Lady Luck Strikes Again

10-19-2013 11-23-28 AMRecently, I got lucky. It was back in the winter of 1948 when I was 7 years old. We lived on Bean Road in the Piney Chapel Community where we share-cropped cotton on Mr. Henry Binford’s place, and lived in a ratty old farmhouse with a tin roof and no insulation. It was heated by a wood-burning stove in one bedroom, which doubled for a living room. The rest of the house was closed off. We drew water from a dug well located on the back porch and the outhouse was close by, which was a great convenience in the winter time. I was a 2nd grader at Piney Chapel where Miss Exie Holt was my teacher. The only thing I liked about school was getting to ride the yellow bus, where I learned to “match pennies” with older boys. Mama said it was gambling and a sin. I guess that’s the reason I liked to do it.

At school, I sat in a right-handed desk and had to twist around and crook my left arm in order to write. This caused me to begin my sentences on the right margin of the tablet and write backwards. Other kids were writing, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. Mama had birthed a moron. On the other hand, I was unique – the only kid in class who could write backward. Finally, Miss. Exie obtained a left-handed desk and I learned to write, (not very good,) but at least I was starting on the left margin.

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A terrifying event occurred at school when a health department nurse came out to give shots. We fell in line like ducks, rolled up our sleeves and some of the boys bragged about how they “weren’t afraid of a ‘li’l ole’ shot.” The sight of the needle set off whimpering, and then crying, which spread like wildfire. Soon, all of us were crying and begging, even the braggarts. That was only the beginning. Following our shot, someone said, “I’m sick.” This caused the others to be ill. Pretty soon everybody was sick. Miss. Exie put us on pallets until the hysteria passed. That’s another reason I didn’t like school.

Then a bully shoved me off the porch steps into prickly bushes. It was a girl. Other kids teased me, “Ha, ha, ha, he’s afraid of a girrrll, he’s afraid of a girrrll.” That’s another reason I didn’t like school.

That winter the dirt and gravel roads froze, then thawed, creating deep muddy ruts which made it impossible to travel, including the school bus. That’s when my luck began to change. I didn’t have to attend school. A hard freeze followed, making the roads again passable. Mama got lucky also. She slipped on ice on the back porch and severely injured her back. She said she was the luckiest person in the world, that her back could have been broken. Now that’s real luck!

I slept on a feather bed in an unheated north room where the slightest breeze caused the wallpaper to flap and pop. Each night the water in the glass beside my bed froze solid. One cold night Mama stacked several quilts on top me and wrapped a heated brick in a towel and placed it at my feet. She said my prayers and kissed me on the forehead. “Good night punk’n, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The last thing I remember before falling asleep was hearing the cold north wind howling beneath the eaves of the house and rattling the tin. I woke early next morning, hot, sweaty and itchy. When I didn’t appear in the kitchen at my usual time and warm by the stove while Mama cooked breakfast, she came and checked on me. “What’s wrong punk’n?”

“I don’t feel good,” I said. She placed her hand on my forehead and wrinkled her brow. “Young’un, you’re burning up with fever. You can’t go to school.”

That was wonderful news. My condition worsened during the day. Mama and Daddy hovered over the bed with worry on their faces.

“I think you need to get Dr. Darby out here,” Mama said to Daddy.

He walked to a neighbor’s house and called Dr. Darby in Athens. That afternoon, Dr. Darby showed up with a red nose and carrying a black bag. He took my temperature, then pulled back the covers and placed a cold stethoscope to my chest and announced his diagnosis.

“Well, he has measles. I recommend that he drink a ‘Dr. Peppers’ twice a day until he recovers.”

Daddy walked down the frozen dirt road to Roy Hargrove’s store on Elkton Road and returned with a carton of ‘Dr. Peppers.’ I took my time recovering and managed to drink another carton of Dr. Pepper before my health improved.

Imagine, propped up in a warm feather bed, skipping school and drinking ‘Dr. Peppers.’ How lucky can a kid get? Lady Luck was smiling on me. I immediately began planning on getting chicken pox, the mumps and the itch…
By: Jerry Barksdale

9-20-2013 5-15-10 PMRecently, I was having a leisurely Sunday lunch with family and friends at a fine restaurant in Guntersville, when an ear-splitting scream at the adjoining table caused my stomach to do a somersault. Diners were startled. The little imp, seeing the attention he was getting began screaming even louder. His mother and grandmother appeared to be proud of their enfant terrible. My stomach was in knots. My parents couldn’t afford to eat in a restaurant, but if they had done so and I pulled a stunt like that I would have been taken outside and corrected. Children were more respectful and mannerly when I was growing up. My parents didn’t ask me silly question like: “My little sweet pea would you like to eat a biscuit and gravy or would you prefer that I drive to the store and buy you a honey bun?” I ate what was put before me. There was a hierarchy of offenses. Never wear a hat at the dinner table; don’t speak unless spoken to; never interrupt your elders; never be disrespectful, don’t act smart alecky and never, never sass your parents. Wearing a cap at the table was a minor offense, acting smart alecky could earn you a lecture, but sassing your parents would result in well… a near death experience.

Mama, like a zealous District Attorney would often over charge me with an offense.
“What did you just mumble, Jerry?”
“Mama, I didn’t mumble anything.”
“Don’t get smart alecky with me,” she replied.
“I’m not getting smart alecky.”
“Now, you are sassing me young’un.”
The threat of being charged with sassing was enough to shut me up.

Daddy whipped me only once. We were visiting the Turner family and, following a chicken stew dinner, the adults played Rook. Sylvia Turner, about my age – four or five – with long, blonde pig-tails began picking at me. When adults weren’t looking at me, I pushed her off the end of the couch with my feet. After all, a man can take only so much hounding from a woman. She feigned pain and began screaming bloody murder, interrupting the Rook game.

“What in the world happened?” Mama asked Sylvia.
“Jerry kicked me off the couch. Boo, hoo, hoo.”
“Did you do that?” Mama asked me.
“Yessum, but I didn’t kick her hard.”
Daddy dragged me outside by one arm. I was kicking, screaming and begging. He broke off an oak branch and thrashed me. I was running around his legs trying to escape.
“Stand still young’un,” he barked.

How could I stand still and flee at the same time? The thrashing didn’t hurt me, but it scared me half to death. That was the only time Daddy ever whipped me and it was enough. A hard look from him would correct my misbehavior. On the other hand, Mama was always threatening to whip me and quoting scripture – “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.” But, I wasn’t afraid of her. Sometimes she would threaten to tell Daddy when he came home and that would spoil the rest of my day.

When I grew older, other rules were imposed: Don’t urinate or put rocks in your cotton sack to make it weigh more and don’t urinate in Daddy’s whiskey bottle. Making a blended whiskey out of Daddy’s wildcat would really rile him up.

My maternal grandmother, Edna Holt had three boys by her second marriage and they were what Mama called a “hand full”. Grandmother Holt didn’t use a belt; she used a thick yardstick given away by a local bank. She didn’t tell the boys to get up for breakfast but once. Her second trip to the bedroom was to whack them with the yardstick. They grabbed their butts and began begging. Billy and Harold were in the 82nd Airborne and Bobby was in the Air Force. That didn’t impress Grandmother. “I don’t care if you are in the Army, when you’re here, you gonna mind me,” she said.

Psychologists say that committing violence against our children teaches them to be violent and fearful. I don’t doubt that. I don’t know its long term effect, but I do know that it gets immediate results. I attribute much of my success in life to Mr. B. L Rich, Principal of East Limestone School in the 1950’s. Mr. Rich had long, brushy eyebrows and was a strict disciplinarian. I wore a black motorcycle jacket with skull and crossbones on the back and walked around with my collar turned up, mumbling. I thought of myself as James Dean in Rebel without a Cause. To further my self-image, I threw a cherry bomb down the hallway. The explosion rocked the school, and wouldn’t you know it, a stool pigeon turned me in. Mr. Rich called me to his office and asked if I did it – which I admitted – and then took a large paddle from his desk. “Bend over and hold your ankles,” he commanded. He burned a hole in my smoking jeans and after three licks I forgot I was James Dean and began begging for mercy. I learned that begging teaches humility. It was several days before I could sit or sleep on my back, but it gave me time to reconsider my image. Being James Dean was just too painful. I never got a chance to thank Mr. Rich for helping me out, but I’ll always be grateful to him.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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Editor’s note: By his own admission, Jerry likes to write things that are “edgy.” This article
most definitely is that, and my advice is, “Jerry, my friend, ditch the doll!”

8-16-2013 1-24-02 PMRecently, while searching through storage for old files, I discovered my long forgotten voodoo doll. I opened the lid on the brown, hand-carved, shoe-box size coffin and looked inside. A black, ragdoll with beady black eyes stared back at me. Ahh, the memories. I had purchased the doll from a witch doctor in Jamaica while there in 1995 researching a legal thriller I was writing. The novel is peopled with lazy lawyers, tyrannical judges, cheating wives, beautiful women, crooked attorneys, drug kingpins, a contract killer, sex and voodoo – the usual trash that folks love to read. Having handled hundreds of divorce cases I was familiar with lazy lawyers and cheating wives, but didn’t have a clue about voodoo.

All that I knew came from watching old black and white movies as a kid. They pulled off chicken heads and danced around in a trance. Pretty scary. On the other hand, I’d seen Mama wring a chicken’s neck many a time. When I was thirteen years old and living at Madison Crossroads, I snuck into a “Holy Roller” brush arbor meeting and saw the Holy Ghost jump on a woman and wrestle her to the ground. That was scary too. When it comes to religion, everyone has their own belief system. Locating and interviewing a witch doctor in Jamaica wasn’t easy. But, as the saying goes, “money talks.”

An off-duty employee at our hotel agreed to drive my wife, Pat and I into the jungle to find a voodoo priest. As we drove higher into the mountains the asphalt ended, and we bumped up a rutted dirt road that cut through the jungle. Native women carrying large stalks of bananas on their head walked alongside the road. Finally, we stopped near several tin shacks.

“Stay here mon,” the driver said. “I go talk to witch doctor.”

People were staring at us. Pat, who didn’t like the idea from the outset, was getting paranoid.

“I’m scared!”

“They wouldn’t waste a pot of water cooking you,” I joked.

“What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re too tough.”

The driver motioned for us to come. We were escorted inside a tin shack with a dirt floor and introduced to the witch doctor. He was very suspicious at first, but after explaining that I was a writer and wanted to interview him about my novel, he loosened up. While we talked, several pigs and chickens wandered through the room. A rooster crowed nearby.

He explained that voodoo dolls can be used for both good and bad. I think I understood. Sometimes I use prayer that way. Most of the time I pray that God will deliver good things like helping others, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. However, there have been times when I asked God for selfish things like winning the lottery and hitting at Blackjack. Of course, he wasn’t listening and I lost.

Following my first divorce, I prayed that God would send a good and beautiful woman into my life who would love me. A woman showed up, and we married, but now I’m not sure who sent her. There could have been interference in my prayer transmission. After we separated I prayed every night, “Lord, please heal my wife’s heart and bring us back together.” Then I received a letter from her greedy out-of-town lawyer demanding a divorce and $70,000-a-year alimony. I started praying in the other direction. “Lord please get this greedy hussy out of my life… and without alimony.” So, I fully understood what the witch doctor meant about voodoo being used to work both sides of the street. The witch doctor was a poor fellow, so I purchased a voodoo doll as a souvenir.

“You get your own needles, mon,” he said.

I guessed that hat pins were scarce in Jamaica. He tossed in a free bottle of oil and “Magic Sex Potent” that he concocted from roots. He also gave me written instructions on how to cast a spell with the voodoo doll. I like the one, “how to get rid of someone.” I have a greedy out of town lawyer in mind.

Then there is one on how to get a woman. That looks promising. I think I’ll take a slug of the magic potent and see what happens. Will someone lend me hat pins?
By: Jerry Barksdale

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Yet Another Man Trip

7-6-2013 8-33-40 AMIt was another “Man Trip,” this time to Fort McClellan in Anniston. Naturally, women weren’t allowed. We didn’t have time to stop for pedicures, shoe shopping and other such foolishness.

Retired Athens cop and Alabama Veterans’ Museum President, Jerry Crabtree was self-appointed tour guide and driver. Museum Board Member, Bill Ward, a retired mathematician, served as unofficial trip humorist. (Have you ever met a funny math teacher?) Retired ASU Business Manager and Board Member, Ewell Smith, with his handy Iphone was the IT man.

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The stated purpose of our trip was to visit the German POW cemetery at Fort McClellan, tour the Berman Museum of World History, followed by a fine lunch at the Victoria. However, our real purpose was to get out of the house, get out of town and discuss the personal lives of everyone who came to mind during the two hour and thirteen minute and 118 mile trip. Believe me, I learned a lot. Ewell pulled up a photograph on his Iphone of a beautiful chick in a bathing suit. We played “Guess who?”

“Marilyn Monroe,” I offered.

No one knew her identity. It was Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show. Unbelieveable. Ladies, keep eating potato chips and pork rinds and the same thing will happen to you.

We discussed the sad state of world affairs and concluded that we are in a real mess. When the Pope gives up and jumps ship, you know things are really bad.

Crabtree, a retired Sergeant from the Alabama National Guard, followed the “old convoy” route taken over the last years by local guardsmen traveling to summer camp. It’s scenic, and we saw plenty of chicken houses along the way. We turned off of Interstate 65 to Alabama 67 at Priceville, and headed southeast toward Attalla. At this historical intersection of U.S. 431 and Alabama 278, Crabtree pointed out where the convoy always stopped and the guardsmen always took a pee break. Dang! And I didn’t bring a camera.

Arriving at old Fort McClellan, (closed by the Feds in 1999) we located the POW cemetery situated on a sunbathed hill overlooking piney woods, a couple of magnolia trees, and large oaks which offered shade. Too bad the men buried there can’t witness its simple beauty. The patch of ground is home to three Italians and 26 Germans who died in captivity across the South during WWII. A German Brigadier General, Hans Schuberth, is buried next to a private. A camp was once located near the cemetery, constructed in 1943 that held 3,000 POW’s. A larger camp was located at Aliceville, Alabama.

Afterwards, we toured Fort McClellan. Originally established in 1917 and named after Yankee General George McClellan, it was once one of the largest camps in America. The spit and polish days of yesterday were gone. Weeds grew in asphalt cracks. Old shabby buildings were vacant. The once manicured parade ground where a half million citizen soldiers had marched to the call of cadence over years past was weedy as a cow pasture. Homeland security had blocked off roads and occupied several of the buildings. We had luncheon reservations at the Victoria, a fine restaurant located in a large and beautiful Victorian-style house built in 1888 on a hill overlooking Guintard Avenue. I was confused.

“Are we in Attalla?” I asked.

“Let me review the article before you turn it in,” said official trip humorist, Bill Ward. “You might have us in Mississippi. This is Anniston.”

Inside, I asked him where the men’s room was located?

“Down the hallway, at the back door and behind a tree,” he replied.

He doesn’t know it, but in the next Man Trip Story, he’ll be referred to only as “the smarty-pants passenger.”

White table clothes, delicious food and excellent service made it a classy restaurant. A meat and three was only $9.95. Fresh Gulf Amberjack was available. It’s a country Inn with guest rooms furnished with period furniture. Guys, if you want to get out of the doghouse, take your favorite woman down for overnight. She will love the place (256-236-0503).

After visiting St. Michael’s, a gothic Episcopal church built of sandstone in 1887 – it resembles a British Castle – we headed to the Berman Museum of World History. Unofficial tour guide, Crabtree mistakenly took us in the Museum of Natural History located next door. I’m about to demote him for incompetency. But the tour was worth it, and I was fascinated by large rattling copperhead behind glass. Kids would love this museum. Finally we arrived next door at the Berman Museum. Farley Berman Anniston enlisted in the Army following Pearl Harbor, and spent most of his service in military intelligence. While in North Africa he met Germaine, a French National, who worked in French Intelligence. “I was spying on her and she was spying on me,” Berman later recalled. I guess they liked what they saw. They married and returned to Anniston and later established the museum. The large and roomy two-story building is chock full of 8,000 artifacts “from the rugged American West to the exotic far east….”

Remington, bronzes, oil paintings, jade sculpture, ancient and modern weapons, suits of armor, photos, clothing and even a gatlin gun are there. Hitler’s Civil Service is one of a kind. Check it out at www.bermanmuseum.org.

It was a great trip with great guys. I learned a lot. Imagine Aunt Bea was once a hot tamale…
By: Jerry Barksdale

6-7-2013 1-33-41 PMIt was another “man trip”, this time to Lynchburg, Tennessee. As usual, women weren’t allowed. They would have hampered important discussions about women, football, zero turn mowers, knee replacements, toenail fungus and prostate problems.

Ewell Smith, retired Business Manager at ASU was driving; retired Athens policeman and President of the Alabama Veterans Museum, Jerry Crabtree was official backseat driver, and I was self-appointed guide. Several weeks earlier, Jerry had made luncheon reservations at Miss Mary Bobo’s in Lynchburg (pop. 361). When you’re too old to ride a Harley and chase women, driving 55 miles for dinner is pretty exciting.

At Taft, Tennessee we headed north on Old Railroad Bed Road, then right at Coldwater Creek Road and left on Molino. It’s Snuffy Smith country with beautiful rushing streams and rolling hills. We rounded a curve and a Black Angus bull was standing in the middle of the road looking for a date and eyeing Ewell’s pretty Toyota. We carefully eased past.

At Fayetteville we intersected Highway 231 south of Elk River. “Look for a huge oak tree in front of Walmart,” I said. “It’s the site of Camp Blount. Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett gathered there before departing for the Creek Indian War.” Where the famous tree had stood only months earlier now was a brown stump.

6-7-2013 1-34-09 PMOn the drive to Lynchburg I told them about my experience representing Tony Mason, a Huntsville singer and nightclub owner who invented Lynchburg Lemonade. We sued Jack Daniels alleging that they had “misappropriated his formula or recipe, for the beverage known as Lynchburg Lemonade.” The case was tried, appealed and retried. We lost the second trial. The only thing I have to show for years of legal work is Jack Daniel’s Cook Book written by Lynn Tolley, great-grandniece of Jack Daniels and Manager of Miss Bobo’s at the time. Ms. Tolley was a witness against us and I cross examined her at trial. I hadn’t thought about her for 25 years.

The drive to Lynchburg was one hour and twenty minutes. “They don’t have but one red light,” cracked ex-cop Crabteee. “That’s redneck talk for traffic light.”

The local economy is based on Jack Daniels whiskey, but a fellow couldn’t get a drink if he had the shakes. It’s a dry county. Ewell parked in front of the small brick courthouse built in 1885.

“Wonder why it’s pink?” Crabtree asked.

“Shhh, I don’t think it infers anything significant,” I said.

Two women were standing just inside the door discussing their children.

“Where is security?” I asked.

“You see it. We don’t have security.”

I didn’t see an elevator either. We walked up a long flight of stairs to the second floor and entered the clerk’s office and met friendly Heather Smith. She beat out five women and a man to win the election in 2010. I glanced around her tiny office.

“How many employees do you have?” I asked.

She pointed. “That’s Sally Syler. She works part time.”

“What is the most sensational trial that has ever occurred here?”

The women looked at each other and deferred to Assistant D.A., Holly Eubanks, who covers Moore and three other counties. She shrugged.

“We hadn’t had any. Not much crime around here,” Ms. Smith said.

Moore County, (population 6,400) is Metro with no police department, only a Sheriff’s Department. I don’t know, but I suspect the “Maytag Repairman” lives in Lynchburg.

My stomach was growling. We were suppose to eat at 1 p.m. when we pulled into Miss Bobo’s parking lot and not a car was in sight. “They’re closed!” Ewell exclaimed. Crabtree was shaken. He jumped out and ran to the front door of what was once a boarding house run by Miss Mary Bobo until she died in 1983. He returned smiling. “They’re open.”

We entered the large white frame house and were greeted by the mouth-watering aroma of food; paid $66.00 for three meals and were shown to the parlor. I browsed through a brochure and was stunned to learn that Lynn Tolley was still manager of Miss Bobo’s.

“Boys, I may be turkey-walked out of this joint,” I said. “I sure hope Lynn Tolley don’t remember me.” At 1 p.m. the dinner bell rang and we were escorted to a round lazy susan table. Audra Steele, an attractive woman with a gift of gab, was our table hostess. I casually inquired about Lynn Tolley. “Oh, she’s in Nashville today appearing on channel 5 “Talk of the Town.”

“Whew! Pass the cornbread, please.”

The table was loaded with heart attack helpers – butter beans and turnip greens cooked in ham; fried okra, barbecued pork ribs, pastry chicken, potato casserole in cheese, baked apples floating in Jack Daniels, cornbread and sweet tea. TV Health guru Dr. Oz would have run screaming from the room. “This is good healthy country food,” our hostess said. “Miss Mary ate it every day until she died at almost 102.”

That was all the authority I needed. Dr. Oz didn’t know everything. Anyway, he looks wormy to me. I dove in and I ate two helpings.

If you want to escape the hustle-bustle urban life of Athens and meet some friendly, laid-back folks, I suggest a visit to Lynchburg and lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s. You might see the Maytag repairman dozing on a courthouse bench. And drop in on court clerk, Heather Smith. She’ll make you think you’re somebody.
By: Jerry Barksdale

5-3-2013 2-25-57 PMThe vacation for the Bonnie Pitts family and my friend and sometimes red-head, Pat ended. A crisis of sort was brewing back in Athens. Hairdos were falling apart and women were becoming depressed. Pat was urgently needed at The Total Look hair salon.

Following a fine Mexican lunch at the Guadalajara’s Grill where I demonstrated machismo by eating a green chili pepper and thereby cauterizing my stomach, they departed for Athens. Guys, take my advice, seek other ways to be macho. Water, crackers and hollering will not extinguish a green chili fire-nor will prayer.

“I want to visit the Mable Dodge Luhan house,” I said to Shannon.

“You’re in luck, Dad. My friend is a caretaker there.”

Mabel Dodge Luhan was a fascinating woman and pushing the envelope long before that term became popular. Since first going to Taos in 1984 on my “search for self” when I learned of her, I wanted to know more about the heiress who gave up a fancy salon in Greenwich Village and a luxurious villa in Italy to live in a simple adobe house on the edge of the desert.

Born to a wealthy Buffalo, New York family in 1879, Mable had traveled the world. In 1917, she went to Taos seeking a “change” and fell in love with not only the high mountains and wide sagebrush valley, but with the Native American culture that existed along the Rio Grande. A world far removed from the maddening one in which she lived, Taos was as quiet, peaceful and simple place where time moved slowly.

I understand why she made the change. Following my divorce from Shannon’s mother in 1985, I felt a great need to find a place that offered me inner peace. I decided to close my law practice in Athens and move to Taos. There I would build a small adobe house with my own hands, and live a simple life, gardening, fishing for trout in crystal streams and hunting for my meat in the mountains. Shannon, who was 7 years old at the time, heard about my fool-hardy plan and came to my office, upset. “Daddy, please don’t leave me,” she sobbed. That jarred me back to reality. Happiness, I’ve since discovered, is found within, not in some far away place.

Mabel became involved with big and handsome Tony Luhan, an Indian who lived with his wife at the Pueblo. Mabel divorced her husband, artist Maurice Sterne and sent him packing and subsequently married Tony. She paid Tony’s wife alimony. “Wife come out real good,” Tony’s cousin told me the previous day.

The Mable Dodge Luhan house – called Los Gallos – a brown 22 room adobe on the edge of Pueblo land, is now a historic site and conference center. Mabel gathered around her such famous artists and writers as Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Nicholia Feckin, D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Frank Waters, Aldous Huxley and famed photographer Ansel Adams.

Shannon and I signed the register and moseyed around. I learned that actor Dennis Hopper once owned the house and edited Easy Rider there. Two guests can overnight in Mabel’s spacious bedroom with sitting area and Kiva fireplace for only $200 a night. Tony’s bedroom, several steps away, is only $130 a night for two. Not bad prices.

Shannon’s friend, Jamison appeared. “Come with me,” he said. “I’ve got something to show you.” Oh boy! I was excited, certain that I was about to explore a secret tunnel or perhaps a hidden room behind a revolving bookcase where Tony had chewed peyote and communed with the Great Spirit. Jamison led us outside to his old, white Chevy pickup.

“Look!” he pointed. I peeked inside. On the front seat sat a Chihuahua mix puppy looking at us with huge bug eyes. “Ohh, how precious,” Shannon said. So much for tunnels and secret rooms.

That evening Shannon and I sat around a warm juniper wood fire in the courtyard, listening to coyotes while she shared the latest Taos news.

“I saw Jemina Ra’Star the other day in town,” said Shannon. “She was on horseback dressed as a Mongolian princess and wearing a coonskin cap and repeated over and over ‘love and light’.”

I chuckled. “Where else but Taos?”

“Folks are pretty excited about The Lone Ranger starring JohnnyDepp being filmed in Taos,” she said, “but really got upset when a Dollar General tried to locate in front of the Pueblo.”

That night, I woke unable to breathe and took several squirts of Afrin. The label warns not to use more than 3 days. I was on my third bottle. My plan to stay until the end of the month was dead. I needed humidity. A cold, desert breeze blowing through the open window woke me long before daylight. I eased out of bed, packed my suitcase and slipped out while Shannon slept soundly. We don’t like goodbyes. I was burning rubber and headed east when the first glow of pink appeared behind the San de Cristo Mountains.

The restless yearning inside me for that “something else” which had first carried me to Taos had finally died. And I was glad. I wanted to be home on Elk River, but knew that I would soon be drawn back to Taos. It’s that kind of place.

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Visiting the Great Sand Dunes – America’s version of the Sahara Desert – is never a good idea in the middle of July. Nevertheless, we breakfasted early and headed north out of Taos toward Alamosa, Colorado. My friend and sometimes red-head Pat, and I had visited the Dunes the previous November when the sand was cool. Bonnie Pitts, of Tanner, was at the wheel of the Chrysler Caravan, the red-heads, Pat and Penni were in the back, and I rode shotgun and acted as guide. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains rose up to our right like a purple wall.

“Sangre de Cristo means blood of Christ,” I said to 12-year-old Leslie Pitts. “Spanish Conquistadors thought they were the color of blood.”

To know the past is to predict the future. Leslie understands that when he’s around me he has to endure a short history lesson whether he likes it or not. “The Spanish came to this area in the 1500’s looking for the Seven Cities of Gold,” I said, “and they brought with them priests to convert the Indians to Christianity. They didn’t find the Cities of Gold and they didn’t convert the Indians, but they did burn a few at the stake.”

On our left was a wide sage brush plain as far as the eye could see, interrupted by an occasional brown butte and mesa.

“Look!” Leslie pointed to a band of horses.

“They’re wild mustangs,” I said.

The San Luis Valley funnels north into southern Colorado and bumps up against rugged mountain peaks, Mount Blanca being the tallest at 14,345 feet. At the base of the peaks are 330 square miles of sand dunes, the highest rising 450 feet.

At the Dunes, Leslie grabbed a plastic sled that Pat had purchased for him to slide down the dunes and we began our trek to the top. I danced on the hot sand to keep it from burning my feet. It was so hot that it melted the soles of a woman’s Nikes. Not surprisingly, the plastic sled didn’t perform well on the burning sand. On the fun scale, the adventure was one click short of visiting Hades. I was about to melt. Bonnie and I headed down to find shade. A gaggle of Boy Scouts who had been camping out in the nearby wilderness hurried past us jabbering about what they were going to eat when they reached civilization.

“I’m eating three Big Mac’s,” one said. “I’m having four and lots of fries,” said another.

The following morning, Shannon, who had worked as a river guide doing float trips down the Rio Grande called and made reservations for us with Los Rios River Runners. “I recommend going with Sysco,” she said. “He’s married to Angelica Houston’s sister.”

“The actress Angelica Houston?” I asked.

“Yep, if you’re lucky enough to ride with Sysco, it’ll be a hoot.”

The Rio Grande begins life high in the mountains of southern Colorado and flows south through a 500 – 800 foot gorge west of Taos. Shannon recommended that we take a scenic back road to the departure site. The road, a white knuckle dirt one, was dusty with hairpin curves that snaked down to the river. Not even a reckless teenager would have dared texting on that deadly road.

At the river’s edge we were instructed on safety, issued a paddle and a life jacket and assigned to rubber raft. Luckily, we drew Sysco, a friendly fellow with a black beard. Sysco operated the tiller and issued a torrent of instructions to paddlers. Sometimes he ordered us to paddle backward to avoid rushing holes of turbulent water; or ordered one side to paddle forward while the other side paddled backward. “Left forward – right backward.” It was confusing. “Your other left,” he would shout.

Most of us were wet and cold before long, but Leslie was smiling and having a good time.

We stopped at an edding pool where the water was smooth and the sun warm. Sysco told us about some “Crazy Texans” (a local term that applies to all Texans) who, with no experience purchased rubber rafts at Walmart and plenty of beer and attempted to run the most dangerous part of the river during spring when the water was high and swift.

“One of them was to be married the following day,” Sysco said. “Poor fellow was never seen again. Search parties couldn’t find him.”

“How awful!” someone exclaimed. I checked my life preserver and tightened the straps.

“About a year later a river runner spotted a piece of cloth wedged against a boulder,” said Sysco.“When he pulled it out a human foot was trapped inside and the shoe still on. It was later determined to be the foot of the young groom-to-be.”

“What happened to the foot?” someone asked.

“His fiancé carried it back to Texas, held a funeral and buried it,” replied Sysco.

“Ohhh, how sweet.” A woman said.

I was doubtful. It was too good a tale to be true.

“Yeah, it’s what you call having one foot in the grave,” Sysco deadpanned.

Now, I was more doubtful.

Sysco let Leslie get out in the water to dog-paddle. I looked down and he was smiling, white teeth gleaming.

“Well, is this a GolleeShazam moment?” I asked him.

“Yes sir, Mister Jerry, it sure is.”

Later, Shannon confirmed that Sysco was telling the truth – the “Crazy Texans” had drowned and only his foot was found, which unfortunately was buried. So, there really is such a thing as one foot in the grave!

To be Continued.

4-7-2013 5-41-51 PM

Part 7
Jerry BarksdaleOne day my quest for eating less cholesterol is going to result in my nose getting busted. I rose early at the Kachina Inn at Taos and went for early morning coffee. The two red-heads had arrived road weary from Athens the previous evening and were sleeping late. After coffee, I decided to eat breakfast and was told to go across the hallway to the buffet. No one was present.

“Helloo!”

An obese Indian with long braids emerged from the kitchen scowling.

“What ‘ye want?”

“Sir, I eat low cholesterol. Would you be kind enough to scramble two egg whites for me?”

“No!”

A white dude with a pony tail, who I’d seen riding a Harley walked in and inquired about the gravy.

“It ain’t gravy. It’s grits!” The cook said angrily and mumbled something derogatory. The biker set down his tray and cussed the fat cook who quickly retreated back into the kitchen. I felt guilty. Just because I wanted to lower my cholesterol, I had triggered violence.

Several years ago, a cook at a restaurant in Ardmore told me in no certain terms that he wouldn’t scramble egg whites no matter what my cholesterol level was. Recently, I had a similar experience at an expensive hotel in New Orleans.

My, how times have changed. It used to be calling someone an SOB would get your nose busted, now it’s saying “low cholesterol.”

As I had predicted, the redheads, Pat and her niece, Penni, defamed my pick-up. The driver had to slide the bench seat forward in order to reach the clutch pedal, causing the passenger’s knees to touch the dash. They blamed it on my truck. I said it was their short legs.

Later, we drove out to the Pueblo where scroungy dogs were lying in the shade, flapping their tails in hot dust. Many people continue to live in the Pueblo, where jewelry, paintings, pottery, homemade bread and pies are sold. The bread is baked outside in an adobe horno, which resembles a large ant hill. After hot cedar coals have heated the inside walls, they are removed, the bread is slid inside pizza-fashion, and the opening is sealed with a flat rock. It isn’t cornbread, but it’s good. Robert Mirabal, a tall, slim Native American with long braided hair was selling CDs. He’s a Grammy winning flute player. In the movies you usually hear Robert’s flute music while some Indian maiden gathers berries or bathes in the river. I purchased a CD for Pat, hoping to make amends for the short leg comment and later asked Robert where Tony Luhan had once lived. He pointed out the location. Luhan, a big handsome Indian, had left his wife and married wealthy heiress Mabel Dodge, patron of the arts. Shortly after, she moved to Taos in 1917 in search of self. I walked over to where Luhan had lived, and met his cousin. “Mabel took Tony away from wife and paid her alimony,” he said. “She got big deal out of divorce. She come out real good.”

Ummm, I wondered if some desperate woman would pay my monthly alimony? After a moment’s reflection, I decided no woman was that desperate.

Shannon phoned and invited us to lunch at The Bavarian, high in the mountains. The narrow pavement snakes 18 miles upward along the rushing Rio Hondo, and ends at Taos Ski Valley, (elevation 10,000 feet). The Bavarian is several miles farther up a dirt road. During the winter ski season, people ski up and have lunch on the large sun drenched deck. Thomas and his wife, Jamie are the owners. Thomas is from Bavaria, and Jamie is a full blooded Cheyenne from Montana. Shannon, office manager and sometimes hostess, had reserved a table for us on the deck. The air was cool and the sun warm. Someone pointed out an elderly and stooped man and said: “There’s that grumpy old actor again.”

“Who is he?” I asked.

“Dean Stockwell.” I remembered him. He was a big shot actor in the 1960s, and appeared with Marilyn Monroe – I think.

Unwilling to incur a busted nose in front of my friends, I didn’t ask for the low cholesterol menu. Instead, I ordered a buffalo bratwurst hot dog, French fries and a German beer. Wow! Cholesterol sure does taste good.

Late afternoon, we headed across the sage brush and down a rutted dirt road to Shannon’s “off the grid” adobe house on Wild Horse Mesa. Near a tee-pee, Shannon pointed to a five gallon plastic bucket on the side of the road where a “live music” sign was nailed to a fence post. “Sometimes a guy is out here in his underwear jumping around and playing a guitar,” she said. “That’s his tip bucket.”

We passed the junkyard with goats in the road, turned left at the boot on the fence post, and pulled up near a green outhouse in Shannon’s front yard. The red heads got out and looked around in silence.

The sunset was breathtaking. A chill fell across the mesa, and 12 year old Leslie built a fire in the pit. We sat around its warmth and watched as a storm approached from the west.

That night, I squirted Afrin up my nose and went to bed serenaded by coyotes, then the rain came. Bonnie and Penni, who slept in the dog’s master bedroom woke wet and chilled when water poured in from an overhead light socket. There was a bright side – Penni didn’t see the dog hair on the sheets until daylight.

But heck, it was a new day, and that promised more adventure.

-To Be Continued-

Speedy Legal

Jerry BarksdalePart V By: Jerry Barksdale

It was mid-morning, and the sun was hot in a turquoise sky when Bonnie Pitts guided the Chevrolet Caravan down a dusty road toward the Taos Pueblo. I wanted his 12-year-old son, Leslie, to experience a Pow-Wow. The Taos Pueblo covers some 18,000 acres that sprawls eastward from Taos to the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Native Americans still live there in adobe apartments that date back to 1300 A.D. and get their water from Sacred Blue Lake, located somewhere high in the mountains, a place where no white man is allowed. The Taos Pueblo tribe, and rightfully so, is sensitive about who comes onto their land. In January, 1847, following the occupation of New Mexico by the U.S. Army, a mob of Taos Indians went on a rampage, vowing to kill every American. They murdered Governor Charles Bent, along with several other Anglos. Retribution was swift. The Indians took refuge in St. Jerome Mission at the Pueblo. American artillery battered down the adobe walls, killing and wounding numerous people inside. Years ago when I was on a tour, the Indian guide pointed out the mission rubble and stated that the American Army blew down the church. “Ohhh, how awful!” a tourist exclaimed. And it was. The guide said nothing about the rampaging Indians.

The Purple Sage

Several years ago when my daughter, Shannon worked in the Ski Valley that adjoins Pueblo land, I met, “Crazy Jerry” – that’s Shannon’s term of endearment. Jerry, a Vietnam Veteran, worked at the same lodge with Shannon where he lived with his long-eared Bassett hound, Emma. On long winter nights, Jerry enjoyed drinking beer, watching TV and shooting rats with his .22 pistol during commercial breaks. To prevent snow from accumulating on high ridge crests and triggering an avalanche, a 40 mm gun was regularly fired at night to break off the snow crust. The duty occasionally fell to Jerry. After a few beers and perhaps bored of shooting rats, Jerry raised the gun elevation a couple of clicks and lobbed a few rounds onto Pueblo land. The Pueblos took offense. The following morning an old pick-up loaded with angry Indians rattled up the canyon and issued a stern warning to locals. And it wasn’t couched in diplomatic language. Jerry was immediately relieved of further artillery duty.

At the Pow-Wow, a gourd dance was in progress. We found a shady spot beneath the circular brush arbor and watched. The dancers, many displaying military patches next to feathers and beads, formed a circle, (representing the Earth and four directions,) and while rattling gourds filled with pebbles, chanted and danced toward the center. It was a spiritual and somber event. On the other hand, Anglos usually get fired up on alcohol and sling each other around on the dance floor.

I wandered through the crowd and down a row of tents where I spotted an elderly, bronze faced Indian wearing a Marine cap. He was Chester Nez, the last survivor of the original 29 World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Leslie walked up. “Leslie, I want you to meet a real American hero, I said. One day you can tell your grandchildren about him.” The old man smiled and spoke. “Good .. to … meet… you.”

Later, I sauntered into Jason Youngbuck’s tent, where he was painting a leather pictorial. After hearing him say he had served in the Marine Corps, we struck up a conversation. “I’m a full blooded American Indian, half Southwestern Pueblo and half Navajo,” he said. His father is a well-known southwest artist and a Marine Corps retiree. Jason, also recently retired from the Marines, said his brother was currently serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. I was intrigued. “Tell me why so many Native Americans are Marines,” I asked. “We are warriors. It is our tradition.” In spite of previous mistreatment by the U.S. Government, in early 1940, with war clouds gathering, the Navajo Tribal Council, representing 50,000 people passed a declaration of allegiance. “… we resolve that the Navajo Indians stand ready as they did in 1918 to aid and defend our government and its institutions against all subversion and armed conflict, and pledge our loyalty to the system which recognizes minority rights and a way of life that has placed us among the great people of our race.”

In 1942, the Navajo declared war on the Axis powers. Native Americans set a new national standard when 99% registered for the draft. A War Department official stated that if all Americans had enlisted in the same proportion as the Indians, the Selective Service would be unnecessary. When the grand entry was made at the Pow-Wow, I watched quietly as military veterans in feathers and full regalia entered, carrying the stars and stripes and their tribal flags. A hush fell over the crowd. Every Native American stood. At that moment, I was ashamed that as a child I played cowboys killing Indians.

Later, we checked in at the nearby Kachina Inn and prepared for the two red-headed women to arrive from Alabama. They had been on the road for two days, no doubt defaming my honest little pick-up with its stick shift on the floor.

-To be Continued –

Jerry BarksdaleFriday the 13th broke clear and cool in Santa Fe. I had slept fitfully, waking up gasping for air every few minutes. After breakfasting on my usual “curds and whey” (skim milk and bran flakes) at the El Rey Motel, Bonnie Pitts, his 12-year-old son, Leslie and I drove downtown. The Plaza was a square of green, shaded by ancient cottonwoods where people were lounging on park benches and vendors were setting up their wares on the sidewalk. It’s where the 800 mile Santa Fe Trail that began in Independence, Missouri ended and, in 1846, during the Mexican War, General Stephen Kearny ran up the stars and stripes and declared that New Mexico was part of the United States. We crossed the street to the Palace of Governors built in 1610. The old adobe one-story building with three foot thick walls extends some 300 feet east and west. It was there in the late 1800’s that territorial governor, Lew Wallace wrote Ben Hur.

Beneath the front portico, Native Americans sat displaying their jewelry on blankets. I stopped in front of a man wearing a black cap with “1st Cavalry – Vietnam” stitched across the front. We talked. He was from the Santa Clara Pueblo, north of Santa Fe. “I guess everyone is much better off financially since casinos opened,” I said.

“I can’t tell any difference,” he replied. “Except that the tribal leaders now live in bigger houses.”

Across the street, at the Overland Sheep Company, a middle-aged Hispanic man wearing a western hat was leaning against the wall singing – Red River Valley in Spanish. We stopped and chatted. “Did you see me in All the Pretty Horses?” he asked.

I didn’t remember him.

“I also had a part in Young Guns,” he added.

It was at Overland Sheep Company during my meltdown days 27 years earlier, that I had seen a neck- to-ankle black wool coat displayed in the window. “It’s handmade from Tuscany wool,” the sales lady said. “The only other one like it is owned by Rod Stewart. It would look good on you.”

And it did – on the single occasion I wore it during an ice storm in Athens.

Later, I phoned Shannon, who had just returned home at 9 p.m. the previous night following a 12-day trip to New York with her boyfriend, Phillip. They have been seeing each other off and on for the last 15 years, including working together in the Alaskan Salmon catch. I attribute the success of their relationship to the fact that Phillip lives 1,200 miles away in Lebanon, Tennessee. In my opinion the most destructive factor in a relationship is living together. Men don’t like women messing with their stuff. And women just can’t resist moving things around.

We drove north to Espanola and angled off on Highway 68, which took us through the Rio Grande Canyon. The water was running clear and swift. Leslie was excited. When we met a raft full of screaming people running the white water, he exclaimed. “That’s what I want to do!”

Miles later, the road climbed out of the canyon and we rounded a curve. Before us was a breathtaking view of Taos nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

“There’s Taos,” I said, pointing where sunlight glinted in distant windows. At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the small town is bordered on the north by the pueblo where natives still live in ancient adobe buildings. West of town are sagebrush flats that stretch as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by the Rio Grande Gorge.

The dusty little town has been home to Spanish Conquistadors, Mexicans, fur trappers, mountain men and, with the arrival in 1917 of heiress, Mabel Dodge, it became a mecca for writers, poets and artists. The old Hippies, New Agers and just plain nuts came later.

We were waiting in the lobby of the Taos Inn when Shannon entered, blonde, blue-eyed and radiant. I hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving. We got a table at Doc Martins and lunched. She was excited, but sad. She and Phillip had decided to move to Maui, Hawaii for at least two years. “I’ll miss my friends in Taos,” she said. “That’s the sad part.”

“View it as a long vacation,” I said, which seemed to lift her spirits.

Following lunch, we headed to Shannon’s rental place on Wild Horse mesa. “Follow me, but in case you get lost, cross the gorge bridge and turn left onto a dirt road, go past the first junk yard on the left, then pass the second one where goats are in the road and then bear left. When you see a boot hanging on a fence post, turn left. You’ll see my place. It’s seven miles through sagebrush.”

The dirt road was washed out in places and not maintained by the county. People who live on the mesa are “off the grid.”

The rectangular, two-bedroom house where Shannon lived had a metal roof that caught rain water that was stored in a 500 gallon underground cistern. Drinking water was purchased. Solar panels provided power. There was no fan and no air conditioner, and one is not needed. A pole fence enclosed a court yard where Shannon had a raised garden, fire pit, chairs and a panoramic view of purple sage, and in the distance, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There were two bathrooms and a “one-holer” outside with a screen door, and a side window that offered a spectacular view of the mountains.

My granddoggie, Marley, greeted me with love and affection, but the chow that had once belonged to Shannon’s mom kept her distance. Good. I never met a chow that didn’t want to bite me. The cat, no doubt had heard that I was coming and disappeared. Also good.

Shannon emerged from the house chuckling. “Penni called,” she said. “She and Pat left Athens a little while ago in your pickup and wanted to know my address so they can put it in her GPS. That’s funny. I told her there are no streets, no roads with names, no mailbox and no house number.”

“Tell her to punch in the second junkyard with the goats in the road,” I said. I knew that both redheads were already dog-cussing my little red Toyota pickup. It was a modest, but honest little truck with straight shift in the floor and a bench seat. It wasn’t my fault they had short legs.

Near twilight, Leslie started a fire in the fire pit and we sat around its warmth as light faded to gray.

“I like living out here,” Shannon said.

“Is it patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? No one comes out here. There are no addresses for one thing; no power, water lines and no fire protection. People want to be left alone.” She told us about two guys who moved to nearby Two Peaks and tried to take over. “Folks ran them off,” she said. “People are their own law. They work and ask nothing from the government.”

I liked that idea, not withstanding, I didn’t want Uncle Sam to forget to deposit my monthly Social Security check.

When I crawled in bed, Marley padded in to sleep with me. I tugged her ears. “No Marley,” I grunted. She departed, her feelings hurt. The window was raised allowing cool air to enter the room. I slid beneath the covers and was soon warm and cozy as coyotes yipped in the sage brush. Later, I woke gasping for air. A squirt of Afrin up my nose worked magic. My last thought; yeah, it was a lucky Friday 13th.

-To be Continued –