A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Freddie Rush Murder Trial

The long, cold Scott County winter of 1965 was warmed considerably by the occasionally sizzling details of the Freddie Rush murder trial.  The trial in the old Scott County courthouse was heavily attended; my older brother told me that he went every day, and I even remember Mama stopping by one day with my sister and I in tow.  It was so crowded that we couldn't even get in; I just remember peering into the crowded courtroom up on the second floor of the old courthouse.  The event was so significant that at least one local teacher took her students there for a field trip.  Murder trials didn't happen very often in Waldron, and this one was better than any episode of Perry Mason on TV.

This was actually Freddie's second trial for the murder.  Freddie had been convicted of first degree murder a year or so earlier at Fort Smith, where the crime occurred, and sentenced to life in prison.  But his attorneys had argued for a change of venue, and on appeal the Arkansas Supreme Court had agreed, reversing the conviction and ordering a retrial, which was to be held in Waldron.

The victim in the case was Freddie's stepfather, Paul Rush.  Paul was a successful businessman who owned the Waldron Furniture Manufacturing Company and the Hardwood Plant, both Scott County businesses.  But he lived in Fort Smith, where he also owned a furniture manufacturing plant called V&R Sales Company.  The building is still there; it's the three story brick building down by the Arkansas River, next door to the Park at West End.  That's where Paul lost his life; in the darkened basement on the night of May 13, 1962.  It was Mother's Day.
The building where the murder took place,
as it appears today.

That night, Freddie and his wife and children happened to be driving past the building when Freddie noticed a light on upstairs.  This was unusual, since it was Sunday and normally all the lights were turned off.  So, he drove over to his stepfather Paul's house to report what he had seen.  They all then traveled back to V&R Sales Company to investigate.

At the trial in Waldron, Freddie's wife Charlotte was asked why they didn't call the police instead of going to investigate the matter themselves.  She said that Paul had instructed them to never call the police.  So, while Charlotte waited in the car, Paul and Freddie entered the building.  After a little while, she heard a scream.  Freddie then came running from the building, a gunshot wound to his shoulder.  Paul was not with him; he was lying on the basement floor, shot in the head.

Freddie later testified that when the entered the building, they didn't find anything suspicious inside the office where the light was on.  But Paul wanted to check the basement, and when they went down there they couldn't get the light to turn on.  Suddenly, in the darkness, two shots rang out.  Paul collapsed on the floor and Freddie, wounded, ran for his life.

The police interviewed Freddie in the hospital, but the trail soon went cold.  Freddie, after recovering from his gunshot wound, posted a reward for information about the shooting.  But, his personal life in disarray and his marriage over, Freddie left the area for the greener pastures of Houston, Texas.  He left behind a lot, including his longtime girlfriend, Pat Taylor.  That proved to be an unfortunate mistake. 

Pat was living in a motel in Fort Smith along with her cousin, Carolyn Brown.  Carolyn was dating a young man named Raymond Wood, who appears to have been Freddie's cousin.  Let me share a particularly pithy quote from the Arkansas Supreme Court's official citation of the Rush vs. State appeal:

Fred appears to be pretty much a libertine; although he was married and living with his wife, he was keeping Pat Taylor.  About nine months after the murder of Paul, Fred quit Pat Taylor and began to bestow his affections on one Louise Bromley.  Along about the first of February 1963, he left Fort Smith with Louise Bromley and Carolyn Brown.  They went to Houston, Texas, where they all lived together in an apartment.

About a month after Fred left for Houston, Pat went to the police and told them that Freddie, Raymond Wood, and Carolyn Brown had conspired to kill Paul Rush, and that the plans to carry out the conspiracy had been worked out in her apartment and in her presence. 

The arrest and conviction of Freddie Rush followed.  The state's case was pretty strong; they maintained the Freddie himself had gone by V&R sales company earlier that Sunday and turned on the light, so that when he and his family drove by later, it would be on.  Raymond Wood was waiting inside the building with a .22 rifle.  Carolyn Brown was waiting outside in a car, ready to drive Raymond away from the scene of the crime.  After luring his stepfather down into the basement, Freddie watched as he was shot in the head and killed, and just to make it look real, Freddie took a gunshot wound to the shoulder.  In case the police were on to them, earlier that afternoon Raymond and Carolyn had gone out and shot an old .22 pistol, so that they would have an excuse for gunshot residue to be on Raymond's hands if they were checked. 

Freddie was sentenced to life in prison, but in an interesting turn of events, both Raymond Wood and Carolyn Brown were found not guilty in separate trials later that summer.  So, when Freddie's request for a retrial was granted, that little twist would make things interesting.

So, and forgive me for taking so long to get to this point, we now arrive at the sensational trial in the Courthouse of little Waldron, Arkansas.

As soon as the state presented it's opening theory as to the particulars of the crime, the defense moved for an immediate acquittal.  Their position was that the State still maintained that Raymond Wood and Carolyn Brown were involved in a conspiracy to kill Paul Rush, and that two different juries had determined that they were innocent.  Judge Paul Wolfe did not agree, so the trial continued.

The rest of the trial was pretty much a rehash of the earlier trial in Fort Smith; the State maintained that Freddie, Raymond, and Carolyn had planned and carried out the murder.  The Defense presented five witnesses, including Freddie's wife and later his mother, who testified about the financial condition of the company.  Then, after final instructions from Judge Paul Wolfe, at 2:00 p.m. on January 29, 1965, the fate of young Freddie Rush was placed into the hands of the twelve Scott County residents who made up the jury.  The only issue before them was guilt or innocence of first degree murder.  It was a difficult deliberation.

At 8:00 p.m. that night, the jury announced that it was "hung."  The court asked about numbers, and the jury foreman responded "10-2."  After further deliberation that night, the jury was sent back to a local motel.  After a night's rest, they returned the next day, Saturday, at 9:00 a.m.  At 11:30 the jury again returned to the courtroom.  Judge Wolfe inquired as to their progress, and the jury foreman responded, "We are locked."  The jury returned to their deliberations, and broke for lunch at 12:45.  Returning for more deliberations, they again reported to the court at 3:50 that they were "hung."  Judge Wolfe asked the jury, "Are there any questions that you all have that you might properly ask the Court, or are there any questions pertaining to the law in this matter?"  Since there were none, the jury returned to it's deliberations.

At 6:00 p.m. that night, the jury again returned to the courtroom and Judge Wolfe, over the objections of the Defense, instructed the jury on second degree murder and manslaughter.  One hour later the jury returned with a verdict:  guilty of murder in the second degree.  They fixed the punishment at 12 years in the penitentiary. 

Freddie's attorneys filed notice of appeal, and Freddie was released on bond.  The Arkansas Supreme Court did not support the introduction of second degree murder as an option after 28 hours of deliberation, calling it "bargaining with the jury."  So, Freddie's conviction of second degree murder was reversed and a new trial, the third, was ordered.
Google Street View of the Rush Building

It is here that the historical record of this case grows cold.  I have found no evidence that there ever was a third trial.  Freddie evidently lived out his life as a free man.  He died in 1997 at age 60, after working as a computer analyst for Sperry-Unisys Corporation. 

The murder of Paul Rush was never solved. 

Couch and chair manufactured by Rush Furniture Co.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Best Job I Ever Had

The Gardner Building Lecture Hall, vacuumed daily by me.
In the fall of 1974, I had just graduated from Waldron High School, and my twin sister and I were very excited about going away to college.  "Away" was actually 50 miles north up Highway 71, to the big city of Fort Smith, Arkansas.  There, we would live with my older brother Gary and his wife and attend a two-year community college called Westark.  Although we would be coming home on weekends, the whole thing still seemed like a pretty big deal, and Janet and I could hardly wait to get started.

We had both worked during the summer after high school, she at the local Department of Human Services and me at the Scott County Road Department, and by pooling our money we had been able to buy a very nice 1973 Buick Century, which, being twins, we shared.  To afford college, we knew we would both have to find part time jobs.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law worked at Westark and was able to arrange for jobs for both of us.  Janet would be a student worker in my sister-in-law's office, and I had a job at the campus book store.  When I found out about my job during that summer before classes began, I felt that my vast experience as a sweeper in high school would be squandered, so I asked my sister-in-law if there were any jobs available of a custodial nature.  Yes, I, in another of my brilliant moves, traded a cushy clerical job in which I would undoubtedly be surrounded by beautiful coeds all day for a job in which I would be surrounded by what surely would be lesser companionship.  Brilliant.

But, nevertheless, my sister-in-law was able to find me a custodial job.  It was to be quite different from my high school job as a sweeper.  This was a job that would allow me to experience the beautiful outdoors.  I would spend three hours each day walking around the expansive Westark campus, a plastic trash can in one hand and a "grabber" in the other, picking up trash that had found its way onto the campus grounds. 

Those first few days at Westark took on a dreamlike state.  The place seemed so big, and college was so different from high school!  It was exciting to be there, but that was tinged with just a little bit of homesickness, too.  It's amazing how powerful music is.  One of the popular songs of that day was Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me."  I remember hearing that song on my first day at Westark, as I walked through the student center.  Now, whenever I hear that song, I am immediately transported back to that moment, feeling the exact emotions I felt that day.

Although rather common now, I was rather intrigued with the mechanical grabber that I was provided with for the job.  On my first day Tom, one of the custodians who was more or less my supervisor, was dispatched to a local convenience store to buy a new grabber, because the one used by my predecessor was completely worn out.  So, grabber in hand, I set about to walk all around the campus, picking up litter.  When I would fill my trash bucket, which I did several times each day, I would find a dumpster and empty the contents, then start again.

I discovered a couple of perks quite quickly.  The first was coke bottles.  Now please understand, in the south, when we say coke we are not referring specifically to Coca-Cola; in my neck of the woods any brand of soft drink is called a coke.  As in, "What kinda coke you want, Bubba?"  So, as I walked, anytime I came across an empty "coke" bottle, I carefully placed it in my trash can, and was careful to take it out before depositing the rest of the contents into a dumpster.  In those days, empty coke bottles were worth from three to five cents apiece, depending on where you redeemed them, so a trunk full of coke bottles could provide a little bit of spending money.  And I would usually find enough to redeem them every month or so.  The other perk was actual money, which I did find on rare occasions.  Oh, I often found a nickel or dime or quarter.  But, there was the occasional great day when I would find a dollar, or maybe even a five.  That would prove to be a great supplement to my $1.75 per hour salary.

The other benefits of the job were less obvious to me at the time.  I don't think it's bragging to tell you that I don't think I missed a day of work that year.  Every day, rain or shine, during the hot and humid days of late August and early September, through the frigid days of January and February, I was out there, making my rounds.  I would start at the student center, work my way down the main parking lot, then head west toward the gym.  At the corner I would turn back north, working my way past the baseball field up toward the building that lined Grand Avenue, the main part of the campus.  At the Science Building, I would head east, past the little Holt Building that housed the library (one of my favorite places on campus), then past the Ballman-Speer building where the music students took their classes, then past the Vines Building, which housed most of the administrative offices on campus (and where I would work some 35 years later), then around the new Gardner Building at the corner of Grand and Waldron

As you can see, that was quite a bit of walking.  So, without really trying, I found that the excess weight that I had acquired during my junior high and high school days began melting off.  The greatest of all the perks of the job was the three hours of exercise that I got each day. 

I also learned the value of showing up for work.  With that came another lesson on how to treat people.  One cold February day, I was picking up trash outside the Holt Building.  The door opened, and Dr. Curtis Ivery stepped outside.  Dr. Ivery didn't know me, and I was not one of his students, but he had stepped outside just to talk to me.  "I've noticed that you're out here every day, picking up trash," Dr. Ivery said.  "I just want to tell you how nice the campus looks because of you, and that I appreciate the work you're doing."  With that, he smiled and went back inside. 

I think I stood there for a brief moment.  No one had ever acknowledged me before, or the seemingly insignificant work I was doing, but Dr. Ivery had taken the time to do it. 

The memory of Dr. Ivery's words stayed with me, and in all my subsequent jobs, as a teacher, a principal, and a learning center director, I have always tried to do what Dr. Ivery did; take the time to acknowledge other people's work.  A couple of years ago, I googled Dr. Ivery's name and found an email address for him; he's now an official at a college up north.  I related my recollection to Dr. Ivery, and thanked him after 35 years or so.  He sent back an extremely gracious and complimentary email, which was no surprise.

Well, I guess Tom and the other custodians were pleased with my work, because the next year I got a promotion.  I was to be the student worker janitor for the Gardner Building.  That year, my job consisted of taking a large rolling trash can to every location in the building and emptying the trash.  Then, I would vacuum the carpet in the large lecture hall on the first floor, and then the carpet in all the offices upstairs.  So, I had a little more human interaction in my new job, but I kind of missed getting to work by myself. 

I recall one somewhat amusing but unfortunate incident that occurred.  The nursing department was in the Gardner Building, and the lady who was the Director of the department had an office upstairs.  In her office was a braided rug that came from an Indian reservation out west.  She was quite proud of her rug, but it didn't have to be vacuumed very often.  But one day, she decided that it probably needed it, so she asked me to vacuum it.  I fired up my vacuum and worked diligently, but when I finished I looked around and the air in her office was completely filled with dust.  She walked back into her office, and I sheepishly retreated, leaving her standing there gaping at her uninhabitable office.

After two years at Westark, it was time to transfer to a four-year college.  My choice was Arkansas Tech in Russellville.  I'll write about that in another post sometime.   But I cherish my time at Westark, and the hours spent walking around that pretty little campus, working at the best job I ever had.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Christmas Memories

An early Christmas before my time.  L to R, that's
my brother Phil, my brother Gary, my brother Gene,
and our cousin Sharon.  Hmm, they told me they
only got apples and oranges...

When I was a little guy, it didn't really feel like Christmas until we got our tree.  Our tree, of course, didn't come from a box in the garage; getting a Christmas tree meant a trip to a wondrous place called Addie and Joe's farm.  My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe lived about seven miles outside of Waldron, and part of the fun of Christmas was going out to the farm and trudging through the woods with Uncle Joe, in search of that perfect tree.  We would bundle up and put on our boots, and after visiting with Mollie or one of Addie and Joe's other old horses, we would start our trek; past the old barn, through the clearing that led up to the little pond, and then either right or left to scope out the trees that lay at the foot of the big hill that separated Addie and Joe's place from their neighbors.  Running part way through the woods was an old road, long since abandoned and overgrown with trees, but the flat terrain was unmistakable.  I always imagined it was an old stagecoach road.  There was also an old abandoned house place up in the woods.  Nothing remained of the house, not even rocks from the old foundation, but if you went up there in the summertime you would find some pretty flowers growing incongruously in the middle of the trees.  That little housewife that lived there so long ago had no idea that a part of her would live on!

So, we would carefully examine our prospects; the pine trees were pretty, but not as full as the cedars, so we would ultimately settle on the prettiest cedar tree we could find.  And it's true; the tree that seemed the perfect height there in the woods was almost always too tall when we got it home, so a little sawing was required before we could place it in the bucket with some rocks to steady it and some water to try to keep it green as long as we could.  A few chairs were relocated in the living room, and soon our tree was set up in front of the double windows on the north side of the house.

My first Christmas, 1956.  (Mama's holding me,
Daddy's holding Janet)

Then began the process of decorating.  We didn't use twinkle lights, we had a set of old C7's or C9's that had been around forever that we used every year.  Once, someone had given Daddy a set of bubble lights; those lights that had a tube of colored liquid that, when heated by the light bulb, would actually boil a little bit.  We loved those bubble lights, but they didn't survive many years after we got them.  Once the lights were strung and tested, and the bad bulbs replaced, it was time for the other decorations.  One of the first things to go on the tree after the lights was a paper chain that my twin sister Janet and I had made out of construction paper.  To the chagrin of my brothers, we were adamant that our paper chain be a part of the tree each year.  I'll admit that after a few years, a construction paper chain begins to look a little rough, and eventually, Janet and I concurred that it was time to retire it.  But, for the purpose of our story today, we're putting on the paper chain.  Another carryover decoration from year to year was our Santa ornaments.  They weren't really ornaments; every year around Christmas time, the Acee Milk Company would put a sketch of Santa on their milk cartons.  Janet and I had carefully cut out the Santa pictures from empty cartons, and after a few years we had a pretty good collection of milk carton Santa pictures to put on our tree.

We had a few ornaments that went on next, but the final part of the decorating process was the application of icicles.  Icicles were very thin strips of aluminum foil-like material that were to be individually laid on the branches of the tree.  Impatient children, however, tended to put them on in clumps, which meant that instead of looking like icicles, they looked like big clumps of aluminum foil strips.  It was truly a patience-building exercise to properly apply icicles to a Christmas tree.  They came in a little package with a cardboard holder, with the icicles wrapped around the cardboard.  I inadvertently discovered one time that they would cling to the TV screen with static electricity, and when doing so it looked exactly like the TV screen was cracked.  I managed to pull that prank just about every year.  My sister Janet is famous in Yates Family Lore for her mistaken comment, "Aren't we going to put any shingles on the tree?"  From that point on, we always referred to icicles as "shingles."

We also usually dragged out at this time of year a particular toy.  A few years earlier, at Buddy Gray's grocery store, we had bought a soft Santa doll.  In his right hand, Santa held a little bottle of Coca-Cola.  That little Santa doll, along with Coke's great Christmas commercials, have served to forever link Coca-Cola and Christmas in my mind.  That, I guess, is good marketing.

What's a Christmas tree without presents, right?  The process of acquiring presents for the tree quite often began with one of our two or three yearly trips to Fort Smith.  Around Christmas time, we would load up into our 1963 Ford and travel up to a magical, wondrous place called K-mart.  K-mart at that time was located on Towson avenue, and Janet and I would have the opportunity to look over the entire toy section and pick out our own Christmas present.  Added to that, on a good year we had the astronomical top end limit of twenty dollars, so the possibilities were indeed staggering.  I was torn between looking over the toy selection and staring out the front windows of K-mart, because I had never been in a store that sold toys at night.  I would stare out into the darkness and marvel at the exciting life I led.  Eventually, I would settle on something; maybe a wood-burning set, maybe a game, or something else.  Other times, when circumstances dictated it, our present would come from the S&H Green Stamp store, which was equally exciting.

But one of the gifts I remember most didn't come from K-mart or anywhere else in Fort Smith.  It came from Oliver's Jewelery in Waldron.  When I was about ten or eleven, Mama got me an initial ring.  It was silver, and on a black square background had an elaborate "B" in silver.  It was a real ring; it was sized for me and was not adjustable.  I had begun to outgrow toys by that point, and I was so proud of that ring.  I wore it for many years, and there is a pretty good chance that I still have it in a box somewhere.

Another non-toy gift that I remember well was my first pair of bell-bottom pants.  It was during my seventh grade year, and I can still remember them; kind of a yellowish-tan with sort of a purple plaid pattern.  Yes, you're right; on the cutting edge of fashion even at that tender age.  I can remember walking up the stairs in the old junior high building wearing those bell-bottoms, and feeling really good.  It was groovy.

In later years, we incorporated a couple of other Christmas traditions.  One was the traditional Yates Football Game.  Really, it was more like the traditional Yates Going Out In The Field And Throwing A Football Around, but it was fun nonetheless.  We tried to do that, no matter how cold and windy it was.  We don't do that anymore; our hips are all too delicate.

The other Christmas tradition involved me and my brother Phil.  We would take all the empty boxes that were produced by that year's gift giving, and take them outside to a clear patch in the garden.  There, we would carefully arrange the boxes to simulate a small city.  Then, after carefully analyzing factors such as wind speed and direction, we would strategically light one corner of a box on fire.  Soon, the inferno would be sweeping through our "town," with total devastation and destruction assured.  Fun times.

I, probably like you, have many more Christmas memories, too many to share.  But if you have a particular favorite, why don't you leave a comment below and share it with the rest of us.  Or, if you're reading this from my Facebook link, just leave it as a Facebook comment.  This is one time of year when it's particularly fun to look back.  That's where the best Christmases are anyway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 1963

On this day, I'd like to repost this entry from last year...

Mrs. Tharp's second grade students had already finished our lunch that Friday, and we'd had fun at recess. November days were great for recess, pleasantly cool with crisp breezes that produced a torrent of colorful leaves falling down around us.  We'd played the usual games, chasing each other with no particular purpose in mind, or maybe swinging as high as we dared.  But recess was over, and we had settled back into our school work.  Handwriting, it was; we labored to shape the manuscript letters carefully on our paper.  The paper came with little red dotted lines between the blue lines; they were there to show us where the little parts of the letters should reach.  Somehow, we could never get it just exactly right.  You could be making the most perfect loop on a lower-case "b" and all of a sudden there was that little red dotted line, but you were already commited to the particular curve on that "b" and there was no way it was going to end on the red line.  Darn.

Someone came to the door and began to have a whispered conversation with Mrs. Tharp.  We didn't pay much attention at first, but soon we became aware that the conversation was lasting much longer than was normal.  Then, we heard what sounded like muffled crying.  There was a group of teachers out in the hall, all talking in whispers.  Something was definitely up.

The years have washed away her exact words, but Mrs. Tharp came back into the classroom and told us what had happened.  President Kennedy was dead.  Our President, the man we knew from TV, the man who was about the same age as our own parents, had been killed. 

I'm sure Mrs. Tharp never expected to have to deliver an announcement like that.  We didn't know how to process that kind of information.  No one said anything; we just kind of looked around at each other.  Nothing else to do or say.  Quietly, we returned to our handwriting.

When we got home, our parents were watching events as they unfolded on TV.  As Walter Cronkite led us through the terrible events, we began to understand.  The President had gone to Dallas, Texas and while he was being driven through the streets of town, someone had shot him from a building.  They had caught the man, and his name was Lee Harvey Oswald.  Nothing about it made any sense. 

We continued to watch the news through the weekend.  When we got home from church on Sunday at noon, we found out that the story now made even less sense.  As the Dallas police were taking Lee Harvey Oswald to another jail, someone came up to him in the parking garage of the Dallas Police Department and put a gun in his gut and fired.  Now, the man who had killed our President was dead himself.

People say the world changed that day.  We all saw the President's little son, John-John, stepping forward and delivering a salute as his father's flag-draped coffin passed by.  That has become probably the most heart-breaking image in all of America's history.  At the time, there was a guy named Vaughn Meader that used to impersonate President Kennedy, and he was frequently on TV and even had a hit record doing his impersonation.  I remember thinking, "I'll bet that guy feels really bad now, after making fun of President Kennedy like that."  Of course, his impersonation was not mean-spirited, but to a kid it just seemed that way.

A lot has happened, both bad and good, in the world since that day in November of 1963.  It became a landmark in people's lives, and almost anyone can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing on the afternoon of November 22nd.  A whispered conversation, the sound of someone softly crying, and getting that manuscript "b" just right.  That's where I was.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Always Came First

My blogger friend, Jim Sullivan (aka Suldog), has written a wonderful article for The Boston Herald, which you can read here.  Jim has also addressed the same topic on his widely read blog, located here.  What Jim is speaking of is the fact that we have placed so much importance on the retail side of Christmas that our society is practically overlooking the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving.  And he's right.

I remember once when my brother Phil and his wife Glenda brought over a Christmas present for somebody in the house; I don't remember who.  I was astonished, because it was like on about December 3rd or something, and I'd never encountered a Christmas present that early before.  "Holy Cow!" I thought; "it's awfully early for a Christmas present!"

Most of my memories about Thanksgiving from the early days are centered around school.  We studied about the Pilgrims, and that first brutal winter they experienced.  Our studies were augmented with a generous supply of coloring sheets, the educational value of which might be questioned by some, but not me.  The Indians, I recall, helped the Pilgrims by teaching them how to work the land.  There is one specific story and image that I cannot shake, although I have seen no reference to this anywhere since whichever teacher first planted it in my brain.  It is the image of a kind, smiling Indian, showing a Pilgrim farmer how to dramatically increase his yield of corn by placing a fish next to the seed being planted.  No picnic, certainly, for the fish, but it made sense at the time.  Now, that story sounds like it could be a combination of two entirely different stories that somehow got melded into one, like some sore of parasitic twin, but I have no way of knowing. 

Thanksgiving was one of the only two times that we ever had turkey, the other being Christmas.  To go with the turkey, Mama made a cornbread-type dressing that to this day remains unequaled.  I know that Mama's favorite part of Thanksgiving was the leftover dressing that we had for a day or two later.  After my brothers were all married and had families of their own, we still somehow always managed to get together at Mama and Daddy's house for Thanksgiving.  My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe were always there too.  Addie usually made one of those cranberry/jello salads, and could always be counted on to have some Little Debbie treats, just in case we ran out of desserts.  Mama and Daddy's little house was packed with people; you could travel from the living room to the kitchen and hear four or five different discussions going on simultaneously.  I know this sounds hokey, but you could actually feel the love that these people had for each other.  There was a palpable sense of joy about the place; laughter radiated from every room.  Mama and Addie loved to tell stories about growing up, and the adventures that the seven Waganer children experienced as they moved from place to place, following the sawmill that their dad set up. 

So you see, we can't overlook something like this.  We can't let it be the day you rest up so that you can get up at 2:00 a.m. and go shopping.  It's more than that.  If you happen to believe, like I do, that there's a God who cares about you, it's a time to let Him know you appreciate that.  It's a time to recognize that maybe not everything you have came from your own efforts; maybe there are such things as "blessings."  So, with that in mind, here are a few of the blessings I'm thankful for:

    L to R:  Me, Laura, Ross, and Marilyn.
  • My wife Marilyn.  Ten years ago, I was alone and unhappy.  If someone had told me that I would marry the most beautiful girl in my graduating class of 1974 at Waldron High School, I would have questioned your reasoning ability.  But, in 2004, at our 30th reunion, Marilyn and I remet, and we were married 3 months later.  Thanks God.  You outdid yourself on that one.
  • My health.  In 2003 I stared down cancer, and for seven days prepared for my death.  But I was given my life back, and a chance to fix what was broken.  A luxury not afforded to most.  I'll tell you that story soon.
  • My two children.  Well, technically, they're my stepchildren, but they're still mine.  Ross is a teacher, soon to complete the requirements for his Master's Degree.  Laura is a doctor, finishing up her final year of residency before starting her own practice.  They are both brilliant, wonderful people, who have warmly accepted me into their lives.  I'm blessed.
  • Little Kate.
  • Kate.  My little granddaughter, Ross and Maegan's child.  Words cannot express my feelings.
  • The Extended Yates Family.  I could go on and on here.  Just let me say that Mama and Daddy, my brothers Gary, Gene, and Phil, my twin sister Janet, and their families mean the world to me.  We had to say goodbye to Mama a few years ago, and Daddy's not in the best of health, but somehow we still manage to get together from time to time and visit.  If there's anything good in me, it came from them.
  • Gus and Gracie.  Yes, I'm thankful for my two dogs, the little rats.
  • My relationship with God.  I grew up in a little church called Waldron Assembly of God.  I was fortunate to have as a pastor for most of those years my uncle, Sam Waganer.  People who know him will agree with this statement:  Sam Waganer was one of the most Godly men to ever walk the planet.  There was nothing phony about Sam; he believed just exactly like he lived; he not only talked the talk but he walked the walk.  I have on occasion in this blog made light of the conservative upbringing I experienced in that church, but in reality it saved me a lot of grief.  I'm thankful for that.
  • Me and the two rats.
  • My country.  I make it a point not to discuss politics, either in this blog or on Facebook.  Fortunately, we live in a country where people don't have to agree, where the discourse often leads to solutions.  I'm thankful for people in leadership positions who are statesmen, not ideologues.  I'm thankful that people have regularly sacrificed their lives to keep us free.
Thanksgiving comes first.

Monday, November 7, 2011

It Just Wouldn't Look Right If Jesus Got Saved

The first time Patsy Ruth Allen came to conduct a Kid's Crusade at Waldron Assembly of God was sometime in the early 1960's.  We were used to Vacation Bible School; we had that every summer.  But this time our pastor (and my uncle) Sam Waganer had decided to try something different.  All of us kids were gathered in the sanctuary when a small bundle of energy appeared before us in the form of Patsy Ruth Allen.  Patsy Ruth was a middle-aged woman who went around conducting Kid's Crusades for churches around the Southwest.  As she spoke to us, she would occasionally ask a question.  When someone in the audience came up with the answer, she would fling a piece of candy toward the correct respondent from the big box of candy that she carried around with her. 

On that first night of Kid's Crusade, she made this statement:  "One of the most important passages in the Bible is Malachi 3:8,9, and 10.  I want to encourage you to memorize that passage.  In fact, on Friday night, anyone who can stand and recite Malachi 3:8,9, and 10 will be allowed to come up here and reach your hand into this candy box and draw out as much candy as you can hold."  To the young, pudgy Billy Yates, this was the equivalent of saying "sic-em."

I worked diligently to memorize the passage.  I would practice it over and over each day.  Finally, I reached the point where I could recite it by memory.  When Friday night arrived, I was ready. 

Patsy Ruth asked who had memorized the scripture, and I and maybe one or two others stood up.  She pointed at me, and I began to recite:  "Will a man rob God?  But ye have robbed me.  But ye say wherein have we robbed thee?  In tithes and offerings.  Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me even this whole nation.  Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, sayeth the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open up the windows of Heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."  Proudly, I walked to the front of the church, thrust my hand into the box of candy, and withdrew as much as I could hold.  Powerful stuff, that candy.  That passage of scripture has been retained in my memory for about 45 years.

Three or four years later, Patsy Ruth came back to conduct another service at church.  This time, however, it was not to be a Kid's Crusade, but rather a special one-time dramatic presentation.  She met with us on a Saturday to prepare for the presentation the next night.  We would be acting out a scene from the book of Revelation, specifically the Last Judgement, when those who had rejected Christ would face the punishment of the Lake of Fire.  For dramatic purposes, the Lake of Fire was actually a box fan laid down flat, with orange streamers attached to the grill which, when turned on and lit with a red lamp, looked remarkably like an actual Lake of Fire.  I was given the role of Jesus. Satan was to be portrayed by my friend David Yandell.   Satan, in a somewhat more dramatic role than mine, would circulate among the audience, and periodically reach out an seize some hapless individual (actually someone with whom Patsy Ruth had prearranged their participation).  The poor soul would of course resist as much as possible, but their screams would have no effect.  They would be led forcibly up to the front where I, as Jesus, was standing.  I would look at the poor wretch and sadly shake my head no, whereupon the sinner would again be led screaming and resisting over to the Lake of Fire, to be discarded like a used Kleenex. 

It was all surprisingly effective.  On the night of the performance, we had a house full.  We were all in costume, the lights were off in the sanctuary, and the Lake of Fire, with it's oddly lit orange streamers, looked frightening.  You could feel the tension as people were led off screaming to their fate.  Perhaps part of the tension was due to the audience members who, not aware of the prearranged actors scattered among them, feared that they might be called upon to deliver a spontaneous performance.  Anyway, during the altar call, several people came up to get saved. 

This created a rather unusual dilemma for me.  I, too, felt a tug that perhaps I needed to make things right with the Lord.  I had always gone to church, but I had never actually surrendered my heart to Jesus.  Unfortunately, at that moment, I was Jesus.  I was dressed like Jesus, I had just been presented as Jesus, so how would it look, I reasoned, for Jesus to go up and get saved?  Faced with the uncomfortable choice of Eternal Damnation versus Possible Ridicule, I, as the loyal reader of this blog might guess, chose avoidance of ridicule.  I would, I determined, preserve the integrity of my role. 

So, I didn't go up.  Not that night.  But I did, a few years later, on June 22, 1971 to be specific.  And I don't guess we ever had Patsy Ruth Allen back for another Kid's Crusade, or if we did I was already past being a kid.  But I'll never forget her!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Over On Pine Street

Tonight, a rerun of a previous post that talks about Halloween on Pine Street...

I don’t know for sure that it was always called Pine Street; seems like in my early, early days, it didn’t have a name at all. It was a dirt road when I was little, like most of the streets in Waldron. Which was a good thing, actually, because our faithful dog Lucky’s favorite game was to chase rocks that we picked up from the road and threw. All you had to say was, “Lucky, you wanna go chase rocks?” and Lucky would bound out on the road and intently watch your every movement until the rock left your hand, whereupon he would chase the missile down. Fortunately, he never caught the rocks in his mouth, just let them roll and when they had slowed down, he would pick them up briefly and then drop them, just to show them he was in charge.

Watching the road graders come by and grade the road was a fascinating experience. We would sit on the sloping bank of our front yard and watch transfixed and the two Champion roadgraders transformed the pitted, rough surface of the road into a nice, smooth surface. Raymond Davis was one of the operators, and I don't remember the name of the other fellow, but they were celebrities among the kids on Pine Street. I doubt that an astronaut would have held any greater admiration than one of our roadgrader operators.

If I went out and stood in the middle of the road and looked to the north, I could see a grey house at the very end of Pine Street (even beyond where it crossed Church Street) which I was thoroughly convinced was a castle. This little grey house is still there, and when I was older and could ride my bicycle across the highway and see it, I was surprised at how small it actually was. I had seen pictures of castles in story books, and they were always grey, so I was convinced that at the very end of Pine Street you could find probably the only castle in the city of Waldron.

The part of Pine Street that belonged to my world was from Church Street to 8th Street. That was from Gentry Priest’s house up to my Aunt Lola’s house. Gentry Priest had the nicest house on our street, and it was always a thrill to go there on Halloween. After we got our candy from Gentry, we crossed the street and visited Norman Goodner’s house. Now this was usually the highlight of the night, because Norman gave out FULL-SIZED NICKLE HERSHEY BARS! This type of generosity was unprecedented anywhere else on Pine Street, and formed my earliest concept of what high-class meant. Next up the street were Thurman and Florene Douglass, whose kids were comparable in age to the kids in my family, and who have remained lifelong friends to all the Yates’. In fact, Cindy, their youngest, was more than likely trick-or-treating with us. From there, it was only a few steps over to Mr. Ayers’ house. Mr. and Mrs. Ayers were great neighbors to my grandmother. They were an older couple, very nice. After their house, my grandmother (Memaw) was next. She lived alone and had been widowed for many years but always spent a little of her meager income for some candy for Halloween.

Rapidly, we worked our way up the street. James Hicks’ house, Maude Rice, Violette Smith, George Hawkins’ house. George was fascinating because he operated a wrecker service, and he often brought in wrecked cars and put them in an empty lot beside his house. My older brothers once went over and staged some pictures of themselves, seemingly mortally injured, hanging out of one of the wrecked cars. George even had a military halftrack once, a tank-like vehicle that was incredibly fun to play in.

Across from our house were Bill and Clemmie Bobbitt. Their kids were older than my sister and I, but their youngest, Donnie, was a great friend to my brothers and my parents and often came to visit them as an adult. I distinctly remember standing in my front yard and singing “Oh My Darling Clementine” at the top of my lungs as I faced their house. Why, I have no idea; I think the similarity between “Clemmie” and “Clementine” was just too much to pass up. Dan and Margie Allen were in the next house. Dan and Margie drove a beautiful red 1962 Chevy Impala, possible the nicest car on our street. Dan worked at the furniture factory and was in the National Guard. Their little daughter Tammy (now Tammy Slagle) would stand out in their driveway and wait for us to come out and talk to her. Next to the Allen’s were Allie, her sister Rachel, and Rachel’s husband George. Don’t remember who was in the next few houses, but across the road was The Field, an open area that was our precious playground. Directly behind the field were Horace and Annabelle Bottoms, parents to my greatest childhood friend Randy and his sister Swanna. Hoss, as we called Horace, often took all of us kids riding in the back of his pickup out in the country. That was always great fun.

My Aunt Lola Ferguson and her husband Dennis lived at the end of the block. Most people called Dennis “Squirrel”, but we never did. He had a brother named "Strawberry.” Lola was my Daddy’s older sister and the owner of “The Field.” She also possessed the only set of encyclopedias on the street, and many school projects meant a trip to Lola’s house to do research. She also gave out popcorn balls on Halloween, which were as much anticipated as one of Norman Goodner’s candy bars. On Halloween, she always answered the door with a Halloween mask on, which normally terrified me, but hey, the popcorn balls were worth it. She had one of those joyous, explosive laughs that would ring out and just make you feel good to hear. She always laughed when she got us with the Halloween mask.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Little Game About Waldron

Okay, let's have a little fun on this rainy day.  Click the link below to play Waldron Jeopardy...with questions about that wonderful little place called Waldron, Arkansas.  See how much you know about your hometown in the 1960's.  You can play alone or make it a team competition.  Good luck, and enjoy the memories...

Waldron Jeopardy

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Try to Get Elected to Student Council

1968 was a pivotal year in American political history.  The civil rights struggle was ongoing, American politics and culture was shaken with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the war in Vietnam was defining American political debate.  And on the local scene, I got elected to the Student Council. 

My political apex arrived early in my career; during the fall of my seventh grade year, to be exact.  For when all of the recently elementary but now seventh grade student body met, my name was put forth in nomination as student council representative, and somehow, when the final votes were tallied, I had won.  So, evidently, I had found my niche; leadership.  No, I wasn't on the football team, and no, I wasn't in band, but I was Seventh Grade Boys Representative on the Waldron Junior High Student Council.  I had, it seemed, arrived.

I don't recall actually doing much that year.  We met, with Mrs. May as our sponsor, periodically.  And, in an unfortunate circumstance that set a pattern for most of my later accomplishments, when the announcement was made for All Student Council Members To Report For Their Picture For The Yearbook, I was in the gym participating in that endearing exercise known as PE class, and couldn't hear the announcement, and was left out of the picture. 

I do, however, distinctly recall one of my last official acts as Seventh Grade Boys Representative.  I was in Mrs. Giddens' geography class, and evidently I had been absent and missed a test.  Since I had study hall the next period, I arranged with Mrs. Giddens to come in and take the test.  However, when I got to study hall, I found out that the student council members were supposed to go down to the office and count the votes for the election for next year's student council members.  Upon hearing this, I immediately forgot about going to Mrs. Giddens' room to take that test.  In fact, it didn't even cross my mind until I was walking back to study hall after counting the votes and happened to pass Mrs. Giddens' room.  Realizing my error, I at least had the decency to step in and tell Mrs. Giddens about my mistake.  She was somber but cordial, and allowed me to come back the next day to take it.  But the next day in class, she did deliver a lengthy lecture to the whole class about responsibility, standing immediately next to my desk as she spoke.  Point taken.

That particular election was a losing one for me.  I had sought reelection, campaigning with a series of cleverly crafted posters, but to no avail.  Perhaps I had taken the wrong approach; after all, one of my posters utilized a picture from one of Daddy's firefighting magazines (he was Waldron's volunteer fire chief at the time), a picture of a house totally engulfed in flames with a fireman standing in front of it, looking directly into the camera.  In a substantial lapse in judgement, I had inserted a caption that went something like, "These people didn't vote for Billy Yates for Eight Grade Student Council Representative.  Don't let it happen to you."  The humorous intent of the piece didn't translate well to the written format, I fear. 

My defeat in the election for Eighth Grade Student Council Representative didn't dissuade me from trying again.  And again.  I think I ran for student council each year, and each year suffered a crushing defeat.  I didn't get to be on student council again until eleventh grade, when I became president of the English Club, which also gave me a seat on the student council.  Again, I missed the memo about the picture for the yearbook.  I did, however, manage to make it for the English Club photo.

Although I wasn't on the student council for my senior year, I did get to participate in one of the student council projects.  The student council sponsored the Senior Lounge, which was set up in the lobby of the gym.  Seniors were, incredibly, allowed to go there at lunch and make purchases from the vending machines.  Since I had study hall during the morning, Mr. Hill, the student council sponsor, chose me to go over each morning and restock the vending machines.  I picked up the key in the office, and got the vending machine items from the storage room in the gym, and got everything restocked and ready to go for the lunch crowd.  If I remember correctly, the Senior Lounge was unsupervised by any school personnel and operated, quite well I must say, on the honor system.

By the time I graduated, all political ambition had been pretty much extinguished.  Now, I make my voice heard at the ballot box, and leave the political fighting to the professionals.  But, if my country ever needs someone to step in and restock vending machines; I'm your guy.  I'm standing by...

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Exotic Flora of Mama and Daddy's Yard

Lucky, Tom, and me, under the mimosa tree.
I've written before about the house itself, that little house on the corner of East 7th and Pine.  But out in the yard, and especially the field next to the house, that's where I spent my time on hot summer afternoons, and beautiful, wind-swept autumn days.  This is about some of my favorite places there.

In the corner next to the road, my absolute favorite tree; a pretty little mimosa.  The mimosa tree had expansive branches that made a wonderful shade to play under, and it's beautiful pink flowers were a sight to see.  But the mimosa was custom made for climbing.  It had two main trunks that grew farther apart the higher you climbed, which wasn't actually very high, but when you're little, even a small tree seems big.  We kept the grass wore down under the tree, we spent so much time there.  After we grew too big to climb trees, the mimosa became a favorite of my nieces and nephews, particularly with the installation of a swing under one of its branches.

Just west of the mimosa was a mulberry tree.  I haven't seen a mulberry tree in a long time, but ours always bore fruit.  Mulberries, to the best of my recollection, looked like raspberries.  Ours, unfortunately, almost always had a little white worm inside them.  But that didn't stop an occasional visitor to the mulberry tree, though - the neighborhood monkey.  Yes, we had a monkey on Pine Street.  Well, actually, he belonged to our neighbors, George and Beuna Hawkins.  They had somehow gotten a little monkey for their kids, Steven and Johnny.  The monkey was a bit of an escape artist, and whenever he found himself free he would make a bee line for our mulberry tree.  That's where he would be recaptured, happily munching on the tasty fruit.  I don't know what eventually happened to the monkey, but I guess he must have escaped one too many times, and was sent on to other mulberry trees.

West of the mulberry and on the other side of our driveway, at the end of our hedge, was a sweetgum tree.  At least I think that's what was there; I may just be mixed up because that's also where we put out the garbage to be picked up, and I remember that there was a kindly old man who drove the garbage truck who always gave us sticks of Juicy Fruit gum.  You see, in early 1960s Waldron, the weekly arrival of the garbage man was an event worth of attending, so my sister and I made it a point to be standing there, I guess by the sweetgum tree, whenever it was garbage day. 

Halfway up the driveway, in the middle of the hedge, was what Daddy identified as a possum grape vine.  I'm not sure what a possum grape looks like, because Daddy's possum grape vine never bore any grapes.  But year after year, it put on green leaves and acted like it had full intentions of producing a crop.  But, with the capable guidance of my older brothers, I did manage to pick up the skill of smoking grape vine.  A little piece of possum grape vine, lit at one end, and inhaled until it burned your tongue so badly you had to toss it away.

Another one of Daddy's projects was found at the upper end of the hedge.  This was his Indian peach tree.  The Indian peach tree did in fact produce peaches; tiny, dark, dried-out looking peaches that didn't look like anything you'd want to eat.

There was one tree in Mama and Daddy's yard that towered above all others.  It was Mama's magnolia tree.  It was located in the back yard, and was big enough to shade almost that entire part of the yard.  Daddy recalls that he bought the magnolia tree from a man who came around selling little sapling magnolia trees for a dollar and a half.  We have an old photo of my Uncle Paul, Aunt Addie, my brothers Gary and Gene, and an unidentified person who could possibly be a young Johnny Cash (kidding)  (My sister has informed me that it's our cousin John Elliot) standing next to the tiny little magnolia tree not long after it was planted.  The magnolia was Mama's pride and joy.  She never allowed anyone to trim it, and it's lower branches swept down to the ground and eventually took over most of the back yard.  Climbing in the magnolia was prohibited, but I did occasionally break that rule, since it's close branches made it so very easy to climb.  The magnolia stays green year-round, and in May it produces breathtakingly beautiful huge white flowers, that last only a few days before turning brown and ugly. 

Google Maps image of Mama's magnolia tree today.
If you drive by the little house where I grew up, you won't see any sign of the beautiful mimosa in the front yard, or any of the other trees I mentioned, except for one.  Mama's magnolia tree is still there, standing guard over the little house, towering above any other tree in the neighborhood.  It's never been trimmed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ed Sullivan Show

He was about as unlikely a TV star as you could possibly imagine.  He was stiff, wore an expression like he had just taken a bite out of a lemon, and had a particular way of speaking that was ripe for mockery.  But Ed Sullivan was the biggest thing on TV in the late '60s.  In the days before downloads, YouTube, and iPods, Ed was our source of whatever was hot at the moment.  Every Sunday night, you would get a mix of the very best of rock music, Broadway tunes, comedy, and dance, all in one neat package.  It was, as Ed was often parodied, a "really big shew."

I usually got home from church in time to catch the last half of the show.  My favorites were the comedians.  Jackie Mason, Shecky Green, and probably Ed's most frequent guest, Allan King.  Some of the comedians specialized in impersonations, which has become almost a lost art today.  Frank Gorshin was a particularly good impressionist, and he did an impression of Ed himself that was extremely funny.  Frank later went on to play The Riddler in another favorite TV show, Batman.  Another great impressionist was David Frye, who did a side-splitting impression of LBJ and later, President Richard Nixon.  And of course, we all were introduced to a clean-cut young man named George Carlin, who gave us the character of Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

For those who think their job comes with a lot of stress, I suggest viewing this video of one of Ed's regular guests, Erich Brenn the Plate Spinner.  Ed was known for his novelty acts, whether it be the Plate Spinner, an animal act like the Berosini Chimps, or the perennial favorite Senor Wences and his creative hand puppet. 

And speaking of puppets, Ed Sullivan introduced the world to a very talented young man named Jim Henson, who created a unique world inhabited by creatures he called Muppets.  When The Muppets first appeared on Ed Sullivan, they were a somewhat darker and slightly ominous troup, who's skits usually ended with one or more of the Muppets being eaten.  Here's a clip of an early Muppet routine featuring their version of the song Manah-Manah.

Perhaps the most unique novelty act of all was Topo Gigio.  Ed eventually became a part of the act whenever Topo was on the show, and it was actually kind of sweet when Topt would request, shyly, "Edddddie.......keees me goodnite."

Of course, everyone of my generation knows that in 1964, American was introduced to The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.  You see, kids, there once was a group of four young men from Liverpool, England who sailed across the ocean an conquered America, long before anyone ever thought of Lady Gaga.  In this clip of their first appearance, the near pandemonium of the young females in the audience is evident.  The producers conveniently superimposed the name of each Beatle over their image on the screen, adding to John's name the information, "Sorry girls; he's married."

We also cracked up at the antics of two musical brothers, Tom and Dick Smothers.  The Smothers Brothers combined skillful folk singing with a recurring comedy theme of Tom's jealousy over his mother's favoritism toward his brother.  Later on, the brothers got their own show on CBS, but as their politics became more radicalized, their show was eventually cancelled.

By 1971, America had grown tired of the variety show format, and The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled.  But a generation had grown up with Ed, and countless performers had established their careers there.  There's never been a show like it since.

I Meet Festus Haggen

A yearly treat back in the 1960’s was our annual trip to Fort Smith to go to the rodeo. My brother Gary and his wife would come down to Waldron to pick us up, and we would not only go to the rodeo but also get to spend the night at their house. We also got to spend some quality time with Moe, their little poodle, who was just as excited to see us as we were to see her.

One year, it was decided that, instead of them coming to Waldron to pick us up, Janet and I would ride the bus to Fort Smith, where Gary would pick us up at the bus station. Well, needless to say, we were excited beyond measure. Mama walked us down to Denver Plummer’s station, where we got our bus tickets and waited for the bus to arrive. Soon, we were on board, and on our way. We really felt big, riding that bus to Fort Smith. The driver made some kind of announcement when we got into the city, but it was hard to understand what he said. That was pretty unfortunate, because he probably said something to the effect that we would be making two stops in Fort Smith, one at the Trailways station and then at the Greyhound station. So, at the first stop, we got off and proceeded to the waiting room, expecting to see Gary waiting for us there. But there was no Gary. So, we sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. Gary, meanwhile, was frantically contacting Mama to find out why we hadn’t gotten on the bus, and then frantically trying to figure out where we were. After what seemed like a few hours but was probably about 45 minutes, Gary showed up. We were glad to see him.
Richard Long and Peter Breck, stars of The Big Valley on
ABC, sign autographs at the Fort Smith Rodeo

Now, I must confess, I wasn’t that much into livestock. No, I went to the rodeo for another reason. In those days, the rodeo always featured a big TV star as entertainment. One year we saw Fess Parker, who played Daniel Boone (a great TV show, by the way). I believe we also saw Ed Ames, who played the Indian Mingo on the same show. Another time, we saw two stars from The Big Valley, Peter Breck and Richard Long, who played brothers Nick and Jarrod Barkley. But this year, this year, I couldn’t wait. The featured entertainer was Ken Curtis, who played Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke. Festus was a particular favorite around the Yates household. So much so, in fact, that we later named a cat after him.

Of course, the Grand Entry was pretty spectacular, and the calf-roping was pretty exciting, as well as the bareback bronc riding. But I was just waiting for the entertainment, which normally occurred around the mid-point of the night. Sure enough, the announcer finally introduced Ken Curtis, who rode out on a silver horse, riding around the arena before finally coming to a stop at the stage that had been set up in the center. Much to my surprise, Festus began to sing. My jaw dropped open as I heard one of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard. Ken Curtis sang with a deep, rich baritone; completely opposite of the nasally twang that he gave Festus. Ken told us that he once sang with The Sons of the Pioneers, and he followed that with a rendition of the classic Tumbling Tumbleweeds. It was sublime.

Too soon, his part of the show was over. But I had my mind made up. I was going to wait in the autograph line after the rodeo was over, I was going to get the picture in my program signed, and I was going to shake Festus Haggen’s hand.

It was a long line, and it moved achingly slowly. But I was patient as I inched ever closer to the table where Ken Curtis was sitting. Finally, I was there, standing before Festus. He took the program from my hand, and signed his picture with one of those old white-barreled marker pens. He handed me back my program, and when he did, I extended my right hand toward him. He reached out, still holding the pen in his right hand, and grasped my hand firmly (or, as firmly as you can grasp a hand while holding a pen.) He looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, “Pleased to meet you, Sonny.”

Pleased to meet you too, Mr. Curtis.

Click here to view Festus singing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

Parsley's 5 Cents to One Dollar

I can thank Parsley’s Store for the fact that I still have pretty good teeth. When my sister and I were little, we, like most kids, really hated going to the dentist. Never mind that Dr. Luther was one of the kindest and best dentists there ever was, it still was just a generally unpleasant experience. One day, after listening to my sister and I cry and complain about our upcoming dentist visit, Mama told us that after we got finished at the dentist, we could go over to Parsley’s and get a book. That not only quieted us down but started a tradition that continued on for many years.

Parsley’s was a downtown institution. They had just about anything a person needed, and in particular anything a kid needed. When we came from the dentist office, since it was located on Washington Street, we entered Parsley’s through the back door. It always felt to me like we were doing something illegal when we went in that way. But there was Mr. Parsley, smiling to greet us, and Helen Faye Taff was usually behind the counter or waiting on a customer. Just to the right of the counter was our destination: The Little Golden Books. I seem to recall that they cost 35 cents each. Janet and I would carefully look over the titles and the colorful front covers. We could only get one book; we would have to share, so it had to be something that appealed to both of us. Some of the titles that became part of our collection included Sneezer, a story about a courageous little train; Fuzzy Dan, a little book about a young cowboy who showed a preference for chaps made of felt (completely interactive book, the chaps were really fuzzy when you felt them on the front cover!); Over In The Meadow, a beautiful little book in the form of a poem that taught counting; Mr. Moggs’ Dogs, the story of a gentleman who had a lot of dogs; and Scaredy Cat, a story of a cat who overcame his fears and began using his given name, which on the last page was revealed to be Bill. Since he had the same name as me, I felt compelled to take that book to school and share it with my class. There were many other Little Golden Books that we bought, and most have survived over the years and still belong to my sister or me.

Other than our trips to the dentist, we normally entered Parsley’s through the front door. That was the best way to get the full Parsley’s experience. When you walked in, immediately to your left was the candy counter. Not candy bars, but good old bulk candy that you purchased individually. The pieces were handed to you in a little white paper sack, which is by far the best way to eat candy. To the right was all the stuff of interest to grown-ups like household items and dish towels, so we paid that part no mind. Just past the candy, also on the left side of the store, were the toys. Now let me tell you, there was no more wondrous place on the planet than the toy section of Parsley’s . And Mr. Parsley took great delight in showing off his latest toys to any kid who happened by. It was not a hard sell; I think Mr. Parsley was just enjoying the toys along with us. It was in this section that I discovered one of my all-time favorite childhood toys, Matchbox Series vehicles. Matchbox Series cars and trucks were small, very detailed representations of real vehicles. They were metal, very durable, and great fun. They were about the size of Hot Wheels, which came along a few years after Matchbox. But Hot Wheels were built for speed, with their thin wire axles that clogged irreparably whenever you played with them on dirt. Matchbox, on the other hand, was made for playing. You could make roads in the dirt and it didn’t hurt them. They came packaged along with a little cardboard box just about the size of a medium-sized matchbox, which had a picture of the car or truck on it. That was where you were supposed to store your vehicle. Of the dozens of Matchbox Series toys that I bought over the years, not a single box has survived. But my Matchbox vehicles did; I still have several of them. I think part of the allure of Matchbox vehicles was that they were made in England. Some of the cars and trucks that I bought (even a double-decker bus) seemed quite exotic to me.

Just past the toys, still on the left, was another wonderful section of the store: comic books. This is where I became friends with Archie, that perpetually happy Riverdale High School student; Betty, the wholesome and beautiful blonde classmate; Veronica, the darker and more mysterious beauty; Jughead, the goofy beatnik friend, and the somewhat sinister and conniving Reggie. I also liked The Sad Sack, a comic about a soldier that was similar to Beetle Bailey, another favorite. If there were no new Archie comics available, sometimes I bought Richie Rich or Casper. My older brothers had taught me that to be a truly frugal comic shopper, you needed to look through the cardboard box that was on the floor next to the comic rack. It was full of comics that had the top half of the front cover cut off. They were older comics that I guess Mr. Parsley got a refund on because they didn’t sell. Evidently he just had to turn in the part of the cover with the title on it, and the leftover part of the book could then be sold for a mere nickel, which was right in my price range.

The rest of the store was stationary, paper goods, and stuff that Mama was interested in, but not me. I loved going in that store; even loved just looking at the displays in the front windows. I guess it was what was known as a dime store. I have a couple of ceramic frogs that my grandmother, Vivian Waganer, gave me. I know they came from Parsley’s. On the bottom of one of the frogs is stamped “10 cents". On the bottom of the other one, my grandmother carefully printed out “BILLY” with a pencil, to make sure that I got those frogs after she passed away. I see those little frogs every morning on my bathroom counter as I’m getting ready for work, and I always think of two of my favorite things: my grandmother and Parsley’s.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Little Bit of Mid-Week Humor

I first heard this story probably 30 years ago; it cracked me up then and is still funny today. 

My friend is a rather old-fashioned lady, always quite delicate and elegant, especially in her language. She and her husband were planning a week's vacation in Florida, so she wrote to a particular campground and asked for a reservation.

She wanted to make sure the campground was fully equipped, but didn't quite know how to ask about the toilet facilities. She just couldn't bring herself to write the word "toilet" in her letter. After much deliberation she finally came up with the old-fashioned term "bathroom commode." But when she wrote that down, she still felt that she was being too forward. So she started all over again, rewrote the entire letter, and referred to the bathroom commode merely as the B.C. "Does the campground have its own B.C.?" is what she finally wrote.

Well, the campground owner wasn't old-fashioned at all, and when he got the letter he just couldn't figure out what the woman was talking about. That B.C. business really stumped him. After worrying about it for a while, he showed the letter to several campers, but no one could imagine what the lady meant, either. So the campground owner, finally coming to the conclusion that the lady must be asking about the location of the Baptist Church, sat down and wrote the following reply:

Dear Madam:

I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take the pleasure of informing you that a B.C. is located nine miles north of the campground, and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to learn that a great number of our people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late. If you don't start early, you probably will not make it in time.

The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that right now, there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats. They're going to hold it in the basement of the B.C.

It's a beautiful facility, and the acoustics are marvelous.  I would like to say it pains me very much not being able to go more often, but it surely is no lack of desire on my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.

If you decide to come down to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time you go, sit with you, and introduce you to all the other folks. Remember, this is a friendly community!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Arkansas History Notebook

Mrs. Hazel Smoot was my sixth grade teacher.  The "middle school" concept didn't exist in those days, so sixth grade was still considered part of elementary school, although we did change classes for reading and math.  Those two classes consumed most of the morning, but the afternoon was a time for other subjects.  One of those subjects was Arkansas History.

In conjunction with our study of our home state, every student was to compile an "Arkansas History Notebook."  This was to be a sort of scrapbook in which we collected information from outside the classroom that related in some way to the history of Arkansas. 

Our notebook project soon evolved into a true example of cooperative learning.  At first, we just put things in our notebooks like newspaper articles and pictures from magazines.  Then, someone got the idea of including a postcard from some town in Arkansas.  When we saw this, we all started looking for postcards from other towns, and soon we all had supplemented our notebooks with various postcards. 

Then, someone got the idea of writing a letter to the Chamber of Commerce in some other town, asking for any information they might have available about their town.  This resulted in a mini-treasure trove of material to include in the notebook.  Seeing the excellent results produced by this letter, we all started writing letters to Chambers of Commerce across the state.  It became a bit of a competition to see who could get information from the least-heard-of town.

With this influx of new content for our notebooks, it quickly became necessary to expand our project from the original spiral notebook that we started with.  This was accomplished by stapling a new notebook to the back cover of the original. 

Another new development occurred when someone came in one morning with an autographed picture of Winthrop Rockefeller, Governor of the State of Arkansas.  They also had a beautiful full-color imprint of the official state seal.  Needless to say, the Governor's office was immediately inundated with letters requesting autographed pictures and state seals.  We quickly expanded our targets to the other state constitutional offices; Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and Land Commissioner.  Most resulted in autographed pictures and nice letters.  Time to staple on another spiral notebook.

About this time, I had developed a fondness for magazines about cowboys and the Old West.  You could buy them at Parsleys, sometimes at greatly reduced prices if you got one that was a couple of months old.  To my delight, I would occasionally run across an old photograph of some town in Arkansas that happened to be mentioned in an article.  This is what separated my Arkansas History Notebook from the rest of the crowd, because nobody else thought of looking in Old West magazines for content.  Not that my notebook was any better than anyone else's, because other people had personalized their notebooks in other ways.  But I was really proud of my Old West pictures of Arkansas. 

At some point one of my classmates, and I don't recall who it was, had the brilliant idea of writing a letter to the Arkansas Geology Commission.  How they even knew that such an entity existed, I don't know, but their letter resulted in a small package that was sent to the student.  Inside the package was a little cloth bag, and inside the little bag was a collection of small samples of all of the significant kinds of rocks found in our state.  Each sample was about the size of a large marble, and they were all labeled with the type of rock they were.  This was an unprecedented achievement, and we all quickly fired off letters to the Arkansas Geology Commission, which graciously complied with our requests and sent us all our own bag of rocks.

The only problem was, how do you put a bag of rocks in a notebook?  A few people tried gluing the rocks to a page of paper, but they never stayed glued.  So, our rocks, while probably the most interesting we had, never actually became a part of our notebooks.

I guess we got some kind of grade on our notebooks, but I don't remember it.  When I turned mine it, I think it was up to four or five notebooks stapled together.  I kept it for many years, but when I recently looked for it, I couldn't find it.  I fear it must not have survived one of my various moves. 

But what a great learning opportunity it was!  We had fun, we learned how to write letters, we learned how to work together and share, we learned how to do research, and we learned how to use our creativity.  Mrs. Smoot was way ahead of her time, I think.  And she instilled in me a love of the history of our state that still exists today.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


We've hit 20,000 page views!!!!  Time to CELEBRATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Quick and Easy Way to Replace an iPhone Battery

This really has nothing to do with Growing Up In Waldron, but occasionally, as a public service, I feel the need to share an experience from my already grown-up life.  This is one of those moments.

I love my iPhone.  I've never really been a gadget person, but from the moment I first got an iPhone a couple of years ago, I found it indispensable.  And it was not just the Whoopie Cushion app that I downloaded; I used every feature on the phone, especially the GPS map feature with driving directions.

So, about 6 months ago, I noticed that my battery was running down in the afternoons.  I checked into having the battery replaced, but it would require that my phone be shipped to Apple (no Apple stores nearby), so I would be without a phone for a few weeks, plus it would cost $79.00 to have it done.  Searching for an acceptable alternative, I found that you could buy a replacement battery on eBay for $5.60.  This was more to my liking.  A quick check of the Internet revealed instructions on how to replace the battery yourself, so I bought the $5.60 battery on eBay and was ready to do the job myself.

 The battery came complete with two tools; a little screwdriver and a plastic prying device for splitting the phone open.  And that's what you have to do; find the seam between the front cover and the rest of the phone and pry it apart.  Some people recommend using a suction cup to lift up the front cover, but the preferred method is brute force.  So, after reviewing videos on YouTube at least a half-dozen times, I got out my little plastic crow bar and screwdriver and went to work. 

The first step was to take out the SIM card, which was easily accomplished with the help of a paper clip.  Then, two little screws have to be removed from the base of the phone.  All that went pretty well.  Then, it was time to split the case into two sections.

This took a while.  I finally worked the little plastic edge into place, but it was too flimsy to force the cover off.  Finally, I resorted to my Exacto knife, which successfully lifted the cover up.

A very frightening scene.
Once you have the phone in two pieces, there are three little "ribbons" that have to be disconnected.  They are actually numbered, so once I got brave enough to put enough pressure on them, they easily came up.  They are actually electrical connections with many, many tiny prongs.

At this point, you're in the Belly of the Beast.  There are three more "ribbons" to release, also conveniently numbered.  Then, seven microscopic screws to remove.  The first one is hidden behind a sticker that says, "Do Not Remove."  They don't really mean it, so you scrape away the Do Not Remove sticker and have at the little screw that lies beneath.  Then, work your way up one side of the iPhone carcass and down  the other, removing the screws as you go.

Then, once the seven screws are removed, it's time to lift the "logic board" away from the frame.  This requires you to pry on it with your little plastic crow bar until it works its way loose.  However, lest you think this is easy, there is yet another "ribbon" connected to the underside of the logic board, which happens to be connected to the camera.  You have to release this ribbon while you are still holding on to the logic board, and if you twist the logic board over so you can see the ribbon, you pull the camera out of the iPhone, and you don't really want to do that, so you just wing it. 

Finally, you're down to the battery.  It is stuck to the frame with very sticky tape, so more prying is required at this step.  So, you pry and pry and tug and pull until finally the battery comes loose.  Then, it's simply a matter of putting in your new battery and doing all the above steps in reverse order.

But, I quickly found that it was much easier to release a ribbon than it was to reattach one, particularly the one on the underside of the logic board.  But, through painstaking effort, it can be done, so I carefully went through the process in reverse, reassembling my precious iPhone.  All that remained now was to plug it in and charge up my new battery, which actually was a better battery than the one that came with the phone, at least according to the Internet which, we all know, doesn't lie.

And, the final step in this process is to go to the AT&T store and buy a new iPhone to replace the one that is now deader than a doorknob.  Because, after completing this arduous process, when you go into the bathroom and plug in your iPhone to charge the new battery, you will notice that nothing happens.  Fortunately, my iPhone was the one that AT&T now sells for $49, and since my contract was up that's all I had to pay for.

So, I've temporarily lost all my picture, apps, and contacts, but the twelve year-old girl who was working at the AT&T store assured me that when I sync my phone with my computer, all that will be restored.  I hope she's right.  I don't want to lose my Whoopie Cushion.