 20 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon. There you got to play on the swing, jungle Jim, merry go round, shooting marbles or pal around with your buddies. We always solved the world’s problems at recess or at least thought we had the exact answer for any problem our world faced. Most of us carried our own lunch in a brown paper bag and those that had the 15 cents to buy lunch in the cafeteria ate there. We ate outside normally unless it was raining. All wax paper or wrappers were picked up on the way back to our classroom when the bell rang. Many of us wore shirts made from feed sacks and overalls or blue jeans. Blue jeans sold for about $2.00-$3.00. Soft drinks were 5 cents then and round steak (baloney) was the big deal on light bread with mustard or mayonnaise. Of course we had a piece of fruit to cap it off. That was lunch. Oh, sometimes we switched to peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana.

When the last bell rang I would walk home and try to avoid a couple of bullies that lived a couple of blocks from our house. I found out I was a good runner and for the most part did not have to confront them. When forced to sometimes it got bloody, but I got in my licks to most times. I still do not understand why some people like to take advantage of others. I guess they felt cheated or they were abused by someone else or their parents.

These were great times and after my home work was complete I would play outside until dark and then get to sit in front of a radio about five feet tall and two feet wide and deep. The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder were my programs. I rode many miles with them and took care of the bad guys for sure. The big thing adults talked about was the war, the big one WWII. In WWII, there was a rationing of just about everything. We had ration cards for each member of the family. Each was allotted so much sugar, gasoline, shoes and you name it. I was a little 6 year old boy, but I remember collecting newspaper, metal objects, aluminum foil, string, and other things. Almost everything was needed for use in making war items for the fighting men and women. We had to be very careful of what we used. If our shoes got holes in the bottoms, we put cardboard in them and when we could afford it we would have “half-soles” put on them. Folks had to limit their traveling, because you were limited to your gasoline stamps. I had to walk everywhere because we did not have a car so we didn’t have gasoline stamps. Even butter and margarine were rationed.

Sugar was almost impossible to get at that time. Many things were scarce because they were needed to supply the military – gas, oil, metal, meat and other foods, as an example Some products were scarce because they were imported from countries with whom we were at war or because they had to be brought in by ship from foreign places. Rationing made sure no one went hungry. Everyone was given a ration book. Each book had a bunch of ration stamps in it. Grocers and other business people would post what your ration stamps could buy that week. It was up to you to decide how to spend your stamps. Everybody had a Victory garden to grow their own vegetables to supplement the foods they could buy with their ration stamps. They were planted everywhere you could plant something. Some people planted things on window sills and on the roof in pots. Everything had value for the war effort. We had Junk Rallies to get flat irons, rakes, bird cages, electric irons, stoves, lamp bulbs, bed rails, pianos, washing machines, rubber goods, farm machinery, lawn mowers, etc. That junk helped make guns, tanks, ships for our fighting men. I had a little wagon that I pulled through the neighborhood getting things to take to the pickup area. Of course I wasn’t alone, many other kids my age were doing the same and that made us feel we were helping the war effort. Saccharin Tablets were used to sweeten things and used in drinks. The book is planned to be complete this year, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It will be announced on my blog.

Snakes And Leather – An Overland Trip To Marrakesh

According to environmentalists planes are a major factor in the destruction of our planet. The emissions from planes accounts for up to 3% of all carbon emissions into our atmosphere and we all know what that does. It’s for this reason I decided my travel to Morocco from Madrid would be done by land. Oh, and I’m also terrified of flying!

The latter admission was a reason for my unusually relaxed attitude before embarking upon this particular trip. I saddled up to my trusty military issue back pack and made my way to Madrid’s Estacion del Sur bus station feeling calm and morally proud.

The bus was to take me from Madrid to Algeciras on the southern tip of Spain, a cheap overnight journey that would get me to the Algeciras port by early morning just before the first ferries to Tangiers in Northern Morocco. Traveling overnight by bus is never life’s most pleasant experience but my handy hip flask helped me through this one. A crowded bus of Moroccan émigrés looked on as this sleepless young Englishman slowly drunk his way through the darkness of Andalucía and onwards to the Strait of Gibraltar.

The ferry, like the bus, was reassuringly cheap (yet another endorsement for environmentally friendly travel). My lack of sleep on the bus meant I spent the ferry journey laid out on the conveniently placed restaurant sofa but before I dropped off I noticed that the ferry was almost empty.

The approach to Morocco started the minute we left Algeciras as it really is very close but my first sight of Tangiers was still enjoyable as the old towns meandering steep streets were clear to the eye. I wasn’t to stay in Tangiers but it was good to see the old headquarters of liberation and excess from afar. Upon arrival in Tangiers I was immediately set upon by endless willing taxi drivers all up for a bit of haggling. The first haggle of a trip is always the best as your energy is at maximum and it’s still fun! I agreed a fair with the most persistent of them and via an exchange bureau we made the five minute journey to the train station.

Tangiers train station was peerlessly clean and the staff very friendly and efficient. I bought a ticket for Marrakesh in the second class carriage that was to prove more than acceptable. The train only required one change in Sidi Kacem but it was a long journey. The journey didn’t seem long though as I was the trains main exhibit for the stream of locals passing past my carriage. Those with a basic grasp of the English language all stopped to ask me about my life and those without giggled and offered various forms of food and sweets. The scenery is interesting without being outstanding on the way to Marrakesh but the Atlas Mountains grow as Marrakesh draws nearer and these are more than enough to occupy your eyes.

I arrived in Marrakesh at nightfall and made my way to the cheap hotel I’d booked beforehand. I opted out of staying in a Riad on account of being offered a great deal by a friend who works in a travel agency but by all accounts they are a great experience and good place to meet other travelers. They are also a good option for the budget minded traveler. My hotel was situated in the art deco quarter of Guéliz built by the French in the 1930s. Fittingly the hotel was occupied by groups of French weekenders and I must silently admit that this only added to the experience.
My first day in Marrakesh was naturally spent exploring the Souk inside the medina. Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe the souk I think eclectic is the most fitting. Within five minutes I had bought some nougat, a scarf, a bag and some tea. I didn’t want any of them but I was easily drawn into the charm and sheer professionalism of the stall owners selling techniques. I quickly wised up and spent the day walking aimlessly around the myriad of colors, smells and noises that made up the souk.

I particularly enjoyed being invited to look around endless stalls for free! The kindness sincerely touched me! Despite the ramshackle appearance of the souk there is logic to its layout and to the experienced shopper or indeed the locals it must be amusing watching the directionless tourists pass by the same herb stall for the umpteenth time each hour. Each section of the souk is designated to a certain product and this made life easier when looking for a leather jacket. The problem was the overwhelming choice and carefully designed haggling techniques I encountered in this area. Despite that I strutted away gleaming with pride having just beaten them at their own game. The stall owner no doubt celebrated the extreme profit he’d just made with a tea and cat whistle at the nearest sunburned European girl.

As the sun disappeared behind the Atlas Mountains I made my way to the main square of the Marrakesh medina, the Jemaa el Fna. It was here I had dinner as maybe a hundred food stalls were assembled with ease in the square as the sun went down. More bartering followed and I was taken in a by boy whose impressions of every English accent under the sun had me laughing in stitches. His food stall offered the standard fair of tagines and couscous and I decided to try both. The dinner was extremely cheap and these food stalls would remain my main source of replenishment for the duration of my stay. My post-dinner entertainment was provided by the endless entertainers that roam the Jemaa el Fna with their snakes, monkeys and elaborate stories of Moroccan legends gone by. I bypassed the snakes but was enraptured by a magic show narrated by an old man clearly under the influence of something other than mint tea. At end the night I joined the French residents of my hotel in a local disco and watched with wide eyes as Moroccan pop music enabled people to move in ways they’d probably never moved before.

The following day, feeling a little worse for wear, I joined a group in exploring the High Atlas where we were able to visit several Berber villages and witness demonstrations of their customs. One such village was …and here it was a delightful experience to see a culture untamed by the rapid modernization that had occurred below on the plains. The return journey went through the Ourika valley, which was a sight to behold. An emerald green stream was engulfed by sheer cliffs dotted with olive trees and random villages seemingly immune to the perils of tourism. One such village was Moulay Brahim, which is actually mostly frequented by Moroccans from afar all seeking comfort from the shrine of none other than Moulay Brahim, which is said to help female fertility problems. The male virility shrine was closed for the winter!

I spent the evening in the Jemaa el Fna again but was this time enticed by a food stall named “Lovely Jubbly”. Brilliant!

My final day was again spent in the Medina exploring the sights it had to offer. I spent the entire day walking around in the February heat and found much needed refreshment in the many tea shops that are scattered around the city. These are unashamedly male compounds of gossip and the perfect platform from which to ogle to your heart’s desire. The Koutoubia Mosque dominates the medina skyline due to the fact no building may be taller. It acts as a convenient vantage point for the inevitable moments of confusion. Worth mentioning from my walk around the medina are the dyers quarter and tanneries. Despite the pungent smells these are great examples of traditions not lost to industry and the world of leather and textiles is all the better for it. Beware of taking photos as this is the basis of the local’s argument when you’re asked to pay for the pleasure of having walked around a public place. The Kasbah and Medersa Ben Youssef were interesting oases of calm where the feeling of Islamic intellectualism and tranquility are overwhelming. After weaving my way through these, then getting lost, I returned to the hotel to conclude my visit with a night’s bemusement observing French dancing.

I returned to Madrid the way I came with a brief stopover in Gibraltar, another reference to the convenience of traveling by land. Without polluting the atmosphere I had thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in Marrakesh and seen more than I could possibly imagine in the short time I had available.

Marrakesh is a city of mayhem and ultimate tranquility. This paradox is the key to its success. The city contains a people of overt kindness laid on in abundance for an extra buck. They will frustrate you but charm you at the same time. Although not obviously beautiful it’s the atmosphere and people that make it well worth a visit. It remains a liberal city kept in check by Islamic requirements that won’t affect most tourists. What’s more it is easily accessible by land for those of us in Europe. An option you should seriously consider when making this trip.

“One Lane, Two Directions!” A Reggae-Filled Pilgrimage to Nine Mile, Jamaica

“We not comparin’, we just sharin’!” Those were the words of our guide, Gary, as he told us stories about his homeland of Jamaica while the rhythmic sounds of legendary Bob Marley vibrated loudly throughout the bus. The Zion Bus couldn’t be missed; this “country bus” was easily spotted with its brightly colorful paint job and familiar reggae sounds that emanated from its open windows that provided the only a/c on board.

Josh and I were only in Jamaica for a short time, but the activity that topped our list during our visit was to travel to Nine Mile and Mount Zion, the home and final resting place of the great Bob Marley. Both of us are huge music lovers, and we particularly enjoy reggae, so making this trip seemed more like a pilgrimage. Traveling in the rural parts of Jamaica can be tricky, so it’s valuable to have a guide. We were lucky enough to book an organized trip through a local operator, Chukka Caribbean Adventures. It was a fantastic choice because we didn’t have to worry about anything, and they did a fabulous job!

As soon as we stepped aboard the bus we were surrounded with images of Bob and his family throughout the years. Photos were inlaid throughout the bus interior and quotes, from the man himself, were painted on the ceiling and walls. When we took our seats we were handed a tasty rum punch by our driver Alan, who assured us he was NOT partaking in the beverage himself.

As we departed, Gary gave us an enthusiastic welcome and cranked up the Marley music. The entire bus gave a surprised gasp when we suddenly felt the music and realized the sound system on the bus could enable it to double as a mobile nightclub! Josh and I looked at each other with the biggest smiles and agreed; now this is how you experience Jamaica!

Our trusty driver, Allen, took us quickly away from the tourist areas and deep into the heart of rural, mountainous Jamaica. As Gary explained, in this part of the country the roads are “one lane, two directions!” So we were happy to be sitting toward the back of the bus and decided to be blissfully ignorant to the horn honking, sharp curves, and steep cliffs. Instead, we focused on enjoying the stunning views of the countryside and swaying to the reggae sounds around us.

Throughout the journey you could hear our guides and other guests singing along with the famous tunes, and Gary would interject every now and then to provide some background and history about Bob and the music that we were hearing. He would also take time to share information about the culture, lifestyles, history of the island nation, as well as local herbal remedies of the legal and non-legal kind. We couldn’t help but love Gary with his big smiling face and enthusiasm!

We made one rest stop on the way to Nine Mile to enjoy local beer and complimentary “patties” (a traditional, flaky pastry snack filled with meats and spices). When we arrived at Mount Zion we were immediately impressed with the cleanliness, organization, and conditions of the facility. Now I do have to warn you, this is Jamaica… and there are elements to the culture that some people will not be used to or comfortable with. However, it is very important to keep an open mind and remember to respect the culture and different perspectives.

After being escorted to the entrance, we were given a guided tour of the facility and had an opportunity to visit the home and final resting place of both Bob and his mother. From the moment we arrived the energy of this place was incredibly apparent; such positivity, peace, and love. These feelings just overwhelmed us, and it was easy to see why this place was so inspirational and important to the family. It was truly a magical experience that we will never forget.

On our return journey from Nine Mile we stopped again at a local establishment for a break, shopping, and some food. A lovely woman provided us with an amazing home cooked meal that she had been working on since the early morning. Jerked chicken, pork, rice & beans, as well as other local delicacies; it was scrumptious! In keeping with the local spirit of hospitality, she told us she had extra blankets if any of us wanted to stay a while. “My home is your home,” she lovingly expressed to us; and the way she said it made you wonder if she wasn’t half-joking.

Even though this was an arranged tour, we truly believe that it gave us the opportunity to experience the real Jamaica – far away from the tourist resorts. Not only did we see the beautiful countryside, but we met real people who live, and love Jamaica. We experienced the true culture of the island, danced and sang to the music, and gained an education and appreciation along the way. Overall, I feel much more in touch with the Jamaican people and culture then I ever could have imagined. And it was a journey that I’ll cherish in my memories forever.