Tuesday, August 29, 2006


If you can remember looking at your wiggling toe bones in new shoes through one of these contraptions, then you have to be around my age!

The Miller and Brewer Company, a clothing store in Harriman, Tennessee was where I first looked in amazement at my feet inside new Boy Scout shoes. My mom insisted I wear Boy Scout shoes for the “support” they supposedly gave my feet. However, with the foot problems I have today, I am not so sure they worked! Or, maybe it was the 20 seconds of radiation I got from the 50 kv x-ray tube operating at 3 to 8 milliamps.

I was often embarrassed by my clunky, heavy, lace up shoes, especially when my peers were wearing loafers. A few years later I rebelled and got black leather loafers with a zigzag stripe of white lightning down the outside of the shoe. It was tough to polish and keep the white clean, but after the old brown Boy Scout shoes, I did not mind at all.

In 1946, the American Standards Association looked into the fluoroscopes and established a “safe standard or tolerance dose,” that the feet receive no more than 2 R (roentgens) per 5-second exposure. Children were not to receive more than 12 such exposures in a single year. However, some testing in 1950 reported doses of 1 to 175 mR/hr (60 mR/hr average), at a height of 18 inches above the floor, and 9 inches away from the sides of the machine. The exposure rates 5 feet in front of the machine and 18 inches above the floor were as high as 65 to 160 mR/hr (average: 114 mR/hr).

The poor sales personnel were not so lucky, since most stuck their hands inside the light-green glow area to squeeze the shoes adjusting the fit during the exposures, or leaning over the back, along with your mother, to peer down into the machine from the backside. Note the little black handle between the two rear viewing ports. This was attached to a long pointer that the salesperson used to point out how your “little piggies” had plenty of room!

Slowly concerns over the exposure caused most of the machines to be discontinued by 1960.

It would be nice today if there was something safe you could use, but that probably will not happen for a long time. I suppose that only narrow heeled dudes and dudettes would really have a need for it anyway.

I sure would like to have those “white lightning” loafers back! It would really embarrass my granddaughter at the ball games! I live for it!

Sunday, August 27, 2006


While cleaning out my “special things” drawer tonight I came across several belt buckles that I have saved for one reason of the other. I think I have worn them all but the Marlboro one at one time or the other, since I will never wear them again, why do I keep them? It will just be something else for someone to clean out and toss one day.

The B.A.S.S. one I got back when I was a bass fishing Watts Bar Lake, pretending to be Bill Dance or Rowland Martin, and was a member of B.A.S.S. Pro. Don’t fish anymore! Besides, if I did and fell in, I doubt I could swim with that thing on!

The Marlboro one was given to me by one of my father’s-in-law after he got it with a special 2-carton promotion package. He is gone and I do not smoke anymore and did not smoke Marlboros when I did.

The World’s Fair one I got when the big shindig was in town in ’82. The fair is gone, the Butcher’s are gone, all but the Sunsphere is gone (for now), and the “World’s Fair Beer” is too old to drink now. I thought for sure I would make a killing off the case I bought and saved. Should have drank it!

The Cobra one was special to me especially when I bought a new ’93 Mustang Cobra, but it is gone, why is it still here?

The next two, 1 brass and 1 stainless, I made while on midnight shift many years ago while trying to learn to weld. I wanted one because everyone else was making and wearing them. No one does anymore and they do not look as good as I once thought they did. So why are they still here?

The X-1 buckle probably means the most, and I wore it the longest. That was back when I had a 36” waist and I thought it looked good with my designer jeans! That was probably the last time I could even see my belt buckle! I got it by sending off something once so I could have a little something that reminded me of my hero Chuck Yeager. He is still around; he is still one of America’s greatest heroes, so I know why it is still here!

The Ithaca one may still have a reason for being – I still have the 12-gauge semi-auto, but I will probably never wear the buckle again. So, I should probably see if a “punkin ball” will go through it!

The one with my name was given to me by a fat girl from California that fell in love with me once. She is gone and I am glad, so why do I keep the buckle? Maybe it was the Pop Rocks incident!

The last one is a piece of junk the Air Force gave me back in ’64…should have thrown it out in ’68!
We should all keep our drawers cleaned out…you never know when you might have an accident and have to go to the emergency room!
Post-Script: A lot of the these buckles are actually posted on eBay now. Wow, maybe I'll hang on to them for a few more years!

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I just had to share tonight’s 32nd birthday celebration for my son at Wasabi's Restaurant in Knoxville with my readers.

I am very proud of him and his wife; he teaches and she is a pharmacists. They work hard everyday and are good God-fearing people. I also am proud of the little bundle of joy they have produced recently. She is my second wonderful granddaughter!


I love you all very much.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006


You could roll all my nine first days at school into one terrifying event and you would still not come close to the intimidation I felt the first day my Uncle Ersie put me at the front counter of his general store. Up until that day, I had only put up stock, swept the floor, and filled the cold-water drink cooler with Double Cola, Cokes, Pepsi, Nehi Orange, and Grape sodas, and Sun Drops. Some of you will remember the days when soft drinks were a nickel apiece and you opened the lid of a drink cooler, and slid your drink selection along a metal rail, bottle still in the cold water, to where you placed the drink in the bottle slot and then pulled it up through a the bottle brake that opened if you had put your nickel in. They day drinks went to six cents caused a lot more work in the store. The drink cooler was not set up for an extra penny, so the bottle brake was locked open and everyone had to pay their six cents at the counter.

There was so much to remember and so many questions to answer: Where is the soda powder? Where is the baking powder? How much is the cheese a pound? How much is the bologna a pound? You got any 10-penny nails? You got any larger bags of corn meal? How much is my bill?

Everyone had a bill book located in a big metal box on the rear counter with their respective names printed on the end tab and filed alphabetically. Farmers usually only made money at the end of the summer when their crops came in, and my uncle carried them through the lean months on a hand written bill. Some were just a few dollars while others were several hundred dollars. My uncle did not seem worried about the bottom line because in those days people paid their bills, maybe not as quickly as he would have liked, but he knew all of them, who their children were, who they had married, and what relation they all were to him and the others, and he knew they would eventually pay.

People were just trustworthy in those days, pumped their own gas out front, came in, and told us how much they owed, and we never questioned their word. You cannot do that today!

On Fridays and Saturdays my two uncles (the other on was Uncle Arvie, cousin Lawrence's dad), my Aunt Lois, and I covered the counter and running to and fro up and down the aisles filling the customer's orders, and finally sacking it all up in a "poke" and recording the total on their tab.

After about two days I became comfortable with the routine and my knowledge of the store. I began to relax and watch the people as the came and went.

I began to know each customer by name. When they said, "Put on my bill," I often did not have to ask their name. I began to know the brand of snuff or tobacco each person liked and the kind of knife each carried. There was always some knife swapping going on. There was always someone, more often than not a group, sitting out front on a wooden drink bottle cases whittling, spitting tobacco, and talking about the weather.

I remember the parking area in front of the store was littered with drink bottle tops, all mashed down against the asphalt, some up, and some down. There must have been thousands of them laying there where someone had tossed it and leaned back on their bottle case and took a long slow tug on the cold liquid to settle the day's dust.

As the days and years went by, I began to like working the store. It was comforting to see the same people every day and to work along side my extended family. I was proud of my uncle who owned the only store in that area. Everyone called him "Drummer" from the years when converted trucks used to come by farms full of life's little necessities plus ice cream, candy, and cold drinks. When the truck was spotted, someone would call out "Yonder comes the Drummer!", and everyone ran for the road to reward themselves for the hard work they had done. My favorite was a Zero bar and a Sun Drop cola! If there were no Zero bars, I got a Coke and filled the glass neck up with salty peanuts.

Years later, I would be introduced to a Middle Tennessee treat called the "Turkey Drop!" It consisted of Wild Turkey and Sun Drop - mighty good!

One event will always stick in my mind. One of store's patrons was known as the areas big cattle farmer and he often truckeHerefordig white-faced Herford around to various farms for breeding purposes. While his owner was inside the store, I can remember looking at the massive bull while sweeping up the front porch. I looked at the bull's swinging equipment and thought about how he had it made.

I told someone that if we got to come back when we died as an animal, that I wantedHereforda big white-faced Herford with a package like that. He was trucked around from farm to farm, feed often, and had exclusive rights to all the pretty cows! What a life! Years later when McDonald's came along, I was not quite so sure being a big bull was a smart aspiration!

Just now I closed my eyes trying to remember it all; I get pictures, and smells I thought were gone. I remember how I loved slicing cheese off the big cheese wheel and weighing it on the big white scales with the rolling measure dial. I can smell the sweeping compound pushed along on the wooden floor in front of the big push broom. I can hear the air compressor running in the storage area that ran along one side of the store. I can feel the light grease on the nails has I weighed and poured them into little sacks. I can hear the footsteps of all those heavy work boots on the plank floor. I can hear the snap of a good knife springing shut.

Last time I was through the area, the old store still stood (see photo), and just across the street was a new and larger, more modern store, that my Aunt Louise had built sometime after Uncle Ersie died.

I suppose she too remembers the old store and hears and smells all the memories too. Like me she does not want it to be forgotten, because they were good times, good people, and great memories of a time America trusted each other.
UPDATE: My cousin Doris Ann just let me know that Aunt Louise still uses the book to record everybody’s “tab” and the same adding machine that was used in the old store!

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I have already written three posts about my summer visits to Five Points, Tennessee as a kid: “Them Old Cotton Memories Back Home”, “To Kill a Chicken”, and “Does It Really Take an Entire Village”, but I have two more to write in the sequence; of course this one, and another to follow soon concerning my uncle’s general store.

While I did not really stay the full summer, I did usually stay from two to six weeks. Beginning at age eight, the length of time got longer the older I became, but by age fifteen the stays grew shorter because I had friends at home to spend time with by then. As evidenced with my own granddaughter, as friends and freedom to roam increases, the sleepovers at granny and papaw’s diminish.

The first three years were times of just enjoying my carefree youth and investigating farm life, and the out buildings (barn, smokehouse, well house, and chicken houses).

The barn during these early years was my favorite hangout, especially on rainy days. I explored the loft, crawling through the hay bail tunnels, crawling up and down the ladders that extended from the loft through the hay hole down into the different stalls, or into the corncrib where the corn sheller was located. From overhead I could look down on the mules, a couple of cows, and one horse that belonged to my uncle. I would often push a large amount of hay down on the mules’ heads or stick an ear of corn down to the horse.

In the later years, the barn was an even more exciting place as my cousin Lawrence and I bulldogged calves while his sister Doris Ann cheered us on. There were bruises that went along with this activity, but the worst part was being dragged through a big cow paddy that was still light green and moist! Whew, what a mess that was!

From age ten until about fourteen, I worked for either my Pa (grandfather) or my uncles chopping cotton for fifty cents an hour. Later, as I became stronger, I often worked for other farms in the area. The pay did not increase, best I remember, but the work got harder. There was a job called “grubbing” where several boys and young men gathered in a new field to pull up roots and pick up large rocks so the farmer could plow and disk the area to create a new productive field. This was hot backbreaking work, but having cousins around to cut up with made the time go by faster.

After long days in the hot fields of lower middle Tennessee, a cool dip in a creek was an incentive that dangled in front of you all day long. My cousins Lawrence and Larry Mac once arranged an over night campout at a nearby creek. There was a large campfire, lots of laughter, and good hotdogs and marshmallows. If there was beer, I do not remember, but it does seem that a group left to try and get some, but I cannot remember for sure. After all, we were teenagers by then!

On another occasion we all met at my uncle’s (Lawrence’s dad) cow pond. We were skinny-dipping, swinging from a rope, and splashing water like maniacs - one of the best times I can remember as a teenager.

One of the games was to swing out on the rope, let go, and land in the middle of a ring of boys who had joined arms to form a circle. As I remember it, I was the one out further than the others were and had just linked arms with my cousin and one of his friends, when right in the middle of the circle a “water snake” poked its head up! Someone shouted, “SNAKE!”

Just as “snake” was shouted, another boy let go the rope and splashed hard in the middle of the circle right where the snake had been. The next thing I remember is that I put my hand on Lawrence’s head and pushed toward the bank. As I remember it, I was the first naked boy on the bank, having nearly drowned my cousin!

Middle Tennessee is also known for its thunderstorms. Anyone who lives in that part of the country, including northern Alabama and Mississippi, that any respect for tornados, has a “storm cellar!” My grandparents and uncles all had their own storm cellar. The cellar doubled as a cool place to store canned beans, beets, peaches and the like.

A storm cellar is normally a concrete structure buried in the ground with only about twenty-four inches of the cellar sticking above ground. There are two to four three-inch vent pipes for ventilation sticking up on top with cone shaped vent covers to prevent the rain from entering. An opening on one side allows entry through the dirt bank into the cellar. The opening is covered by a door that is covered with a piece of tin roofing that encloses the cellar.

Inside, the cellar is about ten to twelve feet long by about five feet wide. The walls are lined with wooden selves on which sit Mason jars of canned vegetables and fruit. There is a kerosene lamp for light and there is a wooden bench on which to sit during visits or through storms.

At the first sign of a “bad cloud” (that’s storm to you Yankees), everyone would head for the cellar shouting, “It’s coming up a cloud!” to anyone they passed. I remember sitting in the glow of the lamp eating canned peaches as the wind howled and rain beat against the tin door and vent caps. It was a very secure feeling sitting in the amber light with your Aunt Lois’ arm around your shoulders.

Lawrence’s mom, my Aunt Maudie, was probably the most afraid of “bad clouds.” She was usually the first in the cellar and the last out. Once she was caught by surprise by a storm and decided it was too late to go to the cellar. They looked for her the next morning and found her asleep in her room on a “palette” with her head sticking inside the closet and her feet extending into the room. Her family had a good laugh, but she, now 101 years old, found nothing funny about it. She had evaded another “cloud” and was proud of it. Perhaps this is why she has reached such a mature age!

My memories of the farm are good memories and I would take nothing for them. My brother, who is ten years younger, never really got to experience farm life, at least as I did. He does not have memories of “coal oil lamps,” cellar visits, “slop jars,” “outhouses”, tin roofs and feather beds, coal fired stoves and rosy-red vent pipes, trips to the barn with dad (Messing ‘Round the Barn), country cooking, or even the old folks that started it all.

In only ten years, the old ways were forgotten, and a new age began. I sure do miss the old ways and the old folks, but mostly the old values.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


If you have been reading this biographical blog, you know that I first lived in a trailer in 1954, but that was only a temporary situation when my mom and I stayed the summer with my dad in Paducah, or rather Kevil, Kentucky while he worked at the government’s gaseous diffusion site there.

My family abandoned the traditional frame house in 1956 when we moved to Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Dad had resigned himself to following the Tennessee Valley Authority construction work as an electrician and bought our first “house trailer,” I think it was an Elkhart model made in Indiana. It was blue, white, and just 8-feet wide and about 35-feet long. There were two bedrooms and my brother’s baby bed sat in the alcove space in front of the back door.

Besides the scary moment when the lady scared me during the Wolfman movie, the only other thing I remember about the trailer was that mom almost caught it on fire one day went the pilot light on the oven went out and the propane flowed out and ran invisibly underneath my bed, which was nearest the kitchen. When she struck a match to light the oven, it flashed over and almost cost us the trailer. However, it apparently did not cause much more than some singed hair and life resumed.

We lived in that trailer until we moved to Florence, Alabama. During that time dad purchased a 10 by 48 footer that was oddly painted brown, golden-yellow, and white. I remember this because mom insisted we wash and wax it once a year! To us this was a mansion of great proportions! There were still only 2 bedrooms, but everything was much larger and the kitchen and dinning area were located in the front section, with the living room located mid-trailer, and now the washer and dryer were inside.

Two other trailers come to mind, between this one and the next one my family owned, but they were only rented for the summers: one was in Birmingham, Alabama, the other in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

I do not remember too much about either trailer, but I do remember the trailer in Birmingham had a foot peddle to flush the toilet and we often got called down for kick starting the toilet just for the fun of it.

However, we lived in the brown, golden-yellow, and white one until I left home for the Air Force in 1964, at which time my brother got full custody of our bedroom. I remember that bedroom, because my feet extended into the hallway and every time someone passed by, my feet got brushed and I woke up.

I also remember sleeping with my brother and giggling and poking at each other almost every night. Once dad told us to quite down and go to sleep and said he did not want to hear another peep out of us.

Well, that recalled a story from my mom who slept in a room with at least 4 siblings and they were told to do the same one night and that if another “peep” was heard they would all get a spanking. Well, someone said “PEEP” and they all got it! So, my brother said “Peep” and we got it!

However, in the dark my dad could only see general shapes. I raised my leg up slightly, deflecting the burnt of the belt licks and my brother and I screamed as though he was killing us. He soon tired and felt satisfied we had learned our lesson and left the room reminding us to “go to sleep.” It was all we could do to keep him from hearing us snicker under the covers with our faces muffled against our pillows!

While I was in the Air Force, maybe in Vietnam, mom and dad bought their last trailer. It was a grand 12 by 65-footer from Norris. They were made not too far from where we lived in Norris, Tennessee. They even got to visit the factory and watch some of the construction. Dad was so proud of the real 2X4 and 4X4 wall construction that he could talk for several minutes about how much it was like a “real house.”

This trailer seemed like home to me mostly because I had my own bedroom in the front of the trailer, but also because it was my last home with the family. I only lived there only a short time before I married and moved out.

Just a few years before my dad died, they bought a lot in a residential area, took the wheels off, put it up on a block foundation, put aluminum awnings on both sides, and made it appear as a much like a real house as they could. It was a nice place and because they tore an old eye sore down, even the neighbors welcomed them to the neighborhood. The place was full of flowers, a garden, children playing, and mom continued to wash a wax the trailer until it was sold some five years later and a permanent house was built on the lot.

As I look back, I have to say that I am proud of my “trailer trash” past. The people that traveled the country in the late 40s, the 50s, 60s, and 70s helping build power plants, dams, and secret government research sites were a different breed of folks. In a way they lived the end times of the American pioneers and just followed the work. They pulled up stakes, jerked the kids out of school, and just moved expecting only better conditions and better pay. They were welders, electricians, boiler makes, pipe fitters, carpenters, masons, and all the other craftsmen and labors that built a better world for us all.

They did not live in trailers because they could not afford better, but because it was easier to move their families and follow their work. They did not sit around and let things grow up around them, rust, and fall down around them. They were proud of their little home on wheels and their pride was evident to those that passed. Evident in the mowed grass, the brilliant flowers that grew from seed they saved and moved with them, in the waxed trailer and car, and in the laughter of the happy children that lived there.

They also took their values with them and passed it own to their children - the boomers of today. These people, our parents, still valued God and family, friends, and this country. The worked hard for what they had and took care of it, and instilled the same pride in their offspring.

In my mind they are a dying breed that is not being replaced, and dying with them is our sense of values. And deep in my heart I know that you are only “trash” if you sit by and let things that should be valued slip away, and you do not have to live in a trailer to let that happen.

Monday, August 14, 2006


First Grade - Lawrenceburg, Tennessee
Finished First Grade – Harriman Elementary - Harriman, Tennessee
Second & Third Grades – Walnut Hill Elementary – Harriman, Tennessee
Fourth Grade – Harriman Elementary – Harriman, Tennessee
Finish Fourth Grade – Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Fifth Grade – Shwab Elementary – Nashville, Tennessee
Sixth Grade – Florence, Alabama
Seventh, Eighth, & Ninth Grades – Waverly, Tennessee
Tenth Grade – Florence, Alabama
Eleventh Grade – South Harriman, Tennessee
Twelfth Grade – Harriman, Tennessee

I attended these eleven schools in my first twelve years of education. Discounting for there being some comfort from at least a few familiar faces in some the classrooms, they collectively represent nine first days at school. There was no psychology in those days, so believes my mother, but regardless of what my mother says, it did exist to me and these were very traumatic events in my life. She thinks all the moving around and the first days of school were an exercise in character building. “All that psychology and trauma stuff is just in your head – get over it!”

“But momma, that’s why I don’t have any real friends outside of family. I didn’t grow in the same place with anyone!”

“Why, there are kids that would have loved to move around like you!”

“Well, I wish we’d brought some of them along, maybe now, I’d have a friend or two.”

Seriously, I would have never made friends at all had I not been so darn good-looking and witty. Instead, I would have run from the school buildings screaming and hidden out in the woods and/or hills nearby.

I did make new friends along the way, but I have no idea where there are today – did they ever leave that little town, did they ever think about me as I thought about them? Probably not, and honestly, I did not waste much time on them either.

Two of the most intimidating first days at school were the transitions made in the middle of my first and fourth years of school.

The first grade was made more terrifying by the mere fact it was my first year in school. Not only did I have to endure leaving the comfort of having my mom nearby twice in the same year, but also all those strange new faces magnified my isolation, embarrassment, and fear. I remember standing in front of the class, hearing the soon to be familiar announcement “Everyone, this is Mushy (not his real name). He is new here so be nice to him and make him welcome”, and breaking out in full face contorting, lip quivering, sniffling, air-sucking, snot and slobber dripping bawl - right in front of God and everybody!

Luckily for me, the teacher, a handsome redhead, if memory serves me, took me into her arms, lifted me onto her lap, and held me for a few minutes. During this time, her son, who was also in the class, got very jealous, and came up to her side. She lifted him onto her other leg and sat there holding us until we calmed down.

The transition in the middle of my fourth year was also a cultural transition. We had moved from the Deep South to Indiana, and since my dad was now working construction as an electrician for TVA, we bought our first “house trailer.” A “trailer” is not to be confused with today’s “pre-manufactured home,” these were small and the wheels stayed on, aired up, and ready to roll! So, not only was I knew, from the South and had a strange accent, I was also “trailer trash!”

It took me a few weeks to make friends there, but somehow, maybe curiosity about and the amusement of my accent actually helped win a few over. I also took a lot of ribbing about “losing the war” and words like “supper and yawl,” but I overcame the abuse with a few burning phrases of my own.

“You go’na eat supper? That’s dinner man!”

“Yawl go eat what you want to eat and I’ll eat what I wa’na eat.”

“Yeah, well, ‘yawl’ lost the war Johnny Reb!”

“Yeah, well we thought yawl was fightin’ fer our women, so when we found out who yawl was really fightin’ fer, well, we just quit!”

They were usually left stammering around for some appropriate comeback, but it never seemed to come.

But first days at school are distressing and there is no one to go through it with you. You stand alone, seemingly defenseless and naked, before a class of students who moments before may have hated each other, but now have the common cause of mistrust and turf defense to bond them together against an outsider. To them you are there to make them look weak or dumber than they already were, or to make them look stronger or smarter than they were, but they do not know which yet. You are there to take their girlfriends or to bust up a perfectly good clique – “and we can’t have that.”

So, in comes the teacher to save you and announces, “Everyone, this is Mushy (not his real name). He is new here, he lives in a trailer down by the railroad, and has just moved up from the Deep South, so be nice to him and make him welcome.”

Saturday, August 12, 2006


There’s a new kid up the street
They moved in the Jones’ old place
She’s got hair as red as fire
And she’s got freckles all over her face
She smiled at me when they passed
Had teeth like a jack-o-lantern
Looked like ever other one was missing
And one eye was crossed as she turned
Let’s go watch her playin’ in the yard
See what she plays with all alone
Look at the old worn out box and doll
This ain’t where she belongs

Jackie, Jackie
is that your name
Jackie, Jackie

That sure is tacky
Jackie, Jackie
Is that your only friend

Making mud pies on a cardboard stove
Talking to her doll in a make-believe tone
She ignored us as we teased and teased
Practicing for the future as she played alone
She had more feeling than anyone there
Wiped away a tear as she turned away
Let’s mess up her playhouse and run
Then go back to my house and play
Leave her alone, let’s get away from here

Don’t side with her, or you’re dead
One threw a rock as I jumped the hedge
Grabbed a mud pie and hit Dixie in the head

Jackie, Jackie
is that your name
Jackie, Jackie
My new friend
Jackie, Jackie
Your only friend
Keep you head down
Here they come again

Jackie was a real person, a real playmate of mine who moved in after the “doctor games” had ended. I made a life changing turn in my life that year, somewhere between nine and ten years old. Besides giving up sex (inside joke for those that have read the above post), I began to have feelings for others outside my family. Maybe it was because I was still an only child at that point and knew how it was to be lonely at times, but it was at that time in my life Jackie moved to the neighborhood.

I wrote the simple poem (above) some thirty years ago, still thinking about Jackie and wondering if I had done enough back then to give her some amount of confidence in her life to help her step out and be something special. That was fifty-one years ago and our families stayed in touch for about ten years after that, but I only remember seeing her once after we moved. We visited for about an hour at her father’s “quick check” store in Nashville.

She was probably the most teased and tormented kid I ever knew and it did something to me. I had real anger inside me when the other girls picked on her and made fun of her hair, missing teeth, and lazy eye. That was the motivation for another “beast” event (see August 7th post) in my early life.

The other girls (you remember there were no boys in my hood) threw rocks and called us names for weeks after I broke ranks and joined her side of the hedge. Several times even I was beaten up by the older and much larger girl that was the ringleader of my former friends. Sometimes Jackie and I both were afraid to come outside and play and our parents knew it. They often spoke of it to the other mothers, but nothing seemed to matter – the heckling, name-calling, and occasional slap fights continued.

I did not have a “carry” permit then, like I do now, but I did carry a bag of rocks for protection – mostly they were just a collection of my favorite rocks, but deep inside I knew I would have to part with one someday soon. One in particular, was nothing more than a sharp flat piece of red terracotta drainage tile, about three inches long and very sharp. I rolled this rock repeatedly between my fingers, down inside the bag, as I nervously walked between my house and Jackie’s for comfort.

“Big Dixie” stepped out from behind a bush and yelled at me in a teasing tone, “Where’s your girlfriend?” She then threw a rock in my direction and bent down for another.

When she straighten back up and turned toward me, like David in the Goliath story, I took aim and hurled the red tile in her direction, not expecting it to hit her. However, if I had walked over to her and pushed it against her head, it would not have gone any straighter into her forehead than it did!

The blood, as do most head wounds, poured profusely. She did not scream or let on as if she was hurt until she saw the blood on the hand she used to check her brow – then it sounded as if I had shoved a splinter up under her fingernail!

I actually felt sick at that moment. I thought I had seriously injured her and that she would die and I would really get a beating from my dad. She and I both ran home screaming as we went.

I ran into my house and began to explain to mom what had happened. I could tell mom was busily assessing her next move, as I sniffled and wiped snot through the details.

Dixie’s mom rushed her to the hospital where she got several stitches to stop the bleeding and a tetanus shot.

The very next day our moms discussed the incident over the backyard fence to determine the appropriate resolution. This was the way such incidents were handled in the 50’s – no lawyers, no guns, and only a little cussing!

It was decided that I had to be punished and that Dixie and her mother had to witness the execution. Lucky for me the punishment was allowed to take place in my mom’s bedroom that was in easy earshot. Only a window screen was between the witnesses and us, who stood fifteen to twenty feet away behind a fence that separated our yards.

Now the other thing in my favor was that mom knew I had been terrorized and the retaliation had been provoked. She really hated to punish me for standing up for myself and, in a way, for Jackie. On the other hand, she did not want me to think hitting and nearly blinding people was the right way to handle arguments. In that infinite “horse sense” she has, she devised a plan.

She took me into the darken bedroom and began to yell at me and tell me exactly what I had done wrong and that she would not stand for it ever again. She ranted and raved on for minutes (seemed like hours to me) and I was actually being beaten pretty well mentally. She picked up the belt she used normally and began to fold it and prepare for the corporal punishment. I began to dance the innate ritual dance of a child about to be whipped, anticipating the lashes, as if that would ward off the pain!

Still yelling so she could be heard, she leaned over grabbed my head and pulled it toward her in apparent anger and I flinched. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I heard her whispering in my ear, “Yell and scream like I’m killing you!”

At first I did not realize exactly what she meant until she struck the belt hard against the top of the bed, making a loud popping noise. My eyes widened as my brain quickly reacted and I screamed bloody murder! I screamed and begged her to stop and she kept hitting the bed as I danced around the dark room for several minutes.

Finally, after I should have been dead, if I had actually been hit that hard and that often, she stopped, said a few more choice words, and left me laying on the floor pretending I was in pain and crying – should have gotten an academy award!

Mom went outside and walked up to the fence breathing hard from all the “acting” and bed beating and again apologized to Dixie’s mom, who stood there very pale and wondering if I would make it! “Okay, ah, no ah, problem…uh just don’t let it happen again – please?”

When mom came back in she lowered the window and took me by the shoulders, shook me firmly, and said, “I’m not going to whip you this time, I’m just going to talk to you, because I know how that girl is, but don’t ever do that again or I’ll beat you worst than this sounded today – okay?”


From then on, I was often known to beg, “Please don’t whip me this time, just talk to me!” It never worked again.

Jackie, Jackie
My new friend
Jackie, Jackie
My new friend
Keep your head up
They will not come again

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Mama told me when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say.
And if you do this
It'll help you some sunny day.
Oh, take your time...
Don't live too fast,
Troubles will come and they will pass.
Go find a woman, oh baby, you'll find love,
And don't forget son,
There is someone up above.
And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
Baby be a simple, kind of man.
Oh, won't you do this for me son,
If you can?

SIMPLE MAN - (Gary Rossington - Ronnie VanZant)

My mother and I were very close, at least up until the time my brother was born, but I at least got to enjoy ten years as the center of attention. We spent many nights lying in bed discussing life and one of the best times was when we decided on a name for my brother. My dad often worked out of town and only came home on the weekends, at which time I spent the night in my folding/roll-away bed in the living room.

It was kind of nice getting to help chose a name for your brother. Mom liked Wade, I think because of a family friend who owned a dry cleaners business in town, so the decision was what went well with Wade. I had a good friend at school whose name I always liked, much better than mine, so we tried it – Wade Dennis, no, Dennis Wade, yes…perfect! It was settled, and it turned out much better than being named after your mom’s school bus driver, as was I!

Mom has always been a guiding light for me. It was not through her higher education, because I do not think she ever graduated from high school, but through her innate sense of common logic. I guess, to put it plainly, I would say she just knew what made the most sense in any situation – basic common or horse sense. She remains my source of right from wrong - the root of my moral fiber.

The first lesson she taught me was always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

This life lesson began innocently one day when I was about seven or eight years old. A matching curtain and sofa slipcover salesman had visited our downstairs apartment and made a failed attempt at selling mom. She side-stepped him by saying she needed time to think about it, so he left promising to return the following week to discuss her decision. I could tell mom was glad he left and she mentioned to my dad that she just did not like the man.

The next week soon came and as mom started through the apartment she noticed the salesman’s trouser legs coming down the steps to our basement apartment. In a whispered shout she told me to come to her side and then shoved me into the bedroom. Down behind the bed she pulled me just as the salesman knocked on the door.

“Shhhhh” she said, “be very quiet.” We laid on the floor and listen to four or five frustrated knocks on the door, but he eventually gave up and left. Mom and I watched as he walked up the steps until his legs and shoes finally disappeared.

It was then I got to ask why. “Because, I don’t won’t to buy his curtains and I just don’t like him.” That was good enough for me and did not ask any more questions.

Mom and dad discussed the incident at supper and after saying it out loud again and thinking about it she decided that she had not done the right thing. “Next time he comes I won’t hide from him and I’ll just be honest about it.”

A few weeks later I was playing up in the front yard by the street when the salesman pulled up and got out of his car with his big bulky bag. As he came through the gate into the yard and started toward the steps that led down to our apartment, I said proudly, “Hey mister, go on down…my momma said she won’t hide from you this time!”

The second lesson came later in life and was two-fold: you never know who is watching and you represent your mother out in the world!

Did your mother ever tell you “A little birdie told me” when she found out about something bad you had done? Well, mine did and I hated that little bird. I suppose that is why I shot up so many tubes of BBs in my day with the old Red Ryder!

That little dirty birdie kept me in line up through grade school, but in high school she had to improve the psychology by telling me about people that had seen me out and about, and what they thought of me. “Oh, Ms. Jones saw you yesterday and she said you were a perfect gentleman.”

“Huh? Ms. WHO? Where?”

“Oh, when you were downtown I suppose. Did you see her?”

“Ah, no…who is she now?” All the time I am going over what I had done the day before and if it was good or bad!

I realized that I was a witness in the world to the kind of mother I had. If I did wrong, it reflected on her. I still got into things I should not have, but I was very careful and very afraid that someone would see me and tell my mom. But worst of all, that they might think she was not the perfect example of a mother.

That is what witnessing is all about – if you do wrong and you have been out there purporting that you are, oh say a “Christian”, then you are reflecting poorly on the perfect example.

Monday, August 07, 2006


It has been a life long fight that I think I have just about won. A “beast” within me that has wanted to destroy my life by pushing those I love away has reared its head time after time. Its existence is evidenced by holes in walls, dents in refrigerators, near road rage, bloody fights, and broken hearts. However, of late I have mellowed out, leashing the beast, but not quite caging him. I am in control now and only the worst of circumstances could ever loose him again.

The beast within first appeared on a playground when I was eight years old. An innocent game of “for keeps” “ringer” marbles complete with shooters, cats-eyes, and steelies resulted in a little disagreement and shoving. Before I knew it I was entangled with a fellow shooter and rolling around on the ground with a crowd of playmates gathered around shouting “Get’em”!

Besides my often-embarrassing over-productive forehead sweat glands, an easily bloodied nose cursed me all my youth. I could just rub a slight itch on the end of my nose and the blood flowed for several minutes. My wrestling partner rubbed across my nose going for a headlock and the damn broke. He immediately released me, finding blood on his arm and jumped up. I sat up and let the blood drip off my nose onto the ground.

Everything would have been fine and the beast would have stayed inside had he not pointed at me and said haughtily “Look! I won! I beat him! His nose is bloody!”

Someone laughed and agreed with him and the beast was born. I jumped up, catching the former wrestler by surprise. Before he could react I had him by the throat, on his back, and his nose slammed hard with my fist. The kid finally focused and then zoomed in on the drop of blood forming at the end of my nose. His eyes widened as it dropped right on his nose and I splattered it with my fist again. The second drop was followed by another blow and then another, splattering and mingling both our bloods all over his face and my fist.

For some reason, the third graders became aware that the boy was not breathing well due to the strangle hold I had on him. A couple of guys pulled me away and the boy sat gasping for air, much as I was, but for different reasons. I actually wanted to kill the boy and may have had something not moved the others to react. The incident scared me and haunted me for the rest of my life and every time I allowed the beast its freedom, I remembered and became even more ashamed.

I even used the incident in my fictional book some thirty-five years later (Chapter 2 – Cross+Hairs). It was frightening to me, as I wrote that such a violent true-life incident fit right in with the character of a serial killer.

It (the beast) is there, right below the surface, waiting to pounce in all of us. The difference between the true violent person and us is that we can control him. Some of us can learn how to and others cannot. The only problem is that it takes years to learn, in most cases, and bad things can happen before the lesson ends.

Gaining control of the beast is one of the great blessings of aging!

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Well, it's not Sunday yet, but here's my goes out to someone special:

How do you survive as an only child, or as a lonely person? You have to find someone to talk to, and maybe someone who will give you a hug at just the right time. But it was a little difficult in my situation, but I worked it out in my own way.

I was born in a little town in North Alabama, in 1946, in my great-grandfather’s bed. Mom had gotten too impatient at the hospital and came home early. My dad gave ol’ Doc Cotton a five-dollar bill for his trouble. I was an only child until my brother came along when I was ten. As do many only children I talked with myself and spent hours in the company of imaginary friends. I even knew at an early age that I was the marrying type. I wanted to be needed.

I often pretended to be Flash Gordon as I played on mother's bed, and fiercely protected a pillow propped against my back, as I fought off all kind of evil aliens. The pillow was Dale, Flash's beautiful girlfriend, and just as real to me. I was there for her, and she was there for me.

My family moved on the average of every 1.3 years, which meant I attended nine different schools in my first twelve years of education, it was hard to get to know someone well enough to let them inside your head. I used humor to break the ice during my many first days at school, or when meeting new people. And even though I could not carry a tune in a bucket, I have always used music and movies to validate my feelings, and it still seems to work today to a certain extent. However, today I have found a better way to cope with loneliness.

"One is the loneliest number you'll ever do,” is a line from a song by Three Dog Night. This and songs like, "Tears of a Clown,” and "Tuesday is Gone" were songs I easily identified with. I was "one" for many years. I think this had a lot to do with me latching on to God by age fourteen. I could talk to Him at any time. He got me through the dark and lonely nights in Vietnam, as I stood post on the airfield at DaNang. He helped me through the University of Tennessee, and was with me as I drove back and forth from forty miles away for three solid years - alone.

It was to God that I held my only son up to, on a beautiful starlit night, just like Kunta Kenta, in the movie “Roots,” and asked that He might use him in is work. He also helped me when my first marriage ended in divorce, after the sin of pride invaded us both. This was followed by a brief marriage born out of loneliness and lust that was barely consummated. Having been raised and baptized a "good" Baptist this second mistake nearly ended my life.

In a drunken fit and rage born of loneliness, I hugged a shotgun and contemplated the worst. After realizing that it would be my mother who would find my brains in Picasso like patterns on the wall, I quickly threw the shotgun aside and went boldly before the throne: "You said you would never put on me more than I could take...well this was almost it. I can't handle it anymore! You've got to take care of it from now on or I won't be responsible for what happens."

It was barely two weeks later, after being pressured into attending a class reunion, that I was prodded into speaking to Judy, whom I had secretly admired through my junior and senior years in high school. Since then Ms. Judy and I have not been apart in twenty-six years. And since then I have not done anything without consulting my Heavenly Father.

One is not a lonely number anymore. Judy and I are one, and you see, He is One too! The difference between what one was and what one is now, is His ONE includes us all. We are all the same. We are all His children.

I am only telling you this because God asked me to. I encourage you to seek friendships that are joined as One. Seek like minds, like goals, and warm hearts burning to share love, as He first loved us. I do think we are failing in the instructions of Paul. We do not greet each other enough in “an Holy kiss,” and I submit that you cannot give a proper kiss without first giving a proper hug!

So how do you survive being lonely? Find a buddy, talk to them, hug them, and most importantly, keep talking to your daddy, as a friend often refers to God. He will be what you need. You might even try going to Church, joining a social club, or even start a blog! Yes, you will be surprised at the friends you find in the blogging community. You will find brothers and sisters with common interest and experiences are what you need. And start greeting your friends with a hug and maybe “an Holy kiss,” at least on the cheek!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Great-grandpa Johnston remains one of the most memorable characters I ever met. He was in his nineties, wore a black wide-brimmed felt hat - adjusted evenly over each ear, black wool trousers – held up with black suspenders, and a white dress shirt most days; all of which contrasted with his snow-white handlebar mustache.

To me, he was a legendary artifact out of the old west and could have easily been since he was born in 1866. I suppose it was the black hat he customarily wore that first put the cowboy ideas in my imagination. I have since discovered, besides running a large farm, he supplemented his income by driving freight and supplies between Lexington, AL and Lawrenceburg, TN by wagon. Therefore, this just seems to cement my idea of him as being from the old west days – I can see him now, black hat and all, hollering “Gid’up there!” as he traveled a dusty road through the badlands of northern Alabama!

I also heard tales that he took no crap from anyone in his youth, so he could have easily lived up to my expectations. I do not think they actually carried sidearms in little Alabama towns as they did out west, but with his usual attire, all he needed in my imagination was a silver star over his heart, and a Colt 44.40 strapped to his side.

It is purported that Jesse James rode through Lexington once; some say he actually robbed the bank there, but a holdup in Muscle Shoals is all that is documented.

I was born in his bed, quite an honor for me, on his farm near the Alabama/Tennessee state line, and we must have stayed with great-grandpa and my grandmother (his daughter) for several weeks after my birth. My mother was raised on this farm and, as the story goes, my dad walked fourteen miles (round trip) from his home in Tennessee to see my mom several times a week while they were “courting.”

At meals was the only time I saw great-grandpa take that black hat off. I remember the red ring it left behind on his skin just below the snow-white hair that matched his mustache.

He loved his coffee, biscuits, and gravy, both of which caused him considerable trouble with this “tache!” He always “saucered and blowed” his coffee, never using the cup, and then he ritually wiped each side of the handlebar with his napkin, tweaking each end before returning to eating. The gravy, of course, cost him much more effort, but he only slowed briefly to wipe and twist it clean.

I can remember his slow bites, how he chewed long, savoring each morsel, and a little skin tag on one of this eyelids that I watched go up and down when he blinked. Strange the things we remember sometimes about those we love.

Great-grandpa was also a thumb twiddler, he would sit for hours on the front porch, with his fingers interlocked - the thumbs circling around and around, only touching at the last joints, as he watched grandchildren, the traffic, and the day go by. Mostly, he twiddled his thumbs toward his fingers, but sometimes he would reverse them, and on special occasion, when he knew I was watching ask, “Can you do each in opposite directions?” It can be done, but that causes stress instead of relieving it!

If you never tried thumb twiddling, then you are missing a very therapeutic activity. Those that used to know me when I worked know that I often sat and listened to their ideas, rantings, and circumlocutions as I slowly twiddled my way through the BS meetings. What they did not know was that my great-grandpa Johnston saved them from many an emotional tongue-lashing!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


My mom’s mother and father divorced back in the late forties, which was all but unheard of then. My grandfather left my grandmother in northern Alabama, with my mom and her 7 siblings who all lived on my great-grandfathers cotton farm and went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to seek work. Oak Ridge during the war years was a change of live for many farm families in the southeast. They went from working the farm and doing familiar tasks to doing jobs that were completely new to them and completely new to the world as well.

Oak Ridge was a sort of boomtown then, and it, like the areas around Los Alamos, NM and Hanford, WA, provided a “gold rush” of new jobs to poor people trying to eek out a meager living during a war and not that long after the depression.

Granddad applied for work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and at the time they were only hiring craft people and he was asked if he could do carpenter work. He said “Sure, I can do that,” all the time knowing he was not a qualified carpenter. Granddad was told to come back the next day to qualify for the craft position.

He borrowed a book from a guy he met in the barracks where he was living and stayed up all night learning how to square a building. Luckily for him, he was given that exact exam the next day. He retired 25 years later as a respected “carpenter” having learned his skill as he went.

I respected his drive, resourcefulness, and determination. Years later, while also working at the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. I applied for a “planner and estimator” position that worked with the rigger and pipe fitter crafts. I did not have to do either type of work, but I did have to issue move instructions for hoisting and lifting using the rigger codes, and order materials for pipe fitters. I knew most of the rigging work already, but knew nothing about running pipe. I got wind from a friend who interviewed the day prior to me that there was a “qualification” test during the interviews.

I stayed up all night and memorized “travel and run” formulas and things like that. I aced the exam the next day and my future boss complimented me in front of a group of co-workers. A lady who was very jealous commented that I should have done well because “my friend” had given me all the answers!

I was shocked and the perspective boss took it that I cheated on the exam. In reality, I only knew there was a test and studied. However, I did not get the position, BUT I had successfully emulated my granddad – he would have been proud.

We often visited granddad in his little apartment in the WWII barracks where his carpenter skills provided him with extra storage space, seating, and a hidden “hotplate” in the side of a cabinet he had made. The men were not allowed to cook in their rooms, but he hid this secret for the full time he lived there.

Granddad visited us on many occasions, since we only lived 20 miles away. It was then I began to notice that he made strange noises when he ate. He loved food, smacked proudly, and breathed deeply through his mouth as he ate everything on his plate. He held his knife and fork strangely too, at least to me. He would hold his fork in his left hand, tines down, and his knife in his right the entire time he was eating. Mom had started trying to get me to eat while holding the fork, tines up, in my right hand, switch with the knife when I cut food, put the knife down, and change hands with the fork to complete the bite, but I often ate like him when he visited.

When granddad was finished eating, he laid the knife perpendicular across the plate and then laid the fork across the knife. “Why do you do that granddad?” I asked one day.

“It’s the Cross son. I do that to let others know about Jesus. I don’t have to say a word, be lost for words, or anything just put the knife and fork that way and they know what you mean.” He seemed very please that I had noticed and that he got to tell me the details. He was a proud Primitive Baptist and always attended church by himself.

I would watch him all evening, looking at his snow-white hair and the little red blood vessels at the top of the skin on his cheeks, and to him telling stories of hunting on the Catoosa Wildlife Preserve. The one I always will remember is about a deer, or a bear (he never was sure) that scratched itself against the side of his truck camper in the middle of the night. It was actually a scary story to me at the time.

Often he spent the night with us and I always watched the clock carefully. Something else he did strangely to me was snore! I would always go to bed earlier than normal so I could be asleep before granddad dosed off.

For years I watched his ritual of eating and “crossing” the plate and secretly wished I had come up with that idea myself. What a simple little thing that can say so much, I thought. I often “cross” my own plate now when I am eating out, but no one has yet ask me why I do it. Maybe it is not strange enough to move most waiters and waitresses to ask, but maybe someday, or one of my grandchildren will ask me why. Then I will get to tell them the story of the other man that made the sign of the cross. That will be like witnessing about two good men in one!