Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Subjugation of Crooktail

Twenty five some odd years ago, we had a dog. A beautiful little long haired dog, named Goldie. Goldie had 6 babies. The last born, and the smallest, had a crooked tail. That became his name. Kinley, around nine at the time, just loved Crooktail. He was absolutely the underdog. The slowest to open his eyes, the slowest to grow, the slowest to learn. Just like Kinley had always wanted. She loved crooktail. The friends whose male dog fathered these puppies had a little girl. It was agreed that she would have the pick of the litter. But that did not bother Kinley; Whitey was undeniably the superior puppy.  So smart, he later learned to count to ten by barking, I am told. But, Kinley held Crooktail, wrapped in a cloth like a baby, when the little girl came to choose. To Kinley’s horror, the little girl picked crooktail. Kinley never liked this poor girl again.

Jump ahead with me thirty years. Barbara had noticed her right hand pinkie was bending down. Could not be straightened. Attending Kinley’s son Jackson’s ‘Grandparent’s Day’ celebration, Jackson’s teacher had prepared a way for each grandparent to leave the child a rare gift: a handprint, in living color. The teacher took Barbara’s hand, covered it with paint, then placed it on a sheet of paper. The hand print was incomplete. She pushed down harder. No luck. Barbara had been distracted, talking to Jackson at the moment, but when the teacher stood up, placed both hands on the hand in question, and came down with all her weight, willing to do whatever necessary to get Jackson a perfect hand print of his Grandma, Barbara noticed. “UH, hon, that hand does not flatten out.”  “Oh, I’m so sorry! - - -

Skip ahead another few years. By now, the pinkie had been named. What else except - - Crooktail!  A tight, permanent ninety degree angle. When Barbara forgot, and shook hands with a stranger the correct way, they received  a hard dagger to the palm. Barbara tried harder and harder to avoid that. The word was getting around about how lethal Barbara could be with a handshake, and some people became standoffish, fearing that impaling right hand might be extended to them.

The problem was identified. Dupuytren’s  Contracture. A genetic problem. The surgeon warned that if the issue was not addressed, the pinkie would forever close, followed by all it’s handmates. So that what is now just a nice slap across the face when I mess up, could become an incapacitating hard left fist to the chin. Forever.
The operation was done. How bad could that be, just one palm cut open in all directions, plus just one little pinkie totally mutilated. They called it a big operation. But with just one little hand? How big could that be? Two weeks plus have passed. Many more to go, they say. I became the full time caregiver, cook, and pill pusher. I cook two things. Peanut butter sandwiches, and eggs. But friends have helped out a lot, and I am pushing back my horizons. I prepared two TV dinners today for lunch. They were perfect.

Barbara has been a real trooper. But the rehab work extends on and on. From time to time, we each look at each other, and we both long for the good old days of crooktail. The Rehab lady explained that mostly men get this. And It could occur in even more private members of the body. My automatic reaction was to scoot away. “Is it catching?”

We do not minimize problems others have, in our age group, and know we have been very fortunate to have reached our age with relatively good health. But, even those such as us reserve the right to whine occasionally. Thanks for listening to it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Napoleon, Arkansas

For the last few weeks, I have been full time cook, caregiver, and pill pusher for my wife Barbara while she recovers from surgery. I've also spent a lot of time researching and writing my new book. I won't tell the name yet, because right now, it's changing weekly. I've gotten about 80 pages written. In researching, I read of this ghost town in Arkansas, and I thought you might find it interesting, as I did. Thanks for reading!

Napoleon, Arkansas
     This town was once located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers in Arkansas. De Soto, Marquet and Joliet, and LaSalle visited this site during their travels. Marquet, we know, was there in 1673. Prentiss, Mississippi was located right across the river. The ferry crossing between these two towns was the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg.

     In Mark Twain’s ‘Life on the Mississippi’, he tells of learning of $10,000 being hidden behind a brick in a certain building in Napoleon. But when he went to search for it, he found the whole town had been washed away.

     The founders hoped that it might become a major city at the confluence of two mighty rivers like St. Louis. But it was taken by the mighty river within ten years after the Civil war.

     In King Edward’s 1875 account, nearing the end of the town’s life, it was a rough and rowdy town. Murder daily was the rule, not the exception. Brawls always produced burials. The Mosquitoes were persistent. They still are. Buffalo gnats were said to be so bad, they kill horses and mules by bleeding them to death. Currently, they’re still very bad early in the Spring. I have seen deer, running from one low spot to another, wagging their tails fiercely, rolling in a low spot, then on to the next, all day long during these times in an effort to get away from buffalo gnats.  But I did not witness any deaths by being bled dry. I suspect an exaggeration here.

     During the Civil war, there was a sharp curve north of Napoleon that went deep into Mississippi, called Beulah Bend, now lake Beulah. The peninsula created was so narrow, only a few hundred yards, that Confederate cannon could shoot at a ship coming into the bend, then move the cannon and shoot at it coming out of it. General Sherman then burned the town in Mississippi, then cut a canal across the narrow peninsula. The sand was soft digging, and it only took one day. This was referred to as the Napoleon Channel. This soon aided river travel, cutting off ten miles and destroying the ambush spot. Unfortunately, the new channel was now pointed directly at Napoleon, and both towns were flooded completely within a few years. The courthouse was already completely gone, burned by the Union for firewood, during a blizzard. When Napoleon was completely gone, the county seat was moved to Watson, only a few miles away, as the crow flies. But when dealing with mighty rivers, nothing can be measured “as the crow flies.”

 My father-in-law, Sport Dunnahoe,  lived near Watson until his death a few years ago. He hunted in a “Conservation League,” on which Napoleon once stood. Good hunting spots are now rare in the Delta, and it cost hundreds of dollars yearly. Once, while hunting, he met the owner of that vast tract of land, who asked, “Do you know where Napoleon is?” when he assured the man he did, he asked, “Will you take me to it?” Sport did, though all they found at that time was the cemetery. Interestingly, no tombstone revealed a life span of more than twenty six years, at least none visible that day. I’m not sure the cause, could have been the “murder a day” habit, Malaria, the fact that it was so infested with mosquitoes that nobody wished to dwell for long, or a combination of all three. Anyway, when the property owner returned Sport to his hunting spot, the grateful man thanked him. The owner’s companion observed, “A ‘thank you’ won’t buy him nothin’. Give the man something he can use.” The land owner then wrote Sport out a hunting permit, good for as long as he lived. Sport used that permit as long as he was able to hunt.

      Want to see part of Napoleon? During very dry years, remains can be seen on sandbars in the river. The large church bell used in Napoleon now hangs in the Catholic church in McGehee, Arkansas. I hear the cemetery, present in Sport’s time, has now been swallowed by the river. I have a brand new metal detector that I had intended to explore that cemetery with. Oh, well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014



     As I am writing this, the day I returned from prison, I'm wishing I could talk to you personally, and tell you how great my experience has been. I would like for you to understand the raw emotion of those four days that is still present in every fiber of my being. But I would never get through it. I was never this way in my earlier life. I spent a little time several years ago living with the Indians in the remote mountains of Peru. I was so affected by these Indians, in some strange way, that I became, forever it seems, an emotional person. I have trouble getting through any even mildly emotional talk.

But I can easily tell you from my computer. Alone in my room, at my keyboard, nobody sees my tears. Nobody hears me choke up. But in my writing, this sensitivity helps. If my writing does not bring tears, I know it’s not good. Not interesting. I erase and start over. Should I be ashamed of this weakness? Years ago I would have been. Men don’t cry. But maybe men who don’t cry have never really experienced raw, wonderful  life fully. Do you think maybe that could be true? I don’t know. Now, I simply regard it as a valuable working tool. I just use it, and go on.

I’m always so emotionally drained when I return home to my wonderful life, my loving wife of forty seven years, my friends, my church, and my readers that I just can’t. Too many memories are just too fresh. Memories of 21 men, as God’s vessels, living and working with 24 men in white for four days. God, working through us, has given them back a degree of self-respect. He has assured them, using us as his example, that He, through the blood of Christ, can forgive them; that ALL their sins can be forgiven. He has shown them, through us, that they all are loved unconditionally. Shown, through the prayer chains, posters, and prayer wishes that were literally pouring in from all over the world daily, (Kairos is present in 8 countries) that they were, at that moment, being prayed for by thousands and thousands. God raised them to the mountain top. By the fourth day, I remember how so many are on fire for Christ, quickly and tearfully proclaiming their new life with Jesus, to all who would listen. Again and again. Then, our job was to listen, listen, love, love. But we eventually had to leave, many crying, most all hugging. We 21 men then came home to our wonderful lives. They, in turn, went back to their own version of Hell on Earth.

But I have to keep telling myself that they now have something that no man, no degree of degradation, can remove from them. Stay strong, my brothers. They have each other, and Kairos will be by their side all the way. Each Thursday night, God sends a group of Kairos men from their homes all over Arkansas back to Pine Bluff Prison to be at the church service put on by the Kairos graduates themselves, just to hug them again and add support. Saturday, Kairos will be there at the first week’s reunion of Kairos Walk 40. There are many other Kairos graduates still there at Pine Bluff, who still remain strong support for these 24 men, all the way back to Walk 1, 20 years ago.

We NEVER ask why they are there. We are not there to judge them. God can forgive them of anything. I prefer to never know. I could easily go online, and find out. But could I be strong enough to do the work God directs me to do there if I knew the man next to me was a child killer? I wonder. But, many often do tell us of their sins, as we do of ours, if the mood strikes. Then our job is to listen, listen, love, love.

 I hear many stories of broken, breaking, and doubtful marriages, of men who have only seen their daughter once, (on television) since 2006. Of men who have never gotten a letter. Of a man who is so happy that his wife is apparently sticking by him, that he commissioned the local tattoo artist to put her name on his face, using a staple he had straightened out and sharpened, then used a cloth to apply his own version of homemade ink. For two cans of soup in payment. Shocked as I was, the job looked professional. The man on my left was a very rich drug distributor, on his first trip through Arkansas. He was driving his Bentley. He got stopped with a full load. His closest family is in Arizona. They visited him last week.

  The main speech at the closing ceremony was delivered by the man who was at my left a year ago, the first time I was a table leader. Walk 38. One of my men. One of God’s success stories. He has been a regular Thursday night man at the services, always the servant. I see him every time I go. He told me once, “I know I have a very friendly face, and I’m always joking around.” Then he got really serious. “But I have to tell you. My face is a killer’s face.” He served  cookies at Walk 40 to his brothers. He was helped by the man on my right at Walk 37. A true servant of God. He and I discussed his great opportunity open to him to be one of God’s missionaries in a very fertile mission field for the remainder of his sentence. He has been true to that charge given to him by God at Walk 37, he told me this week. But the regret he has felt every day since the day he pulled the trigger is still there.

My dear friend and roommate at Pine Bluff led this walk. A man is only allowed to lead a walk once in his lifetime, lest he become prideful. He is a man God sends not only to Pine Bluff, but to every prison he can get into. And he normally works alone, out in the general population. The men in white tell him he MUST have spent years sentenced to prison; he has the walk, the talk, the mannerisms of prison. But he tells them no. This is the work God put him on earth to do. And God would never send him into prison without preparing him, giving him the tools to work with. The leader of the White Supremacy group at a prison is talking to him. My friend is black. “My job here is to break men like you.” Then, as he bursts out crying, he adds, “But I don’t want to do that anymore.”

The word Kairos means "Time."  There is chronological time, and there is Kairos time. 
If a doctor tells you the baby is due on Oct. 20, 2014, Yet you experience labor pains on Oct. 10, 2014, and you tell your husband it is time, he may say, "No, it's not due until October 20. Go back to sleep." That's chronological time. If the baby arrives on Oct. 10, just as you now predict, that's Kairos time. God's perfect time.