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.