Thursday, July 27, 2006


There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

From “Comfortably Numb” (Gilmour, Waters)

I loved living in Waverly, TN and if I could have been raised in one place (I attended 9 different schools growing up – more on that latter) that would be where I would have chosen. It was a beautiful community; at least it was between 1958 and 1960. Main Street leading into the city from the east was a completely covered by a canopy of mature elm trees and made the trip, especially by bicycle, a kind of magical mystery tour for a pre-pubescent boy.

I had learned the art of working for money and had many an odd job like digging up old rose bushes for elderly widow women in the neighborhood and mowing several yards. Naturally, I did not yet have my own mower and gas, but rather used the customer’s equipment.

This situation was the spawn of the only dream I ever had come true. I dreamed I was using a neighbor’s new Lawn Boy mower and hit something and all that was left of the mower were the handlebars – the rest totally vaporized! The very next day I hit a rock and knocked out a large chunk of cast metal from the side of the Lawn Boy. I agonized about telling Mr. Payhal when he got home that afternoon, but as it turned out he was a very understanding and logical man. “Could have happened to me just the same son - don’t worry about it.” Wow, if only my dad had been that insightful!

Anyway, one hot August day I had ridden down the long elm tunnel into town a couple of times, gone to the store for my mom and returned with a full basket, mowed three yards, and dug up one old stubborn hedge bush for a lady down the street. I was just about at the end of my youthful stamina when Richard begged me to “camp out” with him that night. Camping out to us meant sleeping out in the yard rolled up in our sleeping bags. We fancied ourselves great outdoorsmen ever since the Boy Scout Camporee the previous winter.

The night was very hot and humid, as most are that time of year. However, I have always had a habit of pulling the bed covers up under my neck while I sleep. I had grown up with quilts and loving the feel of them next to my skin, even in the summer. So, up around my neck came the insulated sleeping bag.

They found me the next morning, in the fetal position wrapped in the sleeping bag unable to move and only semi-conscious. This was probably the closest I ever came to dying.

The doctor diagnosis was that I had sweated all the sodium out of my body – I had no electrolytes and my hands were drawn into fist and “felted just like two balloons.” To this day, when I am very sick and dehydrated my fingers will began to draw toward my palms and feel swollen and puffy.

There was no Gatorade in those days, so the solution was to get as much salt into me as quickly as possible. Under directions of the doctor, who never suggested a hospital for some reason, I had to drink glass after glass of tomato juice with about an inch to two inches of salt in the bottom.

It was several days before I regained any strength and began to look and act normally. The incident gave my mom and dad quite a scare and the condition affected me for years. I had very low tolerance to heat and when I went into the Air Force I was the first one to ask for the salt tablets during PE. I was also very weary of my propensity to heat exhaustion in Vietnam.

With the energy and stupidity of youth, I was back out ridding the tunnel to town in a couple of weeks, mowing yards, and grubbing flower gardens again. However, I was more conscientious about drinking plenty of water from that point on.

Ah, those were the days my friends that I long for when I think of my youth, my Norman Rockwell, or Herb Mandel days - days of playing in the streets, along the creek bank, in the woods, in the sage grass fields, and taking in the wonder of being young and on the cusp of becoming a teenager.

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
And I have become Comfortably numb.

From “Comfortably Numb” (Gilmour, Waters)

The fleeting glimpse is youth and it cannot be held long or long enough, and too soon we become comfortably numb and stop dreaming. All that is left are subtle reminders of those days, things like your hands feeling like two balloons.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Have you ever been scared, I mean so badly that you thought you would never recover – your veins ached from the rush of adrenalin coursing through them, your temples pound from the beating of your heart, you about pee your pants and you gasp as though you just finished a marathon?

Something like that usually only occurs after you realize you almost bought it in a near crash landing, or your roller coaster felt like it raised up too high on the last turn before the downhill dash to the finish. However, if the moment catches you just right, you can go completely berserk with fright.

A couple cases in point –

Case one began way back about 1953 in Paducah, Kentucky. My dad was working there and driving home on the weekends so I could stay in school in Harriman, Tennessee. My mom decided that she and I would stay with him during the summer and so we moved to Kevil, near his work, into a little trailer he had rented; when I say little, I am talking about ten feet long, if that. I slept on couch and about six or so feet away was the bedroom!

There are only two things I remember about this trailer – one was the foot peddle you had to mash down to flush the toilet and the treasure trove of comics books I found that the previous occupants left behind the sofa. Man what I would give to have those back – they would be worth a mint!

Reading comics was about all I did that summer – one right after the other, from publishers like Atomic, Fawcett, and Action and biggest of all DC, with characters like Captain Marvel and Superman (who later got into a court battle), Batman, Wonder Woman, and a myriad of other things with cartoon characters from Disney - all written prior to the "Comics Code," guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable content.

Anyway, to shorten this horror story, out of all the comics I read, or mostly looked at, that summer, all I remembered apparently was a single frame out of a Dell Comic where Tarzan fell into a snake pit. There were snakes all around his feet and legs! I have never been a snake man at all - ooh.

When school started that fall we were back home in Harriman. I slept in the living room even there, but on my own folding/roll-away bed. I had taken a cold and was running a fever when I went to bed this particular night. Sometime in the night, probably due to the fever, I began to dream about the snake pit. Suddenly, and coincidentally, the roll up window shade on the living room door, which had the inexplicit ability to roll itself violently up, did just that. Still asleep I stood up in the middle of the bed in the middle of the dark room and screamed bloody murder! I looked down at my feet and they were tangled with squirming snakes of all sizes and colors! I screamed some more and would have until daylight had my mom not flicked on the light and woke me up.

It was hours before I could be coaxed to slide my legs back under the cover and lay in that bed. However, I demanded that the light be left on for what was left of the night. The moment had been just right!

Case two begins with mom and dad’s friends over playing cards one summer evening in 1956 leaving me to entertain myself. I watched the Wolfman – you know the 1940’s variety with Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr.? Well, I watched old Lon change back and forth several times and did not even notice when company began to leave.

The visiting neighbor lady decided she wanted to say goodnight to me and so instead of coming back inside, like any civil person, slipped up beside the open window that was just behind my head. At a critical point in the movie, just when the moment was right, she put her face right next to the screen and blurted out “BOO!”

I went berserk! Like a cartoon character trying to get traction, my flannel covered knees could not get a bite on the linoleum floor for several seconds, but finally, after what seemed an eternity, I made it to the opposite wall still screaming to the top of my lungs. Had I known how to cuss at the time, I would have been so embarrassed!

All that was said was, “Sorry - good night.” There was no acknowledgement from me, and it was several weeks before I even spoke to the lady again.

In the words of Yosemite Sam, “I hates surprises!”

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Oh, the joys of visiting a farm and learning the ways of your farm-raised father are seemingly endless. Some of those ways involved the family barn and the family “business.”

Ever hear the old country saying: “He went to the outhouse to do his business and the hogs ate him?” Well to translate they are saying, “I have no idea where he/she is.” To me, it has a slightly different meaning!

Well my dad, for some bazaar reason, liked to do his “business” in the shed that was attached to the far side of the barn, and what is even more bazaar, he used to take me with him. The picture etched in my brain of my dad squatting near by, is not the way I like to remember him, but sometimes that is all that is available.

The shed was open on three sides and ran the full length of the barn but sharing the same roof as the barn, with large wooden gates on each end. A 1X6 board fence, painted the same color as the barn, was open to the hog lot on the long closed side.

The lesson to be learned was that you first went to the corncrib, where all the dried corn was put through a corn sheller that removed all the corn from the cob. You then selected 1 white cob and 2 brown cobs (See the photo for a look at a sheller and the different color corncobs – Wow, you’re really learning something here and don’t even know it yet!).

The trick then was to do your business, clean things up with the 2 brown cobs (using all available surface area) and then you tidy up and check out your effectiveness with the white one. See how simple life was on the farm - there was no need for cumbersome two-ply paper!

So, now we get back to the alternate translation of “the hogs ate him”! To complete the whole ritual you tossed the used cobs over the fence and into the hog lot – the hogs cleaned up the evidence. Thus, if you want to put someone down in a cryptic sort of way, the next time someone asks where old so-and-so is, just quip, “He/She went to the barn, and the hogs ate him/her!” ‘Nuff said!

More on the barn later…and I promise not to include quite so much information.

Friday, July 21, 2006


My first memory of cotton is dragging a child size cotton sack, maybe six feet long; through a hot field in early fall near Five Points, Tennessee along side my grandparents and my Aunt Lois. Lois and I always had a good relationship. She was already a confirmed and recognized old maid by the time I was old enough to drag a cotton sack. Later in my teenage years we would sneak a smoke together and discuss life as we understood it. However, I never asked why she never married.

My mom once told me it was because Lois’ six brothers scared off any suitors that dared to come around more than twice, and their reasoning was to ensure there was someone left at home to take care of Pa and Ma. From what I remember of them, they did not need any baby-sitting, but the deed was done and Lois probably spent many a lonely day and night, smoking her filtered cigarettes and watching “shoot’em ups” on her old black and white TV with its built-in ambient light that framed the picture tube.

But back in the day of the 80 acres of cotton on the old home place, the day began early and ended late. There were monotonous hours of chopping the cotton rows, sorting out the weeds from the seedlings and carving out a space the width of the hoe blade between single or double sprouts, but there were also conversations filled with laughter as we moved slowly down the seemingly endless rows. My goal was to move out along a row moving away from the shady fence row and back down a row that lead back to the water jug that gave a few moments of relief from the early summer sun of Middle Tennessee.

The best parts of the day was breakfast and supper, hot cat-head biscuits, warm cornbread, white syrup or molasses and butter on either one, both white and red-eye gravy, thick sliced farm raised bacon with thick crackling skin and an occasional pig hair, and a host of other things that don’t stick to a kid’s memory the way those did. Ma and Lois were probably the best biscuit and cornbread makers that ever lived – made with pure lard and fresh ground flour and meal. The biscuits made for supper could nearly be classified as a roll, but they were a true soft biscuit that was a little springy to tear apart. The cornbread was soft and fluffy on the inside with a hard chewy crust on the outside. It was probably my favorite of the two breads, and I often checked the deep well cooker on the back of the stove for cold pieces anytime I passed.

I spent many summers with Lois, Pa, and Ma, and they always kept me busy. I didn’t play much when I stayed with them, I mostly worked. Depending on the time of year I came determined the kind of work I did. There was grubbing new fields, chopping cotton, picking cotton, and best of all taking cotton to the gin. I remember riding high atop a mountain of fluffy white cotton in the back of a wagon drawn by two mules. Pa would tell me who lived where along the way and little anecdotes about each family or about a particularly strange family member as we rolled along the dirt road to the cotton gin.

At the gin, Pa pulled the wagon into line behind other waiting wagons and motor trucks. I watched as each load owner worked the big metal vacuum tube that extended from the side of the gin and sucked the cotton up and into the gin for baling. When our turn came I couldn’t stand not trying it and begged until Pa let me give it a whirl. As I pulled the tube to my chest I knocked off my cap and before anyone could react, up the shoot and out of my life it went. But, there was no time to morn the loss, and I continued to move the tube back and forth and watched the cotton eat its way to the bottom of the wagon, where it whirled the cotton around and around my feet until it lifted and allowed itself to be drawn up the tube and into the gin.

One day, a cousin and I sneaked off and played around the large warehouses near the gin where the bales were stored. Of course the doors were locked, but in those days things were not buttoned up as they are today. Two skinny boys could easily slip through the chained sliding doors or in an open window, and we did.

Cotton is very hard once compacted into 500-pound bales, but soft enough that knees and elbows do not get skinned when jumping and sliding around; that is unless you happened to skid to a halt on one of the burlap ends or hit one of the metal binding straps. There were narrow tunnels between some of the bale stacks and we explored them and imagined all sorts of games. The warehouse was huge and the bales were stacked very high and offered hours of uninterrupted play time.

When I worked and was under considerable stress, I would often dream about being in that warehouse on a rainy day, only I am no longer playing – I am either running away from someone or chasing someone and guns are involved. The cotton warehouse was spooky, dimly light, and mysterious enough to capture the imagination of a young boy and disturb the dreams of an old one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


In my previous post, you learned that I nearly knocked myself out last weekend while claiming a small island for the queen. That episode brought back another memory where I did actually go out for a short time.

It was a late summer evening just as the day was turning “dark thirty,” as my dad referred to it. A short soaking shower had just passed through our area, dropping the heat index several degrees, and was in process of steaming off the hot asphalt of the neighborhood street.

Several of us had rallied in the street for one last spin before being called in for the night. I had only had my bicycle since the end of spring and was learning new tricks. I had already learned to put playing cards on the front and rear fender braces with clothespins and was buzzing up and down the street pretending to be a motorcycle, as was everyone else.

I had come a long way since the training incident two months earlier where my dad thought it would be a great idea if I got started by rolling down a hill so he would not have to tag along. Well, I centered a plum tree in the backyard as pretty as you did please with him screaming “TURN!” all the way. It was several days before he could coax me back into giving it another try.

Recently, though, I had begun perfecting another great bicycle trick – riding with no hands - quite dangerous, but the advancing rider had to master it or they could not move on to standing on the seat, or riding backwards!

So, as the light faded from the day and the steam continued to rise, I rode further and further with no hands, only catching the handlebars when I drifted too close to the ditch on the far side of the street from our house. Not being able to see the blackness of the road very well in the evening light I traveled with no hands through a short line of potholes.

The front tire bounced hard from the bottom of the first hole up into the blunt edge of opposite side, spinning the handlebars sharply out of my grasp and the bicycle out of control. I went into the second pothole with a big splash. It was a few moments before I woke up in the house lying on the couch with my mom and others gathered around looking at me anxiously.

What I had missed was someone screaming in front of my house that I was down and not moving. My mom ran from the house into the street and scooped me from the pothole. What she could not tell was that the warm liquid that dripped from between her fingers was not my blood! She was terrified as she ran with me back into the house and light. The light revealed that the only blood was a small spot on the back of my head and that it was not life threatening. That’s where I caught up with the story.

After a couple of hugs and a few words about why I should stop showing off on my bicycle, I rubbed my head and asked for some ice cream. When a local girl had her tonsils removed, the kids in the neighborhood had learned that the hospital gave her ice cream, so we used that knowledge to get a little bigger helping whenever we were sick or hurt. All was well again!

Monday, July 17, 2006


As I lay with my head buried in the small chert rocks that line the shore of a small island on Watts Bar Lake, after making a Daffy Duck “perfect 3-point landing - on my two knees and my nose,” I thought about summers past when our family has been touched by catastrophe and near tragedy.

I came close to real injury as the houseboat made its landing this weekend at the island where we go to get away from jet skis, bass fishermen, and speed boaters. As we beached, I was making my way through a tangle of patio furniture and legs, and had just raised my own leg to make my final step across to the front of the boat with the docking rope, when our captain made a final thrust with the engines and causing the boat to come to a very abrupt stop. I found myself airborne and went flying over the side right in front of the boat, catching my left foot on a security chain, which removed the skin from the top of my foot, and head long onto the shore!

Had I not been hurting so much and thinking more clearly, I might have said something comical to let them know I would survive, something like “I claim this island in the name of the queen!”, but I was in pain.

As I sat up slowly, noticing that everyone was quiet (which is very unusual for our bunch) and reflected on the worst scenario that could have resulted, I remembered the summers we lost a niece to a car/bicycle accident, a brother-in-law and nearly my sister-in-law to a boating accident, and a couple of heart attack scares from another brother-in-law. At least two of these resulted in anxious moments chasing the “Life Star” helicopter to a hospital 50 miles away.

To keep us weary, my other accident-prone brother-in-law, chips teeth, slips off wet boat ladders and on tile floors just to keep us ready and anxious for the worst. Now, it seems, I have joined his “dare devil” club.

Summers have always been a time of thinking about our family and how much we mean to each other. Often when I look around a dinning room table or patio where we are gathered, laughing until it hurts, I cannot help but think about how much we have been blessed and how hard it is going to be to have to give up someone. I took a photo earlier this summer of just some of our feet under the table on the upper deck of the houseboat. I thought about a future time when there would be one less set of feet and I welled up inside – quickly making myself think about something else.

We have got to be safer guys! We need each other.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Clearly the underdog has the right to vicious reprisal.

A tough old welder friend of mine, that I often held a ladder steady for, and once told him it was on fire from the slag that had built up around one leg and he simply said in a muffled voice under this hood “In a minute”, once told me about a guy back in school who used to pick on him unmercifully and consistently threaten to beat him up. Now this old hardcore welder wasn’t very big even as a grown man, so he must have really been a runt in school – even high school, so I was really interested in how he handled bullies.

One day ol’ Truman watched this “tush hog” go into the bathroom at school. He waited a minute or two for him to get comfortable in the last stall and then followed him in. Truman walked slowly up to the stall door, raised his foot up about waist high and kicked the wooden door as hard as he could. The door latch broke immediately and the edge of the door caught the seated punk, whose pants were around his ankles, square in the nose!

The shocked boy probably saw long enough to see Truman enter the stall and commence laying his fist alternately on his head and into his already bleeding nose and mouth. The big bad bully kind of tilted to the left and then caught himself with the side of his head and slid all the way to the floor.

Truman said he never did have any more bully trouble from him or anyone else after that. Clearly, the underdog has a right to vicious reprisal.

I tell you all this in order to plead my own case of retaliation.

Remember a few years ago when MickeyD ran a commercial with a line of little school girls, dressed in yellow rain coats and boots, doing the “wack, wack, waddle, waddle” into McDonald’s during a downpour? Well, try and picture old Mushy in one of those little yellow rain coats and matching boots! Ain’t pretty is it?

My mother thought I was adorable and that I would be even more so in one of those rainy day get ups, and couldn’t wait for me to wear the one she proudly bought for me. I prayed every night that the sun would be shining the next morning and it worked until God couldn’t stand it anymore and decided he needed a good laugh – he made it rain.

I can still feel the heat rising from inside the coat and hat, not just from the non-porous yellow rubber material, but partly from the embarrassment I was feeling. Off to the bus stop I went and stood there waiting and dreading the inevitable.

As soon as I entered the bus there was Richard (last name withheld to protect both of us) – my second grade bully – he was 2 years older and about 20 pounds heavier. He grinned and started to tease me about the yellow rain hat and then the shoving began, which was always the prelude to the butt kicking!

So, being the underdog - remember, I plotted my revenge.

There was this long hill in the neighborhood (same neighborhood where the girls liked to play doctor) and most kids, if they had any sense of adventure at all, rode their bicycles down the hill 2 or 3 times a day. I took note of the time of day Richard chose to take his turn and mulled it over a day or so. One day, about mid-summer, my Red Rider BB gun and I lay in wait in the bushes next to the hill and watched and waited to bag my limit in bully.

Remember how big your front teeth looked when you were 7 or 8 years old? Well, Richard’s were a prime example of that feature – all shinny with little new saw tooth nubs on the edges and all.

Just as he hit full speed coming down the hill I popped him and broke his concentration. He grabbed his chest and looked around with a surprised and puzzled look on his face. At first I thought he was going to make it, but as the bike traveled about 10 or 15 more feet Richard could not regain his gripe on the right handle bar and the bike wobbled and weaved until completely out of control.

Richard hit the asphalt flat on his face then rolled up over his head and skidded to a stop on his backside. It was a few seconds before he could inhale enough air to scream out a long loud squall. I stepped out of the brush and walked to where Richard now sat crying and wiping blood from his mouth. I let Richard get a good look at me and then cocked the BB gun, grinned and walked on off toward home.

I was never laughed at, teased, shoved, or punched again after that day. Of course, I did always feel bad about the chipped front tooth, kind of broke in a 45 degree angle right in the middle of his smile, but I also knew he would always remember me and why it was that way every time he looked in a mirror for the rest of his life.

Clearly, the underdog has a right to vicious reprisal.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I’m overweight, ugly, my joints hurt, my hair has turned gray, my soldier doesn’t salute very often, my eyesight and hearing are getting worse, and I think I know why – DDT!

“The Buzz Bomb is coming!” came the call down the street and ten to fifteen kids hit their front doors, grabbed their bikes, and headed out to meet the weekly tour of the neighborhood by the city DDT spraying Jeep. We called it the “Buzz Bomb”, not knowing that it did sort of sound like the WWII flying bombs Germany sent in from France to terrorize England, but because of the weird guttural sound it made as it slowly moved down Fairground Drive in Waverly, Tennessee.
We formed up on the side of the street as it came by and then charged into the white dense cloud about 100 feet behind the Jeep, holding our breath for as long as we could. You see, as long as you didn’t breathe it, it couldn’t hurt you. Getting it on your skin, in your eyes, and on your clothes did not matter. It had to get inside your lungs or mouth before it could hurt you was the myth we believed.

I was always toward the front, racing with one or two others to see who could get up the closest to the nozzle of the buzzing bomb, see the flicker of the fire inside the nozzle where the mixture was ignited and discharged, without running out of air and having to dart to the side for a clear breath of air. If you darted out too soon, you lost the contest.

Often times, two or more of us ran into each other and piled up in the middle of the street, shouting obscenities at each other, and…breathing!

All the while, the driver was oblivious that the neighborhood children were following him as if he were the Good Humor or snow cone man. The cloud came out in a narrow dense stream about 6 inches wide for about 18 inches before expanding the width of the street and rising some 50 feet into the night air. It was impossible to see through the fog until the Jeep was some quarter of a mile down the street. It slowly expanded and dissipated into a fine mist that floated throughout the neighborhood.

The driver was actually one of many Pied Pipers that roamed neighborhoods in the 50s, 60s, and up until the DDT ban in 1973. Kids could not resist chasing the buzzing sound and bellowing white smoke, and parents only warned us not to breathe.

So, that’s what’s wrong with me today, course it’s taken it 60 years to work on my body, to break it down and to get me to this awful state. I know my symptoms sound a lot like old age, but I know differently – it was the DDT mixed with the Agent Orange I came in contact with in Vietnam, and yes, maybe combined with a little passing of time that did the real damage.

There is a push on today to bring DDT back and I think we should all unite and beat down this notion. If we don’t, many more people are going to get old like me. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Three of the 12 laws a Boy Scout pledges to are:

A Scout is Friendly.
A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.
A Scout is Courteous.
A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.
A Scout is Kind.
A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.

So how well did I uphold these laws as a youth growing up in Waverly, Tennessee? Not very well and I think you’ll agree.

I actually loved the scouts; I loved reading the Boy’s Life magazine about other boys my age across the country who were striving to be the best scout in the whole of the United States. However, I’ve always been just a bit too lazy to actually exceed in much. I’ve always done just enough, but an Eagle Scout I was never going to be – just wasn’t the right material.

I loved tying knots, collecting leaves, and learning tracking signs. I actually could do most of the projects required to become an Eagle Scout, but I wasn’t going to sit down and learn Morse code, or anything really time consuming or hard – just too lazy and too interested in other things.

I also loved camping and remember my first campout in the scouts. I was so excited that when I woke up the next morning there was frost on the lower quarter of my sleeping bag! Wow, and I hadn’t even gotten cold. I was a real camper – could survive in the elements just like an Artic explorer!

However, my excitement for the scouts changed one evening in January. Something happened that made me realize I did not have the right stuff – just couldn’t keep the laws as I should. I discovered guilt – something that keeps most folks from understanding the true gift of Grace, and it was a long time before I ever felt worthy of manhood.

Snow had begun falling and was already collecting on the ground as we scouts gathered at the lodge that was located behind the high school, between the school and a long ridge of rolling Middle Tennessee hills.

None of us could listen to the Scout Master with full attention at all that evening because we knew what was happening outside. We could not wait to run home ripping snowballs at each other and watching the world turn white and fresh.

All things finally end, even if you think they never will. We ran, screamed, rolled, and tossed snowballs until we broke up into our neighborhood groups. I belonged to the Fairground Drive gang of young hoodlums; two of us trailer trash that came in with the New Johnsonville TVA construction families. We walked slowly across Highway 70 toward the alley that ran between Hwy 70 and Fairground Drive talking about everything 13 year old boys discuss, kicking snow as we walked. The snow had accumulated about 2 inches while we were getting our weekly scouting lesson.

Suddenly, out of the east came the sound of a tractor trailer changing gears. Almost simultaneously we all got the same idea “Let’s snowball’im!”

We ran back toward the highway and each of us chose an elm tree for cover, 2 on the far side of the street and 2 on the near side, and began forming snowballs to about 3” diameter.

The truck driver had just pushed his rig into high gear as he passed the school heading into town when we let loose the bombardment! Two snowballs hit directly into the driver’s windshield, while one missed completely and the other harmlessly thumped the trailer just back of the cab.

Everything would have been fun from that point on had the driver either not been a hot head, or had not panicked! Suddenly, we knew the brakes had locked on the truck and the trailer began to jackknife badly toward the school side of the street. With eyes wide open and mouths following suit, we stood motionless for several seconds until someone yelled “RUN”!

Just as I regained my composure enough to get my feet moving, I heard the door on the cab slam shut and began to hear the patter of big feet splashing the slush on the street. “Oh God, he’s coming”, I yelled, visualizing a tire-iron or gun in the driver’s hand.

We dashed through yards and on to the entrance of the alley that had been our first destination. The two guys that had been hiding across the highway had already made it into the darkness of the alley and were nearly 50 yards ahead of me. The guy that had been on the other side with me was about 10 yard ahead of me; having come to his senses sooner than I.

The foot steps were getting louder behind me and were about to be drown out by the heart beats pounding my ear drums – my heart was racing and I was nearly out of wind, not so much the running but from pure fear.

I knew I couldn’t see him and that he probably couldn’t see me – yet – so I decided to make a calculated move. I would dive into the ditch that ran along the alley and let him pass me in the dark, but if he could see me, I was dead meat!

I ran 3 or 4 more strides and launched myself into the dark ditch – right into a tangle of briars, but I held my screams in check. I could hear him clearly now just steps back, and I was sure he could hear my heart thumping out its telltale message – here he is, here he is!

As fate would have it, he stopped directly beside where I lay terrified. I could hear him breathing, gasping over the sound of my heart, and I just knew he would soon hear it and look my way.

Down the alley I could still hear the other criminals running and hollering instructions of some sort. The driver listened too and moved on a few steps. Then, as God chose to bless me, he silently moved off the alley and into a backyard of one of the houses that fronted the highway.

After several long minutes I heard the truck door slam again, the truck motor rev up, and a gear grinding into place – he was leaving!

I rolled over onto my back and looked up into the night sky, caught a few flakes in my mouth, filled my lungs with cold air and thanked God for sparing me – sparing me the embarrassment my parents would have felt and the ass whooping my dad would have given me!

The other guys eventually came back down the alley looking for me. By then, we had gotten over the shock and nervously laughed about the previous event, but down inside me, I knew I could never again be a true scout.

I had not been friendly to my fellow man, I had not been polite or used good manners, I had not been kind and gentle and had almost brought harm to another. I was not worthy yet to be trusted with any oath, law, motto, or slogan – I was still just a kid and I still had a lot of growing up to do.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Well here’s another topic that I did not originate, but I did come to the realization on my own. Blogging is the new CB radio of the modern age.

I used to be a 1970’s CB’er with two call signs, one publicly known and the other I used for cruising and carousing!

I was the “Silent Runner” talking with friends when leaving or arriving at work and along the highways and byways. I got the CB handle from a 1958 movie called Run Silent Run Deep staring Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable. “Rig for silent running” was a command the captain gave when the sub was being dogged by a destroyer. The sub would sit quietly on the bottom or float along with no engines, electrical, or mechanical sounds and listen to the sonar pings. That’s the way I usually ran the Interstates, silent and listening – amused by the trucker's banter and conversations lonely women started up with them.

Of course, later there was also “Silent Running” with Bruce Dern. That movie always leaves me in tears – I hate to see anything lonely and the robot left watering the forest with its little watering bucket in deep space was the ultimate in loneliness. Sniff – I’m a softy I suppose, so I guess Silent Runner was a blend of these significances for me.

I was the “Black Max” on weekends while cruising around my home base area after my divorce. Being the typical low-life scum of a man, I didn’t want to meet women before seeing what that looked like, so I would set up a situation where I could peruse the quarry without being seen and then if they looked promising I would then pull up and say “Howdy, I’m the Black Max.” Kind’a sounds like a chat-room stalk – huh? Just tends to add credence to my point about blogging evolving from CBs.

I did a lot of successful cruising, but it cost me a maxed out Exxon credit card even with gas being only 63 cents then. I finally sold the ’78 Trans Am for, of all things, a Toyota Celica GT! My hotrod days ended for quite a while, but I made a come back later (That’s another story and covered quite well in “Where They’ve Gone” – as a matter of fact, you can see the Black Max there with the Big Mamma CB antenna sticking up in back!).

I also had a base station (the 1970s blog access device) with an Astatic D104 "Golden Eagle", a.k.a. the chicken-choker or lollypop, microphone! I loved to choke this baby and broadcast out on the airways and even “shot skip” a few times across America when conditions were right.

Basically I just bellowed out “Breaker! Breaker! Uh, how ‘bout’ it there Doe Eyes, got’ca ears on? Come on.” Thus would begin a night of hollering at friends around the county – friends I never met in person, but with who I talked about life and general happenings until the wee hours.

CBing kind of faded out quickly for me, but now I blog and talk to new friends who I have never met in person, but we discuss life and general happenings until the wee hours just the same.

So, blogger, blogger, how ‘bout it Grouchy Old Cripple, Rat Man, Herb, and Goddess, ya got your eyes on tonight? Come on.

Friday, July 07, 2006


My earliest memories come in bits and pieces, some actually remembered and others told to me as “cute things you used to do when you were a kid”. But I begin to remember things at around the age of 4, a time when my family lived and worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I would think this was during 1949 and early in 1950.

At this time in the history of Oak Ridge, the city was still “the secret city” and was closed to the public. There were Federal guards manning gates with machine guns behind bullet-proof glass at all the roads and highways entering the city of Oak Ridge and Federal Reservations that operated in the valleys between the hills of the area.

People who were not “badged” had to stop at the gates and ask permission to enter and visit their friends on “the other side”. A guard would take the name and phone number of the person they wanted to see and call to verify they were expecting friends. If not, the visitors were turned away. More than once my dad turned away “friends” when he didn’t want company!

Even at age 4, I had a badge with my picture on it, and so did my mom, who was a housewife and didn’t work at either of the plant sites.

The pieces of memory begin with mom and dad going out dancing on the weekends, and one misunderstanding they had that resulted in mom walking home and refusing to ride with my dad. It probably involved either alcohol or a flirtatious moment, but I’ll never know. I was told that I hung out the window and cried for her to get in the car, but, being the strong minded woman she is, she walked all the way home.

Other memories involve a little dog I had that I used to throw off the couch and the dog just jumped right back up for another go at flying lessons, and dirt. I also ate dirt at this time in my life! Yep, and I can remember the taste, or at least that dirt from different places tasted differently. For example, the limestone soil around my grandfather’s farm did have a limey taste to it – duh!

One memory involves getting lost in the woods between West Outer Drive and the Oliver Springs Highway. A little boy that lived next door, who has been described to me as being a “little off center” was always bugging me and taking my toys. Even now I remember that I didn’t like him very much, but one day I let him talk me into going through the woods to a barn where he said were some puppies.

Off through the woods we went, and we did see the puppies, but we spent most of the time we were “lost” throwing rocks at passing cars on the highway.

We must have gotten hungry or something and started back through the woods. At one juncture the trail we were following split and an argument broke out between us about which path lead home. My friend wanted to go down a less traveled path that was loaded with briars, and I wanted to travel the path most worn.

Naturally, I allowed myself once again to be swayed and before long we were stuck firmly in the midst of the briar patch! I don’t remember how long we waited, or cried, but time had passed long enough for my mom who called my uncle, my dad, and the Oak Ridge Police Department and all were soon looking through the woods for the “lost” boys.

To this day I insist I was never “lost”…I wanted to go down the path that would have taken us home, the exact path I first saw my dad coming down while stripping his belt from its loops, and with my uncle and the police close behind.

Before dad could strike a lick, my uncle had me on his shoulders and was racing back down the path – to mother!

A few days later, the attached photo was taken of me. I am climbing a hill from visiting someone in one of the “flat tops” seen in the background, on my way to get in the car. I strongly remember that the reason I did not take the steps that run up the hill in front of the garbage bens, is that there was a blue-tailed lizard hanging and twitching on the side of the bens next to the steps. I did not want to get that close to the lizard, so I took to the grass. I was avoiding facing my problems by walking around them!

Now, back to “life’s problems” – it wasn’t long before the boy next door got “all up in my business” again and tried taking a toy away from me while we played in the dirt (I was probably chewing a bite too). I took a long cast-metal bus I was holding and quickly thumped him on the head with it. He cried and went home and I sat and played with much satisfaction for the rest of the day.

Finally, I was facing life’s little problems head on!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


"You don't forget anything like that - you wouldn't. You remember that for the rest of your life." - Corporal Fred Bromley, 84th Chemical Weapons Company, Royal Engineers, 6 June 1944 - D-Day

As I do every 4th of July, I sit in the dark on my screened deck that looks out over the cove where I live. I sit there, eyes closed, sipping my favorite happy juice and toking on a Macanudo, and listen to the local fireworks downriver. Across from the city park is a rock bluff that rises about hundred feet above the Tennessee River. It’s from a small flat area at the top of this bluff that those in charge have launched fireworks out over the river and back toward the city for decades. A few thousand spectators line the park and highway along the water to watch the colorful displays as they OOH and AH with family and friends.

The sounds from the explosions travel the river, following the conductivity of the rising fog some ten, maybe fifteen miles to reach my ears, but in my mind they are much further away. It's never really a comfortable experience, yet I'm drawn to it each year.

Tonight I was a little more anxious than usual. The humid air and the evening’s rain dripping from the forest canopy made the night feel and smell like several I remember from, GOSH…has it been 39 years. It's still there! With eyes closed listening, I could taste the air as if it was yesterday - the fear was bitter in my throat and the pit in my stomach was hollow and empty. The muffled two syllable KA-CHUNK that preceded the aerial blast in the distance took me back...way back - “INCOMING”!

I remember staring out into the near total blackness from the alerted base, hoping to see something before it saw me, and yet I was conscious of the distant thumping, like the beating of a giant monster's heart - another firebase was under attack. I was 8,000 miles from home, alone in the dark, praying the night's trouble stayed distant and didn’t come to us as it had many times before. However, I knew that meant someone else was much closer to the danger and may have even being dying, but selfishly I continued to pray. “Keep it away, keep it away, oh please, at least until the light comes”!

My first 4th of July back home in 1967 was celebrated across the lake from “the bluff”. With my back to the darkening lake talking to old friends, the first hollow KA-CHUNK that spit from the mortar as the first firework was launched sent me into auto-mode and flat on my belly behind the highway guardrail. Everyone, in their innocence, laughed and pointed at me. “What’s wrong with him?

As soon as the star-burst shell exploded in the night sky behind and above them, I knew exactly what it was and that it was no threat, but I was still 8,000 miles away listening to the distant thumps echoing up the valleys and through the steamy jungle to my ears. Naturally I was very embarrassed and very pissed, but deep inside I was glad too that they had never had to be on “auto-mode”.

Happy 4th everyone! - I'm so thankful tonight that I could open my eyes and see that I was here and not 8,000 miles way – home safe! Then I remember there are new young men and women still experiencing the man-made thunder far from home today. It’s not distant to them and never will be again.

God bless them, because it will always be there!