4-1-2016 12-25-39 PMI stopped in front of the old mill village house, now vacant, and studied it for several minutes. Its appearance hadn’t changed in the last 65 years. The front porch where I sat in a swing as a child was still there, along with the same tin roof that made music when it rained. It was a sad looking house. I could almost hear the clang of hammer on anvil at Mr. Thompson’s blacksmith shop at the corner of Jefferson Street. Memories flooded my mind. My dreams for the future, and much of who I am today were shaped inside those small rooms.

Around 1900, Athens Cotton Mill Co. constructed a spinning mill between North Jefferson Street and the railroad tracks to the east. They also built a brick water tower, a company store and dozens of cottages to house their employees. The mill closed in 1908, the brick buildings fell in disrepair, and the cottages were sold. The brick water tower continued standing over the ruins like the Tower of Pisa until it was demolished in 1969 by “Dynamite Atkins.” His first attempt failed, but the blast did blow out every window within a ½ a mile radius. Folks needing new windows for years got them and were happy about that.

In 1951, my grandparents, Robert and Edna Holt, left a hardscrabble tenant farm and purchased the mill cottage that faced a dirt street. It was a great leap forward for them. Raising 3 teenage boys was a drain on their meager income. Grandmother did seamstress work in the home, and Grandfather Holt worked as a guard at Redstone Arsenal and racked balls at Booth’s Pool Hall on Saturdays.
When I was a child I loved visiting my grandparents at the old house with floral wallpaper and a Gilbert Drug Store calendar hanging on a nail. It always smelled of Great Northern beans and turnip greens. Grandmother rolled out biscuit dough with a whiskey bottle, and meals were served in green dishes given away by Spur when gasoline was purchased.

Bronzed baby shoes sat on the living room table next to photographs of the three boys. Hanging over the mantle was an oval framed picture of Great Grandfather Holt wearing his Confederate uniform. During the winter, a scuttle of coal sat by the grate fireplace that belched out a pall of black smoke.

A brown envelope-size holder containing a burial insurance debit card hung on a nail just inside the front door. It was a busy household. Salesmen were constantly knocking on the door. The Watkins man sold fly spray, shoe polish, vanilla extract and liniment. The Standard Coffee salesman delivered his product in a brown paper bag, and the Olan-Mills representative always had a deal on family portraits. A Brown Service Insurance agent came weekly, collected a quarter from Grandmother and marked the debit card that hung by the door. Poor folks paid their burial insurance even if they had to go hungry. “They want to be sure they get a decent Christian burial,” Mama said.

Grandfather, who called me “Hambone,” slept with a .38 pistol under his pillow and poured his Standard coffee into a saucer, swirled it a few times to cool, then sucked it out with a loud slurp. He patrolled the house chain smoking Chesterfields, jerking light strings and switching off the TV whenever President Eisenhower appeared. “I won’t allow that Yankee SOB to speak in front of Grandpa who fought ‘em,” he said referring to the picture over the mantle.

The Korean War was ongoing, and neighborhood boys chose sides and we played war in the brick rubble of the cotton mill. Everyone wanted to be a G.I. Early afternoons, Grandmother ironed clothes, and demanded silence, while listening to her favorite radio soap opera, “Young Doctor Malone,” accompanied by organ music.

A couple of times after Mama left Daddy, we had no place to go and lived in the front bedroom and slept in the same bed. Late one cold January night in 1951, I was awakened by Mrs. Hattie Phillips, standing on the front porch calling out, “Robert——Edna.” I heard Grandmother get up and shuffle to the front door. Mrs. Phillips had just received a telegram from the War Department informing her that her only son, Billy Morgan Phillips was missing in action. Later, we learned he froze and starved to death in a Chinese POW Camp.

Following my marriage in 1961 to Carol O’Conner, and after my grandparents had died, the family offered to let us live in the house rent free. I was a full time student at Athens College and working 70 hours a week at McConnell Funeral Home, and barely getting by on $30 a week. We graciously accepted. After working all night, I sped home at 7 am., and while wolfing down toast and eggs, thumbed through a dog-eared Alabama Law School catalog, before rushing to 8 a.m. class.

I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and not a paper shuffling lawyer, but a criminal defense lawyer like Clarence Darrow and representing the underdogs – the poor, penniless, and defenseless people. For the Defense, a book about Darrow’s life, was my bedside companion.

There were other fond memories. Carol found an orphan baby rabbit, which she placed in a cardboard box and vowed to raise it. Her vow ended about 2 a.m. when the squealing of the rabbit nearly drove us crazy. We got out of bed and drove the little critter to the country and dumped it. Then she worried for days about its welfare.

On a hot August morning in 1963, Carol and I loaded our few possessions into a U-Haul trailer hooked behind an ancient 8 cylinder Buick that I had purchased for $350, and drove away from the old house. We were excited. I had been accepted to the University of Alabama. Later, the fenders on the Buick rusted and fell off and the transmission died. But my dream finally came true in 1967 when I was admitted to the Bar.

In November, 1968, we moved back to Athens, and I hung out my shingle in what was once Booth’s Pool Hall, where Grandfather had racked balls. My passion for representing underdogs was soon replaced by reality. They had no money to feed themselves, much less my new baby and pregnant wife. Afterwards, I began representing all of the “Big Dogs” I could and my life improved.
As I sat in my truck looking at the old mill house and ruminating about the past, a woman walked nearby and looked at me suspiciously. I had the urge to tell her I had returned to the old house where I first learned to dream. If a young man can’t dream, he has no future. Instead, I drove away.

It makes no difference where we come from. What counts is where we go.
By: Jerry Barksdale

3-5-2016 10-18-30 AMLady Justice is portrayed blindfolded as she holds the scales to weigh guilt and innocence. Sometimes, she gets confused. I am reminded of a case that my former classmate and law partner, Henry Blizzard and I tried back in 1970 in Huntsville. It was one of our first trials. At the time, neither of us had much courtroom experience. We closed home loans, wrote wills and deeds, collected small accounts, handled misdemeanors, and waited for the big case that would make us rich and famous. Several of my clients got to eat jailhouse cornbread and boiled cabbage as a result of my trial inexperience. I do apologize to them. However, they can take solace in knowing they contributed to my on-the-job training. Earning a living was tough for a young, upstart lawyer.

Henry worked two days a week assisting District Attorney, Dan Nelson. The dab of money he earned helped pay our overhead. In addition, he went to court with the D.A. and watched him prosecute criminal cases. Jasper Powell, a Decatur lawyer with a voice like Moses reading the Ten Commandments, handled a lot of criminal cases and won more than his share. According to Henry, he would get the witnesses so confused about the facts, the jury wouldn’t convict. On cross examination, he asked witnesses detailed questions about lighting, distance, time, and where other witnesses were located. Pretty soon everyone was confused about who saw what and when. He was good at his craft.

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Meanwhile Delbert (not his real name), a young man from a northern state, had recently moved to Huntsville and was understandably unfamiliar with the delicate sensibilities of Southern girls. While attending a party one night, he “allegedly” groped a young lady’s privates before she was ready to be groped. His timing was way off. Instead of doing the Christian thing and “turning the other cheek” she took offense, and had Delbert arrested on a felony charge that could get him 1 to 10 in the slammer. Delbert needed a lawyer.

Being a stranger in our land, Delbert didn’t know any lawyers, but he did know a woman who knew my sister-in-law who knew that Henry and I needed clients and fees. Delbert hired us to save him. Neither of us had ever handled a case of this magnitude before. Delbert was nervous as a squirrel, and called our office regularly. “What’s going on?” He was eventually indicted by the Madison County Grand Jury. Soon trial date would be set.

I was as nervous as Delbert. I checked our post office box sometimes twice a day, even on Sundays, dreading the day when we received a notice of trial. One Sunday following worship, I stopped at the post office, opened the box, and there was an order setting Delbert’s case for trial. I almost upchucked. How would we keep Delbert out of prison? We didn’t have a defense. He admitted touching the young lady – but not much. Henry rubbed his bald head, as he was often apt to do when thinking hard, and puffed his pipe.

“We’ll do what Jasper Powell does in Decatur,” he finally said. “We’ll get everyone so confused they won’t know what’s happening.” Yay! Not only would we keep Delbert out of prison and on the street so that he could grope more young women, but we’d become locally famous. I began to have doubts as the trial approached. Would our strategy work? Or would Delbert be eating jailhouse cornbread and boiled cabbage?

The trial got underway and opening statements were made. The party had taken place at a private home at night where young people were packed inside, drinking, laughing, and talking. The D.A. called the victim, a young lady, who with great drama told what Delbert had done to her. “He touched my privates,” she barely whispered and dropped her head. Delbert squirmed in his chair, already smelling cornbread and boiled cabbage. We gently cross examined her and established that dozens of people were drinking, talking, laughing, and milling about. In other words, your typical bunch of young drunks trying to hook up.

Prosecution called other witnesses to corroborate the victim’s story. On cross examination, we asked detailed questions: “Where were you standing? How far away? Where were the other witnesses? Where were the lights? Were you drinking?” Each witness had a somewhat different answer. Alcohol had clouded their minds and memories. Henry and I could smell victory. The jury would put Delbert back on the streets, and we would have our fifteen minutes of fame. After lunch we returned to the courtroom and the D.A. walked over. “Would you fellows object if I dismiss this case?” he asked. “I’m so confused I don’t know what happened.”

“Dismiss!” Henry and I were nearly outraged. Delbert was happy, but Henry and I felt cheated. Our fifteen minutes of fame had been stolen from us.

Henry went on to serve many years as Circuit Judge of Limestone County. I just went on losing my hair. As for Delbert, the experience was so traumatic, I suspect he swore an oath of celibacy and entered a monastery. You may think that justice was denied. No, the Government has the duty of proving its case against a citizen beyond a reasonable doubt. We cast doubt on their case. Justice thwarted isn’t the moral of this story. It’s a warning to young men with hormone overdrive. Be careful of who you grope and when. Proper timing is everything in life. If your timing is off, you could end up eating jailhouse cornbread and boiled cabbage. Or, on the other hand you could catch a wife; perhaps the wrong one.
By: Jerry Barksdale

2-5-2016 5-10-53 PMDo you sometimes feel overwhelmed by problems that seem too big to solve? Do you have the urge to give up and quit?

When that happens, it’s time to think like an ant. It’s big medicine and it won’t cost you a dime. I don’t minimize the power of prayer, but the Lord is far too busy keeping tabs on lying, cheating and corrupt politicians in Washington to be bothered with small problems that we can solve ourselves. You’ve heard it said, and I believe it, “the Lord helps those who help themselves.”
For example, Joe Blow wakes in the morning depressed. He has no job and no income so he rolls over and goes back to sleep. He has smoked his last cigarette, drank his last beer and spent his last $2.00 on a lottery ticket. All hope is gone. He asks the Lord to let him win the lottery.

His wife is fresh out of Xanax, her nails are a mess and she hasn’t had her hair done in over a week. She is nervy as a squirrel. The kids are causing trouble at school and whining for a new pair of Nikes. The cell phone bill is overdue and the cable company has threatened to turn off service before the Saturday game. The family is overwhelmed and needs help.

It’s time to invoke the “ant-solution,” a powerful self directive therapy. I was introduced to this concept in 1967 shortly after graduating law school. My employer, Bob French in Ft. Payne, Alabama dispatched me to court to defend our client who “allegedly” robbed a bank (he certainly did) and allegedly spent the money (he did that too), but denied he committed the crime (liar). It was my first trial.

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My biggest fear wasn’t that my client would be convicted, but that I would either faint or wet my pants in court, maybe both. When confronted with danger, humans and animals will fight or take flight. I went in the flight mode when the D.A. promised that he would send my client to prison for life.

“I won’t live that long,” my client whined. “You gotta save me.” Save him! I was worried about saving myself.

I returned to the office a defeated man, overwhelmed and ready to quit. “I can’t do this,” I said to Bob. “Sit down,” Bob said. “Do you know how the ant ate the elephant?”

“Noo,” I replied… “One tiny bite at a time. He cut a sliver off his tail, chewed it and swallowed.” Bob said.

“Then what?” I asked. “He sliced off another mouthful, swallowed it and kept doing so until he ate the whole elephant. Every problem in life can be reduced to the smallest part and solved before moving to the next one.”

“I never thought about it that way,” I said. “Just like eating an apple. One bite at a time.”

From that day forward when overwhelmed with adversity, I didn’t think of myself as a fancy pants lawyer wearing a pin stripe suit, silk tie and $200 shoes, but as a lowly ant chewing a slice of elephant tail. Powerful imagery!

Back to the Joe Blow. I recommend that Joe do the following after waking: First, say a simple prayer, “Lord kick my lazy carcass outta bed. Amen.”

Once up, he pulls on his pants, socks and shirt. That’s progress. The ant-solution is underway. He advised his wife to take a long walk to calm her nerves and do her own nails and hair. Then he tells his kids to pull up their pants over their crack and start looking for a part time job. McDonalds is a good place to start. And if they cause any more problems at school the Old Testament “Wrath of God” will befall them when they arrive home.

The use of fear is time tested and it works. When I was 16 years old and acting out at school, my sweet Mama asked the Lord to intervene and save me. He did. He sent his faithful servant, Principal B. L. Rich at East Limestone School to answer Mama’s prayer. While he was lighting a fire on the seat of my Levis with a board, I reached a state of enlightenment.

Problem solved. Instead of spending his money on a lottery ticket and watching T.V. all day long, Joe departs home in search of employment. He does that each day – one small bite at a time. Eventually he will see results. Remember, quantum leaps seldom occur in life. We move forward one step at a time. When you are down and out, remember how the ant ate the elephant. It’s powerful medicine. It works for me and will work for you.

Good luck.
By: Jerry Barksdale

1-8-2016 11-05-45 AMSouth Vietnam,1969. Lt. Joe Rogers had been forewarned not to make close friends. He ignored the admonition. “Everybody wants to know that somebody has got their back.” Lt. Chuck Chambers (not a real name, of course) of Arkansas was platoon leader. “He was my best friend, a super guy. We had family back home and daughters we’d never seen – only in pictures.” Chuck served his time in the field and was rotated to a non-combat job until sent back to the States. Soon, he would be home in the arms of his wife and cuddling his precious little girl.

In short order, Roger’s company had four company commanders. Then Captain Bailey (again, not a real name) took command. He had been commissioned in transportation, knew practically nothing about field operations, and wasn’t liked by the men. They called him Beetle Bailey. “He’d get people killed needlessly,” says Rogers. “He was a poor officer, he’d give orders to platoon leaders who knew it was a death assignment, but they did it anyway.” Rogers and his fellow officers took action. They asked the Battalion Commander to relieve Bailey.

A chopper flew in and Beetle Bailey was relieved on the spot, and flown back to the rear. Lt. Chuck Chambers, who was scheduled to go home in 30 days, was sent to replace Bailey. “One day we were in combat,” says Rogers, his voice cracking slightly. “And no matter where we sat down, we were fired on by the enemy. It was right before nightfall, and we had to find a place to stay for the night. We were trying to dig in. Mortar fire was coming in and counter fire was going out. Darkness came, and many of us didn’t have a hole to get in. First Cav had a policy that nobody slept in a hammock at night because of incoming rounds. Chuck hadn’t had a chance to dig in, so he hung a hammock. Mortar fire kept coming in that night. A scout was sent out with a dog to locate the enemy bunker. The ambush team was a hundred yards away, fighting in close combat and trying to keep from being overrun. There was a lull in the fighting for 25 to 30 minutes and Chuck climbed in his hammock to go to sleep. A mortar round hit a tree and killed Chuck,” says Rogers.

“He remained on the ground during the night. The enemy was trying to break through. When daylight came, a chopper came in and picked up casualties. I had to pick up Chuck’s body parts and put them in a bag. Me and two other guys took him to a helicopter and put him on. Later on, I had to write his wife in Arkansas. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.” Rogers pauses to gain control of his emotions. Finally, he said “that’s why you don’t make friends. It had a little effect on me then. I had little time to concentrate on it. There were lots of guys I knew that were killed, but he was the one that hurt me the most.” Rogers pauses. “His death was attributed to having to come back to the field. He wouldn’t have come back if we hadn’t taken action to relieve Captain Bailey.”

Later, Rogers considered visiting Chuck’s wife and daughter in Arkansas, but didn’t. “I just tried to put it out of my mind.” Death was a constant companion. A third of his OCS class at Ft. Sill were killed. The enemy launched waves of human assaults against the firebase. “We’d kill ’em by the dozens in the wire. Next day, a dozer would be helicoptered in, dig a big hole and push the bodies in.”

Death stalked Rogers. “I had a guy killed by a sniper closer than you and me,” he gestures. “I was touching them when they were shot in the head. That’s how lucky I was. They were killed and I wasn’t. We never wore rank insignia – no name. Dog tags were the only identity we had. One of my friends was hit in the chest by a 40 mm RPG. There was hardly anything left to pick up.” He saw plenty of dead NVA North Vietnamese. “We killed so many of them. They were smart fighters. They were brainwashed, propagandized, and totally committed to their cause,” says Rogers.
“One of the most fierce enemies you’d ever fight – fight to the death.” They constructed bridges that were under water during the day and couldn’t be detected from the air. They would raise them at night and cross. Bicycles were loaded with several hundred pounds of rice and pushed 200 miles down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They used elephants to transport munitions and supplies. A huge underground ball bearing and bicycle repair shop was discovered in the jungles. A flight of B52s was called in and dropped bombs.

“Their call sign was “ARC light” because when they went off, it looked like the northern lights,” says Rogers. “They left total destruction; nothing standing; no trees. We reported over 100 dead. Body parts were scattered everywhere. Most of the casualties were concussions. We’d find enemy soldiers walking around totally delirious, bleeding from the ears. An enemy Corps Commander was bleeding from his ears, eyes and nose. We found radio operators that still had ear phones on, six to eight in a clump, all dead.”

After an underground bunker was discovered in the jungle, Rogers decided to watch the troops destroy it. They were going to pump in Persistent CS gas, a strong irritant that affects the eyes and lungs for six months. “You sure you want to go?” asked his Company Commander. “Yes sir,” replied Rogers. “I had two radio operators with me. They were my shadow. The wind was blowing just right when they gassed the bunker, then it shifted. We took off running as fast as we could through the jungles, totally oblivious to anything out there – NVA, tigers, snakes – running for our lives, that cloud of gas behind us.”

A fire fight erupted between the Americans and the NVA inside the bunker. “I’m going to send in flame throwers,” said the Battalion Commander. The helicopter delivered them, but dropped them in the wrong place. “It didn’t make any difference, no one in 1st Cavalry knew how to use them,” says Rogers. “The Air Force dropped bombs on the bunker.” Rogers received a Purple Heart after being hit with shrapnel behind his knee; two Bronze Stars, two air medals and a host of others.

But his most treasured award is a Soldier’s Medal awarded “for distinguishing himself by heroism not involving actual combat with the enemy.” Right after Chuck Chambers’ mangled body was flown out, the new Company Commander was choppered in. “I was supposed to fly out on that helicopter. It never landed,” says Rogers. “The rotary blades struck a tree trunk about 15 feet up and it crashed and caught fire. Me and the new Company Commander pulled the crew out and saved them.”

August, 1969. Rogers had done his duty and was headed home. He stopped by S-1 (Administration) before leaving for Ton Son Nhut Airbase. “Here are your awards and decorations,” a clerk said and tossed a box at Rogers. “That’s your ceremony.” Rogers walked up the steps of that airliner, called “Freedom Bird,” his medals so unceremoniously presented inside a box. He didn’t care. He was going home to see his wife and hold his baby daughter that he’d never seen.

The plane lifted off and headed to San Francisco. By Christmas, more than 40,000 Americans would be dead, killed in action. His weight had dropped from 180 to 132 pounds; he had suffered dysentery for 5 days in the jungle and once went 37 days without a bath, but he knew he had been lucky. Why had death chosen others instead of him? His greatest fear had been capture by the enemy. Once he was grabbed, but escaped.

When he deplaned at San Francisco he was disrespected. “No respect, no gratitude.” Rogers remained in the Army and made numerous trips to the Pentagon in Washington, but avoided the wall where 58,307 names of the dead are chiseled in black granite. “I stayed away from the wall all those years, then I finally went. Chuck’s name was the first one I looked for; I traced his name on paper.” His voice trembles. “One trip was enough.”

Rogers retired in 1993 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Calhoun College. He and his wife, Margaret recently moved from Elkmont Village to the Vineyard in Athens.
By: Jerry Barksdale

12-3-2015 11-02-03 AMLt. Joe Rogers received orders to replace the artillery Forward Observer in the field who was going home. It was a dangerous assignment. He would be humping through the jungles with grunts on search and destroy operations. When the enemy was encountered, he would radio the coordinates back to the Fire Direction Center, and within seconds, big guns would be belching steel toward the enemy.

After being issued an M-16 rifle and flak jacket, Rogers boarded a “Log Bird” (supply helicopter) loaded with ammo and supplies and lifted off. From above, the triple canopy jungle appeared serene, but he knew better. Beneath the beautiful green were poisonous snakes, tigers, monkeys, swarms of biting mosquitoes, stinging insects, ants, leeches that sucked a man’s blood, and most dangerous of all, North Vietnamese soldiers bent on killing Americans. “Before landing, we were shot at a few times,” says Rogers. “That was my first baptism under fire.”

The chopper landed and Rogers jumped off and met the Company Commander. They had been ambushed the night before and several dead and wounded soldiers were loaded aboard for evacuation. Incoming mortar rounds began falling, trying to knock out the chopper. Rogers looked for cover. He spotted a large ant hill about eight feet in circumference and ran behind it. “Every time a mortar round fell, I moved around a little bit further to get away from the impact.” When the firing ceased, he was told to prepare to move out.

“Get rid of that flak jacket. It weighs 20 pounds and you’ll sweat off 40 pounds while you are here,” he was told. The seasoned grunts were bare from the waist up, a bottle of mosquito repellant attached to their helmet for easy access and dog tags tucked inside their boots to prevent rattling. They moved out through the thick jungle where visibility was often limited to eight feet, sometimes crossing fields of tall elephant grass with sharp blades that would slice a man’s skin, never knowing when a sniper’s bullet would find it’s mark. Later, Rogers would trade his M-16 for a pump shotgun.

Near sundown, they halted in the jungles, put out a defensive perimeter some 500 meters from the encampment, and dug in. Sand bags were filled with the excavated dirt and stacked around the hole. It was stifling hot, and the men usually slept on poncho liners on the ground near their hole. Chinch bugs came out at night, making a creepy sound and crawled beneath the men. Mosquitoes feasted on their blood. “Everything was out to get you,” says Rogers. “If you sat down, it would probably be on a thorn or a snake. I leaned against a tree and a thorn stuck in my head.”

They rose at daybreak, the ambush perimeter was called in, and everyone breakfasted on C-rations. No one liked a cold breakfast. Ingenuity kicked in. Composition Four, a putty like explosive, that is detonated by electric shock, was set fire to heat the rations.

After emptying the sand bags into the hole, the men moved out, single file through the jungle, searching for the enemy. The Point Man was out front acting as the eyes and ears of the company. Near the back was the Company Commander, a black officer from Texas who had a gold front tooth. His call sign was “Gold 6.” They were walking through tall elephant grass when the Point Man radioed Gold 6. “Sir, we just crossed a log on the trail.” They usually didn’t follow trails because enemy scouts would be watching.

The log was suspicious looking and the men stepped over it. A few minutes later, Gold 6’s radio crackled again. “Sir, the log is a snake!” A large python about ten feet long was lying in the sun digesting a wild pig. “Sir, what are we going to do with the snake?” “Send it to the rear,” replied Gold 6. “If we tell someone they won’t believe it.” The snake was shot. Rogers tried to stuff it in a duffle bag, but it wouldn’t go. “We cut it in half and the ‘Log Bird’ took it back to the rear.”

The United States had long suspected that China was assisting North Vietnam. Chinese weapons had been found, but China steadfastly denied any involvement. Rogers and his men proved otherwise. “We found a Chinaman and killed him,” says Rogers. “He was about 6 feet tall and weighed 180 to 200 pounds. That was proof that Chinese were in Vietnam. The corpse was getting ripe and smelling and we buried him. Everything rots, rusts or reeks in the jungle. Everybody had to come and see him, including the Southern Pacific Commander, headquartered in Hawaii. The Press had to come see the corpse too. We buried that dude and dug him up three different times. He smelled. Wow! We finally buried him and left him.”

The men were always on the move, searching for the enemy in underground bunkers, never staying in one place unless they discovered a bunker. The bunkers were large and cleverly concealed, usually chocked full of munitions and supplies. While moving through the jungles, they saw a parrot walking around in a circle with a string tied to one leg. Nearby, smoke was coming from the ground. The smoke was being vented through an underground bamboo pipe from a bunker located a half a mile away. When the bunker was taken and searched, it contained a hospital, morgue, mess hall with cook stoves, a barracks and a training room with chalkboard and bamboo seats. “On the chalk board were pictures of U.S. aircraft,” says Rogers. “They knew the capability of our aircraft. They went to school underground to learn.”

Rogers rescued the parrot. “He was shell shocked. He’d walk around a bit and fall over.” A few days later, the men were flown back to Palace Guard (LZ Nancy) for rest where the parrot lived in peace with Rogers. “We’d swap out with someone to take care of the parrot. One of the Medics adopted him. He still had shell shock and would fall over.” Rogers was due for 10 days of R and R and flew to Hawaii where he met his wife for the first time in 7 months. While there, he purchased a parrot cage at Sears. “I lugged that cage all the way back to Vietnam; hitchhiked back to my unit, catching rides on different helicopters. Along the way everyone as curious about the cage,” says Rogers. “When I got back, someone had turned the parrot loose. All that time and trouble I went to, and the parrot was gone.”

Rogers returned to operations in the jungles. “Battles were furious but often short, and we took a lot of casualties,” he says. “Things were hairy, frightful and every emotional. You couldn’t see in the jungle, you responded to what you could hear and felt. Most soldiers developed a sense of smell. It was survival of the fittest. My walking Bible was the 23rd psalm. When going into combat assault, I quoted it. It was the last thing I did. And there was also slack time when the men looked for entertainment to divert their minds from the reality of death that was always lurking nearby. Ant fighting was popular. Red ants and black ants were natural enemies. They lived in bags hanging in a tree, similar to bag worms. We’d take the black ants and put them in a tree with red ants and stand back and watch the fight,” says Rogers. “They’d fight to the death. They killed each other off and ate the remains and took all the fragments back to the colony for the other ants to eat.”

Morbid entertainment, but the men were living near death each day. And then there was bridge playing. If they happened to remain in one location several days “light discipline” was put in effect. No lights at night. A lighted cigarette could be seen a mile away. “We’d get under a tent at night and using a flashlight would play bridge. We were out in nowhere in combat and playing bridge. We’d play with MPC (military pay certificates) called funny money. Everyone sent their real money home except for about $50 bucks a month. There was nothing to spend it on.”

When Rogers was sent to Vietnam, he was told many times, “Don’t make close friends. It will affect how you act as a soldier.” He knew it was true, but didn’t heed the advice. Consequences bore fruit soon after a new Company Commander whom the men called “Beetle Bailey” took command.

To Be Continued…
By: Jerry Barksdale

11-6-2015 10-35-41 AMSeptember, 1968. Somewhere over the South China Sea.

1st Lieutenant Joseph “Joe” Rogers, born in tiny Thomasville, Alabama and reared in nearby Demopolis was finally heading to Vietnam. By Christmas over 31,000 of his fellow Americans would be dead and the number was certain to rise.

At the moment, Rogers was more concerned with arriving alive than returning alive. The “Anxiety Flight” as the soldiers called it, was an old 727 rusty bucket owned by Northwest under contract to fly troops to Cam Rahn Bay.

“All of the rivets rattled. It shook, rattled and rolled,” says Rogers, a resident of Limestone County since 1990. “We thought the wings were coming off. Not only that, they put the ugliest stewardess they could find on the plane. And the only thing we had to drink was milk, water, and soda.”

Perhaps the miserable 13-hour flight from Seattle to Tokyo and on to Vietnam was a harbinger of events to come. He hoped not. The plane rattled and droned onward giving him time to ponder why he was onboard. He had lettered in football, basketball, and track while working part time before graduating at Demopolis High School in 1962.

The next two years, he worked and attended Livingston State College and the University of South Alabama. He dropped out a semester and Uncle Sam took notice. He was drafted on November 3, 1966. Following basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia, he completed Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama.

That experience convinced him there had to be a better way of serving his country. “I got tired of crawling on my belly to the mess hall and doing push-ups at the drop of a hat,” he says. Fate intervened. One day a crusty old Sergeant walked out of the orderly room and bellowed at the young soldiers “All right you pukes, who wants to go to OCS?” That’s Officer’s Candidate School. “I was the first one to raise my hand,” says Rogers, who was accepted and sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for a grinding six-month course.

“It was tedious. Everywhere we went we had to run; constant harassment and dropping for pushups. There was Ranger Patrol in the barracks at night which was making us get down on our hands and knees with a towel and clean the floor.” He also learned about leadership, customs, traditions and even how to set a proper place at the table – things an officer needed to know.

After receiving his “butter bars” and commissioned Second Lieutenant, he was assigned to a field artillery battery as Executive Officer in support of units that were going to Vietnam. “We stayed on the firing range day and night. No vacations, no July 4th, no holiday,” says Rogers. A year passed.

“One day I was told I was going to a unit in Vietnam where I would need a top secret clearance.” The background check took 6 months and cost the government a wad of money. It included interviews with his high school teachers and combing through public records where they discovered he had paid a trespassing fine as a boy after shooting a deer on government land. “It crossed a fence and died on private property. That became a big thing, and I had to explain what happened,” says Rogers, who eventually received top secret clearance.

“But why top secret?” he wondered. It had to be something important. At least he wouldn’t be a grunt crawling through the stinking jungles, swatting mosquitoes and dodging bullets. Good news arrived. He would proceed to Vietnam for assignment to 2nd Field Force, headquartered in Saigon, a somewhat cushy job, with high Command.

The plane dive bombed into Cam Rahn Bay to avoid small arms fire. Rogers stepped off into a steaming oven of 105 degrees. Quarters were assigned. A big burly Sergeant in charge of arrivals said: “Okay, all you officers come back tomorrow morning at 7:00. I’ll have your orders.”

No worry. Rogers had his orders safely stowed away in his duffle bag. “I already have my orders for 2nd Field Force,” he told the Sergeant. Early next morning, he awoke to Vietnamese maids cleaning the barracks and paying no attention to half naked soldiers. He dressed and fell in formation. Shortly, the burly Sergeant appeared. “Okay, I got orders for you guys,” he said and started calling names.

He called off two names to go to 2nd Field Force, but Rogers wasn’t one of them. “Something’s not right here,” Rogers said to the Sergeant. Then the Sergeant called Rogers name for assignment to the 1st Air Cavalry Division. “What? This can’t be!” Rogers handed his orders to the Sergeant who tore them in half and threw them in a small fire. “How can you do that?” asked Rogers. “The Government has spent all this money and it took six months to get my top secret clearance and the first thing you do is burn the orders.”

“Sir, my orders are to backfill the 1st Air Cavalry Division and that’s exactly what I’m doing.” The 1st Air Cavalry had suffered heavy casualties during the recent TET Offensive and replacements were needed. Two days later, Rogers was helicoptered to Ankhe where the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division was headquartered. The Division, organized in 1921, was known as the “First Team.” Their predecessors had fought Indians on horseback. They were the first Americans to enter Manilla during World War II and the first to enter Japan. During the Korean War they were the first division to enter Pyongyang, North Korea, and they were the first Army division to be deployed in Vietnam. Instead of horses, now they rode helicopters.

He spent 8 to 10 days in Ankhe polishing up on combat and survival skills and was issued a new uniform, boots and an M16 rifle. He knew he was heading to combat. Wearing his spanking new green uniform, he loaded into the belly of a C123 transport plane, found a seat on the floor and lifted off to LZ Nancy, a firebase located near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam). The fire base was studded with heavy artillery and served as Battalion Headquarters. It was called “Palace Guard” by the men who rotated back there after days and sometimes weeks in the jungle on search and destroy operations. When patrolling grunts located the enemy, they called LZ Nancy’s Fire Direction Center for artillery support. Shortly the big guns were belching steel.

Rogers was assigned to 1s Battalion 77 Field Artillery as Battalion Ammunition Officer. His job was to keep several batteries supplied with ammo. The ammunition depot was located 22 miles north of LZ Nancy near the DMZ where his crew was located. Each day he went there by jeep, carrying mail, where ammo was loaded on “slingouts” and helicoptered to firebases.

“Those guys were located away from their base and somewhat on their own,” says Rogers. “They were responsible for taking care of themselves.” As always, necessity is the motherhood of invention. “They had a ¾ ton truck to haul ammo, but it hauled only one half of what was needed at any one time,” says Rogers. The largest truck authorized was a 2 ½ ton called a “deuce-‘n- half.” He asked his crew about getting a larger truck. “Sir, the only thing we see around here are five ton trucks,” they replied. “Well, said Rogers. “If you can’t find a “deuce-‘n-half” and since 1st Cav doesn’t authorize a five ton truck, we’ll have to do with what we got.”

Several days later, Rogers was at LZ Nancy when he saw a five-ton truck approaching in a cloud of dust. It was his ammo team. They had driven down to get mail, fresh uniforms and eat meals before returning the following day. “Where in the world did y’all get that five ton truck?” asked Rogers. “Sir, it’s a long story,” replied the Sergeant. “You see, there was this SeeBee up there. One night he got drunk at the NCO club and was driving this five ton truck. I found him in a ditch – he had run off in a ditch.”

“That’s just half the story. What’s the rest?” demanded Rogers. “This guy was passed out. We took him to the hospital and just took the truck.”

About thirty minutes later, Rogers was summoned to Battalion Headquarters. The Colonel had seen the five ton truck also and knew it wasn’t authorized. Rogers explained what happened and the Colonel relented, but with a stern warning. “Don’t ever – ever let this truck on this location again. I never want to see that truck again.” The truck gave good service and the crew was happy. “Over there, if you needed anything, you had to trade for it, scrounge for it, or do some midnight requisitioning,” says Rogers.

Most nights at LZ Nancy were spent playing poker in hooches, but the biggest entertainment was shooting rats. “They were big as raccoons, ” says Rogers. “If there was a lot of shooting going on, you knew there was a problem going on at the fence, but if one shot, it was the rat patrol.” He was just settling into his new job when he received orders to go to the field as an F.O. (Artillery Forward Observer). That meant he would be in the jungle on search and destroy operations where there was great danger. “When am I going?” he asked. “Tomorrow morning.”

To Be Continued…
By: Jerry Barksdale

10-2-2015 2-53-04 PMCarol and I were to be married August 30, 1961 at Market Street Church of Christ. I asked my good buddy, Dan Williams to be my best man; I figured he would bring me good luck. But first, my future love nest, a downstairs apartment in an old house on South Beaty Street, would have to be scrubbed and cleaned. I recruited Dan and our buddy Brown (not his real name) to help. “We’ll make it fun,” I said.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in August. There was no air conditioning, not even a fan. The day before, I had driven over to the county line and purchased a case of beer and iced it down in a No. 3 washtub. Our timing was perfect. Mama, who despised all forms of alcohol and constantly warned me of its danger, was at home taking her Sunday afternoon nap. To be lectured by her on the evils of drinking, quoting scripture and verses was more mental torture than a normal human being could endure.

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We whistled and laughed as we swept, mopped and dusted. The tub of beer sat in the middle of the bedroom floor, growing colder by the minute. Brown was working in the living room. “Hey Barksdale, yo Mama and a carload of women just drove up.” “Don’t mess with my mind,” I replied. “I ain’t kidding,” he said, to which I replied “Yeah right.”

“They’re getting out of the car!” he said. I walked over and peeked out the window to confirm he was lying. My heart stopped. Mama and several of her church friends were almost to the front porch. I panicked.

“HIDE THE BEER!” I yelled to Dan. “Where?” he asked me. “Under the bed,” I said. “It won’t go,” Dan replied.

The front door opened. “YOO HOO, ANYONE HOME?” It was Mama.

“DRAG IT INTO THE CLOSET!”I said. Dan snatched the tub of beer and ice and dragged it into the closet.

Mama and the women browsed through the apartment, inspecting cabinets, pulling out drawers, opening doors, oohing and ahhing about how nice everything was. Dan stood in front of the closet door like a Swiss guard protecting the Pope.

“Don’t let ‘em open that door or I’m a dead duck,” I whispered. Mama spotted the closet and headed straight toward it. My heart tried to jump out and run. “Can’t look in there, “ I said. “Why not?” she asked. “Uh – oh, honeymoon stuff. You know.”

The women smiled and snickered knowingly. They finally drifted out to the front porch, where they wished me much happiness. I needed some. I had lost more happiness in the last 20 minutes than I had experienced in a lifetime.

“Y’all come back anytime,” I yelled as they loaded into Mama’s red and white Nash Rambler and departed. I collapsed with relief. Mama was happy and proud of me, her only son, a forthright, honest and sober young man. I was so weak from fright I didn’t want a beer.

As always, Mama was right. Messing with alcohol is dangerous. In addition to breaking up homes, causing car wrecks and cirrhosis of the liver, it almost caused me to have a heart attack at age 19. And, it gave my best friend, Dan, a bad back for life.
A couple of years after we married, Carol and I moved to Tuscaloosa where I was attending the University of Alabama. We lived in a tiny furnished apartment on the edge of campus. Dan came down to visit and slept on a vinyl covered couch with wooden arm rests. It was past midnight, when screaming and loud thrashing about brought me straight up in bed.

“HELP!” It was Dan. My buddy was in trouble and needed help. “Home invasion!” I thought as I sprang from bed and ran to assist. “What’s wrong?” I asked looking around.

“Someone was choking me” Dan said, as he dislodged his head from beneath the wooden arm rest. An investigation of the crime scene revealed that while asleep, Dan slid his head beneath the arm rest and when he tried to turn over, it caught his neck.

Several years later, when Dan was Mayor of Athens, I saw him wobbling down the sidewalk. He was moving all catawampus, like a wrecked car with a bent frame. We stopped and chatted. He said he was down in his back again and had just seen his chiropractor.

“I’m sorry to hear your back’s bothering you ,” I said. “You should be. It’s your fault.”

“My fault?” I asked. “Yeah, I hurt it trying to hide that tub of beer from your Mama just before you got married,” he said.

“Which marriage?” I asked. “Your first one,” he replied.

Carol and I divorced after three children and 25 years of marriage. I always told Dan he was my friend, but a sorry best man.

When my son, Mark lay dying at Decatur General Hospital, Dan was there. He helped organize a Celebration of Life Event and he and his children sang and lifted our broken hearts.

He was the best.
By: Jerry Barksdale

10-2-2015 2-53-26 PM

9-7-2015 10-29-22 AMShortly before my good friend, State Representative and former Athens Mayor, Dan Williams passed away, I visited him at his home. We reminisced about yesteryear. We first met at Athens High School in the 11th grade and became good buddies and remained so for 58 years. I miss his chuckle and good humor.

Our friendship was cemented while sacking groceries at A & P. Mr. Alfred London was manager and carried out his responsibilities like Moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage. He perched in his front office like a hawk, watching for any sign of indolence. One goof-up and I’d be back chopping cotton for $3.00 a day.

Dan and I worked Saturdays from 7a.m. til 9p.m. and earned about $9.00; big money for me! We wore black pants, white shirts and black bow ties. Our job was to remove the groceries from the shopping cart and place them on the check-out counter in categories – cans, produce, meats, etc. Placing them in the incorrect order brought a rebuke from the check-out ladies who punched in the price of each item individually; scanners hadn’t been invented yet. The ladies were usually tired and grouchy by mid-afternoon. We sacked the groceries in brown paper bags and carried them to the customer’s car. I preferred working for Elizabeth “Liz” Bryant, whose daughter, Brenda was a classmate. If I mistakenly placed eggs with a can of soup while scoping out a pretty woman, Liz would react. “Wake up Barksdale!”

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Smoking and accepting tips was a fireable offense. We hid a lit cigarette around the corner of the building and took a puff on the way out and on the return trip. A lady handed me a quarter. “Ma’am, I can’t take it,” I said, eyeing enough money to purchase a pack of cigarettes.

“Why not?” she asked. “Mr. London will fire me,” I replied. “I’ll take care of Alfred London,” she said and placed the quarter in my palm. A quarter was a lot of money back in 1957. Gas was 31? a gallon, bread was 19? a loaf and a postage stamp was 3?.

Red McCormick managed the meat market. Most Saturday afternoons, Judge David L. Rosenau, a tight-fisted shopper, came in looking for a cheap cut of meat. He lived nearby and sometimes entered the store from the rear. He would inspect each cut of meat and ponder at length before making a decision to purchase. One Saturday he bought several cheap pork chops for supper. Dan was in the rear of the store when the back door swung open. A black skillet, still smoking and attached to the end of an arm poked through. “RED! WHERE IS RED?” It was Judge Rosenau and his dander was up.

“The pork chops had shrunk to the size of quarters and were floating in a puddle of grease,” said Dan. Red came running. “What’s wrong Judge?” “Look at these pork chops, Red. They shrunk!” “Well Judge that’s what happens when you buy cheap cuts of meat that’s mostly fat,” replied Red.

Dan and I were famished by the time the store closed at 9:00 p.m. We swept the aisles, and after being satisfied they were clean, Mr. London paid us. We struck out walking to Sue-Wil Grill on Clinton Street and ordered hamburger steak, greasy fries, brown rolls and sweet tea. We sopped every puddle of grease on the plate. Our next stop was C.M. Officers Pool Hall on East Washington Street near the railroad where we cracked a few balls.

“George the Greek,” who lived at the Ross Hotel across the street, was always present. He sat in one of the elevated chairs that could have been a shoe shine stand at one time, dressed in an old suit and bowler hat. A walking cane was between his knees. Dan and I liked to hear George’s accent.

“Hey George, loan me a nickel,” one of us would say. “Broke – sick – hungry,” he would reply in broken English and tap the floor with his cane. Someone told me later that George once operated a hamburger joint nearby and loved to gamble.

Later, I landed a part time job at McConnell’s Funeral Home through the Diversified Occupation Program at Athens High School. I worked over 70 hours a week – if you can call that part time – and was paid $28.00; I was in high cotton. I left school at noon, worked the rest of the day, all night and was off on alternating nights.

Dan often came by to visit me at night. He was present when I received a call that a man had shot himself. “Come on,” I said. We jumped in the old 1952 Cadillac hearse, turned on the siren and roared through the night. When we rolled the cot into the kitchen, a body was sitting in a straight-back chair, slumped forward, scalp hanging over the face. A shotgun was propped against the chair. The poor soul had blown his head nearly off. After loading him in the hearse, I got a bedpan and filled it with fragments of remaining skull, hair and brains and placed it on the floorboard on the passenger side. Dan sat silent with both feet hiked up in the seat. “I ain’t never seen anything like that,” he finally said. “In the movies all you see is a chalk outline of the body.”

Dan was elected President of our Senior Class. We graduated in May, 1960 and enrolled at Athens College. I was in love with Carol O’Connell, a skinny 17 year old brunette with big brown eyes from Coleman Hill. “Jerry, she is so skinny she don’t’ even cast a shadow,” Dan said.

Her father had emphysema and was moving to Arizona as soon as Carol graduated. She didn’t want to go. “What the heck?” I thought. I made a deal with Mrs. Cluxton to purchase an engagement ring on installments, and proposed to Carol. Our wedding date was set for August 30, 1961 at Market Street Church of Christ. I asked Dan to be my best man. I rented a small apartment on the ground floor from Mrs. Ben Peck on South Beaty Street. All my little love nest needed was a thorough scrubbing. I recruited Dan and our buddy, Brown (not real name) to help.

“We’ll make it a fun party,” I promised.
TO BE CONTINUED…
By: Jerry Barksdale

9-7-2015 10-30-01 AM

8-7-2015 2-48-07 PMTogether We Stand, a community organization supporting local law enforcement and first responders, triggers memories of Daddy. He supported law enforcement in his own unique way and, on at least two occasions, worked directly with the Sheriff.

The first time was when I was about 5 years old. I was playing in the dirt with my toy John Deere tractor when I saw a cloud of dust approaching down the dirt road. Not far behind was another cloud of dust. Daddy skidded into the front yard in his old black Plymouth and ran into the house. Close behind was a Deputy Sheriff.

The next time I saw Daddy was the following Sunday afternoon when Mama and I stood on the sidewalk looking up at him waving to us from behind bars in the Limestone County Jail. The Deputy had seen Daddy driving down the road, and assuming he probably had a bottle of moonshine in his car, gave chase. Daddy barely had enough money to purchase the pint, much less pay a fine and court costs. He stomped the accelerator. The old Plymouth was no match for the new County Ford.

Back then, possessing alcohol was considered a major offense. Poor folks were easy pickings. To my knowledge, Athens Country Club where liquor flowed freely, was never raided. Daddy was a kind-hearted, hardworking, two-mule cotton farmer back in the 1940’s. When his back ached from pulling a nine-foot cotton sack from dawn till dark, there was no pill to relieve his pain. A nip of whiskey gave temporary relief.

He drank an occasional cocktail straight from the bottle several times during the day, and especially on weekends. Mama hated alcohol. It had destroyed her parents’ marriage when she was a little girl. Daddy got high on alcohol and Mama got high on religion. She encouraged him to attend church and often quoted Galatians 5:19-21, that drunkenness would keep him from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Daddy had read the scripture too. “Fornicators are on top of that list,” he said. “Drunks are near the bottom. And I ain’t going to church with a bunch of fornicators.”

That set Mama off like a Roman Candle. The more she quoted scriptures, the more Daddy drank. She launched a different offensive – pouring out Daddy’s whiskey. He would save up money, buy a bottle from a bootlegger and hide it in the smokehouse, looking forward to cocktails on the weekend. When I was seven years old, I joined forces with Mama. I peed in Daddy’s bottle. Poor Daddy, he couldn’t win. “Boy, don’t ever do that again,” he said to me. He spanked me only once and that was after I kicked Sylvia Turner off the couch when I was 5 years old. She was tickling my toes. My kids never peed in my bottle of single malt scotch, probably because they were sneaking nips.

Mama relied heavily on scriptures. “Your sins will find you out,” she often said to me. That happened in 1972 when my son, Mark was 6 years old. Carol and I had moved into our new home. We lived perfect lives, attended church three a week and pretended that hog dung didn’t stink. I was your basic hypocrite. We had invited a dozen or more of our young church friends over one evening and while we sat chatting in the living room, Mark appeared in our midst, proudly holding up a bottle of Jack Daniels.

“Look what I found Daddy!” I had hid the bottle under a blanket in the bottom of an Army footlocker located in a closet beneath the stairway. I blushed and tried to shift blame. “I-I don’t know where that come from…” “It was in your trunk,” he said. I was nailed.

After Mama’s scripture quoting and whiskey pouring campaign failed, she took another approach. She would pretend to get drunk! Her behavior would demonstrate how intolerably repugnant drunks are, and Daddy, seeing that would instantly quit drinking. She staggered, wobbled and babbled. It didn’t work; Daddy thought she was funny.

In 1947, when I was in the 2nd grade at Piney Chapel, we were tenant farming cotton on Bean Road. After cotton was “laid by,” Coy Johnson and I went back in the woods to build a log cabin. While nosing around, we saw a metal contraption with a snout and coiled wire. It scared us. We tore out to the house and told Mama. “It looked like a snouted monster,” I said. “And smelled like puke,” added Coy. It was a boutique distillery where Daddy hand crafted fine whiskey from organically grown corn.

The following day, Sheriff John Sandlin chopped the snouted monster to death with an axe. It was hush-hush subject in the family. Years later when Mama was in assisted living, I asked her about the snouted monster. “Mama, was that Daddy’s whiskey still?” She dropped her head, embarrassed. “I’m afraid it was.”

“Did you call Sheriff Sandlin?” She hesitated for a long time. “I believe I’ll take the fifth on that,” she said. Alcohol brought Daddy down and broke up our family. Many people can’t handle alcohol. I know; it killed my son, Mark.

Fortunately, not everyone can say their father supported law enforcement in the unique way that Daddy did, and that’s good news. But we take our parents as we find them; honor and lift up their goodness and help them when we can. I have learned one valuable lesson is life: don’t be too judgmental of others. Nowadays, I like to think that I’ve progressed from being a basic hypocrite to a more enlightened one. I may be on a roll.
By: Jerry Barksdale

8-7-2015 2-48-19 PM

7-3-2015 4-12-42 PMIf you want to spark an argument in Limestone County, just cuss a man’s dog, say his Mama can’t cook good cornbread, or slander the Alabama Crimson Tide. But the worst insult of all is to tell him that sliced pork roast with tomato sauce poured on top is BBQ. The fight will be on. I know about these things.

At one time we owned 17 foxhounds, two bird dogs and a yard dog. Daddy housed the hounds inside a hog wire fence that resembled a Japanese labor camp. They were fed large pones of crusty cornbread that Mama cooked in a black iron skillet. They loved Mama’s cornbread and so did I. It made us smart and happy. Sometimes we ate cornbread and gravy for breakfast. I’d eaten so much gritty cornbread by age 12 that my teeth were smoother than the mouth of a 20-year old mule.

As for football, when I was attending law school at Alabama in the mid 1960’s, Coach Bear Bryant and I use to enjoy coffee at Druid Drug on the edge of campus. We didn’t sit together, but we were in the same building at the same time. Most afternoons, he’d appear around 3 p.m. and walk past several of us law students on his way to a booth.

“Afternoon Coach,” we chimed in unison. He grunted and kept walking. I don’t think he liked incubating lawyers. He’d smoke cigarettes, sip coffee and stare into space, no doubt hatching up a winning play for Saturday’s game. Or, perhaps he was thinking about a good looking co-ed he had seen on campus. I don’t know. He never confided in me about that.

I also learned a lot about football from my second wife, “Arkansas Pat.” Pat hated Bama, loved Auburn and idolized Bo Jackson. Her brain was chock-full of football trivia. She could recount plays from years back. On Friday night before Auburn played on Saturday, she always got diarrhea. After Auburn, she loved the Arkansas Razorbacks. I had to learn to “Call the Hogs.” How demeaning to a Crimson Tide fan who use to have coffee with the Bear. Mental anguish it was. I was going to use it as evidence in our divorce trial. (“Boo-hoo-hoo, Judge she made me feel less than a real man. Please don’t make me pay alimony.”) The Judge was female, an Auburn fan, and had been voted “Worst Judge” by the Bar. I pulled out my checkbook.

I first heard about Barbecue on July 4th when I was about 5 years old. Cousin Wallar Thomas on Nick Davis Road barbecued several shoats and sold the meat to neighbors. Mama helped pull pork and was compensated with a dish pan of barbecue seasoned with vinegar sauce. It sure was good. “Cudn’ Wallar cooks the best barbecue in the world,” declared Daddy. That was technically correct since our world stretched only 8 miles from Capshaw to Athens.

In the mid-1950’s, Mr. Isaac Thomas converted a chicken house on Nick Davis Road to H & H BBQ. You couldn’t get a seat there on Saturday nights and Sunday after church. After selling to Jimmy and Ann Holmes, he and former Sheriff, Clyde Ennis opened Hickory House on Highway 72 East, (now 306 BBQ). Clyde’s hushpuppies were so delicious that he came to see me about obtaining legal protection of his secret recipe.

Limestone County’s reputation for great BBQ was further enhanced when brick layer, Floyd Whitt constructed a pit in his backyard on Elkton Road in the 1960’s giving birth to famous Whitt’s BBQ. Early 1970’s, Coleman BBQ, Memphis, came to Athens and obtained a 5-year lease from my client, Wayne Jennings. They sold sliced pork roast drenched with tomato sauce. “This is the barbecue capitol of the South,” I said to Wayne. “Folks won’t eat it.” Wayne agreed. “That’s what I told ’em. They claim to know more about barbecue than anyone in the business.” Coleman folded within a year.

After serving as Limestone County Sheriff for 16 years, Buddy Evans and family opened Catfish Cabin, (now Hickory Barn) on Highway 72 West and also purchased Greenbrier BBQ. Lawlers opened in Athens. Hickory Barn and 306 Barbecue are newcomers, but receiving high praise. Whitt’s doesn’t enter into cooking contests, cater or advertise much. They don’t have to. In 1985, Mr. Whitt was in my office, and after finishing our business, I asked him the secret of cooking the best BBQ around. He looked to be sure the door was closed.

“You’re my lawyer and what I tell you is confidential, isn’t it?” he asked me. “Yes sir, it will go to the grave with me,” I said. “When I was in Italy during World War II, I walked behind a house where an old Italian man was cooking barbecue. He taught me the secret of pulling the smoke under the meat, just right,” he said. “Well, I’ll be doggone. So that’s how it’s done,” I said.

Later, I told his daughter, Bonnie I knew the secret and related what her father had said to me. She laughed. “Daddy has a different tale for everyone.” Whitt’s opened on Labor Day, 1966. I’m told that Athens school teacher, Guy McCune, Sr. was the first customer. Back then, folks helped one another. Mr. Wallar Thomas, BBQ King of Limestone County, and his wife came and helped the Whitts make slaw and pull pork.

Mr. Whitt gave me wind chimes that he made from galvanized pipe. They hang in my carport and when I hear the sweet music, I think of Mr. Whitt and good hickory smoked barbecue.

Following the replacement of my heart valve with a pig valve in 2013, I stopped eating pork BBQ. It’s a matter of respect. I stand in solidarity with my porker brothers. Power to the pigs, I say. But I love turkey barbecue.

Who cooks the best BBQ in Limestone County? Folks will argue about that. It’s like choosing between a beautiful blonde, brunette or red head – all mighty fine, but a little different. My test is this: If it tastes good, it is good. But that doesn’t include sliced pork roast drowned in tomato sauce. That ain’t barbecue!

There are four good reasons to save the Earth: it’s the only place in the universe where you can find a good dog, eat delicious cornbread, and watch the Alabama Crimson Tide while eating real BBQ.
By: Jerry Barksdale

7-3-2015 4-13-01 PM