Friday, January 31, 2014

Hard Winter Camping

I’ve spent a lot of time, and nights, in the woods and on the rivers and lakes. I think a lot of that is because I was a loner much of the time when I was young. I learned to enjoy my own company, and felt more comfortable, confident, and at ease, in the woods, alone. I still do. Not all of it was alone. I did have a fishing buddy sometimes, but not that often. This extremely cold weather we are having this winter got me to thinking about some of the harder ones, so, naturally, I’ve just got to tell you about a few of them.

When I was about 15, I finally got a boat. Not much of one, but it worked. I bought it from Sonny Lofland for $15. It wasn’t in the water when I went to get it, I didn’t notice it had a bad rotten place in it when I picked it up, and he forgot to tell me. I finally worked out a paddling and dipping water schedule that worked ok, two strokes and one can of water out. Once I got it in the Fourche River, I pretty well had to leave it there, because I was not able to get the truck from Dad very often, and I usually had to put in at least a quarter or fifty cents worth of gas, and that was harder to come by than Dad’s permission. I just hid it in the bushes, and that worked pretty well for a year or so. I caught up a batch of shiners from our pond one early spring day, and Tooter and I headed to the river, about three miles away. It was a nice early spring day, pretty warm, so I didn’t worry much about cold. I set out my lines, built a fire, but it just kept getting colder and colder. I was almost out of bait when I ran the lines at midnight, but I found a toad frog on the bank, so I put him on.

I didn’t have a coat, and by the time I was getting sleepy I was also about to freeze. That campfire was too big to risk sleeping close to, so I just let it die down to a nice bed of coals, and Tooter and I curled up around it. I had a ten pound cat on that toad frog when I took up the lines at daylight. Dad was watching as I walked up through the pasture the next morning, and I walked right spritely as Dad looked over that ten pound cat. Somebody found my boat and hauled it off pretty soon after that, so now I was back to bank fishing and wading. Summer time camping on the Fourche was about as bad as cold weather, what with the mosquitoes buzzing around in my ears all night. I didn’t catch many more catfish that big in those days. Toad frogs were hard to find.

When I was in the 12th grade at Fourche Valley, there were five boys in my class. We decided to go deer huntin’ one weekend. The deer were pretty thin in the valley bout’ then. About the only time one wandered into the valley was when somebody’s deer dog ran one out of the mountains. So, we went over to Harkey’s valley where there were more deer. A cold streak was coming in that night, so we all got in one tent, piled all our combined quilts in one pile, with us all under that pile. Five boys in one pile kept us all plenty warm. In fact, too warm. I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating like a hog. I went outside to the water bucket for a drink, but the water bucket was frozen solid. The thermometer said 13 degrees.

I had a bad experience the next morning. One that I have never told anybody about to this day. I was on a deer stand. I heard a deer coming through thick brush. I made out what seemed to be a deer head, even thought I saw horns. (Or were those horns only tree limbs?)  I aimed and fired my 30-30. After the smoke cleared, the deer was gone. Then it hit me. Did I REALLY see a deer head, and horns, or was I just too excited by the prospect, (I had only seen about two deer while I was growing up) and was that maybe one of my buddies down there? Shaking, I went down to investigate. No deer. No buddy. I just had to sit down until I recovered a little, and vowed to myself this would forever be my secret. And it has been. Forever turned out to be 52 years.

When Barbara and I first got married, we lived right on the bank of the White river, but it was only a small stream there, up in those mountains of St. Paul, Arkansas. So, I didn’t do much catfishing for a while. We soon moved to Fayetteville, the rivers were larger, the fishing was better, and I was at the peak of my fishing all night thing. Barbara didn’t think much of my being gone at least one night a week, and that was our single largest area of disagreement in those days. I remember sleeping under a poncho while it rained all night at least three times. But I did catch a lot of catfish. Barbara soon figured out that if she would not cook what I caught, that would slow me down some, and it did.

When Corey was four years old or so, I took him with me for the first time. The fish were biting, so I ran the lines a couple of times during the night, but it was cold, so I fixed him up with a bed in the boat so he could stay warm, and we had to sleep in the same sleeping bag so I could keep him warm. Must not have worked very well, because he soon tired of cat fishing at night. I’ve often thought, with regret, that I turned him off to night time fishing that night. I was soon alone again.

I’ve learned a few things sitting around a campfire on the river bank. If one throws  the wrong chunk of drift wood in the fire, one that has spent a year or two at the bottom of the river, bad things can happen. If it happens it has been washed out on the bank, and now looks completely dry, sometimes it still has water pockets in the middle. When they heat up to steam, that chunk will sometimes start shooting little (or sometimes, larger) burning bullets out. Sometimes, they will shoot a long way, and may be very hot. A big river rock, under the same circumstances, can explode in a deadly fashion. Just thought you’d like to know.

CONTINUED IN FOUR DAYS     Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Church of my Childhood

I wrote this story a couple of years ago. It was published in Arkansas Life Magazine.
Another story of mine, "The summer of my broken heart," will be published in the Feb. 2014 issue of AY Magazine.

     The old, old church in Wing, Arkansas has a very rich history dating back to September 18, 1879. On that date, a plot of land was deeded over to M S Methodist Church by William S. Buford.
Wing was originally named Mineral Springs, because of a very large, cold spring behind the church. The name of the community was later changed to Fair Hill, in honor of a preacher, Nathan Fair. Then, it later became Wing. The church building was finished soon thereafter. A church record book, still in existence, shows a record of church members, and a record of activities and events taking place there starting early in the 1880's. The original church pews, built from virgin timber from boards 16 inches wide, are still there. The piano that is still there today was put in new, in 1904.

That Church will always be dear to my heart. Though I no longer live at Wing, I keep a picture of that church near my desk in my room.

     The Turner, Compton, and Woolbright families were key figures in the church in the early days, and many of them are still involved in the present and future of the church.

     Montgomery PikeWoolbright brought his family up the Arkansas River prior to 1870. The Arkansas River was said to be sixty miles wide at the time, and other pioneers reported the same thing. That puzzled me, until I remembered. Before the days of flood control, the Arkansas, White, and Mississippi Rivers merged together in times of flood, creating one very large body of water in the Delta. At the mouth of the Fourche La Fave River, they boarded a smaller boat, containing two adults, one child, three ducks, and MP's tools. They traveled up the Fourche to Jennings falls, as far as they could go by water. Jennings Falls is now under Nimrod Lake. They eventually settled at Wing. Samuel A.Turner homesteaded land near Wing in 1861. His offspring have always played a leading role in the church.

     Methodists and Baptists were not always on the best of terms, I understand. Bob Compton, a leader in the early days of that church, once royally dressed down my two aunts, Lula Belle and Hallie,  for walking two miles to Briggsville to attend a Baptist church. None of his business, he was told.

     Prior to the arrival of my family in 1898, theWing area was an educational mecca. My Uncle Arthur traveled to Wing, boarded, and went to school. He became one of the last traveling country doctors, making his rounds on horseback for many years. In addition to a large school building across the road, Mineral Springs Academy advertised for prospective students, "Room and board with a nice local family for two dollars per month." There was also an "overflow classroom" in the upstairs part of the church. My Aunt Hallie taught in that building many years. The stairs have long since been removed, but in the 1950's, my buddy Sammy Turner and I, as boys, crawled up in that bell tower to that room after church one day. We had to sidestep a rattlesnake about half way up. When we reached the classroom, the name "Leta Lazenby," along with others, was written on the chalkboard. She was my aunt who left Wing forever for the bright lights of California in the early 1930's. Carpenters working on that church saw that name and  many others, years later, and I assume they're still there.

     Though a Methodist church, many different denominations often used it for revivals, "Meetings." My oldest brother was saved at a Baptist meeting, led by R.L. Whitten, one of the finest men I have ever known. I always put an extra flower on his grave every Decoration Day at Hunt's Chapel. The building was often used by Woodmen of the World, the Women's Circle, voting, weddings, and funerals.

     We usually had an attendance of fifteen or so in my childhood. In the winter, we all did an unusual thing, for a church. We all raced for a spot on the front row, right by the huge potbellied stove. For a long time, a student minister from Hendrix College preached one Sunday each month. One day, Flossie Hull, who played the piano, suggested that our youth should play the piano and lead the singing. Well, we had only two youth then, Annette Person and myself, and I knew I couldn't play a lick, so I grabbed a song book. Annette was just then learning to play, so she played at half speed. I had to slow my singing way down, dragging out those words as far as possible. And, though I was supposedly leading, I always waited for Flossie to kick in before I started. My singing was not safe at any speed, but Flossie was a good sport. We held those official positions for a long time. Seemed like forever for all of us. I've never been asked to do that again.

     Christmas carols were blasted out from the belfry for days leading up to Christmas, and we decorated our church tree with strings of red berries, popcorn balls, and sweetgum balls covered with tinfoil. It was truly the center of our community, with box suppers, home made ice cream, and pot luck dinners on a regular basis.

     After I left Wing in 1962, the church remained closed to regular services for a number of years. In the early 1970's, regular services were held for a few years, with Rev. Claude Miles preaching. Later, Rev. Royce Savage preached at several of the area Methodist churches, but not at Wing. A few years later, several ladies held bible study services and sang hymns, without a regular pastor. 
 This finally came down to two sisters, Edith Turner and her sister, Hazel, coming each Sunday for prayer and hymns. "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be among you."

     A lady from the Methodist Association later showed up in the office of Cindy Turner Buford, informing her, "Since the church belongs to us, we have decided to do something else with it."  I suppose that could have meant saving for historical purposes, or removing it.  "No," Cindy said. "The church is on our land, and we will take care of it." And they did. The road in front had been moved,  now too close to the building. Buell Turner, the long time Postmaster and store owner deeded a new plot of land, reaching farther back and allowing for a small cemetery. The plot was deeded to Wing Community Church. The Methodists, it seems, are out of it.

     Coleman House Movers moved the church back. The Turner Family, and possibly others, pitched in and repaired the old church, providing the beautiful building of today. Buell Turner even ran electricity to the church from his own house for a time. Buell, his brothers Sam and JR, and cousin Fay Turner all played a major roll in the repairing. I'm sure others were involved, but few of the old timers remain to tell the whole story. Since then, it has been used for special occasions.

     As a child, I remember our Sunday school teacher leading us in reading from our song book, Part of which was "I believe in the holy catholic church." I never understood that. Rev. Savage told me, since it was written in little letters, it meant "Universal Church."

So, as a child I swore loyalty to the holy catholic church.  I was sprinkled as a Methodist in that church. The last year or two I lived at Wing, the church closed, so my mother and I went to the Rover Baptist Church. I was baptized there, in the Fourche River. So, hopefully, I am fully covered.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Caylie the Miracle Baby: THE DOUBLE BULLET DODGE

     I heard the siren, three hundred yards away, over on the Interstate highway. "Must be a wreck," I thought, then went back to work on my houseboat. Minutes later the phone rang. Barbara soon came running out to me with the phone. The police were calling. Corey and his family were involved in a wreck. Three in the car, one ejected.  Come to the emergency room. Just the bare facts.

     We arrived at the emergency room well ahead of the ambulance. We were anxiously awaiting when the ambulance showed up. Caylie came out first, just a baby, strapped tightly to a board, and screaming her head off. She looked around, within her limited field of vision, and saw Barbara and me. She stopped screaming, and smiled at us. We have never seen a smile quite so beautiful. Christi came next. She was also strapped down, but seemed alert, responsive, and, everything considered, remarkably calm. Corey was not in the ambulance.

     He arrived moments later in a car. When he got out, he was beyond emotional. Way beyond that. As best he could, he was telling us he was driving behind Christi, in his car. A wheel had came off a trailer they were about to pass, hit her car in front, and the car did end over end flips, at least 12 rolls, then another flip, landing upside down. He reached through the broken back window, cutting his arm, and got Caylie out, but could not get Christi out. He was too racked by emotion to tell us more. Well, I knew Corey was totally distraught, probably in shock, far too upset for me to buy into all that. Nobody could have survived what he had just described to us.

       It was determined that Caylie and Christi had only scratches and bruises, no broken bones, and as far as they could tell, no internal injuries, but Christi had a concussion, and both were cut up by flying objects in the car. Corey settled down enough that we began to get the whole story.

     The family was driving home from church, driving both cars because Christi had early choir practice. They both stopped at Western Sizzlin', at mile marker seventy- three of I-30. Being Easter Sunday, it was closed, so they and their friends decided to drive on down to Wendy's, at exit seventy eight. Corey buckled Caylie into her infant seat, strapped in the middle of the back seat. Starting to his car, for some reason, he stopped, turned around, went back to Caylie, and tightened up all the straps really good. Corey followed Christi in his car.

     Approaching mile marker seventy-four, Christi started to pass a pickup pulling a horse trailer. A wheel came off the trailer, hit the front of the car. That broke the car's front axle, starting the series of end over end flips and rolls, ending upside down in the median, with one last end over end flip, right beside mile marker seventy four.

     Corey pulled up behind. Later, a friend who happened to be nearby described the horrible sounds of anguish from Corey as he rushed to the car. Caylie was hanging upside down. The only way  he could get to her was through the broken back window, which he did, cutting his arm. When Caylie emerged, he checked her over as quickly as he could, passed her off to a stranger standing beside him, saying, "Don't leave my sight with this baby," and rushed to Christi. As he tried to get her out, a fire started. A man from the interstate showed up with a fire extinguisher, and put it out. Christi was hanging upside down, and he could not get her out. About that time, the ambulance and police arrived. They had trouble getting her out, having to use the Jaws of Life.

Once Christi was out, and being strapped to a board, a paramedic tried to get Corey on a stretcher.     
Corey was bleeding more than anyone there, and the paramedic would just not believe he had not been in the car, and ejected.

     Christi, not one to get unduly excited, later described her thought processes as the wreck progressed. "Well, that's one more flip, and I'm still alive!"

      The car was a mess. Completely flattened on top, except for the two places where a human could have possibly survived. They just happened to match the two places where Christi and Caylie were.
     The paramedics working the wreck said that upon arrival, they had no expectations of finding anybody alive, much less a four month old baby. They added that the car seat straps were so loose, one more roll and she would have flown. Good thing Corey had just tightened them up.

     I went to the site the next day. Car parts were strewn along the road. From the location of the first car part thrown off, to the final destination of the wrecked car, one hundred yards. Twelve rolls and three flips? You be the judge. Our family dodged two major bullets that day.

     We are always being told, wear your seat belts, all the time, most accidents are within one mile of home. Well, my family has been in seven accidents, mostly minor, none fatal. How many within one mile of home, as the crow flies? Five. For your own safety, please do as I say, but in all honesty, not necessarily as I do. I hate being hypocritical.

     Caylie, early on, assumed the role of seat belt enforcer in our family. Nobody is perfect, but I sure haven't found any flaws in her yet. At eighteen, she just got her first car, right after returning from the mission fields of Jamaica. God, it seems, had his reasons for sparing this girl.

     If you live near Arkadelphia, judge this story for yourselves. The car came to rest even with mile marker seventy-four. The first car part thrown off was even with the brown sign just south of it.

     This story had been in my head nearly eighteen years. It automatically replays, in living color, every time I drive by those two signs. I now know the story very well. I needed no notes to write this.

     My son in law, Mickey, a paramedic, described a roll over wreck they worked. A man was dead, but no marks were found on his body. Finally, a mark that looked just like the top of a coke bottle top was found on his temple. Every loose, even modestly heavy object becomes a deadly missile in a rollover wreck.

Thanks for reading!     Malaysia, what happened to you guys? I miss you!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Vegas and Fourche Valley School

We just got back from seven days in Vegas. It was our son Corey's idea, but he and Kinley, our daughter, arranged it so that it was the four of us going, so Barbara and I jumped right on that. We have not been on a real trip involving our immediate family only in a long, long time. Barbara and I decided it was truly our "trip of a lifetime," even though we stopped using that term a long time ago in our travels. It really was a wonderful trip. Corey took over the driving, since, being a city boy now, he handled that a lot better than I could, very few U turns, and I think Barbara and Kinley breathed a little easier, with me not driving. I think that circle of life thing started its downward turn on me on that trip. After going through the metal detector at Hoover Dam, a man came down and asked us all if anybody had picked up an extra wallet. I checked in my pocket, and I had two. The man also had an extra item left by somebody, and I had to speak up, "Uh, Here's the wallet. and that extra bag is mine."  Checking in at the airport, Barb handed me my boarding pass and luggage reciepts, then we all got separated and put in different lines. When I tried to show my boarding pass, I was informed it was a luggage receipt, and my boarding pass was gone. I got pulled out of line. I finally saw Corey in the distance, hollered to him to find Barbara and get my boarding pass. He saw Her way down at the far end of the room, hollered to her to bring my pass. While she was looking for it, I finally dug it out of my back pocket. I always seem to manufacture up a panic attack at airports. I later overheard Barbara telling Kinley, "I always have to keep him right at my side in airports."  At the Denver airport, waiting to load, I discovered a whole bunch of the people around me were also Arkies. While I was going on excitedly about that, Corey took me aside and told me, " Uh, Dad, that's because we're all boarding a plane to Little Rock." I fear my children are now a little worried about their parent's next trip to some far flung corner of the world. We've got enough flyer miles saved up for the next one, and are trying to pick out a destination. Corey will probably be giving me that little speech about  "Uh, Dad, I think it's about time to ease up on the globe trotting a little - - -" Oh, well, I've heard it before, and it didn't work then either.

Fourche Valley School

      I have never had any regrets that I went to a small school like Fourche Valley School, small in terms of students, but one of the larger districts in the state. There were lots of mountains and few people. Two icons of Fourche Valley that quickly come to mind were the Lowes. Mr. Lowe was the superintendent and principal. Normally, dealing with the principal was a negative, and I had lots of dealings. However, in the long run, I realize, he had a way of turning my associations with him into a positive thing. Winnie Lowe, I well remember, had a deep voice that could sound like rolling thunder coming across the room when one messed up, and it could make one shrink down in one’s desk, becoming as invisible as possible. But she had a way of teaching us to be the best person we could be. Neither taught me in a classroom very often, except possibly short term. But I remember them so well, it seems like they did. They had three daughters who each became doctors in one form or another, and each is leaving a very large footprint on our country. I am sure genetics were involved, but as I said, just being around Winnie Lowe brought out the very best. One great thing about small schools, we dealt with the entire faculty on a daily basis, and I am a better person for it. My class, the Class of 1962, was made up of twelve students. Nine lived in Fourche Valley, three lived across South Fourche Mountain near Aly and Chula.

     There was no quick and easy route from Aly to Fourche Valley School. Mr. Mabry drove the Aly bus, many miles on rough dirt roads through the mountains. Few from the south side of Fourche Mountain participated in school sports, in those days. Just too far. Too complicated.

      Shelton Dishongh spotted it early. Although my class had a pretty good crop of boys for a basketball team, It was the girls who were awesome. He was our class sponsor in the seventh grade, and he was also the coach. He took us to the gym, one day, and we played, girls vs. boys. The girls beat us like a rented mule. Just wore us out. We boys never quite recovered from that, and it never got better.

     We five boys were the starting team, as seniors, early on, then we began to get a lot of help from the likes of Dobbie Wilson. We were 16-9, but it was the girls who won the District Tournament, and played in the State Tournament at Parkin. I asked our teacher, Ruby Singleton, single but courting heavily at that time, if she was going to Parkin. She said, "You never know!" I said, " I meant, are you going TO Parkin. Not going Parking."  She flushed bright red. We loved to make her do that.

     Jack Larry Gillum and Monty Dishongh were the ladie's men. Larry started chasing the girl's early, before I even knew "for why."  and, they chased him back. Monty never needed to chase, they chased him. Jackie Aikman didn't seem to think about the ladies much in high school.  Butch Garner was committed to the love of his life early, and never varied. I, myself, I had tons of romantic entanglements in high school. But only in my head. Nobody else ever knew about them.

     Jackie Aikman didn't rag the teachers much. He was very well behaved, compared to the rest of us. But one day in typing, he messed up. Miss Gussie Lofland, already sick of the whole lot of us for the day, set in on Jack. "Jackie Aikman, you're just as bad as the others! You're just sneaky! You're a snake in the grass!" Well, the name "snake" stuck, at least during high school. "Snake" Aikman."

     About the time I was ready to go off to college, I began to realize that was a very large crop of "easy to look at" girls coming up, 3 or 4 years back. That was about where my maturity level wound up, anyway. (I spent 25 years teaching ninth and tenth grade students.) Anyway, getting back to the crop. Jackie and Monty later picked a plumb from that crop, as did Butch, early. By the time that fully hit me, (I have always been slow to catch on) I was gone, off to college. If I had stayed in Fourche Valley two more years, I probably would have never left. The love of my life, when I finally found her, was in that age group. Four years younger.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On Being Classy - - -

Take a look at my book at:         Also available at Amazon Europe!  One of my stories will be published in AY magazine, Feb. 2014 edition.   To see readings of three of my stories, go to:  utube/talesfromthesouth/Pat Gillum
Alright. Enough of the shameless self-promotion - - -

On Being Classy - - -

     Some time ago, I wrote a story about a friend of mine. When describing his wife, the first description that came to mind was “very classy.” Later, at his funeral, the pastor’s first descriptive words about his wife was, “A very classy lady.”

     What is it about some people that just seems to bring the word “classy” to mind? What is it that lets us know they have it?

    This experience seems to have gotten that question rolling around in my head often, while I’m thinking. I’m very good at thinking, especially when you just consider the sheer volume of it. Not necessarily quality thinking, not necessarily very productive thinking. Just thinking.

     Are there descriptive words out there that are so anti-classy, that, if they truly apply to the person in question, rule out any possibility of being classy? To me, some of those words would be snobby, gossipy, unkind, rude, selfish, self-centered, prideful, boastful, vengeful, vulgar, intentionally too loud, (physical limitations, such as not hearing well, don’t count here.) braggart, and shallow. Like I say, this is just my list. Yours may be very different, yet better. Or worse. If one or more of these terms hit a nerve, chances are you'll stop reading right now.

     Are there single, descriptive words out there that, if accurately applied, would prove that classy fits? I seem to have a problem with this question. Perfect will not work, because none of us are perfect, yet some are classy. Flawless? That implies perfect. So it would follow that we may have a few minor flaws, yet still be classy. What type of flaws would be allowed? Could it be that only minor flaws that do no harm to others would work? I tend to think so. There seems to be so many factors out there that go into making up a classy person, that no single word or short description can work, alone.

     Physical traits: While physical traits may be our first indicators, such as how we carry ourselves, how friendly we are, our posture, how we choose our clothes, how neat we are, how clean we are, etc. may get us tentatively in the right group initially, the core of it must come from within. We can’t keep that hidden forever.   And, our station in life we are born into can limit these outside appearances. When we were in the middle of the second largest and worst slum in the world, Kibera, a little girl, who I remember as being around ten years old, ran out into our path, smiled, and said “Hi! How are you?” Her clothes were rags, just hanging on her body, but class stood out all over that girl. Barbara and I both wanted to just take her hand, and take her home with us, away from that place.

     Can one learn to be classy? Some people say no. You have to be born with it.  Many of us are so far away from being classy, it’s hard to imagine ever climbing up that far, and we may try and try and never succeed. On the other hand, I’m repulsed by the idea that any of us can be born into a situation, so deep in any hole, that we cannot ever climb out of it, no matter how hard we work. I tend to think yes. With hard work, we can learn to be classy.

     I think regional dialects have no place here. We learn to talk like people we live among. Many people tend to look down upon others who do not talk like they talk. I, for example, know a ton of classy hillbillies. Those who look down upon hillbilly slang  are shallow people, to my way of thinking. Other shallow people may judge by body build, weight or height. I tend to think physical characteristics of the body one is born with is not a limiting factor.

     A classy person, generally, just “has it together.” We know they are not about to just lose it in the middle of a conversation, and say something stupid. A classy person is a good listener. Never quick to interrupt, or talk over another person. This whole statement smacks me right in the face. I’m too busy thinking of my reply, or my next statement, to fully listen to another. I need to work on this one. The more I write on this subject, the more I begin to realize where I fit in. So, can thinking too much rule me out? Maybe so, If I can’t climb out of that hole. And I’m an old man. Don’t have a lot of time to waste.

     The “smirk” is a habit that we should be very careful with, especially for a smart person. It can easily convey the message, “I’m smarter than you.” I have a friend who is very smart. He pretty well always has the correct answer. But he usually starts his correction with, “Well, it COULD be that - -“

     When he does that, I just automatically know he’s about to tell me a truth I can count on, take to the bank. A humble preface to a truth conveyed by a very intelligent, and in my opinion, classy person. Some people, however, do not respond well to his gentle approach. He and I were once in a van traveling from New Orleans. The driver seemed to think his sense of direction was superior to others. When the driver passed the proper exit, my friend softly stated, “It could be we should have taken that exit.” The driver paid no attention. We passed another exit. “We may very well have missed our turnoff.” No response. Approaching the next exit, “Turn this durned thing around!! You missed the road!” This time, the driver responded properly. He had just not had it explained to him in those terms before.

     Some people enter a room, and everything about them says, “I’m here! Look at me!” While other people enter a room and everything about them says, “Hello. How are you?” Guess who fits where.

     So what have I accomplished with this post? In the end, very little. Food for thought, and that’s about it. I have never worried about being classy, myself, possibly because I normally do not occupy a position up at the top, looking down; I seem to spend a lot of time at the bottom, looking up. But I’m me, and I just love me, even if it turns out that, in the end, I’m in a small minority.

     A classy person would be very hesitant to put others into a judgmental position in any conversation. So, if we meet on the street, and you ask, “What about me? Am I classy?” Chances are, I would just look at you, smirk, and answer, “I’m far too classy to answer that.” Then you’ll know.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Bright Yellow Submarine

     Most of Barbara's siblings wound up living in McGehee, Arkansas.  Sugar and husband Jimmy bought a service station. After they were doing well, Eunice and Charlie bought one too. Soon they both were selling used cars. JD and Sue started selling used cars also. I never understood how they all got along as well as they did, with so many competing in the same businesses in a small town. But they seemed to make it work, for the most part. They would often go to the dealer's auction together, and got to sit around and visit a lot.

      JD was once on the way home from the auction towing a car he bought, with his wrecker. Two cars  tried to box him in. One really close behind, the other right in front. The front one then started slowing down, more and more, and he realized they were trying to stop him. JD is about the last person hijackers would want to try that on. JD started showing the guy in front why a wrecker is called a wrecker, wrecking the back of the car up real good. Finally, the guy in front saw the error in his ways, and sped up real fast. After that, JD always carried a gun in his wrecker. A policeman once stopped him. JD got out of the wrecker, locked the door. The policeman looked in the truck, and saw the gun stock sticking out from under the seat. He said, "Open it up. I want to look at that gun." JD said "No, I may need that before I get home." After they had both repeated their statements a few times, and it was still a standoff, the policeman called his supervisor, who was soon there. The supervisor soon surmised the situation, too, took the cop aside, and talked to him some. The supervisor came over and said to JD, "You have a good day, Sir." They all went on their separate ways.

     Early on, I saw a way for Barbara and me to save some money on the cars we bought, buying at the dealer's auction, with a little help from kinfolk. I was never all about buying a brand new car, preferring to let someone else pay the thousands of dollars the car value dropped, just by driving it off the dealer's lot. JD and Sue helped us out a lot. He could get me in the gate, taught me to drive it a little, back up a little, and taught me what to listen for. He taught me to check the oil, and how to feel that oil on the dipstick, to see if something had been added to it to keep it from leaking so fast. Anyway, once I got the hang of it, I would pick out a car, tell JD what I would pay for it, and he did the bidding. I have always been uncomfortable bidding at an auction. I guess that's partly a throwback to the days I went with Dad to so many cattle auctions, and Dad always told us to sit very still. If we moved, we might buy a cow.

      I did actually buy a lawnmower by accident a couple of years ago, when I went to the Back Gate farmer's auction with my friend, Ronnie McMillan. I was just moving around, trying to stay warm on that very cold day, and suddenly, the auctioneer pointed to me, and said, "Sold! To that old guy back there!" I didn't even want that lawnmower. I also slipped and fell on an icy spot that day, flat on my face. The auctioneer even stopped the bidding and asked me if I was all right. I smiled, shook my now muddy head yes. But I wished I was home.

     Anyway, I bought many cars for us at the dealer's auction, over the years. Or, actually, JD did. After learning just what to look and listen for, I had good success at that. I did get beat once, when a dealer slipped a little something into the transmission fluid to keep it from slipping until I got home.

     I always liked it better when Barbara didn't go, because she was very picky about unimportant stuff like the type of car, and the color. I got a really good deal once on a bright yellow station wagon, and you wouldn't believe the flak I caught over that when I got home. Barb and the kids immediately named it “The Yellow Submarine.”  I tried to explain to them. I got a heck of a deal. Nobody else was even bidding on it. Barbara took a real liking for the auction after that, and at car buying time, I couldn't even leave out for Little Rock without her jumping right in with me.

     Corey decided he wanted a car. We told him if he would get a job, we would match his money toward buying one. After he made a little money, Corey wanted to go to the auction. I explained my policy about never buying anything we had not had a chance to look at and drive. But Corey's budget was pretty thin, and after he realized that he probably was not going to afford any of them he had driven, he lowered his standards. He saw one coming through the line that we had not checked out, but JD told him what it would probably go for, and it was running, so he just had to have it.

     Corey had always been critical of my habit of buying auction cars, said I was not handling our car situation well. We always wound up driving a piece of junk, to his way of thinking. Well, he got his own. Soon, reverse went out, and it was a big problem for him, getting out our driveway. You just would not believe how long he sometimes had to wander around in our woods in that car to get out to the road. I finally just could not help myself, and told him, “Corey, you're not handling your car situation well. You're driving a hunk of junk” He finally sold it to a boy from Amity, who was probably in Corey's situation. But HIS dad probably knew how to fix it. Corey didn't have that advantage.

     Corey could never keep up with his keys, and his billfold. But, they always came back to him, eventually. Once, he laid his house keys up on his car, got a ways down the road, and they slid off. A dog found them, took them to his owner's porch, and the neighbor returned them. Once he got his wallet, left in a store, back in the mail. His stuff just always came back. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hangups and Strange Quirks

     Somewhere around 1947 or so, an enterprising businessman from Plainview, ten miles from Wing, came up with a good idea. Build a chicken hatchery at Plainview. He was a good salesman, and he sold a passel of farmers in Wing and the surrounding area on the idea of producing the eggs. Always searching for ways to bring in a little bit more money, Dad went into the egg business. This was along about the time cotton was on its way out in the valley as a money crop. That overworked land was playing out.

     Dad built a long chicken house. It was up on the hill, just to the right of our house. Down under the hill, a couple of hundred yards away, was the huge barn that was built to house the Gillum/Compton/Turner super mule breeding project of the nineteen teens or so. The barn, by the way, was so large, it cost twice as much to build as the house we lived in, $1000. That business did well before the Depression, but that business played out also, when tractors came into common use, also along about the time I was born. Old Murt, the only super mule alive when my memories began, successfully sidestepped the glue factory until the late forties. I rode him bareback a lot, and an old, skinny mule without a saddle can be a hard ride. Ida' bout' as soon walk.

     My brother took a picture of the our house, at the end of the lane by the barn in 1949 or so, after the chicken house was stocked and producing. I was just getting old enough to work the chickens. I was in that picture, close to the camera, with hundreds of chickens spread out between me and the house. Looking at that picture, one fails to see a trusting, relaxed, laid back, self confident soul in that face. I'll come back to that later.

     That year, Dad needed a second generation of chickens coming on, to replace the six hundred some odd laying hens, along with a cranky, mean bunch of roosters. The hens in the house were playing out, and getting just too tired to produce an egg a day reliably. And the roosters, each with a very large flock of ladies to attend to, ensuring those eggs were fertile, were playing out too. So the next generation was housed in the barn. These young chickens were producing some eggs, but the eggs were too small for market value. Thus we ate a lot of eggs. During the day, they were turned loose to forage for themselves, cut down on the feed bill. I can count about two hundred in the picture, but there were six hundred or so out there somewhere.

     I would like to tell you it was my job, every afternoon before dark, herding each of those six hundred chicken back into the barn to lock them up and protect them from the coyotes, coons, mink, foxes, etc. at night. Or, it might be an even better story if I told you I just started playing my little flute made out of a piece of fishing cane, marched down the lane to the barn, and they all just lined up and followed me in, a little trick I learned from the pied piper story. I just love to impress people. Actually, though, I can't say either of those things, because this is a true story. And, it's awfully hard for a Gillum to just outright tell a bald face lie, because of the Gillum Do Right Mechanism we're all infected with. So the actual truth is, we kept them shut up in the barn awhile until it became home to them. They came back in on their own at night.

      My main job in the chicken house was gathering those eggs in a big, wire basket. Now, those chickens had big plans for those eggs. They planned to lay up about all the eggs they could sit on and keep warm, and eventually hatch out their own batch of baby chicks. Once they began to get the mindset to become a “settin' hen,” they became protective of their eggs. I had to steal many of those eggs out from under that mad hen. She would flog, squawk, and peck me. Then I went on down the line to the next nest. Those cranky roosters didn't like me one bit, either. I was invading their territory, and messin' with their women folk. I never knew when one of those cranky old roosters would be on my back, scratching, biting, and floggin'. And, it was not unheard of for me to approach a nest, only to find it occupied by a really big black snake, containing several egg-sized lumps in his belly.

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 cranky ole’ milk 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 him 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, enabling us to ease up on the salt pork awhile.  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, it would seem all's well that ends well.

     Dad dispensed with the chickens. It seemed some of that chicken feed had gone bad, and we sometimes had to haul a tractor and wagon load of dead chickens off into the woods to feed all the hungry coyotes around. And that, along with the fact that the money making aspect of that enterprise was not too great to begin with for the farmer, did the chicken business in for Dad.

     Uncle Franz, who was richer than us because he was a school teacher, once bought up a bunch of registered and double registered Polled Hereford cattle, and brought them up to us for Dad to raise and sell on the halves. That business enterprise did better, and Dad stuck with that business the rest of his life. 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 ole' cows there, too. And those big bulls just dared me to step into THEIR pasture. Once, one of those big bulls fell in love with one of Aunt Lula’s cows, even though they were separated by a barbed wire fence, and lost all his value as a herd bull. Another time, two of those big bulls got together and were fighting all over the pasture. Dad had gone to town, so I ran down and shot our double barrel shotgun, both barrels at once, over their heads, to try to scare them apart. It didn’t impress them much, but it knocked me flat down. When Dad got home, one had a broken leg.
     Dad once got very tired of one old bull that would just not stay in his pasture. The next time he caught him in the wrong place, Dad pulled in right behind that old bull with our 1947 cattle truck, and started laying on that horn. The bull headed for home at a fast run, but Dad stayed right on  his tail, laying on that horn. The Bull zigged and zagged, but so did that truck. When rhe bull finally reached the gate to his pasture, he cleared that four foot gate by a good foot, taking all sixteen hundred pounds of his weight with him. I never could figure out just how he could do that. Most of that sixteen hundred pounds must have been muscle. But he did stay home for a long time after that.
     I had to herd all those cattle into the corral pretty often to spray them for ticks in the summer. I got to know those cows so well, that I discovered they each had different facial characteristics, and after a while, I could recognize every one of those fifty or so cows, just by looking them in the face. Of course all those all those ticks and chiggers climbed back down off those sprayed cattle, which was now an inhospitable home, and I was their logical second choice. I finally accepted them as a fact of life, and the upside was, scratching all those bites proved to be very entertaining in the long run. To this day, I can get chiggers all over me, and never notice them at all. I think I'm immune.

 Those young bulls coming on 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 hang ups 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.

Thanks for your time, and your attention         

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Day to Remember

NEWS FLASH:  For those of you who read about the Crittenden House Time Capsule a few posts back, I have an update. I decided I just could not leave it in that doomed house. I took it out, almost piece by piece, and hauled it to my house. Over a couple or three days, I figured out how to put it back together. But now what? I explained to Barbara how I had to move her car out of the garage while I figured out what to do with it - can't let the Time Capsule get wet - But, as usual, when Pearl White is involved, I lost out. So, tomorrow, we will move it to the Flea Market building right beside the Caddo River bridge at Caddo Valley. Sure hope someone will adopt it!

     Well, last fall, after three long years, I finished my book, Spreading Wing. I put it on Amazon, but Amazon seemed sorta hit or miss. One day right off, my friends and relatives, I guess, bought seven books, and I looked to see where I stood in the top one hundred. I was sitting right on number sixty nine thousandth. The next day I looked, nobody bought a book, and I was right around two hundred thousandth. After another day of bad sales, I had dropped to around four hundred thousandth.. I've been afraid to look at those stats after that. I decided I had to step in, Amazon needed some help. This was no way to sell a book. Nobody seemed to know me, or Spreading Wing at Amazon, once we got past friends and relatives and readers of my blog, Forever a Hillbilly.

     I mentioned to a friend in Fourche Valley the other day that some of my blog readers had heard so much from me about Wing and Fourche Valley, they just had to come see it. She said, “Tell them if they want to come, and don't have a place to stay, I've got a big house. Your friends can stay with us!” Wow. I thought that mindset played out along in the 1800's.

      I have always wanted to have my book launching at Wing, in that old church of my childhood. I knew that was a big risk, since I had been gone from Wing fifty years. I wasn't sure very many would remember me. We cooked up six packages of salt pork and a ton of biscuits, since that was a staple at our house in the 1940's when I was a child. I knew I was running the risk of having to eat salt pork and biscuit sandwiches for the next few months if nobody showed up, and I had way more than my share of that fifty years ago.

     I went to the Yell County Record at Danville, expecting to spend an arm and a leg on advertising. Since my mother was the Wing correspondent  for the Record  in the 1950's, telling who all went to town and who visited who, I hoped for a discount. Well, David Fisher, the next generation of Fishers at the Record (his dad ran the Record when I was at Wing) said he would do two or three feature articles on my launching. For free. What!? “For free” has not existed in my world for fifty years. That seems to correspond with how long I've been gone from Yell County.

     Well, to make a long story short, (too late) those valley and mountain people of Yell County just seem to always support their own, even those fifty years removed, and when launching day arrived, they just kept coming. Sometimes, I had a stack of books half a dozen high waiting to be signed, and still they came. I've always dreamed about how great it would be, with a line of people coming to me to get my signature! But I didn't have time to fully enjoy it. Even so, it was one of my best days ever. I didn't even get a bite of that mountain of salt pork and biscuits. We sold seventy books that day. Equally as important, they ate up every last scrap of that salt pork. Even more importantly, I had a chance to renew a lot of very old, wonderful  relationships. Edith Turner was there. She was ninety, but not anywhere near the oldest person in Wing. My children, Corey and Kinley, found out she was a friend of my mothers. My mother passed away when they were at or near infancy, and they are now at or near forty years old. They just could not seem to let her go, just hung with her every word, until long after the big event was over. She told them story after story of my mother. Kinley said, “Holding her hand was like finally getting to hold the hand of my grandmother.” Corey and three others, at great risk to life and limb, climbed up to the old classroom above. The stairs were long gone. I started up the ladder, but at the top was a three foot wall, to keep people from climbing up, I guess. Well, I'm sixty eight years old, so I headed back down. But Cindy Turner Buford, whom I knew was at least eight years older than me, (maybe more, but who's counting) just upper middle aged by Wing standards, climbed the ladder, then scrambled up and over that wall. When they were all about to come down, Corey came first, and I saw him standing under that ladder, panic in his eyes, already holding his arms out as if to catch someone. He told me, “There's a lady in her seventies about to come over that wall!” I didn't worry too much about that. Those normal age limitations don't always apply to Wing people. I grew up with Cindy, just a tall ridge over. We often communicated with a loud holler, that went something like this: “Whoooo, Whoooo, Whoooo weeee ouhooooo! Of course, that was back at a time when I could still holler that loud. I well knew Cindy could have climbed that tallest mountain behind Wing again, if she set her mind to it. That hill up to her house was about as steep as any mountain around.

      Anyway, in the old classroom, they found the name of my aunt, Leta Lazenby, who left Wing forever in 1930, still just like it had been written yesterday, on that chalk board. It was just like it was when I saw it in 1950. That chalkboard was made, it appears, by painting or spraying something on those very wide, virgin pine boards. It also had a lot of newer names. Seems climbing up there has become a “rite of passage” for Wing children.  Nephew Ken Gillum said, “It was just like stepping back in time.” The old classroom had not been used in at least eighty years, maybe much longer. Nobody living knows for sure.

     Effie Turner, an icon of Wing, ran the store next door all during my child hood. She died in 1979, at one hundred years of age. During her lifetime she rode to Wing in an oxcart, and saw men walking on the moon. Her son, JR, passed away last year at one hundred two. Elois Hunnicutt, just across the road and down the lane, ninety four, still grows a large garden. But she fell, out in that garden last year, and broke some bones. She managed to crawl to her back door, but could not get in. She had to lay out most of a day and a night. Remember, cell phones don't work well in Wing. But she's back now, as lively as ever. I know I'd have a hard time keeping up with her now, doing the kind of day's work she does.

     My sister Jonnie taught Sunday school classes in Fourche Valley for many years. Once I visited her class. The best I remember, her youngest class member was in his ninety's.

     Scientists should do a study of folks in the Valley. Try to figure out how they live so long and so well, here in a remote place far from a major hospital. But actually, I already know. People in Little Rock would be shocked to realize how quiet, peaceful, and wonderful life can be, only sixty miles away from the hustle, bustle, rush, and tension of life in a major city, with next door neighbors often a mile away. My Dad always said good fences make good neighbors. A little distance can do the same thing.