By: Jerry R. Barksdale
It was Wednesday, January 11, 1967.

Specialist 4 Paul A. Lauziere, age 20, a cryptographer/messenger with 121st Signal Company, 1st Infantry Division, hunkered inside his tent at base camp in Dian, South Vietnam, and wrote a letter to a total stranger 9,000 miles away in Athens, Alabama. He was lonely and needed a pen pal.

Earlier, after receiving a “Dear John letter,” he had gone to Red Cross in Siagon where there was a pen-pal box. He pulled out a name. It was Miss Sally Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Athens High School.

“I would like very much to be pen pals with you,” he wrote. “Believe me I need the mail. You never get enough in this place. I have 17,280 hours left in Vietnam which makes it 104 days before I leave the country and go back to the world, as they say.”

Lauziere, a native of Lewiston, Maine, had been in Vietnam 9 months living dangerously and counting the days. When atmospheric conditions prevented him from sending coded messages, he had to personally deliver them. His worst days were during the first time. He landed at an LZ, delivered the message, and asked the Commander about a return ride. “That’s your problem, son. I’ve got 200 other men to worry about.” Paul set out on a one week walking and hitch-hiking journey through dangerous country, armed with an M-14 and three clips of ammo.

He longed for home, the sweetest word in the English language … “Well Sally, when I get a letter from a girl,” he wrote, “it makes me happy. Make me happy, okay?” He requested her photo, asked her age and what she liked to do.
Sally, the daughter of Philip and June Bowers Johnson was a busy young lady. Her life was filled with sorority activities, band practice, singing, running track, sports, and her favorite love – marching with the Golden Eagles Band as a Majorette.
Patriotism and love of country also tugged at her heart strings. “I tear up when I hear the National Anthem,” she recently told me. Someone wrote long ago about soldiers, “You can lock him out of your house but not out of your heart. You can take him off your mailing list but not off your mind.”

Just ten days earlier, Athens became the first high school in the nation to sponsor a blood drive for troops in Vietnam. They collected 557 pints. Sally answered Paul’s letter, told him about her singing, and in particular the blood drive. She also included her photo.

Two weeks later Paul replied. “I must say that you are a very attractive blonde and I know you must have a wonderful personality or you wouldn’t be writing me,” he said. “They call me Frenchy because I speak French. Please send more pictures. Oh, I am glad your school is trying to raise blood for us over here but I tell you a little secret, they would rather have beer and liquor than blood.” And “good food,” he added.

Sally replied in early February, telling him that miniskirts were in style. Paul immediately wrote back. “One day after college, I’ll get married. At least I hope so. So the fad around the states are [sic] miniskirts. Boy, I can’t wait to get back there and see for myself.” He said he was going to Japan on February 26 for R & R. “I can’t wait to get there and take my first hot shower and hot shave in 11 months and also not to be worried about being shot at all the time. Please write back as soon as you can. Love, Paul.” Again, Sally replied and Paul answered. “I’m leaving for Japan in three days.” he wrote. “I’d love to have a letter from you when I get back on the 26th of February. I can’t hardly wait to be there. There is only one thing wrong about the whole thing. I have to come back to this place. I will have about 52 days left in Vietnam when I do get back. That’s not too bad I guess.” He concluded, “You make me feel special. Keep on writing. Love, Paul

Paul returned from Japan and was happy to find Sally’s letter waiting for him. On March 5 at 2 a.m. he replied telling her about the beauty of Japan and friendly people. “Next month I will be home by the end of the month. I hope that you will still write me because I like to keep you as a pen pal.” He told her he might drive to Alabama and see her once he is stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

The letters were written 50 years ago, the last one on April 15, when Paul was leaving Vietnam. “I will be waiting for your letter,” he wrote. “It felt good this morning when I turned in my flak vest, ammo and M-16. And it will feel good getting on that plane home. I hate to leave my buddies… but I can’t wait to see my family and drive my own car. I think I could really get to like you.” Then he added, “I already like you.”

Sally had no further contact with Paul. She didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Her life went on. She graduated from Athens High in 1969, was a Majorette at Florence State and received her Master’s degree at Memphis State. Following marriage and divorce, she returned to Athens, became active in the community and retired as Limestone County Victim Service Officer in 2013. She hadn’t thought of Paul in years. Then one day while cleaning her closet she found her Athens High scrapbook along with nine letters in a box. “They were all in the closet together,” she said. Old memories, clouded by 50 years, rushed in. Was Paul alive? she wondered. Finally, she sent a message to Paul Lauziere in Maine. “Are you the Paul that had a pen pal from Athens, Alabama, in 1967? If so, I’m that person.” He replied. “I only had one.” Sally called him. A soft-spoken man, he said when he got home he was a “real mess” and couldn’t find a job.

After swapping missed calls, I finally got Paul on my black, flip top cell phone. He had enlisted in the Army at age 18, went through basic training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey; Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Gordon; then to Vietnam. After leaving Vietnam, he was ordered to Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was transferred to 3rd Army at 333 Signal Company and assigned to the communication center for the 18th Airborne Division as a cryptographer.

Following the Army, Paul went to work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for approximately 8 months as a cryptographer. He never ventured down to Alabama to meet his pen pal. “I came back to Maine and was a hermit for three years. Did nothing,” he told me. “I got up in the morning and went to the woods. Just walked around. It felt comfortable.” While working on his B.S. at Thomas College, he met Helene – “the love of my life.” They married 42 years ago and have a daughter, Anne Sauceir (36) and John Lauziere (39).

Paul retired from the post office after 35 years. “I have PTSD and still under treatment,” he said. He is also taking treatment for cancer.

Sally, married to David Marks for 29 years, chuckles when she thinks about some of the things she wrote as a sophomore. She doesn’t remember who put her name and address in the Red Cross pen-pal box. Too many years have passed. Sally is a member of the Alabama Veterans Museum and continues to show her patriotism and community spirit. She is a former board member of the Chamber of Commerce and Athens-Limestone Tourism Association and Spirit of Athens volunteer. She was an actress in Poke Sallet for years and can always be counted on where veterans are concerned.

Back in the “Sixties” when some young people were burning our flag, others were fighting under its banner in Vietnam. And, on the homefront, there were Sally Johnsons offering them hope and encouragement. Sally purchased a memorial brick for Paul and is gifting his letters to the Alabama Veterans Museum.

Sally and David decided to take a fall trip to Maine, see the foliage, and visit Paul. She talked to Paul. “He didn’t say come up. I think he may have been a little skeptical,” she said. They flew to Boston, rented a car and drove to Lewiston, Maine, and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn where they agreed to meet. Sally was nervous. How would his wife, Helene react? What would they talk about? “Out stepped Paul, we hugged. Helene got out of the car and we hugged.” So far so good. Paul invited them to lunch; David and Sally followed behind in their car. At lunch, Paul, who is a man of few words said, “I didn’t have any idea what you looked like.” Later, he took them to their War Memorial where his name is chiseled on the monument, his Shriner’s Temple, and gave her a Vietnam Challenge Coin. Paul also took them to dinner. As Sally and David were preparing to depart the next morning, Paul walked over to Sally’s side of the car and said, “You don’t know what you’ve done for me.” Everyone got out of their car and hugged goodbye. “I’m coming to Alabama,” Paul said. “Come ahead,” Sally replied.
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry Barksdale
I’ve had a lot to worry about this year. Horn worms attacked my tomato plants, Japanese beetles ate my grapevines and groundhogs stole my okra. Messing with a Southerner’s okra and tomatoes is worse than someone cuss’n his dog or telling him he can’t date his cousin. Then there is global warming, paying my alimony on time, and resisting Russian mind control. It’s been a stressful year.

Now I have another worry – getting busted for culture theft. It’s a new offense hatched up by a pinhead college professor who can’t park his bicycle straight and, to quote Jerry Clower, whose education exceeds his intelligence.

It’s also called cultural misappropriation and occurs when someone of one culture adopts or uses elements of another culture. For example, a cornbread eating Southerner like myself eating a Mexican tortilla is considered cultural theft. It’s claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. White folks calling their football team “Redskins” is definitely culture theft. Another example is mascot Oceola riding a horse at Florida State Seminoles football games or a non-Indian wearing a Mohawk haircut and white folks wearing dreadlocks and cornrow hairdos. Non-aboriginal people piercing their body and wearing what I call “booger catchers” (nose rings) is definitely cultural theft. Tattoos of Chinese or Japanese characters is also misappropriation.

In 2011, Prince William and Kate were busted in Canada for wearing cowboy hats and western shirts. “Tasteless,” said culture cops. Recently in Portland, Oregon, two white women were forced to shut down their burrito cart after traveling to Mexico and learning how to make a good burrito. They were accused of culture misappropriation. (Note to self: Portland is vying to become the wacko capital of the United States. Too much wacky- backy, I think).

In 2012, during the annual Victoria Secret Fashion Show where salivating men watched nearly naked women parade down the runway in skimpy underwear, a model wore an Indian headdress. She was accused of misappropriation by the culture cops and forced to apologize. I agree. It was inappropriate. Spike heels would have been ideal. Many men love to go shopping at Victoria Secret with their woman. Imagine this? “Darl’n, do you like this negligee?” she coos.

“Shucks no! I’d prefer, an Indian war bonnet.”

Ridiculous! I don’t want my woman looking like an Indian Chief in those situations. I’m biblical. I want her looking like Eve running around the Garden of Eden wearing a fig leaf.

In 2013, pop singer Katy Perry was busted by culture cops for wearing a geisha style outfit at the American Music Awards. “I didn’t know I did wrong,” she whimpered. Boohoo. Wimp. She’s probably from Portland.

There are well recognized customs, traditions, habits and foods that identify us as Southerners, and I don’t want outsiders stealing them. Already spineless, feckless, panty-waist politicians, who will soon be offering over their daughters in order to remain in office, are taking down our statues and destroying our Southern culture. We must remain vigilant and protect our culture.

If you see someone dressed in black with a $75.00 haircut and speaking in complete sentences and using two-syllable words while eating fried catfish and hushpuppies, they are probably from a foreign country like New York engaged in stealing our culture. We don’t talk that way.

If someone says “youse guys” while eating goat stew, poke sallet, fried okra, turnip greens, chitlins, scrambled hog brains, bologna on a cracker or moon pie and R.C. Cola, they are from New Jersey stealing our culture. That’s our food!

Someone wearing a brand new John Deere cap with no grease on the bill, sucking their teeth after a meal or mining ear wax with a toothpick is an imposter stealing our culture. (Warning! Mining ear wax with a toothpick is dangerous and shouldn’t be attempted by a non-Southerner). Saying “cotton pick’n right,” “doggone it” or “shucks” is even more offensive. That’s our lingo. Keep your mouth off it.

If they attempt to blow their nose with two fingers, they are misappropriating our culture. That is a highly technical maneuver perfected by Southerners over generations. It’s ours. Leave it alone.

Sometimes it’s difficult to identify an authentic Southerner from a pretender. Here are a few markers. If a man opens the door for a woman and says, “Morn’n, Ma’am,” he’s a genuine Southern redneck who hasn’t been told his behavior is considered sexist. If he calls you “hon,” he considers it a term of endearment. If a hound’s tooth hat is in the rear window of his car and a “Roll Tide” plate is on the front, he’s the real deal. If he says “yessum and no ma’am” to his elders, he is a Southerner, all right. If a woman attends church three times a week while packing a pistol in her purse, she is a Southern gal. If a woman gets diarrhea the night before the Iron Bowl, she’s a born and bred Auburn fan for sure. Southerners eat cornbread instead of “light” bread, and will ask a total stranger, “How you?” on the street, he’s Southern. If a person stands and places hand over heart when the National Anthem is playing, he’s definitely Southern. Wackos claim it’s racist to ask, “Where you from?” Southerners think they are just being friendly.

If you are unsure about their origin, ask a trick question: “Will a Alice Chandler (Allis Chalmer) outpull a John Deere? A real Southerners know that a John Deer can do anything better.

The acid test to determine if a man is authentic Southern is call him a redneck. He will laugh and say, “Yeah buddy, I got it honestly by working all day in the field chopping and picking cotton. It’s a mark of hard work.” Southerners have a sense of humor. It’s what sustained us during Reconstruction and the Great Depression. A non-Southerner will be offended and threaten to sue.

Call me redneck – it’s a mark of honor – make fun of my pickup or tractor, but don’t cuss my dog or tell me that my female cousin is ugly. And don’t tell me that cornbread crumbled in sweet milk isn’t good. That’s where the humor ends. Doggone it, get your cotton-picking hands off my culture.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry R. Barksdale
I became aware of my unusual interest in having a beautiful lawn shortly after my marriage ended and I moved from Huntsville back to Athens in 1999. At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms. Little did I suspect that I would soon become afflicted with “Lawn Warrior Syndrome/Compulsive Disorder Overlay.” It’s a malady that targets mostly middle-age men, but can affect women.

Mama died in 1998 and I inherited a small house on Market Street. The front yard was mostly crab grass and weeds.

Miss Mable Romine, a spinster, lived across the street in a fine brick house surrounded by the most beautiful Zoysia grass lawn in Athens. It looked like a green carpet. Miss Mabel took great pride in her lawn. She was always inspecting it, sweeping it with a house broom, and picking up debris. If a leaf floated down, she would run over and remove it. I would wave at Miss Mabel, but she ignored me. She didn’t approve of my lawn. I wanted to have a pretty lawn, too, and be accepted by Miss Mabel and my neighbors. I didn’t have a wife ordering me to vacuum, carry out garbage, wash windows, and scrub the bathrooms. I was free to work in the yard. That was the beginning of my psychology problem. I sprayed my yard with Round Up and killed existing grass, tilled up the soil, and raked up a ton of rocks. Miss Mable kept a watchful eye on my activity but didn’t say anything. I hadn’t considered how to dispose of the rocks. The City furnished a large, green plastic garbage can. Just what I needed. I filled it with a ton of rocks.

I was still in bed one morning when I heard the strangest sound—“Er-Er-Er-Er,” like an elephant trying to have a bowel movement. Then a crashing noise like a rock slide colliding with a tin building. I peeked out just as a cloud of dust rose above the rocking garbage truck. The rocks were gone, but I did receive a visit from a representative of the Department of Sanitation. He asked if I put rocks in my garbage can. “I allegedly did,” I said.

Next, I laid Zoysia sod, the same variety that Miss Mable had. A couple of weeks later, the sod turned green and beautiful. Miss Mabel was out in her front yard picking up debris when she yelled across the road, “Your lawn sure is pretty.” Finally she approved of me.

We all have a need to be accepted. I get a warm feeling when I insert my credit card and the screen flashes “approved.”

Later, I sold my little house on Market Street and moved to 407 Washington Street. I hired my cousin’s husband, Chuck Farmer, to landscape and sod my front yard with fescue. It took a while. Chuck was a popular landscaper, and there was crappie fishing and then deer hunting, but when Chuck showed up, he did a magnificent job. My front lawn was beautiful. I hired Pure Green to spray monthly, pulled stray grass and mowed it in one direction, then crossways and caught the clippings. People would stop and compliment me on my yard. I was happy and loved my lawn, never realizing that it was my sickness at work. I just thought I was having fun.

After retirement, I moved to a 9-acre farm on Elk River with about 6 acres of grass. I also purchased the seller’s riding mower. My plan was to mow a strip on the inside of the pasture fence and keep it weed free, then bush hog the remainder.
I mowed one round along the fence and it looked so neat that I mowed another one. It looked even prettier. I kept mowing. At the end of the day I had mowed the entire pasture – and busted most of the rocks and whacked up fallen walnuts and limbs. My neighbors called my mower the “rock crusher.” I tore up the mower – many times – so many, in fact, that I had to buy a trailer to haul it to a repair shop weekly. It finally died. Then I purchased a Craftsman from Sears. Same story.
My neighbors Buddy Stokes and Ken Hill have zero turn mowers. While I was bumping along at snail speed, they were flying by at warp speed. Show offs! The Craftsman began smoking, a little at first, then really bad.

My good friend (and sometimes red head) Pat urged me to buy a zero turn. I think she was embarrassed by my unmanly smoking mower. Which do you think a woman will fall for — a guy bumping along in a jalopy or in a fast, sleek T-bird? You get the picture.

We went to H & R Agri-Power on Highway 31 South andlooked at mowers. Daniel Bates showed me an Exmark zero turn with a 52” cut. He insisted that I drive it. I’d never seen a lawnmower that looked like a pre- historic beast. I cautiously climbed aboard and headed out. Wow! I felt like King Tut at the controls of a D-6 Caterpillar. It was fast — two-barrel carburetor, seat belt, and roll bar. I would be the Cale Yarbrough of lawnmowers on Dement Road and the envy of my neighbors. I bought it.

An employee drove the new mower forward on my 56” wide trailer. I thought nothing of it until I arrived home and tried to back it off. The wheels wedged on the side. The mower was stuck. I read the owner manual. “Back up ramp and drive forward down.” Now they tell me. I powered up and threw it in reverse. I almost took the tires off, but I unloaded – fast! I was going backward and headed toward the woods. I shoved the control bar forward, slammed into a metal fence post, backed up, then hit two dogwood trees in succession, went beneath another tree, and the mower reared straight up. “Whoa! Down Trigger! Down you fool!” The roll bar had caught on a limb. The mower was dangerous, with a mind of its own. I started talking to myself. “I’d better get in the middle of the pasture before it kills me.” There is no steering wheel, only two control bars, sort of like flying a B-17 on a bombing mission – and just as dangerous. It took off at warp speed. That’s when I knew why there are roll bars and seat belt. I was going in every direction at the same time, cutting a 52” swatch and slinging grass clipping and fire ants. The pasture looked like a UFO landing zone. Oh, I forgot to mention, the mower went rogue again and crashed through a patch of poke sallet.

My symptoms are worse, I know they are. Recently, someone stopped and asked a neighbor directions to my house, “You mean that nut that mows his cow pasture with a riding mower?”

That’s me folks – lawn warrior.
By: Jerry R Barksdale
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By: Jerry R. Barksdale
The morning broke cool and clear in the high desert country of Taos, New Mexico. The day held promise.

“Dad, let’s take a trip to Valle Vidal,” said my daughter Shannon. My good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat and grandson, Joshua were all in. I was eager to return there.

Valle Vidal (Spanish for “valley of life”) is 102,000 acres of pristine wilderness 69 miles north of Taos and inhabited with elk, bear, bison, and bisected by a wild river teaming with cutthroat trout. If God ever vacations, He surely goes there. It’s where I had planned to live in a tepee part time following retirement. I had purchased “Little Red” my devoted Toyota pick-up specifically for that purpose. Shannon helped me select a tepee and I planned to acquire a dog for company and to keep me warm on cold nights.

Then I met Pat. She’s a “Tanner-tested” lady (similar to Good Housekeeping seal) who can cook like a gourmet chef, paint a house, mow grass, and operate a Farm-all tractor. What else does a lazy man need? For several years she has waged an unrelenting battle against ugliness in Athens at her modest beauty shop, The Total Look. If a customer is short of money, Pat will give them a “half look.” She doesn’t cuss much, smoke, drink or use drugs (except Sundrop); is slow to anger; and never throws cups and plates. A fine lady who looks and smells a sight better than a dog. I forgot about the tepee and dog. I’m glad I did.

We drove down a narrow, winding gravel road and across Valle Vidal. In four hours we met fewer than six vehicles. Turquoise sky, blooming mountain flowers and rushing streams took our breath. Such peace and tranquility. Then a loud scream! “EEooow!” Joshua slammed the car door on his hand. Tranquility ended. “There goes his good job at Anasazi Hotel,” I thought.

We emerged back in civilization at tiny Cimarron, a speck of a town on the old Santa Fe Trail. We stopped at the St. James Hotel. Back in the day it was frequented by Jessie James, Bat Masterson and Clay Allison, just to name a few.

Numerous bullet holes dot the tin ceiling. Twenty-six killings occurred there. Clay Allison, from Waynesboro, Tennessee, killed several men in the bar. He was discharged from the Confederate Army for psychological problems – “part manical” – but later served in the 9th Tennessee Cavalry and rode with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Allison always said he never killed a man that didn’t need killing. How many of us can boast of such sterling civic accomplishments?

That evening Pat made pasta, garlic bread and salad, which we washed down with a good red wine. Afterwards, we sat outside where an ancient acequia the Spaniards constructed to irrigate the valley, gurgled past us. We talked as a night breeze rattled leaves on ancient cottonwoods. There was so much love among our little tribe. Since the death of Carol, my children have grown very close to Pat. And it’s good.

Later, we built a fire in the kiva fireplace and temporarily adjourned to the hot tub on the patio. Our fun was interrupted by a woman who appeared out in the night decrying that her husband was allergic to smoke and was choking to death. Not wanting to be responsible for his death, we put out the fire.

Joshua woke at 2 a.m. whimpering with pain in his hand. I gave him two Advils and worried that he wouldn’t be able to return to work that afternoon at the Anasazi Hotel in Santa Fe. He had worked one day before asking for four days off. Not good.

After Joshua returned to Santa Fe, Shannon, Pat and I drove 20 miles north of Taos to San Cristobal, location of the 160-acre D.H. Lawrence Ranch (elev. 8600). Lawrence, a famous English writer, who wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and his wife Frieda came to New Mexico in 1922. They lived in a small, rustic cabin on the ranch where Lawrence wrote. Lady Dorothy Brett, a Lawrence admirer of English nobility, came to the ranch in 1924. The cabin grew too small for the two women and Frieda banned Lady Brett to a tiny closet-size cabin in the back yard. Cat fight? Lawrence died in Venice, France, 1930; and his ashes eventually ended up at the ranch.

One evening we had dinner at the Kyote Club where Shannon and her band performed. Shannon introduced me to Roe, a beautiful woman with long black hair, who is a sixth-grade school teacher. Her father fought with the Philippine Guard when the Japanese overran Manilla during WWII. He, along with others were lined up by an open trench and gunned down. He survived, escaped to the jungle, and fought with the guerilla against the Japanese until Gen. McArthur returned. Roe moved to Taos after her son was killed in a car accident “to find peace,” she told me.

On another evening we went to the Alley Cantina to hear Shannon sing. They play rock’n roll, blues and funk. Shannon is lead vocalist and Dave Kinney plays guitar and harmonica. Rick, keyboard player, is a Taos lawyer who moved there from Beverly Hills. Brendan Devlin, a lederhosen-clad waiter at the Bavarian restaurant during the day, plays lead guitar and sings. He slings his long black hair like he has water in his ears. It drives women crazy. Long hair is stupid. I’m bald and don’t have to go around slinging my head. “Ohhh, he’s so cute,” Pat cooed. “I’m going to take him home.” The little punk.

We headed back to Alabama. I yearned for humidity, ripe tomatoes, and fried okra from our garden on Elk River. I watched as the mountains faded in my rearview mirror and knew I would return to Taos. I always do.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry R. Barksdale
My good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat and I spent the night with my grandson, Joshua at his adobe house outside Santa Fe. There was no air conditioner and none was needed. Open windows let in cool air from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along with the lonesome call of coyotes. Joshua, age 19, had worked at the upscale Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi for only one day and immediately asked four days off to visit with us. I appreciated his desire to be with us, but it brought on grandfatherly advice. “The secret of job security,” I said, “is arriving early, sober and clean; leave late, don’t complain and always be available. Others won’t do that. Pretty soon you’ll be on top.” Of course, that’s old fogey thinking. Nowadays, it’s popular to whine, become a victim and sue someone – anyone.

Next morning, I departed Santa Fe, leaving Pat and Joshua to shop and, drove the high road through the mountains to Taos.

The ancient village of Chimayo, settled by Spanish colonists around 1680, clings to the brown foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I stopped at Ortega’s weaving shop and looked at several hand-woven, wool rugs, but resisted the temptation to purchase yet another one. Later, I visited Santuario de Chimayo, a Catholic sanctuary built in 1810. It’s claimed that the soil beneath the floor has healing power. Scores of crutches hanging on the wall attest to its miraculous power. Who am I to say otherwise? When I was a kid many older folks drank Hadacol, an over the counter potion high in alcohol content, that worked miracles on some folks. Many women swore by it. It was rumored that an old fellow at Piney Chapel with a wooden leg drank it daily. It was so potent he had to carry a hatchet to keep the sprouting limbs trimmed off his leg. Not only that, when I was 11 years old, Uncle James Burch purchased all 16 warts on my hands for a penny each. They disappeared within days. Was it a miracle? For me it was.

In Taos, I took a room at Kachina Inn, next door to the Indian Pueblo, and read the Taos News while waiting for Pat and Joshua to arrive. Citizens were in an uproar, as usual. They opposed Walmart, the Dollar Store, burning porch lights at night (it pollutes darkness) and the expansion of their tiny air strip. Tempers flared at a public meeting and one official was properly dog cussed. One lady was fearful, that “the military could possibly use it.” Gasp! According to a recent survey residents described Taos citizens as “a little crazy,” “wacky and weird,” and “unable to show up to anything on time – preferably two hours late.” Here’s my definition: Imagine a powerful magnet located in the center of America strong enough to attract every nut and loose screw from both the East and West Coast. That’s Taos. I love it! But I don’t want them running our country. Later, I sauntered into the Broadsky Book Shop on Paseo del Pueblo Street North and mentioned that I was from Athens, Alabama. “What street?” asked the long-haired clerk. It was Chipper Thompson, son of the well-known Athens artist, Bob Thompson. Chipper and my son, Mark were childhood playmates when we lived on Aston Street. Chipper married Huntsville artist, Langford Monroe and they moved to Taos several years ago. Unfortunately, her career was cut short by death. Chipper is a well-known Taos singer and musician and recently published The Substance of Things Hoped for, his first novel (www.chipperthompson.com). Being a high brow reader, I purchased a used copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence who is buried north of Taos. Lawrence was hounded out of England in 1922 and the book banned. Nowadays its probably required reading in the third grade.

The sky was turquoise blue and the air cool and thin when Pat, Joshua and I joined Shannon and her best friend, Jamie for lunch on the deck of the Bavarian Restaurant high in the Taos Ski Valley. Jamie is Northern Cheyenne, born and reared on the Lame Deer Reservation in Montana. Her Indian name is “One Who Kills In The Morning.” I know a woman like that – my ex. Contrary to her name, Jamie is sweet, kind and beautiful. The name was given her by her people for standing up to the U.S. Government. She and her German-born husband operate the excellent restaurant. Shannon loves Jamie and considers her the sister she never had. “Jamie and I are blood sisters,” Shannon announced over a platter of bratwurst and fried potatoes. Several months earlier, while enjoying wine, Shannon proposed that they become blood sisters; went to the kitchen, returned with a butcher knife; slit open their palms and mixed their blood. Jamie had never heard of such, but went along with it. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “It’s how they do it in the movies,” Shannon replied. Jamie just shook her head and laughed.
By: Jerry Barksdale

To Be Continued

July, 2015. The morning was hot and muggy when my good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat and I departed Elk River headed to Taos, New Mexico in a Hertz rental car, leaving “Little Red,” my faithful Toyota pick-up parked. Pat had an aching back and couldn’t ride 1,200 miles on a bench seat. The rental had adjustable bucket seats that reclined like a bed. A Sundrop, two Advils, and a pillow and she was soon happy and snoozing. The long road to Taos beckoned me as it has done since I first went there 32 years earlier. It was there while sleeping in the Sangre de Cristo mountains overlooking the Rio Grande River that I found a measure of peace to calm my troubled soul. Like the churning waters of the Rio Grande, my life has rushed onward: divorce, remarriage, followed by another divorce, death of my parents and first born, and finally retiring after 43 years of law practice. I didn’t miss the law. After all, working in a pie factory would soon grow old.

Many months earlier while returning home from an Auburn football game, a texting woman slammed into the back of a car occupied by Pat. She was darn near killed. Her scalp was sliced open; right eye dangling from the socket, face crushed, teeth pushed back, three broken ribs, lacerated liver and both pelvis fractured. I keep her pumped up. “Sweetheart, as soon as they straighten your nose and level your eyes you’ll look just fine.” And she does – maybe even better than before. “Tanner-tested girls” (similar to the Good Housekeeping seal) don’t complain. Pat grew up driving a Farmall, chopping and picking cotton, and milking cows. After raising a daughter as a single parent while working full time, there isn’t much that daunts her. “Make do” is her motto. She has one weakness: she can’t pass a shoe store without going inside.

Our plan was to stop over in Santa Fe and visit my 19-year-old grandson who had recently moved there to find that “something else” as I had done in 1985. It was raining soup, and his bowl was upright. He had just landed a good job at the Anasazi Inn. “Joshua,” I said earlier, “we can get a room at Budget Inn for about $70 bucks a night. Can you beat that?” He’d replied, “Papa, a weekend at the Anasazi is $1,200.” Ridiculous! My first house payment was $72 dollars a month, and had two bedrooms and a carport. Later, we planned to drive up to Taos and visit my daughter, Shannon who had moved there 16 years earlier with a psychotic dog and no job. She has done well. Now, she has two dogs, a cat, a job, and a growing music career.

It was 101 degrees when we stopped at Ft. Smith, Arkansas for a late lunch at Cracker Barrel. Down south, heat gives folks something to talk about. I remember chopping “Johnson grass” out of a corn patch in scorching July heat when I was a kid and the water jug was so hot that the opening burned my lips. Late afternoon we were chasing a setting sun across the wind-blown plains of western Oklahoma. Route 66 runs along I-40. During the Great Depression, it carried thousands of poor and hungry “Okies” from the Dust Bowl to California to pick fruit and vegetables. The 1960’s TV program “Route 66” had been one of my favorites. Two young drifters in a Corvette drove from place to place on the highway searching for adventure. “Wanna play Route 66 and stop at a house and see if there is any adventure going on?” I asked Pat. “Wanna get shot?” she deadpanned.

We exited at Shamrock, Texas and ate supper at Big Vern’s Steakhouse. Route 66 runs down Main Street where the famous art-deco style Conoco station featured in the movie Cars is located. Shamrock boasts the “tallest water tower of its class in the State of Texas.” Imagine that! And it cost $6,560 dollars to build in 1915.

“What’s Shamrock known for?” I asked our young, tattooed waitress. She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.” Black clouds, filled with heat lightning lay low on the western horizon as we headed to Amarillo. The day had been long. Near midnight, we looked for a motel room. I arrogantly declined a smoking room. After four more stops, my arrogance had dissipated to desperation. Finally, a Microtel.

Sunday afternoon, we reached Santa Fe and drove to Joshua’s small adobe house at the end of a dusty road set among sage brush and juniper bushes. It was located inside “Creativity for Peace Camps,” whatever that is. Very Santa Fe-ish. Santa Feans spend a lot of time searching for “energy centers” and identifying “walk-ins” (aliens who inhabit humans). They don’t have time for real southern fun like tractor pulls and coon hunting. After a fine meal of burritos smothered in red at Maria’s, we visited the historic downtown plaza where the Santa Fe Trail ended its 800-mile journey from Missouri.

Pat and Joshua went to TJ Maxx – “just because” (read shoe shopping). Pat believes that a woman’s happiness and health resides in her shoes. I moseyed around the plaza and checked out a tall monument erected in 1868. Engraved on one side was: “to the heroes who have fallen in various battles with __________ Indians in the territory of New Mexico.”

“What was the missing word?” I wondered. No doubt, someone had been offended.

Yep! The word “savages” had been chiseled out. If the Indians had erected the monument, I wonder what it would have said about the New Mexicans…

TO BE CONTINUED…

It began when I received a letter from Alabama School of Law. I flashed back fifty years. Oh, Lordy! “Bad Sam” Beaty has flunked me in judicial remedies! Just thinking of Professor Samuel Beaty made me nearly wet my pants.

The letter announced that the graduating class of 1967 was having its 50th reunion. By virtue of being Student Government President, I was asked to drum up support. Apparently, they didn’t know that I beat John DeBuys by only one vote, which hardly gave me a mandate.

My winning campaign was time tested – I employed whiskey and women. My beautiful wife, Carol, turned on her charm, and I offered cocktails from a pint hidden inside a hollowed-out law book. “Would you like a sip of Jack Daniels Gold?” I asked fellow students. I called it Gold. Actually, it was from a gallon jug of rot gut purchased for $2.75 in Juarez.

My campaign team compiled a list of students who pledged to vote for me and marked off their name when they voted. Foster Musgrove, Tuscumbia, hadn’t showed up to vote. Volunteers went to his rat-nest apartment and found Foster sound asleep on top of his fallen front door. Apparently, he had had returned home from an “animal house” party, pushed open the unhinged door and fell on the floor where he remained. They fetched him and I won by one vote. I credit my first political victory to Foster. Next would come the Legislature, then Governor and finally prison and a lucrative book deal. I was on my way to success.

I persuaded the Executive Counsel to pass a resolution requiring all law students to wear white shirt and tie to class. The following morning a petition was circulated to impeach me. I back pedaled. Fast!

“Bad Sam” scared the ignorance out of me and made my life miserable. After going to bed and saying my nightly prayer, I thought of ways I could make him miserable. My favorite was to throttle him with a rusty piano wire. Ah, yes! Serenity, then peaceful sleep.

One Monday morning, “Bad Sam” announced to our class that we were lucky since he was in a jolly mood. His daughter had married over the weekend. “Who held the shotgun?” asked a voice. “Bad Sam” went wacko. He paced the aisles, asking, “Did you say that?” Everyone denied it. I heard that it was Ed Gosa, who later became a learned judge in Lamar County. My hero for 50 years.

I also thought about my constitutional law professor, Jay Murphy, a kind old, gentleman, who leaned left in his politics. He paid me the ultimate compliment in class. After giving my interpretation of a Supreme Court decision, Professor Murphy said, “Well we all know that if Mr. Barksdale had his way we’d still be getting around on stone wheels.” My finest moment.

There was Professor Philip Mahan, often absent-minded, who hauled a bale of hay around in his MG Convertible that he parked in front of Farah Hall. Was he powering the MG on hay? Strange. He taught contracts and real estate. One day he began lecturing on real estate. Several minutes later, a student interrupted him. “This ain’t real estate, this is contracts class.”

My good friend (and sometimes red head) Pat and I drove to Tuscaloosa on Friday afternoon, checked in the Jack Warner and hooked up with former classmate, John Baker and wife, Regina, Collinsville, Alabama. Norman Cummins of Clermont, Florida also joined us. John was my best friend and study buddy in law school. Following graduation, both of us began practice in DeKalb County. I was earning $250.00 a month working for Bob French. Carol was pregnant and we didn’t have furniture, not even a kitchen table. John found one in his mother’s barn and brought it over. Carol antiqued it and we used it for years. I think she got it in our divorce. John is a Democrat and I’m a Republican. That never came between us. He served in the Alabama House and Senate for 8 years, ran for the U.S. Senate and later was Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Norman Cummins served in the Army before law school. One night, Carol and I were called. “Come over to Norm’s house, he’s getting married.” Classmates, Billy Church married them and O’Neal Browder gave the bride away. I may have been flower boy, don’t remember. It was a crazy night. I hope it was legal.
Dean of the Law School, Mark Brandon, a former Vanderbilt Professor, threw a picnic for our class on Saturday. He is a tall fellow with stylish glasses and close-cropped graying whiskers and handsome as a Hanes underwear model. He doesn’t fit the image of a sourpuss dean. I offered advice to improve his image. “Dean, I suggest you part your hair down the middle and wear wire-rimmed glasses like Dean Harrison did fifty years ago.” “They didn’t have wire,” he replied.
Huh, I won’t offer to help him again. He’s on his own.

Afterwards, we piled into Baker’s Chevy pick-up and, while running over every curb, toured campus. Cummins kept score. “Back up John, you missed one.” Bouncing off curbs doesn’t make for happy hemorrhoids. We tried to locate where we lived 50 years ago. Everything had changed. The old two-story house on Caplewood Drive where Carol and I had once lived, and where she walked to work in heels, was unrecognizable. Her job was our salvation. One evening she came home crying. Her male supervisor had hit on her. I handled it the old- fashioned way. I called him. “If Carol comes home crying again, I’m gonna kill your ass.” Problem solved. Coeds were sashaying to the coliseum for the A-Day game wearing summer’s newest fashion. “Would you just look at her!” exclaimed Pat. We did. “Look out John!” Regina yelled. Baker slammed on the brakes, nearly pitching us out. Advice to Mamas: Don’t send your boys to Bama the first year. Too many beautiful women to distract them. Send them to Auburn.

That evening we attended a reception at the law school where we nibbled cheese and sipped wine. That’s when Ronald Strawbridge, Vernon, Alabama, informed me that it wasn’t Ed Gosa who asked “Bad Sam,” “Who held the shotgun?” It was like being told that my Mama ran a “cat house.” Talk about disappointment. “Who was it?” I asked.

“John DeBuys.” No way! I figured DeBuys for a milquetoast frat dude, with a Vanderbilt degree, who couldn’t parallel park an MG. Wrong. Never judge a man by his brown penny loafers, Khaki pants and buttoned down collar. DeBuys had bumped Gosa off my hero list. I looked up and there he stood, bald as myself. We shook hands and talked. Before retiring, in Birmingham, he was selected one of the “Best Lawyers in America.”

I looked around for Mac Dunaway, hoping he would be present with his beautiful actress sister, Faye. Several former Judges were present. Two of the only four women in our class of ninety-nine were there – Susan William Reeves, Birmingham and Jane Smelley Grubbs, SugarLand, Texas. Also present was George Barnett, former mayor of Guntersville and Ted Little who served 32 years in the Alabama Senate.

Years later “Bad Sam” became one of my heroes. I learned that immediately following Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. While I was sucking my pacifier, he was saving democracy, flying a B-25 bomber on 62 missions against the Japanese. In 1976, he was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and served for 13 years. I ended up seated next to him at a Trial Lawyers Conference in Birmingham several years ago. “Barksdale,” he said, “I saw your potential and squeezed you hard.” I nodded. “You darn sure did.” He was a great patriot, a great professor, and a great man. I’m honored that he taught me at a great law school – Alabama, ranked one of the “best in the Nation.”

I can’t wait for our next 50th reunion.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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Motorists speeding down I-65 and seeing the “Welcome to Athens” sign pay it no attention. Just another wide place in the road. If they knew what happened here they would slam on their brakes, tour the town, and take selfies where world history was made.

I’m not talking about visiting Founders Hall where the first all-female college in America – maybe the world – was established in 1821; nor the Courthouse Square where General John Turchin’s Yankee soldiers sacked and pillaged the town in 1862; nor the former site of an opera house, law school and Niphonia Fairground, the latter said to be the “most costly and commodious in the South” before the Yankees burned it; nor Fort Henderson where 900 Yankee troops were tricked into surrendering to the “Wizard of the Saddle,” General Nathan Bedford Forrest. And I’m not referring to touring the historical homes of two former Alabama Governors and two U.S. Senators. Nor, the gravesite of former Alabama Chief Justice Thomas N. McClellan, whose successor, after a long train trip from Montgomery to attend his funeral, allegedly became slightly inebriated and, while delivering the eulogy, fell into the grave. Certainly I’m not suggesting they drive and photograph a portion of North Marion, the shortest one way street in America.

And no, I’m not talking about taking selfies in front of 407 E. Washington Street where a local author, while under the influence of pork ‘n beans, floating in Louisiana hot sauce and cheap wine penned Cornbread Chronicles. None of that.

There is a French term that describes Athens – Savoir faire. It means polished, cultured, refined. We are, to paraphrase former Gov. George Wallace, just as cultured as any four-eyed, briefcase toting, Harvard professor who can’t park his bicycle straight. More so, I’d say.

Our greatest cultural achievement occurred in 1987 when Julia, a pig, was crowned Christmas Queen of Athens. And for two years in a row! Why? Well, Julia was a beautiful pig. Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, she had magnolia white skin – “that skin so prized by Southern women,” beady black eyes, perky ears, a lovely snout and a good looking tail, a curly one that resembled an Arby’s French fry. Only cultured and refined Southerners elect a hog Christmas Queen. While others talked about diversity and inclusion Athenians were bringing it about.

And how did a lowly porker who spent her youth rooting for acorns and wallowing in mud holes rise from obscurity to become Athens Christmas Queen? In America anything can happen. In Athens it probably will. She was homeless, wandering the streets near Pilgrims Poultry plant, rooting for acorns, when Athens Vet, Dr. Bruce Young gave her a luxurious home in the servant quarters behind his grandparent’s stately old mansion at 310 North Jefferson Street. He named her Julia, after a pretty young lady he knew.

In 1987, I was honored to meet Julia after Dr. Young placed his grandparent’s mansion on the market. I was interested in purchasing it for use as a combination residence and law office. While inspecting the outside, I opened the door of the servant quarters. “OINK – OINK!” A large Chestershire hog lunged at me. I slammed the door and ran. It was Julia. I was so rattled I forgot to ask for her autograph. Her fame spread across the globe. Athens resident Kay McFarlen was living in Madrid, Spain the winter of 1988 and well remembers the Christmas parade. She was entertaining Spanish friends in her home, playing cards and watching tv when CNN International flashed the news that Julia was Christmas Queen. Julia was riding in the Grand Marshall’s convertible as it slowly made its way through throngs of cheering Athenians, Dr. Young seated at her side. Julia oinked her approval.

Kaye’s Spanish friends were impressed. “Say, isn’t that your home town?” Kaye puffed out her chest, burning with Southern pride. “Why, yes, it is.”

When Julia became pregnant, it was announced to Athenians on a large billboard. Associated Press and CNN International flashed the happy news around the world. And for a moment the world forgot about war and was happy. Athens was famous. Our Citizens were proud.

But no-good lurked in the shadows. City Officials grew jealous and fearful she might run for office – even Mayor. And be elected! They conspired against her. They said it was a violation of ordinance for a pig to live in the city, even though pet dogs, rabbits, cats, ducks, birds, turtles, snakes, guinea pigs and lizards lived in town. Blatant discrimination! Where was the ACLU? The people rose up and wore t-shirts proclaiming “LET JULIA STAY.” Democracy in action. Our Founding Fathers would have been proud.

News of Julia’s success and Dr. Young’s good works reached Supreme Headquarters in hell. Ol’ Satan connived to destroy them. Some folks believe that Ol’ Satan always tempts men with booze, wacky-backy, dancing, rock ‘n roll and good looking women wearing tight skirts and high heels. Send a man good whiskey and a good-looking woman and he’ll snare ‘im every time, it’s said. That use to be true. But Ol’ Satan has grown more subtle. His weapon against Dr. Young was a color copier. How subtle is that? “Hmmm, I wonder if it will copy a twenty-dollar bill?” Dr. Young asked himself. It did. Ol’ Satan egged him on. Dr. Young copied more – a whole stack, in fact. Some folks said if he hadn’t started putting Julia’s face on twenties he wouldn’t have been caught. Dr. Young went to prison – all because he wanted to honor Julia. A real Southern Gentleman.

Julia was our most famous and beloved personality for a time. Her five minutes of fame extended over two years and brought smiles to many faces and worldwide attention to our town.

Athens motto is “Classic, Southern, Character.” Julia embodied all three. The fate of Julia and her piglets is unknown. I’m sure she is wallowing in a celestial mud hole in hog heaven. Julia’s portrait, shot by Athens Ace Photographer, Roger Bedingfield, wearing her Christmas Queen Crown and enjoying “Swine dining” and eating her favorite food – corn on the cob – in her favorite restaurant, can be seen at Luvici’s Restaurant on Jefferson Street. Go by, eat a delicious meal, and take a selfie with Julia.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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“Every time you need someone with a weak mind and strong back you call me, and I end up in a chiropractor or doctor’s office.” That’s what my good friend, Dan Williams would say when I recruited him for another “exciting adventure.” He blamed me for his bad back. And I suppose he was mostly right.

Dan was my best buddy. We met in the 11th grade at Athens High, sacked groceries at A & P, graduated in the same class, ran around together, double dated and, when I married in 1961, he was my best man. He paid my bride a high compliment “She’s so skinny she don’t cast a shadow,” he said. How sweet. He painted my ‘55 Chevy with “JUST MARRIED” and tied tin cans to the bumper. How could I not include a friend like that on an exciting adventure? Anyway he was an easy recruit.

Our big adventures began after I purchased a run down, hilly 80-acre farm in Leggtown back in 1974. It was grown over with bushes, brambles and cedar trees and needed to be cleaned up, pastured, and fenced. As luck would have it, a friend called me and said he had a “bunch of cross ties” I could have. That’s just what I needed to build a fence. I called Dan on a Saturday morning to help me pick them up. “There won’t be anything to it and besides it’ll be exciting,” I said. Dan reluctantly agreed.

When we arrived, the cross ties were piled helter-skelter in a ditch. Dan’s back went down like a punctured tire. He walked sideways for awhile but recovered. Afterwards, I recruited him to tear down a dilapidated barn on the farm. Most of the tin had blown off, bushes had grown through the rotted walls and it leaned sideways. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we began tearing up planks and sledge-hammering support columns. My neighbor, Louie heard the commotion and drove over to inspect.

Louie was different. He lived with his dog in a Ford pickup in the woods. I heard that he was once a “spit and shine” MP in the Army. The shine part had long since vanished. Long black hair fell past his shoulders and his beard dropped to his chest. His appearance reminded me of an Old Testament prophet. His patched Army pants were stuffed inside tall rubber boots.

Louie was standing in the hallway of the barn when I sledge-hammered a main support beam. The old barn creaked, first quietly, then louder before erupting into an ear-splitting roar. “RUN!” I yelled, as I threw down the sledge-hammer and ran for my life. Dan and Louie were on my heels as the barn collapsed with a roar, sending up a cloud of dust. Whew! It was a close call. I almost got my neighbor and best friend squashed. Dan broke the tension. “Louie left so fast he ran outta his boots.” Afterwards, Dan and I went down to Mr. Charlie Christopher’s store in Leggtown where we lunched on bologna and crackers drizzled with Louisiana hot sauce and washed down with a Pepsi, all the while reliving our big adventure. Later that year, Dan helped me nail down tin and patch the roof of a tenant shack on the farm. Not very exciting. Neither of us fell off the roof.

Winter came and the sap fell in the many cedar trees that grew on the farm. Daddy said it was time to cut some of them to use as fence posts. I called Dan. “It’s supposed to be real pretty Saturday,” I said. “We can cut trees and enjoy the outdoors. It’ll be exciting.” Dan wasn’t so sure, but reluctantly agreed. I chain-sawed several cedars, trimmed the limbs, then cut them into 6-foot sections to use as corner posts. We paid no attention to the dead-looking fuzzy vines attached to the trees. We carried the cedar posts through the woods, down the holler and uphill the old fashioned way – balanced on the shoulder snug against the neck. It was a hard work, but exhilarating and built our appetites. We lunched at Leggtown store on bologna and crackers and generous dollops of hot sauce. The right side of Dan’s neck was red from carrying cedar posts.

Late afternoon, Dan complained that the redness was stinging. The following day, the redness on his neck had turned into a large red mass of itching misery. Poison ivy! Dan was miserable and went to see Doctor Pennington first thing Monday morning.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.
“Does Doctor Pennington practice euthanasia?”
“Huh, what’s that?” she asked.
“Mercy killing.”

History was made in Athens that day. It was the first time known that anyone had ever requested assisted suicide to put him out of his misery after a poison ivy outbreak. It was also the last time Dan volunteered to join me on another exciting adventure.
He may have had a weak back but his mind was strong. After serving one term on the Athens School Board, he was elected to the City Council and, later served 18 years as mayor. He was in his second term in Alabama House of Representatives when he lost his battle with leukemia on July 1, 2015. I sure miss Dan and often think of our exciting adventures.
By: Jerry Barksdale

The “Runt” (Mitsubishi Mirage) was straining all three cylinders as it putt-putt-putted up the steep mountain road and out of the Rio Grande Canyon. “Do you want me to get out and push?” asked my good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat. Finally, we crested the mountain and the view that lay before us was breathtaking. Taos (elev. 7000), nestled against the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, sparkled in the afternoon sun. Across the valley, the Rio Grande River sliced 565 feet deep into the earth. Below us pearl gray smoke curled from squat, brown adobe houses. We followed a dirt road lined with ancient cottonwood trees and past a Hindu Ashram to our destination – a one bedroom casita. Our landlords, Tara and Jean (French for John) – greeted us. Like most everyone in Taos, Jean has an interesting story. Later, while tending his winter garden, he told me he was from Paris; that his father fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930’s and afterwards, was a member of the French Resistance and fought Germans.

Shortly, my daughter, Shannon, arrived rubbing her ear and complaining that she couldn’t hear. She had come to Taos 17 years earlier driving a pick-up with a dog and no job. She has prospered. Now she has two dogs, a cat and a dusty Subaru, a good job at the Bavarian in the Ski Valley and many fans of her band, Shannon and the Southern Souls. She was nearly deaf. “We’re going to a doc-in-a-box,” I said. She made excuses and promised she would stop by on the way home. Pat, who raised a daughter, has a nose for deceit. “I’m going with you, NOW!” she said. Shannon turned pale. She hasn’t changed one bit since childhood when I had to hold her down while her mother gave her medicine. A glob of wax was removed and amoxicillin prescribed. Problem solved.

Next morning, I rose at daybreak and looked out the window. Snow was accumulating on mountain peaks. I made strong coffee, sat near the stove and worked on a Christmas story set in Athens during the Civil War. It was very cold outside and the wind howled, and in my story it was cold and snowy and the wind howled between the chinks of the log house. I sipped coffee and was warm and well into the story, but getting tired when Pat got up and prepared a big country breakfast of eggs, biscuits, jam, gravy, bacon and brewed more coffee. Shannon joined us. In my story, the family had squirrel dumplings and cornbread for Christmas. Pat cooked chicken and dumplings for lunch and made johnny cakes. I was greatly restored.

The Taos News carried sad tidings for many locals. Trump won! He received only 17.92% of the vote in Taos County. “It’s a nightmare made real,” said a Democrat. “The sun still came up. My dogs were still glad to see me.” I figure her dogs were Trump supporters. It reminded me of my reaction to Goldwater’s landslide loss for the presidency in 1964, when I was an idealistic 23 year old university student. I wept that night. The world was doomed. But it never occurred to me to seek counseling, throw a temper tantrum and block a highway. I moved forward and made a noble contribution to mankind. I became a lawyer. Youthful idealism has long since vanished. The way I see it we have two gangs of thugs in Washington called Democrats and Republicans. They remind me of Al Capone and Bugs Moran’s Northside gang, each vying to control the rackets. They swap power, scratch each other’s back, and feed out of the same trough. Their major goal is to remain in power and live country club lives on the taxpayer’s largesse.

We drove the Runt down into the Rio Grande gorge to hike. Getting there proved to be dangerous on a narrow gravel road with no guard rails. A large Rocky Mountain ram stared at the Runt and shook his head. Uh oh! In a head butting contest, the Runt would lose. Finally, he wandered off to join his harem.

On the hike down, we kept a watchful eye for rattlers, saw numerous sheep clinging to the rocky walls, and inspected an ancient Indian Petroglyph – perhaps their version of men writing on a bathroom wall today. I was gasping for air and my tooth ached as we hiked out. I needed a slab of fat back bacon to tie to my jaw. The three cylinders of the Runt strained mightily as we climbed up the gravel road. Near the summit it choked down. I pressed the accelerator. “Come on little feller.” I remembered the Thrifty rental clerk telling me it wasn’t designed for mountain driving. Finally, we putt – putt – putted out.

Shannon and the Southern Souls were playing at the Tap Room of Taos Mesa Brewing and invited us to attend. We were running late. I missed the turn off, but being sharp of mind, saw a solution. I turned in at a nearby McDonalds with the intention of circling back. “I wouldn’t do that,” Pat said. I fell behind a long line of cars going through the drive-thru and was blocked. “I told you,” she said. Grrr. One of these days Alice. POW! Right in the kisser. Many of Shannon’s friends were present and greeted us with hugs. I was especially glad to see Brendan, who is a long-haired, head slinging, guitar playing rocker. He made a special visit to greet us. I won’t relate his history, but his life is now exemplary. Cleaner than a hound’s tooth, as we say down South. He was recently married, has a new baby, and doesn’t touch alcohol. “I’m proud of you Brendan,” I said.

The band is all acoustic. Dave Kinney, originally from Chicago plays anything that makes a sound. Willie Hunton plays Dobro and mandolin. Shannon sings mostly soul and blues with a little Hank and Patsy Cline thrown in to make it real music. Jamie, who Shannon calls “my sister,” arrived. She is Northern Cheyenne born and raised on the Lame Deer reservation 42 miles east of Custer Battlefield where her ancestors defeated Custer in 1776. When Shannon is down, Jamie is always there to lift her up. One evening while enjoying wine, Shannon decided to seal their friendship. They would become blood sisters. Jamie watched in amazement as Shannon sliced their palms with a butcher knife and then pressed them together to mix their blood. Jamie was puzzled. “I saw it in the movie,” Shannon said. Jamie had never heard of such a practice.

Next day, Pat and I went to Walmart and purchased diapers, baby clothes, and a Huggy Bear for Brendan’s new baby. Pat and Shannon delivered them, along with left over chicken and dumplings. Now, the kid is prepared to face life head on.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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