Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kairos Prison Ministry

SPREADING WING - My next book signing will be at Hastings Book Store, Russellville, Ar. March 9, 1 - 3 PM.
In Arkadelphia, signed books are available at Covenant Book Store. Book signing will be March 13, 1-3, maybe a bit longer to catch school people.
Book may be viewed and purchased on

Kairos Prison Ministry

I just got back from a long weekend (four days) at the medium security prison at Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I did this once before, last August. But I didn't talk much about it. Not because I didn't want to, because I always come back really pumped up, ready to tell the whole world about my wonderful experience on a Kairos Inside team. But I remembered there was a word or two written about “hiding our good works under a bushel” and I was not sure how Kairos felt about that. But I heard the Chairman of the Board of Kairos International speak last night, and he mentioned we need to get the word out about the great work Kairos does, since we usually have a shortage of good men available. And, since it's my habit to tell you all I do, want to do, and think about doing, I was delighted to hear that. It just so happens that that chairman is a good old Arkadelphia boy, but since I have never met a Kairos man who wanted to be publicly bragged on, since it is not him actually making all this possible, but God, I won't mention names here.
Each four day weekend is called a “Walk.” Two per year, and this was the 38th Walk at Pine bluff. In between Walks, a small group of Kairos men go down to the prison each week, attend services in the chapel pretty well put on by the Men in White who are graduates of the Kairos program, just to support and keep contact with them. Kairos seems to have reunions at the drop of a hat, also.We stay in touch with these men.
The team I was a part of for this walk consisted of 21 men, from all over Arkansas, from many Christian denominations. We prepared for this walk by meeting most Saturdays this winter leading up to Feb. 21. We worked and prayed toward making ourselves humble, vulnerable. Each man sets his denomination's specific beliefs and customs aside for the duration, and we work to become one very close group in working for Jesus Christ. One group, one purpose. Period. I would gladly drive to Little Rock any time just to be in the midst of those twenty men. But again, it's not all about these men. It's what God does through these men.
We are all commanded by Jesus to visit him in prison. But it's not practical for every Christian to actually go inside. Hundreds and hundreds of other Christians become our outside support team. They provide constant prayer during the time we are there, posters and good wishes to post on the walls, donations. I personally dislike asking for money, but nothing in this world gets done for free. We also take in 50 dozen cookies each, usually more, provided by the support team. The first thing we do upon reaching Pine bluff is bag up 1000 bags of 12 cookies each. Cookies play a very important role. Every single person inside those walls is going to have a good mess of cookies delivered to them, personally, twice during that time, so they love to see Kairos coming. They love us before we even show up! Each one of the 21 Kairos men writes a personal letter to each of the 24 inmates. Some get very little mail normally. Some get no mail, except those 24 letters. They treasure those bags of letters.
We meet with a group of 24 inmates who have never experienced a Walk before, volunteered, then been chosen from that group of volunteers. Each morning, those 24 men come in, one at a time, and are met by twenty one smiling men singing “When the saints go marching in,” clapping, shaking their hand, and all ready with a hug if they want one. Most all do. They get few hugs in that prison. That entrance moment is very powerful. Many are crying before it's over, both inmates and free world men alike.
Six inmates are seated at a table, along with two Kairos laymen and a clergy. We listen to talks given by clergy and laymen alike, each with a specific goal in mind. The talks are pretty well scripted, chosen from talks proven to work hundreds of times before. Speakers are discouraged from branching out and throwing in their own ideas too much, which may or may not work. Each talk has been evaluated by at least two other Kairos men before being given during The Walk.
Each table of men then discusses the talk, with the table leader only talking enough to get all the inmates involved, if possible, and help avoid the discussion being dominated by a few. The clergy is there to answer difficult questions, and counseling when needed. The inmates then make a poster about their feelings brought out by the talk, and this poster reflects that. The inmates then take their poster up and explain it to the whole group. Platters of cookies and fruit are served by Kairos graduates, along with drinks, usually cool aid, coffee, and water.
From time to time, we all move into the chapel for singing, praying, and short talks. Plenty of break time is provided, a good time for visiting and building relationships. Each day goes from early morning to late at night, with meals served at these same tables, on place mats usually made by the children on our support team. Good will and love posters from many other Kairos groups around the world are being posted daily on the walls.
And thus it goes. By the end of the first day, each table of men is usually a pretty tight group. These men, to my experience, have no wish to be smart alecs, or show how tough they are. They're full grown men. Broken men, who finally have come to see the need to put their broken lives back together, as best they can. Many come to realize that through the grace offered by Jesus Christ is a good way. Some see it as the only way.
Some come in skeptical, and leave that way. Some just come for the good food and the cookies, but usually leave with much more. But every man who accepts Jesus becomes a good example, at least, and some become God's missionaries in a dark place. Kairos stays beside them, all the way, during their journey.
When I was trying to explain Kairos to Barbara, she said, “So, a very large part of your job is to model for these men the forgiveness, love, and grace available to them by God. Is that right?” Well, I had never heard it put just that way by Kairos, but I guess, that's about right.
We never ask why they're in there in the first place. God can forgive them, and we're not there to judge them. Personally, I'd rather not know. But if they wish to talk about it, we're there to listen. Many do.
The leader of each walk is always a layman, and he serves in that capacity only once, lest he become prideful. Kairos has only a small handful of paid staff, with 30,000 volunteers around the world doing most all the work. “Kairos Outside” weekends, very similar in structure, are also provided for families and loved ones regularly, at no cost to them.
      We can't fix the broken families surrounding these men, the tattooed  faces, the physical and emotional scars, but God can change their hearts.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Artie Mae and Dorothy Bell

Spreading Wing - My next book signing for Spreading Wing will be March 9 at Hastings Book Store at Russellville, Ar.  1 - 3 PM. Come by and pick up your book there!

Artie Mae and Dorothy Bell

Many, many of us older people have trouble remembering what happened yesterday. Or this morning. Or, often, five minutes ago. But many of us still have a pretty good long term memory. Take me for example. I have memories of several things that happened to me when I was two years old. And, I can sometimes remember what my thought processes were, long before I could talk a lick. Although I do have to admit, I couldn't talk a lick until I was nearly four.
      We pretty well like to tell our old stories, and when we run dry, we just start repeating. Again and again. Or maybe you noticed.
Most all of us have a few, or at least one, REALLY good story mixed in. If one just takes time to listen to a person who has lived a long time, sometimes you can come up with a real jewel. Such a person is my friend Dorothy Bell.
      Dorothy, as a young girl, lived near Gurdon. It was December of 1942. (Dorothy Bell, you see, has an amazing memory of dates, times, places.) She was living with her mama, Artie Mae, and her father. Things weren't going well between her parents along about then. She knew her Papa had just started having an affair with that big, red haired woman that lived out that way. Papa and Dorothy Bell were sitting at the kitchen table one day. Artie Mae, just recovering from a miscarriage, had gone out to the well to get a bucket of water. The well was right beside the kitchen door. When she walked back in, something just set papa off. Dorothy Bell didn't know what set him off at that moment, but both Dorothy's parents had pretty well been on a short fuse for some time, ever since his dallying about had come to light. Well, Papa just jumped up and hit Artie Mae really hard with his fist, breaking his little finger. He knocked her clear across the room and up against the wall, and she was unconscious for a time. Papa sat back down. Artie Mae finally came around, slowly picked up a piece of stove wood, and set in on Papa. As Dorothy Bell said, “she just totally beat him into a pulp.” They lived together three more years, but things were different after that. For one thing, Papa never hit Artie Mae again.
       After the divorce, Artie Mae and Dorothy Bell lived together for a long time. They move to Dallas, to a house with six apartments. They had a neighbor, Dewey, who came to see them from time to time. One day, he showed up with a sorta mean looking young feller, who they had never seen before. Seems his name was Malcomb Wayne. In the course of the conversation, A neighbor lady walked by, and Malcomb wayne made an off color remark to her. Artie Mae told him to leave her alone. Malcomb Wayne never came back with Dewey again. Time rocked on. On Halloween night of l957, Dorothy Bell had the Asian Flu, and they had both gone to bed early, both their beds being in the same bedroom.I just heard a screen being cut,” Artie Mae said. Then, they listened hard. They both heard it. They quietly got up, Dorothy Bell was given a claw hammer. “If you get a shot at him, try to hit him real hard right in the head,” her mother told her.
     There was only one other weapon in the apartment for Artie Mae. Seems the last tenant had left a really big, long, custom made butcher knife. They tiptoed to the door of the room the sound was coming from. It was dark, but In the moonlight, they could see a figure climbing through the cut screen of the screened in back porch. He flipped out a switch blade knife. They started running for the front door, then headed down the stairs; they could hear him running behind them. They were nearly at the bottom of the stairs when he caught them. The switch blade flashed, and a long, deep gash was cut in Dorothy Bell's forearm. That scar is still visible today. Blood was spurting. Artie Mae took a swing at him with the big butcher knife, and cut off an ear, barely hanging on by a little skin. Blood was gushing from him too, even worse than Dorothy Mae's slice. As Artie Mae was taking another long stab at him, his fist hit her arm, and the knife went sliding across the floor in the dark. Dorothy Bell knew she just had to beat him to it, as she ran and slid across the floor. He turned his attention on Artie Mae, knocking her down, up against the wall, hitting her again and again with his fists. When Dorothy Bell found the knife, she headed into the fray. Her Mother was getting beaten into a pulp. Dorothy Mae swung hard, not stabbing, just whacking hard with the blade, right between the shoulder blades. Every time the blade landed, she said, “Let her loose.” She swung again. And again. When each one landed, she ordered “Turn her loose.” After about ten blows, he was losing a lot of blood, getting too weak to continue. The Police had been called by a neighbor who heard the fuss. The police arrived, accompanied by a long black hearse. The hearse doubled for an ambulance in those days. Artie Mae told Dorothy Bell later, “You really hit him hard. I could feel every lick you hit, jarring his body into mine!” From the ambulance lights, they could see him. It was Malcomb Wayne. He was put on a stretcher, none too gently, and slid into the hearse/Ambulance. Then Dorothy Bell was loaded into the front seat.
They were taken to Parkland Hospital, on Harry Hinds Blvd., the same hospital President Kennedy would later be taken to after he was shot.
Dorothy Bell waited outside a long time, while Malcomb Wayne was being attended to. Then they sewed her up too. Artie Mae, though beaten to a pulp, didn't get a ride in the hearse. Not enough blood on her, and the hearse was pretty well full.
      Later, in court, Dorothy Bell was filmed testifying. She got to see herself on TV that night, Pony tail and all. A very rare thing in those early days of TV and video cameras. The judge said to Malcomb Wayne, “If those two women had killed you, there's not a thing I could have done about it. You weren't supposed to be there.” Turns out, that was the extent of his punishment.
A few days later, Dorothy Bell and Artie Mae went to get the stitches out. As they sat in the waiting room, Malcomb Wayne came in, sat down right behind them. Dorothy Bell watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was pulling out his switchblade; he held it a few moments, looked at her awhile, then started cleaning his fingernails. But he never bothered those two ladies that day. They had a shock when they got home. The landlord told them to move out. The only time ever, Dorothy Bell says, they were evicted. In 1976, Dorothy bell moved to Denton. Her mother later moved up to join her in a large apartment complex. In 1980, they saw a new tenant move in one day. Artie May asked Dorothy Bell, “Did you see who that was?” Dorothy Bell shook her head. They both knew. Malcomb Wayne and his Mama. But he never got anywhere close to those two women again.
Dorothy Bell and her mother later moved to Arkadelphia. Artie Mae passed away a few years ago. Dorothy Bell now lives alone, quietly.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I'm going to be doing a few days of prison ministry, At Pine Bluff, so I will be gone a few days from my computer. I'll put up a new post next week. Thanks for reading!

Sister Barbara and I once got to wondering about this Santa Clause thing. We decided that since he came down the chimney, maybe he was holed up in the attic. We crawled up and explored it real well. By the time we had finished, we both needed to go to the bathroom real bad. Well, it was dark up there, so we did. When we came down, there were two brown stains on the ceiling above Mom and Dad's bed. They never went away, and we never heard the last of it.

Taking a bath in the winter time was a major undertaking. We had to haul water up from the well, way down the hill, heat it on the wood cook stove and put it in a round washtub. We took turns, and being the youngest, I was just naturally last. I was nearly grown before I realized bath water was not supposed to be brown. Summer time baths were easy. We had a nice round hole in the rocks down on the creek, a natural bath tub. Once, a water moccasin took over the tub while Dad was taking a bath, and ran him plumb up the hill.

I visited Aunt Lula a lot when I was growing up. I always hollered, “Anybody home?” She always answered, “Nobody home!” She always made the best mackerel salad. Once, she found a dead civet cat in her well, and since it was trapping season she brought it over to me. Now, the civet cat is the first cousin to a skunk, but it had a good looking fur, so I set in to skin it. When I made the first cut, it sprayed all over me. I went in the back door of the house to wash up, and everybody else went out the front door.

Gradually, I graduated to helping Dad in the fields. Once, on Sunday, Dad decided that the corn needed to be fertilized because rains were forecast on Monday. Mom felt real bad about this, because working on Sunday was a major no-no. It was the only time I was ever asked to. She gave me money to go to the store and buy up a good supply of candy for that day. I was carrying a heavy bag of ammonium nitrate, spreading it in the middles, while Dad plowed it in behind me. Now, he was covering two rows at a time, me one. So, I had to move twice as fast as he did. It was a hard day. I figured up at the end I had walked thirteen miles that day, double time. But I sure was full of candy!

A Two Flower Man
There is one man buried in the cemetery at Rover who, though he was not a Gillum or a Lazenby at all, has always commanded so much respect in me that his story must be told. RL Whitten. He was a friend of Elbert Lazenby, Uncle Euriel's son. He almost became a member of the family. When the war came along, Elbert was soon in action, as a radio man on a bomber. His plane was shot down, and Elbert became one of many casualties of war.
RL remained a part of the Lazenby family. Elbert's sister, Delphia, had severe physical limitations. They were permanent, and her life expectations were very dim. As we all would be, she seemed to me to be deeply embittered about her lot in life.
RL started dating Delphia. They soon married, and RL, a nice looking man, a preacher and a teacher, made Delphia his princess. He put her up on a pedestal, waited on her hand and foot all her life, and to my observations as a boy, was endlessly patient, and very tolerant of her mood swings. And, he single handedly elevated her life to a level far above anyone's reasonable expectations.
As a boy, I was around them a lot. This was at a time when cousins still kept close contact with cousins. I never knew what was in his heart, only what I saw, as a boy. He was my greatest example of the supreme servant nature, and I always reserve a little extra time, thinking about RL Whitten, on decoration day. Along with an extra flower.

I have never thought I had a deprived childhood, as some might think when reading this. I had very few material things, compared to children of today. But actually, I sorrow for them. I could walk out my back door, walk forty miles south, and never see a house, maybe never see another person, and never cross a paved road. Now I ask you, what child has a back yard to compare with that? The adventures many children today can only hope to see on television were lived out daily by Tooter, Sammy, and me.

The older I get, the more I respect my Dad, who I only knew as an old man. A really, really hard working old man.
Me being the youngest of my generation, born when my Dad was fifty-two, only I, his helper, know fully how hard Dad pushed himself as an old man. I never told him just how much I respected him, for working so hard and so long, for so many years after he fully deserved to be retired. Retirement, and living the easy life was a luxury he never allowed himself.
Every year I age, and every day I work, I respect my dad more and more.
It would be nice if I could just tell him that, now. Now that I more fully understand what he was going through. But, as a boy, all I could see was that all those long hours of work we did were keeping me from doing something that was more fun, like jogging down to the river and fishing awhile. Or playing ball.
It's almost shocking to me, sometimes, to think that when Dad was my age, he still had eleven more years of hard work to do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grandma's Milk Cows

     At about ten years old, I was all into Indians. I decided to make myself an Indian costume. I had a belt around me, with a flap hanging down in front, and one in back. That's all. Not another stitch. I put a feather in my hair for effect. I had a tomahawk. Once, when my sisters were all on the front porch, I decided to show off my costume. I ran the full length of the porch, jumped off real high, and gave a war whoop. It changed into a scream when I realized, once I reached the peak of my jump, that my costume had a flaw. Both flaps flew up. It seemed like I was in the air forever, then when I hit the ground I could not get out of sight quickly enough.
Grandma's milk cows

Grandma Gillum, left a widow after the death of John Wesley in 1922, continued to work hard, raising her large flock of chickens. The eggs were sold to the "chicken peddler." She also had cattle, and among them she had four milk cows. During that time, most of the cattle roamed the free range south mountains. Some people grew corn in the bottoms, along the river. A likely scenario here was, the cattle got into someone's unfenced corn patch. Possibly in retribution, Grandma's milk cows were stolen. Chances are, the wild mountain cattle could not be taken, but the tame milk cows would be easy prey. That's a possible scenario. All we really know for sure was that Grandma's four milk cows were stolen. Someway, somehow, someone must have thought he saw them in another man's possession. But, that man made a very serious mistake. He said they were his. Grandma needed help, and she knew just the man.

From all I have heard about Grandma Gillum she was a wise, hard, and strong woman. She had grown sons, hard and mature, around her, but for this milk cow thief, she needed a specialist. Indeed she knew one; the man who raised her, sister Dozie's husband, W. H. “Harry” Poynter. Harry must have been getting up in years by this time, probably in his seventies. The time frame here must have been near the mid 1920's, because my uncle Homer spoke of this event around 1928 as something that occurred a few years earlier.

Though Uncle Harry was now an old man, he had a very, very colorful past. During the Civil war, he fought in many hard battles for the south. And, he was a legendary figure in the Pope County Militia War, which I call “Uncle Harry's Little War.” During that war, he once took on three men in a gunfight in downtown Dover, killing one and running the other two out of town, chased by much flying lead. He later faced down a thirty man possee, sent from Russellville to arrest him, with the words, “I will only give up my guns with my life, and make the man who takes it pay a heavy price.” This also took place in downtown Dover. Eventually, the possee went home without Harry.

      Uncle Harry came over and set out to find the thief. Some were able to give him a pretty good idea about where to start, I would imagine. After a time, he came back with the milk cows. No questions asked, no answers given. The law investigated, because a man had come up missing. To my knowledge, no arrest was ever made.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Impressing the Grandboys

SPREADING WING EXCERPT or locally at Covenant Book Store!
For many years, when JR Turner saw a member of my family, he always asked about Ruby. At 100, he still did. He looked great, got around well. But his short term memory recycled very fast. When we have to tell him, again, that Ruby has been dead many decades, he begins the mourning process all over again. But it does not last long. The last time I talked to JR, his memories were essentially gone. He has, at long last, been released from his lifelong agony of loving, and losing, Ruby. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 102.
I seem to have this need for my grandboys to remember me as being outstanding in some physical way, because boys are all about physical strengths. The problem is, I never did have many physical strengths to begin with, and what I did have are pretty well all gone. So I'm going to tell you my story about my search to bring this about, over the years.
      Caylie is my only granddaughter. She's a freshman at OBU now. We just love having her at Arkadelphia. But Caylie is a lady, rarely impressed by one's physical exploits. So, I just never felt the need to impress her with my physical strengths. And, she runs half marithons, and is a skydiver What could I do physically to impress a half marithoner, and a skydiver? Nothing, that's what.
      The grand boys are totally different. All four of them. Christian is the oldest, fifteen, weighing in at 192 with no fat, six feet tall, so I know better than to try to impress him with most physical things. Afraid he might impress me with his own physical things. But years ago, when he was much younger, I did impress him with my ability to start a fire out in the woods, under any weather conditions, using only a match and natural things available out in the woods. That impressed him. I also showed him how to start a campfire with flint and steel, and he just grabbed onto that one and worked and worked at it until he had mastered that too. When he was much younger, he and I were sitting around a campfire one night. I have to make a confession here, I occasionally have a small chew of tobacco. But I was still trying to conceal it from him. I didn't think he would be greatly impressed by that fact, and he never has been. Anyway, as we were sitting there spitting into the fire, as everyone worth their salt does in that situation, Christian just had to know. “Papaw, how come when I spit, it's clear. But you can spit brown. Now, why is that?” Well, I wasn't ready yet to tell him that whole story, he would find out soon enough. “Son, you have to reach way down into your lungs and bring it up from real deep to get to the brown stuff.” Christian started working at it. He just went deeper and deeper, just wore himself out. Couldn't do it. But he continued working on that for some time. He soon figured that whole thing out on his own.
Jordan and Jackson are brothers, and both are rough and tumble boys. They get a lot of experience at it, fighting like cats and dogs. All day. Every day. After coming home from two hours of wrestling.
      I just feel like my grandsons should carry memories of me around when they are older, and I 'm pushing up daisies, as a strong, fast, or tough old man. But it's too late. I can't impress them with my speed, I can barely get out of a good fast jog. On a good day. Strength, I never did have much of that. That just leaves tough.
      We were sitting in their house one night, several years ago. I told them I would give them one shot each at pulling on the long hair on my forearm. I've got a lot of it. My “kids” at our orphanage we worked at in Africa often said, “Uncle Pat is like Esau.” They both pulled as hard as they could. Though I was screaming inside, I just sat there and took it, never changed my expression. After that, they often said, “Papaw is the strongest man in the world. He's even stronger than Daddy.” Well, their father Mickey is about the strongest man I know. He could easily snap me like a twig, so I just wallowed in their admiration. Lately, the youngest, Carson, now six, got his shot at my forearm hair. But he somehow had it figured out. He didn't pull straight out, as the older ones did. He just grabbed a good handful of hair, leveraged his fist some way against my arm to get an unfair advantage of me, and pulled out a whole handful of hair. I've decided its about time to retire that one. But I kept a straight face the whole time. I'm proud about that.
      Two or three years ago, they all got into a big gunfight with those air soft guns (they shoot plastic BB's, unlike the metal kind) at my house, wearing goggles. I watched closely. Those plastic pellets went a long way, but you could follow the path of the pellet all the way out, so I knew they didn't pack a big punch. So I took advantage of that opportunity to impress. I put on goggles, and gave each of them five free shots at my face at about fifteen feet. Only one, right on the ear, stung a long time, but they were all impressed. I worked very hard at never moving or blinking. That's the key.
      Barbara and I looked after Jordan and Jackson this week, and our main job was to keep them from killing each other. They now had a new, up to date, and obviously much improved model of the air soft gun, a pistol. Jordan was ragging Jackson about crying when he got shot in the back with it a few days ago, and that impressed me, because our family motto for a long time had been, If Jackson cries, call 911. For good reason. He just almost never cries from pain.
Well, I saw a new way to impress the grand boys. I watched them shoot it a couple of times, and though I could never follow the pellet when they shot it, I just assumed it was because it would soon be dark. I backed off ten feet or so, turned my back, raised my shirt, told them to each shoot me in the back. Well, this turned out to be a whole different gun. Jack shot me, and the blood started flowing, though it didn't penetrate much. They were impressed. Well, I still had one more shot to take, and there was just no way I was going to destroy that image of being the world's toughest Papaw that I had spent years building up in my grandsons. I turned around, told Jordan to take his best shot. He did, and it felt like it hit even harder, but at least no blood. Just a big bruise. I never reacted outwardly to either shot, though inwardly I was bawling like a baby. That's was enough of that for that day. My reputation was now reinforced in blood.
      The boys went upstairs, and I went to the kitchen for a long knife. I called Jackson down, handed him the knife. Told him that bullet could still be in my back, possibly, and I couldn't reach my back to dig it out. I told him I was going to lie down, and, since he's the one who pulled the trigger, stick that knife in that hole about half an inch and dig that bullet out. Tough as he was, Jackson turned white as a sheet. While he was still in the white state, I took back the knife, told him I would let him off.
      When we all go to the State Fair together, I let the boys pick out the baddest ride on the place, then ride that with one of them. That's all I ride. Always with a big smile on my face, flaunting the “no hands” thing. When I get off, I always get out of their sight as quickly as possible. In case I have to throw up. Where carnival rides are concerned, Carson, just six remember, takes the cake. He's still very small, yet he begs to ride all of them. He managed to get on one this year that he should not have been on in the first place, and the bar did not fit tight enough to hold him. He got slung all over that cage.
      So, all you Grandpa's out there, remember if you're weak and can't run, like me, you can still impress the grand boys in physical things. The key is to show absolutely no reaction to pain, then you can go in the bathroom. And have a good cry.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Conclusion - Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

It landed on the snag. I was, I must admit, too awestruck to even think about my camera. It was huge. The description fit. It hitched it's neck, and turned it, looking behind. I was later told by one expert on that bird that even an Ivory Billed Woodpecker probably could not do that. But then, he had never seen a living Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and this bird did that. As it walked out a limb, certain distinguishing markings were very clear to me. Unfortunately, my forgotten camera sat idle in my hands, and I just gawked.
      A pileated woodpecker has a white line running from it's head to it's wing, disappearing under its wing when the wings are folded, as this one was. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker's white line goes up onto the wing, and down the length of it.

      This bird had that white line, the full length of the wing.

      That marking was very clear to me. The first rays of the morning sun spotlighted the bird as he reached the end of the limb. My camera suddenly came awake, and I shot again and again. The bird flew. Afterwords, I went over what I saw and what I did not see in my mind carefully. The angle of my view was pretty steep. I had no memory of seeing the white shield on the back. I felt, at some point, though, I could have seen that. But, it was not in my memory afterwords.
I heard the "Bam, bam, bam, -- bam!" drumming sound, totally different from the Pileated wood Pecker, three more times that morning. Then it was time to go home. Deer season started up again the next day, and there would be hunters swarming this area, so I stayed away a few days.
I knew I would need all the help a great lab could give me with those pictures. From our professional days, I knew just the lab. I instructed them to "push" the film two stops. It was still very early in the morning for a film camera. I had no digital camera at that time. It was at about the time, 2006, when digital was beginning to take over, film was about to become a thing of the past.
It took several days, during which I knew I had the first modern day photo of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker. I was torn. Should I make it public, and risk an influx of people running the birds off? Or should I keep their secret, hopefully allowing them to make some sort of comeback in that very isolated place? The habitat was great. The Ouachita Mountains arose out of that river, with thousands of acres of pine timber. Down river about a mile, there was a very large plot of beetle killed pines, very attractive to large woodpeckers. They simply strip the dead bark off the tree, and eat the beetles underneath. Hundreds of acres.
      When the pictures arrived, I had the best books I could find in hand, showing all the markings. But, after studying the best photo, I knew it would not hold up. The bird had turned toward me, and the wing markings were indistinct. The best photo was not totally sharp.
I was still torn. I knew what I knew, but I had no real evidence. I decided to contact the man who was, it seemed, considered to be the world's expert on that bird. I discussed my situation several times with him, and I sent him my picture. After studying it, he said he needed a video. One questionable photo was not enough. While I knew I was lacking in proof, I did see that bird well, and there was not a bit of doubt in my mind. I bought a good video camera, and went to work. I set up several blinds, some with bait stations. About fifteen mornings that winter, I left home at twoAM, arriving in the river bottoms at daylight. But, to make a long story short, I never heard that particular drumming sound again, though I saw many Pileated Woodpeckers, and never another sighting. I downloaded the actual sounds of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, made over half a century ago, and amplified and broadcast them out. The Blue Jays went crazy. Their sound is similar. I videoed several birds responding to that call, but they all turned out to be a dead end. One particular bird that responded seemed to sound a little different. I only saw it through my video viewfinder, and my video only showed a few flaps of its wings before it disappeared over the tree tops. Since my only view was through the video view finder, I could tell little about the real size of the bird. I could not stop the action at a point where I could see markings that would tell me something. I called the expert. I asked him, "If I send you a video I have, will you call me back and give me an opinion?" He replied, "I'd be glad to, Pat." I sent it. A few hours later, I managed to stop the video at a critical point. Markings showed. I knew it was not what I had hoped. I waited to see if he was a man of his word. He never replied. Since he was not a man of his word, even to give me a negative answer, that told me a lot about this expert. That was our last communication.

     What I saw, and heard, that one morning in November just seemed to be there no longer.
The last morning I spent looking for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Corps of Engineers did a control burn on my plot, and the fire ran me out. My blinds and bait stations were destroyed. I knew by now the Corps of Engineers were curious about what I was doing there so often, and a local farmer was also, seeing me drive by his house so often. He sent word to me, "If there are Ivory Billed Woodpeckers down there, I'll shoot every one of them." I sent word back, "If you can find one down there, you're a better man than I am." I decided it was time to drop this search, and let that totally isolated spot become isolated again.
      I knew I could never conveince anybody else with my lack of evidence. But I know what I saw, that morning in November. 2006. And to my dying day, I will always remain conveinced that the Ivory Bill Woodpecker was alive and well in the Fourche River bottoms in 2006. Their secret is safe. Maybe, that's as it should be. That was one difficult decision I didn't have to make. Making such a claim as I have made here, without proof, makes one seem to be somewhat of a kook, so I have since been hesitant to talk about this, and I have told few people. I felt they may have raised young that year in that hollow tree I saw the one in. But if so, they have moved on. I pray they are making some sort of a comeback in those thousands of acres of the Ouachita National forest near by. I won't bother them again. Six years have passed. I decided to tell it here.

The world needs to know.

Please do not ask for details about the location. I will not tell. That area is totally isolated, with no good reason for people to come in, except to deer hunt. It needs to stay that way.

This story was the most read story of 2012.  Thanks for your time, and your attention.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Launching and Story Reading

My reading  of my story, "The Summer of my Broken heart," which until recently had been the most-read story of my blog, was recently read at Tales From the South at the Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock, Ar. It can be heard on the radio, KUAR 89.1 FM at 7:PM  in central Arkansas.on Valentine's Day. For other areas of the country, The Tales from the South program will be aired at later times. It will later be heard in many countries.
The video may be viewed at this link:  Scroll down to the seventh reader.
The official launching for my book, SPREADING WING was held at Wing, Arkansas, the small mountain community in which I grew up, in the beautiful old church I attended as a child. It was totally wonderful, one of my best days ever! I saw so many old friends of my childhood. My children, Corey and Kinley were there. They met Edith Turner, 90, a life long resident of Wing, who was my mother's friend. My mother passed away when they were infants. Now they are slightly one side or the other of 40. They just stayed close to her, hung on her every word, just could never let her go as she told them stories of their grandmother. Kinley said, "Holding her hand was like finally having the chance to hold the hand of my grandmother." Wow! Corey and several others, at great risk to life and limb, climbed up to the old classroom above. The stairs are long gone. This church was built in 1880, and that classroom has been unused for 70-80 years at least,  nobody living knows for sure. Maybe a lot longer. Nephew Ken Gillum stated, " It was like stepping back in time." The name of my aunt, Leta Lazenby, who had left Wing forever in 1930 was written on the chalk board. It was as plain as if it was written yesterday. Wow!
      The book launching went amazingly well. Those mountain and valley folks always support their own, even one away for 50 years. I'm sure many of them just remembered me as one of the Gillum young'ns. I've now sold out of the first printing, and printing number two is on the way to me. Of course, it's always available on And the Kindle conversion is for sale on Amazon too, US and Europe. Signed books are available in Arkadelphia at Covenant Book Store.
     A book signing has been scheduled for March 9th at the Hastings Bookstore in Russellville, Ar. 1 - 3 PM. Books will be available there as soon as my new order comes in. In Wing, Arkansas, signed editions of Spreading Wing can be found at Gilliland's Store  Wing is not shown on most road maps anymore, but is halfway between Rover and Briggsville on Hwy. 28, 13 miles from Danville. Across the road, wonderful pizza is available on selected days.
  I'll get back to part two of my Ivory Billed Woodpecker story next post. Thanks for Reading!   

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

My brother Harold and I fished a remote and totally deserted stretch of the Fourche La Fave River one summer. The river ran low, and it was shallow there anyway, but I knew where the few deep holes were located, where the catfish just piled up during dry times in the heat of the day. 

In August of 2006, I was walking out from fishing that hole, and a very large woodpecker flew from a dead snag that had a large hole in it, near the top. I was struck by the bird's size, and its markings.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker had been considered extinct for 50+ years. It is similar in size and appearance to a Pileated Woodpecker. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is slightly larger, it's back is solid white, while a Pileated is dark on top with white feathers below. When this bird flew from me, it looked white on top of it's back, and larger than any Pileated woodpecker I had ever seen.
Barbara and I flew out for six weeks of wandering Europe a day or so later, but I spent a lot of time, while there, thinking about that bird. I also spent a lot of time hobbling on my bum knee from wading that river so much. This was just after an Ivory Billed Woodpecker had, in many people's mind, been spotted in eastern Arkansas. Positive ID never happened in eastern Arkansas, despite a long hard search by many scientists.
When we returned, there was a break between deer seasons that fall. The deer have returned to the valley in large numbers now. I knew deer season was about the only time anyone else ever went into that area and the split deer season was now closed, so I would be alone. I left home at two AM, and arrived in those woods just before daylight. Immediately upon exiting my truck, I heard a drumming sound I had listened to on old tapes of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. "Bam, bam, bam, -- bam!" This was one identifying characteristic of that bird. The sound seemed to come from the old snag I had seen before. It was immediately answered from the area of another large hollow snag I knew about. I waited until dawn broke, and, with my camera ready, I eased toward that first snag. I began to hear woodpeckers working toward me. Suddenly, a very large one flew into my vision. It was much faster than I had ever seen a woodpecker fly before, flying more like a duck. As it exited my vision, I could hear it's wing noises, also a characteristic of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. "Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!" It was at least one hundred fifty feet from me, but the sounds were very distinct. It was still too early, and dark, for a flying picture.
I quickly set up a blind at the large snag, and I waited, camera ready. A Pileated Woodpecker flew in, stayed awhile, then left. The sun was just beginning to peek over Fourche Mountain, which arose sharply out of the far side of the river.
Then IT flew in, and changed my thinking forever.   Continued
A book signing for SPREADING WING has been scheduled for Hastings Book Store, Russellville, Ar. March 9, 3-5 PM. I hope to see you there!
This is the most - read blog post of 2012


Friday, February 1, 2013

The Chickens - Conclusion

Carrying that heavy basket full of eggs to the house, I had to walk through the territory already staked out by Old Jersey, our mean natured old milk cow. Every day, it seemed, she saw me going into the hen house with my empty basket, and when I came out, she was waiting. You ever tried to outrun a cow while carrying a basket full of eggs? Every day, again and again? But still yet, she never caught me, though my load of eggs sometimes were the worse for wear. Is it any wonder I developed that angry but timid, distrustful look reflected in that face at a very early age? Do you understand why I much preferred wandering the bottoms and the mountains alone?
The egg business played out in a few years. The scuttlebutt going around was, the main business was really selling a lot of chicken feed to the farmers. Lots and lots of chicken feed. The hatchery sorta took second fiddle. A plus was, all that chicken feed came in pretty cloth sacks, all decorated up to make shirts and dresses from. Mom and my sisters spent a lot of time on the old singer sewing machine. It was not uncommon for Mom to give Dad a few scrap pieces of feed sack material for Dad to try and match when he headed to Plainview for yet another load of chicken feed. And, during that time, we ate lots and lots of eggs and chickens. Also, later in high school, I taught myself to pole vault with a well seasoned pine pole I stole from the chicken roost. In addition, I learned to run fast at an early age. So, I guess all's well that ends well.
Dad dispensed with the chickens. He was growing up a pretty good herd of registered Polled Hereford cattle, concentrating on high quality young herd bulls for sale. And me, I began my stage in life as a cowboy without a horse. But I didn't fare a lot better than I did with the chickens. We had some mean cows there, too. And those big bulls just dared me to step into THEIR pasture. Those young bulls were just beginning to strut their stuff, and they badly needed someone small enough to intimidate. I was the natural choice. A really good counselor could have had a field day, helping me get past all my hangups and strange quirks I developed before I got big enough to look out for myself. But then, Wing didn't have any of those kind of people. I don't doubt that maybe a few of those strange quirks are still hanging around in my psyche today. Or maybe you have already noticed. 
Don't forget the official book launching of Spreading Wing, Saturday Feb.2, Wing, Arkansas. At the Wing Community Church. Story readings at 2:00, signings at 1:00 and afterwards. If you want a tasting of Barbara's special cookies, Louise Gillum's wonderful pies, and Phylllis Kitchell's great candy, come early. While they last. My specialty, salt pork and biscuits, will be available throughout, I'm sure. Hope to see you there! Wing is 13 miles SW of Danville on hwy. 28. Two miles west of Rover. Most road maps don't show Wing anymore. I don't know why.