Monday, October 27, 2014

Forever A Hillbilly: A Dad From the old School

Forever A Hillbilly: A Dad From the old School: If you read my last story, Guardian of the Dead, you will appreciate this. We had college students out to our house last night. Afterwards, ...

A Dad From the old School

If you read my last story, Guardian of the Dead, you will appreciate this. We had college students out to our house last night. Afterwards, we had a campfire. Most all of them had read the story, and a couple of the guys, to impress the girls, I guess, volunteered to go up into the tree house. The rest of us stayed by the fire. As they entered the first floor, one of the guys saw his name written on the wall, and that unnerved him a bit. Actually, he had the same name as my grandson, who had written his name there long ago, so that was an accidental effect. Then I cut a 20 pound test monofilament line out at the campfire, dropping a 10 pound window weight in the second floor. Those screams were music to my ears! Just what I had designed the story for in the  first place! I still can't believe it! After two years, It really, actually, WORKED! I have been smiling all day!
     On March 1, 1997, at 2:20 PM, an F4 tornado ravaged much of my home town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

 The tornado sirens started at 2:10, and word was spreading that a large tornado was on the way. I went outside our photography studio in downtown Arkadelphia, with our best camera. If we were about to be hit, I wanted a photo. A very dark, ominous cloud was moving in from the west. The sirens stopped. At 2:15, they started again, and the downtown electricity went off. A man from next door was beside me.

     A roar was coming from the west. “Sounds like a train,” he said.

     “No tracks over there,” I answered. He went inside. I readied my camera. Suddenly, a strange thing happened. Clouds from all over the sky began rushing toward one central point, the point of the roar. I realized this thing might be about to form up right over me. I snapped a shot of the clouds, and went inside. It was my last picture for weeks. I could never justify taking pictures when so many people needed help.

      I was playing chicken with an F4, and I blinked.

     The dressing room, right in the middle of our building, a very old two story brick, looked like the best place. As I started inside it, the wind picked up. I looked toward the front. “Aw dang, my awnings are blowing away,” I thought. Then a large trailer house, or what was left of it, mostly the frame, came through our front picture window. I totally forgot about the awnings. The back windows collapsed inward, the suspended ceiling around me was sucked down to the floor, and double swinging doors right behind me slammed shut with a bang. I went in the dressing room, shut the door, lay our best camera on the floor, and covered it with my body. My thought processes ran something like, “We’ve got to have something left to make a living with when this is all over.” I heard the most awful groaning sound I had ever heard as our front wall, three bricks thick, was pushed outward several inches at the top.

     I could write for days about the aftermath during the next weeks, but right now I want to pick out one  small part of it, one little story out of an entire storybook, and tell you about it. I still think of it often.

     A very old rental property, two blocks away, was right on the edge of the tornado. It was my worst looking rent house. Insurance adjusters took one look at it after the tornado, and brought me a check for the total loss of the house. But actually, It really didn’t look that bad, compared to the neighborhood. It had been transformed from being the worst looking house in the neighborhood to being one of the best, in only seconds.  All houses right across the street were flattened to the ground. I decided to repair it myself, which included putting on about six squares of shingles, replace 17 windows, getting a bunch of little trees off the top, and replacing the electrical service.

     One day as I sat working on top of that house, I looked across at the neighbors. A young man, two young children and his wife had totally lost their house. His father also owned two small houses next to it, and they were totally flattened also.

     The young man told me, “This was to be my inheritance.”

      As I watched, they started pulling out each plank, pulling the nails, and stacking them neatly. Even the young children worked hard, long hours. Day after day they worked. His dad came to town, and I could see they planned to rebuild that house totally by themselves. After a week or so had passed, as I watched them all labor from daylight to dark, even the young children, I was filled with admiration for that family. After a few more days, my house was finished and rented, and I went over to see the Dad. I asked if I could help them.

     The dad, whom I could tell was of the old school, was nor unfriendly, but he said, “As sure as shootin,’ if I start letting people help, they’ll get hurt, and the next thing you know, they’ll be suing me. Thanks, but we can handle it.”

     I continued to watch them struggle for several more days. I could follow their progress from our business window. They had the walls up, ready to put the roof on, but no plywood was to be had in Arkadelphia. It was all used up. They were in a tight, and heavy rains were forecast soon. I again walked over to the old dad. “Hey, I’ve got quite a bit of plywood stored in one of my storage buildings. Tell you what. If you will let me help put it on, I’ll give you that plywood.”

     The Dad looked at me, thinking. Then he frowned. “I appreciate the offer, but I just can’t risk having someone outside the family gettin’ up there, falling and hurtin’ themselves, then I’ll be sued."

     “Look”, I said. I’ve built three houses by myself, almost. I’ve been workin’ on these 18 rent houses for years and never been hurt. I wouldn’t get hurt here, and if I did, I sure wouldn’t sue you.”

     The Dad was in a tight. He thought about it for a long time. Finally, he grudgingly agreed, turned around, and walked away muttering about “gettin’ my pants sued off.”

     We hauled the plywood in from my storage building 3 blocks away, I took a sheet up on top, drove one nail, and my foot slipped, only about 3 inches down to a lower 2x4, but my sometimes trick knee picked a bad time to give way, and when all my weight came down on the toes of one foot, something really bad went wrong with my foot. I tried to fake it for a while, knowing the dad was keeping an eagle eye on me, but I couldn’t go on. I climbed slowly down the ladder, told the dad I had to go run an errand.

     He was frowning at me, and I knew he was not buying what I was saying, me limping like I was. I knew full well he thought I was headed for my lawyer’s office.

     I went to the emergency room. The verdict was, my big toe was dislocated. The doc came in. Now, I’ve got to tell you. I had been wearing these work tennis shoes for days now. And they, my socks, and my feet smelled really ripe. He gave me a shot in the toe, said that will numb it in five minutes. Then, I guess he just could not stand that smell any more, because he grabbed my big toe, and jerked it as hard as he could. I thought about screaming.

     I drove back out to the job site. I had to go fess up to the dad, who was really looking at me hard by now. I knew I would not be able to climb a ladder for a long time.

     I watched them continue to labor long and hard. When they were working on the inside part, I guess the dad was softening a little, having dodged one lawsuit bullet, because a whole team of Mennonite volunteers moved in from up north to help Arkadelphia, and he allowed them in to help finish up. Just as they drove the last nail, and the house was complete, the city decided to take that land and build the new city hall building, so it was immediately torn down again.

     But when the city takes land, I hear they pay for it by the square foot, which means through the nose, so I guess the hard working family came out all right, money wise. I never did know their names, or what happened to them. But I often think of that family, and their hard- case dad, (who reminded me of my own dad) with a smile and a lot of respect.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Guardian of the Dead - Conclusion

 My grandchildren loved it. For a year or so. I had made it so that the second floor could be reached only by climbing a knotted rope, to keep the small children from getting up to the second floor, maybe falling and getting hurt. Actually, it pretty well turned out that my older grandchildren couldn’t reach that second floor, either. That upstairs room has sat, empty and deserted, for many years now.
     Over time, I started noticing that strange things started happening, seemingly in that upstairs room of the tree house. Our bedroom in our house is on the end close to that room. One night, I heard a woman moaning way up there in that tree house. It was one of those cases where I snapped suddenly awake, terrified, and was absolutely sure I heard it. Yet later, I reasoned I must have dreamed that, because it just could not have actually happened.  Another time, I was awakened in much the same way, by the sound of someone tapping, very sharply, five times on our bedroom window. Occasionally I heard terrifying, high pitched screams emanating, it seemed, from that upper room at night, or was it just another nightmare? Occasionally, a small light could be seen, flashing on and off, in that upper room. Several times, I have heard the sound of a board falling up there, late at night, even though I left no loose lumber up there. These last two events I was absolutely sure of.  I was wide awake long before they happened.
     Barbara and I have an open door policy for any college student in our church. If their visiting friends or their parents need a place to stay overnight, they are always welcome.
     It occurred to me one day, it seemed that the only time those strange noises occurred was when an OBU or HSU student was in our house. I started keeping track of it, and sure enough, strange things often happened up there only when a college student was staying with us.
     We often have a group of mostly college students over on Sunday nights, and once, when I built a campfire outside after our meeting, they started talking about that tree house, only 50 feet away. Not wanting to scare them, I didn't mention its history.
     One boy wanted to climb up there. I tried to talk him out of it. I told him it had been deserted for years, that no lights were in it now, and I don’t really know how solid it still is. He insisted, would not listen to me. He snatched my headlight out of my hand and headed for the tree house. The girls begged him not to go. He negotiated the 2x10 plank up to the first level, then we could hear him entering. Soon, I could hear him ascending the rope. With much trepidation, I began to realize, he was one of those rare young men with enough shoulder strength to actually get up there.  I held my breath, terrified as I thought what may be about to happen.  Suddenly, we all heard an ear splitting scream, the most highly pitched scream any of us had ever heard.  It was followed by a loud thud, as if someone, or something, had fallen. We saw him sliding, jumping, and falling back down that plank. He came to the campfire, sat down in a chair, and never spoke. Just stared into the flames. He was white as a sheet, had a bleeding wound on his head, and my headlight was smashed. Nobody said a word.
     We all sat there quietly for a long time. Finally, a girl spoke. “Why did you scream? And how, with your deep voice, could you scream like that?”
     He got up and started heading down the hill toward his car. He stopped, turned and looked at us with a wild look in his eyes, and finally spoke in his very deep voice.
     “That was not MY scream.”
     That’s all he said. Not another word.
     We miss him. Word got back to me that he left town that night. And has never been back.
      I know I need to just tear that old tree house down. But to take down a tree house, one has to start at the top, or risk having it fall on you.

      And, I’m not about to go up there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Forever A Hillbilly: Guardian of the Dead - Part Two

Forever A Hillbilly: Guardian of the Dead - Part Two: `Part Two of a Three Part Story       This all happened years before my family moved to Arkadelphia, and I’m not really sure what happe...

Guardian of the Dead - Part Two

`Part Two of a Three Part Story

      This all happened years before my family moved to Arkadelphia, and I’m not really sure what happened to the guys who caused all this. I did not hear the first part of this story until many years later.
     My wife Barbara and I have two children, Corey and Kinley. Our son Corey was starting into the eighth grade, and our daughter Kinley would start into the fourth grade. We moved to Arkadelphia.
     We knew this might be our last move, if things worked out with the business we had just bought, a photography studio.
     Barbara ran the business, and I found a job teaching at Arkadelphia High School.
     We finally found just the spot, and bought five wooded acres out west of town to build a house on. It was heavily wooded, and I cleared out just enough trees to build the house on the front end.  At the back of the property was a very old cemetery, and just across the fence from it, on our land, was a very old shack. Strangely, it had a rail around the top, broken in one place.
     Corey and Kinley were young children when we built our house. They were curious about that old shack. We could never figure out why anyone would build it there. I went down with them through the woods to check it out. They wanted to use it for a playhouse. I decided that was all right if they would stay off those stairs and off the top. Some of those boards were getting very old, and it might be dangerous. They spent a lot of time playing in that old shack with their friends when they were young.
     Our children grew up in that house in the country. A few years later, Corey chose OBU. A few years after that, Kinley preferred HSU. Right after Corey started to OBU, he brought a couple of his buddies out for the weekend. All being adventurous, the boys wanted to camp in that old shack by the back fence.
     They were back home by midnight. A plank had fallen from the ceiling, seemingly for no reason at all, and raised a large knot on Corey’s buddy’s head. They all swore they heard a woman moaning in agony right outside, then they swore they could hear a woman screaming, a very high pitched scream, way out in the woods.
    That made up their mind. They headed up the trail toward our house. One of the boys just seemed sure he saw blinking lights inside the shack when he looked back, but you know how young guys are. Get a little scare and the imagination begins to work overtime.
     Both our children and their friends seemed to shy away from that old shack after that, and I didn’t discourage it. It had to be getting a little dangerous by now, being so old and partly rotten. I think by now the kids and their friends were building on that “haunted house” thing. Both of them began to tell stories of someone moving around upstairs in OUR house, while they were home alone. On top of that, Corey and his buddy claimed they once accidentally stepped on a grave when crossing that graveyard, and in the distance, they could hear a woman’s high pitched scream. Way off in the woods.
     My wife Barbara was getting tired of being a country girl. That dirt road kept her car dirty, and she was wanting back in town with cable TV and city water. The kids, well, they were about grown now, but were anxious to get away from that place. So, I put in ten months at hard labor, building our third house I have built. Right before we moved, I tore down that old shack at the back. Some of that lumber was still solid, and I might need it to build the grandkids a playhouse, someday, so I carried a couple of loads of it to our new house in town, stacked it in the edge of our woods, covered it up to save it.
     The years were flying by, and Barbara and I found ourselves with five grandchildren! Four boys and a girl. I still had not gotten around to building that playhouse.
 Kinley and her husband, Mickey, bought our studio in Arkadelphia, then moved to Little Rock and bought a Sports Photography franchise, which they continue to this day. Corey, also, followed in Barbara’s footsteps and became a photographer in Little Rock. I always thought kids usually followed in the father’s footsteps, but no, it was not to be. Corey soon decided to build his own studio in West Little Rock, and I helped supervise his contractors, living on site in my camper for several months. When finished, he had a lot of scrap lumber left over and gave it to me in payment for my time.  He said I could use it working on our rent houses.

     In the end, I decided to use it to build that playhouse for my grandchildren. I went one step farther, and built a tree house in the edge of our woods. When I was finishing up, I decided to check through that very old lumber, stacked in our woods for many years, and maybe there was enough of it still sound enough to use. There was. I decided to build an addition to the top. I wound up building a second story, mostly from that very old lumber from out by the cemetery.
continued in one week

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Forever A Hillbilly: Guardian of the Dead

Forever A Hillbilly: Guardian of the Dead: This is a three part story. The next installment will be put up in one week. Thanks for reading. First of all, let me give you a little ...

Guardian of the Dead

This is a three part story. The next installment will be put up in one week. Thanks for reading.

First of all, let me give you a little background for this story. This took place many years ago in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Henderson State University was still Henderson College. On the bordering property was a small cemetery. It was very old, with many more ancient graves than recent ones.
     As Henderson expanded, the small cemetery was in the way. It was near where the girl’s softball field is today. Henderson needed that land, so it was decided that the land would be taken, public domain and all that, and the graveyard moved.
     Almost nobody was still around to make an issue of that.
     Except for one older woman, whose whole family was in that cemetary.
     She protested to anyone who would listen, but in the end, the land was taken. She apparently had no money to hire a lawyer. The graves were moved out to a larger older cemetery, some miles out west of Arkadelphia. It has been told that she sat in her beat up old truck right beside that cemetery as her family was dug up and moved, never speaking to anybody, and glaring at anyone who came close.
      Nobody saw much of her for a long time.
      Then one day, it was noticed that she was hauling lumber in her old truck, stacking it right beside that cemetery fence, where her loved ones now rested.  After a large stack was finished, she could often be seen hauling it, plank by plank, into the woods on the west side of the cemetery. Everybody who knew her said she was a very strong and determined woman, and were not surprised when a small shack appeared, just outside that fence.  She built a little rail around on top, and could sometimes be seen up on top of her shack, in her rocking chair. As far as could be determined, she now lived in that shack.
     Stories were going around that she had just gone off the deep end when her whole family was dug up and moved. She seemed to dedicate her life to watching over her loved ones, every day. I suppose she was guarding them, making sure they were not disturbed again.
     She didn’t own that land, but it occupied just a very small part of a very large wooded tract of land there. Everyone felt sorry for that poor woman, and the owners just left her alone.
     Time went by. Unfortunately, she was not always left undisturbed. Stories circulated about the crazy old woman out by the cemetery. When one drove down that dirt road beside the cemetery at night, she could often be spotlighted in the headlights as one made the turn, just sitting on top that shack, just rocking.
     Seems a group of young men about college age eventually decided to have a little fun with her. They started out by hollering at her, taunting her, until eventually she would disappear into her shack.
     Unfortunately, other young people got in on the fun by walking out into the cemetery, hollering at her that they were going to dig up her family again. Lots of people had heard her story by now. When they did this, she usually would start screaming. It was the most highly pitched scream anyone had ever heard and she would still be screaming when they tired of the game and left. The few people remaining in Arkadelphia who knew her said she had developed a very unnaturally strong hatred for anyone around college age, starting when her family was dug up to allow HSU’s expansion. Nobody seemed to know if any of the young people harassing her were students or not, but to her it didn’t matter. She just grouped all young people together, and hated them all.
      One Halloween, a group of particularly mean young guys decided to go scare her. They parked their car a good ways back, walked very quietly up to the shack. On signal they started pounding on the walls and hollering at her. She was dozing off up on top in her chair, and when the ruckus started, she got up quickly. She was screaming that particularly high-pitched scream and ran for the roof access hole.  She fell against that railing and broke through a section of it. In falling to the ground her neck was broken. She was buried right beside her family.

      But this is not the end of our story.

Continued next Friday

Friday, October 3, 2014

Forever A Hillbilly: Scrabble Wars and Doctor Deadlift

Forever A Hillbilly: Scrabble Wars and Doctor Deadlift:      Early in our married life, Barbara and I were already playing Scrabble. I had played longer, all the way through College, and I h...

Scrabble Wars and Doctor Deadlift

     Early in our married life, Barbara and I were already playing Scrabble. I had played longer, all the way through College, and I had the edge. We realized quickly, we were both very competitive about it. Once I beat her pretty good, and she stormed out of the house, announced she was leaving, got in the car, and sprayed gravel all over that house.. Well, I knew Barbara didn't even know how to get out of town yet, much less drive home to Mama. She drove a few laps around town, settled down some, and came home.
    A marriage counselor would not have recommended it, I'm sure, but we both loved the game and just continued on playing. Pretty soon, Barbara was winning her share.

    A year or two later, we had moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Late in March, we got a very unusual 17 inch snow fall. We had nothing else to do, so we played Scrabble. She beat me like a rented mule, and I stormed out, into the real storm. I plowed through that snow until I had a pretty good trail around and around that house, just gave out, then I, too, returned home. I'm sure people driving by wondered why I had a trail around the house in that deep snow, while my car would remain snowed in for days. I should have used all that energy to dig the car out, but Scrabble anger is not a sensible anger.

    Jump ahead with me 40 years or so. Barbara, always a word freak and crossword guru, had taken command. After I had lost a very long string of games, the final loss galled me so, I lost it. I was now an old man, and that kind of rage is just not good for an old man. I grabbed the board, flung it far across the room. We didn't play for awhile, because I was digging tiles out of the far corners of that room for some time.
    When I finally found a full set of tiles, old habits were hard to break, and we continued on. I finally accepted the fact that I was going to be the majority loser, and learned to relish my occasional victory. Barbara had learned so many new words, it was hard, but we played so often, I slowly began to learn them too, at a terrible price. 

    Finally, one glorious day, the Scrabble Gods just started smiling at me, frowning at Barbara, and I won 7 games in a row. This juicy little tidbit has never been told before,  It is just not a safe thing to talk about. Well, after that 7th loss, Barbara jumped up from the couch, grabbed the board, and just slammed in down, upside down, on the couch. Well, I knew it would take a long time to find all those tiles, and I was fine to rest on my laurels for some time,  and just generally enjoy this current status. But Barbara would have nothing to do with that, dug them all out quickly, and stated she was ready to play. You just don't beat Barbara like a rented mule and walk away from it.

    When Barbara got her magic phone, with internet-GPS-everything, she sought the best players she could find on the internet, and keeps a few games going all the time on Words with Friends.
    When we went to bed, she would kiss me goodnight, I went to sleep, and she would play awhile with a couple of guys/girls until she went to sleep.

    I've never been a jealous type husband, mainly because she never gave me any reason to be.
    Things change. Once she put her picture out on the internet to her personal friends, made a mistake somehow, and it went to the whole internet. As anyone can plainly see, Barbara always looks good in a picture. She is an expert poser, from her photography years, and always applies all her skill to her own pictures. Soon, Dr. Deadlift responded. Wanted to play some Scrabble. Said she looked like someone who could give him a good game. I wondered about that. He could tell all that from a picture? By way of introducing himself, he referred her to Facebook to explain his name. Barb called me up to look at it. At 56 or so, he was a world champion weight lifter, and worked in Homeland Security. Well, all that was too much for me. She was taking that picture off anyway, and she cut off Dr. Deadlift when she saw how much it bothered me. I soon came to realize, I was being silly. He never talked about anything except the game, always a perfect gentleman, and he WAS a top tier scrabble player. You either trust someone or you don't, and one of the things we had both always been happy about in our marriage was the fact that we never gave each other that kind of grief. I told her to put him back on, but don't be playing Dr. Deadlift, in the bedroom, after I go to sleep. I never play Barbara any more. With all her internet scrabble, she has left me behind. And Scrabble is just something I cannot tolerate always losing at. The Scrabble Gods just no longer have a role in it. Word to the wise: Don't challenge Barbara unless you are in the top tier. You remember what I told you about that rented mule?