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

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

6-6-2015 11-46-32 AM

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.

“FALLNG ASLEEP AND SUDDENLY AWAKENING COULD RESULT IN HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, URGE TO URNIATE, SOILED UNDERWEAR AND HEART ATTACK. CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE WATCHING THIS PROGRAM.” It never hurts to be cautious.

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.
“Joe!”
“What?”
“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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“Jimmiee-Jimmieee…”

“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