Monday, November 28, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Five - Dead-eye Sam

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Five - Dead-eye Sam: Part five      When Samantha was seven years old, she went to town with Mama Dolly and Millie. Samantha had never been to town. She was e...

Part Five - Dead-eye Sam

Part five
     When Samantha was seven years old, she went to town with Mama Dolly and Millie. Samantha had never been to town. She was excited about the chance to talk to new people, and make new friends.
     But she was disappointed. All the kids, and most of the adults they met on the street, seemed to steer clear of Mama Dolly and Millie. And Mama Dolly and Millie seemed to steer clear of all the townspeople.
     “What is so bad about us Dudley’s, Mama? And why don’t they talk to us? Why don’t we talk to them?” And why do none have red hair?”
     Mama Dudley said nothing. But Millie pulled her aside, and explained. “We don’t know these people, Sam. We do know there are an awful lot of mean people in this town, people who want to hurt us. It’s just better not to be around them. Steer clear of them. So, we just come to town to get supplies, then get back to our compound, where everybody loves us.”
     Well, from all the fighting she had seen in the Dudley compound, Samantha thought not everybody loved them there, either. And these town people seemed to be kind and neighborly to each other, much more than the Dudley’s were. But Millie was her sister, who loved her, so she just kept quiet.  Samantha did notice one man that did not avoid them. Mama called him Marshal LaFayette Gillum. He seemed to almost be following them. Why would he do that? He even tried to ask Mama questions about Samantha, but Mama didn’t seem to want to talk much, and told him things that Samantha knew were just not true.
     All in all, Samantha was glad to get back home, back to the Dudley clan.
     Millie announced one day they were going for a ride on horses. Samantha did not like horses. She had faint memories of riding a horse when she was very young, with Billy Boy. She loved Billy Boy, but she almost never saw him anymore. Why does he not love her anymore?
    She had faint memories of how horrible riding on a horse  had been. And they had rode forever, it seemed. But Billy Boy had been kind and gentle toward Samantha, and made the trip as easy as possible for her.
     But Millie put her on a very gentle, slow old mare named Old Murt. Actually, it didn’t seem so bad. They began to ride more, and farther each time. Samantha began to look forward to their rides. Samantha soon loved Old Murt, who, Samantha began to realize, was a lot like herself. She was so gentle, Samantha never fell off. Old Murt was about the only true, gentle animal in the whole Dudley compound, including the people. Although she loved Mama Dolly and Millie, over the years she had seen them be very mean to other people, although they were always kind to Samantha. So, she knew their kindness, and maybe their love also, was not truly real. Was it just sort of a show they put on for Samantha?

    As Samantha and Old Murt spent more and more time together, she began to love this gentle old mare more and more. She knew this mare and her real sister, who she had never lost the treasured memory of, were the only ones who truly loved Samantha. But she could never even recall her real sister’s name. And though reason told her she must have had other family members, too, before she came to the Dudley compound, she could never recall any of them, try as she might.

Part Five - Dead-Eye Sam

Friday, November 25, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Four - Dead-eye Sam

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Four - Dead-eye Sam:      During her first year with the Dudley’s, Samantha had very limited contact with anybody outside of Slim, Mama Dolly, and Millie. S...

Part Four - Dead-eye Sam

     During her first year with the Dudley’s, Samantha had very limited contact with anybody outside of Slim, Mama Dolly, and Millie. She sometimes wondered about that, because she could often hear other children playing outside. But many of those children were not as nice as Millie. She could tell by the mean way they talked to each other.

     As time went on, Millie and Samantha began to take long walks. The other children who were close to Millie’s age were acting somewhat standoffish toward Millie, Samantha thought. But one day, they were walking along near their house. A larger boy, even larger than Millie, started saying mean things to Millie. Samantha had never seen him before, and he didn’t seem to know Millie. Other kids started trying to warn him, to get him away from Millie, but he was brash, and would just not listen. Millie smiled at Samantha, and said, “Sam, I guess it’s time to start your education.”
     Millie had never called her Sam before.

     Millie walked up to the boy, smiling, and kicked him in the crotch. Hard. As the boy screamed and lay crying on the ground, Millie kicked him again. Harder. And a hard kick to the head. When the boy was able, he got up and left. And Samantha never saw him again.

     Samantha was shocked. She burst into tears.

     As Millie and Sam walked on, Millie smiled again and said, “Sam, There are lots of bad people in this world. I know you are a gentle, kind person who does not like conflict. But you must protect yourself. For the time being, I will show you how to talk and handle mean people who want to hurt you. Just act mean enough, and they will usually leave you alone. Then, if that don’t work, I’ll show you tricks that will make them leave you alone. After they get scared of you, as they are me, you won’t have any problems.”
     As the years passed, memory of Samantha’s real family faded. Early on, she often wondered why they never came to get her, like Mama had told her they would. But she never totally forgot her sweet, kind sister. Though she was often told Millie was her sister, she was not the same. Her real sister, she faintly remembered, was kind and gentle toward everybody, not like Millie. But she knew Millie loved her, and Mama Dolly did too.

     Millie occasionally showed Samantha how to wrestle against larger boys.  But she noticed it was hard for Millie to find a Dudley boy who would wrestle her. Tales around the compound of Millie gouging an eye, breaking a finger, or biting off a chunk of an ear just meant, The boys, larger or no, just mostly liked to steer clear of Millie. But some of the older boys who did not yet know much about Millie would sometimes arise to her challenge, rather than be embarrassed in front of their friends. She could out-wrestle any of the boys, even without dirty tricks.

     But Samantha was not a mean-spirited and tough girl like Millie. However, she soon realized that Millie had set the pace for red-haired Dudley girls in the compound. And she noticed there were a lot of red-haired Dudley girls. Samantha soon realized, she could bluff and bluster and bigger boys would leave her alone, too. But, if necessary to protect herself, she knew all of Millie’s tricks. But she never used the dirty ones. She was just too kind and gentle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Three - Dead Eye Sam

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Three - Dead Eye Sam:     After two days of hard travel, Doodlebug decided to camp here, about half way between the two customers, but far enough away from b...

Part Three - Dead Eye Sam

    After two days of hard travel, Doodlebug decided to camp here, about half way between the two customers, but far enough away from both that they could still have a small fire.
After supper, he went over the plan. The farm up against the mountain would be the first business appointment. Less was known about the manpower there, and all of them might be needed. After the business had been concluded, the cleanup was finished, they would move to the primary target, the richer farm by the river.
     “ Alright, now, men. That second appointment will be the most touchy. Our extraction specialist, Billy Boy, will move in about two AM. Once he has taken out the primary target and moved her on down the road toward home a few miles, the exterminators will be in position at good daylight, about two hundred yards away from the house. They’s one man and a boy, take’um together, if we can a’tall. Then, we’uns will all clean up, load up, and be on our way. Billy boy will have th’ red haired gal far enough away that she will hear no shots, never know a thang. Billy boy will travel slow, to make it comfortable on the girl. He will be back to Taladega in two or three days.’’
     Billy Boy was the most highly trained. He could get into any house in the black dark, move as silently as a shadow in the house throughout, locate the main target, give her a dose of ether, and quickly be on his way. Nobody would ever know until morning.
     Kids just loved Billy Boy. He was friendly, soft spoken, and had a gift for settling young kids down quickly. His gentle prevarications were totally believable.  Samantha should be well attached to Billy Boy by the time they got to Taladega.
     The first business appointment went off well. No problems, and a good haul. By dark the next day, they were in position down by the river. The second appointment was even easier. Billy Boy, as usual, was in and out in 30 minutes, and was well on his way at daylight. The family was easy. They all rushed outside together to search for Samantha at about sunup, and they were all so upset, nobody even carried a gun. A really good haul. The wagons were both well loaded, so they had to travel a little slower than Doodlebug would have liked, but no problems arose. This team were all highly skilled business operatives.
     Mama Dolly was beside herself. She just loved raising children. She had a thing for pretty little red-haired girls, and this one was going to be really special, she had been assured by Slim, her husband. Slim was now the leader of the clan.
     Billy Boy had made good time, and he and Samantha rode in well ahead of the wagons. Mama Dolly just could not control herself when she had gotten one glimpse at Samantha. She was even more special that Dolly could have ever dreamed, with a big smile on her face and the brightest, most beautiful red hair she had ever seen. Billy Boy had done well. Samantha just clung to him. And Dolly could not stop hugging Samantha. And just look at those beautiful dimples! 
     It was hard, for a while. Samantha dearly loved her family, and she was really beginning to miss them. But Dolly, like Billy Boy, soon had Samantha believing she would soon see her family again. They were just away, for a time, visiting a relative who was ill. Her mother had asked Mama Dolly to look after her, for a time. The trip was just too long for Samantha, Mama Dolly said.

     Mama had an older daughter, Millie. She was close to the age of Samantha’s sister. She also had red hair, and was very nice to Samantha, as was everybody around Samantha these days. Samantha just loved Millie.    Continued

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Two - Dead-eye Sam

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Two - Dead-eye Sam: The Business of the Dudley’s –  Great grandpa Will and his wife Serenity had first brought their family to Talladega County many years ag...

Part Two - Dead-eye Sam

The Business of the Dudley’s – 
Great grandpa Will and his wife Serenity had first brought their family to Talladega County many years ago. He was the mastermind. He laid out his plan for the future of the clan they would establish. Both Will and Serenity were redheads, and this trait had been passed on to three of their four children. He was a highly educated man. He had a high teaching position at a respected institution of higher learning in the East, but he had been dismissed when it became common knowledge that he had a tendency to do things not acceptable for one placed in such a high station in life. He was forced to gather up his family and move west, out of the state. This had to be done quickly, as the rumors were spread that a farewell party was being planned for him, involving tar, feathers, and a rail.

     Once a very remote, untraveled plot of land was obtained and a cabin was built, he laid out a plan for the future of his Clan. His rules:
1.       Travel at least two days away from Taladega.  Find a lonely farm with no close neighbors to be disturbed by the clan’s activities. Using a long ranged buffalo gun, ambush the men from hiding.
2.       Quickly go in and kill any survivors;  leave no one to tell the tale.
3.       Gather up valuables and money, and take the most valuable livestock.
4.       Quickly make the pre-planned getaway back to Taladega County, using a round-about way to provide the most cover.
5.       One man of the clan was trained as a likable, good natured, traveling peddler, selling what they did not need, far away from the hapless farmer it was stolen from. (Over the years, as the clan grew, more peddlers were trained.)

     Will was a wise man. He realized that his children and future offspring would need a mate. But marrying an outsider increased the chances of clan activities being found out. But If they intermarried,  inbreeding would eventually affect the health of the entire clan. On the other hand, if they selected young children from among their victims, too young to realize what was going on, and integrated them into the clan, it would be possible to avoid inbreeding. To this end, no children over six years old were ever taken into the clan. Four years old was considered ideal. Large enough to ride a horse in the escape, yet easily brainwashed into the ways of the clan. Also, each marriage within the clan was arranged by the leader. An excess of young girls would be ideal, to reward the young men who best fitted the clan’s business needs with an extra wife. Or maybe two. It was understood that any man who rose to the position of clan leader had conjugal rights with any non-related female, married or unmarried, over the age of fourteen.
     Will was a prideful man. He desired a legacy. He and his wife were red heads. He desired to produce a clan of “Fightin,’ Flamin,’ and Fearsome" redheads,” never bothering their neighbors in Talladega
County, yet staying aloof from all around them, never accepting any visitors. “If we leave Talladega County alone, they will leave us alone.” All business of the clan would be conducted far from Talladega County. A plan born in Hell for the Dudley’s.
     To facilitate Will’s desires to produce a clan of mostly redheads, he decreed that any child of any of their victims who was fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to have red hair and was under six years old, would never be injured in any way, and treated like the treasure they were. They would be returned to the clan to be brainwashed, then integrated into the clan. Red hair is a recessive trait, Will knew, and his businessmen may have to travel far and wide to find suitable children to maintain the next generation of redheads.

Many years later -
“Get your gear together. Doodle Bug. Just got back from a little scoutin’ trip up into th’ northwestern part uv th’ state. Found two prime customers fer ya to pay a little visit to. Both are remote farms, seem ta be doin’ well. Nice hosses, nobody livin’ near to hear or see anything. Plenty of cover to shoot from.
       “Th’ big farm by the river is uv special interest to me. Three kids, youngest about four, a purty little redhead. Brightest red hair you will ever see. Just what Dolly’s been wantin’ fer a long time. Young enough that she won’t remember much of anything. Kill all th’ others, but if you damage that chile, or touch improperly, Dolly will know. I’ll hang ya out ta dry. Take four mules an’ th’ two best wagons, gonna be a little rough gettin’ thare.  Some have new lookin’ farm equipment, should bring top dollar. Be ready to move at daylight tomorrow. Doodle Bug already has th’ getaway scouted out. It may be a little rough, but plenty of cover. Now go get everthang ready. Doodle Bug will fill ya in on th’ trail.”
      The three young men rose and headed out the door. Bo hesitated. “Kin I take that big red stallion we got in last week? I shore been wantin’ ta take that big stud our fer a ride. What a hoss he is!”
      Slim was shaking his head. “Now, you know bettern’ that. We gotta sell that hoss. He stands out too much, and anybody could recognize him. No, we only take hosses on business trips that blend in with all the other hosses out there. Ya never know when somebody might recognize him. You been on three business trips a’ready. When you gonna wise up?” Bo hung his head, said no more, and trudged on out to begin his task.
     Slim spat a long brown stream out the door, went back to his desk, and sat down. Seemed like this young man would never learn. The Dudley’s had been in business in Talladega County for generations. They had done well, though times right now were a little slow. It was getting harder and harder to hold things together, what with all the long trips there, all the killing and robbing, the long hard getaway back to Talladega, then the long sales trips by the peddlers.
      It would only take one good mess-up by one stupid kid to bring the business down. No more stupid question from Bo. Slim would have to arrange a little accident, and Bo would disappear. Can’t tolerate stupidity.

     At daylight the next day, the four men were on the trail. Jace and Darryl handled the wagons, with their horses tied behind in case the loaded wagons had to be abandoned in the getaway in favor of maximum speed. Doodle Bug led the way. Billy Boy followed behind, often dropping back to make sure nobody followed. Bo was not to be found. Slim had found a different errand for Bo at the last moment, he had said. He was replaced by Darryl. All the horses were choice animals, the pick of the Dudley herd. Once a getaway was in progress, nobody was likely to catch this crew.   To be continued -

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Dead-eye Sam

Forever A Hillbilly: Dead-eye Sam: Almost all of this story, this potential book, this potential best seller ever, exists only in my head. Will this book ever see the light of...

Dead-eye Sam

Almost all of this story, this potential book, this potential best seller ever, exists only in my head. Will this book ever see the light of day? It's mostly up to you, How many of you will read this first post? How many will choose to read part two? Be forewarned, There may, or may not be, an ending........

    Chapter One
She was a beautiful Baby. Samantha was born with a full head of the brightest, most beautiful red hair anybody in north eastern Alabama had ever seen. Her deep set dimples, destined to later just drive men wild when she smiled, showed up at a very early age. Samantha was born in 1849.
     Samantha was fortunate to be born into a very nice family, with an older sister and brother. She was born with a smile on her face, and in her early years she maintained that smile most of the time. Her brother and sister simply adored Samantha. Her parents did too. She never seemed to be in a foul mood, and nobody remembered seeing Samantha cry. A truly gentle, loving child.


The Dudley’s   
     The Dudley Clan had lived in the hills near Talladega, Alabama for generations. Nobody seemed to know how long, for sure. They were not good neighbors, of that most everyone in that part of the country was sure. Actually, nobody seemed to know much at all about the Dudley’s. They kept to themselves, except for occasional trips into town for supplies. They always seemed to have plenty of money, though where it came from, nobody knew. The Dudley’s never seemed to be trouble makers when they showed up in town. Just take care of business, buy their supplies, and leave. They never spoke unnecessary words to others, and they never smiled.
     In each generation, according to stories circulating around Taladega County, a few unfortunate beings had been overcome with curiousity, and set out to investigate the hills of the Dudley Clan. Word had it none had ever returned, according to the stories. But it happened so seldom, nobody could really put their finger on whether this was really happening as a pattern, or was this just fodder for campfire stories? It could well be that these curious ones had simply gotten lost in those brush covered hills, and never been found. By now everyone had heard these stories, and nobody wished to be the next poor soul to disappear into the hills of the Dudley Clan. So, few alive knew anything at all about the Dudley Hills. Except for the Dudley’s.
     As time went on, what with all the scary stories about the Dudley clan, fewer and fewer brave souls wished to risk a trip into those hills.  Fear overcame curiousity.  And, since the Dudley’s never seemed to harm anybody in Talladega County, what was the point? They obviously wished to be left alone, so Talladega County obliged them.
     One thing that had been noticed, and talked and gossiped about a great deal by the old men setting out in front of the hardware store,  whittlin’ and spittin.’ One never saw a Dudley man who was not carrying a .50 caliber buffalo gun. They never seemed to have a pistol strapped on, as was very common at that time. And they all bought a lot of ammo for that gun. But the few neighbors of the Dudley’s who lived close enough to hear a report from the big gun, claimed they almost never heard a shot. Just an occasional deer hunter, or the like. But soon a Dudley would be back in at the store, buying another four boxes of .50 caliber ammo. Where were the Dudley’s doing all that shooting?

     By far, the single most notable thing about the Dudley’s was, they were almost all red heads. Persons who knew about such things just explained that away with “Well, they been inbreedin’ up in them hills fer generations. Most all th’ first families to move in up thare musta been redheads.” And, nobody knew of an outsider who had ever married into the clan. But if constant inbreeding was the answer, why were the Dudley’s so big, strong, and healthy looking? Everybody knows, constant inbreeding takes a heavy toll, after a while.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Diamond James Archer

Forever A Hillbilly: Diamond James Archer: Diamond James Archer      The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas is the only known diamond crater in North Ameri...

Diamond James Archer

Diamond James Archer

     The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas is the only known diamond crater in North America. It’s the only place in the world one can go in, pay a small fee, and keep what you find.

     Back during my diamond mining days in the late 1970’s, I was fortunate enough to buddy up with, and work alongside the most famous Arkansas diamond hunter of all time. A lot of what I learned by watching James Archer enabled me to find my first two diamonds during that first three day trip, the first being my largest find ever, a beautiful 1.00 carat canary diamond. During those three days, I was determined to learn as much as possible from this legendary diamond hunter, and be just like James Archer. Alas, I failed miserably.

     James Archer made his first trip to the Crater of Diamonds by horse and wagon, seventy some odd years ago.  Later on in life, he and his wife came there again, determined to find a diamond. He failed, but his wife did find one. This galvanized his determination to find a diamond. He surface hunted for two years, off and on, and never found one, gently being teased about that by his wife the whole time. When he changed to digging deep holes, and washing the mud through screens, He quickly became successful, finding his first two, a 1.7 carat and a 1.71 carat brown diamond, all in the same day. In the early 1970’s, he worked at a sawmill, unloading railroad ties by hand, then going to the diamond mine to dig after work. At one point, he was not at the mine for two days. When he returned, his arm was in a sling. His hand had almost been severed at the saw mill. He should have been at home recuperating, but the hard working James was not the type to ever sit still. He could not stay away from the crater.

     When he returned to the  sawmill, they told him they no longer had a job for him. This was a turning point in his life. He decided to become a diamond hunter, six days a week, every week. The number of diamonds found varies from one report to another, but the best estimate given by park officials was 5,000.

      As I said, I met James and worked alongside him for three days in 1979. The characteristics I noticed about James that were not present in anyone else seemed to be that he worked very hard, very fast, all day long, every day. For thirty years. I did meet one other man who compared to James in most of these categories, except that he always kept a full time job otherwise, and he’s still raising a family, so he does not get to go every day.  Henry Emison and his wife Lori were digging away when I met them. They were beginners at that time, but they quickly changed all that. Henry soon was recognized by all other diamond hunters on the field as a digging machine, a true man among men. He could work all day at his job landscaping, then drive to the mine and do as much work as we fully human diggers could do in a day. Of course, he quickly found a lot of diamonds. At one time, they moved to my rental house at Gurdon, Arkansas, partially because they loved that 130 year old, six bedroom brick house. But mostly because it was close to the diamonds.

      What is it about rare, driven men like James and Henry that makes supermen out of them when they step onto that diamond field? I wish I knew. I would buy up a few gallons of it and enhance my own diamond collection a bit. Henry moved to the other side of Arkansas, because that was where his job was, a few years ago. But I know he’s still not out of range of that diamond mine, so we still don’t know how his lifetime collection will look.

     James told me the story of finding a very nice diamond on his screen just as two rough looking and talking men walked up. James, a black man, had been treated badly by such men in the past. Afraid they might try to take it away from him, he simply dropped it in the bucket of fine sand he would be taking home to look over closely that night. He was never able to find it again.

     In 1994 James unearthed a very nice 5.25 carat diamond. This was, officially, his largest find. But, when a story came out about him in the National Enquirer, it was said he had found a 7.9 carat diamond. When asked about that later, he stated, “Well, they did get things sorta messed up in that story, all right. About my age and stuff. But I did find that 7.9 carat diamond.” When pressed about this, James related this story.
     “One morning several years back,   I was out here in the parking lot getting ready to go in one morning when it opened. A man started talking to me, telling me he was here to find the largest diamond he could, and buy it for his girlfriend for her engagement ring.”

      “I told him I didn’t have any diamonds on me now, but maybe we’ll find one today.” James went on to say, “A lot of folks talk big like that. But when it comes down to it, they don’t have the money to back up their talk. James continued his story.
“So the park opened it’s doors, and we both went in and bought our ticket, and went into the mine. When we got to the search area, he turned left and I turned right. I only went a couple of hundred feet before I saw something shining at me.  I went over and picked it up. It was a big, canary diamond, sitting right on top of the ground. I shouted, “Hey, mister! I got a big ‘un for ya.”

     The man came over, said he wanted to buy it as soon as he saw it. He asked, “How much ya’ want for it?”
     James said, “I didn’t even know how much it weighed, and I usually set my price on that. So I just said, $7000. Then that fella reached in his pocket, and pulled out a huge roll of money. He counted out 70 100 dollar bills into my hand. When he was finished, that man’s roll looked as big as it did when he started peeling bills off’a there.  I said to myself, “I shoulda’ said $10,000. But I didn’t know he really had the money. The man took the diamond and never registered it at the park office. I heard from him later, and he’d had it cut and set in that ring. He said the jeweler weighed it before it was cut and it was 7.9 carats.”

     A lot of people have been wondering for a long time about just how well James has done. Tourists have been trying to pry that out of him six days a week for 30 years. Most people don’t like having people trying to get information about their business, and James was no different. We do know he never lived in a mansion, or bought a new truck.

      When tourists ask, “Is it true all your children graduated from college?”  James just said, “That’s what they say.” When asked later how many children he had, he said, “seven.” Is it true they all graduated college? “Yep. And my wife will graduate college this year.” Seems James did not invest his money in himself, but invested in his family’s future.

      On Wednesday, January 8, 2003, James Archer went into the Crater of Diamonds State Park as he had for thirty years.  And, at the age of 77, he died there doing what he loved, digging for diamonds.  The Crater will probably never see a more diligent, consistent, determined prospector than Diamond James Archer. And I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside James, and learn much about diamond hunting, and about life, if only for three days.

     Rest well, James. Your accomplishments at the Crater of Diamonds State Park will never be equaled. Nor will I ever find a nicer guy on that diamond field.

*Some info about James Archer for this story came from­­­ -  “A thorough and accurate History of Diamond Mining in Arkansas”  written by Glen W. Worthington. Published by Mid America Prosprecting,  Murfreesboro, Ar. 71958

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Conclusion - The Arkadelphia Tornado

Forever A Hillbilly: Conclusion - The Arkadelphia Tornado:      The City Inspector left about that time. In disgust, as the scuttlebutt went. Scuttlebutt had it he couldn't stomach what was ab...

Conclusion - The Arkadelphia Tornado

     The City Inspector left about that time. In disgust, as the scuttlebutt went. Scuttlebutt had it he couldn't stomach what was about to happen to these poor people trying to rebuild.  Three or so new, temporary building inspectors were brought in, from different parts of the country. I won't go so far as to say they were extreme hard cases, but in my dealings with them, I had every reason to believe they were.

     When the contractor finished with the house, they would not approve it. They had me doing more and more little changes, call them to inspect it, then they would add another list of things. The house sat empty, for days and days. There was no shortage of people wanting to rent it, because there were tons of people without a house. I spent days sitting in city hall, waiting for an inspector to go look at the last batch of improvements I had been required to do.

     A man from Catholic Relief Services came by. He had a family, he said, huddled in what was a piece of a house. A bulldozer sat in the front yard, ready to tear it down. They had no place to go. He wanted to rent my house. I told him I could not rent it to him, City Hall was not happy with it yet. He just said, "Let's go to City Hall." Well, when he got down there in front of those inspectors, I finally learned what a true hard case looked and sounded like.

     The city eased up a little. An inspector came out. He finally said, "If you will build a wooden box around the breaker box on the front porch, I'll release the house."

     I reminded him the breakers were already enclosed in a metal box. He looked at me hard awhile, then pointed to the front steps.

     "You know,  there really needs to be a rail there."
     I shut up and started building a box.

     Remember, that was 1997. this is much later. Today, we have a local guy as City Manager, who turned out to be, in my opinion, our best. And, our new inspector, he's a firm but fair man. He still calls me to task, on occasion, and he holds my feet to the fire. But only when I deserve it. As a landlord, I have every reason to suck up to those guys. But what I have just said is true, nevertheless.

     That was our last year in business. The tornado did not drive us out, we already had that planned. Our family was very lucky, all in all. But I sure would not want to go through it again.

     Hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of volunteers stepped in and helped our recovery. I can't say enough about the University students. Kinley had stored what we salvaged in our garage, and a team of OBU students came out one day, went through each of the hundreds ot tiny things, and cleaned each one. They really came through for Arkadelphia when the chips were down.

     During the time when the National Guard was deployed in Arkadelphia, two of them had planned on getting married. So, Arkadelphia threw them a free wedding. Business people chipped in to help out in their specialty areas. Barbara and I made the wedding pictures. It turned out to be a fun wedding for Arkadelphia, and them too, I think. It was a pleasant little respite during very hard, dark days.

     We lost some of our best people. We all grieve for those families. They will never be forgotten.  Many people lost a great deal. Arkadelphia has recovered, and the physical reminders of those dark days are gone, except for a blank space here and there. Kinley’s homesite remains a nice, pretty, grassy lot in the midst of rebuilt houses.  But March 1, 1997 will always be in the minds and hearts of all of us who were there that day.

     Nowadays, our family tells Kinley when a storm comes up, "Kinley, think about it! Nobody, but nobody, ever gets hit by a tornado – twice!" It dosen't help her attitude about it much that she has twice had to be moved out into the hallway of a hospital when she was in labor, because a tornado was heading that way. So, don't expect to find Kinley when the dark clouds roll in. She will be in her hidey-hole. I will probably be there with her.

     THE END - Your time, and your attention, are far more valuable than money to one who writes for the love of writing. So, thanks to you all for reading.

Coming up next, in four days - The Diamond Fountain

Friday, November 4, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Four of five - The Arkadelphia Tornado

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Four of five - The Arkadelphia Tornado:  Fortunately, Barbara interviewed first, and that gave me a chance to settle down some. Barbara did great, as we all knew she would. She’s ...

Part Four of five - The Arkadelphia Tornado

 Fortunately, Barbara interviewed first, and that gave me a chance to settle down some. Barbara did great, as we all knew she would. She’s that way. But every word she said wound up on the cutting room floor, because she was not actually in the tornado. I did not say anything profound, but I stumbled through it. At least, the whole town was not laughing at me the next day. Not to my face, anyway.

      Kinley interviewed well, as always, a little gift handed down to her from Barbara. Mickey told of being busy hauling injured people out on doors, etc. while knowing his house had been hit, not able to go there. Also, about the total loss of their house, the loss of a very large number of family antiques. But he jerked a lot of tears with his declaration, "But I got what I most wanted from that house!" Tears on his cheek really set it off, and he was instantly every woman's hero.

     After the Dateline show aired, they also got a trip to New York to be on the Montel William's show, where they got a new living room and bedroom suite out of the deal. Kinley's back was still bad, so Montel even upgraded them to a first class flight.

     Insurance appraisers descended upon the town in droves one day. Before I knew they had even seen the house, they came to see me, bringing me a check for the total loss of the Crittenden street house. I told them, "The contractor said he could repair it."

     But for the amount of the policy?" he asked.

     "Well, I don't know, I haven't got a bid on it yet." Finally realizing I was talking against myself, which is not uncommon for me, I shut up, thanked him, and gracefully accepted the check.

      My banker had a good laugh when I told him. When he finished laughing, he told me that if the insurance people had just came down and looked in his files at his pic of that house before the tornado, they would never have paid me a dime.
      Years passed. That house, which I have lovingly called Crittenden House for many years, sat right under the new city manager’s office window. I guess they finally got tired of looking at it, because the city finally bought that house from me, on a handshake, and it is now a nice new city hall secondary parking lot. The new city manager told me that I could salvage it, then bring him the keys. I did, but when I took the keys over to his office I had to tell him; “Here’s the keys, but you see, Jimmy, it now has no doors. Or windows.“  My beloved Crittenden house passed on at the ripe old age of 106. Yet much of it lives on, spread all over Little Rock as antiques from the Blue Suede Shoes flea market.

     I decided to repair it myself. I did, and three weeks later, it was leased again. One of those guys who makes a living off disasters came up from Florida. Told me he was short on cash, long on tools, and talked me into accepting a chain saw for a deposit. Said he would have a lot of money in a few days. But Arkadelphia had put in emergency rules to keep that kind of stuff down. He had no permit, so he must have been disappointed, because he called me a couple of days later from Hot Springs. Seems he had gone over there to drown his sorrows, got himself thrown in jail,  and asked if I would bring his truck over to bond himself out of jail. I did. A week or so later, he went home. Later, he called and asked if I would send his chain saw to him. I told him that if he would send his rent money still due, and shipping charges for the saw to me, I would. I never heard from him again. His chain saw is still in my garage, but I have never been able to get it started.

     One day, as I sat on top of that house putting shingles on, I sat awhile just looking over all that destruction with a bird's eye view. It still had a pink cast to it, from all the insulation lying around. FEMA  was doing a great job, hauling off the waste. I had heard this town was the first one in which FEMA went onto private property, instead of requiring the landowners to haul it to the curb. This was back in the days when FEMA was still run by a good ole' Arkansas boy from Danville, and it was getting done right. Volunteers from everywhere were all over down there, chain saws going.

      I looked down at the nice little lady, trudging along the street, pulling her little red wagon filled with cold water for the workers. She had been doing that for days and days now. I didn't know her, but I wished I did.

      I just lost it, and sat on that roof bawling like a baby for my town.

     The neighbor across eighth street were not as lucky as I. His house was just a pile of rubble, along with two other small houses his dad owned. That was to be his inheritance, he said. His dad came to town, and they set in to rebuild it themselves. They worked endlessly, day after day—Even the young children. Every plank was pulled out, the nails removed, stacked neatly. When I had finished my house, I asked the dad, a tough old man from the old school, if I could help. He thanked me, then said, "As sure as I do start letting people help, someone will get hurt, then they'll be sueing me, sure as the world."

     They finally got ready to put the top on, but there was just no plywood to be had in town. They were stalled. Then I remembered. I had some plywood in a storage building, and I knew it would just about be the right amount for that small house. I told the old dad I would give it to him if he would let me help. The Dad was in a bind. No top for his house, and it was supposed to rain in a day or two, or risk getting sued.

     I told him, "Now look! I've built three houses, almost completely by myself. I've worked on these rent houses of mine for years. I don't get hurt, and I wouldn't sue you if I did."

     He just looked me over good for a long time, started shaking his head, grudgingly agreed, and    walked off, muttering about getting his pants sued off.

    We hauled the plywood from my storage building.  I grabbed a piece of plywood, got up on the house, drove a nail, then took a step. My right foot slipped off a 2x4 down to another, only 3 inches or so, and my sometimes trick knee gave out, and something went bad wrong with my foot. Good grief! What could I tell that dad? So I didn't tell him. Just said I had to run an errand, but he knew by the way I was hobbling what the problem was. I knew he thought I was headed for my lawyer's office. But, I drove to the emergency room. Seems my big toe had popped out of place.

     The doc came in, gave me pain shots.But I had been wearing the same pair of tennis shoes every day since the tornado, three weeks, and my bare foot smelled really ripe. Rather that endure all that waiting for the pain shots to kick in, he just grabbed my toe and yanked it back into place. I thought about screaming, but decided against it.

     When I got back out to the old man’s house, I was not going to be able to climb for a while, so I just had to confess to the old man, who was eyeing me hard. I again gave him another promise not to sue him.

     They continued on with the house. A group of Mennonites came down from up north somewhere, and they helped finish it. How they ever talked the dad into letting them, I'll never know. Maybe since he had dodged one bullet already, he was softening a bit. Just as they had put on the finishing touches and the last nail was driven, the city decided to use that land for the new City Hall. So, it was immediately torn down again. But I guess the old man, (who reminded me of my Dad)  his hard working son, wife and kids, came out better financially. When the city takes land, I've heard they pay by the square foot, which also means through the nose. I never did know their names, or what became of them. But I still think of them occasionally, with a lot of respect and a smile.

     Much of this next segment is based on facts, as I remember them. The rest is based upon the scuttlebutt around town about what was going on at City Hall. Scuttlebut is not necessarily true, but it sure began to seem to me like it was. Some said City Hall was being transformed. Since so many were rebuilding, It was a really good time to toughen up the city building standards. The City Manager at that time seemed to me to be a bit of a gunslinger, and, as he came from Cut and Shoot, Texas, maybe he was.

     Our Clay street house was rebuilt, for about what the house cost me in the first place. This was the first rebuilt house to be finished since the tornado, I was told, and the scuttlebutt was, it was destined to become the test house for the new building policy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Three - The Arkadelphia Tornado

Forever A Hillbilly: Part Three - The Arkadelphia Tornado:     There was really not much to salvage, at Kinley and Mickey's house. While the others salvaged what larger items they could, I looke...

Part Three - The Arkadelphia Tornado

    There was really not much to salvage, at Kinley and Mickey's house. While the others salvaged what larger items they could, I looked for little things. Kinley had always collected, and dearly loved, hundreds of little things. We were soon forced out of downtown by a gas leak.

     I wish I could wrap my mind around this thing and tell you all of it. There were hundreds of stories in the making there, alongside mine. Many had a much worse ending. I just can't. All I can hope to do is tell you my family's story. Just one tiny ant in a very large anthill.

     The next day,, the rain stopped. My car was still trapped. I needed wheels. Officials were coming down the street, checking each building. Danger zones were being roped off.  I knew my car would soon be inside a no-go zone, and I could forget about it for days. Trying to move it would tear it up worse, but I had to have it. I got in, started it up, and gunned it, and gunned it some more. With much scratching and screeching, it came out.

     As soon as I got a chance,  I went up on the roof of our building. The roofing was mostly still there, but it was all torn loose. I looked up and down the street. Every building that was still there had people on top that day.

     Most of the old brick buildings, except one, were still standing, although badly damanged. Those old walls in the brick buildings were mostly three bricks thick.  Almost all of the wooden buildings in the main path of the storm were just gone. If you ever have an F-4 swooping down on you, look for a brick hidey-hole. Not brick veneer, but the old fashioned type, three or four bricks thick. Or, concrete block with brick outside. Almost all of those buildings remained standing, some just barely.
     The streets were littered with roofing nails. I got a lifetime supply of flats in the next two weeks.

     I have a confession to make.The days following the tornado are sort of blurred together in my mind. Some of this story may very well be out of order. But it all happened.

     I was in our building one morning, still checking the damage. Fortunately, our business equipment was still intact. The front wall had been pushed out six inches at the top, and would have to be replaced. The side walls were questionable. Heavy cables would have to be strung from one side to the other, then tightened, to hold it together.
     A girl with a notepad wandered in. I warned her the building was still dangerous to be in at this point, but she didn't care. She was looking for a story for Dateline NBC. My son, Corey, a good writer in his own right, and a good a salesman to boot, came in. He started telling her about Kinley's experience, and about Mickey, her husband, a paramedic. Mickey, though he  knew his neighborhood was hit, he was unable to check on Kinley because he was too busy pulling survivors out of the remains of a  trailer park across town. Corey told her about Kinley, and about she and I finding each other afterwards. She wanted to meet her. He took her to Kinley at our house. She talked with her, noticing she spoke well, and frankly, is totally beautiful, which always helps. She  called her boss. A story was in the works.

     I went to check the damaged rent houses. The nearest one, on Crittenden Street, was on the very edge of the tonado's path. It was still standing. Everthing across the street was rubble. In seconds, it went from being the worst house in the immediate neighborhood to being the best. Some roofing was off, trees were lying on it, the windows were all broken, the electrical service was torn off. Except for that, it seemed to be intact. The tenant, I found out later, was on the run from the law, and had left before the tornado hit. He never showed up to claim his stuff.

     I went to the Clay Streeet house.While it was out of the main path, the associated high winds had blown a huge oak tree across the street down and crushed the front one third of the house down to the floor. It also crushed a tenant's car in front. The lady who owned the car had already salvaged her things and moved out. The tenants of the other apartment consisted of an elderly lady and her son. She had suffered a heart attack during the storm, but was recovering. The son was still there salvaging when I arrived. He told me, "The living room furniture is brand new. We just paid $2,000. for it." It was totally intact, not even wet, though I don't know how. The store they had bought it from, not a downtown business, had offered to buy it back for $300. They were to pick it up the next day.

     I told him, "You can get a lot more for it than that. Why sell? We can move it back into the protected part of the house and run it in the paper."

      He answered, "We are living in Little Rock, and we need the money now." They were in a bad situation.

      "All right," I said. "I will buy it from you right now for $300. I'll run it in the paper, and call you when it sells. Whatever I can get is yours." He agreed. Two days later, it sold for $1200. I called him, and two hours later, he was there to pick up the $900.

      I didn't see the lady from the other apartment in that house again, until later, I ran across her up town. I apologized for not being able to get there when she needed me, and gave her what money I had on me, $100.

      President Clinton came to town. He was walking up the street toward our business, and a Secret Service dude was ranging out in front. I told him, "You better keep him away from my building. That front wall is going to come down at some point.“

      He looked at me. "today?"

      "Well, I hope not!" He looked me over good, then started going through my tool bag around my waist.
     Our Photography building would be unusable for a long time, but our equipment was intact. We were in the running for the job of photographing the Arkadelphia Prom. We needed that money badly to help stay afloat. They decided to use the big city Photog' from Little Rock. I try not to hold grudges for a long time, but I have to admit that bothered me for some time.

     Dateline NBC was coming to our house that night to interview Barbara, Kinley, Mickey and I for their segment. Barbara always keeps her house very neat, and takes a lot of pride in it. It was spotless. Well, the Dateline crew descended on our living room, and just changed everything around completely. They moved a couch, and there was a big pile of stuff under it. Mostly shoved there by me, I would imagine. Barbara was horrified! Oh well, at least the cameras weren't rolling yet. That pile got gone quickly.

     The lights were on, cameras ready to roll, and Fredrica Whitfield of  NBC was sitting there, smiling, her notebook in hand. Now, me, I'm not always a good spontaneous speaker. Never, I would guess, with a national audience. I could not think of a single intellegent thing to say, the best being a few uh‘s and maybe a duh. I just knew I was about to become a major fool, on national TV.