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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My good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat and I were off on another adventure, this time across the purple sage to Taos, New Mexico. It has been described by one resident as “wacky and weird.” That’s where my daughter, Shannon lives. As usual everything started off going my way – downhill.

First, I had a toothache. Then, when I presented plastic at Huntsville Airport to pay a $25.00 baggage fee, it was rejected – and in front of many people. “There must be a mistake,” I said. She swiped it again. “No mistake.”

When we arrived in Atlanta I called Barclay Bank. Someone in North Dakota had charged $6.30 on my card. I’ve never been to North Dakota. My card was cancelled on the first day of our vacation. Perfect timing. And my tooth was about to jump out of my mouth.

On the flight to Albuquerque, we encountered 100 mph head winds. “Look!” Pat exclaimed. “The wing is flapping.” I needed tranquilizing. I ordered a scotch and handed the hostess a ten.

“Sir, we don’t accept cash,” she said. What kind of country rejects your credit card and doesn’t accept cash? And on the first day of vacation! It’s written on the face of a bill, “Legal tender for all debts.” And that includes scotch!

It was dark in Albuquerque when we went to pick up our Thrifty rental car. Pat had arranged for an economy car, knowing that I’m a thrifty kind of guy. The young clerk explained that we needed to upgrade. “It’s a Mitsubishi Mirage and has only three cylinders and isn’t suitable for mountain driving,” he said.

“Does it also have three wheels,” I asked. He frowned. No humor. We couldn’t find it in the parking lot. No wonder. It was parked between two VW beetles. It was aptly named Mirage. It sort of looked like a car, but it really wasn’t. Pat christened it, the “three wheel sewing machine.” I call it the “Runt.” We hummed up I-25 looking for a Best Western. Had to call Siri. That hussy kept yelling, “TURN AROUND NOW!” I didn’t like her tone of voice. She’s probably a red head. How could I turn around in six lanes of 75 mph traffic?

The next morning, we hummed northwest on State 550 into Indian country. Big blue skies, distant buttes and mesas, endless purple sage, pinon and juniper trees and chamisa, a gorgeous plant that hates my guts, filled the landscape. Everything was still going my way; sinuses in panic mode, nose stuffy and bleeding, and tooth aching. On the edge of the Jemez Reservation, we stopped at CWW Feed Store in tiny San Ysidro and asked directions. Several Indian children were out front near pens holding goats and the fattest hog I’ve ever seen. Nearby was a corral of horses. Chili riestas hung from the front porch of the old store building. That’s where I met Connie Collis, the proprietor, a friendly, late fortyish blonde. “I’m from Alabama,” I said. “I own a Bible, have a permit to pack heat – and I’m lost.” She grinned. “Sounds okay to me,” she said. Connie has been living in San Ysidro for 20 years. Her husband, a big game hunter, had died on a hunting trip in Mexico. Afterwards, she dedicated her life to rescuing critters. She cares for 51 rescue horses – some are wild mustangs – including others, for a total of 92; one fat hog, one cow, 7 goats and two dogs.

“Why do you do it?” I asked.

“It is my heart,” she said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

The store name “CWW” stands for crazy white woman, a handle given her by local Jemez Indians. Working with Connie was Taylor Clark, a 24-year-old, attractive red head originally from Albuquerque, who is a rock climber. Taylor was working on a volunteer therapy horse ranch and studying for a masters’ degree when she went to work for Connie rescuing horses. Two thumbs up for these ladies. I yanked the crank cord on the Runt and we hummed up State 4 and across the beautiful Jemez Mountain, toward Los Alamos.

There we toured the museum, learned about splitting atoms and saw where some of the scientists had lived during WWII. “Fat Man,” the first atomic bomb, was developed at Los Alamos and dropped on Hiroshima to bring WWII to an end. From start to finish, it took only two years. When our backs are against the wall, Americans excel. Why can’t we discover a cure for cancer? If we can develop a blue pill to raise the dead, surely we can find a cure for cancer.

In old Santa Fe (elev. 7198 ft), we had a late lunch at La Fonda, a Pueblo style hotel on the plaza. That’s where, after eating a burrito smothered with red chili and black beans, I developed my new theory about atom splitting. That lunch also led to me to make a pact with the Lord that night. Why split uranium atoms and endanger the environment? Split the bean! A plate of black beans produces enough methane gas to power every taxi in New York City for a day.

That night, I woke in a miserable state. My tooth ached, my nose bled, I couldn’t breathe, and my stomach was about to explode. I was desperate. I reached for Mama’s favorite cure-all- Vicks Salve. Rub it on the chest for coughs, apply to hemorrhoids, and poke it up the nostrils for a stuffy nose. I figured if I could scare off a hemorrhoid, it could open a stuffy nose. The label warned: “DO NOT PLACE UP NOSTRILS,” but I figured that was meant for idiots who used the same finger. Anyway, up the nose it went. Ahh, thank you Mama.

It was around midnight when I asked the Lord to strike me dead if I ever ate another black bean. There ought to be a law requiring black beans be sold with this warning: “Consumption may result in loud praying, methane emissions, and global warming.”

We overnighted at El Rey Inn on Cerrillos Road. Very Santa Fe-ish. First constructed as a motor court in 1936, it reminded me of Melody Ranch, Gene Autry’s cowboy movie set. Next morning, we breakfasted nearby at the Pantry, opened in 1948. Nothing slick about it, simply the best. I ordered an egg white veggie omelet. Old Satan was up early, tempting me, having heard about my pact with the Lord. “Sir, do you want black beans with your omelet?” asked his servant, our dark eyed waitress.
“HECK NO!”

I’ve since learned that a raw carrot cooked with black beans will absorb the methane gas. Don’t eat the carrot! He-he-he. Give it to your ex.

To be continued….
By: Jerry Barksdale

In 1987, I traded a pork’n bean and banana sandwich diet (along with my independence) for Pat, a firecracker gal from Arkansas who stood 5’1” and smoked Virginia Slims.

It was a good swap. I got a beautiful and intelligent wife, and also two step daughters, Harley and Lucy (names changed). Unfortunately, they were afflicted with a dreaded curse. They were teenagers!

I quickly learned that Pat’s stress level could be measured by the number of Virginia Slims she smoked in our house, and how fast she nervously twisted a tendril of her long black hair. It was a dead giveaway that “Little Mama,” as the girls called her, was about to take to the war path.

We made a pact. “I’ll discipline my girls and you won’t have to be involved,” she said. Great news! I’m an only child and my experience with young girls was limited to my daughter; precious little Shannon who was age 7 when her mom and I divorced. She was blonde and blue-eyed with a cute pony tail and would climb on my lap and say sweet things to me. “I love my Daddy” and “my Daddy can do anything.”I didn’t know honey from bee droppings when it came to girls. I didn’t know that sweet little girls grew up and became hellions. I was ignorant of teenager hell.

Harley was three years older than Lucy and didn’t want her in her room and, especially didn’t want her wearing her clothes. “Don’t touch my stuff!”

Otherwise, they appeared to be well mannered, sweet and courteous young girls; that is until one evening at dinner. I was enjoying a platter of pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy when Harley accused Lucy of entering her room. Lucy denied it. “LIAR!” Faster than Ali could throw a right hook, Harley struck Lucy with a pork chop. POW – BAM – BANG Pork Chops were flying. Little Mama sent them to their room and fired up a Virginia Slim. “I’m soo embarrassed,” she said. “I don’t know what got in the girls. They are usually sweet girls.”Hmmm, I was beginning to doubt that.

Later, Pat and I arrived home to see the only tree in our front yard decorated in white. “Somebody’s rolled our yard!” she exclaimed and fired up a cigarette. A cursing investigation revealed that Lucy had been in Harley’s room again and borrowed a sweater. Harley retaliated by throwing all of Lucy’s underwear out a second story window where it landed in the tree.

Pat was proud of her blue LTD Ford that she got in the divorce settlement. It was the apple of her eye. She kept it washed, shined, and serviced and planned to drive it for many years to come. Harley asked to drive it to the beach during spring break and carry her high school buddies. Pat reluctantly agreed. “I don’t want one scratch on it,” she warned.

Several days later, Harley returned and the blue Ford looked like a speckled guinea, white spots dotted the lower half. Little Mama fired up a Virginia Slim, twisted her hair and interrogated Harley. “Uh-uh, I parked near a construction site where there was some sand blasting,” Harley said. “If that’s true, why aren’t white specks on the top?” asked Little Mama. It wasn’t until years later we learned the truth: they were driving in the salty surf. “YEE HAW! GIMME ANOTHER BEER.”

Not long afterwards, Pat slammed into a rock wall and buckled the hood where rain water collected and birds bathed. The Ford was tough, but not tough enough. Lucy was learning to drive. She begged to drive one block to visit her friend, Julie. Minutes later we were called. “Come quickly! There’s been an accident.” We arrived at a war zone scene.Lucy had taken out a basketball goal, plowed into the back of Julie’s car, and pushed it through the garage wall. The old Ford had finally come to a violent end.
It was during this period that Little Mama developed her immutable rule regarding teenagers – never give a kid an equal break.

Her teenage daughters sent Little Mama reaching for a Virginia Slim on many occasions, but it was nothing compared to what an upcoming Auburn Tigers game did to her psyche. By 6 p.m. on Friday evening, she was hot boxing cigarettes. By 9 p.m., she was racing to the bathroom with diarrhea.

But it was Lucy skipping classes that sorely tested Little Mama’s resolve. We had no idea until the school counselor called and informed us. Little Mama developed a plan. She decided to go atomic. Each morning, she drove Lucy to the front door of Grissom High, marched her down the hallway and into the classroom. “This is my daughter, Lucy,” she announced to snickering class. “She isn’t responsible enough to attend class.” Talk about embarrassing her! She picked up Lucy in the afternoon, using the same method. Lucy begged her mother to stop and promised to never miss class again. And she didn’t.

When a young high school thug drove up in front of our house with his thug buddies after being warned to stay away, Little Mama took action. She grabbed her grandpa’s old .32 revolver and charged out the front door, waving the pistol and swearing loudly. “GET OUTTA HERE, YOU LITTLE S.O.B.S!” They peeled rubber fleeing the scene.

I’m happy to report that both daughters graduated from college, Harley with a medical degree and Lucy with a Masters’. They are both married and have teenage girls, who are no doubt afflicted with the same dreaded curse their mothers had – teenage hell.

The law of Karma is also an immutable law – what goes around comes around. Good luck ladies.
By: Jerry Barksdale

November 4, 2016 – Athens Now – Jerry’s Journal

11-4-2016-11-08-58-amIt was 1935, smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression, when she showed up in the East Limestone community and occupied an abandoned sharecropper’s shack near our house. I was 10 years old at the time, but I remember it well. No one knew her, nor any of her folks, nor where she came from. She just appeared one day with a pack of cur dogs. She didn’t attend church, didn’t associate with neighbors and didn’t appear to have a source of sustenance. She didn’t even have a name so far as anyone knew. Folks just called her “that old woman.”

Mama worried that she didn’t have enough to eat. Daddy was bent over the breakfast table sopping up “Hoover gravy” with a biscuit while Mama poured coffee. “I hate to see anybody go hungry,” she said.
“Lot of folks are hungry these days,” Daddy said. “I’ve eat so much Hoover gravy my socks slide down my legs.”
“Well, at least we have something to eat.”
“If it don’t hurry up and rain we’ll all starve to death,” Daddy said. “There won’t be enough cotton to plow under.”
Mama examined the calendar hanging on a nail on the wall and flipped the pages. “My word! It’s been two months since we’ve had a drop of rain.”
Daddy stirred molasses in his coffee to sweeten it and took a sip. “Didn’t that old woman show up about two months ago?” he asked.
After breakfast Daddy hitched up the mules to our wagon and headed off to cut firewood for the cook stove. Mama scooped cornmeal from the bin into a paper bag, then we went to the garden and picked a mess of peas, squash, okra and tomatoes.
“Com’on Punk’n let’s take this to that poor old woman up yonder,” she said.

It was July 3rd and scorching hot. The cotton plants were drooping in the heat and little clouds of dust rose from our footsteps. The sharecropper shack was tiny with a rusty tin roof and tar paper siding and sat on a foundation of stacked rocks. No one had lived there in years and weeds had grown waist high.
We walked up to the front porch and Mama called out: “YOO HOO! ANYBODY HOME?”
A pack of hounds scrambled from beneath the shack, barking and snarling. After sniffing us, they backed off. The old woman, wearing a ragged black dress, pushed open the torn screen door and looked us up and down. She was bent over with age like a crooked old tree. Her eyes were black as tar; curly hairs grew on her pointed chin and nose, and long gray hair fell past her hunched shoulders.
I moved closer to Mama and I clutched her arm.
“What’che want?” The old woman demanded.
Mama held out the sack of cornmeal and vegetables. “We’ve got plenty and I hate to see food go to waste,” she said. “Cornbread sure would taste good with fried okra and squash.”
The old woman eyed us with suspicion.
“Here, please take it,” Mama said.
The old woman inched out onto the front porch and snatched the sack and disappeared inside the house without a word.
The next day it came a gulley-washer rain. Mama rejoiced and said the Lord sent rain because we had been kind to the old woman. The same day, Bossy, for no apparent reason, didn’t give any milk. The cotton crop was saved, such as it was, but we had no milk to drink.

When the rain stopped, Army worms came marching across our cotton patch eating the squares that would eventually develop into cotton bolls. Bossy, didn’t give enough milk for Daddy’s coffee. Our neighbor’s cow also stopped giving milk. “It’s that old woman, I tell ya,” Daddy said. “Our problems started when she showed up.”
Later I was fishing in Johnson Branch when she appeared out of the woods and offered me a hunk of cornbread. “It’s mighty good,” she said. I refused it and ran home.
One of the Smith children, who lived nearby, went missing. The following month another child disappeared. They were never seen again.
Late one night I woke when I heard Bossy bawling at the barn. Daddy fumbled around in the dark, slipped on his overalls, and went out the back door holding a lantern. I snuck from my bed and peeped out the window where a quarter moon illuminated the landscape. When Daddy neared the barn, I saw a pack of hounds run off. Later that night I overhead Mama and Daddy whispering. “My word!” Mama exclaimed. “Don’t dare tell that young’n what you saw. It would scare ‘em to death.”
The following week the old woman was spotted near Fairmount School on Nick Davis Road talking to children walking home. She was seen giving a hunk of cornbread to Sally Turner. Sally was a beautiful child with blue eyes and red hair, but the other children made fun of her because she had a terrible limp. A kicking mule broke her femur which wasn’t properly set. Little Sally disappeared and was never seen again.
Later, Bossy woke me bawling. Daddy dressed and loaded his 22 rifle and slipped out the back door. The moon was full. I saw Daddy shoulder the 22. POW-POW-POW. Dogs scattered. One dragged off in the bushes and disappeared. Again, I overheard Mama and Daddy whispering. “Them dogs have been sucking Bossy dry,” Daddy said. “That’s why we don’t have any milk.”
“My word! I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Mama whispered.
“Yeah, and there’s more dogs than before,” Daddy said.
“Where you reckon they come from?” Mama whispered.
“I don’t know, but there’s one less. I shot ‘em in the hind quarter.”

Several weeks later, hunters discovered the old woman’s body in the woods. The coroner determined that she died from “natural causes.” No family ever came forward and the investigation ended. Afterwards, Bossy began giving milk and no more children disappeared.
Years later, I stopped at Vinson’s store on Nick Davis Road to drink a Coke and catch up on local news from the “spit and whittle” club who were sitting on the front porch. They were discussing the drought – it hadn’t rained in over a month – and boll weevils were eating the cotton crop.
“It got just like this back in nineteen thirty-five,” a fellow said.
Abner Allen said his cow had quit giving milk.
“That’s odd, mine too,” another fellow said.
Shortly, a middle-aged, blue eyed, red headed woman, followed by a pack of cur dogs, limped up and went inside the store.
“I’ll swear,” Abner said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s Sally Turner who disappeared forty year ago.”
“Reckon who she is?” someone asked.
The woman emerged carrying a sack of cornmeal. An alarm went off in my head. Somewhere in my memory… yes – yes! Now, I remembered. Fear shot through me and the hair on the back of my neck extended like a wire brush. That old woman was back.
“For God’s sake,” I said, “Never – never take cornbread from her or you’ll end up on all fours and scratching fleas.”
I don’t accept cornbread from strangers. And neither should you.