8-1-2014 3-29-48 PMOn the evening of April 28th I was reading a book while keeping one eye on the weather station. The red blob on the weather map was moving toward my house. When the newscaster said there was a possibility of tornadoes, my friend (and sometimes redhead) Pat suggested that we drive to Aunt Jo Holt’s on Highway 72 and get in her storm shelter. “Let’s wait a while,” I said.

I was following Daddy’s theorem about tornadoes which he explained as follows: “Aww, well, it’ll either git you or it won’t.” That’s 50-50 odds. He never went anywhere except to bed; claimed the wind and rain made him sleep soundly. I was beginning to wish I had purchased a storm shelter instead of hoarding my money for a trip. As the wind increased, it occurred to me that the only trip I might be taking was to eternity. I initiated my safety procedure by removing suitcases and several bushels of junk from the hall closet. My survival plan was to get inside the closet at the last moment, close the door and pray hard. Heavy rain battered the storm door and windows. Wind howled outside. I heard the wailing sirens at Rogersville and Clements. Then the power went off. Our cellphones wouldn’t function. Pat’s niece texted, telling us that a tornado was headed straight toward us.

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“Let’s go to Jo’s!” exclaimed Pat, but it was too late. Afterwards, when the worst had passed, I followed Daddy’s example and went to bed and slept like a rock with no idea of what had happened to others. Next morning, I noticed that a dead limb had fallen from a large Poplar tree in the back yard. Then I brewed coffee on the gas grill in the carport. Texting brought news of death and destruction nearby.

Later, when I drove to Athens to obtain a generator at Tall Paul’s Rental, I witnessed the destruction for the first time. Aunt Jo’s place looked like a giant bush hog had chopped through it. Ancient trees were down and one was lying right where my little Toyota pick-up would have been parked had we fled to her storm shelter. Pat and I transferred the contents of three freezers, some 28 packets of sweet corn, soup and leftovers to my deep freeze. I plugged in the generator. Over nine days, I estimated that I used about $100 worth of gas to save those 28 bags of corn and leftovers. However, the generator proved its worth in other ways. It powered my coffee maker, radio and a reading light. Listening to the radio at night reminded me of my childhood back in the 1940s. Daddy would turn on our battery-powered radio and it crackled with static as he dialed in the evening news. Back then there was real news, not the puff stuff of today which is mostly entertainment, promoting books, and telling us which actor has re-entered rehab, or, even worse, what the Kardashians are doing. I don’t believe a darned word they say anymore. Daddy’s favorite newscaster was Gabriel Heatter. He had never heard of political correctness. When his rich baritone voice came across the airwaves, Daddy shushed us. “Everybody be quiet.”

“Good evening everyone. There is good news tonight!” said Heatter. Then he told about a Japanese destroyer that American forces had sunk or some other great news. Nowadays, a gorgeous blonde with long legs poking out of a miniskirt reports the latest lies out of Washington. I am sick of it – not the nice legs – the lies! I want to hear good news such as the number of lying, conniving politicians that have been arrested that day, how many are on trial and how many were convicted. I want to see videos of FBI cuffing them and dragging them out of our marble buildings. I want to believe in my government again. Sorry about the rant, but the thought of TV non-news and Washington politicians triggers a deep primitive instinct inside me to grab a bucket of hot tar and a wad of feathers and march on Washington.

Anyway, no power for nine days was a blessing for me in some small way. I got out my chainsaw and Pat and I helped Aunt Jo clean up following the tornado. I took cold showers and listened to the radio at night. I witnessed neighbors coming together to help one another. I saw men and women from other areas clearing debris and restoring power lines. When I drove past them, I yelled “Thank you!” It felt good. One morning I was cutting up a large oak tree when an Ardmore fire truck drove up. Three well-fed guys unloaded with a chainsaw and went to work. I didn’t get their names, but said “thank you Ardmore!”

God bless this county. I love the people and I love living here. I haven’t lost faith in my neighbors, only my government. I learned that Limestone Countians are resilient and self-reliant. I also learned that prayer is powerful, but believe that the Lord helps those who help themselves. I’ve decided to do my part. I’m forgetting about the planned trip. Instead, I’m installing a storm shelter.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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7-4-2014 1-02-37 PMCell phones not only make me feel stupid, they are constantly buzzing, singing or speaking and destroying my peace and tranquility. Every time my phone buzzes, I jump. I think that a bumblebee is in my pants. My cell phone is one that you might purchase at a five and dime store if they were still around. Its black with a flip cover and all I have to do is say “hello” to answer. I’m still working on that. When I pull out my cell phone people giggle and point. “Dude, you carry that around?” It reminds me of when I was a kid and wearing overalls with my pant legs rolled up several turns. Kids would laugh at me. But there was logic behind my dress. I could wear the overalls the following year after I’d grown a few inches and more importantly, I could show off my new socks that Mama had bought for me. My phone does several tricks, but they are a mystery to me. One day, I was going to take a call and it took my picture. Sometimes it will ring and sometimes it won’t. I have to sit in a certain chair in my house to communicate. Sometimes I’ll be talking and later realize that I’ve been talking to myself the last five minutes.

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Then there is texting. I refuse to participate in such a mindless form of communication. It reminds me of passing notes in the 2nd grade. The only difference, back then we could actually spell “wrat” and “kat.” My daughter Shannon likes to text me. I never respond.

I spent many dull hours in Mrs. Grady Pepper’s English class at Athens High School, eyes glazed over and thinking about the attractive blonde in the next row, while she explained nouns and verbs. If you were ever called to the blackboard by Mrs. Pepper to diagram a sentence and didn’t know a subject from a verb, you’ll never forget it. It was embarrassing. Nowadays, spelling correctly is irrelevant, not to mention the proper use of nouns and verbs. If you have a finger, you can text. Later generations (if they haven’t all died in car accidents while texting) will lose the ability to speak and write the English language. Maybe it won’t matter since Spanish will have replaced English.

Then there are apps that people talk about breathlessly like it is a newborn baby. “Oh, my app tells me the weather, gives me directions and sends pictures.” Recently, my good friend (and sometimes redhead) Pat got an iPhone. Now instead of talking to me and telling me what a great hunk I am, she baby talks in single syllables to a computer generated female voice named Siri! “Ser—rie”—“call”— “Lee”—“Sha.”

“Lisa?” asked Siri.

“No — it’s Lee—Sha,” replies Pat. Sometimes I think that she believes that Siri is a real person. I love Siri’s voice. It’s real smoky and sexy like a gal I once met at the bar at Hoppers. I used to wonder if Siri is a blonde or brunette. One day while Pat was absent I picked up her iPhone and asked a simple question. “Siri, are you blonde or brunette?”

“Please repeat.“ Dumb answer. I figure she’s blonde.

It has been reported that overuse of cell phones can cause brain cancer. I don’t believe it. If true, most of my female acquaintances would be in the hospital or dead.
I have other complaints. Recently, I was talking with a friend about George Washington crossing the Delaware during the American Revolution. Instead of hearing me out, he immediately punched his smart phone and said, “Yeah, it was December 25 through 26, 1776.” I wanted to say, “If that smarty phone is so darn smart, ask it the PSI pressure, color and molecular structure of flatulence produced after a 300 pound man eats a twelve ounce can of pork and beans!” Answer me that, smarty-pants phone!

Why do we accept information acquired from the Internet as authoritative? Who are these faceless people who put information on the web? What are their credentials? Could they diagram a sentence in Mrs. Pepper’s English class?

Christmas before last, Pat gave me an electronic traffic map device that attaches to the dash of my Toyota pick-up. I thanked her, but I didn’t understand why anyone who can read a road map and highway signs needs such a gizmo.

“It has a compass and shows you directions,” she said. Folks, don’t ever get in a moving vehicle operated by a person who needs a compass to drive. I spoke to the device and a woman named Jean replied. We departed Acworth, Georgia bound for North Carolina, and were routed through subdivisions, back yards and alleyways. I dog cussed her.

“Turn- around- at- next- intersection,” Jean instructed.

“Shut up, ignoramus.”

“Turn-a-round.”

I like Facebook. It offers everyone – rich or poor – the means of demonstrating their ignorance to the world, and at the same time communicating important information. Recently, I saw this: “my kat is sicplese pray.” I must confess, I’m guilty too. My new rule is never get on Facebook after cocktail hour.

While my daughter Shannon was visiting from Taos, New Mexico, she accompanied me to see my cardiologist. I was wound tighter than a five-string banjo. The thought that my heart could stop beating at any second was sobering. Just as I crossed the railroad tracks in Huntsville, a train whistle blew. “Oh my God! Train!” I stomped the accelerator and jumped the tracks. My heart was pounding like a snare drum. “Whew, that was close,” I said. Shannon burst out laughing. We had almost been hit by a freight and she was laughing. “What’s so darn funny?” I asked. “Dad, that was my cell phone.”

Like I said. Cell phones make me feel stupid.
By: Jerry Barksdale

2014-06-06_15-27-53Dawn broke cool and wet on November 8, 1965. Pfc. Gary Elmore threw back the damp poncho from his body, shivered, knuckled sleep from his eyes and scratched mosquito bites on his ears. He had slept fitfully. The jungle was wet, dark and the air thick and putrid. No sunlight penetrated the triple-canopy trees that were home for chattering monkeys, croaking frogs, exotic birds and buzzing insects. The queasy feeling that rested in his gut the previous day was still there, even more so. Fear was growing. He checked his body for leeches.

Bravo Company was waking. Paratroopers roused and slapped at mosquitoes and swore.

“Another day, another dollar,” said one

“Yeah, all we do is hump through this stinking jungle and scratch,” another trooper replied. “I’ve a good mind to file a complaint with General Westmoreland.

Elmore grinned slightly. He loved these guys. They were his family. When he had been given the option to remain stateside after breaking his ankle or go to “’Nam,” he chose the latter and had never regretted his decision. He tightened the laces on his paratrooper boots as his doctor advised. This gave more support to his weak ankle.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 503rd Infantry had dangerous work to do today – locate and kill Viet Cong. Elmore checked his M-16. It was fully loaded with a 20 round clip, and he had another 600 rounds stored in his rucksack.” He re-bent the pins on his hand grenades to prevent them from falling out.

At 0730 hrs, (7:30 a.m.) Company Commander, Captain Lowell D. Bittrich deployed two rifle platoons consisting of 44 men each to range out a half a mile or so from base, and search for two reported Viet Cong cache points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The jungle area known as the “Iron Triangle,” was sparsely populated and honeycombed with enemy tunnels, bunkers and spider holes.

Charlie Company had previously moved out at 0600 headed in a northwest direction toward Hill 65.

Elmore’s 3rd Platoon, 1st Squad pushed through the dense, tangled foliage, eyes alert for movement, ears attuned for any strange noise. The only sound was the squeak of rucksacks, occasional slap at mosquitoes, and the grunt of men as they proceeded higher toward Hill 78. Elmore was tense. Charlies could pop out of a spider hole and shoot a man in the back and disappear without being seen. You didn’t see Charlie in the jungle. The first you knew he was present was staccato firing of an AK47. Suddenly, Elmore heard firing in the distance on his left. Shortly before 0800, Charlie Company had run into a sizable enemy force dug into the south face of Hill 65, armed with machine guns and shotguns. They had walked into a killing zone. Elmore and the two rifle platoons were pulled back, and Bravo Company was ordered to wheel left and go to the aid of Charlie Company. They were now fighting for their lives and about to be overrun at Hill 65.

The rata-tat-tat of enemy machine guns, the roaring boom of shotguns, and the answering fire from M-16s grew louder. A hot firefight was under way. In a letter written by Captain Bittrich to Clarence Elmore two weeks later, he described what happened next. A sizable Viet Cong force was attempting to completely surround Charlie Company, when Bravo reached the scene and made contact. Bravo fought its way through the Viet Cong force and tied in with Charlie Company’s right flank. Both companies were about to be surrounded. The paratroopers fought for their lives. Two companies – some 176 plus men – heavily outnumbered were fighting 1,200 Viet Cong.

The fighting was vicious. To prevent being surrounded, Captain Bittrich decided to scale Hill 65, high ground and a good place to take a stand. “It appeared to be now a question of securing our own force,” he wrote. “The fight to take Hill 65 developed into hand-to-hand in an extraordinary dense jungle area. The fight was close and the paratroopers used bayonets.” It was belt buckle to belt buckle, so close that desperate Americans could smell the enemy, but couldn’t see them until face to face. Bravo Company took Hill 65 and reached Charlie Company’s right flank. The battle intensified. Charlie Company was about to be overrun. A third company was called in to assist. Bravo counterattacked and broke the encirclement twice. Captain Bittrich called in artillery fire on the Viet Cong. Exploding white phosphorous shells scorched the foliage and set enemy fighters ablaze, causing their ammo and grenades to explode. It was a hellish scene. Screaming Viet Cong ran toward Elmore’s platoon trying to escape the incoming artillery, their flesh on fire. Elmore, according to Captain Bittrich, was in the “hottest portion” of the battle. His platoon was holding the right flank of the company and led the attack to stop the Viet Cong encirclement.

Shortly after noon, his throat parched, heart thumping and adrenaline gushing into every cell of his body, Elmore heard the sound of bugles.

“HERE THEY COME AGAIN!” a trooper yelled.

A hoard of Viet Cong charged through the dense jungle and was suddenly in Elmore’s face, AKk-47s blazing. Bullets snapped past his ears. The Paratroopers fought like demons. Some were hit and fell over dead. It looked for certain they would be overrun. Then Elmore caught a bullet. He was bleeding, but alive. The Viet Cong fell back, leaving their dead and wounded strewn on the ground. Elmore was bleeding, reloaded his M-16 and caught his breath. Around him lay dead buddies. Thank God he was alive.

The Viet Cong charged again for the third time in a suicidal wave. It was there in the beautiful green jungle with the acrid stench of cordite in his nostrils and 10,000 miles from home, that Gary was shot in the head. He died fighting for himself and his buddies. Gary, “Winky Dink” Elmore had come to full measure. He died a hero’s death.

The Viet Cong made five successive assaults and were repelled each time. Only three of the 18 men in Gary’s squad survived.

The Viet Cong were defeated in detail. The following morning, a body count was taken and 48 paratroopers were dead, and 82 wounded. The Viet Cong took a beating, with 403 dead and a multitude wounded.

“I can but sum up my feelings for Gary,” wrote Captain Bittrich, “and those other magnificent American soldiers who gave of themselves for their country in their actions by quoting the words of a reporter after discussing the action with Sp 4, Jerry Langston, a member of their unit.”

“There were 18 good men to start with, now there were only three. The others,” Langston feels, “they will at least go to heaven, they had already been to hells.”

Two days later, Gary’s father received a Western Union telegram notifying him “that your son Private First Class Gary L. Elmore died in Vietnam on November 8, 1965 as a result of a gunshot wound to head…”

Gary Elmore achieved an unsought recognition. He was the first Limestonian to die in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Gary’s younger sister, Diane Meffer came home from work in good spirits. She resolved to write a letter to Gary. She had a lot to tell him, and wanted to clear up their misunderstanding. The last time they had spoken was when he had invited her to his going away party and she refused to attend, telling him, “You’re not my brother.” It was just a sibling squabble and she loved him very much. Now, she would set matters right. She sat down and began writing, but kept getting interrupted. Her letter was going slow.

“Finally, it was bedtime,” says Diane. “So I set the letter aside, and I was walking down the hallway toward the bedroom and thinking, heck, he’ll never get this letter anyway, and I thought, now why did I say that?”

“About two in the morning my sister called and told me that Gary had been killed. I was in total shock, I just didn’t believe it,” says Diane.

After funeral services in Livonia, Michigan, Gary’s body was brought to Athens and buried in the soil that he had trod as a boy. “Tears flowed freely Friday morning,” reported the Athens News Courier. “As the sound of a young soldier played Taps on a trumpet, echoed through a crowd estimated at 400 as the body of a 23-year-old former Tanner High School student who is believed to be the area’s first known victim of the Vietnam War was lowered into the ground.”

Paratrooper Shelby Huey, assigned to the 173rd, S. Vietnam as a radio telegraph operator, got access to the list of dead and wounded. “I knew he got killed right away,” he said, dropping his head. “I always smile when I think of Elmore.” Then he adds, “The American soldiers are the most resilient bunch in the world. They will roll.” Huey spent 10 years in the Army, then went to work for the Resolution Trust Corps. “I was up to the Limestone County Courthouse to file a UCC statement and turned around and saw Gary Elmore’s plaque on the wall. It gave me cold chills.”

Gary Elmore was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” for heroism; Military Merit Badge, the Gallantry Cross with Palm, and the Purple Heart. Vietnam Veterans of America, Post number 511 in Athens is named in his honor.
By: Jerry Barksdale

2014-05-02_16-22-32Gary Lewis Elmore was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 26, 1942 to Lawrence and Mildred Lancaster Elmore. Like many Limestone Countians, his parents had gone north seeking employment. After his mother became deathly ill, he and his younger sister, Diane, were sent to live with their maternal grandparents, Coffman and Elvie Hargrave, near Jones Crossroads in Limestone County, Alabama. Gary attended Wheeler Elementary School and later Tanner High School where he was manager of the Tanner Rattlers football team.

2014-05-02_16-22-43“Tink” Haney, quarterback of the team and a wounded combat veteran of Vietnam, remembers Gary with fondness. “We call ‘im ‘Winky Dink,’ a name given him by my cousin, Horace (Haney). He was smaller than most of us, but he was real tough,” says Tink. “The players picked on ‘im – some people might call it bullying nowadays – but Gary was tough and could take it. It didn’t bother him. He enjoyed it. He was fun to be around. He didn’t have a ride to football practice; he’d be walking and we’d pick ‘im up.”

Elmore, hazel-eyed, brown headed and standing at 5 feet 5 inches, was a firecracker in a small package. “He was small,” says his sister, Diane Mefford of Athens. “Gary and I were coming home from work and ran out of gas. He took a can and started walking toward the gas station. Well, a tow truck came by and pulled me to the gas station. I was sitting in the back seat with the window rolled down when we passed Gary walking, I yelled loud as I could ‘Hey Winky Dink!’ He stopped, his nostrils wide and open and I could read his lips.”

“Gary was happy-go-lucky and full of mischief,” remembers classmate Gary Carter. “He’d get a paddling and laugh it off. We had this math teacher, S.A. Thomas, an ex highway patrolman from Illinois. He wouldn’t allow chewing gum. Gary tested him a number of times. He’d cut his eyes at Gary and holler, ‘Elmore out!’ He ran Gary out of classroom many times.” One day Gary walked into Mr. Thomas’s math class chewing gum. “OUT THE WINDOW AND OUT THE DOOR!” shouted the teacher, meaning, throw your gum out the window and go stand in the hallway. “Gary throwed his gum out in the hall and jumped out the window,” says Carter, chuckling.

Horace Haney, who played football at Tanner, smiles when he remembers Gary. “He was little bitty, a good agitator, and liked to be around football players.”

2014-05-02_16-23-13On another occasion, the students were supposed to be attending a pep rally on the football field. “Gary and Brenda Marsh sneaked back inside the classroom and found teacher Barney Pressnell’s jacket hanging on the back of his chair,” says sister Diane, smiling. “Gary put an arm in one sleeve and Brenda put an arm in the other sleeve. They were just huddled together walking down the hallway and Mr. Pressnell caught ‘em with his coat on.”

When Gary turned 16, he quit Tanner High School in the 10th grade and went to work at Charlie Jones Cotton Gin at Jones Crossroads. He was a strong-headed boy and full of mischief. His grandmother Hargrave was exasperated with him. She called his father in Detroit. “Come down here and get ‘im,” she said. “He won’t listen to me anymore.” Gary moved to Detroit and worked several years with Service Sales Gasket Company. When he turned 18, he came back to Athens and registered for the draft. He was drafted in March, 1965 and quickly enlisted in the Army. It was the month that the first American combat troops landed in Vietnam.

On July 4, 1964, Gary went to Michigan to visit with his dad and sisters. “He had his uniform laying on the bed and I touched it,” remembers Diane. “He got really upset about it. I thought ‘Well that is really nice.’ He was proud of that uniform.”

2014-05-02_16-23-04Following eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, Gary volunteered for Airborne and was placed in a holding company for a couple of months. That’s when he met Shelby Huey, an Arkansas farm boy from the tiny town of Newport. “There were three of us and we were really tight,” remembers Huey, a plain spoken former paratrooper of the 173rd Brigade who saw combat in Vietnam and now lives in Huntsville, Alabama. “We had a lot in common,” said Huey. “We were poor white boys, in the Army and away from home.”

“Gary was cotton-top headed and mean’er a snake and don’t think he wouldn’t fight,” added Huey. “He was a good guy and we called ‘im ‘Dennis the Menace.’ I thought his real name was Dennis.” Huey joined the paratroopers and was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia for three weeks of jump school where he ran into Elmore again. “We were in the same training platoon but didn’t get to see each other much,” says Huey. “I heard that Gary broke his leg on his last jump and that is the last contact I ever had with him.”

Gary went to visit his family in Athens just before shipping off to Vietnam. His sister, Diane, married and working in Michigan, drove down to visit with him. He asked Diane to borrow her car. “He was little rough on cars,” says Diane, “and I had to have it to get back to Michigan to go back to work. I wouldn’t let him have it.”

“You are not my sister anymore!” exclaimed Gary and stomped off. “He would always do that to me to get what he wanted,” she says. Diane returned to Michigan and quickly realized the seriousness of Gary’s forthcoming tour in Vietnam. Her sister and friends in Michigan organized a going-away party for Gary. Gary called Diane. “Are you coming to my party?”

“Who is this?” she asked. “It’s your brother,” replied Gary. “Remember, I don’t have a brother and don’t know who you are,” she said and hung up the phone.
To Be Continued . . .
By: Jerry Barksdale

2014-04-18_16-16-40Sunday afternoon, November 7, 1965. A long irregular line of UH-1 “Huey” choppers flew northwest out of Bien Hoa Airbase, the “flackety-flack” of their rotary blades beating out a disconcerting tune. Aboard one of the choppers was Pfc. Gary Lewis Elmore, age 23 from Tanner, Alabama. About now, he guessed, folks at Round Island Baptist Church where he occasionally attended would be home from worship service and settling down to a Sunday dinner of cornbread, black-eyed peas, creamed potatoes and fried chicken. He looked past the machine gunner in the open door of the Huey as it skimmed above the dense, green jungle and for an instant thought about how beautiful and peaceful the scene appeared. But he knew better. Death lurked below. The queasy feeling in his stomach wasn’t caused by the jarring 17 mile flight from Bien Hoa, or the greasy C-rations he had recently eaten. It was fear.

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Anytime the 173rd Airborne Brigade was on an operation, there was sure to be danger. The all volunteer paratroopers were destined to win a Presidential Unit Citation for bravery in action, and twelve of its troopers would receive the Medal of Honor. More than 10,000 would be dead and wounded before the brigade departed Vietnam in 1971. This was their first major mission since landing in Vietnam 6 months earlier. The chopper dropped down quickly over a field of elephant grass, the rotary blades splaying the tall grass fan-like as it hovered several feet above the ground. Elmore and his squad scrambled out the door and hit the ground running as the chopper lifted and disappeared in the murky sky.

Elmore’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry moved quickly through the tall, razor sharp elephant grass toward a green tree line. Beyond were several triple canopy jungle hills. So far, they hadn’t seen “Charlie,” the diminutive, black pajama-clad Viet Cong that often appeared out of nowhere firing automatic AK47’s. “Operation Hump” had jumped off two days earlier. The mission was to drive out Viet Cong fighters who had taken key positions in several hills near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was called the “Iron Triangle,” sparsely populated and honeycombed with tunnels, underground bunkers, and spider holes where Charlie could pop up and shoot a man in the back, then quickly disappear in the ground. As usual it rained.

As nightfall approached, Bravo and Charlie Companies settled in a defensive circle and placed Claymore mines around their perimeter near Hill 65. Elmore shucked his heavy ruck sack and began digging a foxhole, putting the dirt in sandbags which he laid on top of bamboo. It was good protection against possible incoming mortar rounds.
The jungle smelled rotten like potting soil, and was wet and eerie. Water dripped from foliage. A multitude of birds, frogs, lizards and screeching insects sang their strange symphony. Mosquitoes swarmed around Elmore’s ears. He had a bottle of repellant, but if used too often it would blister his skin. So he just swatted and swore at them. Monkeys, huge rats, leeches, pythons, bamboo vipers and fist size tarantulas lived in the jungle. And so did Charlie.

“Don’t them bugs ever shut up?” a soldier complained.

“When they do, it’s time to worry,” someone replied.

Elmore ripped open his C-rations: four bone dry cigarettes, pound cake, fruit cocktail, ham and lima beans, chopped ham and eggs. His queasy stomach retched at the thought of eating greasy ham and eggs. After a few spoonfuls of fruit cocktail, he decided he wasn’t hungry. The men were unusually quiet, only a smattering of nervous chatter. Elmore spread his rubber poncho on the damp ground, sprayed insect repellant around the edge, then straightened the pins on his hand grenades and placed them within arm’s reach. After placing his M-16 rifle, fully loaded with a 20 round magazine nearby, he lay down using his rucksack for a pillow, and pulled his poncho liner over his head. It was suffocating, but it kept the mosquitoes out and it didn’t interfere with sleep. No one slept anyway. And he wondered what tomorrow would bring. Then he thought about home. Home, what a beautiful word.

He had recently named his father, Lawrence Elmore, Detroit, beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Money that he sent home went directly into the Detroit Bank and Trust. He would purchase a nice car when he got home. He thought about his Uncle Clarence Elmore, back in Athens, who had lent him money from time to time and bolstered his sagging spirits with letters.

Clarence Elmore had served in both World War II and Korea and understood a soldier’s lonely life. In September, Elmore had written Uncle Clarence:
“I have also started reading my Bible,” he scribbled on yellow legal paper. “And I can’t think of a better time to start. I’ve almost completed Matthew and most of Mark. I read as much as I can every day according to what time I have.”

Elmore didn’t have to be in this stinking jungle. It had been his choice. After breaking his ankle on his final parachute jump at Ft. Benning, he was given the option of going to Vietnam or staying behind. He chose to go. Just ten more months and he would be back home. He couldn’t wait.

Gary Lewis Elmore was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 26, 1942, to Lawrence and Mildred Lancaster Elmore. Like many Limestone Countians, his parents had gone north seeking employment. After his mother became deathly ill, he and his younger sister, Diane were sent to live with their maternal grandparents, Coffman and Elvie Hargrave, near Jones Crossroads in Limestone County, Alabama. Gary attended Wheeler Elementary School and later Tanner High School, where he was manager of the Tanner Rattlers football team.

“Tink” Haney, quarterback of the team and a wounded combat veteran of Vietnam, remembers Gary with fondness. “We call ‘em “Winky Dink,” a name given him by my cousin, Horace (Haney). He was smaller than most of us, but he was real tough,” says Tink. “The players picked on him – some people might call it bullying nowadays – but Gary was tough and could take it. It didn’t bother him. He enjoyed it. He was fun to be around. He didn’t have a ride to football practice; he’d be walking and we’d pick him up.”
Elmore, hazel-eyed, brown headed and standing at 5 feet 5 inches, was a firecracker in a small package. “He was small,” says his sister, Diane Mefford of Athens. “Gary and I were coming home from work and ran out of gas. He took a can and started walking toward the gas station. Well, a tow truck came by and pulled me to the gas station. I was sitting in the back seat with the window rolled down when we passed Gary walking, I yelled loud as I could, “Hey winky Dink!’ He stopped, his nostrils wide and open and I could read his lips.”

“Gary was happy-go-lucky and full of mischief,” remembers classmate Gary Carter. “He’d get a paddling and laugh it off. We had this math teacher, S.A. Thomas, an ex highway patrolman from Illinois. He wouldn’t allow chewing gum. Gary tested him a number of times. He’d cut his eyes at Gary and holler, ‘Elmore, out!” He ran Gary out of classroom many times.

“One day Gary walked into Mr. Thomas’s math class chewing gum.
“OUT THE WINDOW AND OUT THE DOOR!” shouted the teacher, meaning, throw your gum out the window and go stand in the hallway.
“Gary throwed his gum out in the hall and jumped out the window,” says Carter, chuckling.
Horace Haney, who played football at Tanner, smiles when he remembers Gary. “He was little bitty, a good agitator and liked to be around football players.”
On another occasion, the students were supposed to be attending a pep rally on the football field. “Gary and Brenda Marsh sneaked back inside the classroom and found teacher Barney Pressnell’s jacket hanging on the back of his chair,” says sister Diane, smiling. “Gary put an arm in one sleeve and Brenda put an arm in the other sleeve. They were just huddled together walking down the hallway, and Mr. Pressnell caught ‘em with his coat on.”

When Gary turned age 16, he quit Tanner High School in the 10th grade, and went to work at Charlie Jones’ Cotton Gin at Jones Crossroads. He was a strong-headed boy and full of mischief. His grandmother Hargrave was exasperated with him. She called his father in Detroit. “Come down here and get ‘em,” she said. “He won’t listen to me anymore.” Gary moved to Detroit, and worked for Service Sales Gasket Company. When he turned 18, he came back to Athens and registered for the draft.
He was drafted in March, 1965 and quickly enlisted in the Army. It was the month that the first American combat troops landed in Vietnam.
On July 4, 1964, Gary went to Michigan to visit with his dad and sisters. “He had his uniform laying on the bed and I touched it,” remembers Diane. “He got really upset about it. I thought, well that is really nice. He was proud of that uniform.”

Following eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, Gary volunteered for Airborne, and was placed in a holding company for a couple of months. It was there that he met Shelby Huey, an Arkansas farm boy from tiny Newport, near Jonesboro. “There were three of us and we were really tight,” remembers Huey, a plain spoken paratrooper of the 173rd Brigade, who saw combat in Vietnam, and now lives in Huntsville, Alabama. “We had a lot in common,” said Huey. “We were poor white boys, in the Army and away from home.

“Gary was cotton-top headed and mean’er a snake and don’t think he wouldn’t fight,” added Huey. “He was a good guy and we called ‘em “Dennis the Menace.” I thought his real name was Dennis.”

Huey had also joined the paratroopers and was shipped out of Ft. Benning, Georgia for three weeks of jump school where he ran into Elmore again. We were in the same training platoon but didn’t get to see each other much,” says Huey. “I heard that Gary broke his leg on his last jump and that is the last contact I ever had with him.”
Gary went to visit his family in Athens just before shipping off to Vietnam. His sister, Diane, married and working in Michigan, drove down to visit with him. He asked Diane to borrow her car. “He was little rough on cars,” says Diane, “and I had to have it to get back to Michigan to get back to work. I wouldn’t let him have it.”
“You are not my sister anymore!” exclaimed Gary and stomped off. “He would always do that to me to get what he wanted,” she says. Diane returned to Michigan and quickly realized the seriousness of Gary’s forthcoming tour in Vietnam. Her sister and friends in Michigan organized a going-away party for Gary.

Gary called Diane. “Are you coming to my party?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s your brother,” replied Gary.

“I don’t have a brother and don’t know who you are,” she said and hung up the phone.
To be Continued.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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2014-04-04_15-29-29I woke cold and shivering. I listened for the soft hum of the heat pump and the steady buzz of the humidifier. Silence. Darn! The power was off. Had the freezing weather split open a tree causing it to fall across a power line or, even worse, had a transformer frozen? Whichever, I couldn’t do anything about it. Then I wondered about my water lines. Was the sink faucet still dripping? It was too late to worry now. I pulled on more cover and imagined I was still a child sleeping in a cold, uninsulated room in a Madison Crossroads tenant house where the glass of water by my bed froze solid at night. Back then we drew our water from a dug well and heated the house with a fireplace. We “made do” back then and I told myself that I’d make do now. Soon, I was sound asleep.

Later in the morning when I woke, the room was much colder. A shaft of dull light edged around the venetian blinds and struck my face. I lay still for a long time pondering what to do and dreading getting up. Maybe the power would come back on in a few minutes. It didn’t. I decided to get up and make coffee. Then I panicked. I couldn’t brew coffee! I had no power. I remembered visiting my daughter, Shannon several winters earlier high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains when the power was off for days. She had made coffee and cooked our breakfast on a portable propane camp stove. I was impressed and purchased one at Walmart when I returned to Athens. Where was it? In my mind’s eye I saw it in the storage building still in the packing box. I rolled out onto the cold floor, dressed quickly and went to the fireplace where I pulled back ashes exposing hot coals, laid on kindling and soon had a crackling fire going. I trotted out the back door through the bone cracking cold to the storage building and located the camp stove and two bottles of propane. Now, where was my old camp coffee pot? I dug through pots, pans and skillets until I found it stashed in the back of the cabinet. It was dented and partially blackened, having seen honorable service on many camping trips in the High Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming. I grinned. Soon the old pot would be gurgling like a happy baby and filling the room with the rich aroma of Maxwell House. Life can turn on a dime. I ripped open the cardboard packing box, assembled the camp stove, connected the propane bottles and filled the coffee pot. It was then that I saw a skull and crossbones under big, bold letters on the stove instruction sheet. “DANGER. DO NOT USE INDOORS. POISONOUS FUMES CAN KILL YOU.”

My good friend (and sometimes redhead) Pat appeared. Sometimes she has good ideas.
“Why don’t you use the gas grill in the carport?” she asked.
Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?
“Good idea,” I said.

I fired up the grill and set the coffee pot on the grate. The wind blew the flames and the water wouldn’t boil. I lowered the grill lid, finally, after fifteen to twenty minutes and just before the glass bubble on the coffee pot completely melted, I heard the old pot gurgling. And what a wonderful sound it was.

I poured a cup of steaming coffee and I rested my feet on the raised hearth, feeling the warmth of a good fire on my face. Yes sir, life can be good.

There was no tv, no radio and no place to go. That was okay with me. I had plenty of wood stacked in the carport and a cup full of Maxwell House in my hand and a good book by my easy chair. I looked forward to enjoying a quiet day in front of a warm fire and reading a good book. Then the power came on. Darn!
Like I said, life can turn on a dime.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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2014-03-07_16-49-44My daughter, Shannon, called very excited. “Dad, Jamie had a vision the other night that you are going to live to be ninety-three.”

Jamie is Shannon’s best friend and a full-blooded Cheyenne who grew up on a reservation. She and her husband own The Bavarian, a fine German restaurant on the ski slopes in Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. She is also a medicine woman of sorts.

“That will never do,” I said.
“Why?”
“I run out of money when I’m eighty-three.”

It’s just like a kid, thinking they’re helping out, but making things worse. My plan has always been to arrive at my grave at age 83 on time, well dressed, clean shaven, good haircut, all my teeth , tan and trim, low cholesterol and a blood pressure of 130/70. Now, I may have to hobble in on a cane with spit drizzling down my chin. My genes are working against me. My triple great grandfather, Daniel Barksdale lived to be age 99. When I was born in 1941, life expectancy was 65. Now, it’s 76. Exercise, good nutrition, great medical care and nonsmoking has extended my life expectancy and is driving me toward bankruptcy. It use to be that a man died when he reached age 65, just when social security kicked in. That’s the way the government planned it and the money coffers were full back then. Now people are living longer and look what happened – Social Security is bankrupt. However, there is a ray of hope. When the government takes over our healthcare and folks die while waiting to see a doctor, life expectancy may slide back to the 1941 level. And that will be good. Social Security will be back on sound financial footing. Aside from being broke at age 83, there are other reasons for dying. I don’t want to pick up my date at a nursing home. And if politicians continue levying taxes, folks won’t have enough money left to purchase necessities like beer and pizza, much less pay for clothes, shelter and transportation. Who wants to live without beer and pizza?

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My investment portfolio, as always, is going my way – backward. The inflation rate as of December, 2013 was 1.5%. I draw 0.3% on my dab of savings. Each month 1.47% of my savings disappear from my account without me touching it. If I live to age 93 and never spend a nickel of my savings, the account will be worthless at the present rates. If I live past age 83, it’s my own fault. I began smoking roll-your-owns when I was in the third grade at East Limestone School and worked my way up to two packs of Marlboros a day when I was in law school. I quit cold turkey in 1967. Then in 1976 I joined the health craze and began jogging and working out. I cut back on fat and cholesterol-laden foods and began living pretty much like a rabbit in a monastery.

I asked Shannon to request Jamie to have another vision and see if my life expectancy can be lowered to age 83. If that doesn’t work out, I have developed a six point back up plan:

1. Start back chasing women. This plan is very dangerous and offers two methods of dying early. First, be shot by a jealous boyfriend and die outright. Secondly, die a slow and painful death from exposure to the elements while waiting for the girlfriend to find car keys in her purse.
2. Disclose to my good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat, that I started chasing women. This will guarantee my hospitalization, followed by her standing on my oxygen tube in the hospital.
3. Purchase a Harley, get a tattoo, plow through 5 strands of barb wire fence and slam into a sleeping brahma bull.
4. Buy a horse. This will guarantee that sooner or later I will be kicked, thrown, bit or pawed to death.
5. Start back snow skiing and run into a ponderosa pine at 50 mph.
6. Eat a triple decker cheeseburger with bacon at Hardees every day. Death will come slower, but with more pleasurable.

If Jamie isn’t successful in revising my life expectancy, I may get a second opinion. I wonder if the government will cover the cost of a vision?
By: Jerry Barksdale

2014-02-07_15-47-48It was cold with clear skies when my friend (and sometimes redhead) Pat and I departed Albuquerque and headed north to Taos. Santa Fe was blanketed with snow and the streets were slick and filled with patches of ice and slush. I was tempted to stop at Maria’s where a warm fire would be burning in the Kiva fireplace and enjoy a chicken burrito smothered in red. I had discovered Maria’s in 1985 when I had gone to Santa Fe in search of self. I didn’t find myself, but I did discover a great burrito. Much of the 70 mile stretch of asphalt to Taos wound through a narrow shaded canyon cut by the Rio Grande eons ago. Finally, we popped out of the canyon and saw Taos, white with snow nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Windows sparkled in the sunlight and gray smoke curled from chimneys. We stopped to purchase meal to make cornbread. There were tacos, tortillas, and maize but no regular cornmeal.
“That’s the reason that their women are weak, their dogs ugly, and they don’t have a winning football team,” I said.

At the base of the mountain, we I turned onto a dirt road bordered by sage brush laden with snow and pulled up at Shannon’s brown adobe house. Nearby, the Rio Hondo murmured as it rushed to the Rio Grande. Snow was caked in the pinion pines and icicles hung from the eaves of the squat little house. The door key was under the welcome mat and we entered. The cat scrambled. I felt the same about her. The old house has 16 inch adobe walls and pine beams. A wood-burning stove sat in the kitchen where sunlight poured through a large window. The interior was painted white throughout except for the window frames, which were traditional greenish color to “ward off evil spirits.” I liked the place, but that was before Shannon told me what lived in the attic. Mid-afternoon Shannon entered, stomping snow from her feet. Marley Dog jumped into my arms. That evening we gathered around the wood stove while Pat made dressing and I snapped green beans. Shannon, who sings with Sisters October, told us about the spirit that lives in the attic. “I was practicing a song when I heard someone singing in the attic,” she said. “I was told that a woman who once lived in the house was a singer.”

As long as the spirit was singing and not wandering around with a hatchet making threats I could live with it. Pat and I were honored with sleeping in the dog’s master suite. I didn’t hear the ghost singing but I did hear gophers running a foot race in the attic. When daylight seeped through the window, I saw spiders hanging from the pine beams. Then I smelled the sweetness of pinion burning in the stove, followed by the rich aroma of fresh coffee. Aaahh. It was 10 degrees outside. I didn’t mention the spiders to Shannon, but I did tell her about hearing the gophers in the attic.

“Mister Jingles lives in the bathroom,” she said.

“Who is that?”

“A little mouse. He’s my friend.”

That was too much! A singing ghost, spiders dangling over my bed, gophers foot racing and now a mouse in the bathroom. Where was the darned cat?

Next morning, after Shannon departed for work, that darned cat hissed at me for no reason. A squawking magpie with long black tail feathers perched on a tree limb near the kitchen window. Had I known that it is considered unlucky to see a magpie alone, I would have shut my eyes. Afterwards, Pat and I squashed spiders before driving into Taos. I backed up and “Little Red” and got stuck. That’s what the magpie was trying to warn us about. The tires dug deeper into the snow and mud. We laid firewood in front of the tires to get traction. “Get the cat litter,” said Pat. Who ever heard of using cat litter? Pat poured the sack of litter beneath the wheels, I pressed the accelerator and Little Red walked out of the deep ruts.

“Well, what do you know!” I exclaimed.

“Now, aren’t you glad I brought the cat litter?” Pat said.

Later a crisis developed. We were hiking at Ojo Caliente when Shannon called and said she had forgotten to take the turkey out to thaw. “We’ll buy another one,” said Pat.
Shannon had invited friends over for Thanksgiving. “If they discover they’re eating a non free range, antibiotic laden turkey that died a violent death, they’ll throw up at the table,” I said. We agreed to keep it a secret. I woke on Thanksgiving morning in a cold room. Outside the window was blue sky. I heard Shannon building a fire and soon the sweet aroma of burning pinion and coffee wafted into the room. Cozy and warm beneath the down comforter, I closed my eyes and thanked God for having good health and being present with loved ones.

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Later, while Pat continued cooking, I used a hatchet to break ice on the sidewalk. Boiling water worked fairly well, but froze in a few minutes. I called my son, Matt, my grandchildren and my friend, Otis Kennemer. Otis was a POW who froze and nearly starved to death during three years in a North Korean prison camp where the temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees. He didn’t answer his phone. I left a message: “I hope you are warm today and have plenty to eat,” I said.

Shannon arrived home at 2:30 p.m. and we set the dinner table while listening to a Gene Autry CD. Everyone was excited.

The house was warm and cozy and smelled of baking turkey, dressing and freshly baked bread when our first guest arrived at 6 p.m. Ellie and her daughter, Angela (originally from Portland, Oregon), entered carrying Italian food and wine. Angela is a song writer and member of Sisters October. Shortly, Sarkis Gorial, an artist of some renown and wearing a boggan (which he never removed) arrived carrying a pot of Borscht soup he had made. Sarkis, a Persian by birth, left Iran in 1978 and has lived all over the world and speaks six languages. Or was it eight? So what? He didn’t know a darned thing about the Iron bowl. Our guests never suspected that they were eating non free-range turkey that went to his death praying for his life. Following dinner, Shannon and Angela sang while we snacked on leftovers well past midnight. The next morning we headed home to Alabama. In Santa Fe we stopped at Maria’s and I ate a chicken burrito smothered in red. The burrito refused to die. Like a goat’s cud, I burped it up several times on the way home. The only effective antidote for burrito overload is southern cornbread. And I was ready for it.
By: Jerry Barksdale

Thanksgiving in Taos, 2013

1-3-2014 7-15-09 PMDawn was breaking and the wind was cold and blustery when my friend (and sometimes red head) Pat and I loaded our possessions in “Little Red,” my modest but reliable Toyota pick-up. Twelve hundred miles of asphalt and the promise of bad weather lay before us. Pat had planned for every possible contingency. There was an inflated air mattress for napping, electric pump in case the mattress lost air, numerous pillows, quilts, two wool blankets. Dozens of shoes and boots (hers), jumper cables, heavy-duty flashlight, a case of bottled water, a carton of Sundrop, a basket of snacks, breakfast cereal, apples, bananas, popcorn, candy, soup. Two suitcases, my gym bag, a basket of gifts, more bags that contained more shoes, cosmetics, toiletries and two hanging bags of clothes, and finally, a 20 pound bag of cat litter.

“There’s a limit to how much we can carry,” I said. “We don’t own a cat and I’m not taking it.”

“You’ll be sorrrry.”

“Hmmm.” I scratched my head. When females act that way, a man should take heed. I stuffed the cat litter behind the seat. At the last minute she decided not to carry the frozen dressing – there wasn’t room.

Finally, we departed for Taos, New Mexico to spend Thanksgiving with my daughter, Shannon and my grand-doggy Marley Dog. Several days earlier Shannon had phoned and invited us out.

“Dad, I’ve bought a free-range turkey. It’s an antibiotic free contented turkey that died a peaceful and non-violent death.”

“Died in his sleep, huh?”

“And you’ll have your own bedroom,” she added.

“Don’t tell me that we get to sleep in the dog’s master bedroom!”

“Yep.”

“Wow!” I felt honored. Marley Dog is my only claimed grand-doggy. The chow had once belonged to my ex and Shannon’s mother, Carol, who died three years ago. I love Marley Dog. The chow doesn’t like me, possibly having overheard that I was late paying my child support. I ignore the darn cat.
Exactly 39 minutes after departing Elk River, Pat wanted a Sundrop. I was tempted to invoke my traveling rule: If it isn’t on the same side of the road we don’t stop and we pee only when we stop for gas. But, I was in a generous mood. After a few swigs of Sundrop, she was purring like a kitten and sound asleep.

Before leaving home, I checked the weather forecast. Snow was predicted in Oklahoma City and westward. I like road trips. There is always the promise of the unknown and that’s what makes it exciting.

The trip was proving to be uneventful. The weather man was wrong again! We listened to Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers which put us in a western mood. It was 9:30 p.m. and spitting snow when we reached Elk City in western Oklahoma. I stopped for gas. “What’s the weather between here and Amarillo?” I asked a trucker.

“Two to three inches of snow and still falling. Not wanting to take a chance, we spent the night in Elk City. I got up about 3 a.m. and looked out. No snow! I returned to bed, fretting.

Later Pat woke me saying, “Look outside!”

There were four of inches of snow on the ground and still more falling. Only a few 18-wheelers moved on I-40. I kept watching the weather. It stopped snowing. I saw several 18-wheelers on I-40. Fifteen minutes before checkout, I said, “Let’s go!”

“I knew you were gonna do this,” Pat said.

We hurriedly packed and dragged our luggage out the door where an Indian cleaning lady was in the hallway.

“I’m dumb and this is dumber,” I said pointing to Pat. “We’re checking out.”

“Well good luck dumb and dumber,” she said. “I hope you make it.”

Big trucks were knocking snow and slush off the road. Several had crashed. In the Texas panhandle, we passed a road sign: “FM1920”.

“I’m going to see what the weather is,” Pat said and twisted the radio dial. “Good idea,” I replied. “This radio doesn’t go up to 1920.” She said and worked the dial.

It dawned on me that the sign designated farm-to-market road number 1920, not an FM radio channel. I chuckled to myself and said nothing as Pat continued to turn the knob and complain.

Mouth-watering billboards advertising the “Big Texan – free 72 ounce steak” greeted our approach to Amarillo. That’s about how much I weighed when birthed.
“I want to eat at the Big Texan,” Pat said. We stopped and she had steak. I ate grilled salmon. We were serenaded at our table by a songster who crooned, “San Antonio Rose.” We talked. He had known Roger Miller who had worked for the Amarillo Fire Department. “He was more interested in singing than putting out fires,” the singer said.

Later we learned that Oklahoma City was being pounded by snow, sleet, and ice. We had been lucky and slipped through a window of fairly good weather.
It was night when we encountered more snow at Albuquerque and we stopped for the night. Later, we drove to a nearby sports bar for sandwiches.
“You drive back to the motel,” I said to Pat. She settled behind the wheel of Little Red, slid the bench seat forward until it cracked my kneecaps against the dash, pressed the clutch and yanked the stick shift into low. Out the parking lot we sailed. Little Red jerked forward as she shifted gears. Then she turned left onto six lanes of one-way oncoming traffic. The cars looked like the headlights of a 747 coming straight at us. There was no time to turn and no time to back up. A wide concrete median, at least a foot high divided the highway.

“JUMP THE MEDIAN!” I shouted.

Pat stomped the accelerator and Little Red responded. We hit the concrete barrier producing a loud noise and then sailed across the median in the nick of time.

“Whew, Little Red has saved us again!” I said.

“I hate this truck.”

Taos was 132 miles north and the weather was clearing. The promise of Thanksgiving looked good.

To be continued…
By: Jerry R. Barksdale

Gluten Free At Last

11-16-2013 10-10-17 AMLately, I see so many physicians that I remember only what they do to me. For example, Dr. “Mac” of Huntsville wears a glove on his right hand and he isn’t pretending to be Michael Jackson. I like Dr. Mac, he’s my urologist and keeps my plumbing functioning.

“I’m gonna make you live forever,” he said to me. He wrote the name of a book on the back of the prescription pad. “It’s Wheat Belly. Read it and get on a gluten free diet and within two weeks you’ll lose belly fat and will feel like a 16-year-old.” Feeling like a teenager appealed to me. I could stay up all night, sleep all day and chase cheerleaders.

11-16-2013 10-08-46 AM copyMy side kick and sometimes red-head, Pat, was with me. I was ready to get gluten free and start my journey back to age 16. We purchased Wheat Belly, then stopped at Earth Fare on University Avenue and purchased $20.00 of organically-grown, gluten free groceries for a mere $100.00. Longhorn Restaurant was nearby. Before getting started on my new diet and journey, I wanted to engage in one last orgy of my favorite sin – gluttony.

The book cover depicts six bagels stacked on top of the other with “Lose the wheat, lose the weight and find your path back to health.” I wanted to do all three. I wouldn’t give a nickel for a bagel, but as long as I could eat biscuits and cornbread I figured I could follow any diet. According to Wheat Belly, people have grown fatter and become less healthy since the introduction of dietary guides in the 1970’s calling for less fat. Diabetes is more prevalent than before. Why? Dr. Davis, a cardiologist, opines that it isn’t the fat, nor sugar, or our sedentary lifestyle that is causing obesity. It’s wheat! Wheat is no longer the staple of life as it was when we were children.

“Today’s wheat has been genetically altered to provide processed food manufacturers the greatest yield at the lowest cost,” according to Dr. Davis. “This once benign grain has been transformed into a nutritional bankruptcy… that causes blood sugar to spike more rapidly than eating pure sugar and has addictive properties that cause us to ride a roller coaster of hunger, overeating and fat.” That’s exactly how I felt, and all the time I thought it was because I was drinking too much wine and eating too much chocolate. I ate gluten-free cereal the following morning with almond milk, banana and toasted bread made from pumpkin seed and other stuff. It was good!

When Sunday morning rolls around, I like a good southern breakfast of biscuits, home fries, eggs, bacon and Maxwell House. It was 9 a.m. and I was hungry when Pat called and said, “The biscuits are in the oven.” I jumped in my pick-up and was still slinging gravel when I pulled into her driveway. I could smell hot biscuits and bacon frying. Boy howdy! But my breakfast didn’t look quite right. Cholesterol-free eggs, baked potatoes – not home fries – and bacon so thin I could see through it. The coffee was decaf. “Here’s your gluten-free biscuit,” she said and dropped one on my plate. It sounded like someone had thrown a rock through the window. My countenance fell. I’d been thinking about a fluffy biscuit since 6 a.m., my usual time to get up and write. That’s when I have my only cup of real coffee allowed by my cardiologist. I savor it like expensive wine. But I cheat. I use a large mug instead of a cup.

Pat threw the biscuits out to the raccoons. They threw them back on the porch. She toasted our new loaf of bread made from organically stone-ground, brown rice, flax seed and millet. It tasted pretty good. One evening she cooked gluten-free cornbread, and it was delicious and tasted as good as Mama’s.
I’m getting used to gluten-free foods, especially the almond milk. But I wonder, how do they milk an almond?

Publix and Walmart carry gluten-free food. I’ve only been on my gluten-free, (well, almost free) diet for one week and can tell the difference. I have lost a few pounds and my energy level has shot up. Dr. Mac was right. I feel like a teenager. I’ve been circling the courthouse square, hanging out at Limestone Drug soda fountain and drinking Coke floats and reading comic books. Another week on my diet and I’ll be cruising around Kreme Delite like I used to do with my arm resting on the window, playing Elvis Presley on the radio and whistling at girls.

The wonders of a good diet! Now, if I could just grow some hair on my bald head…
By: Jerry Barksdale