Times-Gazette Columns, Page 1   -   Highland Press Columns
Times-Gazette Columns, Page 2
by Larry Chapman

   

These are various columns that were published in the Times-Gazette newspaper
Click the desired topic link (Most recent columns are at end of list).
Melungeons | Daniel's Pool Hall | Lost Marbles | Joys of Smoking | Trent Lott | Granddaddy's School
   Cheap People | Today's Kids | BBQ 2003 | A UFO Story | Burying Old Friends | Litter in America 
Fishing, Food & My Wife | Better Off Today? | Exporting America's Jobs | America's Drinking Laws
The Melting Pot | Heaven & Hell | Me & Harry Truman | Greenfield Rocks | Liars and Lying | Banks
I'm Socially Liberal | Basic Government Lesson | Social Security | Barbecue 2005 | Andy Rooney & Me

On The Road; Kuralt Style | The Blues | Kentuckians | A Trio of Complaints | Political Parties  

Jim Crow In Ohio

   

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Black History Month and Jim Crow in Ohio
Published February, 2006

    

When I was twelve I didn't know what Jim Crow laws were. I also didn’t know that I was witness to them every day of my young life. Jim Crow is the name given to all laws, written or unwritten, aimed at segregating the races in America . The origin of the term is long lost but it came out of the post-reconstruction era following the civil war.

My Uncle Johnny owned a general store in Columbia , SC. It was situated in the largest black district of the city, ironically known as White Town . Both my brother and I spent several summers staying with our Uncle Johnny and Aunt Mary, working in the store, learning to drive their delivery van, eating all the broken bulk Nabisco cookies we could handle and playing with the many black kids in the neighborhood.

I knew things were different in South Carolina than back home in Ohio . There were signs everywhere stating that this place was for white’s only or colored only. I knew that my black friends couldn’t go to the public swimming pool with me or play in the city park across from my Aunt’s house in Five Points. I knew all these things yet never questioned the correctness of them. I, like so many, just accepted them as “the way things are” and went on with my day.

At some point, however, I must have begun to sense that somehow all these rules and separations were wrong because I remember getting into arguments with my cousins about how Ohio was a better place than South Carolina because we didn’t, “treat our colored people bad.” Matter of fact, my cousin Charles Richard and his buddy Jimmy Dunbar beat the heck out of me on one such occasion. They probably believed the South would rise again and it was going to begin with thumping me!

Anyway, for many years I smugly continued to believe that morally, we Yankees were better people than those Rebs and that we had fought the war for the altruistic purposes of freeing the slaves and ensuring that all men will forever be, “created equal.”  I don’t know how old I was when I came to realize that all that was simply bunk.

While Ohio and other northern states did not have a system of racial segregation as legally defined (de jure segregation) or structured as southern segregation, none-the-less, segregation was widely practiced. It took a different form; however, it mostly existed, not in law, but in fact (de facto segregation) or practice. In the 1870s Ohio passed laws against interracial marriage or sexual relations and permitted local school boards to maintain separate schools if deemed fit.  These, and other segregation laws, were later overturned. But, even without these laws, segregation in Ohio continued.

When I was a teen growing up in Greenfield there were no laws segregating the races. But there were accepted social customs and expectations. We all went to the same schools and received access to the same educational opportunities but even there, not all was equal. A black lady who grew up in Greenfield once told me about being denied full participation in field trips taken by a club she belonged to in school because of her color. I knew that black students rarely attended school dances or other social functions. It was grist for gossip if a black student showed up at a dance and absolutely scandalous if he asked a white girl to dance. God help her if she accepted! I never knew what black kids did on the weekends and shamefully, never gave it any thought.

My mother cooked in a local restaurant and during lunch black men would come in the back door, drink a beer and eat a sandwich while standing against the kitchen wall. My mom or someone else would have to go out front and get their food and drink for them.

Housing was segregated in Greenfield , not by law but by custom. The lines of black neighborhoods were not tightly defined but they existed. Blacks lived on North Fourth Street or near the end of Lyndon Avenue . I can still recall the rumblings when a black couple moved into a traditionally white neighborhood in the 1970s.

When we think of segregation and Jim Crow in the South we often think of the rise and power of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of us don’t know or chose to forget that the Klan was very powerful here in Ohio and neighboring states. When I moved back to Ohio in 1970 regular Klan rallies were still being held on a farm near King’s Island .

So, you see that all we Yankees have been wrong in thinking of ourselves as the good guys while chastising the South for all the wrongs perpetrated on blacks during the days of Jim Crow. Maybe we weren’t “as bad” but we still behaved badly. Put another way, maybe I deserved all the thumpins’ my cousin and his friend dished out!

I have a couple of reasons for choosing this subject for my February column. Most obvious is February being Black History Month. When I was teaching I would have an occasional student ask me why blacks have their own month? I usually replied, “Because whites have the other eleven tied up. Don’t you think it’s fair that they get at least one?”

In reality there is disagreement, even among blacks, as to whether there should be a month set aside for Black History. After all, we are all Americans and our racial/ethnic histories did not occur in separate vacuums. There is only one story to be told; good and bad, it is the story of many diverse peoples trying to carve out a fair slice of the American pie for themselves; often times against the odds and all those forces that resist change.  

I don’t have any problem allowing for some time to recognize the trials, injustices, and accomplishments of a group of Americans who have arguably had to fight harder than any other segment of our society. Their fight is not over and, to me; their fight should be our fight. Personally I think a better America would be one in which we all get a fair shake. So, for a few days this year, I take my hat off to black Americans and hope they, and us all (in the immortal words of George Jefferson), “Keep movin’ on up!”  

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A Brief, Yet Still Confusing, History of America's Political Parties
Published January, 2006

Rory Ryan recently wrote that someone had told him he (Ryan) was the nearest to being a fascist he’d ever known. Personally, I would never say such a thing about Rory but I have, at times, thought his political views got real close to the right edge of what I’m sure he still believes to be a flat earth.  

When reading Ryan’s weekly columns I employ the “Ryan rule”. Assuming his typical column is a thousand words in length, I will read the first one hundred words. If, during that, he doesn’t step over the edge, I will finish the column whether I agree or not.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, most of the time I enjoy his columns and even sometimes agree with him. He, like the old Hog Farmer, ain’t always wrong!  

I recently received an email from a reader thanking me for my column on conservative-liberal points of view (December, 2004) and stating that it should be required reading in our schools. While I thank that person for the compliment I have to say that it is required reading. Those same ideas are found inside every mostly unopened American Government textbook that ever languished in a mold-infested high school senior’s locker. Apparently, too many students opt for an “F” on that test.  

This brings me back to one of Rory Ryan ’s recent columns. In the December 2, 2005 column Ryan spent a little time discoursing on the common background of the two major political parties and how each has it share of zealots. While I’ve already ranted enough in the past on extremists I would like to offer some additional information to what Rory said about party history.  

First of all, political parties weren’t supposed to happen. They are not mentioned in either the Articles of Confederation or the US Constitution. George Washington so disliked and feared the inception of political parties in America that he devoted up to two-thirds of his farewell address discussing domestic policies and the rise of political parties.  

Ironically, it was the debate over ratification of the Constitution that instigated the birth of parties. The question was, “What kind of a nation will America become and who will wield power?” Those who supported the Constitution, the Federalist, believed in a strong national government with centralized political authority. Those opposed, the Anti-Federalists, supported a weaker national government with political authority more in the hands of state and local government. Out of this initial division evolved today’s two-party system.  

What has happened in the two-hundred plus years since is that party names have changed, some basic ideas have flip-flopped, and the whole thing has gotten a little more than confusing.  

Today’s Democrats trace their founding back to Jefferson . However, Jefferson was a member of what, back then, was commonly referred to as the Republican Party. Jefferson and his crowd believed in a weak central government, state’s rights and faith in the common man (democracy).  

The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong centralized national government and political power vested in the hands of a ruling class (aristocracy). What we know as today’s Republican Party didn’t exist yet.

Jumping forward to the 1820s, several things had begun to change. First, the Federalist, as a party, disappeared and secondly, political thought evolved and realigned. Under Jackson the party of Jefferson became the Democrats and retained their belief of a limited federal government with increased inclusion of the common man. Jackson became famous for opening the doors of the White House to anyone to just walk on in.  

Today’s Republican Party evolved from a melding of the old Whig and Free-Soiler parties and believing that the government should permit free settlement of western lands and that slavery should be abolished. By Lincoln ’s time the Republicans had come to believe in federal supremacy over state’s rights while southern Democrats strongly preached state’s rights and nullification.  

Now, if you’re not totally confused yet, take no comfort, everything is about to flip. By the late 1800s the Republicans had become the darlings of the well-heeled, but they also worked to win Constitutional rights for former slaves and voting rights for women. If they had kept it up they might have even gone so far as to fight for gay rights and got an Equal Rights Amendment passed way back when!  

The Dems, in the meanwhile, were busy fightin’ for the rights of the common man, speakin’ out for state’s rights, and getting federal troops out of the South so white folks could do as they pleased!     

If the Ryan Rule didn’t kick in several thousand words ago you may have noticed that the two parties don’t, in several ways, fit the typical descriptions we are familiar with today. The Dems sound more like Pubs and the Pubs more like Dems. That’s because both parties have done some more flip-flopping since the late 1800s.  

Throughout the first seventy years of the twentieth century the Democrats continued to become more pro labor, pro farmer, pro working class and anti big business. It also flopped, beginning with F.D.R., and became the party of big government and strong centralized power. Since the 1930s it has become the party of social change and inclusion, as it reached out to blacks, immigrants, and the poor.  

The Republicans have remained the party of big business but they have abandoned the cause of social change in favor of preserving the status quo. Additionally, they lost the black vote after enlisting the Dixiecrats and embracing the white southern voter. They again flopped by adopting the old Democratic position of state’s rights and weaker central government.  

To many, the parties today are once again experiencing change. The Republicans are working hard to be more inclusive as they attempt reaching out to minority voters. Given the massive deficits of the Reagan and current Bush administrations they may also be evolving into the party of fiscal irresponsibility, a moniker the Democrats were long been branded with.  

By now I’m getting as tired of writing this column as you must be of reading it. So, permit me to abruptly finish by saying that I hope you have concluded that the important issues have remained pretty constant throughout our history and in vying for our votes the positions of the two major political parties is always shifting. What is considered liberal today may be seen as conservative tomorrow. Given that, my greatest fear is that I’ll live long enough that someday a reader will tell me that I’m the nearest thing to a fascist they’ve ever known.

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A Trio of Complaints
Published November, 2005

I recently went camping and fishing in Florida for two weeks. Cut off from newspapers, radio, and television and with nothing to do but sit on a boat in the warm sun of Sebastian Inlet , it came to me that this truly was a vacation. For two weeks I really did vacate my world. And further more, I didn’t miss it, nor was I in a hurry to come back to it.  

I hadn’t traveled far on northbound I-95, however, before the world began to pry its way back into my life. My right hand kept reaching for the on/off switch of my dashboard radio and eventually it was permitted to tune in the closest NPR station.  

Within minutes I was swept back into the world of hurricane Wilma’s impending threat to the Florida coastline, Katrina’s aftermath, FEMA’s failures, the latest death count in Iraq, the continuing violence in Afghanistan, outsourcing, the CIA leak, rising fuel prices, Bush’s failing popularity, and more, and more, and forever more.  

So, now that I’ve made a full recovery from having vacated reality, I’m going to take this opportunity to blow off a little steam about a few things I’ve noticed lately.  

First of all, I’d like to take issue with those of you who are critical of the, “Old Hog Farmer.” One of your main criticisms is that you see his views as being too negative. Well, isn’t there a major difference between being negative and merely being real? There are those who live their days in protective bubbles and mentally create a world that doesn’t really exist. Then, there are those like the Hog Farmer who simply observe the world with eyes wide open and attempt to direct our attentions beyond our noses.  

For example, since 9/11 the Bush administration and congress have thrown billions of our tax dollars at homeland security. I certainly don’t see it as negative to point out that many of these dollars were wasted, nor have they resulted in increased security. For example, one state spent over $100,000 to purchase night vision goggles for its Department of Natural Resources. Another small Wisconsin community spent $15,000 for a thermal imaging camera and a night vision monocular to monitor any “suspicious activity” at the local farmer’s co-op.  

Now, you tell me how I’m to feel safer knowing that nobody’s fooling around down at the co-op? Are farmer’s co-ops high up on the list of radical Islamic terrorist targets? Finally, consider the thousands of small communities who received similar monies and spent it on equally unnecessary items.  

Anyway, ease up a little on the Hog Farmer and consider the merit of what he says before you condemn him as being the radical, left-wing, Bush hating, liberal that he most likely is. Hey, even liberals aren’t always wrong!  

Some time ago I wrote a column about banks. Well, once again I feel the need to bust their collective chops.  

I recently purchased an item from a person on eBay. The seller had a pretty good rating input from previous buyers so I felt reasonably safe sending him, as requested, a bank money order.  

Several days after mailing the payment I received an email from eBay stating that they had suspended the seller’s trading rights and advising me to stop payment on whatever remuneration I had submitted.  

So, on the next business day I called the bank and asked if a stop-payment could be issued for a bank money order. I was told yes but I would have to come into the office, fill out some forms, and cough up a $28.00 fee. I thanked them, took a few seconds to gather my thoughts and concluded that I had two options.  

One, I could take no action and possibly still receive my purchase. After all, any complaints against the seller had not been about buyers not getting what they had paid for. Or, I could burn up some expensive gasoline, take the time and drive to town, fill out the necessary paperwork and cough up $28.00.  

I quickly decided that my choice was really between possibly getting burnt by the eBay seller or, for certain, getting burnt by the bank. I decided for the unknown rather than the known. Can you say “banks” without feeling the need to gargle?  

Another bone of contention for me lately is state and federal grants and the irresponsible way in which local governments view them. I’m sure that all of you have heard some administrator or politician say, “Well, this money is from a grant and if we don’t spend it we’ll lose it.”  They seem to think that grant money is not tax payer money and somehow it’s better to use it for whatever, rather than not take it or give it back to the granting agency. Here are a couple of questions that our leaders should honestly consider before they consider spending grant money.  

First, is the grant necessary and will the community experience real and lasting value from it? The Greenfield School District recently disposed of a piece of surplus real estate for mere pennies on the dollar. Only a few years earlier they spend several hundred thousand grant dollars on this property making it handicap accessible. At that time it was commonly known that the longevity of this building was questionable at best. Wisdom lost out to use it or lose it.  

Secondly, before accepting grant money for some project consider if the community will be able to maintain the project after it is completed. On more than one occasion I’ve seen communities receive grant money, complete the project, and then permit it to go to seed because they don’t have the funds necessary for maintenance. Greenfield has received several grants to improve the downtown and city building areas. There are light globes that have been broken for years, newer sidewalks crumbling, and weeds growing up between the new brick sidewalk borders. When ask about these sights for sore eyes the administration offers the age old response, “We don’t have the funds.”  

You know, to fess up a little, I’m not really all that bothered about the things I’ve written about in this column. I just needed a quick topic in order to earn a few more bucks so I can get back to Florida next month, sit on my boat in the sun, and bury my head in those warm sands if reality begins to creep into the picture. Isn’t life inside a bubble great?    

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Kentuckians
Published October, 2005

A couple of months ago, I wrote a column in which I mentioned stopping in Owensboro , KY for some barbecue before driving on to Tennessee . Well, one of my truck stop buddies, who hails from Kentucky , gave me a gallon jug of lip because I didn’t say enough about his home state. So, in the hope of putting a plug in his facial orifice, I’m making Kentucky , good and bad, the sole subject of this month’s column.  

Now there is a lot to be said about Kentucky . The mountains and hills of its Appalachian region are truly spectacular. The rolling grasslands and horse farms of central Kentucky are sights to behold. And, the rich farmlands of Western Kentucky are unrivaled.  

And, the people of Kentucky , those who have continued to make their homes in the Bluegrass State , are truly wonderful folks. They are extremely friendly; they practice age-old traditions of folk art and roots music, and they hold steadfastly to the valued traditions of family, home, community and nation.  

About the only negative thing one can say about this group is that they, like those who moved to Ohio , talk funny. All one has to do is drive across the big bridge at Maysville and it begins. You start hearing people use phrases like, “Give me sum dat niller ace cream” or “I heared that I did” and “Had to git me a new battree for my truck” or “My daddy was borned right near cheer.”   

Unfortunately, Kentucky has not been able to provide for all its native born. As the North industrialized, many Kentuckians found it necessary to leave the poverty of Eastern Kentucky and migrate into Ohio , seeking economic opportunity.  

Now, I’m not trying to cast a broad net here, but it’s from this group that many of the negative ideas and stereotypes about Kentuckians arise. Unfortunately, Kentucky didn’t send us their best and brightest. The wiser ones saw what was happening and decided to stay home and enjoy the fruits of this northbound exodus. It’s kind of like how Cuba’s Castro, giving in to demands that he set his people free, opened up his prisons and asylums, and encouraged the inmates to immigrate to America.  

If you find it hard to accept the above-mentioned idea, just consider Kentucky stereotypes as expressed in the hundreds of Kentuckian jokes you’ve heard over the years. Now there has to be some basis in truth for these jokes. If all those briars had stayed put, none of them would have stopped at the borders of Ohio to clean all those restrooms.  

One of the things that bothers me most about these transplanted hill jacks is how they cling to their pasts. You rarely hear them praise or thank Ohio for providing them with a livelihood. Instead they just sit around and lament about how great KY is, or how great the Wildcats are doing, or how they miss butchering a hog each fall, or what year they became a Colonel, or how they want to be buried, “On top some East Kentucky mountain because it’s the closest thing to heaven and God won’t have to look so hard for me.” What a load of sentimental dribble!  

And another thing, have you noticed how Kentuckians never say what town they’re from? You’ll never hear them say, “I’m from Starvation Flats, KY,” or “I’m from Dismal Seepage, KY.” Instead they’ll say, “Well, I’m from Lloyd County ” or “Why, I’m from Pike County .” Then they begin throwing out names. “Do you know the Mercers down there, I’m a third cousin, twice removed, from ole’ Dub Mercer.” It’s kind of like everybody knows everybody, and maybe they do. Maybe that’s where all those incest jokes derive from. After all, one of my other Kentucky buddies once told me, “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with incest as long as you keep it in the family.”  

Dislocated Kentuckians hang onto anything made or grown in Kentucky . Most evenings of the summer you’ll find a group of fellows sitting on the bench outside the truck stop. For the local briars the owner keeps a stock of Ale-8-One on hand. Now Ale-8-One isn’t anything but regular old ginger ale that the bluegrass boys call Kentucky swamp water. They’re so proud of it you would think the recipe resulted from divine intervention. Isn’t an evening goes by that several bottles aren’t swilled down. Heck, they’ve even got some of the weaker minded Buckeyes drinkin’ it!  

Their love of all things Kentucky creates a paradox, however. On the one hand, Kentucky is a Bible belt state and its people take great pride in being God fearing and righteous. At the same time, they embrace legalized gambling in the form of horse racing, they manufacture and promote the consumption of intoxicating Bourbon whiskies and openly admit that their state’s largest cash crop, once the Devil’s weed tobacco, is now marijuana.  

Now my purpose here wasn’t to upset anyone, too much. I’ve simply attempted to point out some of our neighboring state’s assets and failings and to arrive at a little humor at other people’s expense. I hope none of the “brother briars” that frequent the truck stop are overly offended. After all, they’ve fired a few shots at us Ohioans over the years. I remember crossing the I-275 Bridge with one of them once. As we passed under the Welcome to Kentucky sign he said, “ Kentucky , now that means dark and bloody ground in Indian.” I responded with, “I think Ohio means something in Indian also.” His reply was, “Yeah, land of many dumb asses!”  

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The Blues
Published August, 2005

For many years I’ve been interested in Southern culture and food. About fifteen years ago this interest evolved into a love of blues music and blues history. The blues that most people are familiar with is probably that performed by such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King. The blues that I’m most interested in is far more raw and basic. It’s the blues that was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and came out of hard times and hard living. 

This blues is called country blues or Delta blues. It is acoustic music played on cheap instruments by people with no formal musical training and only the most basic vocabularies. It is rough, and crude, and unrefined, but the lyrics tell great stories of life, be it hard times or good, love gone wrong or love at its best. It’s the music that reinforced how tough life could be and it is also the music that swept away reality on Saturday night when a few dollars could buy you some beer at a local juke joint. 

There are lots of places that lay claim to being the birthplace of something. Memphis claims to be the home of rock and roll and Jackson, Tennessee, claims rockabilly. But, if any town has a valid claim, it’s Clarksdale, Mississippi. The proof is in drawing a fifty-mile wide circle on a map with Clarksdale at its center. Then create a list of bluesmen that were born, raised or spent much of their adult lives inside that circle. The list will include such names as Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Besides these who became famous, there are dozens more who achieved little or no fame. The musicologist Alex Lomax once said that Clarksdale was responsible for more bluesmen than any place on earth.  

The Clarksdale area is filled with historical icons of Delta blues history. The nearby town of Tutwiler is where W.C. Handy (considered the father of the blues) first observed a black itinerant musician singing about a place where two railroad lines cross and accompanying himself on a cheap guitar using a pocketknife as a slide. According to Handy, “It was the weirdest music I’d ever heard.” Because of this historical occasion, Tutwiler also lays claim to being the birthplace of the blues and proclaims such high on its water tower.  

Tutwiler is also the final resting place of Sonny Boy Williamson II. Williamson, also known as Rice Miller, is considered to have been the greatest blues harp player in history. His style set the standard for all who followed.  

In the rural areas around Clarksdale were huge cotton plantations such as Stovall and Hopson. It was on these plantations that many of the greats were born, grew up, worked, learned the hardships of being poor, and later fled. Several plantations still exist and one, Hopson, is trying to preserve its place in blues history by offering tours and converting its field hand housing into sleeping quarters for tourists.  

In Clarksdale itself, you’ll find the Riverside Hotel on Sunflower Ave. Once a Negro hospital, it is the site where Bessie Smith died following an automobile crash in 1937. After World War II the hospital was converted into a hotel, catering to black travelers it became a haven for black musicians performing in the area. You name the artist and he or she has spent time at the Riverside Hotel. The hotel is still open and caters to blues fans from all over the world. The room in which Smith died is filled with mementos about her and open to the public. 

Depending on which music historian you want to believe, the Riverside can also lay claim to being the birthplace of rock and roll. In 1951, in the hotel’s basement, Ike Turner cut a demo tape of Rocket 88, a number that many to consider to be the first rock and roll tune. The tape was later sent to Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis and turned into a hit for Turner.  

Further down Sunflower, and across from the cemetery, sits Red’s Lounge. Red’s is probably the last true juke joint in Clarksdale. It’s only open when Red is in the mood and I was fortunate enough to be there when he was. Greenwood, MS’s T-Model Ford was the attraction that night. T-Model is nearing 80 but still plays a strong guitar. Testifying to the international popularity of the blues there were at least four Germans, an Englishman and a young man from Japan in the crowd that evening. The Germans and the Brit even picked up instruments and took a turn at the microphone between sets.  

Doing much to keep alive the blues tradition of the Clarksdale area is the Delta Blues Museum. Located in the old railway station and adjoining warehouse, the museum is a major repository of blues history and memorabilia. It is the place where you’ll want to begin your visit to Mississippi’s Delta.  

Located next door to the museum, in an old commercial building, is the Ground Zero Blues Club. It was founded in 2001 by Clarksdale homeboy and actor, Morgan Freeman. The attempt was to recreate the look and feel of a traditional juke joint and breathe new life into the area’s native music. Guessing from the Saturday evening I spent there, it is working. The place was packed with people from many backgrounds, races and nationalities; all sharing in the emotion of this thing called the blues.  

A few miles out of Clarksdale I stopped along the roadside and walked a few feet into a cotton field. Standing there in the 105-degree temperature I reflected on what it must have been like to spend endless twelve-hour days chopping cotton in these fields, countless years of backbreaking toil for little money and even less chance of attaining a better way of life. It’s easy to see why Mississippi’s Delta became the birthplace of the blues.  

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On The Road; Kuralt Style
Published July, 2005

I feel a little like Charles Kuralt in that I’m filing this column from “On The Road” and, in the Kuralt tradition, I’m going to attempt telling you about a few of the places I’ve visited in the past several days.

 

Years ago I began hearing about the Memphis In May (MIM) barbecue competition. It is a weeklong contest, billed as the “Largest Pork Barbecue Cooking Contest On The Planet. Every year since I’ve wanted to experience it. But, for whatever reason, it just didn’t work out. Same thing this year, May came and went and I stayed at home. The fact that over 90,000 people, from all over the world, descend on Memphis during the week has something to do with it. As I’ve aged I have developed an increasing dislike for large crowds. 

 

As an alternative to actually attending MIM, I paid their web site a visit and discovered that they offer classes training people to become certified barbecue judges and qualifying to become judges at MIM. “Wow,” I say to myself, “this could be the answer.” Go to Memphis, sit in a classroom, learn the fine points of judging quality barbecue (this has to involve tasting quality barbecue), get invited to judge and, without having to elbow your way up to the table with 90,000 other porkers, head for Memphis next spring.

 

So, I paid my tuition and departed home a couple of days ago headed for Memphis. Since the purpose of the trip was to learn about good barbecue, I decided to do a little studying along the way. Kind of like homework, don’t you know!

 

Day one’s destination was Owensboro, KY. Owensboro bills itself as the Barbecue Capital of the World. That’s a stretch and likely coined by a Chamber of Commerce type who hadn’t traveled much. What is unique about Owensboro, however, is that people native to that area think barbecue involves slow cooking mutton.

 

Seems as though that part of Kentucky was heavily settled by folks from Wales and instead of raising hogs and cows, they planted sheep. So, as they developed a barbecue tradition it became centered on smoked mutton.

 

The most famous of the area’s barbecue restaurants is Owensboro’s Moonlite Barbecue Inn. I was familiar with the Moonlite from having watched too many barbecue shows on the Food Channel. By the way, is it possible that the Food Channel is high in caloric content? I swear I’ve put on 50 pounds from nothing more than watching their programs. Anyway, the Moonlite is world famous, highly touted, and hard to find. It won’t do you much good to ask a local for directions. I asked four people and everyone said, “Now let me see, I know where it is but I can’t tell you how to get there.” Someone finally told me it was on West Parrish Street and I from there I found it on my own.

 

The Moonlite was an excellent experience. You can order off the menu but the big attraction is the buffet. Besides a large selection of quality salads and sides the buffet featured both smoked pork and mutton in chopped and pulled variations. I dished up a little of each and headed for my table.

 

The pork was very good, very moist with a mild smoky flavor and all the signs that tell you it was prepared by someone who knew what they were doing. The mutton, however, is another story. Having never knowingly eaten sheep, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone I’ve spoken to about barbecued mutton immediately turned up his or her nose. Most comments went something like, “There ain’t nothin’ you can do to hide the taste of a smelly old yew.”

 

Armed with those opinions I wasn’t sure what to expect but I decided if it was good enough for the Welsh, it was worth a try from me. My thoughts on barbecued mutton are two. First, it didn’t smell and, in small servings, it wasn’t bad. Secondly, I’m glad I grew up in an area settled by pig eatin’ Germans.

 

Another item common to the Owensboro region is burgoo. Burgoo is a soup or stew that somewhat resembles vegetable soup with some kind of meat thrown in. If you're familiar with the Brunswick stew that's common to the Carolinas you've eaten something close to burgoo. A major difference will be the meat; you won't find any mutton in Brunswick stew.

 

My next barbecue homework self-assignment was Marlowe’s Ribs and Restaurant in Memphis. Marlowe’s is a regular participant in MIM and has a huge collection of trophies on display testifying to the quality of their product. The pulled pork was excellent having both moisture and a pleasant smoky flavor. The sauce was typical of Memphis, very red, very sweet, but lacking in heat or zest. As good as Marlowe’s barbecue was, however, the sides, in my case onion rings and baked beans, struggled to just be average. This is a failing common to many barbecue joints.

 

I’m writing this column before having attended the MIM judging school. It will be interesting, and a subject for another column, to see if my opinion of the Moonlite, Marlowe’s, and all the other barbecue places I’ve visited, changes any.

 

I just wonder if what I’ve come to think I know about quality barbecue stacks up to what those who judge MIM’s Super Bowl of Swine think they know. After all, I could have been wrong all these years. But, if I was, it just proves that being wrong can be lotsa’ fun! 

    

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Andy Rooney & Me
Published May, 2005

A lot of people don’t like Andy Rooney. I, however, have always enjoyed him and as I age, hope that I am able to someday rise to the level of curmudgeonry he has attained, albeit, without the eyebrows! 

Rooney is always able to find something irritating or objectionable with our society, our culture, our politics, our religions, and more. Often, his concerns seem petty but given he’s only allotted a few minutes each week, he can’t delve into many major problems. 

One of the things I like most about Mr. Rooney is his willingness to take on subjects many people don’t want to talk about. Like the time he peeved off the female populace by expressing his belief that women have no place in covering professional football. More than once CBS has had to take the heat for his comments and once, in 1990, they even suspended him from the 60 Minutes lineup for a comment he allegedly made about blacks. 

Instead of getting riled up, however, those who are the subjects of his jabs should first consider the intent and content. They may discover that what he has said is something that needed saying, needs to be seriously considered and possibly used as a catalyst for change. Only then, should he be labeled a crazy old man who is out of touch with the 21st century. 

Well, if I’m ever to become the curmudgeon I dream of being, I need to throw a few barbs. So, let’s begin with cell phones. 

Last week I observed a group of 6 teenagers hanging out together in downtown Greenfield. Instead of enjoying each other’s company half of them had a cell phone glued to their ear. Possibly they had some kind of conference call going on. Later, the same group was at McDonald’s and again, half were talking to friends on their phones and while the phoneless sat mutely in their seats. 

Another thing that bothers me are people who get indignant if you stare at their tattoos and pierced protrusions. Why, otherwise, would a person go through the pain, suffering, monetary expense and disownership of their parents if they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. In my day only 2 kinds of men had their bodies pierced, gays and pirates. Don’t recall last time I saw a pirate sitting in a restaurant sipping a double wild strawberry vanilla mocha latte.  

I also don’t like calling people who have cute little messages on their answering machine. I called an acquaintance the other day and was treated to, “Hi, you have reached the Smith’s. Bob, Carol, Teddy and baby Alice can’t come to the phone right now because they’re either not home or they’re having quality family time.” What’s wrong with a simple, “please leave a message”? 

Speaking of being too cutesy, I can’t stand the cutesy news that for too many years has been posing as quality, content orientated, news coverage. What’s with this I-Team, Storm Team, Action Team 5 crap that takes control of our local TV channels between 5 and 6:30 each evening?  At best these Sky News Team members prove that they can read, maintain the appropriate facial expression dictated by the icon next to each story, speak without a regional accent, and had parents who could afford orthodontia when they were teens. What they don’t display is any indication that they understand the significance of what they’re reading. A case in point happened a few years ago when Ohio’s farmers were dealing with one of the most severe droughts in our history. They were on the verge of loosing everything when a Cincinnati weatherman mindlessly blurted out that, “hopefully the rain will hold off and not ruin the weekend.” A major segment of the state’s economy was facing ruin and all this dude could think of is working on his tan. 

Another thing I find distracting is overweight women sportin’ hip huggers and tube tops. I think it is amazing that just as America reached an obesity crisis, Brittany Spears, and others, popularized the bare midriff look. Look, I’ll make you tube top tubbies a deal, cover up the tire and I’ll quit wearing Speedos to the YMCA. 

And finally, what’s the deal with cemetery decorations these days? Every time I drive by a cemetery I get the feeling the carnival has come to town. You can easily distinguish the new section of most cemeteries. It’s there you’ll find all the Day-Glo colored baskets of plastic flowers, silver Mylar whirly gigs, plastic beads and trinkets hanging from steal hooks driven into the ground, and growing numbers of solar powered eternal memory tombstone lights. It’s enough to raise the dead! 

You know, maybe there’s another reason Andy Rooney and we fellow curmudgeons do what we do. It’s just plain fun to put your tongue in your cheek and let her rip!

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State of the Barbeque, 2005
Published April 2005
Several years ago CBS’s Sunday Morning did a segment on a then 85-year-old Annie May Ward. Annie May operated the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville, TX. It began by accident a number of years ago as a means to raise money for the church next door. By international reputation, Annie May’s, “is the world’s best BBQ” and is known to the locals as the Church of the Holy Smoke. After seeing that episode I decided a pilgrimage, to what some consider the Holy Grail of Cue, was in order.

Before proceeding I need to share with you a few of definitions for types of BBQ places I recently came across. First there is the BBQ restaurant. In it you will find matching furniture, easy listening background music, and printed menus. They also accept credit cards and are members of the local chamber of commerce.

Secondly, you’ll run into BBQ joints. Joints have screened doors, a jukebox, sell beer, the menu is written on a blackboard, the cook is nicknamed Bubba and they only accept cash.

Lastly, there are dives. You’ll recognize dives because the door screen is torn, the employees are all tattooed, they sell beer and whiskey, the cook’s real name Is Bubba, and she has a prison record.

It must be said, however, that great, average and horrible barbecue can be found in all.

Getting back to the story, a year ago Danny Masters and I headed out for Huntsville, TX. First night out we ate at Corky’s BBQ (a chain of restaurants) in Tunica, MS. The ribs were dry style (seasoned with a rub rather than a sauce) and tasty but the meat had lost too much moisture in the cooking. Next day we stopped at Bill’s BBQ in Tallulah, LA  (definitely a dive) and tried to eat what may have been the world’s worst ribs; greasy spareribs swimming in a dark, murky, zing less sauce.

Finally, we arrived at Annie May’s (certainly a joint minus the jukebox and beer) just in time for lunch. After entering I instantly recognized Annie May behind the counter manning the cash register and telephone. I stepped up to order and told her we had driven all the way from Ohio to see her. Her instant response was to ask, “Well, how I look?”

Well, for a lady in her late 80s she looked wonderful and we couldn’t wait to dig in. At her suggestion we ordered the sampler plate, which consisted of all you could eat, spareribs, beef brisket and smoked sausage along with slaw, potato salad, white bread and sweet tea. Sadly, I wasn’t very impressed. The meats were okay but certainly not, “world class”. The sauces were simply sad, like Bill’s they were very dark and lacking in both flavor and zing.

All in all, however, it was a worthwhile experience. Annie May is a legend and her joint is a classic. Sadly, I don’t think she is able to work in the restaurant any longer. Recent news articles indicate other church members are now running things.

Also, after eating in several more southwest BBQ places, I have concluded I just don’t like their style. I’m too acquainted with Carolina barbecue and to me; nothing else begins to match up. The same cannot, however, be said about the Mexican food we ate while in Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Now those folks know how to cook!

I’ve almost lost track of the barbecue places I’ve tried in the past year. Some of them deserve to be forgotten but you cue lovers need to know about a few.

Not too far from us is the Stagecoach Barbecue on US 23 in South Bloomfield, just north of Circleville. Four of us paid them a visit during the winter and departed stuffed and very impressed. No one had any complaints and for me, the hit of the evening was the smoked turkey, fried green beans and Marena’s chocolate chip bread pudding.

Don’t want to drive that far? Try out the Old Canal House Smoked Meats restaurant on Water Street in Chillicothe. We’ve eaten there several times now and not been disappointed. The pulled pork is very good, the side dishes are excellent, great cornbread, and as good a sauces as you’ll find outside North Carolina. I especially like the apple cider BBQ sauce.

If you’re headed for South Carolina this summer keep an eye out for a Duke’s BBQ (there are several of them and they are restaurants). I picked up a sandwich at the drive-thru in Walterboro, SC and the mustard sauce was to die for. It was the best pulled pork sandwich I have ever eaten and one of these days I’m going back for the full sit down experience.

Probably the most unique place I’ve been in lately was Pete Jones’ Skylight Inn (another joint without music or beer) in Ayden, NC. Pete has been cooking whole hogs with wood since 1947 and claims that his family has been cooking BBQ on the same property since 1830.

Many people claim his to be the capital of North Carolina barbecue and that may account for the large silver replica of the capital dome sitting atop his otherwise non-descript building.

This is plain Jane BBQ. You order at a counter from an extremely limited menu. Your choices are chopped pork barbecue, vinegar slaw, and chitlin’ cornbread, sweet tea or soda pop, and nothing else. You can choose small, medium or large portions but the serving procedure remains the same. A sheet of wax paper is laid on the counter and a paper boat of BBQ placed in its middle. Next, a thin square of very dense chitlin’ cornbread is placed on top followed by a paper boat of slaw and a plastic fork. The items are wrapped up in the wax paper and handed to you along with a Styrofoam cup for your sweet tea. Could it be less complicated? Fork over $4.50 for a medium, squeeze a little red pepper vinegar sauce on it and dig in.

For Christmas, my sister-in-law, Ruby, gave me a book listing all the best barbecue restaurants, joints and dives in North Carolina (I already have the one for SC). Thumbing through its pages I enjoyed knowing that I had already visited many of them. But, there are far more that I haven’t tried. So, if you enjoy reading these occasional BBQ columns, I don’t mind doing the research. Bonne appepig, mon ami!

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Social Security; My Take!
Published March, 2005

Like many of you, I have had many recent opportunities to participate in discussions about the status and future of social security. Since I’m over 55 and receive very little of my retirement income from social security I really don’t have any urgent reason to be too concerned about its future. However, for the good of my children, grandchildren and younger Americans all of us have a vested interest in how this issue plays out.  

One of my major concerns about Bush’s approach is the denial of social security’s historical past and the realities of the present. 

Prior to the advent of this 70-year-old program Americans relied on their children and families, their private savings and investments, their neighbors, their churches and private charities to provide for them when they were no longer able to support themselves. 

For many this system worked well enough except during periods of economic downturn. For the working poor, however, it was never a workable solution. It is extremely difficult for the poor to engage in savings under any conditions. 

During economic downturns people frequently found their jobs, investments and savings swept away in bank failures, stock market crashes, general business failure, and rising unemployment. Such was the case in the 1930s when the Great Depression presented Americans with the deepest economic slump in their history. 

Now, in case you didn’t notice. What I just described was a totally “privatized” system and nakedly subject to the risk and fluctuations of the economy. So, when Bush continues to insist that social security be privatized he denies that we’ve “been there, done that” and that it didn’t work. 

Realizing that something had to be done to reduce the suffering experienced by the elderly during the depression, President Franklin Roosevelt initiated the Social Security Act of 1935. The idea was to mandate savings to help offset the needs of the aging. It was never meant to be the sole income for retirees but to act as a safety net to provide some guaranteed, risk free, income in the face of certain future economic uncertainty. 

Even with social security, it remained, and remains, imperative that individuals manage their earnings in a sound and prudent fashion, to set aside as much as possible in savings and investments as a hedge against old age. In Bush’s vernacular, people need, “personal investment accounts.” 

Well Dubya, people already have many opportunities for personal investment accounts far beyond just social security. We already have the opportunity to invest in passbook savings plans, money markets, bank certificates of deposit, the stock and bond markets, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401K plans, tax deferred annuities, real estate, and countless other avenues of financial planning. 

Having considered a little history and a couple of current realities I just don’t understand why we would want to reintroduce the risk factor to a risk less system that has worked wonderfully for 70 years. Similarly, I can’t understand why we would want to draw funds away from the social security system to establish personal investment accounts when such already exists aplenty.  

I am full aware that social security needs some attention. The system has an Achilles’ heal; the ratio of working Americans to those drawing benefits is in decline. In 1950 there were 15 workers paying into the system for every retiree drawing a check. Today, that ratio is just a little over 3 workers to 1 recipient. 

Look, social security is not broken and it is not broke. It needs some attention but the situation is not the crisis that Bush and his minions are suggesting. By the president’s own admission the system will remain solvent until 2042. That gives us 37 or more years to break out our tweakers and make a few adjustments. We certainly don’t have to rush in and throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. 

Social security has always been a thorn in the side of the conservative right and since it’s beginning its elimination has always been one of their goals. Don’t accept this; simply do a little historical research. As I view it, this is but one more conservative attack against this proven piece of New Deal legislation. Why can’t they just accept the 70-year old truth that social security works, is working, and with some prudent thought, can continue to work well into the future? 

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A Basic Government Lesson

Published December, 2004

In November my column attempted to defend social liberalism and to express my viewpoint on a couple of issues important to those of us trying to maintain our individuality in a society that doesn’t always appreciate people being individuals. 

There were several reasons why I chose liberalism as my topic. One was to offer a different perspective to the usual editorial content of the Times-Gazette while another was, as stated in the column, to demonstrate to a couple of my coffee sippin’ buddies what it means to be a social liberal. 

When the column was published I asked one of them what he thought. He responded that he agreed with about 75 percent of it. I requested that he point out specifically which 25 percent he didn’t agree with so I could focus on those things and write a column he didn’t agree with 100 percent. I will freely admit that my goal is to jab this fellow in any of his ribs. 

A day or so later he volunteered that my statement that both conservative and liberal ideologies, “have something to be feared. They both have extreme fringes that are dangerous to the civil liberties of us who live in the great middle. The far right would just as surely deny me my rights as the extreme left would deny you yours” Confused him. He didn’t believe the right offered anything to be fearful of. 

After further discussion it became clear to me that he was one of those too many people who for years supported America’s opposition to the spread of communism without really understanding what communism is. In fact, he confessed that he had always thought that Adolph Hitler and the doctrine of fascism lay to the left of the political spectrum and that fascism and communism were the same. He, in effect, has failed to realize that fascism is the right’s answer to the left’s communism. 

I have no idea how many Americans clearly fail to understand the spectrum of political ideology but my intuition tells me there are many. Having taught government for many years I do know that it’s something that many people struggle with. For those of you who remain confused, let an old teacher give it one more try. Here’s your lesson for today.  

First of all, imagine a line drawn on a piece of paper with a mark indicating its middle. This line represents the scope of political thinking and near that middle mark can be found the ideas that most people believe in. As you move away from that middle marker, however, you are heading to one of the two extremes in political philosophy.   

The further to the left your beliefs go the more you believe that citizens should equally share in the wealth of the nation, that all work is of equal value and that no job should pay more than any other. You also believed that private property is a bane to society and should be outlawed.  

To the far right you’ll find folks who see the world in sort of dog eat dog terms. The acquisition of private property and wealth is the economic motivator and, like in the game of Monopoly, it’s just fine to wind up with more than anyone else.  

A typical example of the above involves wages. Most people in the middle believe that work should bring with it at least a minimum wage. However, as you move further to the right you begin to encounter the idea that employers should only have to pay what workers are willing to accept. To the left you’ll find workers banding together into labor unions and using their collective power to force employers to increase labor’s share of the profits.  

The same thinking applies to things like taxes, social services, medical treatment, etc. The right would lessen taxes and place more of the burden of acquiring basic services and medical care on the individual. The left, conversely, believes that the wealthy should pay higher taxes and those monies should go to help meet the basic needs of all.   

Both extremes believe that government has a part to play. To the left it is government’s role to force and maintain the equal distribution of wealth and on the right government’s job is to protect the accumulated wealth of those who have won the game. While they appear to be vastly different, both extremes do share something in common. They both demand near total conformity to a doctrine and neither is reluctant to use physical force to impose that conformity.  

The two greatest examples of this involve the left’s Joseph Stalin and the right’s Adolph Hitler. Stalin, the communist, is responsible for the estimated death of over 20 million people during his reign. On the right, fascist dictator Hitler is responsible for an additional 20 million victims. Many of those who died were simply folks in the middle who offered resistance or represented some threat to the extreme.  

Please don’t lose sight that all these ideas exist in degrees. Most people on either side of the middle mark see some value in the basic ideas of either side. You can be a little liberal or a little conservative and still be on solid ground. The danger is only when political philosophy begins moving too far in either direction. That’s when the extremists begin reaching into their bag of dirty tricks and people begin disappearing in the night.

If the population were equally divided along this political spectrum there would be few threats to individual liberty. However, such is not the case. That middle mark doesn’t always stay put, it slowly swings back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. Right now it is swinging to the right meaning that we are becoming a more conservative nation and as the middle becomes more conservative it becomes a growing threat to the freedom of those who remain liberal in their thought.  

This swing accounts for the renewed discussion of Constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages, protect the flag from desecration, and force the imposition of pro-life ideas. If it continues to swing to the right these threats to individual liberty could become a reality.  

My intention here is not to make this a textbook or get into some deep debate on political ideology. My intention is to provide a few simple definitions and examples of political thought in the hope that we will all have a better understanding of what we share in common, the dangers we face, and possibly think twice about the labels we stick on people’s foreheads.  

If I’ve accomplished my purpose, you’ll be able to read the editorials in this newspaper and clearly understand why my views are considered liberal and the editor’s, Rory Ryan, conservative. Consider that your final exam and if you need any help I’ll be in the teachers’ lounge wishing I still smoked.  

Oh, I know it’s politically incorrect but what the heck, have a Merry Christmas!

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I'm An Unabashed Social Liberal

Published November, 2004

I was having coffee at the truck stop on Wednesday following the election and during the conversation I stated that I probably believed in a greater degree of personal freedom than most of those present. As an example I volunteered that I was most likely the only one in the place who had voted against Proposition 1 to ban same sex marriages in Ohio. I further stated that I was a social liberal, took pride in being so, and didn't view liberal as a dirty word. The immediate response from one fellow was to sharply question my sanity. “You must be insane,” he bellowed.

After lots of further discussion, and while I was leaving, that same fellow said, "Now he says he's a liberal but when you read those columns he writes, there's nothing liberal about them." So, for that fellow I decided to write a column that was unabashedly and without question, liberal. 

I do, in fact, believe that people should have a high degree of personal freedom. I know there has to be limits but I am far less willing to be the person to set those limits than the majority of my more conservative friends. Additionally, my limits would permit a lot more room for personal freedoms and behavior, even if I found those to be repugnant. If my neighbor wants to paint his house hot pink he should be permitted to do so, even if it keeps me awake at night and makes me want to puke. However, if hot pink is proven to attract disease-carrying vermin that threaten the neighborhood's health, then government should possibly step in. 

The same holds true if my neighbors happen to be a married, same sex, couple. It may make me uncomfortable, it may offend my values, but until it is proven to be a direct, and serious, threat to my safety, so what? And, if I give them a chance, I may find them to be likeable folks who basically want the same things out of life in America that I do. 

To me, marriage, as defined by religious tenet can, and should, coexist with marriage as defined by civil law. But, the civil definition of marriage should not exclude the diversity of American society. After all, marriage defined by religious law bridges the wall of separation demanded by the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution requires that the laws of the land apply equally to all its citizens and to apply a single, religious based, definition of something so personal as marriage would certainly result in an unequal application and thus violate the rights of many.

Conservatives spend lots of time espousing about freedom and liberty but, too often, they seem willing to extend freedom to just those who share their life style, attitudes, aspirations, religion, sexual preference, etc.

Possibly Maine’s former governor, Angus King, said it best when he stated that our society has enemies, “They are poverty, disease, and ignorance; they are not gay people.”

Another fellow at the table that morning was lamenting about how Kerry supporters seemed to be clustered along the Pacific Coast and the Northeast. "Why is that?” he asked. Well, I’m sure there are lots of answers but to begin with, those red-blue election maps distort the truth. They only show how the majority voted. They do not show that lots of voters in all our states voted for the other side.

However, it is true that Democrats have a larger support base along the coastlines and in our major urban centers. This is partly a result of those areas being more ethnically and culturally diverse than in the so-called heartland. A consequence of experiencing population diversity is increased tolerance for ideas, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. that differ from the norm and liberals, by definition, are a more tolerant lot.

Over the years I taught history and government I noticed that the most tolerant students in my classroom were often the children of people who, by the nature of their employment, had lived in a variety of places. These kids had simply seen and experienced more than the other students and knew that there was often, “More than one way to skin a cat.”

You may have noticed in my previous columns that I rarely attempt providing a finite answer to problems. Well, that too is part of being a liberal; we liberals flip-flop. Liberals accept that there is usually more than one correct answer to a problem and that very often, what was accepted as being correct ceases to be correct. Thus, changes in positions and approaches become necessary.

My position on the Iraq War provides an example. I sat on my sofa listening to Colin Powell address the UN about Iraq’s threat to the world. After listening to him speak and considering all the evidence he presented, I went to town and, over lunch, told a friend that the nation had no choice but to take Saddam out.

So, guess what happened? Essentially, everything Powell said that day, and all his evidence, turned out to be incorrect or highly suspect. I don’t think Secretary Powell was lying, I simply think he was given bad advice and inaccurate information. Coming to realize this, was I to remain firm in my support of our preemptive military action? Should I ignore or discount the ever-emerging facts, or should my position reflect the updated information? Well, my position did change and if that makes me a flip-flopper I can only say that being so permits me to sleep well at night.

Over the years I’ve observed that very few laymen could accurately define the term communism. Yet, they willingly approved billions of their tax dollars spent in defense of it. The same is true of the political terms conservative and liberal. People use them to evaluate and/or accuse others but too often don’t have much of a clue as to their true meanings.

The truth is that both ideologies have something to be feared. They both have extreme fringes that are dangerous to the civil liberties of us who live in the great middle. The far right would just as surely deny me my rights as the extreme left would deny you yours. Regardless of our political or social philosophies, a thing we share in common is the threat from those extremes.

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Got Them Mean Banker, Mayonnaise Jar Blues!
Published October, 2004

When old blues men sang about having the blues they were talking about things like suffering the ills of poverty, woman troubles, loneliness or being mistreated by the boss man. Well, I’ve got the blues but it’s not from anything so serious. 

My case of the blues has two causes. First, I’ve run out of ideas for my monthly column. I’ve wanted to engage in a pre-election rant about the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the failing economy, the lack of decent jobs, the declining middle-class and not being chosen as the poster child for the Preparation-H Float in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. However, since everyone already seems to have decided whom they’ll vote for, and I personally have tired of politics, that won’t work. 

The second cause of my blues is having my favorite fishing hole, Sebastian Inlet, Florida take direct hits from both hurricanes Francis and Jeanie and my next favorite, Pensacola, Florida, literally destroyed by Ivan. Furthermore, Jeanne swept into coastal North Carolina and postponed a planned fishing trip to that locale. I wonder if there’s an old blues song titled, “Can’t Go Fishin’ No Mo’ Blues.” 

So, here I sat with nothing to occupy my time and nothing to write about when out of the blue (notice that connection) came the postman (dressed in blue) with a letter from Master Card. My wife opened it and exclaimed, “They’re ought to be a law against this! How can they get away with this kind of thing?” 

What she was reacting to were some policy changes being addressed by a bank regarding our credit card. We were informed that in the future, any payment received late would result in a $39 late fee. Now, she was hot and I tried to temper her anger by saying that we’re not alone in this; everyone has a complaint about banks and their ever-growing list of fees and incidental service charges. 

I remembered a bit that comedian Tim Wilson did on banks and dug out the CD so my wife could hear his take on the problem. He covered such experiences as being charged a $30 fee for bouncing a $3 check. Wilson’s response was, “Hell, if I don’t have $3 I damn sure don’t have $33!” He continued by telling of a bank in Atlanta that charged $3 for simply telling you the balance in your savings account. He said, “I walked in and asked the teller how much money was in my account and she replied, ‘$300, well, $297 now.’ I said loudly, HOW MUCH? She replied, ‘Uh, $294.’ So, what you’re sayin’ is, if I ask another 98 times I’ll be broke!” 

Well, we all have more than one such story to tell and if you’re my age you know that it all began when banks ceased providing free checks and checking accounts. Now days, there’s very little to find at a bank that’s free. However, in fairness, the teller at the Merchant’s Bank drive thru window did give my dog Sam a Milk Bone biscuit the last time we made a deposit. Tim Wilson thinks that banks should give customers at least a bag of Tootsie Rolls for every $100 they deposit; “Hell, I grew up on bank candy,” he related. Myself, I would prefer a box of Russell Stover’s. 

What seemed to finally establish banks, as the subject of this column was an experience I recently had while applying for a personal note. I had a CD maturing in a couple of weeks but needed some cash to buy a different vehicle. I thought I’d simply take out a short-term note until I received the money from the CD.

So, I called the loan officer at a local bank and asked about getting a note. I was told that it would be no problem but that there would be interest charged on the note plus a $125 processing fee for filling out the paperwork. I said, “$125!” and the bank dude said, “Yeah, we never use to charge anything for this but everyone else started so we did too.” Then he said, “We didn’t charge as much but everyone else kept raising their rates so we did too.” 

Now, as I was absorbing this input something just didn’t seem right. It wasn’t until I had hung up and thought about it for a moment that it hit me. What kind of an lame ass excuse was that for bilking customers out of more of their hard won monies? We’re doing it because everyone else is; we’re raising our fees because everyone else has. You just ask any of our 3 children (now adults) what would have happened if they had come home late and said that they did so because all their friends were breaking their parental curfews! So, if you’re that loan officer and you recognize yourself, take 30-days off without pay, you’re grounded! 

I was watching the news recently and they were telling of a woman who had several credit cards maxed-out and failed to make the payment on one of her cards on time. Automatically, her interest rate was jumped to over 24 percent. Worse yet, that bank shared this info with her other banks and they all jumped her rate to 24 percent, even though she was on time with each of them. Their collective rationale was that if they didn’t treat such marginal risks this way, fewer people would be denied credit cards. Now there’s a concept, people who don’t qualify for credit won’t be given credit cards. Is it possible that we who make our payments on time would be paying lower interest rates if banks didn’t give out credit cards like they were Milk Bones? 

Well, I’ve only begun to tell stories about banks and I’ve already run out of space. I could make this Chapter 1 in a series but I’m sure you can all write your own Chapter 2. 

Banks are a very necessary part of our economic and social system and little would be accomplished if they didn’t exist. We all rely on them, but going back to Christ himself, we’ve not always been satisfied. 

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"Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire"

Published September, 2004

There is one absolute truth in life; people lie. Not only do they lie, many enjoy it and some have even elevated it to an art form. 

Both my grandfathers were liars, as was my dad, and to be truthful, so am I. I’m one of those whose enjoys telling a story and tossing in a little spice of embellishment wherever needed. 

To support my thesis that people enjoy lying, just take a look around. This world is full of gathering places where groups of people regularly meet for the main purpose of swapping lies. 

In my grandfather Chapman’s adopted hometown, Joanna, SC, they even formally organized a men’s club for the purpose of meeting each day to exchange fibs. It was/is called the Joanna Men’s Club and has been written up in one of that state’s more prestigious newspapers, The State. 

Each member pays $10 a month and that covers the rent on the old store front they hang around in, keeps the refrigerator humming, the coffee pot perking and a couple of light fixtures burning. 

They’re so organized that they even have rules. You can’t cuss (don’t think I’d last long there), you can’t drink alcoholic beverages (experts don’t need booze to loosen them up), you can’t invite a woman in, and you can’t tell more than 10 lies during a given session (I wonder how often they had to suspend that rule?). 

Liar’s clubs come in all configurations but they are usually male dominated. Women, as a rule, don’t lie, they just gossip. The liars might be a bunch of farmers, a group (like my grandfather’s) of retired mill workers, veterans, old high school or college friends, sports enthusiasts, etc. My brother knows of a group in North Carolina made up of retired Marines. They call themselves The Semper Lie Corp. 

You don’t have to look too deeply around Greenfield to find places where liars congregate. 

Leaverton’s Barber Shop is one such place. Dave Leaverton, besides being the master of the flat top, is also a master of creativity. Some years ago a fellow walked into his shop and asked why the McDonald’s sign was so tall? Instantly, Dave came back with it being because of the new Interstate that was being built just beyond the east edge of Greenfield. “McDonald’s wanted it high enough so travelers on the Interstate could see it soon enough without missing the exit ramp.” 

Sometime later, one of my students came into class asking me if I’d heard about the new Interstate? I instantly replied, “You get your hair cut at Leaverton’s, don’t you?” 

Other clutches of liars can be found at the Quik Stoppe (a.m. or p.m.), Blake’s Coffee Shop (a.m. only) and McDonald’s (all hours of operation). Walk into any of these establishments and you’ll find small groups of men, gathered at tables, hunkered over coffee cups and makin’ up stuff. 

There are a number of ways these groups could be categorized. One major division, however, would be to break them down into those individuals who readily understand that they, on occasion, are telling a lie and those who lie constantly but don’t have a clue that they are. Bobby Everhart told me that one of Greenfield’s worst liars got arrested once for perjury but lied his way out of it! That same person is one of the clueless. He’s lied so long he’s come to believe that everything he says is true! 

South Salem and the Buckskin area are not without their liars. According to Richard Lucas and Al Conaway, the Morton Road Liars, “a group of 12 Buckskin alumni plus strays,” have for years been meeting every Tuesday for a lunch of “boloney” sandwiches, current events, and items of general interest. I recently spent a little time with them and observed no women, no alcoholic beverages, a bias for Democratic politics, and just a little cussing. I could find a home with these guys! 

The community of Rainsboro has a whole herd of liars. The really good ones hang around the Rocky Fork Truck Stop. Although lying has no season, the best lies at the truck stop are usually told on summer evenings by those sitting on the bench outside, watching the sun go down. They don’t say much during the waning minutes before sunset. I’m sure they’re using those last few moments to get their “facts” straight. Come to think on it, though, that’s kind of cheating, since it’s easier to get away with a lie in the dark. 

Years ago I used to hang around Dr. Burris’ home and several times a week his neighbor, C.A. Kenworthy, would drop in and strike up a conversation with Doc. I would sit attentively to the side and absorb the fantastic stories this man would spin. For over a year I accepted every word he uttered as the truth but began to have a hard time accepting that one person could have experienced as many things as he had. 

Come to find out, C.A. Kenworthy was a member of some national association of liars and he was testing out lies on Doc and me. Doc Burris was aware of what was going on but, like I said, it was over a year before I finally figured it out. This was possibly the first time I became aware that people told fibs for sport and pleasure. 

I now know that my grandfather Chapman was just such a person. Behind his home in Joanna there was a stand of large bamboo trees. My granddad would tell me that, as a young man, he earned his keep as a whale fisherman. He claimed that every autumn he would cut him an armload of those bamboo trees and use them as fishing poles on the whaling ships he sailed on. He promised me that one-day he’d cut some poles and take me whale fishing. I still haven’t got the barb of that hook out of my lower lip. 

Now I don’t claim to be as good a liar as C.A. Kenworthy or “Papa” Chapman but I can hold my own in most crowds. I’ll embellish a story to make it a better story or to inject a little humor into it but I attempt to avoid lying for lesser purposes. 

Most men, when they leave this world, would like to be remembered for the good they did, the wealth they accumulated, the lives they touched, or the discoveries they made. I would be content if someone at my visitation would simply say, “Damn, he sure raised the bar on embellishing!”
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Hey, Greenfield Rocks!
Published August, 2004

There have been a number of things on my mind lately and any one of them could be the subject of a column. 

For example, I’ve wanted to speak out regarding the teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t understand people’s reaction to this book. After all, I didn’t learn the “N” word from reading it. Instead, it helped me understand that the word was hurtful and wrong. 

I continue to be increasingly upset about our involvement in Iraq and think it has been a huge mistake. 

Locally, I don’t like knowing that Highland County, Ohio appears to be a place where one can beat an old woman to death and have it reduced to manslaughter, or rape a 3-year old child and plea bargain it down to a misdemeanor. 

A lot has been written or said already about such heavy subjects and certainly much more will be. So, I think I’ll concentrate on something a little more positive and cheerful for this month’s column. Like, in the words of Cindi Pearce, “Greenfield (and Highland County) rocks!” 

Early in July my wife and I took a look at our dance card and found it full. Full of community activities we wanted to be a part of. 

It actually began in June with the opening event of the town’s Midsummer’s Night on Midway entertainment series. Local garage band, Dumbfounded, opened the season with some great 70s sounds and I found the fun they were having on stage to be infectious. They were followed that evening by Cleveland band, Hudson Chase, for which local pharmacist Eric Zint plays keyboard. The following Saturday was movie night and the featured film was John Steinbeck’s classic, Grapes of Wrath

Then along came July 4th weekend and the McClain Alumni Association’s All-Class Reunion. The reunion began on Friday with registration and various individual class reunions. The Thursday before we drove to Hillsboro and took in the Van Dell’s concert. If you had the time, Hillsboro was alive that weekend with great entertainment including Nashville’s Trick Pony

The Alumni Association treated the Greenfield community to a fireworks celebration of the 4th on Friday evening at Mitchell Park and the following day was filled with typical reunion activities such as visiting, eating bbq pork, visiting, eating homemade ice cream, visiting, eating more homemade ice cream, etc. That evening a pair of dances took place in the McClain gymnasiums with a DJ at one and a live swing band at the other. Something for everyone! 

The next day, Sunday, witnessed the annual Old Timer’s Softball game at Mitchell Park and it is always a hoot. It’s amazing that these old coots can keep up the level of play that always takes place. 

Well, we got a little rest between all the reunion activities and the Wheels of Progress Festival, but that was only because heavy rains forced the cancellation of the of the Fayette County Community Orchestra and the Bill Folley Band on Saturday, July 10th

The middle of July was given over to the annual Wheels of Progress Festival and it was bigger than ever this year. We were involved in helping to man the Historical Society’s booth and peddling a few All-Class Reunion T-shirts. 

Dumbfounded made an appearance on Saturday afternoon along with Athens, Ohio blues band Chump Change. That evening Brad Martin showed up on stage with his father, Richard Martin. They performed to a remarkably large crowd. 

With only a day’s break following the festival, the Ohio Chautauqua set up their huge striped tent at Mitchell Park and brought 5 straight evenings of enlightening entertainment to those who ventured out. Such notables as Harry Houdini, H.L. Mencken, Zora Neale Hurston, Zelda Fitzgerald and Henry Ford made appearances. Everyone connected with bringing this event to Greenfield has to be thanked repeatedly. Thank you, thank you, thank you, etc.

 

Immediately on the heels of Chautauqua’s departure, The Great Duck Race was held on Paint Creek at Felson Park. Participants paid $5 for a numbered plastic duck and if their duck was the first one pushed by the current across the finish line, they won a piece of the purse. 

The final Midsummer’s Night on Midway event was the DARE dance for teens and it brought an end to both the series’ 2nd season but also, the month of July. 

In addition to all the things we attended we could have also visited the Banana Split Festival in Wilmington, the Highland County Antique Machinery Show at Rocky Fork Lake, an antique tractor show and a motorcycle show in South Salem, a street rod show at the Eagles, a motorcycle poker run sponsored by the Eagles, Brad Martin’s appearance at the Fayette County Fair, several dozen yard sales and taking my wife to dinner in Columbus for our 25th anniversary. Just kidding about not taking her out, I’m not that ignorant! 

I decided to write this column for 2 reasons. First, it bothers me that, in a town of 5,000 people, less than 200 citizens turn out for a free community softball game. Are people today so busy, or have so many choices, that they can’t support those activities that attempt to inject a little quality of life into their community? 

Secondly, I’m simply fed up with those who are always saying that, “Greenfield is such a boring place,” or, “There’s never anything to do in this town.” Well, I think I’ve shown that, in fact, this area really does, “rock.” And, if you’re not taking part in it, you only have yourself to blame. Highland County, Greenfield, Hillsboro, small town America, is not boring. I’ve always contended that those who are bored with life are, by virtue of their own decisions, themselves boring. 

Do me a favor and run off a few copies of this column to carry with you as you go about your day. Then, when someone gripes about never having anything to do, rip out one of those copies and thumbtack it directly between their eyes with the print turned inward. Thanks! 

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Me And Harry S. Truman
Published July, 2004

Maybe it’s all the news about this being a presidential election year, or all the attention the death of former president Reagan has received, but whichever, I find myself wondering which US president I share the most in common. 

Now, I know this sounds rather egotistical, but please hear me out. 

I’m sure it’s not Washington; I’ve never chopped down anyone’s cherry tree and if I had I would have certainly lied about it. 

Lincoln, as I, sported a beard but he spent too much time in theatres rather than splitting rails. I never cared much for splitting rails but I will occassionally, split a hair! 

Several months ago an acquaintance asked how I was getting along. A woman with whom I had worked with for many years interjected that I was, “the same old irascible soul I’d always been.”  That word, irascible, gave me the clue I was looking for. The most irascible former president I can think of was Harry S. Truman. 

So, I spent a little time making up a list of traits that ole’ Harry and I shared, along with ways in which we differed. 

First of all, both HST and I do, in fact, share irascibility. They didn’t call him “Give Em’ Hell Harry” (notice that Harry and Larry both have 5 letters and rhyme) for no reason and from time to time, I’ve dished out a little hell on my own. Harry Truman was an honest, up front and plainspoken individualist and these are traits I admire and have tried to emulate. 

Both Truman and myself share a love of music and an appreciation of history. Truman was mostly a self-educated person but I am always impressed at his knowledge and understanding of the influence of history on events. He played piano while I gin around on the guitar. I’m pretty sure, however, that he played better piano than I play guitar. 

Next, neither Truman nor I were born in states that only have 4 letters. He was from Missouri and I hail from South Carolina. Sorry about your luck Iowa and Ohio. 

Certainly the greatest similarity between Truman and me is that there were many Americans who didn’t think Truman should have been president. Regarding myself, there are even greater numbers of people who don’t think I’m presidential material. 

You’re probably seeing a pattern emerging here. The list of similarities between Ole’ Harry and me could go on forever. However, there are a few areas in which we differ. 

For example, Truman was short, trim, far more gentlemanly in appearance, and was noted for his high energy level. I, on the other hand, am very large, much taller, far more casual in dress, and don’t have the energy to spit. 

The major area where Truman and I depart company has to do with the love of pets. I am a major dog lover and the Truman family may have been the only presidential family to occupy the White House who didn’t have a presidential dog. 

In 1945 the Trumans were given an Irish setter named Mike (Do you too find it eerie that we chose Mike as the name for our son? Ohoooo, this similarity thing is getting creepy!). The dog spent the summer at the Truman home in Independence, MO but was quickly given away. Being pet lovers, we kept our Mike. 

A couple years later, in 1947, a crate appeared at the White House containing an unsolicited Christmas present; a Cocker Spaniel puppy named Feller. Ownership and care of the puppy was quickly transferred to the president’s personal physician, Brigadier General Wallace Graham.  

Once news of this got out, the nation’s dog lovers attacked the Trumans as being anti-canine. General Graham, shying from the criticism and publicity, had Feller taken to Shangri-La, or what we know today as Camp David.  

Care of the dog was charged to a series of Navy Chief Petty Officers before it finally fell into the lap of Greenfield native, Chief Boatswain Mate, Robert W. Lyle.  

In 1953, Chief Lyle was being transferred to Italy. Upon receiving his transfer orders Lyle asked permission to take Feller with him. Permission was given under the condition that no mention was made that the dog had once belonged to the president. Instead of taking Feller to Italy with him, Lyle brought the dog home to Greenfield to stay with his father, Archie Otis Lyle, on a farm just outside the town.  

It was with the Lyle family that Feller lived many happy years and eventually died of old age.  

A footnote to the story concerns Feller being bathed and groomed anytime word was received that a member of the Truman family might be visiting the retreat. Just in case the family asked to see the cocker he would be spit shined and polished. Sadly, no one ever inquired. 

Being a dog lover, this makes me so mad I want to go out and hold up a couple of beagles by their ears. That reminds me, have I ever told you how much LBJ and I share in common?

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A Few Thoughts On Heaven and Hell
Published June, 2004

As of this month, I am officially an old person. I recently turned age 62, filed for Social Security and within days should receive my first Social Security check. So, now that I’m old I’ve decided to spend a little time thinking about heaven and hell: since that’s what old people seem to do a lot. 

We all know about the heaven and hell of the Bible but there are lots of others, especially hells, of a more worldly nature. For example, General William Tecumseh Sherman once uttered something about war being hell while General George Patton felt that war glorified the best in mankind. 

Comedian Tim Wilson wrote a song about “Chucky Cheese Hell” in which he described the torment of taking his child to Chucky Cheese’s Pizza for a birthday party. My wife and I did this when our son turned 6. We hauled him and a vanload of his 6-year old hellion friends to Chucky Cheese’s in Dayton. What in the hell were we thinking? 

Another form of hell is related to thinking back on the opportunities you let slip through your fingers when you were younger. In the mid-1960s I had an opportunity to purchase 100 acres of wooded land in Ross County for less than $75 an acre. Financing was a problem but if I’d been a little more aggressive, creative or energetic, I could have overcome that. Today, I’m told, 5-acre wooded building lots are easily bringing over $15,000. Yet another great chance, shot to hell! 

A category of hell that I know you’re all acquainted with is the “how in the hell” hell. It includes such things as, “How in the hell did cars start costing more than I paid for my first house?” Or, “How in the hell did gasoline get over $2 a gallon?” It would be heavenly if only our incomes would keep up with such hellishness. 

There is a growing category of experiences that fall into a type of hell known as “collectible hell.” When most of us were children the word collectable hadn’t been coined yet. People talked about antiques but antiques inferred furniture and we kids didn’t own, or want to own, any furniture. We wanted, and got, toys; and as you may know, those toys are now collectibles and are bring huge dollars on eBay. 

Several years ago I attended an auction in Wilmington and watched a Lionel train set sell for well over $1000. It was identical to the one I had owned as a kid and which my mother had given to my younger cousin when she was sorting through my things after I had left home and entered the Navy. The last time I saw that train it was half buried in the sandbox behind my aunt’s house. We’ll call this Lionel hell. 

Then there’s Roy Rogers Hell. Just give a little thought to what you once owned that was emblazoned with the names Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy. Let’s see, I had RR boots, RR hat, RR gloves (with fringe), RR matching cap pistols with genuine RR leather holsters, RR lunch box and a wooden RR stick horse named Trigger. I haven’t a clue to whatever happened to any of this stuff but if it survived, I bet someone made a hell of a lot of money from it at an auction. 

Another terra firma hell could be titled bicycle spoke hell. This is where you spend time reflecting on the number of 1947 Jackie Robinson rookie baseball cards you clothes pinned to the spokes of your balloon tired Roadmaster Luxury Liner and became “too cool” as you circled the neighborhood. By the way, a 1953 Roadmaster Luxury Liner in restored condition is worth over $2000. Ain’t that hell? 

Now this may not be true for you, but for me it seems a lot easier coming up with examples of hell than it is for examples of heaven. That may be due to there being a greater certainty that a Biblical heaven is not in the baseball cards for me. 

One example of earthly heavens for me, however, is any time spent in search of, and enjoying the fruits of, good barbecue restaurants. I recently ate pulled pork at a restaurant in Franklin, TN and a heavenly chorus accompanied every bite. The devil kept interfering with my pleasure, however, because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the two women sitting in a booth near me and wondering how they could be satisfied eating their tossed salads and sipping their artificially sweetened iced tea. Beats the hell out of me. 

While the Biblical heaven and hell may be eternal, many of the earthly examples aren’t. For a number of years I lived in a kind of daily hell associated with knowing that my daughter Kris’ bedroom was in a state of mess that would have made the Bible’s hell look attractive. When Kris graduated from high school and left for college her mother gave the room a thorough cleaning and we entered into a state of heavenly bliss. The next summer Kris returned home and all hell broke out! 

It may appear that I’ve not been serious in my considerations of heaven and hell, but I assure you that I have. Like every thinking person, I’ve given these subject lots of attention. However, I remain uncertain about what destiny may have in store for me, or even if there is such a thing as heaven or hell. Maybe I’m what George Carlin describes as a Frisbeetarian. That’s someone who believes that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck! 

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America The Melting Pot
Published May, 2004

Last summer my wife and I took a little drive out east. Reflecting back on the experience I feel the urge to say a little about, “we the people.” 

There is no denying that America has an unmatched history of cultural and ethnic diversity. For over four hundred years these shores have witnessed a constant wave of immigration from every known culture, ethnicity, language group, nationality and religion known to exist on the orb. What effect this has had on us, as a nation, however, is up for grabs. Just about every historian, sociologist, politician or coffee shop redneck has his or her favorite theory on the matter. 

Until the early twentieth century Americans didn’t give much attention to immigration. We were a young nation that needed warm bodies to settle the land and stoke the fires of a growing industrial revolution. As long as those arriving on our shores looked, smelled, and sounded like the rest of us who’d already made the trip, the welcome mat, remained out.

As the twentieth century advanced, however, things began to change. Immigrants, in ever-growing numbers, were arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe and they were not Anglo-Saxon-Protestants. They were Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Jewish and they spoke strange languages, ate strange foods, reeked of strange odors, favored wine over beer and worshipped God in unfamiliar ways.

  As their numbers increased older Americans began to take notice, and become concerned. What would this change mean to our future prosperity and strength as a nation? Would this weaken us as a people? Should we allow these strangers to continue entering the nations in such increasing numbers?  

The answer to the last question was, no. Laws were passed barring Asians altogether and severely limiting the permitted number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. For those who had already been allowed in, extreme pressures were placed on them to assimilate into our traditional Anglo-Saxon life style and to abandon those things that made them different. In short, they had to, “become Americans.”  

A popular attitude of the period was that America was a “melting pot” of cultural assimilation and homogenization. A Vesper Lincoln George mural, adorning the wall of McClain High School’s library, exactly portrays this concept. On one side are gathered a diverse group of ragtag newcomers who are approaching the flames of a burning cauldron. Symbolically emerging from the cauldron is a very homogenized gathering of strong, healthy and beautiful people, dressed in white and walking towards a destiny of growth and prosperity. Simply put, our collective futures would depend on us remaining mostly what we had always been rather than being forced to radically change by increased diversity.  

So, for most of the last century, America remained a mostly English speaking, beer drinking, meat and potatoes eating, go to church on Sunday, white bread kind of place. Well, along came the Immigration Act of 1965 and all that began to change.   

From that day on the door to America would depend, not on nationality, but on what was politically and economically best for the nation. If you were fleeing communism or were a political refugee, you were let it. If you were a doctor and we needed doctors, you were let in.  

It’s not difficult to see that the 1965 Immigration Act has fundamentally changed America. America’s Hispanic population is the fastest growing segment of our society. Spanish is becoming America’s second language and you will hear it being spoken throughout the nation, including the Wal-Mart store in South Podunk, Idaho! Furthermore, Ohio’s immigrant population has increased 30.7 percent since 1990 and Columbus, Ohio has the second largest Somali population in the nation.  

Regardless of where you live in this nation you can’t escape the growing influence of immigration on America. You can buy a taco in most American towns and is there such a place that doesn’t have a pizza shop? Mexican and Chinese restaurants are becoming as common as hamburger stands and salsa has taken the place of ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. Hell, you can even buy nachos at a baseball game instead of a hot dog.  

There is not the pressure on immigrants to assimilate today like in the past, and in fact, they may not bend to the will of the majority but instead, force the majority to change.  

Personally, I think what’s happening is wonderful. I love the variety that is being added to American culture. I also believe that those hardy souls who are willing to risk the hardships and dangers of immigration can only add to the spirit and gene pool that has made America the success it has always been. Our future is assured as long as we keep our doors open to the best the world has to offer.  

Whether you agree, or not, those doors are open. As my visit to the greater New York City area confirmed, America is, in the sense of variety, truly a melting pot in the sense that it is increasingly diverse. We were in a grocery store called Corrado’s in Clifton, NJ and witnessed an incredible potpourri of peoples, speaking all kinds of tongues, dressed in all kinds of clothing, buying meats and cheeses and produce that looked, smelled and probably tasted unlike anything you’d find at your local IGA. To truly meet the needs of every nationality, ethnicity or religion present in that store a clerk would need to speak a couple dozen languages and know the particular needs, likes and dislikes of even more cultures.  

So, in the spirit of “when in Rome” we jumped in and purchased a small baguette of French bread, a dab of pastrami, some delicate slices of prosciutto ham, several slices of a really sharp provolone cheese, a slab of a strong off-white cheese from Poland, a jar of weird looking mustard and some fava bean salad. It was wonderful to head up the Interstate sampling a little of this and a dab of that. I’m gonna’ try talking Bob and Carl’s into handling fava bean salad in their deli.  

All I can tell you is that what it means to be an American continues to evolve, there’s little that can be done to stop it, and that I’m going to remember that visit to Corrado’s far longer than any trip I’ll ever make to McDonald’s. I am also confident that as long as we all share a love of freedom, a belief in democracy and a respect for those who are different, “we the people” will be okay!

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A Cornucopia Of Drinking Laws
Published April, 2004
Several years ago I went to an Italian restaurant in Greenville, TN. In order to gain entrance I had to purchase a membership for $1. The cost of the membership was later deducted from the cost of dinner. According to the law in that county, this was the only way alcoholic beverages could be sold, that is, in a private club. I recently experienced the same thing ordering a beer with my pizza in Marshall, TX.

The waitress asked if I was a member and informed me I needed to be in order to purchase a Lone Star longneck. The cost of membership in the club was free and simply involved scanning my driver’s license. Afterwards, I was issued an official looking membership card and told this would be valid at any establishment in the state. It turned out that the requirement was peculiar to just that Texas county. Elsewhere in the state, the laws regulating the sale of alcohol were much less restricted.

Anyway, this recent experience got me thinking about all the weird or peculiar drinking laws I have heard of or experienced during my time and travels around America. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Last summer I was in Vermont drinking a Samuel Adams with a cousin. The waitress came around and asked it there was anything else she could do for us. I asked for another beer and was told that I had to finish the one in front of me first. You’re only permitted to have one drink per person on the table at any given time. Ironically, however, my cousin told me that while you couldn’t purchase two beers at once, you could carry a concealed pistol into the bar. I suppose they were afraid that if they sold me too much beer I’d pull out my gun and shoot the bartender. I reason that under Vermont’s rules, the bartender is more likely to get shot if he refused to set up a second beer!
  • Not being a wine drinker I wasn’t aware that there is a respected brand of French wine called Fat Bastard. Well, in Ohio and Texas, it’s illegal to sell the brand within each state’s borders. Speaking of wine, I’m told that in our own Paint Township it’s legal for restaurants to sell beer and hard liquor but not wine. If true, how is that explained?
  • In New Jersey they have a “brown bag” law. You are permitted to bring your own beer or wine into a restaurant that is not licensed to serve alcohol. A similar law exists in Texas. If you’re in a bar licensed to serve only beer and wine, you can bring your own bottle of hard liquor with you.
  • Nashville once (and may still) forbid selling liquor by the drink. You had to bring your own bottle with you and the tavern or restaurant would sell you a “setup.” That is, a glass of ice and the required mixer and garnish.
  • In 1973 South Carolina adopted selling liquor by the drink. However, they forbid “free pouring” and require that liquor by the drink be poured from “mini bottles.” The same kind of bottle common to airlines, each holds 1.7 ounces. Meant to reduce the potency of drinks, this law has had the opposite effect. Nationally, the accepted shot of liquor is only 1.2 ounces. South Carolina, by the way, leads the nation in drunk driving fatalities.
  • In many states it’s illegal to call a tavern a “saloon.” This prompted one owner to rename his bar, “O’Neil’s Baloon!”
  • According to the BAFT (Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco) the word “refreshing” may not be used to describe any alcoholic beverage. So much for easing back on a hot August afternoon with an ice cold, refreshing, carbonated beverage!
  • Bars in Iowa are forbidden to run a “tab” on customers. Where would Norm and Cliff be without a tab at Cheers?
  • In Texas, beer chuggers are required to sit. It’s illegal to take more than three sips of a beer at a time while standing. During my recent visit there I noticed that most Texans seemed unaware of this law.
  • States seem at odds on the issue of food being served with alcohol. In Nebraska, state law requires that bars selling beer must keep a pot of soup brewing during business hours. In North Dakota, however, bars serving beer cannot serve pretzels. I wonder if North Dakota tavern owners would be permitted to serve bowls of heavily salted soup?
  • One of the loosest, and weirdest, drinking laws has to exist in New Orleans. It is legal to drink and drive in New Orleans (possibly all of Louisiana). There are drive-thru Daiquiri shops all over the city and it’s common to see someone drive up, order a Pina Colada or a Hurricane, and cruise on down the boulevard!

Many, if not all, of these laws are derived from religious sanctions against drink and legislative compromises reached with those desiring an occasional nip.

The repeal of Prohibition further complicated drinking laws in America. Each state and political subdivision was given the right to decide for itself the conditions under which alcohol could be reintroduced. Many decided to continue prohibition and remain “dry.” Most, however, elected for sale but contrived some means to control it. The result is the huge hodge-podge of contradicting and complex laws that attempt to regulate or control how Americans “kick back.” These laws, however, make for some interesting travel experiences!

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Exporting Jobs, Don't Get Me Started!
Published late February, 2004

Well, it’s happened. I’ve finally gotten so peeved that I’ve run out of cuss words to express my anger. So, as this column progresses, simply insert your own four-letter words wherever you think they would comfortably fit. 

For years now Americans have been hearing the experts discuss jobs in America and their theories and prognostications have never been easy to understand, never always believable, nor always easily implementable. 

In fact we have seen the American economy shift from agricultural to industrially based. None of us can remember a time when most of us earned our livings from farming. Most of us, however, can remember when most Americans worked as a blue-collar worker in one of the nation’s many factories. 

In the last quarter century, however, there as been a gradual shift in where Americans work. Increasingly we shifted from an industrial to a service economy. The American worker was told that he/she had to get retrained and develop “people skills” that would enable them to find employment by providing all the services that Americans no longer performed for themselves. We needed to become nail technicians, lawn-care specialist, automobile mechanics, auto lubrication specialists, real estate agents, plumbers, electricians, retail clerks, hamburger flippers, etc. I even saw a truck in Columbus advertising that the driver was in the business of picking up the doggie doo-doo from customer’s back yards. 

Somewhere along the way, we were also told that we were entering the “Communications Age” and that we needed to all run out, buy a PC, and develop computer skills. (Since I was once in the computer business, I thank God for that one.) The computerization of America has had a profound effect on the economy. It created a host of new jobs and allowed worker productivity to skyrocket. 

There is no denying that America has experienced an economic revolution in the past quarter century.  And, like always, we have experienced both good times and bad as a result. Following a recession in the late 80’s we witnessed a period of unprecedented economic boom in the 90’s. 

So, here we sit in early 2004. Our industrial base is rapidly migrating to Asia and Central America.

Service jobs have never paid as well as industrial jobs and both legal and illegal immigrants are now filling many of those. And, increasingly, those high paying computer jobs are being performed by people in India, and elsewhere, who work for a fraction of what Americans are used to. 

For over three years now, the economy has been in a funk and millions of Americans have found meaningful employment impossible to find.  Increasingly the things we buy are labeled, “Made In China” or the person who answers questions about your credit card statement has an Indian accent. 

The political “ins” argue that the economy is recovering and as evidence they cite the recovering stock market. The political “outs” retort that, “yes, the market is better but this is a jobless recovery.” 

And, that is what drives me nuts. There is certainly a relationship between the health of the stock market and the number of jobs the economy creates. But, if countless jobs continue to be “out sourced”, who will be left to buy the market’s stocks? 

Now, I only suffered through Economics 101 while in college but it was enough to learn that no economic system can survive in which the masses don’t have some means of sharing in the wealth.  

It seems to me that our rising stock market is mostly benefiting those who control major chunks of stock in our corporations. If companies can cut cost by shifting manufacturing and services to poorer nations, certainly their profits will rise and subsequently their stock’s value. To me, if a rising stock market isn’t creating the needed number of domestic jobs, it’s meaningless to the average American worker.  

Now, up to this point, I still had some swear words in my arsenal. I spent my final cusses, however, when I learned that the president’s chief financial advisor, with the president’s approval, issued a report claiming that the exporting of American jobs was beneficial to the economy! 

I suppose I should be happy that this is the president’s position. If used correctly, the Democrats now have all the ammunition they need to insure that this Bush only sees one term in office like his Daddy.  However, I am not happy and it’s simply because this goes beyond party politics. This cuts to the heart of human suffering. If people can’t find employment, they are suffering! 

To even infer that exporting jobs will somehow benefit the average American is ludicrous. I was recently in south Texas and New Mexico. The highway I was on paralleled a major railroad track and I observed dozens of trains carrying shipping containers full of manufactured goods out of Mexico and trains carrying shipping containers full of American jobs back into Mexico. Even more trains were hauling Mexican manufactured automobiles, bearing American brand names, into the US. Now, will someone please help me understand how this can be good for the American worker? Ross Perot tried to warn us, but I wasn’t listening. Yes Ross, I can now hear that sucking sound! 

I regret that I can only see the problem and don’t have an answer.  That puts me ahead of the dog-gone president, who neither has a viable answer nor can see the dang-burn problem. 

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Are We Better Off Today Than 4 Years Ago?

Published in early February, 2004

Incase you haven’t noticed, we’re getting close to the, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” season. As the presidential election grows nearer we Americans will be asked that question often and it is one we need to seriously consider. 

After reflection, for me the answer is mostly, no. The conditions of my life, my wife’s, those of our children, our neighbors and the nation have eroded in many ways over the preceding four years. 

In the last four years I have seen the security and value of my retirement diminished in several ways. Four years ago I was receiving a 13th monthly check because the retirement system’s investments were producing significant surplus income. Since then I have witnessed those investments loose hundreds of millions in value, and long ago, the bonus checks stopped coming. 

A couple of new words, “fixed income”, have entered my vocabulary in the past four years. And worse yet, the amount of that fixed income has substantially shrunk. Recently the Greenfield Board of Education forced their staff to begin paying part of their health insurance premium. That may have been okay if they had agreed to enough of a raise to offset the expenditure. Instead, even with a minimal raise, our family income will be several thousand dollars less this year than last. 

Four years ago the Putnam Fund (and other mutual fund providers) wasn’t under investigation for bilking it’s investors with excessive fees and illegal trading practices. Today, I pick up the paper and learn that the value of my investment has been victimized by yet another group of corporate criminals. I wonder how many millions/billions my retirement system had invested in Enron, WorldCom or Tyco? 

Regarding our children, is there more economic security and opportunity today than four years ago? You don’t have to read many newspapers or watch much TV to know that millions of manufacturing jobs and hundreds of thousands of technical jobs have been sent overseas to people willing to work for little or nothing. More than ever in our history, today’s working families have to live with the constant fear that the money spent on their dinner table will suddenly end up on the dinner table of some family in China, India or elsewhere. 

Furthermore, the pressure on income is not currently structured to force it upwards. Just the inverse is true. With the continued outsourcing of jobs coupled with the ever-rising flood of cheap illegal migrant labor, the pressure on the value of labor is downward. Factor in the president’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage and his proposal to tighten the definition of overtime, your job, if you still have one, is simply worth less today than four years ago! And ironically, you are being asked to be more productive for the same, or less, money. 

Four years ago the World Trade Center Towers were still the reining highlight of the New York skyline and three thousand Americans, who don’t exist today, were still busy at work. We followed the attack of 9-11 by declaring war on terrorism, attacking Al Qaeda and promising the people of Afghanistan we would be there to see their nation restored. In the years since, those who made those commitments in our name seem to have forgotten Afghanistan. 

Four years ago America was not at war and my television was not slapping me in the face with each day’s death count, ala Viet Nam in the 1960’s and 70’s. And, continuing the Viet Nam deja vu theme, I again have to deal with the possibility that our reasons for going to war are predicated on mistruths, half-truths and outright lies. 

Four years ago America, the nation, wasn’t, by its deeds, blatantly telling the world that it had a unilateral right to preemption or intervention. We were still trying to lead by example and diplomacy, rather than by unilateral aggressive military force. Four years ago we had many more friendships that, at best, have been severely weakened as a result of our behaviors. 

Four years ago the nation had the greatest monetary surplus in its history. Since then we have witnessed that surplus turn into what will soon be our largest deficit ever. We have again saddled our children and grandchildren with a monumental debt that may make it impossible for them to ever achieve what we today think of as the “American Dream.” 

There are some things that have not changed in the last four years. The medical system is still out of control. Medical professionals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations continue to reap huge profits while working Americans watch their health coverage either disappear all-together or take an ever growing bite out of their already disappearing paychecks. A former student of mine just received a $650 ER bill for eight stitches and a tetanus shot, and he has no insurance. How can a little thread, a needle and a simple injection cost $650? 

The willingness of government to meaningfully deal with the very serious problems of working people continues to go mostly unnoticed. Lip service has been paid with only minimal tax cuts for the middle-class, suggested immigration policies that do nothing to protect a decent working wage, a revised Medicare scheme that does little but open the door for insurance companies to make even more profits. 

While jobs and personal earnings spiral downhill and lifestyles are threatened, our political leadership continues to ignore finding a way to fairly fund education, provide affordable medicines for our elderly, make health care affordable for all its citizens, regulate the greed and social irresponsibility of corporate America, develop a fair and equitable system of taxation, pass meaningful campaign finance and election reform, develop new strategies for peace, and countless other issues that are vital to Americans today and tomorrow. 

And while all these, and other, very important issues only worsen, and we know for certain that we will be in Iraq for years and that $87 billion is but the tip of the iceberg, President Bush has now told us that our new national goal is to return to the moon and to put an American on mars. 

I have to admit, I’ve been wrong. All this time I thought our politicians had their heads up their collective rear ends. Now I know their heads are merely somewhere in outer space.

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Fishing, Food, and My Wife!

Published January, 2004

Mention Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee to any fisherman and you’ll see a man’s eyes sparkle with excitement, his mouth form a perfect “O” and he’ll issue a mournful sound, not unlike that of a fat boy eatin’ free at a dessert buffet. There are simply certain bodies of water that are renown for their excellent fishing conditions and it is every serious fisherman’s dream to fish them all. 

Since I retired from teaching in 1996, I have had an opportunity to fish several of these legendary bodies of water. 

I’ve fished Watts Bar, the Clinch River, Kentucky Lake, the Tennessee River, the Santee-Cooper Lakes and the Mississippi oxbows. In Arkansas I’ve visited Conway, Bull Shoals and North Fork lakes. In Florida I’ve floated my boat on West Toho, Stick Marsh, Pond 13, Miami Garcia and the big boy, Lake Okeechobee. There have also been a couple of trips to Lake Erie, several float trips on West Virginia’s New River and a week on Canada’s Pickerel River. 

Now that may sound like a lot of fishing but that ain’t the half of it. That’s only the fresh water half; I’ve spent even more time fishing in salt water. 

Several times each year I visit my brother in North Carolina and together we terrorize the native species in and around Beaufort Inlet. Furthermore, in the colder months I’ve been frequently visiting the sunshine state’s Keys, Sebastian Inlet, Cedar Key and Pensacola Bay with an occasional side trip to Venice, La., for red fish and speckled trout. 

For twenty-five years I didn’t even own a fishing rod. I gave up the sport back in the early 70’s because I simply got tired of never catching enough fish to justify the effort spent. For whatever reason, however, the day I retired I stopped on the way home and purchased a license and a rod and reel combination. 

Since then, I’ve spent a small fortune on fishing tackle including a small bass boat purchased new in 2001. My wife walks into the garage and shakes her head in disbelief. Like most women, she has no concept that a man is only as good as his tools allow. 

Now, having mentioned my wife, that brings me to the point of this column. My wife is one of the most loving and caring people I’ve ever known. We were occasional high school sweethearts who were separated at graduation but were fortunate enough to meet again, later in life. 

For all the things we share in common, however, there are a number of things in which a wall, akin to the Great Wall of China, separates us. Her favorite TV channel is The Game Show Network, her musical tastes are stuck firmly in the 50’s, she thinks baby back ribs are a waste of effort and money, she refuses to discard anything, she voted for Ross Perot (ugh!) and she doesn’t like John Wayne or war movies. 

Her love of life extends far beyond human life. She is probably some sort of Hindu or Buddhist in the way she treats most living things. For example, she won’t squash or spray a spider. Instead, she grabs a tissue paper, gently picks up the eight-legged beast and carries it outside to freedom. 

Several years ago we had an infestation of field mice but she refused to set out poison or traditional spring traps. She sent off and bought a humane mousetrap that when a mouse entered a hole to eat the bait, a spring-loaded paddle swept down and tossed the unsuspecting creature into a small compartment where it remained until released. Every day she would carry the trap across the road and empty its contents into a neighbor’s field. She captured so many mice that I remain convinced they were gleefully following her back down the driveway hoping for another turn at this new-fangled amusement ride. 

Now to me, this is strange behavior. I’m more inclined to grab the can of bug spray or the box of D-Con. 

On the list of things we differ on is how we view food. To me it is a well-established truth that some animals are herbivores, some are carnivores and that man is both. It is both normal and natural for humans to consume other animals and the process of preparing other creatures for consumption is not always pleasant.  Cows need to be butchered, chickens plucked and fish scaled. 

My wife is not a vegetarian; she enjoys a good steak as much as anyone. She just doesn’t want to be reminded of where the steak originated. Therefore, one of her rules of life is that food cannot resemble what it originally looked like. A lobster tail, removed from its shell, is fine. Cooked, peeled and chilled shrimp hanging over the side of a bowl of cocktail sauce is great. But, you’ll never see her cracking open a lobster’s claw, shucking oysters or peeling her way through a big platter of boiled Cajun crawfish. 

Another of her food rules is that she won’t eat anything that she, or anyone she knows, knew. So, if our neighbor butchered a steer and offered us a roast, she probably wouldn’t accept. Even though she didn’t personally know that cow, our neighbor did. 

The same rule applies to fish (remember that this column began with me talking about fishing). For many years, and in our early lives, we both thought fish were those rectangular sticks that came out of the grocer’s freezer. There was just one species of fish, Mrs. Paul’s. 

As we have matured we learned the truth about fish and we know that fish is good food and that we should eat more of it. I have suggested on several occasions that I should take some coolers with me on my fishing trips and we keep our freezer stocked up with fresh shrimp, tuna, sea bass, red fish, trout and all the other delicacies that I frequently catch and that Kroger gets $7 a pound and up for. 

Her immediate reply is that she’s not eating any fish that I’ve caught, to which I respond, “Well, you didn’t catch these fish. You didn’t know these fish. So, it ought a be okay to eat these fish!” Her comeback is typically, “Well, you knew them, and I know you, and therefore, I’m not eating them!” 

Later, she’d broil up or grill up some farm raised tilapia that she got from the freezer case at Wal-Mart, and which cost $6.95 a pound. 

There are a couple of reasons that I don’t bother to argue the illogic of her reasoning or discuss how certain species of fish need to be culled to enhance their genetics. I don’t do this because I have known for years that she is smarter than me and because of that, I have never been able to win an argument. More importantly I don’t argue the point because I fear she may temporarily forget her Hindu/Buddha ways and I may end up, “Sleeping with the fishes!”

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POOR OLD IRON EYES!

Published December, 2003

Do the name Iron Eyes Cody ring a bell? Well, at about the same time television’s Laugh-In was inquiring about Ruby Begonia, Iron Eyes Cody was standing on a hillside overlooking Los Angeles and shedding a tear over the state of America’s environment in the 1970s. More specifically, Cody was the central figure in a series of anti-litter commercials that aired throughout the 1970s and helped make millions of Americans, myself included, more aware of the environment and their impact upon it.  

So, what’s happened to litter in America in the thirty years since a Native American cried for the beauty of his native land? It certainly hasn’t gotten better. Recently I drove through Tennessee via I-75. For ten miles, or more, there were huge plastic bags full of litter along both sides of the Interstate. It was amazing how filthy that one small piece of just one of America’s highways was. Today I drove to Hillsboro using Petersburg Pike and the sides of the road were decorated with bright orange litterbags, placed there by people doing court ordered community service. There were lots of bags and, unfortunately, it hasn’t been that long since that road was “picked up.” Littering is a national pastime and cost the taxpayers $115 million dollars each year. 

April 23 of this year marked the thirty-third annual Earth Day in America. I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. I was teaching in California and every teacher in our large school system had a major project planned for students to participate in. I wonder how many of today’s area teachers even mentioned the existence of such a thing as Earth Day? Or, how many schools today include subjects like personal environmental impact, alternatives to littering, recycling, etc. in their curriculums? I suspect the answer is few, if any.  

We don’t seem to have a national policy regarding anti-littering in America today. I don’t see many public service ads on TV or in the print media. It seems like the existing policy is, “toss it out the window and let the ‘evil doers’ pick it up.” 

It may be that such public service and educational programs don’t accomplish much anyway. The “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” and “Every Litter Bit Hurts” campaigns and other slogans of the past don’t seem to have been very effective. According to the state of Washington, “Previous anti-litter campaigns that appealed to people's sense of citizenship and environmental stewardship didn't work.” They claim that the kind of person that litters is not the kind that would respond to such attempts.  

So, what is the answer? Again, according to the state of Washington, litterbugs respond to punishment that hits them in their pockets. In 2002 Washington passed an anti-litter law that, along with attempting to increase public awareness about the harm and expense of littering, imposes stiff penalties. Fines for littering range from $95 for a fast-food wrapper, to $950 for a lit cigarette, to as much as $5,000 plus jail time for illegal dumping.  

Another approach may be to add a flat tax or percentage to every carry out fast food item, candy bar, pack of chewing gum, pack of cigarettes, twelve pack of beer, pop bottle, Styrofoam cup, etc. that is sold or distributed by every convenience store, carry out or burger joint in the land. 

My wife and I tried to instill into our children that littering was wrong. That it was wrong because it harmed the environment and spoiled the natural beauty of the land. Our children seem to have adopted that attitude as their own. If you can’t follow this example then try using the message that if, “I have to pay a fine for that cheeseburger wrapper you tossed out, you don’t get a new Play Station!” 

Whatever we, as individuals or as a nation, decide to do about our lack of good housekeeping, I hope we don’t allow Iron Eyes Cody to have died in vain. 

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Burying Old Friends

Published November, 2003

Today they buried Billy Kerr. Bill was not the first of my friends to pass away. He was, however, one of the first of my earliest childhood playmates to pass. That somehow makes it different, more meaningful, more of a loss. 

It seems like there was no time in my childhood that Bill and his brother Chuck weren’t around. The neighborhood playground was the side “lot” of the Kerr home on South Street. We dug up the ground in one area and used it to play with our toy cars and trucks. We would build dirt roads using Popsicle sticks as graders and construct bridges out of scrap lumber they’d give us at Slagle and Mertz’s lumberyards. At the time there was a trucking company named Riss Trucking. We had been told that Riss Trucking specialized in hauling dynamite and one of Bill’s prized possessions was a toy Riss truck. I can close my eyes and still hear him making guttural noises trying to imitate the sound of a big semi rig hauling TNT. The rest of us avoided Bill and his dynamite truck for fear his load would explode and wipe us out, dirt pile and all! 

During most summers there was a zoo or menagerie under the mulberry tree in the side lot. It would include frogs, toads, snakes, turtles and other creepy-crawly creatures we would drag in from other people’s yards or the creek. I remember dangling small lumps of hamburger attached to a string in front of the frogs and watching them flick out their tongues and grab it. We once toted home a small snake from the creek and played with it for a number of days before some adult told us it was a baby rattlesnake. I can still remember the chill running down my spine. Today I believe we were “had” and that it was only a small harmless rat snake.  

We all learned how to play baseball and football in the lot. Chuck was always the quarterback and I, when not playing defensive tackle, was often called on to be the fullback. That was because I was so much bigger that most of the other kids and they had a difficult time tackling me. These were daytime activities but the activity didn’t end when the sun went down. About any night of the summer you would have also found us playing seemingly endless games of capture the flag, hide and seek, tag, etc.  

Our activities weren’t limited to just the side lot. Our playground included everyone’s back yard in a half block area. And the wonderful thing, that I realize today, was that nobody ever complained about us. It seems that adults then expected children’s play to spill over into their flowerbeds. Of course, the most dangerous thing about running through someone else’s back yard was the danger of getting “clothes lined.” 

I learned how to fish with the Kerr kids. Their dad was into fishing and they had learned the basics from him. Decent fishing equipment was too costly for me but Bob Frizzell sold sporting equipment and always had some of last year’s models around for us kids to have. Armed with rod, reel and a can of night crawlers mined from the side lot, we’d head out for Paint Creek where the blue gill and rock bass feared us!  

Paint Creek became another of our playgrounds. We leaned how to swim in Paint Creek and a favorite hole was Red Bridge where old route 41 crossed the creek near the disposal plant. You always made sure you swam north of the “sewey” plant so you didn’t bump into any “brown trout” that had escaped. Someone had tied a rope onto an overhanging tree and it was great sport swinging out over the water and diving in. A rite of passage was mustering up enough nerve to jump off the bridge itself. I suppose that at least half our summers were spent hanging around the creek between Red Bridge and the village’s water treatment plant where you could always get a cold drink of well water straight from the pipe.  

We also learned to smoke at Paint Creek. We would “borrow” a pack of Bill’s father’s L&M filters and sit around a campfire learning how to blow smoke rings and to “French” inhale. Occasionally someone would show up with an R.G. Dunn or a Swisher Sweet from the pool hall and we’d pass that around for a while. I remember once getting horribly sick after inhaling a big drag from a Marsh Wheeling Stoggie. 

Chuck and Bill received a Lionel train set for Christmas one year and their parents allowed them to set up a piece of plywood in a spare room and build a “layout.” For several years we all got Lionel train stuff as gifts and we would take it to the Kerr’s and make it part of their setup. Later, my mom gave all my Lionel train equipment to my cousin and the last time I ever saw it, it was lying in a sand box in his back yard. Why is it that the word “collectable” wasn’t a part of our vocabularies back then? 

Those were great times and I am thankful that I grew up prior to the advent of TV, computers, video games, organized youth events, soccer moms and parents being made to feel guilty if they don’t spend every leisure moment with their kids. We were all left to our imaginations to keep ourselves entertained and that has only served us well as we matured.  

Time broke up that “old gang of mine” but it didn’t destroy the memories. Every time I ran into Bill in a local coffee shop or at Charlie’s Hardware we’d spend a few minutes reminiscing and a smile would come onto our lips. Bill seemed to especially enjoy the columns I’d write for the papers and the reason was simple, he was often one of the unnamed characters who got told on!  

You’ll be missed Bill, but you haven’t been forgotten.

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Hey, There's A UFO Over New Martinsburg!

Published October 16, 2003

Just in case you’ve forgotten, we’re supposed to “Remember the Alamo” when a hoard of Mexicans blew up some Texans, “Remember the Maine” when a hoard of Spanish supposedly blew up one of our battleships, “Remember Pearl Harbor” when a hoard of Japanese did blow up lots of our battleships and “Remember October 16, 1973” when Greenfield’s finest saved us from invasion by a hoard of alien space dudes.  

That’s correct. It was thirty years ago this month when two Greenfield policemen chased a couple of UFOs all over the county (thus preventing them from landing and carrying out their planned invasion) and earned themselves an article in the Cincinnati Post and an interview on a Columbus television program in which one of them was quoted as saying, "It was 100 feet in diameter and glowed with a bright white light. It had a red area on top of it, as if it was overheated, and made a dull humming sound that increased in frequency as the object increased in speed."

And these guys weren’t alone. It seemed like everyone (except me) had a tale to tell about sighting something unexplainable in the crisp autumn night sky.

In the tense atmosphere of the time I dared venture out after dark to attend a meeting at the school. There were some kids on the athletic field who began shouting that there was a UFO hovering over New Martinsburg. They had seen it while sitting on the top row of the football field bleachers.

Deciding that seeing a UFO was more important sitting through a boring meeting I ran down town, filled the car up with friends (“Kirk to Enterprise… Scottie, prepare to beam up six”), and headed west. Two hours later we had seen one sheriff’s cruiser, the running lights of two combines harvesting corn into the night and several satellites pass overhead while staring into the dark skies over Leesburg Park.

So, filled with disappointment we decided that if we were ever going to see a UFO we were going to have to create our own. In a cornfield along US Route 50, outside Bainbridge, we assembled a farm truck, a large air blower, a portable generator, large sheets of opaque plastic drop cloths, every extension cord we could commandeer, a number of flood lights with colored lenses on them, tent stakes, several industrial size rolls of duct tape and about a dozen inventive souls.

In total darkness, and for about two hours, the sheeting was laid out, taped together and staked to the ground, the wires were run for the blower and lights and a set of switches installed so that the various colored lights could be alternated to create the appearance that the UFO was undulating or moving.

When all was ready we ran a test and with the generator fired up and the blower turned on, the dome inflated and the colored lights undulating, "It was 100 feet in diameter and glowed with a bright white light. It had a red area on top of it, as if it was overheated, and made a dull humming sound that increased in frequency as the object increased in speed."

Test run completed we turned off the lights and waited for the first unsuspecting driver to venture along US 50. To a car speeding along the highway during this period of UFO hysteria, the effect would be dramatic at least. Along came a victim, on went the lights, the car slowed down, stopped for a second, squalled its tires and screamed off into the night! This continued for a number of additional cars and each time we were crazy with laughter.

All was going great until suddenly, in the distance, from the direction of Bainbridge, came a number of fast moving flashing red lights headed our way. Obviously, someone had driven into Bainbridge and told Officer Obie and half the sheriffs in Ross County about the alien invasion of a cornfield outside town.

I don’t think any of us had foreseen the law entering the picture so with total abandon and panic we began throwing crap into the truck and trying to figure out how we were going to either get the hell out of that field or lie our way out of this mess. Several piled into the truck with the evidence and frantically headed for the back woods of the farm. The rest of us simply headed for the fencerows and ditches to hide. Another guy and I jumped into a ditch along side the farmer’s lane. Unfortunately it was half full of weeds, mud, yuck and extremely cold water.

We had just made it into the water and the weeds when a number of patrol cars sped into the lane and screeched to a halt right in front of us. With flashlight beams breaking the dark in every direction we lay there with our breath frozen and trying to keep our chattering teeth clinched. 

I don’t know what evidence the police found that night or how many eight-by-ten color glossy photographs (“with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us”) they took. Neither do I know what conclusions they may have reached. I only know that for thirty years this has been a great story to tell. And, every year since, when the autumn air turns crisp and the night skies are crystal clear, I occasionally look up, see a distant plane or a bright star in the night sky, and a big smile comes to my lips.

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THE STATE OF THE BARBEQUE ADDRESS, 2003

Published September, 2003

It’s been almost two years since I wrote a column on barbeque. I’ve done enough traveling since then to have a new crop of pork palaces to report on. There seems to be an unlimited number of places, all over this nation, that claims to have the perfect piece of pork and if your quest is the pursuit of perfection, this is good. My two favorites remain unchanged but here’s my take on the new crop. 

Up front, let’s get the wannabes out of the way. If you’ve ever visited a Sonny’s BBQ along I-75 (or I-anything in the South) you didn’t get good BBQ. You got food. The same is true of Smokey’s in Pensacola, FL. It’s a clone of Sonny’s and it’s hard to tell which came first, the chicken or the egg. Concerning BBQ, they both are laying eggs. The missing ingredient is flavor. Good chopped pork BBQ should have some crunchy bits of charred meat in it to remind you that this stuff was slow smoked, outback, over a hardwood fire and not in a central commissary’s electric oven someplace on the North (Yankee) side of town. 

The local pretenders that fail this flavor test include Burbank’s in Cincinnati, City Barbeque in Columbus and Werner’s BBQ outside Wilmington. Take away Burbank’s name and there’s not much left. The folks at City Barbeque need to go south and take another lesson, and Werner’s simply doesn’t have a clue. 

I’m undecided about Hoggy’s on Stringtown Road near Columbus. I tried the ribs and they were swimming in a not so wonderful tomato based sauce. I asked for a sample of plain pulled pork and it too came awash in red stuff. So far, I haven’t been able to taste the meat. Good BBQ should taste wonderful without any sauce and too many places depend entirely on their sauce for flavor. This is not a good thing! 

Now, let’s get to the joints that are worth a frequent return engagement. Locally the two best are Beaugard’s Southern BBQ in Wilmington and Horney’s Texas BBQ in Washington, CH. Guys who have spent a lot of time mastering the art of slow smoking meats run both places. 

Troy Beaugard came to Wilmington from Arkansas and brought forty years of slow smokin’ pork experience with him.  Along with his son Marty, he cooks Boston butts and ribs outback using real hardwood coals, no rubs or spices (not even salt) and his products meet all the criteria for being the real deal. He also has a nice tangy sauce that will have you licking your lips a few miles down the road. Be careful of the hot if your not use to a little heat! 

Steve Horney has been wood burning for several years and hauling his mobile cooker to contest all over the Midwest. He recently opened a full-time takeout shop on SR-753 at the South edge of WCH. Everything he serves is as good as it gets without driving 500 miles. The pulled pork and ribs are nice and the beef brisket may be even better. I don’t like his western sauce but his meats don’t need any sauce. The weakness here is the side dishes. They are nothing special except for the homemade chilies. He makes a red Mojo Chili and, hail to the lowly tomatillo, my favorite, a green Chili Verde. 

I recently returned from a fishing trip in the Florida panhandle. On the way back we visited the drive-thru at the Original Golden Rule Bar-B-Q in Calera, AL. They claim to have been smoking meat since 1891. After digging into one of their chopped pork sandwiches I didn’t have any doubt that they were experienced. An added touch was the inclusion of a few bread and butter pickles rather than slaw. Now, that’s good. 

A number of years ago my wife and I were visiting Nashville and near our hotel was a BBQ place called Jack’s. Jack’s has two locations in Nashville and ours was the one on Trinity Lane at the North edge of the city. It was such a good experience that I’ve not driven through Nashville since without stopping. Jack’s claim to fame is properly prepared pork shoulder with lots of Southern side dishes to choose from. The last time there I tried the 3-meat platter with pulled pork shoulder, a small slab of ribs, beef brisket, collard greens, sweet potatoes, corn bread and sweet tea. Again, Jack’s meets the basics for good BBQ, a good crunchy flavor that stands on its own without any sauce. All Jack’s sauces come on the side and their “spicy Tennessee style” is the best. The ribs are dry rubbed and increasingly that is my favorite way of cooking ribs. Speaking of sweet tea. If you’re headed north, this will be the last good sweet tea you get until you go south again. 

My one failure on the recent trip south was not going to Huntsville, TX for a visit to Annie Mae’s Barbeque at the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. I saw a story about the 86-year-old Annie Mae on CBS’s Sunday Morning. She’s been cooking for years and all her profits go to support the church. I did a little Internet research and found many praises for her and the “Church of the Holy Smoke.” I intended to pay her a visit but time got in the way. Next time out, I’m goin’ there first!

Now, which two wood burners remain my favorites? Well, number two remains Sweatman’s Barbeque outside Holly Hill, SC and still the champ is Wilber’s Barbeque in Goldsboro, NC. Both are whole hog emporiums and backed by years of experience and Southern pride. The next time you’re heading out for Myrtle Beach check the map and consider a short detour to either. You’ll love yourself for it!

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Today's Kids Are Doing Fine
Published July, 2003

There are lots of things that I, as a sixty-one year old, share in common with others of my age, complaints about aches and pains, not being able to understand where all your time goes, the meaning of life, etc. A possible departure, however, may be how I feel about today’s youth. 

About every time someone finds out I used to teach, or that I recently substituted in a classroom, I hear comments about the deplorable state of our children today. “These kids today,” “Kids today are out of control,” or “Kids today get away with murder” are but a few. Frequently following such a statement is, “When I was a kid and messed up in school I got paddled there, and again when I got home. How can teachers discipline kids without the paddle?” 

Well, I spent most of my adult life (and all of my teenage life) around teenagers and still get an occasional opportunity to spend the day in a high school classroom. The result is, I have a different view of “today’s kids” than many. I truly don’t see students today being that much different than I was, or than what I have come to know about my parent’s generation. 

My music drove my mom crazy. She never understood why I would only wear Levi brand jeans (“Well, what’s wrong with Roebucks?”) or why I insisted on having the legs “pegged.” “Pink with gray?” or “Why are turning up your collar?” rated high on her list of favorite criticisms. I wonder what her mother thought about bobbed hair, painted lips, flapper dresses, the Charleston, Benny Goodman or bathing suits that didn’t conceal her ankles? Both my and my parent’s generations faced tobacco smoke, alcohol, sexual experimentation, foods fried in lard and fast cars squarely in the face and loudly proclaimed, “You can’t hurt us, we’re young, and dumb and bullet proof!”

Just so happens that these are the same things today’s generation are doing and it drives us nuts. Until I stop and think things over, I can be just as unforgiving as others my age. I look at today’s hugely bagging pants, pierced parts, green hair and overly exposed, yet tastefully tattooed, tummies (I just like the flow of those words) and shake my head in disbelief. “These kids are cartoon figures,” I find myself saying, “They’re some kind of hideous alien creatures who are taking over my world.” Then I take a breath, chill a little, and consider that it is just the same old evolutionary process that’s been going on for ages.

What has changed, however, what is different, is the world, not people.  Every generation seeks its own truths and to some degree, rebels against the truths of its elders. But, the simplicity of truth in the 1950s is much different than in the chaotic 2000s. The baby boomers grew up in an age where choices were more limited, social limits more defined, institutions more protected and truths more certain. Such was even more so for the generation of the Great Depression. 

All that my generation had to do was squeak through high school with a D or better, get a job in a factory, raise a family, learn how to bowl and fight communism. And, speaking of communism, we knew who our enemy was, what weapons they would resort to, what uniforms they wore and where they lived. Life was good! 

Kids today don’t have it that easy. They experience educational pressures I would have simply rebelled against. If I had to contend with today’s asinine “proficiency” tests I would have headed for the nearest filling station and learned how to say, “Check that oil for you ma’am?” The latest state mandated educational cure-all, the Ohio Graduation Test, includes passing a test in which you must demonstrate a mastery of algebra, basic geometry and some trigonometry before the tenth grade is half way over. The pressures to succeed now include a college degree and making life-altering decisions before you’re hardly seventeen.

Furthermore, kids are growing up in a social environment that has witnessed the weakening of social mores, long-existing taboos and traditional morality. The media, in all its variety, openly bombards them with information about subject matters that even I don’t want to admit exist. This is not of their making; they are merely reacting to it as any generation of youth would.

Politically, they are much freer than we were. Years ago the courts said that human rights were universal and not the exclusive property of adults. Simply put, kids have rights! Legally, even before they turn eighteen, they can make many of their own decisions, free of parental control. So, if they speak more openly, use words you still don’t know, or challenge your authority, they are simply emulating what adult society says, by its example, is okay and exercising those rights that fundamental freedom affords them. Bet none of my friends would have taken advantage of that!

So, here’s my point. I am writing this a day after having substituted in a high school English class. During the day I rubbed elbows with over a hundred students from freshmen to seniors. Not once did one of those students not smile at me, fail to laugh at one of my stupid jokes, show me any disrespect, refuse me any courtesy, ignore my instructions, or in anyway make me not want to be there. Furthermore, the same has been true in every case in which I have substitute taught. I can only assure you that such would have not been true when I was a high school freshman and a sub’s shadow had darkened our classroom door.

What we old folks need to do is cut most of these kids some slack, give some honest thought to how we really were as kids, and be glad “these kids today” are as they are!

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Are You Thrifty Or Just Cheap!

Column from Times-Gazette, May 29, 2003

Frank Stanley (not his real name) and I have, for years, engaged in a running battle over who’s the cheapest. Given the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on consumer electronic, useless gadgets, amateur radio equipment, expensive guitars and amplifiers, bass boats and fishing equipment, computers, music CDs and records, woodworking machinery, travel and much more, he has absolutely no basis to charge me with being cheap. 

On the other hand, Frank still drives an old Chevy station wagon he purchased used in the 1970s, floats around Rocky Fork Lake in an ancient boat he bought at a yard sale for $100.00 and occasionally still wears a button down dress shirt he purchased in 1964 from the Gaslight Shop in Downey, California. Ten years ago the shirt was so thread bare you could count his chest hairs through the fabric. Still, he had his poor aging mother, with failing eyesight and arthritic fingers, sweat over replacing all the seams with new stitching. 

Now it is true that I can’t stand cheap (as in inferior) products and I also don’t relish spending money on something that’s not a bargain. My wife Janet (not her real name) suggested we take a 3-day vacation trip on a riverboat for $3,000. Sounded too expensive to me. However, when she was later interested in a 7-day Caribbean cruise for $1,200, I was all for it. I will hold out for a good product at a better price. Is that being cheap? I think not! 

Some time ago Danny Stuckey (not his real name) told me about a couple that commonly enters a restaurant, orders their food, and for beverages she orders iced tea and he iced water. He quickly drinks his water and pours some of her tea over his ice. Then, when the waitress comes around with refills it appears he had been drinking tea so he gets iced tea for free. Now that’s cheap! 

The other day Dave Daniels (not his real name) was telling me about an area farmer who was famous for his frugality. I got to thinking that maybe cheapness would be a good subject for a column. So, I began asking friends to share their stories about cheapness and came up with some interesting and creative examples. 

My brother (not his real name) told me about some friends of his who inherited a ton of money from both sides of the family. Both the husband and wife are independently multi-millionaires. In spite of the wealth, however, they routinely hang paper towels on a clothesline to dry and reuse. 

An older Greenfield couple (not their real name), famous for their thrift, would occasionally dine in a restaurant. The husband, following the meal, would leave a few coins on the table as a tip. After exiting the restaurant, his wife would feign some excuse to go back inside where she would reclaim the coins. 

Then there is the lady who routinely separates two-ply toilet tissue in order to get twice the mileage out of a roll. And the infamous restaurant ploys of making free tomato soup out of hot water and catsup or placing a dead fly in the soup bowl just before the last spoonful. 

My daughter Kris (not her real name) shared a couple of stories about one of her friends. Seems this guy would frequently mail a letter without using a stamp by placing his name and address in the addressee’s section of the envelope and the real addressee’s address in the return address position. The postal service would then return the letter to the sender marked, “undeliverable, insufficient postage.” 

The same fellow occasionally skips out of buying wedding presents by writing, “Hope you enjoy the gift” on a card and signing his name. Placing the card in an envelope he would attach one end of a piece of Scotch tape to the envelope and the other end to a piece of white paper. He would then remove the tape from the paper leaving some paper residue on the tape. It would appear as if the envelope had once been attached to a gift. He would then secretly slip the doctored envelope in amongst the couple’s presents. 

I asked Wendy Royse (this is her real name) if she had any examples of cheapness. The thing that immediately came to mind was her husband John’s (she demanded I use his real name because he is proud of his position) refusal to subscribe to cable or satellite TV. “As long as I have an antenna and it’s being transmitted for free, I ain’t paying” is John’s attitude. I suppose everyone can defend his or her spending practices. Some see it as being thrifty while others describe themselves as being frugal. Some, like my wife, hate waste while others strive to maximize an item’s usefulness or longevity. Certainly, however, some of the examples given here go way beyond thrift, frugality or maximum value. At best they are humorous examples of cheapness. At worst they verge on outright dishonesty. 

Neither Frank Stanley nor myself are cheap when compared to some of the characters described herein. But, if I was to learn that Frank, in the pocket of that old worn shirt, carried a plastic baggy full of dead flies, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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This Ain't Your Granddaddy's School
Published April 23, 2003

I started this column with the idea that I’d survey a cross section of Greenfield area voters regarding their questions about the upcoming Greenfield School Income Tax Levy. Armed with a list of the most common questions I’d find the answers and report back in a column attempting to clear up doubts and misconceptions about the proposed tax levy.

 It quickly became apparent that most people who support the levy have children in school and want the best education possible for them. They are aware of the progress that has been made in recent years and fear a backward slide. They are also more aware of what the problems are and how they evolved.

 Those who are opposed to the levy all have their reason or reasons for being such. They run the gambut from simply not understanding the school’s problems, to being seriously unable to afford more burdens on their income, to owning large amounts of tax exempted land and not wanting to see the burden shifted to taxable income or to outright tightness and lack of concern for the collective good of the community. 

 What was most obvious to me in talking to people was a lack of knowledge about what modern education in Ohio is like and what is demanded of it. Too often people want to compare the schools of today with the schools of their youth or that of their parents and grandparents. These are not your granddaddy’s schools!

 Ohio schools today have obligations and pressures that never existed before in their histories. Just consider two basic mandates. First, schools are required to provide every child in Ohio an education commensurate with their ability to learn. Whatever their individual needs the schools must meet them. So, if a child has a physical or mental impairment that precipitates a full time individual aide in order for them to attend class, the school must provide such an aide. If a child can only be educated in a special class in Columbus, then a school employee, driving an official school vehicle, must transport that child to Columbus each day. Even children who are mentally handicapped to such a degree that they can’t be “potty trained” must be allowed to attend classes. And yes, we do have a child for whom the classroom teacher must diaper as a matter of routine. Now tell me your granddaddy’s first grade teacher had to do that!

 I once substitute taught next to a classroom for behaviorally handicapped elementary students. There were five young children in that room along with a full-time teacher and two full-time adult aides. Twice during the morning the principal had to help the adults physically remove one of those small kids. Schools never had to do things like that when I was a kid, but they sure do now!

 The list of services that are required by both law and public expectations is endless. Schools today have to educate way beyond the basic 3-Rs and, be held accountable. They must also teach ethics and morality without offending anyone’s sensitivities, provide basic health care and attend to emotional, psychological and parental needs that were once provided for by non-working moms or grandparents that hadn’t retired to Arizona.

 Secondly, Ohio’s compulsory education law demands that every Ohio child remain in school until their eighteenth birthday or until they receive their high school diploma. Several years ago I was looking through some old photos of my elementary school classes. There were faces in those photos that weren’t in my senior class annual twelve years later. What happened to those kids? Well, some of them had moved out of the district. Others simply disappeared around sixth grade into the unskilled work force that existed in 1950s America. Point being, they presented no burden on the schools.

 Unlike today, your granddaddy’s school didn’t have to deal with children with special educational, emotional or behavioral needs. Your granddaddy’s school didn’t have to deal with the drug problems of today’s society. Pregnant teenage girls at your granddaddy’s school simply went off to visit their, “Aunt Elizabeth.”  Your granddaddy’s school didn’t have to see state funds drained away by voucher payments to private schools or problems associated with home schooling. Your granddaddy’s school didn’t have to watch funding and political power become more concentrated in wealthier urban areas of the state or deal with mandated, yet unfunded, state programs forced upon them by legislators that have, for twelve years, refused to observe a Supreme Court mandate to create an equitable system of school finance. Finally, your granddaddy’s school didn’t have to deal with a “take it or leave it” $30 million state grant to renovate and double the school plant without providing any means to operate it.

 Now, there is one thing about your granddaddy’s school that is true of schools today. Greenfield schools then and Greenfield schools now do NOT waste money. In the twenty-six years I taught in the Greenfield system we were never, “flush.” We never had much more than the basic necessities and always had to make supplies and textbooks last well beyond their intended life expectancies. That’s not to claim that our schools are 100 percent efficient. No organization, private or public, can make that claim.

 Our schools have always been hampered with a lack of funding and please don’t expect that to end anytime soon. As long as politicians and society continues to place ever-increasing demands on our system of public education and then not reach deeper into their collective pockets, there will be financial crisis in education.

 Also, as long as the citizens of this school district remain satisfied with not having passed an operating levy in thirty-six years, our schools will continue to teeter on the brink of disaster.

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A LOT HAS CHANGED, BUT NOT LOTT

Published Late December, 2002

Everybody else has waded into the Trent Lott mess so I thought I might as well toss my oar into the water and stir a bit. I was born in Charleston, South Carolina into a family whose roots are deeply entrenched in that region of the South. I was witness to the injustices of Jim Crow laws and the racial segregation that resulted from them.

At the time, however, I was like most white Americans, blind to reality and unquestionably accepting of “things as they were.” If this was how life in the South was, then this was how life was supposed to be. If everyone felt African-Americans were inferior to whites and freely threw the “N” word around, then that must be okay.

In high school (I attended the Greenfield Schools from the First Grade on) I was somewhat socially in demand because I knew, and could relate with perfect dialect, every “Rastus and Liza” joke ever told. On my best behavior I referred to African-Americans as being colored or as Negroes. More frequently I resorted to less endearing monikers. This was the way my friends and I were. And, we never gave a thought that we were wrong or that we were being hurtful.

All of this does not describe the way I feel or behave today. The road between the me of then and the me of now has been long and not without it’s bumps. The Civil Rights movement and the folk music craze of the 50s and 60s began to change my attitudes. The black sailors I met and lived with in the Navy also helped. All night watches in the radio shack with Willy Smith and P.J. Arnold talking about religion, philosophy, politics, dreams, etc., took me a long way toward seeing that people are people regardless of differences.

My evolution continued when I moved to California and found myself surrounded by folks of a more liberal mindset. My most influential experience was entering college and majoring in American History. That’s when I really began to see things as they had truly been and acknowledge the wrongs of our past and our present.

More importantly, I came to believe that if change was going to ever take place it had to be on an individual level. Every person must decide that they are going to battle their base instincts and biases and try to make themselves a fairer and more tolerant human being.

That’s what I’ve spent the last forty years trying to do. For the most part, I believe my efforts have paid off. I made certain vows and I’ve, for the most part, kept them. Do I still have biases and prejudices? Yes, but I recognize them as such and try to put them in their proper place. Am I a better person? Yes. Is America a better place? Yes, because I have not been the only one who has fought this internal battle against bigotry.

Now, what about Trent Lott? Remember, this was about Trent Lott.

Well, Trent Lott was born a lot deeper in the South than was I. He spent a much larger portion of his life submersed in the culture and political realities of Mississippi.

He probably didn’t listen to Joan Biaz and Pete Seeger albums when he was a young teen. He probably didn’t sleep a few bunks away from several black kids for three years on a ship. Trent Lott did not spend a number of years in the warm liberal waters of Southern California in the 1960s and he probably wasn’t taught the same brand of American History I was exposed to at Cal-State University.

Trent Lott is, as he acknowledged, a product of his Mississippi past and heritage (don’t forget, heritage isn’t always a good thing). He has Mississippi ideals deeply ingrained in him and he frequently has to meet in back rooms with like-minded constituents to confirm that his values remain their values. There is an outward or public image that can appear to have changed. But, there is also a hidden image that must reassure those who are your power base that you have remained true. And that folks, is the rub. The public Trent Lott, once again and ever so briefly, let the private Trent Lott out of the back room.

So, which is the real Trent Lott? Well, I remain convinced that real change has been much more difficult for Lott than it has been for others. I am also convinced that for most people, the occasional “slip”, doesn’t portray their true self or carry the same importance. It’s a matter of which makes up the bulk of your person. Are you mostly fair and tolerant or are you mostly bigoted and intolerant? I contend that Lott is mostly unchanged from his past and fell victim to one of those “Freudian Slip” psychological things!

Look, it’s as simple as “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.” The Strom Thurmans, Jessie Helmses and Trent Lotts of America got to the dance because their racial beliefs and segregationist views bought them a ticket. They can proclaim, “I’ve changed” all they want but the private cost of a ticket in much of the South remains the same and real change is too difficult. Lott’s “occasional slip” simply confirms it.

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HEY BUDDY, GOT A LIGHT?

Published December, 2002

When people speak of the “good ole’ days” they’re often thinking of a time when innocence was permitted and ignorance was bliss. Remember when your mother baked with lard, when the skillet was the most oft used appliance in your kitchen, when words like environment and ecology weren’t in the dictionary, or you could take an aspirin during pregnancy without risking the future of the next generation?

Better yet, remember when you could place a regular Camel cigarette between your lips, fire it up with your guaranteed for life, made in Bradford, PA, Zippo lighter, inhale a full billow of blue-white chemically enriched smoke, kick back in your chair with a long-neck locally brewed 14K Hudepohl and watch championship boxing for free on Gillette’s Friday night Cavalcade of Sports. And all this while innocently exhaling perfectly executed smoke rings into the secondary smoke filled lungs of others.

Has it ever been any better than that?

Armed with what we have learned and today know to be true, it’s a wonder we humans haven’t been added to the extinct species list.

The first thing I remember sticking in my mouth and lighting up was the R.G. Dunn cigar we commandeered from a friend’s house and passed around down by the creek. We didn’t inhale (sound familiar?) that time but it wouldn’t be long.

By the time we were ten there were few things we hadn’t tried smoking. Of course, everyone tried grapevine. But we also gave corn silk, tree leaves, dried grass and the seedpods of catalpa trees several tries. Someone told us they were called Indian cigar trees so we assumed the Indians had smoked the pods and we should too.

We soon gave up experimenting and stuck with tobacco in its many forms. By the time I was forty I was lighting up three packs, or more, each day. I may have been the most tobacco dependent person I’ve ever known. In addition to smoking cigarettes, I also chewed on and smoked good cigars as well as collecting and utilizing imported briar pipes and specialty blended tobaccos.

Freud classified people as being either anally or orally fixated. Some psychologists explain cigarette addiction by claiming that habitual smokers are orally fixated. If so, I am obviously orally fixated. If I were anally fixated, however, I would have still become addicted. I would have been running around, though, with a butt hanging out my butt rather than my lips.

It’s amazing how casually we used to light up. Of course, we used to hear rumors about cigarettes causing health problems but any fears were quickly rested by the reassurances gotten from cigarette advertising. Remember any of these; “Try Old Gold, Not a cough in a carload.” Or, “Ask your doctor about Sano cigarettes.” Don’t ever forget that, “Viceroy’s check smoker’s throat” or that, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” It may have been Sano that claimed to be the cigarette specifically created to ease people’s respiratory problems.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Surgeon General ordered tobacco companies to print health warnings on the side of cigarette packs. The only warning I ever heard as a kid was that smoking, “stunted your growth.” When you were already the biggest kid on the block I considered that a bonus, not a detriment.

I finally broke my addiction in May of 1982. I was helping time a track meet and had trotted about 50 yards to take my position at the start-finish line. Ten minutes later I was still panting and gasping for air. I decided then that if I wanted to see my two-year-old son grow up I had to do something about tobacco. I attended a program offered by the local hospital, followed their advice and recently celebrated my twentieth smoke free year.

Millions of Americans have taken similar steps to break their dependency on nicotine and millions more continue the battle each day.

What I don’t understand, however, is why so many more continue to fly in the face of reality and reach into their pockets and pocketbooks several times each day for the $4.00 necessary to buy a pack of smokes.

What I especially don’t understand is why so many American teenagers begin smoking. Everyday, three thousand American teens join the ranks of the hooked in spite of all the proven health and economic issues associated with smoking.

Hey, the days of blissfully believing that smoking tobacco only gives you bad breath are over. Ignorance is not bliss and people can no longer innocently claim that in flicking their Bics they are not setting a flame to their very futures.

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Have We Lost Our Marbles?

Published November, 2002

Do kids play marbles anymore? When was the last time you saw half a dozen kids on their knees with their knuckles “screwed” into the cold muddy ground? These questions struck me awhile back when I learned that a friend of my son-in-law’s collected marbles and regularly searched eBay looking for old ones.

When I was in grade school, tag was the requisite playground activity during the depth of winter. You needed the increased activity to ward off the cold. Come the spring thaw, however, a normal male type kid didn’t leave home without his drawstring cloth sack filled with the finest shooters, bowlers, taws, agates, bloods, crystals, swirls, commies and cat’s eyes that pennies could buy at the five and dime store.

If you were good at the game you never had to buy your marbles. You won enough playing “keepsies” that you could earn a few pennies selling your surplus to the other kids on the playground. Of course, you’d eventually win back all you sold and sell them again. It generated enough income to keep your jaw consistently stuffed with Bazooka (did you ever find Bazooka Joe funny?). 

The kids who were too cheap or timid to play keepsies played a version of the game called “friendlies.” It was the same game but the shooter didn’t get to keep any of the other kid’s marbles that he knocked out of the ring. 

Another source of marbles, for the more observant and daring, were highway traffic signs and chrome plated headlight hoods and other automotive ornaments sold by Western Auto or Cussin and Fern. Many of these had glass marbles crimped into them to act as reflectors when light struck them. A gentle application of thumb pressure would usually free these gems of glass when no one was looking.

A game began when someone took a stick and drew a large circle in the dirt. Another line was drawn several feet away from the circle and each player “lagged” a marble from behind this line towards the far side of the circle. The shooting order was determined by how close each player came to the circle line without going over. The closest went first, etc.

The next step was for each player to “ante up” an agreed number of marbles into the center of the ring. Usually the ante was configured in the rough shape of an “X”. Everybody would lag again and where their shooter landed inside the ring is from where they would make their first shot.

I don’t remember all the rules but I know that the knuckle of the first finger on your shooting hand had to be touching the ground when you released the shooter. To ensure that this was happening the game required the shooter to, “knuckle down and screw the bone.” This meant he had to press his knuckle firmly into the dirt and then twist it back and forth to dig it in further. For regular players this meant living with knuckles that wouldn’t come completely clean until mid-August.

Another rule forbid the use of “steelies.” Steelies were simply heavy steel ball bearings. These were outlawed because they struck with so much power that the target marble, if struck, would most certainly be knocked out of the ring and lost to its owner, or it would burst into a worthless cloud of silicone.

One rule that generated constant disagreement was whether to play “slips” or “no slips.” In slips, you were allowed to shoot again if your shooter slipped out of your fingers, didn’t strike another marble, and didn’t travel more than three inches. If playing slips arguments frequently arose over how far someone’s shooter traveled when it “slipped.” It increased the opportunities to cheat and without a referee, the stronger and nastier players called the rulings that everybody had to live with. No slips simply meant that when the shooter left your fingers your turn was over unless you knocked someone’s marble out of the circle. If it did, you got a second turn.

I suppose kids today don’t play marbles because they don’t go outdoors anymore. Too many of today’s children have become pale skinned, X-Box, Game Boy, Play Station, computerized shut-ins. A little research did reveal, though, that organized leagues or tournament marbles is still played today in some areas. These matches are commonly played under large tents, on artificial grass, have strict rules and official referees. To me, they sound too sterile, too authorized and too parentally involved. Not to mention that if you knuckle down and screw the bone you might end up with a rug burn!

Old men don’t play marbles anymore because they can no longer “knuckle down and screw” anything, let alone get on their knees in the dirt and get up again.

If those cheap kids, who only played friendlies, still have all their marbles, they’ll be pleasantly pleased with what marbles are bringing on eBay today. For those of us who wasted, or lost our marbles playing keepsies, it’s just one more day in “why didn’t I keep my Lionel train” hell.

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TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY

Published October, 2002

There are lots of men my age who have fond memories of the Daniels Brothers poolroom, which was once an important part of life in Greenfield. The establishment was owned and operated by Pearl and Ernie Daniels and was everything great poolrooms used to be.

It was a male bastion where young men learned the ways of old men. It was truly “men only”, as women were required to stand outside and ask entering men if their boy friend or husband was in attendance. Inside, tales were spun, politics discussed, opinions formed, rumors considered, smoke inhaled, cigars chomped, snuff dipped and spittoons filled.

There were eleven heavy oak tables with bright green felt, thick slate tops, genuine leather pockets and decades of cigarette burns along the edges. These tables were lined up from front to back in a long narrow room. Over each table hung an elongated Tiffany style lamp, long turned yellow by layers of deposited smoke tars, casting their soft, warm glow on the green felt.

The best tables were in the front and were reserved for the better players.

It was a nickel a game with the goal being to get good enough to play on the front tables as a regular. I started playing pool on the rear table at an age Professor Harold Hill would have found “troubling”. By age sixteen I was a regular on the second table and a sometimes guest on the first.

Lesser players played eight ball and rotation to make their nickel last longer. The serious gamblers played nine ball on the front two tables.

Up front they had a genuine marble soda fountain, which dispensed the weakest colas and phosphates on this earth.

Across from the fountain was a large display of tobacco products. The wide selection of cigars was shown off inside two Waddell Company deluxe display cases, made in Greenfield earlier in the last century. The poolroom had originally begun life as a cigar store and the brothers manufactured their own brand called The Champion. 

If you asked for a pack of matches you were given a pack that had the WWII “V for Victory” emblem printed on them. Even in the fifties they were so old that most wouldn’t strike.

It was one of those places that even if you didn’t have a penny in your pocket you were welcome. Favorite pass times included wondering if Pearl would ever light the always present cigar tucked into the corner of his mouth or how long an old man named Shotgun could go without spitting his tobacco juice into a brass cuspidor.

All along one wall were large oaken high chairs complete with shiny brass spittoons on the floor nearby. From these you could smoke and spit for hours while studying the art of applying the proper “English” to the cue ball and playing “position”.

One of the reigning masters was a tall, thin dude named Jack, who had fingers longer than most people’s hand. He had an unmatched style of holding the stick’s grip, oh so delicately, while creating the perfect bridge with the fingers and palm of his left hand. His index finger and thumb would gently wrap around the cue’s tip while the chalk cube was tucked up under his ring finger and constantly available for touch ups after each shot. The man had that gentle “slow hand” that the Pointer Sisters are still looking for. Jack was my hero and even today I judge players by how closely they match Jack’s style of holding the stick.

A few years ago my son started playing at one of today’s pseudo poolrooms, I think they call them “family billiard parlors,” with his friends. One evening he asked if I’d like to go shoot some pool. I said yes so we drove into Hillsboro for the evening. I guess he thought he was pretty good and certain to embarrass the “old man.” Well, there was no describing the thrashing I laid on him that night. He walked away, and remains to this day, in awe. And my mother said nothing good would ever come of all those hours I, “wasted up at that damn poolroom!”

If you have similar memories of Daniel's Pool Hall share them with us. Email them to me!
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North Into Our Hills

Published September, 2002

It would have been difficult growing up in this area and not have heard of the Carmelite Indians who lived in and around the Highland County village of Carmel. I had always heard of them but like many others, never knew much about them. 

Recently a friend and I were talking and she mentioned a book she was reading, “North From The Mountains,” about the Melungeon people of Highland County. I had heard that word in college many years ago and vaguely remembered it meaning people of mixed racial ancestry and that is was associated with some historical mystery. Turns out the Carmelites and Melungeons of Carmel are one and the same. 

I checked the book out of the county library and gave it a quick read. Though published in 2001 it was frequently a dry (akin to a North African desert) rehash of earlier studies. But, to anyone interested in local history it was, in places, spellbinding. One of the authors, John S. Kessler grew up near Sinking Spring and does an excellent job of recounting what life during the 1930s and 1940s was like for the Carmelites and others living in the southern part of our county. 

The Melungeon peoples originated in the mountainous regions of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee and were established in those areas when Irish and Scottish settlers began arriving in the 1700s. The great mystery was, where did these people, who were definitely not Indian, who spoke Elizabethan English, cultivated the soil and lived in log homes come from? 

Many theories attempt to answer this question. Suggestions include the lost tribes of Israel, descendents of North Carolina’s lost Roanoke Island Colony, escaped slaves from Spanish settlements and more. Nobody is sure but the Melungeons most likely originated by the blending of Indians with European whites, escaped or freed African slaves, free mulattos, British, French and other raiders and explorers who cruised along the Atlantic coastline during the 1600s. Other possibilities include Portuguese, Moors, Jews and other Eastern Mediterranean sailors who were frequently taken captive by the Spanish and who later escaped or were set free when Spain withdrew from the American Southeast. 

The Indian influence is thought to be minimal but since Melungeon skin tones tend to be darker, as is their hair, they were frequently mislabeled as Indian. Such was the case with the Carmel group. 

The Melungeon community of Carmel began in the mid-1860s and seems to have its roots in Magoffin County, Kentucky. Kessler says his father told him that the Carmelites were, "brought up here to build the Milt Cartright place." The most common Melungeon surnames in Highland County were Nichols, Perkins, Gibson, Gipson, Wisecup and Lucas. These names were also quite common in other Melungeon communities, especially those in Kentucky. 

Kessler and his co-author, Donald B. Ball, conclude that the Carmelites and their culture have long disappeared into the larger cities of Ohio and elsewhere. Studies of area telephone directories indicate that the common surnames still occur in Hillsboro, and to a greater degree in Chillicothe and Waverly. 

The old store in Carmel is gone as are the shacks and shanties described by Kessler that once dotted the landscape around Coon’s Crossing just south of town or along the Carmel-Cynthiana Road. In their places are increased numbers of mobile and modular homes and the mailboxes no longer bear names like Gipson and Nichol.

In addition to North From The Mountains, I found a great deal of information about the Melungeon peoples and their history on the Internet. It was all very interesting but none as interesting as Kessler’s account of his young life. Anyone who is a product of this area and a contemporary of Kessler will be taken back to a time and way of living they may have long forgotten. 

Finally, I haven’t written a book review since I reviewed “Guadalcanal Diary” in the tenth grade. Hopefully I’ve gotten a little better over the years. Maybe Dorothy, my Sophomore English teacher will grade this for me!

Editor's Note: The following email was received from John Kessler, one of the authors of North From the Mountains.

Hi- I just  read your review of our book  North From The Mountains  and wanted to thank you for your kind words. I do apologize for those parts you referenced as being  "Dry as the Sahara" but a significant portion of our intent was to produce a product which would be of interest to the serious scholar as well as (hopefully) a more generalized section of the public.  You might be interested to learn than the book actually started out as a paper for presentation at the Kentucky Academy of Science with later publication in an appropriate journal. However, we kept finding things to include and it consequently metastasized into the book you reviewed. Anyway it was a lot of fun recalling my life as a young'un in the Carmel-Sinking Spring area and I sincerely hope that Don Ball and I have helped to document a time and place that today is more hearsay than actual history.
 
Sincerely,
John Kessler, jk0408@earthlink.net 8/24/05
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FEEDBACK EMAIL

   

Hi Larry,

I found your website by looking for one in Laredo, MO. Your writers brought back the hours I spent in our poolroom and the bad taste of booze, the sound of 41-46 Ford coupes without mufflers, Fox Deluxe Beer (hot of course) and good old friends of the 1950s.

Ralph Livingston, Ottumwa, IA rhlivingston@pcsia.net 5/16/2007

Hi Larry, thanks for the memories... 

I was especially sad to read of Billy Kerr's passing.  However the stories about your youth and the Kerr's side yard did bring back some great thoughts. (I have been reading your columns) While I didn't run into that gang until the fifth grade and the Boy Scouts I remember your inventiveness in making the weapons and grenades you wrote about.   

The very mention of Pete's store, Ed Grate's, Pearl's cigar ( I couldn't place Jack the pool player) really lit my fire.  I haven't spent so much time on this machine in several years.  I can't wait to read the rest.  I didn't know about the UFO though.  Picture that.  However I do remember the house on Paint creek, to my never-ending shame.  I still cannot figure put what we thought we were doing. 

Like I said, Thanks for the memories... 

I also think you are right about cleaning up the town, underneath it is a very beautiful place.   

We will see you this summer I hope. 

Charlie Moore, cmore1@bellsouth.net  2/18/2004 

   

Remember when someone made a good shot at the pool hall and "Shotgun" would clap and say, "That was a good shot?" His name was William Southerland, as I recall. 

Remember when old man Bush (I think his name was) came in on his noon hour and played nine ball with the boys? He had the shoe repair shop on the corner of the alley behind Rexall. He wore coke bottle glasses and I always wondered how he even seen the balls...but he was good! 

Remember Larry's favorite player...(Jack Mills) wearing a bow tie made from a hundred dollar bill? (Probably the first one I'd seen) Jack was a classy dude...the way he dressed, the way he acted...even the way he held his stick when shooting pool. His brother came to town once upon a time and I was at Penny's Restaurant getting ready to get on the skating bus and someone informed me that it had already left...and Jack's brother and Jack said they were going down and I could ride with them. GREAT! They had an old 50 Ford and they had me begging to slow down going down old 41 to Bainbridge. I got on the floor board in the back seat. I guess that was payback for beating Jack at the pool table as my practice was free and I was getting "pretty good." 

Remember George Montgomery (Eddie's grandfather) who was also a regular in one of the big oak chairs and had the Lucky Strike brown on his index and middle fingers from smoking so much? Eddie would come in and borrow a quarter from him now and then. 

Remember Saturday night when it was hard to even get a table?...and there was always a nine ball game on the first table...and they played for sometimes five or ten dollars a game! And the place was never raided or criticized for it...maybe that’s how it is when your brother is a senator, huh? 

Remember when Ja-Rod Pavey shot the arrow from the front door at the IOOF lettering atop the building across the street from the pool hall? It stayed there for years...the painters just painted around it. The fletchings gave way after a year or so. I haven't looked for years...is it still there? 45 years...I'd think not. 

Remember when the coin collecting craze hit us and we would talk about it at the pool hall and Ernie would get in the safe and get out that string of gold coins all cellophaned together in a row and go (I can't write how his laugh sounded)...but you can hear it in your mind can't you? 

Well, “Remember when” is over for now...go ahead...it's your shot!

 Fred Martin, mung@in-touch.net 2/18/2004 

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©Copyright Lawrence E. Chapman, all rights reserved, 2002