Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Number Four Post: The Rock Star

We went to Wing for a visit, staying at brother Harold's. Our kids were nine and five. Shortly after lunch, we noticed Corey, Kinley, and Ken, (about Corey's age and Harold's youngest) had just disappeared. We got to looking, and I finally discovered their trail headed down into the bottoms. My kids were city kids, and I knew they could get into a lot of trouble in the Wing bottoms. I started tracking them. They were headed toward the Little Lake. I ran fifty steps, walked fifty steps, a method I used as a youngster to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. When I got close to the Little Lake, the trail turned west. After five miles of trailing, I caught up with them. The boys were still slowly moving forward, but Kinley was wandering around in a road ditch, totally worn out. Barbara had put Harold, on his tractor, on my trail and he soon caught up. They were glad to give up their adventuring for that day.

Ken was always a gadget geek. He's a computer expert today. He had a new gadget that day, a lie detector. Kinley agreed to be his subject. First question: "Do you eat boogers?" Kinley was shocked. "No! I do not!" Ken studied the detector. He finally declared, "She's lying." Everybody had a good laugh, and Kinley refused to answer any more questions.

      All this time, I was quietly teaching biology. All the excitement was in Barbara's court. I often took my classes around campus, studying the plants. I pointed out many edible ones. When they saw me eat one, they did too. One sharp youngster ran over to a row of tall plants. They already knew this one was edible, so everyone munched away. “Why are these so much taller here?” “That's because that's where the septic line runs.” Kids were spitting plants everywhere.
Like I said, my teaching life was pretty quiet now. I had to create some excitement where I could. Once, I had my class working on an assignment, and I quietly went around through another classroom to the outside. The younger kids were all sitting around or playing right outside my classroom door. I called them over and asked a small favor. Getting back to my class, my students were finishing up. I asked them, “Why do you guys not treat me like the younger kids do? They treat me like a rock star.” They giggled and rolled their eyes. Some gagged. I said, “Here, let me show you.” I walked to the door, opened it, and the kids outside all started jumping up and down and screaming. First, extreme shock, then more eyes rolled, lots of gagging When the bell rang, many left with a very puzzled look. Over the years, it has proven out that those fun moments are the ones that stick in their minds a long time. Too bad I could never make biological facts stick that well.

      I had always thought, in the deep recesses of my mind, some day I will build my own house. Mostly by myself. I decided, this was the time. We borrowed twenty-five thousand dollars in 1978, and I set in. I didn't know how to build a house, but I knew how to use a saw and hammer. The rest I learned along the way. If I got to a point where I was stumped, I went and looked at other houses under construction, and just did like the big boys did. When I first started and was doing the dirt work, a friend said, “I don't know how you ever make any progress. Every time I come by, you're leaning on your shovel.” Actually, I was very busy thinking. Trying to figure out what to do next.

    It was pretty well framed up, and Kinley was sitting in the front yard, playing in the sand. She had a spoon in her hand, and dug up a spoon full of sand just as we saw the mosquitoes were eating her up. We scooped her up, along with her spoon full of sand, and she quietly reached down and pulled a gold ring from the spoon. We figured that was a good omen for the house.
     I was working on the master bathroom when Barbara and Kinley came over with the news. Elvis Presley had just died.
Every time I announce when my book, Spreading Wing, should be in, it's not. Christmas seems to be playing havoc with the publisher's schedule. As soon as I actually have my first order in hand, I will schedule the Book Launching at Wing. Bear with me!         Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Winding Stairs - Conclusion

Very excited about their camping trip, their first father-son adventure of this type, Micky and Jordan attempted to reach the parking area downriver from the Winding Stairs. However, landowners had fenced it off. They could not enter by the traditional route from below. Crossing to the far side of the river, they found another place to park. Mickey knew that a river crossing was required from this side, but Jordan was a tough boy who could handle it. They didn't let that dampen their spirits much, on this cold march day. They soon had to cross a rushing creek. Jordan slipped down, and got totally soaked, but climbing two mountains soon dried him out some, and warmed him back up. However, they now faced a river crossing, and It was much deeper than they expected. Jordan once told me when helping me dig for diamonds, “Papaw, nothing that's fun is ever this hard.” He may have been thinking that now, but he kept quiet about it if he did. When they finally reached the Winding Stairs, they just stood and looked for a very long time – well worth getting wet for.
      They gathered up a lot of firewood. The night promised to be cold, and the situation was not helped much when Jordan got wet again, crossing a creek with a load of firewood. But the roaring fire soon fixed that problem. They set up the tent, and got a good nights sleep.
      The next day was great. They hiked, climbing a high mountain. A ledge near the top proved to be the winter home of thousands of lady bugs. I had seen that before, at the old fire tower. They found bats in a cave. They finished out the day fishing. A great day. Seems Mickey had always planned on two nights, but didn't explain that to Kinley very well.
      The rains moved in that night. It rained, and rained, and rained some more. Fortunately, Mickey picked a good spot on high ground, so they were not affected by the rapidly rising river. But the tent did not prove to be very water resistant. Jordan's bag got wet, and he finished out the night  sharing Mickey's sleeping bag.
      By morning, the situation looked bad. The roaring river was very high now, rising quickly, hemmed in between two very steep mountains. Mickey knew trying to cross it to get to the car was out of the question. They would have to find another way out.
      They headed down river, but soon came to a feeder creek that was a trickle yesterday, but was today a roaring torrent. They stopped, managed to build a fire with the wet wood, and made coffee. Mickey knew these mountain streams usually came up very fast, but once they passed the crest, they should also go down fast. Finally, though, Mickey came to realize that if anything, it was still rising. It had to be crossed, if they were to get out of here. The water edged up toward waist deep on Mickey. Jordan, with his pack, held on to mickey in the swift current He slipped, losing his grip on Mickey, and his pack. He was about to be swept down toward the roaring River. By the time Mickey chased him down and they recovered the pack, they were both soaked. It was getting colder by the hour. Jordan was proving to be a tough guy, though. He was hanging in there.
They ran into a very wet hiker. He said he had almost been swept away trying to cross the river, and he had decided to try to get out by going up river, to Albert Pike. Mickey knew that going in that direction would only take them farther and farther away from their car, and he worried about being trapped between the cliffs and the still-rising river.
They headed on down river. The water had overflowed much of the trail, however, pushing up against steep mountains. It was tough going. After many cold, hard hours, they reached the fenced off area where they had first planned to park the car. They knew they were still miles away from the highway, and many miles more from their car. They could probably get a phone signal now, but their cell phone was dead. Finally, they reached a dirt road. After they had walked down it a long time, they heard a noise. A car! Moments later, Johnny Barksdale pulled up.
      Kinley's next call reached me on the highway. “They're out!” she shouted. “Call the Pike County Sheriff's office right now.” I said. She quickly called me right back. “They were very glad they are out of there. They were about to call in many more searchers from surrounding counties. It's going to be a very cold night. Too cold for wet campers.”
      Christian and I headed back to the levee. Christian is my oldest grandson, and the only grandchild who inherited Grandma Martha Jane's red hair. He now seems to be getting a lot of mileage out of it. The girls at school just seem to love their “ginger,” judging from the pics I see on Facebook. He's a great fishing buddy, and now, at fifteen, he's showing signs that he could become the tallest Gillum in decades. He may well become one of the smartest Gillums in decades, also, if he makes maximum use of the tools he was born with. The jury is still out on that. Caylie, my oldest grandchild, was the first driver that son Corey trained. She's very cautious. She was constantly told by Corey that she “must drive faster.” Now he's training Christian, and he now yells, with fear edging into his voice, “Christian, slow this thing down!”
      We still had time to catch a lot of catfish. And we did. We headed home two days later, with sixty pounds of catfish fillets. And Mickey and Jordan headed home, still wet, but now for the first time all day, warm and no longer hungry. And, they have a great story to tell.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trapped - At the Winding Stairs

Before I continue on with the top five stories of 2012, I decided to tell you my most recent story that I just finished this week. It's a two part story. I hope you enjoy it.

Kinley's first call came in at about nine o'clock Friday morning.
 She was worried. “Mickey and Jordan are not back yet, and I expected them yesterday afternoon!” We talked awhile. Her husband and son, my grandson, had left for a hiking and camping trip on Wednesday, planning to walk up the Little Missouri River three miles or so to the Winding Stairs, a very scenic, remote, and rugged stretch of the river, located three miles or so down river from the Albert Pike campground. One could walk down river to the site from Albert Pike, or walk upriver from a commonly known parking site below, hiking up a trail along the river. They chose to approach from down river, Kinley said, and she did not think they were familiar with the Albert Pike approach, or possibly didn't know about it.

      As we talked, I began to detect a bit of uncertainty on her part about how many nights they planned to stay, one night or two. “If you are not absolutely sure about how long they planned to stay, lets give them time to hike out to a point where their cell phone can reach today before we get too excited. Call me back at 11 AM,” I said. She reluctantly agreed. I was headed to southeast Arkansas with another of my grandsons, Christian, for a few nights of catfishing with JD Dunnahoe, my brother in law. I knew the trail up river well. It was pretty well cut and dried. Just park the car and hike upriver along the trail. Although I knew heavy rains had fallen in that area Thursday night, the trail does not cross the river. Hard to get lost there, just follow the trail. What I did not know was that landowners had fenced off the lower approach, so they would not be able to drive the car into the parking area. And, It would be two months yet before the unspeakable tragedy occurred at Albert Pike, where the suddenly rising river drowned twenty campers, and I did not know the horrible potential of the Little Missouri River to rise very rapidly in those mountains, pushing the water far up against very steep cliffs, completely cutting off that trail out.
At 11 AM sharp, another call. “OK,” I said. “Call the ranger headquarters at Glenwood.” She called right back. “All the rangers are at an in service meeting today. Nobody is available to investigate. “Call the Pike County Sheriff's office,” I said. We were now at JD Dunnahoe's house. His farm is beside the levee in far southeast Arkansas, near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. There was only a couple of places on that farm where a cell phone could reach, and I waited at one of them for her calls.

      Another call came in. “They have sent deputies in to investigate.” Another call - “He found their car downriver. No sign of them. They are sending several men into the mountains to look for them.” JD, his two grown sons Kevin and Mark, and Christian and I began to prepare for a dash to Pike county, and possibly a very long night. We were five hours away, and darkness would be closing in on that cold March night before we could possibly get there. Another call from the Sheriff's office to Kinley – “We cannot reach Winding Stairs because of high flood waters. We've found no sign of them yet, but we have many men looking.” Kinley was losing it. “Send boats down from Albert Pike,” she said. “Ma'am, we cannot put a boat in that river unless it's life or death.” She totally lost it. “My ten year old son is out there, and it is life or death! Put boats on that river!”

      Kinley called me, so distraught she was hard to understand. I told her, “Call Johnny Barksdale.” Johnny is Mickey's brother. He lives at Amity, only an hour away. He is an expert woodsman, is close, and knows that area like the back of his hand. He would be a major asset to the hunt. As we prepared to leave south Arkansas, I searched my mind for the best help possible, close enough to get there before dark. I got to thinking back to many years ago.

      The year was 1985. I sat beside the campfire, looking at ten young faces in the firelight. This was a winter camping trip of the Arkadelphia High School Wildlife Club, which I sponsored. We were camped deep in the mountains ten miles or so behind Albert Pike. Johnny Barksdale and Greg Latsha were my stars. They were already expert woodsmen, even in high school. I knew they were destined to spend most of their lives in areas such as this. Greg could imitate the call of almost any bird or animal in these mountains. Sitting beside the fire, he gave a loud, long wolf call. Almost immediately, he was answered by a frightening call right across the creek. Everyone grew quiet, looking at each other with wide eyes. The fast thinkers, I could see, were counting heads, verifying that we were all here, at the fire, making sure one of us was not out in the woods, playing a trick. When the count reached ten, they bolted for the van. The others were right behind, including Greg Freeman, who had earlier just walked up to and kicked a skunk, to see how it would react. He found out, and he became pretty much a loner for a long time.

      The next morning, I cooked eggs and bacon for the group, explaining to them I had seen only one baby chick in all those dozens of eggs I cracked, so they probably would not notice it at all, as I had fished it out of the skillet. I'll have to admit that, in the interest of being interesting, I may have fudged on truthful boundaries on that a little. Funny thing, though, most all the food we had left was eaten, except for the eggs. I got to eat all the eggs I wanted, with plenty left over. Even after I announced I had just been kidding, they would just never touch those eggs
      I knew these mountains had been Johnny Barksdale's home territory all his life, and if anyone could find them, it would be Johnny. Unless, possibly, I could find Greg Latsha, who grew into possibly the finest woodsman I know. However, I could not figure out how to go about finding Greg Latsha  Greg is at times a duck hunting guide in season, calling those ducks in for the city guys flawlessly. At other times, He is a salt water fishing guide in Florida, and he had also been a professional wildlife film maker for the Game and Fish Department. In between, he often mows lawns for his brother in Hot Springs. But where in the world would he be in March?
Always very athletic, Greg was a very small, but fast pass receiver, with great hands, on his eighth grade football team. In the tenth grade, he was in my biology class, though he already knew more than I could teach him, when it came to wildlife and the wilderness. Once he brought me a photo he had taken, somewhere around Arkadelphia, of a black panther, as best we could tell. Although such an animal does not exist in Arkansas, Greg not only found, but photographed one. It was not unusual for him to leave a large covered bucket on my front porch. I came to realize the contents were going to be alive, wild, and very angry by now. It might contain the largest black snake I had ever seen, or some other exotic wild animal that always amazed me. I began to get really cautious about taking the cover off one of Greg's buckets. On our wildlife club trips, he never failed to set a very wild and uncontrolled example for the other, less woods savvy guys. But he knew exactly how far he could push me, how far he could go before I kicked him out of the club in frustration. Actually, though I never allowed him to know, I could never have done that. He absolutely MADE the club, and, well, I just loved Greg Latsha. Headache though he sometimes could be.
Greg started growing. He grew into a tall, very muscular man, hitting home runs farther for the HSU baseball team than anybody ever had. His small waist gave way to huge biceps and shoulders. I had been told that he always mowed lawns for his brother Roger's landscaping business without a shirt. I had also been told that ladies just fought to get him to mow their yards, and always peeked out from behind their drapes to watch him, fanning themselves as their house just seemed to be getting warmer and warmer. But there just seemed to be no way to find Greg Latsha in March. But I knew if this turned into a night search, we would need him, as well as Johnny, badly.
Continued in about four days. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Best Friend Tooter - Part two

Tooter was not always perfect. Late one summer afternoon, Mom sent me to herd her young chickens into the coop for the night. Any chickens not locked up securely at night would probably become a meal for a coon, or maybe a mink. A mink might eat part of one, but kill all of them, just for fun. The chickens kept circling the coop in front of me. Round and round we went, with no apparent signs of progress. Finally, in exasperation, I called Tooter into action. He quickly developed a liking for this new game, and he was good at it. We soon had every chicken in the coop.
      Late the next afternoon, as I came in from the fields, what I saw beside the porch stopped me short. A dozen dead chickens were stacked in a row. Tooter, I soon found out, had so enjoyed the game that he continued it the next day. He had “herded” every chicken to death!
I dreaded facing Dad. I knew what was coming. Chicken-killing dogs could not be tolerated on the farm. Finally, the inevitable could be avoided no longer. “Son,” Dad said slowly, “that many killings would get anyone a death sentence.” My dad was a hard man. He had to be, scratching a living out of this hill farm. Hard living requires hard decisions. Dad, however, more than anyone else, understood the bond between Tooter and me. Tooter was spared, and I promised to teach him never to kill the chickens again. I guess Tooter understood, because he never did.

      The summer of 1956 brought a new friend and companion to the farm. Mike Ford, my city-boy cousin, arrived from California one morning in June. Mike had never been out of the Los Angeles area before, and even the routine occurrences on our hill farm became new adventures to him.
Soon after Mike's arrival, the raccoons attacked our corn patch, which was in the roasting ear stage, in force. We had to have that corn to get our cows through the winter, plus we ate cornbread about every day. Every coon in the bottoms seemed to show up at dark. Tooter, Mike, and I were assigned the task of protecting our patch. The stage was set.
      Early one warm summer night we headed for the patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn row.. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display. And I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?” when no reasonable solution came to mind, I called, “Do something, Mike!” I don't remember exactly what he did, so I asked him when I visited him this past summer. He said he hit the coon on the head with a knife, and it just got mean. So I acted. I jumped up, holding the tail by the right hand, planning to slide my hunting knife out of it's scabbard, and hit it over the head. Now, my knife was not just any hunting knife, certainly not one a 12 year old should be carrying. It was a US Marines knife, designed for hand to hand combat. Perfect for my needs now. But by the time I had began my draw, my fingers had just touched the handle when the coon went crazy. It was wrapped tightly around my right arm, biting and squalling, and my arm was turning into sausage. I shook it loose, only to have it latch onto my right leg, slightly above the knee. I was struck with a momentary flash of good sense, and I turned it loose. Tooter joined the chase then, for, still being a young dog, he liked it better when the coon was running from him. Myself, I was in the heat of battle now, and I stayed close behind. Again the coon turned to fight, raking Tooter with his claws. When I entered the fight this time, the knife was in my hand, and it was quickly over.
      We proudly carried the big coon back to the house, and I basked in the attention and glory as everyone examined my wounds. We did not think much about things such as Rabies in those days. Mike later confided, “I would sure like to have some scars like that to take back to California.” A few days later, Mike went down to run the traps we sat out at the corn patch, got too close to a squirrel or coon or some such animal, and got his own battle wounds. For days, he pulled the scabs from the wounds, to promote scarring, and he proudly wore his scars back to California.
      The summer was drawing to a close. Mike was ready to ride the train three days back to Los Angeles. When he arrived, he got a dog, named him Tooter. He bought traps, and sat out a trap line in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. All he could catch were rats and ground squirrels, though. He told me this year that the summer in Arkansas influenced the course of his life. He later made many trips into the wilds of the west. He talked about me showing him how to spread a spider web across the hole in a hollow tree, to see if it was being used. I didn't remember any of that.
      I did not see Mike again, as a young man, until he returned from Vietnam as a demolitions expert, sporting a Teflon orbit around one eye. We visited Wing a couple of days and talked about old times. When he got back to California, he had a rude awakening. People there did not appreciate him and the other returning veterans. By the time he had completed college, he had had enough. He went to Australia, taught school a couple of years. Then he played basketball on a touring team of displaced American veterans awhile. When he returned to California, pushing thirty, he applied for a teaching job. Remembering his earlier treatment, he did not mention to the Superintendent interviewing him about his war experience. But when the man asked him why, at near thirty, he was just now applying for a job, he came clean. The man, a veteran himself it turns out, stood up, shook his hand, and hired him on the spot. It turned out to be a 30-year job.

      The time came for me to leave the farm. I was off to college. Tooter never did accept this well. He drooped around, his spirit gone, searching for me each day in all the old places. On the rare occasions when I got to hitchhike home for the weekend, Tooter always spotted me coming when I was still a speck in the distance. He would suddenly regain his “world class” speed, and a rough and joyous reunion resulted as we ran up the lane. One time, he jumped on me, our noses meeting none too gently. Mine was the one that was bloodied. Another time, a flying leap sent a tooth through my watch crystal. I still have that watch. That and memories of a happy time are his legacy. With long periods of depression and separation and short, joyous reunions, my freshman year passed. Then I was home for the summer, and all was well in our world.
      One summer morning, I was awakened at dawn by a loud commotion in our yard. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, the sight before me sent a chill through me. Two large wolves had Tooter, one on each end, stretching him out. When I yelled, they dropped Tooter and ran. Tooter chased one, caught him, and grasping him by the throat, began to squeeze the life from it. I grabbed Tooter, pulling him back. The wolf shook loose, and quickly melted into the woods.
      During the next few days, Tooter seemed to be slowly recovering. One morning as he leaped from a load of cattle feed in our truck, he yelped in pain. He moved slowly to the porch, lying down, and soon was unable to get up. I carried him to the cool cellar. He wouldn't eat. As I checked on him throughout the night, he became weaker. At daylight he was gone. That day I buried him in a grave under the Persimmon tree overlooking the valley and the mountains we had roamed together so many times. I spent the afternoon cutting his name in a large flat rock that I placed at the head of his grave. Tooter had come to me when we were both very young. He had seen me through my growing up years as my constant companion and best friend. His job was done. Now I am a man. I must go on alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Best Friend Tooter

This is the fifth most read post of 2012. This is a two part story.

When I got Tooter in the early 1950's, he was an eight week old, part German Shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest. I carried him, resting on my forearm, the two miles back to our farm. As Tooter grew, he learned quickly. He became my constant companion as we hunted, fished, and trapped – or just roamed the bottoms and mountains for the fun of it. He quickly learned to “stand,” “heel,” and “back up.” Once learned, he obeyed perfectly. If I needed help getting up a muddy creek bank after setting a trap, or looking for mink sign, I had only to say, “back up.” Tooter backed into position, waited until I grasped his tail, then pulled me up the bank. Tooter was a world class sprinter, by human standards. Using the “stand” command, I timed him at 7 seconds flat in the one hundred yard dash, breaking the world record by two seconds or so – for a man.
      Tooter saved me more than once. One hot summer day, walking barefoot down an overgrown lane to fish  Lilly Pad Lake, Tooter was in the heel position. He suddenly stepped ahead of me, then jumped aside. Looking down, I saw a large water moccasin, coiled and fangs bared, lying where my next step would have taken me.
      Tooter became a good squirrel dog, though not in the normal sense of the term. He did not trail squirrels, but ran, crashing through the underbrush, scaring any self-respecting squirrel into movement. His sharp eyes caught the flash of fur, and another squirrel was treed. Once he had him in sight, he would follow him when he jumped from tree to tree. We worked well as a team. While I waited quietly on one side of the tree, Tooter crashed to the other side to turn the squirrel. They were an important source of meat for my family. The only meat we ate was either salt pork or an occasional chicken, which got old after awhile, or meat that I hunted or fished for.
      One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain, the northern edge of my world, Fourche Valley. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe creek up Wing holler,' avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown. The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled Oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.
      I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about one hundred  yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the freshly fallen leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.
      The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of fox squirrels and memories of a night that the passing decades have not erased.
The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Hollow. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies.” One Saturday we set out up the holler. After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf or coyote. I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.
As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, my concern for my marine combat knife overcame my concern for the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.
      Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought it through many times in the past fifty plus  years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the bend. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buell Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store whittling and spitting tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do.
 Continued in about four days. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Burning Cross - Part Two

When the trial came, she testified fully, and several were convicted. I'm not really sure how much jail time they actually served.

      The local volunteer fire department operated like many others, in that people who lived in the town, if they chose, could pay a regular yearly payment, then if they ever needed the fire department, they were not charged for the services. Those who did not pay the yearly charges were billed for the efforts if their house burned. This house was one of those not covered.
When the bill was sent out for this particular fire, the victim's name was on the bill. But, since the victim was now out of it, and I had taken the house back over, it eventually came to me. The insurance coverage figured in one thousand dollars for the fire department. But this particular bill was for just under six thousand dollars. I appealed it to the fire department, because one thousand, or at most two thousand, seemed to be customary in such cases. They held their ground, said they had to come back again an again all day as flareups occurred, though it was pretty well flat on the ground by 9 AM, and the investigators were already sifting through it.
I checked around. Other volunteer fire department chiefs told me two thousand dollars was the most they had ever charged to fight a similar house fire.
      The insurance company check for the bill that was submitted by the fire department came to me. For it to be cashed, it had to be signed by me and the fire department. I talked to my lawyer about this. He said he couldn't help me. Said taking on a volunteer fire department in court was about like taking on Grandma and her apple pie. I asked him, “Well, what if I just bow up and refuse to sign the check?” He just grinned.
     For months, mail contact went back and forth between us. Little progress. They sent me a letter telling me they were about to turn this over to their “team of lawyers.” I wrote back, told them that it excited me to think that they thought it would take a whole team of lawyers to handle me in a courtroom, when a blind and deaf lawyer would probably shoot me down really quick. I told them the last thing I wanted to do was face their team of lawyers in court, but then I added, “I just have to stick to my guns, whatever happens, because someone at that fire department has tried to stick that victim with a bill she would never get out from under, working for McDonalds and raising three kids alone.
     I got another letter. Said their team of lawyers had determined that five thousand dollars was the maximum bill they could send out, so they would reduce it to that. I wrote back and told them I couldn't hang with that, as I already had my heart set on getting to be in court, facing a whole team of lawyers! How exciting is that! And, with all those reporters and such who still seemed to be really interested in this case, It would get a lot of press. And, all of Arkansas would be reading about their town...again. I reminded them the time limit was about to run out on this check. It wouldn't be any good in a short while. I said, “Just to be nice, I will settle for four thousand dollars.” Or, if they could look back in their files, and prove that anybody else in that town had ever in history paid them as much as five thousand dollars in such a case, I would happily settle for that amount. I was overwhelmed by their silence about that.

     I continued investigating. Seems the president of the Arkansas Volunteer Fire Department Association had a good reputation for being a good, honest, fair man. I wrote, “ Let's just put this whole thing into his hands. I will abide by his decision.”. They wrote right back, saying, “Did you not get our letter? We're settling for four thousand.”

     We settled up. I still had that lot to sell. When I finished up with that, I was ready to leave that town. Forever.
     I haven't bought any more houses. And, I still have seven units I want to sell, at a heck of a deal. The above story is not my worst experience as a landlord. At least, everyone survived this little drama. I haven't always been that lucky. But then, that's another story.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Forever A Hillbilly: The Burning Cross

Forever A Hillbilly: The Burning Cross: Before I start running "The best five posts of 2012," I have this little two part tale I want to tell you. When Barbara and I sold our ph...

The Burning Cross

Before I start running "The best five posts of 2012," I have this little two part tale I want to tell you.

When Barbara and I sold our photography business in 1998, we invested much of our profit in two large, older rent houses, both in small towns a good ways from Arkadelphia. I spent several months cleaning them up and remodeling them, then put them on the market. Buying one of those turned out to be a mistake. It didn't rent well. Took a long time. Then, when it did rent, I found out it's hard to keep a good eye on whats going on there. It finally rented to a couple of women. After a couple of months, they just stopped paying rent. We started the process of eviction. Turns out, that had been their MO for some time. Pay rent a couple of months, then live free for six months, while the eviction process winds at a snail's pace through the court system, month after month.
In Arkadelphia, that process moves fairly quickly along. But in the county where this house was, it was painfully slow. It all depends on how quickly the law serves notices, how hard it is to find the proper person to serve it to, how far apart court dates are, etc. It also depends on how well the renter understands how to work the system, stretching it out. And, these two were pros. Plead innocent the first time before the judge, to get a later date set maybe a month or two down the line. When the final court date did arrive, after six months, and they were finally before a judge with all the facts on the table, the judge gave them twenty four hours to get gone. But that back rent money is hard or impossible to recover, if they don't have a steady job, or a known bank account that is not moved regularly. Or, if we just generally don't have a clue about where they disappeared to in general. I never saw a dime of that rent.

      Another renter, a year or so later, wanted to “Rent to own.” I was ready to sell, so we worked out a deal. With a down payment, the renter takes over upkeep expenses, pays the property taxes, insurance, and keeps paying about the same amount each month as they paid in rent until it's paid off. Then it belongs to the renter.

     This buyer was a single mother, with mixed race small children. She worked at McDonald's. Things went along well, for a short time. This town, it seems, has, for the most part, all white people. One night, a cross burned in her front yard. Then guys harassed her most of the night with fireworks thrown up against the house.

      But this was a gutsy little woman. The next morning, she called the FBI. A hate crimes investigation was soon under way. One of the guys came by the next day. He apologized to her, begged her to call off the FBI. Her answer: “I don't want to hear it. Tell it to the FBI.”

      After another day or so, fearing for her children, she told me she wanted out of the deal. She was moving. Knowing this was not her fault, that she was a victim here, I agreed to give her every penny of her down payment back, and I did. Though legally, the down payment was mine to keep. She moved in with her mother. She started moving her things, and I took the house back over.
About three days after the cross burning, I was fishing on Lake DeGray early one morning. My property manager called me there. The house was burning down. Nobody was living in the house, but much of the renter's stuff was still there. I immediately started getting the names of the fishermen around me, with their contact info. I wanted to be sure I could prove where I was when this happened.

      When Barbara and I arrived at the house at about nine AM, it was a total loss, nothing much left to burn. a few volunteer firemen were mopping up. A large team from the FBI were just moving in to investigate. I talked to the FBI awhile, told them what I knew.

      The cross burning was easily solved. One of them had been identified. So, the dominoes began to fall. While some local people had quickly told the investigators it was just “Children, playing tricks,” some of the “children” charged were over forty. Pretty old children.

      The house burning was a different matter. Those charged with the cross burning maintained they knew nothing about the house burning. A popular idea being spread around town was that the victim of the cross burning, herself, burned the house. Though anything is possible, I had trouble with that theory. She had nothing to gain. I had already given all her money back to her, for which she was very grateful. Nobody was ever charged in the house burning, to this day.

     As the date for the trials for the cross burning moved to a court date, she said she was being harassed by people who came in where she worked, and calling where she now lived. She moved into another of my rent houses, farther away, and she, and we, kept her location very secret
Continued           Thanks for Reading!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pretty Good Barnyard English

I thought I would have my book, Spreading Wing, out by now. The publishing process just seems to drag on and on, though. But Amazon is doing a great job. A goodly bit of the delays were in my court, I'll have to admit.

      I could have hired a professional to proof read and edit, and, as it turned out, I would have been time ahead. But the thought of an editor scares me. Bad.

      The first publisher, from another company that I considered, called and talked to me several times. After I had told her about my blog, she called me again a few days later, and we talked a long time that day. “You're not a trained writer, are you? Your work is a bit raw.” I had to admit, she had me pegged. “Nobody else writes like that. Others spend a lot of time slicking up their work.” We talked a long time after she said that, about my blog posts, and how I had made Barbara into my star, on and on. I began to realize, she had read them all, one hundred or so.

     I do not want a slick book. I'm not a slick person, forever a hillbilly and all that. And, I don't want anybody else editing and slicking my thoughts up until I totally lose my identity. I'm who I am, for better or worse. I want to tell my memories, preserved just like they came out of my mind, just like I talk. For good or bad. At the end of the day, I want to die knowing it is my book. My thoughts. My memories. Told just like I talk. Pure me. And, I love short sentences, and long paragraphs.

      My eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Apple, told me once I had pretty good barnyard English. That's about the closest I've ever come to a grammar award. She might not have been so complimentary, though, if I had not been so sweet on her daughter, Virginia, at the time.

      Barbara Knows what I'm trying to do with this book. I trust her to not start changing my thoughts all around. And, she's a word guru. She helped me a lot. But her back will just not hold up to endless hours of proof reading at the computer. So, most of the proof reading fell to me. And that's hard. What sounded good when it came out of my mind sounded perfectly good the next ten times I read it also. And, I tend to start re-living my stories, and forget my purpose. I tend to think, If it's very large or very important, it just must be capitalized. To try to keep my attention on my task, I read it through backwards once, word by word. Then backwards paragraph by paragraph. The paragraph thing didn't work. Since much of my book consists of one paragraph stories, hundreds of them that stand alone, I still started re-living my stories. 

      My dear friend Jane Quick, a retired English prof. At OBU, has read much of it. One thing she told me was to set a trash can beside my computer, and just dump most of those commas into the trash. But I like to herd those words around, with lots of commas, like I herded those cattle at Wing around with a stick. A world without commas is a bland, boring world, to my way of thinking. How could I ever write, just like I talk, without commas to guide the way?

     Jane's husband was a very funny guy. I wish I had known him. He was a teacher. He was famous for doing pratfalls in his classes, just to get a laugh. At his funeral, not long ago, two of his grand kids walked up to speak of him. They both fell flat on their faces! Barbara threw Jane a party on her 80th birthday. Most all of her friends were over 80, so I worried that they might need help walking up our steep hill. So I stayed down at the bottom of the hill, in case anybody needed me. As it turned out, they all work out hard every day at the gym, just like Jane, regular gym rats. Any one of them could have thrown me over their shoulder and carried me up! At 80, Jane could lie down, grasp one of those huge workout balls between her feet, reach back, and lay it on the floor above her head. Barbara just loves visiting every Wednesday with Jane! Anybody would.

      Amazon first said, Barbara could not send my book to them, in the only form they would accept, without Word, which we don't have on our computer. But Barbara kept quizzing her until she googled it, then said, “Yes, it is possible, but-” That's all Barbara needed to know. She got it there. Like I've said, Barbara just will not let any task she starts defeat her. And, she's totally self taught on the computer. She sent my second batch of corrections of the two proofs in today, and it now looks like a pre-Christmas book is out of the question, time wise. But now, the hay is in the barn. The crop is laid by. I'll let you know here when it's available on in America and Europe. I specified Europe also, because in talking to many of our European friends when we were there, (As you know, if you've been reading this blog, Barbara has thousands of European friends) I learned many, many Europeans have ancestors who just sold it all and moved to America when free homestead land became available in the 1800's, and Spreading Wing will tell my European readers much about how they lived when they got here. And, it's all true. I love all my foreign readers of this blog, currently from fifty one countries around the world. Who woulda' guessed!.

     I hope you read it, and like it. I did, every one of those four hundred fifty or so pages, the twenty or so times I've read it. Thanks for reading!

You responded so well to my five best stories of 2011, that I have decided to run the five most read stories of 2012, starting next post. Since The Summer of My Broken Heart still got the most reads, I may have to go fiction, and write a romance book next. It will have to be fiction, because my true love life is already pretty much an open book.:)