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

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

9-20-2013 5-15-20 PM

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

8-16-2013 1-24-18 PM

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.

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