Monday, December 28, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Conclusion: My Best Friend Tooter

Forever A Hillbilly: Conclusion: My Best Friend Tooter:       Tooter was not always perfect. Late one summer afternoon, Mom sent me to herd her young chickens into the coop for the night. Any c...

Conclusion: My Best Friend Tooter

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

     The summer of  1956 brought a new friend and companion to the farm. Mike Ford, my city-boy cousin, arrived from California one morning in June. Mike had never been out of the Los Angeles area before, and even the routine occurrences on our hill farm became new adventures to him.
     Soon after Mike's arrival, the raccoons attacked our corn patch, which was in the roasting ear stage, in force. We had to have that corn to get our cows through the winter, plus we ate cornbread about every day. Every coon in the bottoms seemed to show up at dark. Tooter, Mike, and I were assigned the task of protecting our patch. The stage was set.
      Early one warm summer night we headed for the patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn row. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display. And I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid-air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?” when no reasonable solution came to mind, I called, “Do something, Mike!” I don't remember exactly what he did, so I asked him when I visited him this past summer. He said he hit the coon on the head with a knife, and it just got mean. I’m sure glad I asked Mike about all this before writing this, because my thoughts are still all jumbled up about that moment, and I was not sure about mike’s role at that moment.

 So anyway, I acted. I  jumped up, holding the tail by the right hand, planning to slide my hunting knife out of it's scabbard, and hit it over the head. Now, my knife was not just any hunting knife, certainly not one a 12 year old should be carrying. It was a US Marines knife, designed for hand to hand combat. Perfect for my needs now. But by the time I had began my draw, my fingers had just touched the handle when the coon went crazy. It was wrapped tightly around my right arm, biting and squalling, and my arm was turning into sausage. I shook it loose, only to have it latch onto my right leg, slightly above the knee. I was struck with a momentary flash of good sense, and I turned it loose.   Tooter joined the chase then, for, still being a young dog, he liked it better when the coon was running from him. Myself, I was in the heat of battle now, and I stayed close behind. Again the coon turned to fight, raking Tooter with his claws. When I entered the fight this time, the knife was in my hand, and it was quickly over.
     We proudly carried the big coon back to the house, and I basked in the attention and glory as everyone examined my wounds. We did not think much about things such as Rabies in those days. Mike later confided, “I would sure like to have some scars like that to take back to California.” A few days later, Mike went down to run the traps we sat out at the corn patch, got too close to a squirrel or coon or some such animal, and got his own battle wounds. For days, he pulled the scabs from the wounds, to promote scarring, and he proudly wore his scars back to California.
     The summer was drawing to a close. Mike was ready to ride the train three days back to Los Angeles. When he arrived, he got a dog, named him Tooter. He bought traps, and sat out a trap line in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. All he could catch were rats and ground squirrels, though. He told me this year that the summer in Arkansas influenced the course of his life. He later made many trips into the wilds of the west. He talked about me showing him how to spread a spider web across the hole in a hollow tree, to see if it was being used. I didn't remember any of that.
     I did not see Mike again until he returned from Vietnam as a demolitions expert, sporting a Teflon orbit around one eye. We visited Wing a couple of days and talked about old times. When he got back to California, he had a rude awakening. People there did not appreciate him and the other returning veterans. By the time he had completed college, he had had enough. He went to Australia, taught school a couple of years. Then he played basketball on a touring team of displaced American veterans awhile. When he returned to California, pushing thirty, he applied for a teaching job. Remembering his earlier treatment, he did not mention to the Superintendent interviewing him about his war experience. But when the man asked him why, at near thirty, he was just now applying for a job, he came clean. The man, a veteran himself it turns out, stood up, shook his hand, and hired him on the spot. It turned out to be a 30-year job.

    The time came for me to leave the farm. I was off to college. Tooter never did accept this well. He drooped around, his spirit gone, searching for me each day in all the old places. On the rare occasions when I got to hitchhike home for the weekend, Tooter always spotted me coming when I was still a speck in the distance. He would suddenly regain his “world class” speed, and a rough and joyous reunion resulted as we ran up the lane. One time, he jumped on me, our noses meeting none too gently. Mine was the one that was bloodied. Another time, a flying leap sent a tooth through my watch crystal. I still have that watch. That and memories of a happy time are his legacy. With long periods of depression and separation and short, joyous reunions, my freshman year passed. Then I was home for the summer, and all was well in our world.
     One summer morning, I was awakened at dawn by a loud commotion in our yard. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, the sight before me sent a chill through me. Two large wolves had Tooter, one on each end, stretching him out. When I yelled, they dropped Tooter and ran. Tooter chased one, caught him, and grasping him by the throat, began to squeeze the life from it. I grabbed Tooter, pulling him back. The wolf shook loose, and quickly melted into the woods.

     During the next few days, Tooter seemed to be slowly recovering. One morning as he leaped from a load of cattle feed in our truck, he yelped in pain. He moved slowly to the porch, lying down, and soon was unable to get up. I carried him to the cool cellar. He wouldn't eat. As I checked on him throughout the night, he became weaker. At daylight he was gone. That day I buried him in a grave under the Persimmon tree overlooking the valley and the mountains we had roamed together so many times. I spent the afternoon cutting his name in a large flat rock that I placed at the head of his grave. Tooter had come to me when we were both very young. He had seen me through my growing up years as my constant companion and best friend. His job was done. Now I am a man. I must go on alone.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: My Best Friend Tooter

Forever A Hillbilly: My Best Friend Tooter:  I got Tooter in the early 1950's.  He was an   eight   week old part German Shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest....

My Best Friend Tooter

 I got Tooter in the early 1950's.  He was an eight week old part German Shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest. I carried him, resting on my forearm, the two miles back to our farm. As Tooter grew, he learned quickly. He became my constant companion as we hunted, fished, and trapped – or just roamed the bottoms and mountains for the fun of it. He quickly learned to “stand,” “heel,” and “back up.” Once learned, he obeyed perfectly. If I needed help getting up a muddy creek bank after setting a trap, or looking for mink sign, I had only to say, “back up.” Tooter backed into position, waited until I grasped his tail, then pulled me up the slick bank. Tooter was a world class sprinter, by human standards. Using the “stand” command, I timed him at 7 seconds flat in the one hundred yard dash, breaking the world record by two seconds or so – for a man.

      Tooter saved me more than once. One hot summer day, walking barefoot down an overgrown lane to fish Lilly Pad Lake, Tooter was in the heel position. He suddenly stepped ahead of me, then jumped aside. Looking down, I saw a large water moccasin, coiled and fangs bared, lying where my next step would have taken me.

      Tooter became a good squirrel dog, though not in the normal sense of the term. He did not trail squirrels, but ran, crashing through the underbrush, scaring any self-respecting squirrel into movement. His sharp eyes caught the flash of fur, and another squirrel was treed. Once he had him in sight, he would follow him when he jumped from tree to tree. We worked well as a team. While I waited quietly on one side of the tree, Tooter crashed to the other side to turn the squirrel. They were an important source of meat for my family. The only meat we ate was either salt pork or an occasional chicken, which got old after awhile, or meat that I hunted or fished for.

      One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain, the northern edge of my world, Fourche Valley. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe creek up Wing holler, avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown. The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled Oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my tow sack hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.

      I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about one hundred  yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the freshly fallen leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.

      The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of fox squirrels and memories of a night that the passing decades have not erased.
The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Hollow. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies.” One Saturday we set out up the holler. After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf or coyote. I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.

     As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, my concern for my marine combat knife overcame my concern for the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.

      Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought it through many times in the past fifty plus years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the bend. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buel Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store whittling and spitting tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Stony Lonesome

Forever A Hillbilly: Stony Lonesome:      I just got back from yet another trip to Yell County.  I have been going up there pretty regularly lately.      The Gillum’s h...

Stony Lonesome

     I just got back from yet another trip to Yell County.  I have been going up there pretty regularly lately.

     The Gillum’s have had a presence in Yell County since 1898. With my brother’s death recently, that presence has been dwindling. Only my sweet sis-in-law, Louise, and my nephew, Big Dan, still remain. I decided some time back that I had to always keep some sort of permanent presence there, if only for part time. Thus my son Corey and I have been in the process of putting a cabin up there for some time now.

     My nine acres is a spaghetti shaped parcel that stretches across the highest part of the old family farm. I call that mountain (hill?) top Stony Lonesome. Actually, I borrowed that name from my favorite author when I was a child, Jim Kjelgaard. I read his book, Big Red, and his other books that spun off that. Over and over. Just recently I located a copy of Big Red in the library, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did 50 years ago. The story is about a boy and his dog, and many of his adventures played out atop and around Stony Lonesome. At the time, I had a big dog, Tooter, who was my best friend, (No offense, Sammy Turner) and many of our cherished adventures took place on and around our very own Stony Lonesome. As a child, that’s where the whippoorwills abounded, just like in the book. They’re still there.

     As a child, we grew many grapes up there. Tubfulls. That mountain top has long been regarded as the best garden spot on the farm. Deep topsoil, with deep red clay below.

     Somebody, eons ago, moved the rocks off the very top of Stony lonesome, and made a long rock fence along the edge. Any surface rock on top of Stony Lonesome is lonesome indeed. That must have happened when they discovered what a good garden spot that is.

     After my brother Harold sold me that plot, he put many days in hauling rocks and gravel onto the road up to the top of Stony Lonesome. So, the road is still passable, but actually, I think it may be the roughest driveway in Yell County, what with all the erosion that has happened on that steep hill. The soil is mostly gone, only rocks remain.

     The cabin itself is pretty close to being finished, but the bathroom, and the associated modern day conveniences, is still far off.

     Big Dan and I placed a 500 gallon water tank behind the cabin, and rain water is funneled off the roof to it. I was excited when the recent six-day rain filled it up, but that faded when I saw that the valve at the bottom dripped. A lot. Three drops per second. So, I had to siphon that tankful out, and start over. Now, I’m holding my breath waiting for the next big rain, to see how the new valve behaves. (Late note: no drips this time – it worked) In the meantime, water off the back roof is funneled into a big trash can for utility use, just like the water barrel we used when I was a kid in Wing, avoiding many long trips down the hill to the well.

     As I grew up, our toilet was a two-holer down the hill. For now, mine is a porta-potty out in the thicket and a five foot deep hole. No need to build a surround. And the stay is more pleasant with nice fresh air coming in from all directions. The thickets grow really, really thick on top of Stony Lonesome. Just carve out a trail and a small opening. But I do have one big advantage: real toilet paper. (double bagged in zip lock bags.) No Sears and Roebuck pages for this generation of Gillums! We’ve moved on up! My nephew told me the other day that he had heard a rumor that my outhouse had no house. Just an out. I had to admit that was true.

     My son, Corey, and 9 year old grandson Carson were with me this trip. Carson finally talked his dad into accompanying him to the “bathroom” in the middle of the night, but he stirred up a whole pack of coyotes in the thicket. I’ve not heart such a fuss in many years, that close. Both from the coyotes and my city-boy grandson. But Stony Lonesome is making a Fourche Valley hillbilly out of him pretty quickly.

     My last overnight stay there with Carson, it was raining pretty hard. All the time. Carson kept wanting to build a campfire. I tried to explain the physics involved with building a campfire in the rain to discourage him. He just would not buy into that. A little later, I glanced outside. He and his dad were sitting beside a campfire blazing brightly in the driving rain.

     I need to give you a little background info here. When Corey was about that age, he was constantly challenging me to build a fire under the most difficult of circumstances, using only what I could find out in the woods and one match. It was a good chance to impress my son, so I worked hard at it. I guess my most significant achievement was building a fire in a snowstorm, and early one morning on a camping trip after it had rained all night. Next we moved on to flint and steel. My oldest grandson, Christian, was so impressed by that, he worked and worked until he had mastered that art too.

     Back to our story. I was so impressed with Carson’s driving rain campfire, I just had to investigate. He had used a store-bought fire log to get it started. That’s not fair, is it?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Half-Priced Houses

Forever A Hillbilly: Half-Priced Houses:      I had always thought in the deep recesses of my mind, someday I will build my own house. Mostly by myself. I decided, now was the ti...

Half-Priced Houses

     I had always thought in the deep recesses of my mind, someday I will build my own house. Mostly by myself. I decided, now was the time. We borrowed twenty-five thousand dollars in 1978, and I set in. I didn't know how to build a house, but I knew how to use a saw and hammer. Pretty well all of us raised in Wing learned to do that. The rest I learned along the way. If I got to a point where I was stumped, I went and looked at other houses under construction, and just did like the big boys did. When I first started and was doing the dirt work, a friend said, “I don't know how you ever make any progress. Every time I come by, you're leaning on your shovel.” Actually, I was very busy thinking. Trying to figure out what to do next. I did, however, dig the footing trench in one day. Lots of sand, no rocks.

      It was pretty well framed up, and my daughter Kinley, about four, was sitting in the front yard, playing in the sand. She had a spoon in her hand, and dug up a spoon full of sand just as we saw the mosquitoes were eating her up. We scooped her up, along with her spoon full of sand, and she quietly reached down and pulled a gold ring from the spoon. We figured that was a good omen for the house.
     I was working on the master bathroom when Barbara and Kinley came over with the news. Elvis Presley had just died.

      Some of the finish work I saved for the pros, like the cabinets, carpet, and brickwork. I knew I couldn't hide my lack of skill there. I found a little trick that worked well. After a contractor had been on the job one day, I went over his work until I found a flaw. Then I ragged him until he re-did it. His work quality now moved up a notch. Most contractors will only do their best work if they are pushed to it by picky people. It's all about speed with them. Many will go too fast if you let them.

     When it was finished, we turned three thousand dollars back to the bank. A one thousand, seven hundred and ten square foot, three bedroom brick house for twenty two thousand dollars. Including the lot. But, that was 1978. Prices have changed some since then. But the labor expense saved amounted to close to half the cost. It took ten months, after school, weekends, and a summer. I never, in my life, become as completely focused as when I start building a house. Barbara has a lot of trouble getting me away from it, for any reason other than my teaching job.

      I wound up building the next two houses we have lived in also. But not for that price. Thirty eight thousand dollars in 1983 out in the country, in the woods four miles from Arkadelphia. It was a two story frame house. Our new banker was very hesitant about lending money. He said most people who set in to build their own house were soon overwhelmed and quit. But, I had done it once already, so he finally relented. When the house was finished, and he came out for the final inspection, he told me I should build houses for a living. No thanks. Once the banker does his final inspection and declares it finished I take his word for it and just quit right there. I'm sick of it by then, and I have never finished up every little detail .Who am I to argue with a banker? Usually, it's part of the garage that is eternally unfinished.

     Water was a problem. We first dug a large bore well, thirty or so feet deep. Plenty of water, but the test came back bad. So, we dug a small bore well, 200 feet deep.  It tested bad also. The next sample was bad. The bank would not finalize our loan until we passed a water test. The third sample was accidentally dropped into the microwave for a minute or so. It tested perfect. Sometimes, one just does what one must do.

     After our kids grew up there, Barb wanted back in town with city water and cable TV. That third one, twenty years ago, cost sixty eight thousand, the one we still live in. But this time, the soreness in my body did not end after a few days. It was there, every day, for ten months. I was getting too old for this.

      A sheet rock hanger guy, in his mid-fifties, lived next door. He kept a close check on my progress awhile, then told me I was going to make it. A neighbor woman commented, “I’ve been wondering what’s going on over there. I never see but one man there, yet it just keeps going up.” The sheet rock hanger’s son told me one day, “I never want to be old. I want to die by fifty.” I asked why. He said, “I never want to hurt as much as my father does, every morning when he gets up.” A few months later, his father died suddenly, no one seemed to know why. But I did. Hanging sheet rock every day, for an old man, is a man killer. I had learned this on my first two houses, so this time I left the sheet rock hanging and finishing to the pros, the young guys. Three or four days as opposed to two months. The sheet rock hangers told me when they finished, it was the most square and plumb house they had ever worked on. A plus, I guess, for being so slow in framing it up.

      The city inspector was the bane of my existence while I built that last house. Although it was legal to buy permits and build one's own house in Arkadelphia, plumbing, electrical and all, he was determined that you just can't build a house like that, alone.  He was there, nearly every day, finding things wrong.

I pulled a fast one on him once. I had the under-the-slab plumbing finished, uncovered in a four foot deep trench, and he was getting out of his truck, coming to inspect. I noticed a drain curve turned the wrong way. I knew he would say, "You can't do that! That will cause the drain to stop up every couple of weeks! Pull it out and redo it!" I threw a shovel full of dirt down on top of that joint as he walked up, gambling he was too lazy to get down in the ditch and check it. He didn't, and twenty years later, it has never stopped up.

     A couple of times, I had to bring him an engineering book to prove my point. He once decided that  two by six inch studs, two feet apart, would not hold a two story house. He told me to put another stud in between. I finally convinced him that two by sixes spaced that way could carry more weight than two by fours spaced sixteen inches apart. I let him read it right out of the engineering book. But the last time he came out, as I was finishing up, he was different. He smiled and said, “You know, a man should never have to do what you did on this house, alone like that, but once in a lifetime.” And I was doing it for city water and cable TV, for heaven's sake! I decided that day that he and I finally agreed on something. This was my last house.

    Then we started buying old, rundown rent houses, and I fixed them up. After the first one, our banker realized I would quickly fix it up, make it worth more. Sweat equity, he called it. I never had to make a down payment on another one. I even made a profit on a closing once, because rent was due. But like I say, that was then, and things have changed in banking. We made sure our credit rating stayed around eight hundred. And I have changed. I've got to renovate a trashed apartment next week, and what I really want to do is write. I wouldn't mind if I never saw another hammer and saw. Anyone want to buy sixteen old houses and apartments? Have I got a deal for you! (This story was written some time back. I now own only four rentals to work on. I’ve stopped climbing up on steep roofs, and squeezing under low houses, so my profit is much less. A product of being 69 years old. I don't do that kind of work anymore.)

    I still have 3 or 4 storage buildings around town where I keep materials I bought cheap, garage sales and all, for renovating houses. HSU renovated a huge old house on campus once, and Barbara asked me why my renovation jobs do not look as good as that one did once they finished. I patiently explained the difference between a two million dollar renovation, and a two hundred dollar renovation. She never mentioned that again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Goodbye, Fayetteville

Forever A Hillbilly: Goodbye, Fayetteville: Goodbye, Fayetteville       In 1973, my family and I lived at Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had been coaching basketball at Woodland Junio...

Goodbye, Fayetteville

      In 1973, my family and I lived at Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had been coaching basketball at Woodland Junior High for seven years.

      Dad was not doing well while we were at Fayetteville. He was still struggling to keep the farm going at Wing, Arkansas until my brother Harold retired from the Air Force and could take over the farm.  Dad had several bad spells, and my sisters and I swapped off a lot, being there to help them out. One really bad time, he got so weak he could not take care of himself, Mom was not strong enough to lift him, and my sister Jonnie and I had a hard decision to make. We checked him in at a nursing home at Ola. I’ll have to admit, Jonnie was the stronger one in making that decision we had to make. Personally, I spent a lot of time crying along about then. I had heard on the family grapevine that Aunt Lula was pretty high on me, but that ended when Dad went to that nursing home.

      As he began to get stronger, he worked hard on creative ways to take care of himself, including using his walking stick to help put his clothes on. We were finally able to take him home.

     Harold retired from the Air Force and he moved his family back to the farm, which was his plan all along. He got more than he bargained for. All the old Gillum’s around him started dying off quickly when Harold returned home.  With Dad relieved of the responsibility of the farm, Rhumatoid Arthritis became his master.

      He had a stroke, and went to the hospital at Ft. Smith. The preacher at the Rover Baptist Church was there visiting at the same time I was, once, and Dad introduced me as “My son, a teacher at Fayetteville."

      After Dad went home, every time I came down on the weekend to see them, the preacher kept trying to get me to preach at his church. I told him, "That's just not my thing." He looked puzzled by that, but he just kept on trying. I finally realized, Because of his stroke, Dad was not speaking clearly when he introduced me, and the preacher thought he was saying, "My son, a preacher at Fayetteville." Well, I didn't waste any time setting him straight about that, and the preacher finally left me alone.

      Aunt Lula, Dad’s sister, had held a grudge against Dad for decades. When Dad was in the hospital the last time, she got my cousin Juanita to take her there. "I've got to make things right with John." Dad was in a final coma state when she got there. She went in, Dad came out of the coma, and they talked a few minutes. Then Dad passed away. Aunt Lula settled her grudge with Dad in his last few moments. Dad was 78. I figured out later that at the moment Dad died, I was doing an interview with a radio station in Fort Smith about basketball stuff. My priorities were not in order. I should have been at the Danville hospital.

     By 1973, coaching was wearing thin. I had made some key enemies among the Fayetteville coaching staff, and that was not a pleasant time. I could tell you my side of it, but I'm sure they have a side of it too.
     I was never a good football coach. Having never seen a football game until I was grown, I never knew the game well enough. I judged myself a fair + basketball coach. I never had a losing season, but that alone does not constitute a great coach. I was a better teacher than coach. Some of the coaches I was around were good coaches, but I never knew one during my coaching career that I would judge to be a good, true man. When I read Tony Dunge's book last year, I finally realized that good, Christian coaches do actually exist, even at the highest level. But I never worked with one.

     One year, my weakest team lost seven straight games before Christmas, usually by two or three points. Some teams, and maybe some coaches, just don't have the stuff to finish an opponent off. The killer instinct.
     I sat down during the Christmas break, and tried to figure how we could possibly come out on top. I looked at the schedule, marked the games I thought we could possibly win, and those we couldn't. We came out 13-12, with every game going the way I had it marked.

      Coaching tends to suck you, all of you, into the game, and leaves time for little else. I now had two babies, and it was hard to be a good family man. At least, that's the effect it had on me. I wanted out.
      In August, Barb and I sold our trailer, loading everything in Dad's old pickup, packed the babies into our old car, and headed for Hannibal, Mo. to a physical science job without enough money to do that, at the time. We could really not afford to take that pay cut, because the new job was teaching only, no coaching. But in my heart, I knew I could not afford to stay in coaching. Barb knew I had to get out of Fayetteville, she supported me completely, and never complained. I've never forgotten that. Many years later, we moved to McCrory, Arkansas. Barbara was starting girl’s athletics under Title Nine, equal opportunity for girls. She did not coach like me. Her coaching was based on love, not fear. To my surprise, that worked much better.

      Eventually, she told me she wanted to get out of coaching and buy a failing photography studio in Arkadelphia. It would mean I had no job. But I just said, “OK.” What goes around comes around.

      When Mom found out we were moving, she said, “I want to go with you. I could cook and clean for you, and grow a garden.” I knew mom hated living alone. But we had very little time to get there and get set up before school started. I told her I would come back for her, when we got a house and got set up. I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Had I known what the future held, I would have done differently. I still have a lot of trouble about the decision I made that day. Sometime, a person just has no second chance to redo a bad decision. Mom died just before we bought a house.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Bishop McCollip and wife, Philomena

Forever A Hillbilly: Bishop McCollip and wife, Philomena: *      We just got word a few days ago that our dear friend, Bishop McCollip, better known to us as Father Anthony, had just passed away. W...

Bishop McCollip and wife, Philomena

     We just got word a few days ago that our dear friend, Bishop McCollip, better known to us as Father Anthony, had just passed away. We mourn for this great man, and wish we could be there now to share the grief of his wonderful wife, Philomena. I am reprinting this story in honor of this great man, and our close friend.

     During our Australia adventure, Barbara an I stayed at a guest house in Sydney for several nights, as we explored Sydney, and I worked up my nerve to rent a car, one with the steering wheel on the wrong side, drive across that huge city on the wrong side of the road, and figure out how to negotiate multi-lane roundabouts, and head out up the coast to points north, toward the Great Barrier Reef.

     One night, at our dinner table, we met  a great couple, Father Anthony and Philomena. We seemed to hit it right off, and after we told him we were about to head north toward Brisbane as soon as I got up my nerve to do that, they told us to call them when we arrived there, they would come get us, and we could spend a night with them.

      A few days later, we did. They came to get us, and we soon arrived at their home.  A great meal followed, and while Barbara and Father Anthony washed and dried the dishes, Philomena and I poured over her road maps. We then spent a fun evening talking. He was royally insulted when Barbara told him they sounded British, informing us that Brits sounded like they “had a plum in their mouth, and were far more pompous.” I, in turn, was offended when he indicated American football players were somewhat less that manly,having to wear head gear and padding, while Australian Footballers used none. He had to admit, however, that many of their young men got an awful lot of concussions.

      He showed us a photo of him carrying the Olympic torch, and showed us their church. At that time, it was only a small building in their back yard. He said he was placing a photo of us over the alter, and they would pray for us daily.

Their church, he explained to us, was just like the Roman Catholic Church, except that the Priests were not celibate, an unnatural thing, and, since Jesus excluded no one, neither did they. Since that time, the church has grown very rapidly, with branches in many countries. There is an orphanage named after him in Africa, and he is now the Presiding Bishop. He was 65 at that time, she 70.  We still stay in touch regularly. It was nice to sleep in a real house that night, and we awoke to many strange and beautiful bird sounds.

      After breakfast, they drove us to the beach for a walk. They literally walked us both into the ground, several miles. They offered us the use of their beach house, half a day up the coast, but we had to decline, since we wanted to cover as much territory as possible during our stay. They led us out of town and got us started on the correct road, after giving us their official Catholic blessing.

      Since we have returned home, we have, as I said, stayed in regular contact with these friends. I told him once if they ever came to the US, we would come see them. Soon, he called, saying they were going to Hawaii for the official ceremony to make him a Bishop, wanted us to come. How does one explain to a Bishop that one can't keep his word? I had to start out by explaining how far Hawaii was from Arkansas. After he became Presiding Bishop, he once told Barbara that he was taking on the name of McCollip, in honor of a Saint. Then he said, “I personally believe, there are many living Saints in the world, today, like yourself.” Well, that bothered me some. Even though it was an off-hand remark, it was, after all, said by the Presiding Bishop of the Independent Catholic Church of Austraila. Just how official IS that? How does one live with a Saint? Can I still kiss her on the mouth? Can I sleep in the same bed? Must I always walk 5 steps behind? Just an awful lot I don't know about all that.

He once wrote to tell us their small dog, whom we knew, had got in a fight with a Cain Toad and died. How could a toad kill a dog? I looked it up. A Cain toad has a poisonous skin. Bite it, and die. Australia is full of deadly creatures.

Rest in peace, our dear friend. Though I know Jesus, in your casual conversation with him, refers to you as Bishop McCollip, you will always be Father Anthony to us. You enriched our six weeks in your wonderful country of Australia greatly.