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I managed to find a photo of the type of soda cooler we had at Heise Station. I can’t remember (that was a long time ago!) if our cooler was Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, or Nehi, but it looked a lot like the one shown here:
The ice water in the soda cooler came in handy once when my little brother, Rick, fell on a buried-in-the-dirt and jagged piece of broken Coke bottle that gouged his wrist open. He came running and screaming in the front door of the café, the blood dripping off his fingers, and one of the customers–a pile buck–grabbed him up, opened the soda cooler, and shoved Rick’s entire arm down into the ice water. Rick screamed even louder when the ice water hit the open wound, but the pile buck held his arm until the bleeding slowed and Mom and Auntie Honey could bring something to wrap around the cut. Neither mom—both veterans and POWs during World War II—was prone to panic, and somehow they managed to stop the bleeding and close the wound.This was before they signed up for Red Cross first-aid classes. Rick told me recently that the 65-year-old jagged scar still appears to be about an inch and a half long, and as far as we can tell, it healed without stitches. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. As the reporter said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Pile bucks seemed like larger-than-life characters to us kids as they worked on big construction projects and sunk huge poles called pilings deep into the ground. They were all big, friendly guys, and they drank a lot of beer. They would came into the café after work, order beer by the case, and drink it all. Once, one of the pile bucks–his name was Buck–(I thought that was pretty funny: Buck, the pile buck) asked if he could take me out to the construction site, and Mom said okay. They drove gigantic machines like bulldozers, cranes, and steam shovels. Buck showed me how to move the steam shovel’s levers to pick up huge buckets of dirt and drop them into a dump truck. I grabbed the levers, he put his big, rough hands over mine and moved the controls to scoop up the dirt and then drop it. After I rode all the different machines, Buck drove me back to Heise Station.
We walked in the front door, and Buck yelled, “Ernie, bring us thirsty pile bucks a couple of Schlitzes!” Uncle Ernie laughed and brought Buck a Schlitz. I got a grape Nehi, which was pretty good, too.
The pile bucks always laughed a lot, drank gallons of beer, and spent lots of money in the café. Some of them lived in the cabins out back and ate all their meals in our café. When we moved to El Centro a year later, I missed seeing those guys.
NEXT WEEK: THE WILDLIFE OF HEISE STATION