Brother, can you spare a dime?

My much anticipated and overly planned book launch for “No Hill for a Stepper” is around the corner. Yes, there will be food, drink and music so my attendees should not be to “upset” to throw in some change. Right?

You see, the spare change is not for me. Really. All the nickels, dimes and hopefully quarters will be collected for a good cause. We are hosting an essay contest to three independent school districts here in Texas. Going with the theme of the book, students can choose between these topics: “What do you do if you are bullied”, “How do you handle difficult situations at home”, or “Interviewing a grandparent about their past”.  The winner will receive prizes including a mason jar stuffed with as many coins as we collect. Why coins you ask?  During the Depression, Cono rarely saw a real dollar bill.  It was all about coins – saving them, spending them or even making the mistake of swallowing them.

So, if my “brothers” and sisters spare their change at the upcoming book launch, at least three students in Texas will be a little richer and hopefully a lot more encouraged. As they move forward and upward in life, they can smile and stand proud and tall as they click the left side of their cheek and say “Ah, that was NO HILL FOR A STEPPER!”

Standard issue? Nope.

It’s funny how these shoes are “standard issue”.  Except for the boots, the outside casing of this uniform and my Army haircut, there’s nothing standard about me.   I didn’t grow up with “Good morning, Cono” smiles or quiet and calm conversations around the supper table. Maybe, we just learned not to speak our mind.  Especially since one or two of the minds around the kitchen table might not like our notions.  If somebody were to peek in the window at suppertime, they’d have seen four mouths that moved due to chewing, not from that risky pastime called “talking”.  In fact, if we tried to catch each word that came out of our mouths, especially at suppertime, there wouldn’t be enough to fill a soup bowl.  And if we were counting on words for our nourishment, well then, we would have starved plumb to death.

I grew up believing that conversation cost money and since those were hard times, Mother and Dad tried to save every penny they could.  So if Dad were to tell me, “Son, please leave the pie in front’a Ike’s plate,” it would have cost fifty cents and we could have put that half dollar towards new shoes for Delma.

Red boxing trunks

A couple of months ago I had gone home for a short leave, showed Dad my red boxing trunks with “Kid Dennis” stitched on the bottom left. He eagle-eyed my trunks with jealous know-it-all eyes, but when I showed him my eight ounce gloves he held them in his hands like they were newborn pups, carefully feeling the fine leather and laces. Then, for whatever reason, I said, “Here Dad, you can have them.  I’m not fighting for the Army anymore, no how.”  He looked up at me from the couch he was sitting on, rubbed his index finger back and forth around his thumb and said, “Then, next time ya come, bring another pair and I’ll spar with ya.”   Well, I’ll be damned, I thought.  That son of a bitch still isn’t done hitting me.   Hah! “Denny Dennis,” the once carnival boxer doesn’t stand a chance.

from “No Hill for a Stepper”- Chapter One

Chapter 1: San Antone, Texas: Lackland Army Air Force Base

          “You don’t really know much when you’re born, but that’s where it starts alright, whether you like it or not. When you’re just a little suckling pig on your mamma’s teat, all you really want to know is that the teat will keep filling up so you can start suckling all over again. Once you reckon the food’s always gonna be there when you’re hungry, you move on to wondering whether you’re gonna be kept safe from harm and warm when it’s cold. As you get a little older, you find out that maybe there isn’t always going to be enough to eat after all, and you won’t always be warm either. This is especially true if you were growing up during the Great Depression in Texas, in the western part, where any stranger is sized up from boot to hat—if, that is, they’re lucky enough to own both. Texans trust themselves first and foremost, and then maybe one or two of their kinfolk, as long as they’ve found that trust to be right as rain, if the sun can set on their words. I grew up trying to figure out who to put in which category: those I could trust and those never to turn my back on. I learned what I know from watching those who crossed over and the others who stayed on their own side.                      I did both.”

A Depression? Again?

I didn’t know Cono early on. I was born seven years later. But when he held me that first day, I learned right away that he was someone like me, the one from the litter who fought their way up. Slow, steady and watchful, the slow days of winter and the long days of summer kept us both hopeful that our family would have a few more dollars in their pocket. But that was back in the 30’s. And you’re telling me it’s happening again? Shoot, we thought we were all done with scratching in the dirt for something to eat. A’course, Cono and I don’t have to worry none about that anymore. We’re together in the great beyond looking down on you good folks. He’s sitting on a soft recliner cloud right now and he’s yellling over to me, “Pooch, tell ’em it’ll work out jest fine. No Hill for a Stepper.”

Cono Dennis – An Unlikely Hero in the Making

Cono Dennis, his sister Delma & Pooch - late 1930s

Cono’s coming of age story will squeeze your heart and tickle your smile. It is a story of human triumph and hard won dreams.

Who knew a young boy could be this deliciously clever while facing some of the toughest things in life?

Better yet, his uncanny ability to turn his difficulties into advantages will have you wearing a sly smile while rooting for this modern day Tom Sawyer.

A true story –