6-6-2015 11-42-44 AMWe were off on another “man trip,” this time to eat lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s in Lynchburg, Tennessee. As usual, women weren’t allowed. They would have hampered important discussions about hemorrhoids, hernias, prostate problems and, of course, women.

Mike Criscillis, alias “Big Mike” was at the wheel of his gargantuan white Hummer, christened the “Rolling Store” (he carries a supply of toilet tissue, bottled water, etc. on board). After serving 37 years in the Army, Mike retired as a Sergeant Major and, he and his wife Shirley, moved to Athens a couple of years ago to be near his mother-in-law. Huh? How misguided can a guy get? Ewell Smith, a retired Business Manager at ASU acted as IT and was constantly on his iPhone informing us of our location, direction, and the weather outside. Great job!

Jerry Crabtree, retired Athens Policeman, and President of the Alabama Veterans Museum was back seat driver and in charge of trivia questions. Retired mathematician, Bill Ward, was unofficial trip humorist. I comfortably rode shotgun by virtue of being the chronicler of events. The wielder of the pen gets special privileges.

It was a cold and cloudy morning when we headed north in the Veterans Museum parking lot. Immediately, there was a problem.

“Hey Mike, you’re going the wrong way,” said Ward. “This is a dead end.” Mike turned around and headed south.

“Hey Mike, you’re going the wrong way, Tennessee is north,” said Ward. Finally, we got on I-65 North. Mike shot past the Fayetteville exit.

“Hey Mike, you missed the turn off,” said Ward. We ended up at Lewisburg, many miles out of the way. Lucky for us. Highway 129 East from Petersburg to Lynchburg is a scenic two-laner that meanders through rolling green hills and gushing streams – a route worth taking.

After discussing the latest juicy gossip in Athens, our conversation turned to less important things. “Why are policemen called cops?” asked trivia director, Crabtree. I thought it was because they wore copper badges. We were stumped. “It’s old English and it stands for “Constable on Patrol,” said Crabtree, please with himself. He said it’s acceptable to call policeman cops. Maybe so but, if I’m stopped, I’m going to call him “sir.”

We arrived near noon at tiny Lynchburg, with one traffic light, a dry county and home of Jack Daniel’s Distillery. I guess drinking whiskey is sinful, but making it isn’t. Mike wanted to visit the quaint, red brick courthouse built in 1885. There was no security. Any clown can walk right in. And that’s what we did.

“I have four guys here that want to get married,” Mike told the startled clerk. She wasn’t amused. “Since there are four of us, can you give us a discount?” I asked. “I can give you directions down the road,” she replied. We laughed. I’m sure we left a favorable impression and she’ll remember Athens for years to come.

Everyone was hungry. We arrived at Miss. Bobo’s early and the door was locked. We waited in the rolling store with the motor running and the heat on. BS’ing began. And it got deep. “Don’t write that down, Jerry,” was the constant instructions to me. “Hey Mike, there’s enough hot air inside the car,” said Ward. “You can turn off the heat.”

Finally Miss Bobo’s opened for business. Reservations are required, and you can call (931-759-7392) to get them. The place was packed. Cost per person is $23. I was standing in the foyer when two women approached me. “Mister, will you marry us?” the blonde asked. I looked over and saw Mike and Crabtree laughing. Big joke on me. The women laughed, then introduced themselves. They were good friends – not gay – having met eight years earlier in Hawaii where their husbands were serving with the Marines.

Promptly at 1 p.m. the dinner bell rang and we were escorted into the original dining room and seated at a long wooden table with nine other guests.Our hostess gave a short history of the place. The two-story frame house was constructed in 1867 over a natural spring and is located on the National Register for Historic Places. Miss Bobo operated a boarding house there from 1908 until 1983 when she died just shy of 102. Guests got a room and three hots a day. Women and alcohol weren’t allowed in the room. All of that whiskey only blocks away and a guest couldn’t take a snort if he had the shakes!

The guests at our table were a family from Hendersonville, Tennessee. One lady has a relative in Athens. We decided we were cousins and the bantering began. The meal was a cholesterol feast. Heaping bowls of cornbread, fried okra, white beans floating in ham hocks, pork ribs, chicken pastry, baked apples cooked in Jack Daniels and greens, all washed down with sweetened tea and served family style, passed from right to left. Pie and coffee came afterwards.

As we drove away the women were walking down the sidewalk toward town. “SEE YA’LL, COUSINS!” We yelled and waved. They laughed and waved back. Then we saw the two women friends who jokingly asked me to marry them “YA’LL MARRIED YET?” I yelled. Heads turned. Mike got lost and kept going around in a circle and we kept passing the same women. “Let’s get out of here before we get arrested for stalking!” exclaimed Crabtree.

We headed to Kelso, a few miles east of Fayetteville on U.S. Highway 64 to tour Prichard’s Distillery ( www.prichardsdistill.org) and were greeted at the front door by the owner’s son. The tiny distillery is family operated and began distilling hand-crafted rums, whiskey and liqueurs in 1997 in an abandoned brick school building. The tour was free and fun. Half thimble size samples were offered. I was reminded of Daddy, who also made hand crafted corn whiskey in his boutique still way back in 1947. He didn’t offer tours. Sheriff John Sandlin, who had no appreciation for art and free enterprise, chopped up the still with an axe.

Prichard’s is marketed in 42 states and 8 European countries. The biggest seller is “Sweet Lucy,” a bourbon based liqueur. A sign on the wall proclaims, “I promise I will never give Sweet Lucy to a woman if I don’t want to see her naked.” Bill Ward purchased a bottle – strictly for a souvenir – I presume.

We stopped in Fayetteville and visited Alabama Veteran Museum friend, Jack Miller, Westside Antiques, one of the many antique shops around the square. Check it out. It is said that a good laugh a day will extend life. If true, I ought to live an extra 25 years based on that one trip alone.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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5-1-2015 1-05-40 PMLieutenant Tink Haney had been in Vietnam for five months and witnessed men wounded and killed by landmines. Each morning they went down a 12-mile stretch of dirt road, the men walking fast in front of the trucks, sweeping for mines with metal detectors. The VietCong usually buried the homemade mines a foot deep in dirt, rendering the detectors practically useless. “I’d drop a piece of shrapnel on the road and cover it with my foot to test my men,” says Haney. “They never found it.”

When a mine was discovered near the end of a bridge or culvert, Haney didn’t detonate it for fear of damaging the structure. He ordered his men back and dug it up himself. His men weren’t surprised when he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism. “First Lieutenant Tink Haney personally disarmed and removed several mines, some of which were booby-trapped… exposing himself to sniper fire and ambush… selflessly disregarding his own personal injuries… was an inspiration to others…,” the citation stated in part.

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So far he hadn’t received a scratch. Some might say he was lucky. If so, he made a lot of it himself. He filled the back of a 5 ton truck with dirt and the men rode on top after they had swept their assigned stretch of Highway One. “One week I made them back up all the way to our starting point. If the back wheels ran over a mine the dirt would absorb the shock.” But every day the odds were piling up against him and he knew it. “I had enough sense to know that we weren’t finding all of the mines.” He rode on the passenger side of a ¾ ton truck and as a precaution sat on top of sandbags he had stacked on the floorboard. Unfortunately, the driver couldn’t do the same because of the clutch, brake and gas pedals. On the morning of October 23rd, Haney was riding shotgun in a ¾ ton truck as they approached a bridge.

KA-BOOM! A deafening blast shattered the peaceful morning. A fireball shot upward. Chunks of metal, sand and debris sailed through the air followed by billowing smoke. Addled and disoriented, Haney found himself on the side of the road. He had been blown out of the truck, which was now a smoking pile of metal. “A mine exploded on the driver’s side and hit him in the face,” says Haney. “We were receiving fire and I ordered the men to return it. I was lucky. I got up off the ground and discovered that the driver’s feet were blown off.” A medic riding in the back of the truck administered aid. Luckily, a Colonel aboard a chopper saw black smoke and dropped down to lend assistance. “I can’t remember how I got to the hospital at Chu Lai but I’m sure it was by chopper. My back was injured, my right hand was busted and my right knee was cut. I was laid up in the hospital in a warehouse and soldiers were being brought in blown up and crapping on themselves. Finally, they sewed up my hand.”

Later a female physician came by and asked Haney if he was ready to return to duty. “I can’t move,” he replied. He was finally admitted and on the fourth day, his Battalion Commander came by to check on him. “My back hurts. They never checked it,” said Haney. The Colonel chewed out the doctor. The nurses were running around, “What did you tell that Colonel?” they asked Haney. Finally, they x-rayed his back and returned him to duty.

Later, another platoon had several mines behind a berm when one exploded sending flying shrapnel at Haney. “It hit my right jaw and broke it.My face was numb but I could feel my teeth were intact.” He was helicoptered to a hospital.

“Lieutenant, with these wounds, I can send you to Japan and you won’t have to go back to Vietnam,” the doctor told him. Haney chokes. “When I tell this I get emotional. I told the doctor that we were short Lieutenants and they needed me so I went back.”

In early May 1969, Haney boarded a plane at Cam Rahn Bay, along with other returning soldiers, and flew home. He had served 11 months and 26 days in Vietnam. Packed away in his bag were two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Metal with a V device for Valor, and a Bronze Star. The returning soldiers were quiet and reflective. “You’d think the people would be hollering, but nobody said a word until we landed in America. All I could think of was reaching home,” says Haney. They landed Ft. Lewis, Washington and were greeted by war protestors carrying signs.

Haney worked for TVA in Chattanooga for a year and then was transferred to Brownsferry. In 1975, he married Sharon Rainey of Savannah, Tennessee. “Met a good un,” he says. They had two children, Heather, a NASA employee, who lives in Athens and Will who passed away with cancer in 2011. Haney joined the 1343rd National Guard Combat Engineers in Athens, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and Battalion Commander. After 27 years of service he retired. He and Sharon live on Lindsay Lane where they raise pullets. He is a member of the Athens-Limestone Honor Guard and active supporter of the Alabama Veterans Museum.
By: Jerry Barksdale

South Vietnam, May, 1968.

4-3-2015 12-41-54 PMLieutenant Tink Haney of Tanner landed at Tan Son Nhut Airbase outside Saigon and deplaned. It was hot and humid. The new crop of “green seeds” were herded aboard an olive drab colored military bus and hauled to the Placement Center. It was a sobering ride. “Mesh wire had been stretched across the windows so hand grenades couldn’t be thrown inside,” he remembers. “It was a poor, nasty looking place and concentina barbed wire was everywhere. When we got off the bus, sirens sounded and we went inside a culvert and stayed about thirty minutes until the ‘all clear’ was announced.” How quickly life can change.

Only 13 hours earlier, he was stretching his legs in peaceful Honolulu and sucking up a warm ocean breeze that carried with it the sweet fragrance of flowers. Now, he was huddled inside a bomb shelter not knowing what danger awaited him. “I lay on a bunk at the Placement Center wondering where I would be going. Two days later, I heard my name and social security number called over the loud speaker and was told to report to the office.” He was assigned to the 18th Engineering Brigade, 35th Group, 19th Engineering Battalion. “When I arrived at Brigade headquarters at Cam Ranh Bay, I was told there was only one of two places I could be sent. I looked up at the map on the wall and saw that Company B was as far north as you could go. I told myself, ‘this is where I’m going,’” he grins. “I’ll kiss your hind end if that’s not where I went.”

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He reported to Battalion Headquarters at Bon Song some 70 miles north of the sea port Chu Lai and was assigned to Company B and given command of 2nd Platoon. Company B was encamped at LZ Max an isolated compound located on a small hill and encircled with triple concentina wire, apron fence and claymore mines. Low jungled mountains lay to the west, otherwise it was flat terrain where peasant farmers grew rice as they had done for centuries. The muddy paddies were plowed by water buffalo and the rice seedlings were planted by hand. Recently, Viet Cong had attacked the compound. “They put satchel charges on the end of bamboo poles and catapulted them over into the compound and blew up quite a bit,” he says. The main supply route was National Highway 1 (QL1) that ran up the coast hundreds of miles. It was dirt except for a short stretch near battalion headquarters.

Haney’s platoon was charged with maintaining a 12-mile stretch of the road and keeping it free of landmines. “No military traffic could move down the road until it had been swept for mines which usually took till noon to complete.” Hoards of Vietnamese civilians anxiously awaited permission to travel the road each morning. Behind them were military vehicles. “We used hand-held metal detectors that were wore out. It was pitiful.” He shakes his head. “We found about one out of ten mines; military trucks ran over about one out of ten and civilians stepped on some.” When they had finally swept the 12-mile stretch, they moved over and let the civilians pass, some riding motor scooters and Lambrettas.

“Don’t let them come through until they are stacked up behind you,” the Company Commander told Haney. “Then you get out of the road and tell them to come on.” Says Haney, “I thought, ‘what if they run over a mine?’” That’s what happened. A guy was blown to pieces. Following the civilians were military vehicles. The metal detectors were mostly ineffective because the mines were homemade and contained no metal. “The Viet Cong chopped RDX explosives out of dud bombs and put it in sand bags and installed a pressure plate device, often made of bamboo. All of it was made from military parts they had stolen.” The Viet Cong planted mines in the dirt road at night, usually near the end of a culvert or bridge so that the explosives would get three birds with one stone, so to speak – destroy the bridge, vehicle, and passengers inside. Haney had been on the job a couple of weeks when a platoon member yelled “HERE’S A MINE!” Haney saw a string going out into a rice paddy, looked up and spotted a small Vietnamese man some 75 yards away.

“There he goes Lieutenant!” exclaimed a soldier.
“Let me get ‘im!” said another soldier.
“Nah, that just a little old farmer,” said Haney. “Don’t shoot ‘im.”

An inspection revealed that the string led to a hand grenade attached to a 155-millimeter shell. Haney pulled the string, there was an explosion and the 155 projectile whizzed through the air. The supposed farmer was likely a Viet Cong bent on killing Americans.

Later, they spotted the corpse of a Vietnamese man sprawled in the road. Afraid that it might be booby trapped, they threw a grappling hook on the end of a rope and pulled the body in for close for inspection. “He had marks on his wrists like he had been hung up and tortured,” says Haney. “He was shot in one ear and the bullet came out the other one. No one picked up the corpse that day, but it was gone next morning.” Haney speculated that the Viet Cong had killed the man and put his body in the road to spook the Americans.

Haney’s platoon was in constant danger. They worked in the open and were exposed to Viet Cong snipers and ambushes. “We got all of our stuff blown up. One Jeep was blown up and nine Vietnamese people were killed in eight months. Sometimes, when the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) Cadre was brought in to teach the local Viet Cong how to make mines, things would get bad. We were always on the alert.”

For security purposes, an APC (Armed Personnel Carrier) was attached to Haney’s platoon. It had a four-man crew and was armed with two M-60’s and one .50 caliber machine gun. “They didn’t like to run in the road for fear of hitting a mine,” says Haney. “They would get out in rice paddies and make a mess. The Vietnamese farmers were trying to make a living.” He had been a farmer himself and knew how difficult it was. “Don’t be running in people’s rice paddies,” Haney ordered. “That’s their rice. They set it out by hand.” The squad leader stood up on the back of an APC and yelled back at Haney. “Ain’t no g -d engineering officer gonna tell me what to do with my APC.”

“I called our Company Commander and told him I wouldn’t put up with them. They were sent back,” says Haney. Vietnamese civilians worked for Haney. But he never knew if they were innocent civilians or Viet Cong. “We gave them a dollar a day. They were good workers, but not always to be trusted. I caught a guy riding on the back of our truck throwing off stuff. He was a Viet Cong helper. My men went ape. I had to keep them from killing him.”

An investigation revealed that the man’s family had been threatened by the Viet Cong if he didn’t cooperate with them and steal the items. One of Haney’s men was standing on the running board of a truck talking to the driver as they proceeded down Highway 1. The left front wheel struck a mine. The soldier was blown upward into the headboard. He was medivaced and the destroyed truck was pulled into the compound. “We were walking by it one day and I smelled something awful,” says Haney. “I looked and saw that it was some of his flesh. It had rotted.”

Haney had been in Vietnam five months and had seven more to go. He wondered if his luck would continue to hold.

To Be Continued…
By: Jerry Barksdale

3-5-2015 2-55-15 PMMay, 1968. Somewhere over the North Pacific.

The airliner streaked above the ocean at 35,000 feet enveloped by blue sky and blue water. A peaceful scene. The flight time from Honolulu, where they had refueled, to Tan Son Nhut Airbase, South Vietnam was thirteen hours. The cabin was filled with young men wearing crew cuts and smart military uniforms; some asleep, some nervously chattering, others quiet, no doubt thinking about what the following twelve months held for them.

Second Lieutenant Merritt Wilson “Tink” Haney of Tanner, Alabama, wondered how many of them would return home in a flag-draped coffin or wearing a Purple Heart. Would he be one of them? He was an optimist – always had been – but in his heart of hearts, he told himself, “I won’t ever get out of there.” Statistics weren’t in his favor. By the end of the year, the American death toll would reach 30,000 in that beautiful land of green.

He had come a long way from his home, a hardscrabble, cotton farm near Tanner where he had chopped and picked cotton. His parents, Louis Maples Haney, Sr. and Bessie Compton Haney, had named him for his maternal grandfather, Merritt Haney, a well-known faith healer in Elkmont. Folks traveled from as far away as Nashville to seek his healing powers.
Tink didn’t claim to possess healing powers, but when he was 8 years old he rubbed a fellow cotton pickers noggin for a nickel and his headache vanished. On another occasion he rubbed a field hand’s wrist and the pain resolved. The appreciative patient compensated him by picking cotton and putting it in his sack. His grandmother said he was always “messing around and tinkering with stuff” and dubbed him “Tinker” which was later shortened to “Tink”.

After attending Wheeler School at Jones Crossroads, he went to Tanner where he was quarterback and co-captain, along with his cousin, Horace, of the Tanner Rattler football team. It was on the gridiron under the tutelage of Coach Ralph Brett that he began developing leadership skills. Following graduation in 1958 he cotton farmed with his father for three years then worked awhile at Auto-lite in Decatur. But he had greater ambitions.

One day, he promised himself, he would play football at Alabama and study Mechanical Engineering. But a dark cloud hung over his bright future – a green sliver of land called Vietnam. By the end of 1962, over 11,000 American soldiers were there and more were being drafted and sent daily. He knew that eventually he would be sent there, but he wanted to go as an officer. “I figured I would have a better chance of surviving.”

Coach Bear Bryant had led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship in 1961. Tink wanted to play football. ‘Bama could recruit anybody they wanted and weren’t courting Tink, but that didn’t discourage him. “I want to play,” he told Coach Ralph Brett. “I’m going to walk on.” Coach Brett knew Assistant Coach Gene Stallings and asked him to give Tink a chance to play. Stallings agreed. Tink worked out, ran full speed through deep leaves in the woods and maneuvered around trees pretending they were opposing players. He arrived at Alabama in good shape, and brazenly walked in the athletic office.

“I want to see Coach Bryant.” He was referred to Stallings. His effort paid off. There were nine walk-ons that year and I was one of them,” he said. “I played quarterback on the scout team. If we were going to play Auburn that weekend, I’d play the Auburn quarterback during practice. I never got to play a game. I was a grunt – but I enjoyed it.” Coach Bryant wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. “If you got knocked out, they’d just drag you over to the sideline. The name of the game was winning.”

ROTC was mandatory for the first two years in college. “I loved it. I wanted to go to Vietnam as an officer and I needed the money which was about $40 or $50 a month they paid me.” He excelled in ROTC. “I always tried to do the best I could whatever I was doing. I cleaned my weapon and polished my brass.” His diligence paid off. In 1963 he was chosen from 1,000 other students as cadet of the week. “The Sergeant tried to make me cower, but I didn’t.”

During his third year, he made Brigade Sergeant Major, the highest rank achievable. Following his junior year, he was sent to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for nine weeks of basic training and came back to Alabama a Senior and was promoted to Brigade Commander over some two to three thousand men. It was a huge accomplishment. On Governor’s Day, he escorted Governor George Wallace and University President, Frank Rose onto the parade ground. While riding in the back of the Governor’s limousine to the grounds, they passed a bunch of hippies holding anti-war signs. “Whoa – Stop!” ordered Wallace. He got out of the car. “Be sure to get a picture of that,” Wallace said and got back in and turned to Dr. Rose. “A picture of this long hair will get me more votes than anything I can do today.”

Tink was stretched thin. Simultaneously, he was working on a mechanical engineering degree and studying forty hours a week. The ROTC professor called him in his office. “Haney, you made a B in ROTC. Our commander is supposed to make an A.” “Sir, I’m a B man,” replied Tink.

Tink didn’t own a car, but he soon got transportation. “There was a bicycle chained to a rack in front of McCorvey Hall. It had been sitting there two or three weeks with flat tires. I cut the chain, aired the tires and rode it for about a year.” He graduated January, 1967 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and received his 2nd Lieutenant “Butter Bars.” He was also selected Distinguished Military Graduate, “displaying outstanding qualities of leadership, high moral character and academic achievement and exceptional aptitude for military service,” read the certificate.
After receiving an extension from the Army and working for TVA in Chattanooga for four months, he entered serviced on May 9. Naturally, he chose engineering. Following nine weeks of training at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia he was assigned to Ft. Rucker, Alabama. It was while there that he received orders for Vietnam.

The airliner began a slow descent. Tink looked out the window and saw the blue waters of the South China Sea slowly fading into green vegetation. The wheels touched down on the runway. His long journey to Vietnam had finally ended. Or rather, just begun.
By: Jerry Barksdale

2-6-2015 9-49-54 AMSometimes it doesn’t pay to take a nap. Following a hearty meal and cheap wine, I kicked back in my easy chair to watch The Sixties on CNN. They were exciting times for me. I graduated at Athens High in 1960 and enrolled at Athens College that fall. I was in love with a willowy brunette, Carol O’Conner, knocking down $30 for a 90 hour week at a week working 70 hours at McConnell Funeral and carrying a big dream; one day I would attend Alabama Law School.

John F. Kennedy was elected President in November about the time I turned 19. Carol and I married in 1961. We moved into our love nest, a small downstairs apartment in an old 2-story house on South Beaty Street owned by Mrs. Ben Peck. I was riding a gravy train. The following year, the gravy train almost derailed when we edged closer to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Surveillance photos revealed that missile launching pads that pointed toward the U.S. had been constructed in Cuba. During a break in classes at Athens College, several of us were standing in front of McCandless Hall smoking cigarettes when one of the students said he saw a long freight train rumbling south through Athens around midnight. “It was the longest train I ever seen and was loaded with tanks and artillery,” he said.

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Sobering information. I realized I might not live long enough to become a big shot lawyer, not to mention that millions of people might die. I fired up another Winston. President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba. Russian ships carrying missiles kept coming and we inched closer to nuclear war.
Watching those events play out on TV brought back frightful memories. I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in 47 years, but suddenly I wanted a Winston or, maybe two. As we know, a compromise was reached and the Soviet ships turned back. Whew! Nuclear war had been avoided. I relaxed.

There was a commercial break on, and that’s about the time my eyelids grew heavy and I dozed off. Later, I woke. And what I heard brought me straight up in my chair.

“The stock market dropped 400 points today…,” a newscaster said.
“My God! I’ve lost every dime I have!” I exclaimed, now fully awake.
My friend (and sometimes read-head) Pat was seated on the couch. “What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Didn’t you hear? The stock market crashed today!”
“No it didn’t.” she laughed. “They’re talking about the sixties.”
“Whew, thank the Lord, I thought it was now.”

Folks, if you’ve never experienced being suddenly broke and penniless and in the next second learn that your riding lawnmower hasn’t been repossessed and you still have an income, you haven’t lived. It’s a wild ride. I felt like I had won the lottery and wanted to do a little jig to celebrate my newly acquired wealth.
It caused me to think. Many consumer products carry warning labels and TV screens should do no less for the benefit of senior citizens.


Several years ago my good friend, Joe Langster, told me a story about his elderly father, Alfred, who went to sleep on the couch while watching “The Waltons.” The movie “Pearl Harbor” had just been released and was being promoted on TV. Mr. Langster woke during the commercial promoting the movie and what he saw scared him half to death. The Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. Joe drove up about this time and Mr. Langster jumped from his couch and ran outside.
“Darn if the Japs ain’t bombing Pearl Harbor again!” said Mr. Langster.
“How you know?” Joe asked.
“I saw it on TV.”

It took some talking to convince Mr. Langster that he had seen a commercial, and not current news. He could have had a heart attack or worse. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t pay to relax.
By: Jerry Barksdale

1-3-2015 2-04-04 PMJimmie and I were off on another big adventure. We had given up our search for the gravesite of outlaw Frank James in Lawrence County, Tennessee, because we discovered he is buried in Missouri. Instead we decided to follow what I called the “Possum’s Trail.” Along the way, I wanted to know more about Jimmie’s life and visit where country singing legend George Jones had lived, worked, and done mischief.

When we neared Rogersville (known for its tasty fried catfish, friendly citizens, and low speed limit), I slowed to 45mph. Jimmie reminded me that Rogersville was where fans became so upset back in the 1970s they jumped the wrestlers. “We had to fight our way back to the dressing room,” he said. “The police put us in a squad car, and took us out of town where fans couldn’t attack us.”

On another occasion in Rogersville, Jimmie (AKA “Cry Baby Hills”) was wrestling Rick Singleton when fans jumped him again. Singleton intervened. “Thanks to him, he saved me that night.” Jimmie had a boa constrictor named “Julius Squeezer” that he threw on his opponent to taunt the crowd. I was beginning to suspect that my friend Jimmie wasn’t a principled and sportsmanlike wrestler. I slouched low in the seat and pressed the accelerator, not wanting to be seen with “Cry Baby Hills.” Some Rogersville folks may have a long memory.

We approached Killen, where Jimmie was born. “Did I tell you how Spooner Oldham got his nickname?” asked Jimmie, who lived across the road from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer when they were kids. “No,” I said. “When he was a baby, he accidentally poked a spoon in his eye and put it out.” Jimmie said. Spooner is featured in the documentary movie Muscle Shoals, which I highly recommend.

Shortly, I turned south into a subdivision of nice homes and well-groomed lawns. “Pull into this driveway,” said Jimmie, pointing to a fine house perched on a hill far back off the street. It was a heavy moment. “This is where Ann and I lived when she died,” he said quietly. The beautiful 16 year old daughter of a Baptist preacher that he had married in Iuka two weeks after meeting her died suddenly. “I woke up beside her and she was dead; had a stroke and died in her sleep. I think about her every day.”

In Florence, we drove past Darby Drive and Jimmie pointed out a small strip mall where his shop was located when George Jones came in for his first haircut. Wow! The location where Jimmie created the famous George Jones possum cut. I asked how he did it. “Put in a little gel, blow dried it, and straightened it. He always gave me a hundred dollars.”

In the 1970s, Jimmie went to New York and competed in the world haircutting competition, where he placed first in men’s hairstyling. He was given a free trip to compete in Europe, but didn’t go.

We stopped at Bunyon’s Barbecue on West College Street. I knew it would be good eating when I saw folks lining up at the counter. Everyone seemed to know Jimmie. Sherriff Willis came in and Jimmie introduced me. “I think Lauderdale County is about to elect its first Republican Sherriff,” he said, referring to former wrestler and Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton, who had just won the Republican primary.

We ordered barbecue sandwiches slathered with lots of mustard slaw, and drove to McFarland Park. We sat a picnic table by the river’s edge. “This is where we used to come and park with our dates,” Jimmie said. My sandwich was delicious, but had turned to yellow mush, and I had to eat it with my fingers. I recommend the sandwich, but grab plenty of napkins.

Jimmie grew quiet. He said that about 4 months after Ann died, she woke him up calling his name.

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“I looked up, and she was smiling at me,” he said. “Then she just vanished.” “She was letting you know she was okay,” I offered. I asked how he met his current wife, Barbara. “We were both attending grieving classes and later I saw her at church,” said Jimmie. “One Sunday after church, I asked her to go to Shoney’s with us and eat strawberry pie and have coffee. Then we started dating and got married in 2006. She’s a real good woman, and she’s good to me.”

We crossed the Tennessee River and headed to Muscle Shoals. “Would you like to see the house where George lived?” he asked. The possum tour was under way! We pulled into the driveway of a 3-level house at 2106 Marietta Street. The owner, Tom Drake, was in the yard and recognized Jimmie. He invited us inside. Just off a two-car garage was a rec room where Jimmie and George had once played pool. Upstairs was a large living room. “I was sitting here one night babysitting and watching TV when Bosephus (Hank Jr.) showed up looking for George,” said Jimmie. “I told him he wasn’t here. He went out and got a bottle of Jack Daniels and came in and we watched TV until 2a.m.”

We headed to Tuscumbia to visit Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery, Grammy nominee, member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and one of the most prolific songwriters in America. Earlier, I had Googled him. He had written and co-written 73 George Jones songs, 15 solos for Tammy Wynette, and 13 duos with George Jones. His songs have been recorded by so many famous artists that I lost count: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Eddie Arnold, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Emmylou Harris, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Jr., Percy Sledge, Barbara Mandrell, and others. Peanutt is a major talent.

North Main Street in Tuscumbia reminded me of a movie scene in the 1930s. We parked in front of a vacant and shuttered building and walked across the street to Charlotte’s Variety Store, a combination discount and thrift shop. An old metal desk and several other items of used furniture were scattered on the sidewalk. An older model pickup truck hooked to a trailer loaded with display cases was parallel parked in front.

“There’s Peanutt and Charlene,” Jimmie said, and waved. An attractive blonde was sitting on a metal desk talking to an unshaven man wearing jogging shoes, jeans, knit pull-over shirt, and a cap with a soiled bill. It was Peanutt. They were happy to see Jimmie, who introduced me. “I feel like I should address you as Mr. Peanutt,” I said. He smiled. Good teeth and soft eyes. “Just plain Peanutt, with two ‘t’s’,” he said, and shook my hand. “I’m a name, not a thing.”

While Jimmie and Peanutt reminisced about George, I conversed with Charlene. She is also a songwriter and author of recently released “The Legend of George Jones, His Life and Death.” I purchased a copy, and she and Peanutt signed it, “May God bless you.” Charlene’s sister, Linda Welborn, was George Jones’ girlfriend, fiancé, and according to Charlene, common law wife. It struck me as unusual that these two uncommon and famous people were so down home and well… so common looking. Just plain folks; no limousine, no fancy clothes, and no airs. I immediately liked them.

Several years ago, they got off the fast lane, gave up their castle-like mansion on Hillsboro Road in Nashville, and turned their attention to God. Peanutt put down the bottle, picked up the Bible, and began preaching at Oakwood Baptist Church. Charlene said that the Hollywood producer of “Naked and Afraid” had contacted them about a reality show. I predict it will be a hoot and a hit. Imagine, Peanutt writing Country songs about drinking, driving tractors, and selling junk through the week and preaching to folk on Sunday. Only in the South.

George Jones was married five times, according to Charlene. Tammy Wynette was his third wife. After their divorce, Charlene introduced him to her recently divorced sister, Linda Welborn, in 1974. It was love at first sight for George. They never formalized their vows during years of holding themselves out as husband and wife.

There is no doubt that Peanutt and Charlene loved George-enough for Peanutt to obtain a court order having in him committed to Hillcrest Hospital in a straight jacket.

Peanutt announced that he had to deliver the trailer load of old display cases, and ambled toward the pickup. Jimmie and I said goodbye and departed. “Y’all come back anytime,” hollered Charlene.

On the trip back to Athens, Jimmie told me he was paid $250 a day to travel with George, style his hair, and keep a watchful eye on him. George would disappear. It was an interesting and sometimes dangerous job. “We got run out of Canada one time,” he said. “We were playing at the Maple Leaf Garden and somehow George got hold of some cocaine and didn’t want to go on stage. I talked him into it. He stopped in the middle of singing ‘White Lightning,’ shot the audience a bird and said ‘this is what I think of your Queen.’ The fans tried to turn the bus over with us in it.”

On another occasion, George was playing in Hollywood and decided he wanted to fly to Vegas and see Willie Nelson. The next morning they took George to the airport to fly back to California. “Somehow, he got away; just disappeared,” said Jimmie. “I searched the airport. He was nowhere to be found. I walked outside, and there he stood, waiting on a taxi. I asked him where the hell he was going. ‘To Culbert Park,’ George replied. That’s located on the Natchez Trace. I got George back to his room and he wanted to talk to Willie Nelson. I went and got Willie to come up to talk. George dozed off. We pulled off his clothes and left him naked so he wouldn’t run.”

Back at Jimmie’s house, I decided I wanted the man who designed the famous possum cut to style my hair. I removed my cap. “Jimmie, can you give me a possum cut?” I asked. He looked at my bald head. “Well, I’ll have to charge you a finder’s fee,” he said.

Jimmie cuts hair at the Razor’s Edge in Athens on Monday, Thursday and Friday, and half a day on Saturday. A regular haircut costs $12.00. I suspect a possum cut will cost you more.
By: Jerry Barksdale

12-5-2014 3-44-36 PMOne day in 1974, Country Music legend George Jones called Jimmie Hills’ barber shop and made an appointment. “No Show” Jones didn’t show up. Nor did he show up for the next several appointments. “He walked in one day and asked me to cut his hair,” says Jimmie. “He gave me a hundred dollar bill and told me to keep the change. He would come by the shop two or three times a week just for me to shampoo and style his hair. We got to be friends and would go out and have lunch together.” It was the beginning of a 22 year journey for Jimmie, often rocky and challenging, but never dull.

One evening, George dropped by Jimmie’s house and stayed several hours just to talk; said the Hills seemed like a good family. He asked 12-year-old Danny Hills to go to the car and get his shaving kit. “George opened it and pulled out the biggest roll of money I’d ever seen,” said Jimmie. He counted out three thousand dollars, offered it to Jimmie and said, “I want you to be my friend.”

“George, my friendship isn’t for sale. I don’t want your money. I’ll be your friend no matter what,” replied Jimmie. “After that, we became really good friends. I heard later that’s how he tested people to see if they were honest.”

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George was troubled, but always generous. “I was giving him a hair cut one day and a woman came in the shop and saw his expensive ring with a guitar surrounded by diamonds. She said she’d like to have a ring like that. George pulled it off his finger and gave it to her,” says Jimmie. “I got the lady aside and told her not to take it. She gave it back. George was generous and would give you the shirt off his back.”

George came by the barbershop on several occasions, intoxicated and passed out in the chair. Jimmie and Ann always took him home. This was after George and Tammy Wynette had divorced and he was dating Linda Welborn, Peanutt Montgomery’s sister-in-law.

Jimmie was driving George home when the latter wanted to stop at a small cemetery. “If there is a God, those people wouldn’t be in those graves,” George said.
Jimmie rolled down the window and let in fresh air. A bee flew inside the car and stung George on the neck. “He got down on the floor and started praying. I laughed at ‘em. “Why are you laughing at me?” George asked. “Because you’re crazy.” That proved to be phrophetic.

George would frequently appear unannounced at the barber shop or at the Hills’ home and request Jimmie to drive him around and listen to him talk. He and Linda Welborn were having problems. One night, Jimmie was driving him in his Lincoln Town Car down the Natchez Trace, while George drank Jack Daniels from the bottle, tooted cocaine and talked about Linda. A herd of deer walked onto the road and paused. immie stopped the car. “Jimmie if you going to hunt deer get yo’self a shotgun,” said George. “Listen to me when I’m talking to you.” His behavior became more bizarre as time passed.

“That was one of numerous trips down the Trace. I bet I’ve driven a million miles up and down the Trace listening to my friend, George,” says Jimmie.
On another occasion, George stopped at the barber shop near closing time and asked Jimmie to buy him supper. Jimmie told him that Ann was cooking and would set out an extra plate as she had done on many occasions. George wanted to go to Bonanza Steakhouse. On the way there, George said someone had robbed him of $25,000. While crossing the Tennessee River bridge, George reached under the seat of the Lincoln, pulled out a pistol and put it to Jimmie’s head. “I’m going to kill the SOB,” said George. “I didn’t take your money,” Jimmie said and pushed the pistol away with his hand.

“Oh, I know you didn’t get it my son,” said George. “I would have given it to you because I love you like a brother.” George said he had been asleep on a couch at a car lot and the owner had taken his money out of his pocket. “I know where the SOB lives and you’re gonna help me kill’em,” said George. “Not me George!”

Jimmie tried to convince him to go home, but George was insistent. Finally, thinking that food might cause George to go to sleep, Jimmie stopped at an Omelette Shop in Muscle Shoals. A song writer, his wife and George’s girlfriend, Linda Welborn pulled up simultaneously and they all went inside and sat in the same booth.

“You remember being over at my house one night?” said George to the songwriter. “I seen you in the hallway. You got some money outta Linda’s purse.” George yanked out his pistol, stuck it between the man’s eyes and started pulling back the hammer. Jimmie grabbed George’s hand, punched him hard in the ribs and wrestled him down. Customers scattered like quail on the rise. One man jumped over the counter. The songwriter and company made a fast getaway. The manager called the cops.

“George, let’s get outta here!” exclaimed Jimmie. “They done called the law.” Jimmie pulled George out of the restaurant, put him in the Lincoln, and slammed the door on his ankle. “You broke my ankle! Oh God, you broke it,” George hollered.

Sirens were wailing and growing louder. Jimmie peeled rubber and made a getaway. “We drove around until 2 a.m.,” says Jimmie. “I expected the cops to be waiting for us but they weren’t. The police were real good to George and helped him all they could.” Jimmie put George to bed. The next evening, George came to the shop. “He didn’t remember anything,” says Jimmie.

George seemed to have a Guardian Angel. Maybe he was just lucky, but most likely it was his fans who looked out for him. George was late for a flight from Huntsville to Nashville and didn’t have time to park his new Lincoln. So he parked his new Lincoln on the sidewalk at the front door.

He called Jimmie . “I’ve left my car at Huntsville Airport. Can you go up there and get it?” “I guess. Why?” asked Jimmie. “I left it by the door and I’m afraid they’ll tow it off,” said George. Jimmie and Ann knew they would need a key so they called the dealership, explained what happened, picked up a new key and headed to Huntsville Airport.

“The car was parked in the front door – I mean up on the sidewalk, engine still running,” says Jimmie. “A note was on the dashboard. ‘Please to whom it may concern, I was in quite a hurry, this flight was very important. My name is George Jones with the Grand Ol Opry and I’ll be back tomorrow evening.’ It had probably been there four hours. Nobody touched it,” says Jimmie. He pushed aside the empty Beenie Weenie cans, pork rinds and cheese balls on the seat and drove it home.

The note is framed and now hangs in Jimmie’s den.
By: Jerry Barksdale

11-7-2014 3-08-47 PMTrouble seemed to follow Jimmie Hills. Some might say it was the other way around. While stationed at Long Beach, California in the Navy, he purchased a 1951 Mercury convertible for a mere $45.00 from a friend who was shipping out overseas.

When on duty, Jimmie rented it out to shipmates in order to raise money for gas. The deal was if they wrecked it, they paid and if it broke down they repaired it. He rented it to Sparks, who dented the fender and refused to fix it. A disagreement ensued. One night, Jimmie returned to ship brave on beer. Sparks was on Quarter Deck duty. An argument erupted and Sparks hit him. Jimmie ran to quarters, fetched his sailor’s knife and chased Sparks throughout the ship, but couldn’t catch him. Jimmy was arrested and charged with attempted murder. “That scared me half to death,” he says. “They found me guilty and sentenced me to a “Retraining Camp” for six months. It was nothing more than a Federal Pen with Marine guards.” Fortunately, a Navy review board reversed the decision and cleared his record.

Then there was the time he and fellow sailors threw firecrackers at dancing girls in Tijuana, Mexico. They were thrown in jail. “There was no floor and a bucket for a toilet,” says Jimmy. “They took my watch and $8.00 and never gave it back.”

“The Navy was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Jimmie. “I got my GED and I learned to respect my elders.” Following his discharge in February of 1959, he drove a taxi for his cousin, Bob Trousdale in Florence. “I was making a little extra money on the side hauling and selling bootleg whiskey,” he says. One day, he picked up a man at a bootlegger’s house who paid him $75 just to ride him around. It was Charlie McCravy (the author’s cousin), a Florence barber who helped Jimmie purchase barbering tools and gave him his first job. An older barber in McCravy’s shop was so greedy that he would rub a white towel on his shoe soles, rub it on the customer’s head, then show it to him and recommend a shampoo.

“He was so afraid he would miss a customer that came in, he would urinate in a fruit jar behind the door,” says Jimmie. After nine months, Jimmie went to work at another barber shop where he learned to cut flattops – the price: 75?. One day a black 1958 Ford drove up to the grocery store next door and the prettiest girl he’d ever seen was behind the wheel. His friend, Jimmy Miller said she was Ann Burcham, the daughter of a Baptist Preacher.

Jimmy was smitten. He called and got permission to see her that night. “It was love at first sight,” says Jimmie. “We sat on the couch with her mother present and talked and talked.” Two weeks later they married in Iuka. Ann was only 16, and her mother accompanied them to Preacher Goober’s house to give parental permission. “After paying for the blood test and the marriage license, I had only $3 left,” says Jimmie. “Preacher Goober’s fee was $5. I didn’t have it. Ann’s mother handed me $5 and I handed it to the preacher. I have always teased her that she paid me to take her daughter.”

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There was no money for a honeymoon. Jimmie borrowed a $100, Ann bought a new dress and they spent the rest at the County Fair. A year and a half later, he scraped up some money and they headed to the Smokies for their honeymoon, driving an old Buick. “The first motel we stopped at, the lady at the desk asked if we were on our honeymoon,” says Jimmie. “When Ann got out of the car, she was big as a barrel. The desk lady gave us a funny look.” The valves stuck on the Buick and they had to pull over and pour coal oil in the engine, let it run awhile, and then add oil.

Donna Ann was born in 1961, and Jimmy David was born October, 1962. By this time Jimmie was barbering just off the UNA campus and knocking down big money – $1.00 per haircut. Jimmie’s first celebrity hairdo was in 1973 when country singer, George Morgan and his daughter, Lorrie were in Florence giving a concert. “I don’t remember who called me to come down to the Coliseum to style George’s hair, but I jumped at the chance,” says Jimmie. “He sat on the toilet stool while I cut his hair.”

The following year, professional wrestler, Billy Tully came in the shop for a haircut and asked Jimmie to referee a wrestling match in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee the following Saturday night. It was his first refereeing experience.

“The match was between Dr. Ken Ramey and the Interns,” says Jimmie. “One of the Interns grabbed me and tossed me out of the ring. My head hit a chair and I ended up at the hospital in Florence gett’n four stitches in my right ear.” A couple of years later, Jimmie became the manager of “The Outlaws,” a masked team. “At Rogersville, fans got so upset they jumped the wrestlers and we had to fight our way back to the dressing room. The police put us in a police car and took us out of town where no one would attack us.”
Then Jimmie got his big chance to wrestle at a match in Lewisburg, Tennessee. The team was short a man and Jimmie was put in. “One of the wrestlers accidentally kicked me and broke three of my ribs. It hurt like the Devil. Fans nicknamed me “Cry Baby Hills.” When anything went wrong I’d kick the ropes and make like it hurt my foot and grab my face like I was crying. “They’d bring baby bottles and some of the women even took out their breasts and shook ‘em at me. I’d tell ‘em they were ugly – anything to make ‘em mad.”
Jimmy was attacked in Ripley, Mississippi. “When fans were coming into the ring after us, the other wrestlers came over to help us. It was Butch Boyette that really saved us when he brought out a 2×4. We got escorted out of many towns.” Jimmie enraged fans by throwing his boa constrictor, “Julius Squeezer,” on opposing wrestlers.

While wrestling Ricky Singleton in Rogersville, a fan came up behind Jimmie and grabbed his arm. “I turned and grabbed ‘em and gave ‘em a finger in the eye and a knee in the crotch. Ricky got ahold of me and started wrestling me. He saved me that night.” Singleton is currently Police Chief of Florence. Jimmie “Cry Baby Hills,” weary of broken ribs and irate fans, gave up wrestling in 1984.

Earlier, country music legend George Jones had split with his wife, Tammy Wynette and moved to Florence, where he was friends with another country music legend, songwriter Peanutt Montgomery and his famous sister, Melba Montgomery. Jimmie had been friends with Peanutt and Melba since childhood. “Peanutt told George about me,” says Jimmie.

Up next: part 3!
By: Jerry Barksdale

10-3-2014 2-00-18 PMThe life of Jimmie Hills is the stuff of a country song. If I wrote it, I’d call it “A Southern Boy Gone Good.” I picked up Jimmie at his house in Athens on a hot July afternoon, and we headed toward Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. We were searching for the grave of outlaw Frank James. Never mind that the bank robber is buried in Independence, Missouri. That didn’t faze us one bit. “I saw his tombstone,” said Jimmie. That was good enough for me. Never let facts get in the way of a great adventure. We didn’t find the road to the cemetery, much less the cemetery, but we did eat a fine lunch at the Mustang Café in Loretta, Tennessee, once an old country store with the walls decorated with memorabilia. After spending an afternoon wandering through the rolling hills of Lawrence County with Jimmie, I know why country music legend, George Jones, enjoyed his companionship. He’s just plain fun. We drove past a field of rolled bales of hay. “You know the government has outlawed rolled bales,” Jimmie said.

“I don’t believe it!”
“Yeah, they don’t give a cow a square meal,” he deadpanned.

I met Jimmie last year when he volunteered at the Alabama Veterans’ Museum. He and his second wife, Barbara, had recently moved from Florence to Athens to be near her work as a lab tech with Dr. Quereshi. Jimmie, a Navy Veteran, poked out his hand. “I’m Jimmie Hills.”
“Hill or Hills?” I asked.
“Hills with an s.”

I dubbed him Jimmie “Two” Hills. We’ve been friends ever since. Jimmie, an award winning barber, created George Jones’ famous hairdo – the possum cut – and was his good friend, barber and frequent traveling buddy for 22 years.

Jimmie was delivered at home in Killen, Alabama, in August of 1938 by his grandmother, while his father, Willie Hills was walking nine miles to Florence to fetch a doctor. His father loved his liquor – and once fell into the well while tipsy – but never missed a day’s work at Reynolds Metals in 27 years. With one of his first paychecks, he walked from Killen to Florence and purchased a radio, which brought them the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. Jimmie’s mother, Ethel Loveless Hills, owned the only piano in the community, and played banjo and several other instruments. On Saturday nights during the 1940s, neighbors showed up at their house to jam. Some would become famous. Jimmie’s first cousin, Kenneth Loveless, played guitar with Jerry Lee Lewis for 33 years. Buddy Killen played bass and ended up at the Grand Ol’ Opry. He also became a record producer, music publisher and owner of Trinity Broadcasting Network, as well as Tree International. Autry Inman, Wesley Stephens and Charles Haggard would go on to play at the Opry. Jimmie attended Green Hill School with Melba Montgomery, a singer and recording artist with the Opry, who also sang duets with George Jones. Melba’s brother, Peanutt Montgomery, one of the most prolific and famous song writers in America, is also a friend of Jimmie’s. Jimmie grew up across the street from legendary musician, Spooner Oldham. Spooner would go on to write songs, play at Fame Studio at Tuscumbia, back up Neil Young, and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, as well as the Alabama Hall of Fame in 2014. Being surrounded by such talent, one might think some of it rubbed off on Jimmie. His talent lay elsewhere.

While we bumped down country roads, Jimmie reminisced about growing up in Killen. I love a good story. “Preacher Tommy Davis could preach the Holy Ghost right down on you,” says Jimmie. “He had liked his liquor and good times before he started living for the Lord. After a bad car wreck and broke neck, he was hunched over. Sometimes he’d get to preach’n and stand up straight. He preached on the courthouse square in Florence on Saturday mornings, and would preach so hard he would lose his breath and have to start over.” Preacher Davis made a brush arbor and called a meeting where he preached, played guitar and sang old timey gospel songs. “The women would get so happy and get to shout’n and testify’n and bobby pins would start fly’n,” says Jimmie. “The men would shake and some people would speak in tongues. It scared us kids to death. “Walking home in the darkness, Jimmie and his sister, Mildred, clung to their grandmother’s skirt, afraid that the Devil was going to jump out of the bushes and get them. “When we got home, they put me and Mildred in the back bedroom, and we crouched all the way under the cover and tried to hide,” says Jimmie. “We could hear the old Devil at the foot of the bed.”

Jimmie rebelled in the 8th grade at St. Florian. His parents were fussing and not getting along, and he began playing hooky from school, often leaving and hitchhiking to Florence. If he had a dime, he went and saw a movie. “I didn’t care if I flunked or passed. The more Mama whipped me, the more I didn’t care,” says Jimmie. They sent him to Detroit one summer to stay with his sister Mildred, who was living there with an older sister, Opal and her husband, Coon Thompson. “Mildred got me aside one night,” says Jimmie, “and told me to go back home, because no one up there wanted me; that I was in the way. That really hurt my feelings.” His mother wired him money by Western Union the following day, and he caught a bus back to Florence. “I went back to school in the fall, but I just couldn’t handle it.” He ran away from home when he was 14 years old, caught a ride to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and was given a ride by a guy driving an 18-wheeler who took him to Michigan, where Jimmie’s brother lived. His brother called their father, and then put him on a Trailway back to Florence. His father met him at the station and asked, “Are you okay?”

Says Jimmie, “He never said another word until we got home, and then said, ‘Go to the back room.’ I knew what was coming. He pulled out the longest belt I’d ever seen, and whipped me as I lay across the bed. I thought my name was ‘Dammit, Boy’ until I went in the Navy.”

Jimmie ran away again, but remembering the belt, decided to return home before nightfall. In 1953, his father bought their first TV. “It would be so snowy, we couldn’t see anything,” says Jimmie.

“There was wrestling every Saturday night, and we always watched it. Uncle Clyde Thomas and his family came over. He’d get so mad when the bad guy got the best of the good guy, he’d get down and pound the floor with his fists and cuss the referee. ‘Why does he turn his back and let the SOB do that?’” It was a harbinger of things to come.

When Jimmie was 17 years old and running with the wrong crowd, he got in “a little trouble,” as he called it. “We borrowed a car and wrecked it.” The Judge gave him a choice of jail or military service. “I enlisted in the Navy in 1955, but they sent me back home to fatten up.” He was four pounds underweight. “I ate bananas until they came out of my ears, but I gained the four pounds.”

His first Navy haircut was unforgettable. He sat down in the chair and pointed to a mole on the back of his neck. “That was the first place he put the clippers. He cut that mole half off and you talk about bleeding,” says Jimmie. “The company commander came up to me and said ‘Boy, if you bleed on that shirt, I’ll kill you.’”
“I wanna go home,” said Jimmie.

The commander laughed and sent him to sick bay.
While serving on the U.S.S. Epping Forest, Jimmie learned to barber. It was a skill that would open many doors for him in the future.
By: Jerry Barksdale

9-5-2014 3-31-50 PMDuring four decades of law practice I’ve had some close calls. Once, the brother of a woman murdered by our client, (oops, I meant “allegedly murdered”), tried to run me down with a car as I crossed the street. A female caller said a bomb was under my new dream home. A man threatened to torch my law office during a capital murder trial and a fellow actually told me face to face that he was going to kill me. I’ve been threatened with numerous “whuppins.” All in a day’s work. But the attempt to assassinate me was the most intriguing. It occurred during the time the “Slingshot Bandit” was terrorizing Athens merchants. Each morning, Athenians woke to discover that another merchant’s window had been shot out. It was a drive-by-shooting southern style – rather courteous and respectful – no gun, no bullet, no one injured. Just a steel ball bearing and an old fashion slingshot was the weapon.

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It was a mystery to citizens. Why would anyone want to shoot out store windows? Morning coffee drinkers at Dub’s Burgers were on the case.
“Maybe Ernest T. Bass moved from Mayberry to Athens,” said one fellow.
“Nah, this is strictly high-tech,” said another. “He’s using steel ball bearings.”
“Whoever it is must have plenty of money, they don’t give ball bearings away free.”
“And he’s smart,” said another. “Ball bearings ain’t traceable.”
Athenians were stumped. Who was committing these crimes and why?

My law office was located at 212 South Marion Street. A large window was located directly behind my desk chair. I liked to swivel around and look out the window at the Maple trees across the street, especially in the fall. One morning I arrived at work and found a bullet hole in the glass about head level behind my chair. Had I been present, my head would have caught a bullet for sure. I was puzzled. The only woman I knew who owned a gun was my wife, whom I eliminated as a suspect after she had stated on several occasions that I wasn’t worth wasting a bullet on. I didn’t call the cops. I set out to solve the crime before the assassin struck again.
Who would want to kill me? And what was the motive? Perhaps it was a client whose divorce case I had lost? Too many to count, I concluded. First, I had to find the spent bullet. I inserted a pencil in the bullet hole and followed its trajectory toward a row of files in the adjoining room where the door was always open. No spent bullet was found.

I stuck a wad of toilet paper in the bullet hole to keep out flies, mosquitoes and such. Clients sitting in front of my desk took notice.
“Say, ain’t that a bullet hole I see?” asked a fellow.
“Yeah, probably an irate woman in a divorce case trying to assassinate me,” I said nonchalantly.
“Darn! You must be a pretty good divorce lawyer if someone is trying to kill ya.”
“Awww, it could happen to anyone -” I replied.
“-Or a pretty bad ‘un,” he added.
I changed the subject
The tissue remained in the bullet hole for months and I got a lot of mileage out of it. I could have easily doubled my fees in divorce cases, but didn’t.
One Monday morning I arrived at my office and found a steel ball bearing resting in my chair. The cleaning lady had found it in the carpet over the weekend. The Slingshot Bandit, not an assassin, was the culprit! I was disappointed.

In the future, when a client saw the hole behind my desk chair and exclaimed: “Wow! Is that a bullet hole?” I’d reply, “it sure looks like one.” I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t worth killing.

Later, the Slingshot Bandit was arrested by the Athens Police Department. I knew him well. He hired me to defend him.
“Why did you shoot out my window?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he replied. “I could’ve made a mistake and shot out the wrong window.”

The only thing worse than not being worth killing was having my window shot out by mistake. Life has its disappointments.
By: Jerry Barksdale