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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beautiful Beulah Belle and Other Tales - Now Available!

I'm happy to announce the publication of my new book, "Beautiful Beulah Belle and Other Tales." This book contains 34 new stories about growing up in Waldron in the 1960s and 1970s. Included are some of my favorite stories, such as Bill Yates, President; The Freddie Rush Murder Trial; and The Week That Changed Waldron. The book will be available at Nook and Cranny Gifts and More in downtown Waldron, or is available by mail for those outside of Waldron by sending a check for $12 for each book ordered to Bill Yates, 1025 Riverview Drive, Alma AR  72921.The book is also available during the month of December on Ebay.  I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did putting it together!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mama and Daddy

 People always thought it was kind of funny that their names were so similar:  Albert and Alberta.  Albert was never called that; everyone who knew him called him Abb.  In her younger days, Alberta was known to her friends as "Peaches," but by the time I came along, everyone called her Alberta, except for her closest friend, Florene Douglas, who called her "Berta."  But I and my siblings were fortunate enough to get to call them Mama and Daddy.

Daddy worked for the phone company, which over time had gone from the Waldron Telephone Company to the Interstate Telephone Company to the Continental Telephone Company and possibly a few other names that I have forgotten.  It was probably one of the best jobs available in Scott County; not that we ever got rich, but it was a company that offered lots of benefits.  Because of the nature of his work, Daddy was friends with almost everybody in town.  He was also very handy at repairing things, and lots of people called him to work on their appliances.  He never said no.

Mama was mostly a housewife, except for a brief period of time in the 1960's when she worked as a waitress at the Rock Cafe, and again briefly when she worked at Judy's Drive In.  Her main focus in life was her five children; my older brothers Gary, Gene, and Phil, and my twin sister Janet and I.  She cooked, cleaned, worked in the garden, provided medical attention when necessary, while never missing a church service at the Assembly of God Church, and making sure that we kids likewise never missed a service.  As she went about her unrelenting chores, she could almost always be heard singing a gospel song.  I believe, in all sincerity, that Alberta Yates was incapable of thinking a negative thought about anyone. 

Their life together was full of both happiness and trials.  Daddy fought an ongoing battle against alcoholism, which consumed a large part of his salary and severely damaged his relationships with his wife and children.  He was never abusive, but his addiction to alcohol prevented any semblance of normalcy in his family life.  For most of his life, he was able to separate his drinking from his work life, but eventually, he had to retire from the phone company due to his alcoholism.  Mama was patient and loving throughout the difficult years, as was her nature.  She was a devout Christian, and her faith sustained her.  She was somehow able to pass this faith on to her children.  Her insistence that we go with her to church undoubtedly saved us from lives as alcoholics ourselves, since the disease is often passed down through the generations.  Watching her life made us want to have a relationship with Christ; if she could be that happy in spite of her surroundings, so could we!

We knew that Mama and Daddy loved each other, although we never heard Daddy say it.  He was doing the best he could; he was just fighting something that was bigger than him.  And it was a fight that lasted a long time. 

When Mama was around 70, she developed lymphoma.  When she first got the diagnosis, we were terrified.  But we learned that it was a disease that could be managed, and in true form, Mama managed it.  When a tumor would develop, she would go in for treatment, which usually required radiation, and when that was done, she would go on about her life.  Meanwhile, Daddy was not doing so great either.  His drinking was causing him to fall and injure himself, and on more than one occasion we had to get an ambulance to take him to the emergency room.  He broke his upper leg one time, and that required an extended hospital stay.  After that, when he was away from alcohol for a couple of months, he was able to finally stop drinking when he got to come back home.  I couldn't believe it; he had finally managed to win against an enemy that I was convinced couldn't be defeated.

In late September of 2007, Mama had to go into the hospital again for treatment for her lymphoma.  Everything seemed to be going well until she experienced a spinal hematoma, in which she had bleeding into her spinal column.  In addition to the excruciating pain this caused, it also left her legs paralyzed.  But she rallied, and we brought Daddy up to the hospital one Saturday to see her.  They shared the most pleasant of days together, with Daddy sitting beside her bed holding her hand, talking and visiting with their children.  A few days later, Mama told me, "I hope today is the day I get to go home..  I said that to that nurse, and she didn't know I meant my Heavenly home."  Later that night, that's exactly where Mama went. 

We all drove down to Waldron early the next morning to tell Daddy.  We had to wake him up, and my sister Janet gently told him what had happened.  He was quiet as we made sure he understood what we had said.  "I just wasn't expecting that," he said.

Later, I found a post card that Daddy had sent Mama when he was in the Navy.  He was in Basic Training at the Great Lakes Naval Station, and he must have been missing Mama quite a bit.  In the card, Daddy writes, "Hello Sweet.  How are you feeling today?  How is Memaw (Mama's mother) and all?  I just finished writing you a letter and I'm all out of things to write.  I haven't got your letter yet.  Maybe tomorrow.  Bye, Abb"

I'd never heard Daddy speak so tenderly to Mama.  That must have been the guy she fell in love with, and that was the man she always saw.  I didn't understand that until I found that post card.  He called her Sweet. 

Be patient, Sweet.  It won't be too long now.  You'll be holding his hand again soon.

Skipper Breaks His Leg!

Love Always, Skipper
The rest of the family always said that Skipper was emotionally disturbed, and there’s a better than even chance that they were right. I got Skipper when I was about eleven years old, after the tragic death of my dog Scooter (more on that later). My Uncle Joe found Skipper for me, and we were best friends right from the start. He was a mixed-breed puppy (actually, Mutt) with a lot of Fiest in him, which made him a little high-energy. He was black and tan with mid-length hair and a tail that curved up over his backside. As far as the emotionally disturbed part of it goes, he did have a tendency to annoy our great dog Lucky quite a bit, which occasionally resulted in a fight between the two. Lucky would fight until he was ready to quit, but there was no quit in Skipper. Eventually, Mama would have to tie both of them to the clothesline to get them to stop fighting. Now, those fights were rare, but they did happen on occasion.

For some unknown reason, Skipper took a particular dislike to a specific pair of pants belonging to my sister. They were a bright, checkered pattern, as was the style back in the 1960’s, and they reminded me of a pair that I often saw one of our neighbors wearing, so I euphemistically referred to them as Janet’s “Kay Bray Britches.” Skipper evidently picked up on my disdain for this particular article of clothing, because every time Janet wore them, he bit her. No, EVERY time. So, among those questioning Skipper’s mental state, Janet was at the forefront.

Skipper, being a young, unaltered male, often went on what we might call group dates with some of the other dogs in the neighborhood. One evening, when I went out to feed Skipper, I found him in obvious pain, his right foreleg hanging limply. He had gotten into a fight with a bigger dog, and it was obvious that his leg had been broken. I quickly summoned Daddy, who looked Skipper’s leg over and constructed a crude splint which he placed on the damaged leg. After a sleepless night, I hurried outside the next morning to check on Skipper, and found his leg swollen to more than twice its normal size.

We loaded Skipper into our 1967 Ford Custom 500 and headed downtown to the office of Dr. Stubbs, the local vet. It was a Saturday morning, but Dr. Stubbs was there. He examined Skipper and told us we would have to leave him there for the rest of the weekend. When we returned to his office the next Monday, he had me call for Skipper from the lobby, and when he heard my voice, Skipper came trotting out with a clean white cast on his front leg. He was overjoyed to see us, as we were to see him.

We took him home with the instructions to keep him inside the house. Skipper quickly recognized two things: One, he was not an inside dog, and Two, this weird thing on his leg didn’t belong there. We were in school, and Mama was working at the Rock Café, so Skipper was going to have to stay by himself. So, we left him in the house and headed out to school and work.

You can imagine our surprise when we got home from school and found Skipper waiting for us on the porch, his curly tail wagging. He had somehow managed to find his way outside. A quick inspection inside the house revealed how he had done it. There was a bed next to a window in the back bedroom, and the window didn’t have a screen, so Skipper had managed to break the glass and jump through.

The next day, with a piece of plywood over the window, Skipper decided to work on getting the foreign object off his leg. We had gone to school, and Mama was hurrying around getting ready to go to work at the Rock Café, when she entered the living room and saw what she believed to be Skipper’s leg lying in the middle of the living room floor. Taken aback, she examined the object more closely and realized that it was in fact only Skipper’s cast, which he had somehow managed to get off his leg. Hurriedly, she loaded Skipper in the car and hauled him back to Dr. Stubbs, who replaced the cast. Mama brought him back home and went on to work, arriving uncharacteristically late. That evening, we decided to go ahead and let Skipper stay outside, broken leg and all.

Well, Skipper was completely happy outside. As an added bonus, he discovered that he could wind his way through the hedge next to the driveway and remove his cast with only minimal effort. By now, we were used to it, so we would just pull the empty cast out of the hedge and stick it back on his leg. After a few weeks, the leg was healed up and we just left the cast off permanently.

Skipper’s leg didn’t seem to bother him much after that. However, when my Aunt Lola would come down, she would get a kick out of giving Skipper sympathy over his leg, talking to him and repeatedly mentioning his leg until he would invariably raise his “injured” leg off the ground, holding it in mid-air which sent Lola into peals of laughter that could be heard all over the neighborhood. Lola knew how to laugh, and she didn’t hold back. She had the kind of laugh that just made you feel good, and she always got a good laugh over Skipper and his pitiful leg routine.

Skipper, my good and faithful dog, lost his life on December 5, 1973. He was run over up on Featherston Street. I took it hard, but we’d had lots of good days together. As I said earlier, I got Skipper after my previous dog Scooter died. When Scooter was killed it was a tragedy, but it was almost a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. But that's a story for another day.

Addie and Joe

Addie was Mama’s older sister. She was always kind of like our second Mama; I guess that got started when Mama was in the hospital for over a week in the early 1960’s, and Addie took care of us. She lived on a farm seven miles east of Waldron with her husband Joe Carmack. Joe’s real name was Ira, but he was known in the family as Joe. They used to live in Wichita, Kansas, and Joe worked for Boeing Aircraft. But he was seriously injured one time when he fell while working on a plane, and Boeing settled with him for his injuries in the amount of $3,000. So, he and Addie headed back to Waldron in about 1961 and used the $3,000 to buy their farm.

Joe was actually Addie’s second husband. She was first married to Herman Cameron, an inveterate gambler and womanizer, who broke her heart. This was well before my time, during World War II. They divorced a few years after the war. My older brother Gary has a vague recollection of Herman coming by the house to say goodbye, and Gary recalls that he refused to go out on the porch to see Herman, because he knew that Herman had done something to hurt Addie. The years eased the pain, I have no doubt, but I’m not sure Addie ever completely got over the hurt.

For a big portion of the 1960’s, Addie and Joe were our primary means of transportation. We didn’t have a car; Daddy got to bring home the telephone truck from work, but with our family of seven, that wasn’t too conducive to dignified travel. Of course, most of the places we needed to go were within walking distance anyway, but we did catch a ride to church with Addie and Joe.

Joe was a man of few words. He had a deep, gravelly voice to go with his long, lanky frame. Sometimes at church, when the testimony service was dragging, whoever was leading it would call on people to testify. On those times when Joe was called upon, it always amazed me to hear him speak up in church. It was just rare to hear him put that many words together. He was a kind, patient man who would do anything in his power to help out someone who needed it.

One cold winter morning, Addie and Joe were on their way to Sunday Morning services when they encountered a man walking along the highway. The man was without a coat on that frigid morning, just walking along the road. Addie and Joe stopped and talked to him, and he told them he was just trying to get into town. They insisted that he climb into the back seat, which he did, and Addie and Joe brought him into town. Later on at church, someone asked Addie if she had heard about the men who had been caught stealing cattle out their way the previous night, or had seen anything of the one who managed to get away. “I guess we gave him a ride into town,” she replied.

Addie was a gifted artist, poet, and writer. She loved to draw pictures and write poetry during the long winter days on the farm. She was deeply religious, and her writings reflected her faith. She was also a fountain of knowledge about the history of Mama’s side of the family, the Waganers. She kept copious writings detailing the family lineage and history. She also had many, many photographs, on the backs of which she had detailed information about the subject of the picture.

Addie and Joe lived a very simple life. The farmhouse they lived in hadn’t changed much from the time it was built. I think Addie longed for some of the modern conveniences that living in town offered, but at the same time she loved the farm. When I was little, they had some chickens that they kept for eggs, and Joe had a few head of cattle. They also had three or four horses, in addition to some hunting dogs that Joe kept out behind the barn and an untold number of stray cats that Addie just couldn’t stand to see go hungry. Of course, Addie gave them all names and made pets out of them. Farming was just a sideline for Joe; he got up at the crack of dawn every morning to go to his job at the feed mill at AVI. We always looked forward to getting to go out to the farm, particularly at Christmas time when Joe would lead us up into the woods to find a Christmas tree.

Addie and Joe didn’t ask for much. They enjoyed the simple pleasures. When you sat down at Addie’s kitchen table, you could be sure that she would bring out a box of Little Debbie’s. Usually it would be the snack cakes with white icing. Around Christmas, she would make what she called an “unbaked” fruit cake that Joe dearly loved. On Wednesday afternoons, they would come into town early for church so that they could go by Owen’s Drug Store and have ice cream. They were content with what they had, which really wasn’t all that much, but they found joy in life’s quiet moments.

They finally did get to live in town, after Joe’s health got bad. Addie was proud of her house in town and the conveniences that it offered. And, she even managed to find a stray cat to take care of.

Addie and Joe are both gone now. But in the spring, there will be blooms in my sister’s yard, and my yard, and in the yard at Mama and Daddy’s house, blooms from plants that were lovingly tended by Addie, who could get a start of just about any plant by breaking off a twig. Blooms from plants that were shared out of a mutual love of God’s beautiful creation, and admired by a gracious lady who saw life as a poem.

On Being A Twin

Our store-bought birthday cake, circa 1964.
 I share my birthday.  I arrived at Sparks Hospital on a snowy January 18, 1956, at 12:34 p.m.  I basked in the attention and pampering only briefly, because in the middle of my moment of glory it occurred to those gathered that we were not done; in fact, another baby was in the process of being born.  Exactly ten minutes later, at 12:44 p.m., my twin sister Janet made her presence known. Yes, no one, not even Mama, knew that she was having twins.  From that moment on, the phrase "the twins" entered into the nomenclature of the Yates family.

Being a twin meant you always had a competitor and a friend.  Janet and I competed relentlessly, which was a good thing I guess because we always tried to outdo each other in terms of schoolwork, so the competition made our grades better.  Back in those days, parents got to request who they wanted for a teacher for their child, so in grades 1-6 (there was no kindergarten back in those days), we were always in the same classroom.  We could also keep an eye on each other that way, and should one of us made a misstep, the other could gleefully report it to Mama.   

Our 1964 Birthday bash.  Left to right:  Randy Bottoms, J.P.
Hicks, Terry Nichols, Terrel Scroggins, Mary Hutchens, Me,
Jannet McDonald, my sister Janet, Brenda Owens, Cindy
Douglas, Terri Watkins, and Ida Mae Smith
 The constant companionship invariably produced some conflict.  This conflict often displayed itself in a very visual way.  Our next-door neighbors Randy and Swanna Bottoms' dad, Hoss, once said that he would be sitting on his porch when he would hear our back screen door fly open, and he would witness me running with all my might through the field next to our house, with Janet close behind me swinging a broom.  There was a tree at the end of the field, and past experience had shown me that if I could reach the tree unscathed, Janet would more often than not give up and turn around.  Never much of an athlete, I honed my sprinting skills until I reached the point where I could outrun my sister.  After that point, I got a lot braver.

I mentioned our competitiveness as a factor in our school work, but it was also true that we greatly benefited by studying together.  We really did help each other, and if one of us didn't understand how to do a math problem, the other could most often explain it.  Mama had a blackboard mounted to the wall in the bedroom, and we would spend lots of time at that little board working math problems. 
A more traditional Birthday cake.  Twelve
candles...that's two people turning six.

Well, over time the competitiveness began to lessen, and although we did occasionally argue, we were most of all friends.  I really believe that there is a bit of an "ESP" connection between twins, because we often were amused when we would start to say the same thing at the same time.  In Junior High and High School, we seldom had the same classes and began to become individuals more than "the twins." 

Oh, and that store-bought birthday cake.  Daddy got it for us; it seems like it came from Ward Ice Cream company in Fort Smith.  We had a big party that year.  It must have been an unusually nice January day, because we were outside with only sweaters, evidently. 

When we were 16, on January 18, 1972, our first niece was born.  Sandy Yates Swanner is my brother Phil's daughter, and now there are three birthdays in the family on January 18th. 

And now, as I write this, I'm preparing for my 55th birthday.  My wife has a present for me that she has been hiding in the car, and has had to move it already twice to keep me from seeing it.  She doesn't know that just seeing her in my life everyday is the greatest gift I could ever ask for.  Across the street, my mother-in-law is even now preparing a feast in my honor that we'll all share tonight.  My stepson Ross and his wife Maegan are about to become parents in a few weeks, and Marilyn and I can hardly wait to meet our little Kate.  Ross, who racked up a series of awards at Arkansas Tech including Outstanding Male Student, is now applying his leadership skills to the teaching profession.  My brilliant step-daughter Laura and her husband Kip live in Little Rock, where Laura is a doctor completing her residency in OB-GYN.  And I, I'm just soaking up blessings like a sponge, so fortunate to be at this place in life right now, and happily reliving pleasant memories on this little blog.  Please excuse me now; I have candles to blow out.

Elementary School Days

There was no such thing as kindergarten at Waldron Elementary School back in the 1960's.  First grade was where it all began; the first grade teachers were charged with taking raw, uneducated little kids like us and turning us into readers, a feat they somehow accomplished against all odds.  My first grade teacher was Mrs. Clara Evatt.  She had been my brothers' teacher, and since parents got to pick whose class they wanted their child to be in back in those days, we were signed up with Mrs. Evatt.  It didn't take me too long to get into the school routine, I recall.  I kind of liked it.  There were, however, two incidents in first grade that somewhat blemished my school record.  One, David Houston took a swing at me one time while we were sitting at our table, and in so doing he knocked over the glass fishbowl that held a small turtle in the center of our table.  The turtle was rescued, and we received a small scolding, but that was that.  The other incident occurred when my sister and I were doing homework, and our assignment was to answer some questions in a book about some monkeys.  Well, we assumed we were supposed to write our answers directly in the book.  We were wrong. 

In second grade, my teacher was Mrs. Winna Tharp.  Mrs. Tharp had a lot of science stuff on display, and that really intrigued me.  One of her displays was a vase of cattails.  I guess cattails spread their seeds by breaking apart and letting the wind scatter what's inside, so Mrs. Tharp warned us that the cattails might begin to break apart sometime during the year.  Perhaps she used the word "explode" in describing what would happen to the cattails, because I spent the entire year just waiting for those babies to go off.  Unfortunately, they were located right next to my desk, so I recognized early on that I would likely be a casualty to the impending event.  Resigned to my fate, I tried my best to concentrate on my studies.

Second grade also featured the only fight I was ever in.  I have no idea what started it, or any of the circumstances leading up to it.  I just remember lying on my back near the big steps in back of the white frame first and second grade building, with Clyde Johnson, a third grader, on top of me, landing blow after blow.  I would have surely been killed had not My Greatest Childhood Friend, Randy Bottoms, intervened and dragged Clyde off of me.

Third grade, as I mentioned in a previous post, was a bad year.  It was not the fault of my teacher, Mrs. Inez Baugh.  She was very nice, but my sister and I had school phobia that year and missed a lot of school. However, third grade stood out for one event.  Mrs. Baugh took her entire class on a field trip over to her house on West 2nd street to watch the inauguration of Lyndon Johnson as President in January of 1965.  She had a color TV, and it was the first one I had ever seen.  She also took us on a tour of her rose garden in her back yard, which didn't have a lot to offer that cold January day, but it was nice anyway.

Fourth grade was great.  Read my post, Batman, Beatles, and Mrs. Nelson for a full discussion of that wonderful year.

Fifth grade, my teacher was Mrs. Robbie Hunsucker.  Fifth grade was memorable because we got to change classes for reading and math, although I seem to recall having Mrs. Hunsucker for both subjects.  Everyday after lunch, Mrs. Hunsucker would read to us from Laura Engalls Wilder's Little House books.  How I loved those stories!  Fifth grade was also the year I built the greatest Valentine's Day box ever.  Each year, we would get a shoe box and decorate it for Valentine's Day, and everybody would exchange cards by dropping them in each box.  When I made my box, I wrapped it in Reynold's Wrap and glued on a few hearts that I had cut out of construction paper.  I had to put my name somewhere on the box, and that's when I got a great idea.  I got the daily Fort Smith paper, turned to the classified ads, and found a full-page advertisement for a new car dealership in Fort Smith, Bill Yates Buick.  I carefully cut out the large letters "Bill Yates" from the ad, and glued the piece of newsprint to my box.  Of course, this was well before the days of computers and printers, so everyone was totally amazed at the professionally printed name on my Valentine's Box.  Many years later, I got to meet the Bill Yates of Bill Yates Buick, and told him that story.

In sixth grade, my teacher was Mrs. Hazel Smoot.  Mrs. Smoot was nice, but we had a few guys in our class who always succeeded in getting her in a bad mood by the end of the day. We changed classes again for math and reading, and I had Miss Chiles for math.  I remember we used to have races on the board, and one of my classmates, Frances Moore, was absolutely unbeatable.  I mean no one could beat her; watching her work a math problem on the board was a fascinating sight.  In reading, each week we got the Weekly Reader, a kind of newspaper for kids.  They were great, and I kept mine for many years, but I think they are long gone now.  Every six weeks, Weekly Reader came out with a reading comprehension test.  I was a good reader, but when the test was given I was almost always beaten by Doug Cottrell. 

I also remember my first public speaking experience, which was in sixth grade.  We had to give an oral book report, and I had chosen the book The Day of the Arkansas, which was about the C.S.S. Arkansas, and ironclad battleship during the Civil War.  For Christmas that year, I had been given a little brown vinyl notebook that had small, perforated sheets of paper attached to it.  Jumping at the chance to actually use my new notebook, I made notes on the little slips of paper and held them in my hand, speaking extemporaneously while glancing occasionally at my notes.  Well, Mrs. Smoot was impressed, and was lavish with her praise.

I was fortunate to have some really good teachers.

Lunch At The Candy Store

I started my school career dutifully partaking of the nourishment offered by our school cafeteria. Being a somewhat picky eater, I held most of the entrees in complete disdain, other than the occasional homemade roll or peanut butter cookie. And the little cartons of milk…just not my thing. However, sometime in third grade, a decision was made that I would be allowed to have lunch at a wondrous place called The Candy Store. Saying goodbye to the unfortunate chumps that were relegated to the cafeteria, I discovered for the first time that school could be a place of culinary excellence as well as learning.

There were actually two Candy Stores. Gatlin’s, or The Green Candy Store as we called it, was more popular with the elementary crowd. Burden’s, or The White Candy Store, was more often frequented by the high-schoolers. Over the years I developed the pattern of having my main course at The Green Candy Store and then leisurely strolling over to The White Candy Store for my dessert. When you first walked in to Gatlin’s, you were immediately hit with a continuous clatter that sounded like a severe hail storm on a tin roof. This was caused by about a hundred elementary students pecking on the glass candy counter with their nickels. The popular belief was that it was necessary to peck in order to be waited on. Gatlin’s had all the popular candy bars, but elementary boys and girls had developed an affection for Winner Suckers more than any other product. A Winner Sucker was a grape flavored sucker that actually was shaped like a cluster of grapes on one side. The other side was flat. When you bought a Winner Sucker, the person working the counter would carefully unwrap it, and if the flat side of the sucker had a piece of tape stuck to it that said “Winner,” you won another sucker. One kid actually won three additional suckers one time, a record that was never bested. Grape Jolly Ranchers are the closest thing nowadays to the taste of a Winner Sucker.

The Gatlin’s candy counter also often featured a punchboard, a form of legalized gambling for elementary kids. You paid your nickel, picked a number, and the sales person would punch out that square on a cardboard frame, and you got to keep whatever trinket was located behind the number. Of course, the punchboard had samples of some really great prizes attached to it. One day John York told me that he had asked the ladies working the counter if, when the current board was used up, could he have the board (with the samples still attached). To his surprise, they agreed. I tried this and was actually promised a used board myself, but when I showed up to claim it, the new board was in place and nobody knew what happened to the old one.

Back at the grill in Gatlin’s, my usual choice was a Frito Pie. They kept a big pot of chili cooking all the time, and to make a Frito Pie they would cut open a package of Fritos on the side and pour a ladle full of chili on top of the Fritos. Add one plastic spoon, and you’ve got yourself a Frito Pie. That costs twenty cents. Also for twenty cents, you could get a grilled cheese (delicious), or a “hot dog” which was actually a piece of bologna that had been cooking in the pot of chili, served on a hamburger bun. For the more affluent, a hamburger was twenty-five cents. You got your sandwich and a package of chips, and then headed over to the fountain for your coke, which set you back ten cents. It was standing room only, so you ate standing up. Oh, there was a back room with some benches and a juke box, but that was the domain of older kids and elementary students didn’t dare step in there. I did peek in once and saw one of my brothers back there.

After finishing my Frito Pie and Coke, I would generally go over to Burden’s for a candy bar. I always thought they had a slightly better selection of candy bars than Gatlin’s. I always got the same thing; Mars Bar. After that tasty dessert, it was time to stroll back to class.

It’s kind of amazing to consider that the Candy Stores were unsupervised by any school people, but there were very few problems. I think both the Gatlin’s and the Burden’s made it a point to monitor the students and were able to head off most trouble before it got started. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and sometime in about tenth grade, the school district closed the campuses and that meant no one could go over to the Candy Stores anymore. But they remain the source of some of my best childhood memories.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Black and White Dog

It's silly, really, to think that he was anything other than a stray, or maybe one of the mutts that run our neighborhood.  But I'd never seen him before, that black and white dog.  But at 2:00 a.m. this morning, when Marilyn and I came home from the hospital, there he sat on my front porch, guarding the front door like it belonged to him. 

Marilyn and I had had a nice evening, dinner with some friends; I was a bit preoccupied because I had asked my sister to keep me informed about Daddy; he was in the hospital in Waldron, seemed to be stable, but we weren't sure.  After dinner, my sister sent me a text that his condition had worsened and they were bringing him to Fort Smith in an ambulance. 

At the hospital, I could see how he had deteriorated since I had seen him the day before.  We discussed options with the surgeon, and decided to authorize exploratory surgery to see if we could find out why his abdomen was so hard and swollen.

The news wasn't good.  The doctors had found a tumor the size of a baseball on Daddy's pancreas.  It had spread throughout his abdomen.  There was no hope for recovery.

When Daddy was safely back in ICU, breathing with a vent, we left our brother Phil there and the rest of us went to our homes to get a few hours rest before we had to deal with what lay in store. 

Meanwhile, a black and white dog stationed himself on my front porch. 

He showed no desire to leave when we pulled up.  Exhausted, I told Marilyn to ignore him and hoped he would go away, but he didn't.  As I collapsed into bed, I suggested to Marilyn that he might be thirsty, and maybe we needed to put out some water for him to drink.  She did.  He appreciated it.

He was gone when we got up three hours later.  We went back to the hospital, all of us, and met with the doctor in charge of the hospice program.  He carefully explained what would happen.  And so, we gathered there, around Daddy's bed, along with the doctor, who stayed with us, and watched as Daddy's life ebbed away.  The monitor next to his bed told the story; his respiration and blood pressure slowly dropped until the machine could not register anymore, and the doctor looked at us and softly said, "He's gone." 

And we all felt a sense of peace.

So today, Albert Lee Yates, better known as "Abb," left us.  He was a good man. 

His main purpose in life, he felt, was to not cause anyone any trouble.  That's why he never once complained of any pain over the last few months while a tumor in his pancreas grew to the size of a baseball.  Abb Yates was a tough rascal.

And so, a chapter of my life ends today.  I knew it was coming; he was 89 years old.  But I've shed many, many more tears today than I thought I would.

And too, I think, the time has come to end Growing Up In Waldron.  I've been fortunate to get to share many memories with you; so many, in fact, that it's a struggle to come up with any new ones.  I got to put some of them into a book that I self-published, and I hope to put the rest of them into another sometime soon.  I've enjoyed tremendously the comments from people who have read this blog, and in particular I want to thank a couple of great bloggers, Jim Sullivan (Sulldog) and Uncle Skip, who have been so kind to link to this blog numerous times. 

So, I'm going to take a break from blogging for a while, but I may be back; I have a couple of ideas floating around. 

Now, back to that black and white dog.  I'm not into any of that New Age stuff, or Spiritualism, or any thing like that.  He was probably just a dog that happened by.  To make sure we got home okay. 

Like Daddy did.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Mystery of the Phantom Pooper

I'm going to tell you something incredible.  It's not about Waldron.  It's not about growing up.  It's just a bit of information that I have discovered that is so stunning, it demands to be shared.  Today, you will learn something.

It's all about some little souvenirs in my back yard.

The first one was about a month ago.  Out by our pool, on a concrete stepping stone, a perfectly formed little portion of animal scat.  I looked at it carefully, from a distance.  It was much smaller than the normal product of our little Yorkies, Gus and Gracie.  Hmm.  Must have been an afterthought.

Then, a week or so later, there was another one, identical to the first.  This time, it was on our patio near the back door.  It looked like this:

No, I didn't take that picture.  I found it on the Internet.  I'll tell you where in a bit; be patient.  I don't want to ruin the story.

I informed the lovely Marilyn that we had an intruder.  She scoffed at my suggestion that it might be a monkey.

You see, we have a neighbor who told my father-in-law across the street that, early one morning, he saw something that looked like a monkey getting fruit off of our other neighbor's fruit trees.  This report was met with universal skepticism from everyone except me.  You see, when I was a kid, our neighbor, George Hawkins, had a pet monkey.  It would on occasion escape, and when it did, it would head for the mulberry tree in our front yard, where it would consume as many mulberries as it could before the inevitable recapture.

Gee, I did actually work in something about Growing Up In Waldron.  I feel better.

So, I was convinced that a rogue monkey was scaling our fence at night, coming into our back yard, looking around a bit, possible smoking (I found some butts, but I think they were from the guy who fixed our air conditioner.  Maybe.  I'm not sure.)

And then last night, another deposit.  This time, right on our sidewalk that goes up to the pool.  I discovered it when I took Gus and Gracie out for their final backyard visit of the night.  (This is an interesting ritual, by the way.  Every night, around 10:00, Gus positions himself on the floor in front of my recliner and begins a plaintive whining routine.  This may go on for 10 or 15 minutes.  Now, we have a doggie door, Gus can go outside any time he wants, but he does this whining thing until I look him straight in the eye and say, "Gus, you wanna go outside and pee?"  Upon hearing these words, Gus explodes toward the doggie door in a motion so frantic that Gracie, who is normally sleeping on the couch, jumps from her perch and tries to intercept the crazed Gus.  Unable to tackle him, she trails behind him, barking furtively to get him to stop.  If I do not follow along with them, Gus comes back to the doggie door and scratches until I go outside.)

But I digress.

So, after finding this latest poop, I determined that I'm going to find out exactly what my nightime visitor is.

Now, I'm going to tell you the answer to the mystery, but you are going to say, "Bill, there is no way that this can be true."  But it is.  For we know one thing to be true:  THE INTERNET DOES NOT LIE.

Well, it actually does, that's why there's snopes.com.  But in this case, it's true.  So now, I shall reveal to you the answer to this mystery, the solution to the conundrum; I shall unravel the enigmatic excrement to reveal what lies at the core of this thoughtless beast who invades the sanctity of good people's back yards.

It's toad poop.

It really is.  I knew that every time I went outside with the dogs at night, there was always a fat toad somewhere out there catching bugs.  He is such a regular visitor that Gus and Gracie hardly pay him any mind now.  So, I googled what toad poop looks like and found this wonderful website:


And there, right before me, was the poop I kept seeing at night.  No skunk.  No rabbit.  No possum.  No armadillo.  Just a big fat, somewhat inconsiderate toad.

I'm still looking for the monkey.  I'll keep you posted...

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Five Best TV Shows Ever

The much celebrated blogger Suldog has produced another classic; his five all-time favorite TV shows.  You can read Sully's choices here.  In addition, he has challenged other bloggers to do the same.  Well, since watching TV is one of the things I do best, here is my list of the all time best TV shows ever.  Sully has specified that this list is only for shows not in current production, so that means excellent shows like Mad Men, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and New Girl are not eligible.  But you should watch them.  They're really good.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the Greatest Television Shows of All Time:

Number 1:  The Andy Griffith Show

Many people of my age are convinced that we grew up in towns identical to Mayberry.  That may be largely a figment of our imaginations, but The Andy Griffith Show was so carefully crafted with bits of realism that it seemed there was always something we could relate to.  That is why this show has stood the test of time.  It was originally developed with the idea that Andy Griffith would be the source of the comedy, but after it became apparent that Don Knott's character of Barney Fife was particularly humorous, the direction of the show changed and it all began to come together, with Andy playing the straight man to Barney's foibles. 

With the rich characterizations of series regulars Gomer Pyle, Thelma Lou, Helen, and the outlandish Earnest T. Bass and the Darling Family, and the wonderfully crafted scripts from the likes of Everett Greenbaum and Jim Frizzell among others, the show became a big hit for CBS in the early and mid 60s.  It's a show that I always watch when I see it on TV today.

Number 2:  The Twilight Zone

Quirky, original, and sometimes scary, The Twilight Zone was perhaps the most well-written television show ever.  Rod Serling, the chain-smoking host and creator, introduced each episode.  It's fun to watch the show today and see several well-known stars who were probably very thankful to get to star in an episode of The Twilight Zone when they were just starting out. My favorite episode is "The Hitchhiker," and I still get a chill up my spine when Inger Stevens looks in her rear view mirror and discovers the hitchhiker in her back seat.  What really made the series stand out was the clever twist that occurred at the end of each episode, something that you never saw coming but that would inevitably explain the events that had unfolded.  Great, great writing.

Number Three:  Are You Being Served?

A BBC show from the seventies, Are You Being Served? chronicles the hilarious exploits of the staff of Grace Brothers Department Store in London.  Slapstick, outrageous farce dominates each episode, with particular humor coming from Mrs. Slocum and the extreme difficulties she has with her cat.  My favorite character was Mr. Grainger, the elderly senior salesman.  The show poked fun at the British class system, with the employees expected to follow specific rules of dress and behavior based upon their ranking.  This show never fails to make me laugh.

Number Four:  Fawlty Towers

And speaking of slapstick, Fawlty Towers does that better than any other show.   Another BBC show from the seventies, the show features John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, the owner of a hapless hotel called, naturally, "Fawlty Towers."  The humor comes from the interplay between Basil and his domineering wife Sybil.  Since Basil lives in complete fear of Sybil, it results in his bullying of his employee Manuel, who comes from Spain and encounters many hilarious problems because of his unfamiliarity with the English language. 

The outrageous, improbable disasters that befall Basil on a regular basis are responsible for the hilarity of this series.  Another one that I never miss when I find it on TV.

Number Five:  Our World

I must include one show that you've probably never heard of.  Our World was produced for about one season in the 1980s by ABC News.  It was hosted by Ray Gandolf and Linda Ellerbee, and each week took the viewer back in time to a specific time period in the 20th century.  In depth stories about the events going on in America at that time were presented, such as the development of Levittown or the panic that ensued after Orson Wells convinced radio audiences that we were being invaded by Martians. 

The show never took off, which is unfortunate.  It was really interesting TV.

Honorable Mention 1:  All Creatures Great and Small

This BBC series was based on the books by James Herriot, the British veterinarian and author (real name Alf Wight).  The stunning beauty of the Yorkshire region of England was the series backdrop, and young James traveled around the countryside treating the animals of the farmers of the region.  I still have a strong desire to go to England and see Yorkshire after watching this show.  I also recommend the books by James Herriot. 

Honorable Mention 2:  Newhart

Bob Newhart was able to perfect the character of the everyday man who seemed to be humorously at the mercy of the loony people around him.  The humor came from his attempts to maintain calm in the face of the improbable events that unfolded around him.  The show's opening scene of a drive through the beautiful forests of New England set the tone for this show, and it never failed to deliver some good laughs. 

So, there's a look at my favorites.  How about yours?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Katie Bar The Door

It's a curious expression.  Katie bar the door.  Or, more properly, "Katie, bar the door."  It may be an expression unique to the south, I'm not sure about that.  But it was the first in a long line of misunderstood concepts that permeated my childhood in Waldron. 

It was one of Mama's favorite sayings.  For example, "If you don't quit playing and come in and get ready for church, it'll be katie bar the door."  One of my earliest memories is of trying to figure out exactly what a "katie bar the door" was.  Once I set my brilliant little infantile mind to it, I was able to conclude that a "katie bar the door" was, in fact, one of these:

As I said, the first in a long line of misunderstood concepts.  What this is, actually, is a sheepsfoot compactor, used in road construction.  I suppose that my efforts to understand the concept of "katie bar the door" happened along about the time the dirt streets of Waldron were first being paved, so there was lots of wonderful heavy equipment parked at various locations around our neighborhood for a while.  So maybe, I was playing around this curious machine, and Mama told me to get away or it would be katie bar the door for me, and so I somehow made the connection between the two.  I don't know.

Soon, my sophisticated mind realized that this concept was just plain stupid.  Katie bar the door.  I knew one of those words.  I knew door.  So, it must have something to do with a door.  And then I had it.  Every night, we would slip a butter knife into the side of the door facing on our back door, thus blocking any intruders who might try to enter the house for purposes of no good.  The butter knife, securely preventing the door from being opened, must be serving the purpose of katie barring the door.  So, when one katie bared a door, they surely stuck a butter knife into the wooden door facing to provide security.

I was happy with this explanation for a number of years, but then, somewhere in my late elementary days, it occurred to me that katie bar the door was actually a snippet of conversation between an unnamed individual and someone named Katie.  It was in fact a command.  "Katie!  Get up off the couch and bar the door!"  Whereupon, young Katherine would dutifully rise and, perhaps picking up a butter knife, proceed to "bar" the door against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

A website called thefreedictionary.com explains the phrase this way:

Prepare immediately for an advancing threat. Katie bar the door, the grandchildren are here and they all look hungry.

And that's how Mama used it.  If I was doing something wrong, I'd better prepare, because there was an advancing threat, and it was called Mama with a switch from the hedge in our back yard.  But in spite of my inability to fully grasp the definition, I was at least smart enough to take advantage of the warning, and stop what I was doing before any barring of doors was necessary. 

Well, most of the time anyway.


Sunday, April 29, 2012


Check out my little story for the "A Day In Little Rock" feature in this month's Soiree magazine.  Here's the link:


Monday, April 2, 2012

A Momentous Decision

I just couldn't decide.  I went back and forth, considering all the options, but never settling on anything.  My job.  My career.  My Future!  Oh, how I envied those teenagers growing up in the U.S.S.R. where, I assumed, the Party simply told you what you would become, and no decision on your part was necessary.  But here, in The Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave, this decision was driving me crazy. 

I did, at least, have a small portion of a plan.  My brother Gary and his wife had agreed to allow my twin sister Janet and I to live with them in Fort Smith while we went to Westark Community College.  This incredibly generous gesture meant that the two of us, poorest of the poor, could manage to get an Associates Degree.  Without the means to go beyond the two years, I figured that would be it.  So, I began to consider what career options I could avail myself of with my two-year degree. 

Since junior high, I had loved to read the newspaper.  Even in hard times, we managed to maintain our daily subscription to Fort Smith's Southwest Times Record.  I was also a fan of the nightly news, when, after relating the day's tales of devastation and turmoil, David Brinkly would solemnly intone, "Goodnight Chet."  Chet Huntley would respond with an equally succinct, "Goodnight David."  Then, looking directly into the camera, he would bid us all, "And Goodnight from NBC news."

So, somewhere along the beginning of my junior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to become a journalist.  I began to look over the schedule of classes that my sister-in-law had gotten for me, just to see what kind of exciting things I would be taking at Westark. 

And so it happened that one day, in Betty Rice's English class during my junior year, we had a guest speaker.  It was Mr. Dennis Cash, who was the Registrar for Westark Community College.  He was making a presentation to all of Waldron's juniors, telling them about Westark and what to expect when they went to college.  I listened intently, eager to gain the valuable information he was providing.  At the end of his presentation, he asked for questions.  My hand was the first to shoot up.

"Mr. Cash,do you think that a person with a two-year degree could get a job as a journalist?" 

Mr. Cash thoughtfully considered my question, and then responded with great candor.  "Most newspapers," he said, "would want to hire someone with a four-year degree.  I'm not saying that you couldn't get a job with an Associates Degree, but you would have a much better chance with a four-year degree."

My heart sank.  I had no contingency plan for continuing my education beyond my two years at Westark.  Four years!  If I have to go to college for four years, I might as well be a teacher!

It was like a light switch was turned on.  A teacher!  That was what I really wanted all along, but I didn't allow myself to consider it because I didn't see how I could possibly pay for four years of college.  But now, that reason was no longer in play.  I would be going to college for four years.  All I had to do was figure out how to pay for it.

And I did.  I worked my first two years as a student worker; worked during the summers, saved as much as I could and got a student loan at the Bank of Waldron that I didn't have to start paying back until after I graduated.  From the moment I started my classes at Westark, I knew I had made the right decision.  After Westark, I transferred to Arkansas Tech in Russellville, where I graduated in 1978, and received my Master's in 1984.

Beginning in 1978, I would spend the next 29 years doing a job I loved.  For the first 8 years I taught fifth grade science, where we made electrical circuits and shot off rockets and started every year by talking about the less-than-exciting concept of continental drift.  The next 14 years were spent teaching sixth grade math, handing out tons of Jolly Ranchers and developing the brilliant Yates System For Putting Fractions In Lowest Terms.  Then seven years as principal of Waldron Elementary School, where the kindergarten kids had a sneaking suspicion that I was a giant. 

And now I'm back at Westark, although it isn't called Westark anymore.  Now it's the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, a four-year university on par with any other college in the state.  Although I now supervise the tutoring and testing center, I also get the opportunity to teach a ten-week class each semester dealing with college success. 

A teacher.  I could be a teacher.  And with help from a few good people, I was.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Wanted and What I Had

Like most kids, I always felt like other people had more than I had.  And, of course, I spent a lot of time wishing I had the latest and greatest of whatever, usually to no avail.  If the technology that exists today was around back in the 1960s, it would have driven me crazy, I suppose.  There's no way we could have stayed up to date with the newest version of the iPhone or the iPad.  Heck, we had enough trouble keeping a working version of the iRon that Mama used.  Anyway, in homage to my overly materialistic view of the world, here's a self-indulgent view of my childhood in terms of what I wanted, and what I had...

What I Wanted

The Ultimate:  The 64 pack of crayolas, complete with the ingenious sharpener on the side of the box.  Imagine, a limitless supply of colors, all precisely sharpened.  The possibilities were endless...

What I Had

The Crayola 8-pack.  Purchased at Parsley's 5 Cents to 1 Dollar store.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black.  Precise coloring was possible for the first few uses, then you just did the best you could with the rounded crayon that you were left with.

What I Wanted

A Rock Tumbler from the Sears Catalog.  Every Christmas, I looked very long and hard at this item. I was amazed at the beautiful stones that could be created from the rocks in our driveway.

What I Had

A Woodburning set.  Fun for about 5 minutes.  The fun was always mitigated by an unnerving concern that you were going to be responsible for the house burning down. 

What I Wanted

A Road Grader.  Like the one my best friend Randy had, with the blade that swiveled and the little lever sticking out of the back window that actually turned the front wheels.  Perfect for the miles and miles of roads that Randy and I made every summer.

What I Had

A garden hoe.  You could still make roads, you just had to stand kind of far away to do it.

What I Wanted

A red wagon.  Again, just like the one Randy had.  We hauled all kinds of stuff in that wagon; I think we were still using it when it was just a rusted shell of it's original self.

What I Had

A stick horse.  With a vinyl head.  It was a lot of work riding the range with that rascal.

What I Wanted

One of the all-time great toys, heavily advertised on Saturday morning TV in the 60s.  A tense, fierce battle, ending with a horrible ratcheting sound and one of the kids on the commercial saying, "Hey, you knocked my block off."  It doesn't get much better than that.

What I Had

Mr. Potato Head.  Again, good for about 5 minutes of fun.  At least I had one of the later versions; when Mr. Potato Head first became available, you had to supply your own potato.

What I Wanted

Oh, the incredible things you could make with an erector set.  A toy that undoubtedly led to a high paying career later in life, like maybe an engineer or an architect. 

What I Had

A cardboard refrigerator box.  From Bud Rice's store downtown. Randy and I would each get one, drag them home behind our bikes, and attempt to stay out all night sleeping in them.  Of course, we had to cut a window so we could look up at the stars.  And the next day, we could cut down the length of one of the corners and make a slide on the bank in front of my house.  And you could take off your shoes and run and hit the cardboard in your sock feet and see if you could stay upright all the way down the slope.  And you could do that all afternoon and have an incredible amount of fun.  But an erector set...yeah...that would have been good too.

What I Wanted

A set of real Walky Talkies.

What I Had

Some sound-powered phones that Daddy brought back from the Navy at the end of World War II.  They were 20 years old when I played with them, but they still worked perfectly.  It was the way the crew of Daddy's PT Boat communicated with each other.  Without any other source of power, the energy created by the vibrations of your speech was transmitted over the wires to the person at the other end.  Randy and I even had enough wire to stretch them from my house to his.  And they didn't need a battery!  They were such fun.  Oh, but a walky talkie would have been fun too, I guess.  And maybe some extra batteries.

What I Wanted

Cable TV.  We got one channel, Channel 5 (KFSA) from Fort Smith.  They did offer shows from all three networks, but a little variety would have been nice.

What I Had

A homemade shortwave radio that Mama's cousin Omar Brigance let me borrow.  He had built it from a kit.  Our house had a length of wire outside the front window that had once been an antenna for a radio (back in the radio days), so I ran a wire from the shortwave and connected it to that outside wire and the results were pretty good.  I could pull in transmissions from far, far away in languages that I did not recognize.  Of course, I also got some broadcasts from England that I could understand.  Pretty amazing.  It made me realize how big the world was.  But I guess I could have been watching TV instead.  I guess.

What I Wanted

An awesome tree house.  High enough to see the whole neighborhood, maybe even as far away as Featherston Street...

What I Had

We called it the Smokehouse.  That's my older brother Gary standing in front of it, in costume for a school play.  Half of the building was a garage, and the other part was the Smokehouse.  Both were filled with what the casual observer might call junk, but to a kid it was treasures.  Daddy worked for the phone company, so there were all kinds of broken phones and obsolete telephone equipment.  He also was a handyman who liked to tinker with things, so there were lots and lots of appliances and things that no longer worked that he just couldn't bear to throw away.  You could even climb up on the garage side to the top of the Smokehouse ceiling, where there was even more stuff to play with.  And that space made a great clubhouse; you had to climb up the wall to get there.  There was so much fun stuff in that smokehouse to play with, and Daddy was always bringing in something new.  But a treehouse, I guess, would have been fun too.  Probably. 

Hmm.  Maybe some of the things I had were actually better than those things I saw on TV or in the Sears catalog.  Maybe I don't need an iPad afterall...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hangin' on Pine Street

Our guest blogger again this week is our friend Floyd Folsom, who spent his wonder years growing up in Waldron.  Floyd recalls a tale of drama and frontier justice that virtually eliminated all cattle rustling on Pine Street.  Good thing that's all it eliminated...

It was a hot summer day back in 1962 when the hangin' occurred.  It was on the dusty road that would eventually be named Pine Street.  But, let me go back a few years to explain why there was a hangin' in the first place.

It was a much simpler time way back in the 50s.  We bought our first TV in '52 or '53 when we lived across the street from Donald Poe, just a block or so from the Waldron school.  I remember the impatience any six-year-old would have waiting for the TV antenna to be erected and having the TV adjusted to be sure to get the very best picture.  Finally, Dad backed away from the TV and the vast world of Channel 5 from Fort Smith poured into our living room.

I was amazed at the mostly snowy picture that took me to a world of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Commando Cody, John Chandler, and the magnetic hot and cold fronts he slid around on the weather board, Pat Porta and his news broadcasts, and so many more.

I was instantly enraptured by Roy Rogers and Trigger.  Roy quickly replaced Stan Musual as my hero.  I watched episode after episode.  I watched every Western I could because that would surely be the lifestyle I would choose when I grew up.

I noticed that the only way to handle rustlers was to hang 'em.  Now, this was way before Clint Eastwood and his Hang 'Em High movie.  My brother Arthur and I played cowboy almost every day.  We could only wing the shoulder or gun hand because that's how Roy did it.  Occasionally, we would hang some make-believe rustlers we had rounded up while riding our stick horses.

Time marched on and we outgrew the stick horses and Cowboy and Indian wars.  Our family moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1958 because of my dad's breathing problem.  He passed away in May of 1961 and we moved back to Waldron.  My mother had a small white house built across the street from the Yates family and right beside the Bobbitt family.

It is now a hot summer day in 1962 on that dusty street that would later be named Pine Street.  JW and Donald Bobbitt and I were playing a more grown up version of cowboy and rustlers that day.  By this time we were all teenagers.

For some reason, JW and I were the "good guys" and Donald was the rustler.  Needless to say, we caught up with Donald and the herd he had rustled and he knew there would be vigilante justice for sure.

JW and I dragged our prisoner to the front yard where a rather large tree stood.  Every cowboy knew you needed a tall tree to hang 'em high.  We found a rope and even had enough sense to at least not put it around Donald's neck.  JW and I came up with a plan.  He would hold Donald up off the ground and I would tie the rope around his stomach up around the bottom of the ribs.  What a plan!  JW lifted, I tied, and we let him hang and swing.

Things were going as planned until we noticed that Donald looked sorta funny.  His face was real red and he didn't appear to be breathing so good. He hung parallel to the ground and kept swinging his arms with this wild-eyed, excited look while mumbling something we couldn't quite make out.  It finally dawned on us that he was going to die if we didn't do something.  We came up with a plan.  What a plan!  JW lifted him up and I untied the rope.  JW laid Donald on the ground and we watched as he gasped for air while mumbling something we still couldn't quite make out.

It all tuned out well.  In spite of some serious rope burn, Donald made a full recovery.  I think he now lives in Wichita, Kansas.  I figure he's afraid to come back to Waldron lest there be a hangin' party waiting on him. 

It sure is fun playing cowboy and rustler.

That is, if you ain't the rustler.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Hoosiers

Today's story comes courtesy of Floyd Folsom, a former resident of Waldron whose family were neighbors of ours on Pine Street.  Floyd now lives in Mena.  Thanks Floyd for the laugh!

When I was sixteen years old, a friend and I were “draggin’ main” (You older folks will know that term.) one Saturday night in the small western Arkansas town of Waldron, where we lived. We saw a car parked by the side of the road and a man looking under the hood. I told my friend that we should stop and see if we could help them.

When we pulled in behind the car, I noticed it had Indiana license plates. It meant nothing to me at the time, but I did notice. The man said that it couldn’t be fixed until morning and that he would appreciate a ride to Ft Smith, which was about fifty miles to our north. We discovered that he had a wife and two children with him so we decided to drive them to Ft Smith where they had family waiting.

I had never heard the term “Hoosier” before and didn’t know that it was a nickname for someone from Indiana. After everyone had settled down for the trip, the lady made the comment, “I’ll bet you never thought you’d be carrying a car load of Hoosiers?”

I turned around to face her and answered in my most polite voice, “No Mrs Hoosier, we sure didn’t.” For fifty miles I called them Mr and Mrs. Hoosier. I noticed they smiled a lot on the trip and wondered how they could grin and chuckle like they did considering the circumstances.

My friend and I drove up to Indiana later that summer to visit his sister and we both learned what a Hoosier was. Humiliating it was!

Remember, get a healthy dose of humor today. Doctor’s orders!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Telephone Man

Daddy, and his younger brother Calton
I watched my Daddy being spoon fed his supper last night.  It does something to you to see that, but that's what it's come to.  His tray had three different colors of baby food on it.  Not actual baby food, but the pureed version of whatever was on the menu of the nursing home last night.  The lady feeding him seemed hurried, and I suppose she probably was; there were others needing to be fed.  "He's probably not going to like me," she said.  She was making him finish, and Daddy in recent years has not exactly been a big eater. 

The odds of Daddy not liking anyone are very small.  He may protest, he may say, "I don't want any more groceries," or something like that, but he'll never dislike you.  His food is now pureed; the last of his teeth came out a couple of months ago.  He hasn't really taken a shine to his new dentures.  My sister is doing a good job of convincing him to wear them though. 

There he sat, in his wheelchair last night, at the table with the worker who was feeding him, when I walked into the dining room at the nursing home.  I was struck by his quiet dignity as he sat there, complying with the unwanted spoonfuls of color relentlessly coming his way.  His toothless jaw seemed set in resolve; he would eat because he didn't want to be a problem to anyone. 

He held a crumpled piece of paper towel in his hand.  His nose was running, and he kept using the paper towel to dry it.  He was coughing too, and by the time the lady left him to eat his liquid dessert on his own, he had started sneezing repeatedly.  I could tell he didn't feel well, and I reached over and felt his forehead to see if he had fever.  He didn't seem to; he said he didn't anyway.  I pulled out my handkerchief and gave it to him, and he immediately put it to work.

He didn't eat much of his dessert, which was unusual.  He also said he didn't want any coffee.  When I rolled him back to his room, I noticed that his scalp had shed a layer of dandruff on his shoulder, from when they combed his hair for supper.  When we got back to his room, I noticed a little sign on his door saying he had been recognized for some little honor, I can't remember now even what it was.  He seems to participate in the various activities they have for the residents, which I find both surprising and delightful.  He is and always has been a people person, in spite of his natural shyness.  He was very isolated when he lived at home after Mama died; I think he missed being around other people.  I'm glad he has that now. 

I backed his wheelchair up so that he could see the TV.  We watched the news.  We never talk much; it's never come naturally for either of us.  I wish that was different.  It's just that way for some fathers and sons.  Sometimes I can get him to talk about PT Boats; he served on one during World War II.  But I've pretty much used up all of my PT Boat conversation starters, so we sat in silence, watching the days events unfold as told by Darren Bobb. 

It was time to leave.  I checked his supply of sweets; still okay on soft Little Debby bars and powdered donuts.  I asked him if he wanted to lay down in his bed; no, he would just sit in his wheelchair.  I put the remote to the TV on the bed beside his chair.  "Do you need anything Daddy?"  "Nope," the standard reply.  "I guess I'll head on up the road.  See you next Thursday."

"Okay.  Come back."

And there he sits, the man who used to climb telephone poles with metal spikes attached to his boots, the man who used to fight fires as Chief, the man who could fix anything that was broken, and charge you about five dollars to do it.  The man who stopped his telephone truck  between Waldron and Mansfield on a cold winter night and brought home giant icicles from the frozen cliffs beside the road.

I was glad I was able to give him my handkerchief.

"I will Daddy.  I will."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Pet Alligator

I think I inherited from my father a love for the unusual. I guess that’s why, when I was about 12, I decided I needed a pet alligator.

Back then, it was a rare treat to get to go to Fort Smith, and a trip always included a visit to our favorite Fort Smith store, K-Mart. K-Mart was a fascinating place, and after spending time looking at the toys, I always gravitated over to the pet department. The exotic fish and the little hamsters all were nice, but what got my attention was the baby alligators. Yes, K-Mart sold baby alligators as pets. Technically, they were caimans, a close relative of the alligator, but nevertheless, they were awesome. I knew I had to have one.

Incredibly, I somehow convinced Mama and Daddy of the soundness of this idea. So, one Saturday morning, we found ourselves in K-Mart buying an alligator. We had gone up to visit my brother and his wife, and they had driven us over to make the purchase. I very excitedly picked out which alligator I wanted (yes, they had several to choose from), and I also purchased a small rectangular glass fishbowl (not quite an aquarium) to keep it in. They placed my alligator in a little box that had a picture of a hamster on the outside, and we headed back to my brother’s house. Along the way, I could hear my alligator scratching on the box, wanting out. I grew concerned after a bit, because the scratching eventually stopped. I didn’t dare open the box to check on the contents; I wasn’t sure how to put an alligator back in a box. But, by the time we arrived at my brother’s house, I was gravely concerned about my alligator.

In my brother’s kitchen, I prepared for the transfer to the fishbowl. Still no signs of life from the hamster box. Gingerly, I opened one end of the box and tilted it toward the fishbowl. The whole family watched in silent anticipation. Nothing was happening; perhaps the lifeless alligator corpse had become lodged in the hamster box. But suddenly, and without warning, my little alligator sprang from the hamster box into the fishbowl, his fierce mouth agape, emitting a fierce hiss that signaled, “I mean business.”

My sister-in-law, a mild, quiet woman, let out a blood-curdling shriek. My alligator, evaluating the situation, began jumping against the sides of the fish bowl. Fortunately, he was only about 8 inches from head to tail, so he wasn’t quite big enough to make a break for it. So, once a sense of calm was restored, we put a piece of cardboard on top of the fishbowl and headed home.

At home, I quickly realized a couple of important facts. One, my alligator needed a bigger habitat than his little fishbowl. And two, I really knew nothing about taking care of an alligator. I solved problem one by dragging out an old vinyl swimming pool that we had used a few years earlier, the kind with sides made of sheet metal about 3 feet high, and covered with a vinyl lining. I placed an old tire rim under the plastic lining to serve as an island, and filled the pool up with water. As for the care and feeding of an alligator, I attempted to solve this by going up to Buddy Gray’s store and buying two dozen minnows. I dumped them into the water, figuring my little alligator could then have a snack anytime he wanted it.

Unfortunately, my little alligator didn’t appear to know how to catch fish. However, if I caught a minnow by hand and laid it down on his island beside him, he would oblige me by biting the minnow in half when it started flopping. However, he seemed content to just kill the minnow and showed no interest in actually eating it. He would take a bite of raw hamburger meat, which I eventually became brave enough to allow him to snap out of my hand, much to the awe and amazement of anyone who happened to be watching.

But, as summer passed and fall arrived, tragedy struck. One morning, as I was on my way to school, I stopped by to check on my alligator and found his lifeless body curled up in a fold in the vinyl. I don’t know if the temperature had dropped too low during the night, or perhaps he just couldn’t find enough to eat. Whatever the reason, my little alligator was dead.

When I got home from school, I prepared his body for burial. I placed him in a cigar box and buried him in a hole I had dug in the garden. Sadness, mixed with a bit of relief. You know, it’s a little more difficult to bond with an alligator than, say, a kitten or a dog. In fact, in absence of that bond, I did get a little curious over the winter about what an alligator skeleton looked like. So, I am quite ashamed to report, the next spring I dug up my little alligator. There, inside the cigar box, was a perfectly preserved alligator skeleton. I kept it as intact as I could, although over the years it ended up being a collection of bones in a little jar rather than a fully formed scientific specimen. And somewhere, I’m not quite sure where, maybe in a box in a storage cabinet in my garage, there is still a little jar full of alligator bones.