By: Jerry Barksdale

I have a lot to worry about nowadays. A groundhog has homesteaded in my garden and eaten my cabbage, my chainsaw won’t crank, and I have an enlarged prostrate. And I just learned Earth will perish in 12 years. My kind of luck. That’s according to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, alias AOC. She’s a smart woman – an intellectual – and wears big owlish glasses to prove it. Since Earth has been my only home since birth, I would like to continue living here. Aside from Bama losing the National Championship, it’s the worst news I’ve heard in a long time. The stock market will tank and real estate prices will fall. There goes my retirement.

On the positive side, it will be a good time to buy real estate, and paying alimony and having to file income tax returns will cease. Thank the Lord! As Mama used to say, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

Privileged rich people are already planning to bug out to Mars. Elon Musk, a privileged, old, white guy billionaire is building a spaceship to fly his wealthy friends to Mars – for a hefty fee, of course. I suspect they will live in a gated community behind a wall to keep out the Martian riff-raff and pay them minimum wage to clean their space suits and tend their rock garden. Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Streisand, and Jon Stewart have been threatening to leave America for years. I’m sure they will be aboard. Cher is waiting for a ride to Jupiter. Bon Voyage to all. I would like to go, but I won’t be able to afford a ticket. Only the rich, privileged class will go. Anyway, I won’t leave Earth without my good friend, and sometime red-head, Pat. They wouldn’t let her on board with 150 pairs of shoes, 50 purses, and 25 pair of sunglasses.

Recently, Miss AOC proposed her Green New Deal to save Earth. Again, thank the Lord. She suggests we need to stop birthing babies. I agree. They are nothing but trouble. The little burping, defecating, diaper soiling snots just grow up to smoke pot, drink beer, get arrested, wreck cars, and flunk out of college. Then they cart us off to a nursing home. Zero babies can be achieved in one generation. But we may have to outlaw Viagra to accomplish it.

Miss AOC says that methane gas eliminated by cow flatulence is a major cause of climate change, which according to her, will contribute to destroying the earth in 12 years. She suggests that we should give up eating meat and become vegetarians. She’s wrong there.

Polite society doesn’t use the street term for flatulence. But folks living in Toney and Flat Rock, Alabama, may not know what a flatulence is, so I will translate. It’s a ten letter word to describe a four letter word – fart. For religious folks and English teachers, I assure you that it’s not a swear word. It’s one of the oldest words in the English language and can be used as a noun or a verb. If you feel more comfortable calling it a “poot,” “toot,” or “passing gas,” I understand. For the purpose of this white paper, and to accommodate sensitivities, I’ll call it “cut’n cheese.” There are 1.5 billion cows on Earth cut’n cheese, every day, all day long. They produce 150 billion gallons of methane a day. Holy cow! All animals cut cheese and produce methane gas: deer, bison, elk, horses, elephants, sheep, goats, all wild life – and yes, dogs. Termites are the worst offenders; even cockroaches pass gas. I’m for killing all termites and cockroaches. All cockroaches are good for is to make exterminators rich and scare women. Citizens, we have a real emergency on our hands. Humans also produce vast amounts of methane gas. The average person cuts cheese 14 times a day. Believe it or not, women cut cheese just as much as men! It’s hard to believe, but Queen Elizabeth cuts cheese. They say that Nancy Reagan did too. I doubt that Miss AOC does, even knowing the danger that methane gas poses to our survival.

Methane gas is also highly flammable. Several years ago, an Athens man cut an extra-large slice of cheese while sitting on the commode. He lit a Marlboro and blew himself up! There are over 7 ½ billion people on Earth cut’n cheese 14 times a day and producing billions of gallons of methane gas daily. Add that to billions produced by cows, animals, insects, and termites, and you can see the danger. If a critical mass is reached and someone lights up a joint – Boom! The Earth will erupt in a fiery conflagration.

I’ve laid out the problem, now what can we do to save our planet? Miss AOC says vegetarianism is the solution. Wrong. Many years ago I decided to go vegetarian and ate a diet of broccoli, beans, cabbage, etc. My stomach rebelled. I cut cheese all day and all night. My wife threatened to divorce me. I returned to eating fried chicken.

Eating vegetables produces methane gas. Cows are vegetarians. They eat grass almost exclusively, and they expel enormous amounts of methane. Solution: Feed them meat – preferably armadillos, groundhogs, dogs, and house cats. There are far too many of them. I’m especially jealous of dogs. They don’t work and don’t pay taxes or alimony. Dogs chase bikers, joggers, and mailmen, and act like they own the planet. We’re all in this crisis together. We must unite as a nation, and Congress should enact a methane tax similar to the carbon tax. The more you cut cheese, the more you pay. Similarly, if you don’t use all 14 of your daily poots, you could sell them to a rich vegetarian who lives miserably surviving on bean sprouts, pintos, and broccoli. A simple app on your phone would measure your flatulence. The tax proceeds would be used to find a solution to passing gas and help us save the planet.

We must all sacrifice. As for me, I intend to give up my favorite dinner – pork-n-beans on crackers – and cut back on poots.

A national ad campaign should be immediately launched by the Trump administration informing citizens of the danger of cut’n cheese and encourage us to cut back at least one flatulence a day – just one. We can do it. T-shirts, lapel pins, and bumper stickers would proclaim, “I’m a 13.” A National Day of Prayer and reflection should be declared. Ministers should mount their pulpit and encourage their flock to be a 13.

Another plank in Miss AOC’s Green New Deal is to guarantee an income to every American, whether they work or not. Many people will sign up for no work.

“Hey Joe, where you not working nowadays?”

“Oh, shoot I’m just lying on the couch drinking beer, watching reruns of the Three Stooges and sleeping. What about you?”

“I got an offer to not work as a taster in a pie factory. It just makes me tired thinking about it.”

“I know what ‘ye mean. I feel sorry for them fools who get up at 4 a.m. and go to a real job. Suckers.”

“Yeah buddy, I’ll drink to that.”

Some will say they should be forced to work before being paid. No way! It would be discriminatory and violate the “pursuit of happiness” clause in the Declaration of Independence. They have rights too!

Miss AOC also proposes that a rail system replace airplanes. Fine with me. I’m afraid to fly. The Air Force hasn’t weighed in on the proposal. They will probably whine that they can’t fight a war from a train. Whatever. Constructing a bridge to Hawaii will employ a lot of people, assuming that anyone will work. It has been estimated the Green New Deal will cost each household a mere $600,000. (Sounds like a green new steal). So what? It’s just paper. Print more money. Come on folks let’s get behind Miss AOC and save our planet. It’s the only one we have. I’m a 13, will you be one too? Just some thoughts from an old fart.
By: Jerry R Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

December 14, 1970, began like most days for chopper pilot, Warrant Officer Hal Baker stationed at Can Tho, South Vietnam. He would fly another dangerous mission, something he’d become accustomed to over the past ten months. Christmas was approaching and with a little luck he would spend the New Year holiday in Sydney, Australia, for much needed R & R. His first R & R was to have been in Bangkok, but a gunshot had put him on crutches and he didn’t want to go there hobbling around. Good luck didn’t always favor Baker.

A chopper pilot’s average life expectancy in Vietnam was 19 minutes. If Baker survived another two months, he’d be leaving this green hell hole for sweet home Indianapolis. Today would be different.

As a member of C Troop, 16th Cavalry, Baker flew one of two Loach (OH58) choppers at near ground level — one of the most dangerous helicopter assignments in Vietnam. The Loaches were scouts and marked the targets. A Huey flew at 1,000 feet as command, control, and rescue. Two Cobra gunships were at 1,500 feet providing covering fire. They were a hunter-killer team. They hunted the enemy and killed them. C Troop averaged over 120 kills a month. It was dangerous work. Life expectancy dropped to only 11 seconds once contact with the enemy was made.

It was a nice day in the Mekong Delta. Baker was flying 10 feet above ground when the Cobras spotted two enemy soldiers running through tall elephant grass. “They guided us to their position after we agreed to give them any war trophies we found,” says Baker. “They would trade them to the Air Force for a box of steaks.”

Baker zeroed in on the targets and immediately began receiving return fire. “The elephant grass was about 8 feet tall. I couldn’t see them but could see their path by the waving grass.” Baker rolled in and squeezed the trigger on his mini-gun that spit out 2,000 rounds per minute. Both men dropped, one on top of the other. They were NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and one carried a leather pouch over his shoulder. “We wanted the pouch. It could contain intelligence or at the least, it could be traded for steaks.” He slowly descended over the tall elephant grass and landed his right skid on the bodies. The left skid remained suspended a few feet over the ground.

The door gunner stepped out on the skid and grabbed the leather pouch. Then, the nose of the chopper slowly turned to the right. Baker thought the tail rotor was tangled in the grass. He saw blood and small pieces of flesh in the cockpit and on the left side of his face and helmet. Someone had been shot! He looked down at his left thigh and saw a hole the size of a silver dollar. “I’ve been shot!” He exclaimed. He was bleeding out. “I knew I had to get my gunner out before I passed out.” He lifted off and landed in the middle of a rice paddy and a hornet’s nest of enemy coming at him. They were at point blank range and firing.

Unable to walk, Baker hung onto his gunner with one arm and fired his .45 pistol at the charging enemy. He kept firing as he struggled aboard a rescue chopper. They lifted off and headed to the hospital. A South Vietnam medic aboard attempted to administer morphine and treat his wound, but Baker refused. He was concerned about infection. “I didn’t want his dirty hands on me.” So, he treated himself.

Later in the hospital, a bullet form a WWII Mauser was found lodged in Baker’s body armor. That’s when he learned that the enemy who shot him was in a spider hole just a few feet beneath him. If he had been firing an AK-47, like they usually did, the outcome would have been different. Again, Baker’s luck had held. That was the ninth time he’d been shot down. The other three crashes were mechanical.

Baker’s commander of Delta Aviation, a colonel, came to visit him in the hospital and asked if he was going home. “No sir, I’ll be back in 2 to 3 weeks,” replied Baker.

“We’ll see about that Thirteen. I don’t have time to keep coming here and checking on you,” the colonel said.

A few minutes later, the doctor came in. “You’re ordered home,” he said.

“They either don’t want me on their conscience or else I’m costing them too much money,” Baker quipped.

For gallantry in action, Baker was awarded a Silver Star, our nation’s third highest decoration for bravery.

Baker missed R & R in Sydney, instead he was going home.

He was confined to a stretcher on the flight from Tokyo to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. “They told us if we could walk into the hospital, we could go home,” said Baker. He was flown to Ft. Knox, got off at the hospital, but didn’t have any clothes. His nurse whose husband was a pilot, brought Baker clothes and drove him to the airport in Louisville. “My twin brother, Carold, picked me up at the Indianapolis airport, and I arrived home on Christmas Eve.”

Baker’s departure to Vietnam was far more pleasant than returning home. He was on crutches and a young lady asked him, “Why are you limping?”

“Got shot in Vietnam,” he replied.

“Baby killer!”

Says Baker, “The next girl that asked me what happened I told her I was shot by the police. She was sympathetic and thought that was cool.”

Baker moved to Huntsville in 1972, and still pushing his luck, worked for Huntsville Police Department for about a year as an undercover drug cop. His long black hair was matched by a bushy mustache. He hung around bars and became acquainted with drug dealers — and even bought them drinks with his expense account. Baker worked about 30 cases during this time. Before making a buy, dealers always asked him if he was an undercover NARC. “I always told them I was,” says Baker, “but they never believed me.”

During this period, Baker met Karan Thornton, daughter of former Athens Dodge dealer, Franklin Thornton. Her grandmother was Birdie Thornton. They have been married 44 years and have one child, Jeff, a Vanderbilt Law graduate and Associate Law Professor at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.

Baker spent 32 years crop dusting and 10 years flying a med flight chopper — you’ve probably heard him fly over Athens many times.

In addition to a Silver Star for bravery, Baker holds 5 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism above and beyond the call of duty during aerial flights, 3 air medals for acts of heroism while in aerial flights, 2 air medals for meritorious achievement during flights, 2 Purple Hearts for combat wounds, and several lesser decorations.

“I’m proud of all the awards, but being a flyer, I’m prouder of the five Distinguished Flying Crosses,’ says Baker.

Nowadays, about the most dangerous activity that “Crash Baker” does is climb a ladder. He and Karan will occasionally purchase a house in the Athens Historic District which they upgrade and re-sell. They live on East Street.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

If you met Hal Baker walking near his home on East Street in Athens, his unassuming appearance and quiet demeanor wouldn’t hint that he holds two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and seven other medals for heroism in battle. To my knowledge he is the most decorated Vietnam veteran in Limestone County.

Baker has to be the luckiest, unlucky helicopter pilot that ever flew in the Vietnam War. His call sign was “Darkhorse one-three” and his nickname, “Crash Baker.” A sign in the operations room stated, “Fly with Crash Baker at your own risk.” He survived 3 crashes and went down a total of 12 times, 9 of which he was shot down. Cats must be envious of Baker.

Harold “Hal” Gene Baker and his twin brother, Carold were born on July 3, 1948 in a share cropper’s shack in a cotton patch near the small Arkansas Delta town of Swifton. He was too young to pick cotton, but not too young to ride his mother’s sack while she picked. Times were hard. His father moved the family north to Indianapolis seeking work when Hal was three years old. His interest in flight came early in life. When he was a first grader, he jumped out of a barn loft. Being unlucky, he severely injured his hip requiring traction for 6 months and crutches for 2 ½ years.

After graduating high school, he worked for Allison Motors manufacturing airplane props. He yearned for adventure. In the dead of winter, February 1968, at age 19, he joined the Army and was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, for basic training. “Ft. Misery” he calls it. Afterwards, having received a top secret security clearance, he was assigned to Cryptographic School, Ft. Meade, MD. He didn’t like it. “We were to be located in a small compound in Vietnam guarded by MPs,” says Baker. “If our compound was overrun by enemy, the MPs were supposed to destroy all crypto-equipment and kill the personnel. I didn’t think much of that.”

Living on the edge made Baker feel alive. He completed parachute school at Ft. Benning, and was assigned to the famed 82nd Airborne Division. Meanwhile, he tested for both the Green Berets and Flight School. “I weighed wading through rice paddies versus flying over them.” He chose flight school.

Unlike the other services, the Army didn’t require pilots to have a college degree. Baker was accepted and began 9 months of primary flight training, the first half at Ft. Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas. It was brutal and the harassment never ceased. “We weren’t allowed to look up at a helicopter when one flew over,” he says. Then on to Ft. Rucker, Alabama, where he graduated and was commissioned warrant officer.

Following a 30-day leave, Baker flew to San Francisco, headed to war. The United flight attendant moved him up to first class. “I told one of the young hostesses that I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge before I died, that I was going to Vietnam and had no expectations of coming home. She drove him across the Golden Gate at 2 a.m. “That’s the nicest we were ever treated.” He adds, “Coming home from Vietnam wasn’t all that great.”

On February 17, 1970, Baker landed at Long Binh, a mosquito infested wet area in the Mekong Delta not far from Saigon. “I woke up next morning never to forget the smell,” says Baker. “It was damp and mildewy and smelled like a rice paddy.” Roads were clogged with motor scooters darting through the streets. The appearance was peaceful but deceiving. Soon, he would learn that it was a smelly green hell where ordinary looking people wanted to kill him. Over 40,000 Americans had been killed in the conflict to date. The average life expectancy of a chopper pilot was 19 minutes. By war’s end, almost half of the 12,000 helicopters sent there were lost, and approximately 5000 pilots and crew members were killed. That doesn’t include those injured.

A few days after arriving, Baker was assigned to the 162nd Aviation Assault Company at Can Tho. Initially, he flew a “Slick” (transport chopper without external weapons) often ferrying combat troops to “hot” landing zones. “I was scared to death,” he says. Later, he flew a Huey gunship armed with 72 rockets and machine guns manned by two door-gunners whose job was to suppress enemy gunfire. There were no gun sights on Hueys. The pilot marked an X on the windshield with a grease pencil and flew toward the target from 1500 feet, firing. “Below 500 feet you couldn’t pull out,” says Baker. “Some pilots got “target fixations” and flew into the ground and were killed.”

Bad luck stalked Baker, but good luck always saved him. The first time he was shot down was while inserting South Vietnamese troops on the ground. They began taking enemy fire. Baker went in to cover them, and his rotor blade was hit by AK- 47 rounds. The blade began shaking, and he went down behind enemy lines and was rescued. His luck held.

The pilots had to operate within strict rules of engagement. “I got in more trouble about that that than anything else,” says Baker. At the end of the runway at Can Tho, was an enemy bunker. “They shot at us in the morning when we flew out and when we came back in the afternoon. We couldn’t return fire. One evening I flew over and saw five enemy soldiers.” He rolled in and squeezed the trigger, killing three or four. The door-gunner was shot in the foot. He called for Cobra backup, but they told him he had to quit. “I kicked out the radio and told them I didn’t know what they were saying. Finally, I ran out of bullets and quit.” He grins, “I got chewed out.”

On another occasion after completing a firing mission, with two rockets left, Baker decided to practice on two water buffalo near a tree line. They swooped low and opened fire. Suddenly, bullets ripped into the flight control. “We splashed down by a dike on the other side of a rice paddy,” says Baker. “One of the door-gunners jumped up on the dike like John
Wayne and raked the tree line with bullets.” The enemy zeroed in on him. Baker, armed with only a .45 pistol, was no match for AK-47s, and moved away from the targeted machine-gunner. The fire fight lasted for 45 minutes, but again luck intervened. A recovery chopper from Can Tho rescued them.

A close friend invited Baker to join a “Hunter-Killer” team which consisted of 5 choppers. Two Cobra gunships armed with rockets, mini-guns on the nose, and a door-gunner, flew overhead at 1500 feet. A Huey flew at 1000 feet and acted as command and recovery. Baker’s 5’9”, 165 pound frame fit nicely into one of the two Loaches (light observation choppers) that flew no more than 10 feet above the ground. They were scouts looking for targets. His door-gunner, attached to a “monkey strap,” hung out the door and manned an M60 machine gun. It was dangerous and very stressful. The Hunter-Killer team averaged killing 120 enemies a month. “Our life expectancy as a Loach pilot was 11 seconds after we made contact,” says Baker. “We flew two missions a day for 3 days, then off.” However, most of the time he didn’t take his off days. Instead, he flew door-gunner or front seat on a Cobra gunship. “I figured if anybody was going to get killed, it’d be me,” says Baker. “We were young. I really didn’t care. Most of us didn’t care.”

Often Viet Cong hid in sampan boats in the river. Baker spotted an enemy and went in for the kill. The VC returned fire and shot out the chopper engine. “I splashed down in a rice paddy on the other side of the sampan,” says Baker. “The left skid broke off, and we flipped over.” Again, good luck intervened. The other Loach sank the sampan and rescued Baker and crew.

The first time Baker was wounded by enemy fire was when he was shot down with an M-79 grenade launcher. It was his ninth crash. He had a new door-gunner. They spotted three sampans turned over in the water. Enemy soldiers were hiding beneath them. “Water was so clear at times we could see people on the bottom breathing through a reed. Command and Control wanted to capture and interrogate them.” Baker dropped down to provide covering fire. Suddenly his chopper was hit on the left side knocking out his flight control. “We were going inland. All glass, airframe, everything on the right side was blown off.” It seemed Baker had finally run out of luck. “I stomped the left pedal and we crashed, rolling over, end over end, five times. My door-gunner was hanging on the monkey strap and wounded. I got out of my harness and jumped into the water and unhooked my door-gunner. Bullets were flying everywhere – water splashing around me. I saw blood streaming down my arm and I had been hit, with shrapnel in my arm and leg.” After rescue, they were flown to a hospital where pockets of shrapnel were removed from his body. “I never felt getting shot.”

Afterwards, Baker learned that a turncoat South Vietnamese soldier had fired the M-79 that shot them down. The turncoat was stood up in front of a brick wall and machine gunned by his fellow soldiers. In Vietnam, one never knew who was friend or foe. The barber that cut the men’s hair during the day was a Viet Cong fighter at night. He was killed coming through the barbed wire that surrounded the compound. On another occasion, a “friendly” pulled the pin on a hand grenade, wrapped a rubber band around it to hold the plunger down, and dropped it in the chopper’s gas tank while the crew was temporarily absent. Fortunately, the gas ate through the rubber, and the grenade exploded before the chopper was airborne.

To be continued…
By: Jerry R. Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Early morning coldness lingered in the high mountain valley slowly giving way to the rising sun. Pat and I had spent the night in a small log cabin on the edge of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The welcomed sun warmed our faces while we watched the Wyoming sky gradually turn turquoise blue. The day held great promise and adventure. After breakfast and camp coffee, we saddled up.

“It’s a long ride up there,” our outfitter said, gazing west at the Wind River Mountains. Leading a pack horse carrying our camping gear, we rode toward granite peaks that thrust upward over 13,000 feet. Our destination was a mountain lake not far from the Continental Divide said to be teeming with brook trout. I couldn’t wait to try out my new fly rod.

Pat, an Arkansas native and former Huntsville surgical nurse, was a single mother of two daughters when I met her following my divorce in 1985. Two years later she said, “Barksdale, I’m the prettiest thing in Southeast Huntsville, maybe Southeast United States, and you need to stop looking around.” She was right, of course. A brown-eyed beauty with long raven hair, she was fully equipped with all the accessories that a man likes. And she had a wicked sense of humor. I took her advice and married her in 1987.

Earlier in the week we had flown to Jackson Hole, rented a car and drove near Dubois, turned onto a dirt road, and bumped across the Indian reservation to a small cabin and corral of horses on the edge of the national forest.

Stuffed inside two Army duffel bags was a tent, air mattress, sleeping bags, novels, flashlights, and our kitchenware. Mama’s old No. 7 blackened cast iron skillet was just the right size for frying brook trout. We had potatoes, Wesson Oil, cornmeal, and plenty of Maxwell House. Coffee, coughing and gurgling in my dented and smoke stained camp pot would bring great joy to our cold mornings. All we needed was good weather, hungry trout, and a little luck.

As we rode toward the high country, the only sound was clanging horse shoes and creaking saddles. As we climbed higher into thin air, the horses blew and caught their breath. We would be dropped off at a lake and picked up several days later. It was grizzly country. No radio, no phone, no problem, I could outrun Pat. I did have a Marine fighting knife for dressing trout and peeling potatoes. If I got in a knife fight with a grizzly, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. If that didn’t work out, I’d put on my glasses. Down South a gentleman never assaults a man wearing glasses. Well, that’s what Mama always told me. I wasn’t sure grizzlies knew that Southern custom.

“Look!” Pat pointed toward a pinkish red field. As we rode closer, I saw that it was a small glacier inhabited with algae. We began a steep climb around switchbacks. The sorrel mare I rode and the pack horse I led were blowing and snorting. The trail was narrow, a wall of granite on our left and a deep chasm on our right. One slip and airborne! At the bottom of the abyss, I noticed a line of white bones strung out in row. “What’s that?” I asked our guide.

“I was hoping that you wouldn’t see that,” he said. “A cat spooked pack horses that were tied together. One slipped and pulled the others over the edge.”

Midafternoon, we arrived at a small blue lake and set up camp. When the last clanging horseshoes died out, I realized that we were totally alone.

Pat organized the inside of our tent like it was her kitchen, got a fire going, and made coffee. By late afternoon, I had caught a mess of trout. I chopped off their heads, gutted, and cleaned them; battered them in cornmeal; and dropped them into the sizzling skillet. We ate them like corn on the cob, washed down with camp coffee. Greasy and delicious. When the sun dropped behind the peaks, coldness came. We sat around the campfire watching as it turned to glowing coals. Pat zipped our sleeping bags together so we could share body heat. About the time I stopped shivering and got warm, my enlarged prostrate grew larger. I had to pee. I crawled out of the bag, unzipped the tent flap, and walked into the freezing night and peed. I was like an icicle. I scrunched close to Pat. She jumped. “Get away!” If we even went to divorce court, I’d remember that. Something was crawling on me. Was it a tick? Then I heard animal sounds nearby. My imagination ran wild. Was it a grizzly snooping around looking for dinner? I finally got warm and was almost asleep when I had to pee again. I crawled out; it was even colder. After crawling out a third time, I remembered the coffee pot. Hmm… The following day wind howled incessantly, and we remained inside the tent, read and slept.

I followed a clear mountain stream that fed the lake and saw trout. I made a few casts and caught my line in a willow bush. As I worked to untangle it, I noticed large paw prints in the soft earth. Bear tracks! No doubt about it. Between getting up to pee and thinking about a bear eating me, I didn’t sleep much that night.

I lay awake thinking about a TV program I’d seen several years earlier where a Department of Interior employee drugged a grizzly for tagging when suddenly the bear woke and mauled him. He drew a 44 Magnum and killed the bear. When and if I ever returned to bear country, I’d be packing a .44.

The following day got real spooky. Three men appeared and set up a camp nearby. They weren’t the standard skinny, pig-tailed, trail mix-eating hikers. They looked more like escaped cons. They looked at Pat with interest. I sensed danger. Thereafter, I carried my fighting knife on my belt. I lost interest in fishing. Pat and I were packed and sitting on our duffel bags when we heard horses approaching. It was the outfitter. Thank the Lord.

“Did you guys have a real adventure?” he asked.

“Yep, that’s an understatement.”

When we returned to Huntsville, I purchased a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum at Larry’s Pistol and Pawn. The next time I went to the mountains I’d be packing it, just in case. I’d also be carrying an empty fruit jar — my version of a camper’s bed pan.
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale

When I was a child and misbehaved, Mama would shake her head and say, “Uh, uh, you’re going to turn out just like Early Smith.” (Not his real name). Other mothers did the same. It was enough to never miss Sunday School and straighten up and fly right. There is no kinder way to say it.

Early was the town drunk. Daddy was no slacker himself when it came to drinking whiskey, but he wasn’t in Early’s class. When I was in the third grade at Athens Bible School, Mama left Daddy (one of several times) and we moved into one room at Grandmother Holt’s house in Milltown. It was winter time and I walked two miles each morning to school as coal furnaces belched out black smoke and soot polluting downtown Athens. After school I walked the railroad tracks back home, mainly because Mama told me not to, which made it even more tempting. My favorite activity was looking inside empty boxcars parked on the side track.

One afternoon I crawled inside a darkened boxcar, heard snoring, and when my eyes adjusted, saw a man slumped against the wall. Empty bottles of Bay Rum hair tonic were scattered at his feet. Lord, have mercy — it was Early Smith! I’d never been that close to evil. I inched closer…closer; slowly stuck out my hand and touched his leg. He woke up. “Get outta here, kid!” I scrambled out of the boxcar and hit the ground running and didn’t stop until I reached home. I didn’t dare tell Mama or she would’ve given me a long lecture on the evils of alcohol which she had experienced firsthand. At school the next day, my buddies were saucer-eyed when I told them about how I had barely escaped death, at the hands of Early Smith. They were impressed and I was very popular for a day or two.

Many years passed and, after graduating from Alabama Law School, I returned to Athens to practice. Early Smith was still alive. I saw him shuffling down the sidewalk wearing an old knee-length Army overcoat. He was humped over, head bowed, never looking up, a sad empty hull of a man. Who was he? Why did he fall so low in life?

I asked an older lawyer, Bruce Sherrill, about Early. He told me the back story. Early had graduated from Alabama Law School in the early 1920s and was said to have been a classmate of Senator John Sparkman, one of the most powerful senators in Washington. (Had I sat in the same seat that Early once occupied while a student at Farrah Hall?) “He was practicing with an older lawyer in Athens,” said Sherrill, “and began to drink and was eventually disbarred.” Losing his law licenses and the ability earn a livelihood was a knock-out punch. Maybe that’s what triggered his trip down a rat hole. Who can say? Perhaps I would have done the same.

During the late 1950s, Early was discovered by Sheriff Clyde Ennis passed out on a public bench on the courthouse lawn. Ennis arrested him for public drunkenness and hauled into court before Judge David L. Rosenau. Sheriff Ennis testified that he found Early passed out in broad daylight on a public bench. Early admitted the allegations. Slam dunk conviction, right? Not so fast.

Early pulled out the Code of Alabama and cited the definition of public drunkenness. “Any person,… drunk, appears in public place… manifests a drunken condition by boisterous…conduct, or loud and profane….

“Yo Honor, I was drunk and in a public place,” said Early, “but I wasn’t boisterous and I wasn’t loud and I wasn’t profane. I was passed out — sound asleep.” Judge Rosenau found Early not guilty, and rightly so.

As President Obama was fond of saying, “There is a teachable moment here.” When you get drunk in public, keep your mouth shut and always, always drink enough to pass out.

I’ve often wondered what the future would have held for Early if he hadn’t slid down the alcohol rat hole as a young attorney. Early didn’t aspire to be an alcoholic. He had a dream and ambition. It’s a lesson for all of us.

There are many ratholes in life – alcohol, drugs, hate, greed and blind
ambition, to name a few. We need to be careful we don’t fall in one and
can’t climb out.
By: Jerry Barksdale
www.jerrybarksdale.com fb.com/jerry.barksdale.7

By: Jerry Barksdale

Hobey (not real name) didn’t look like a country clubber nor a deacon in the Baptist Church, because he wasn’t. Far from it. He liked whiskey – good or bad – loved to listen to Hank Williams, and was well respected at the local pool hall. To borrow from Roger Miller’s song, Hobey was a man of means by no means. He appeared at my office unannounced with a “case” as he called it. I sized him up from across my desk. Of average size and in his late 50s, his faded complexion reminded me of a pair of overalls that had been washed too many times. He looked me straight in the eye. I liked that.

“I’ll just tell ya right off the bat,” he said, “I’m a drinking man with the longest drinking rap sheet in Limestone County.” I liked his honesty, too.

I always sized up a potential client like a juror would. Did I like him? Was he believable? Did I want to help him? Over many years of trying cases, I had learned one immutable law: Jurors won’t lift a finger to help a litigant unless they know something about him and like him. I listened in silence as Hobey told his story.

It was a hot summer morning in Athens when Hobey departed his small rental house in North Athens and walked downtown to the pool hall. He had lost his driver’s license years earlier. After shooting a few games of pool, he purchased a bottle of “bootleg” whiskey and walked back home. Athens was “dry” at the time, and I knew jurors wouldn’t approve of his drinking. His modest house was located next door to an in-law. She didn’t approve of Hobey and didn’t approve of drinking. He raised the window in his bedroom to catch a breeze, placed a stack of Hank Williams records on the turn table, and killed the bottle of whiskey. He lay down on the bed and let the alcohol work its magic while he listened to Hank whine about cheating hearts and lost highways. Hank’s lyrics wafted out the raised window as Hobey dozed off. Not only did his in-law dislike drinking, she didn’t like Hank either. She called the sheriff’s office. “Hobey’s drunk again and playing loud music.”

Shortly, a county brown skidded up. Two deputies emerged and, without a warrant and without knocking, they entered Hobey’s castle where they found him peacefully asleep on his bed. They grabbed Hobey and began pulling him from the bed. Hobey, being suddenly and violently awakened from his alcohol fog and not knowing who was attacking him, began flailing at his attackers. Then one of the deputies beat the crap out of him. He was cuffed and thrown in the back seat of the squad car and hauled off to jail. “I’m hurting bad,” he said. They ignored him. After all, he was just another drunk. He was placed in a cell. “I’m hurting,” he said. Finally, he was transported to E.R. with fractured ribs.

“Why do you think a jury will help you?” I asked him.

He leaned close to my desk. “Them damn Japanese didn’t treat me that bad,” he said, referring to his WWII service. And that was the crux of his case. A man’s house is his castle and the king’s men have no right to enter without a warrant. Our ancestors fought a revolution to secure that right. A citizen can get drunk and listen to Hank all day long in his own house if he chooses. “Hobey, you just found yourself a lawyer,” I said.

I filed suit in Federal Court against Limestone County, the sheriff, and the two deputies. After the defense lawyer had milked all the money he could out of the insurance company, they offered to settle.

I didn’t think a jury would approve of Hobey’s lifestyle, but neither would they approve of the king’s men barging into a citizen’s castle without a warrant and dragging him from bed. Not in America! Justice is blind. She knows no distinction between a fallen sparrow and a soaring eagle, a deacon or a pool player. She knows only justice.

The case was settled. I received a nice fee, and Hobey got enough money to keep him in good whiskey and Hank records for a long time. Later, I was sitting at my desk with my back to the bay window that looks out to South Marion Street. I heard “beep – beep.” I turned around and there was Hobey astride a brand new shiny, red bicycle. It was loaded – basket in front, horn and tassel handle bar. Hobey was smiling like a kid. After telling him it was against the law to ride on the sidewalk, he pedaled off. That’s the last time I saw him until several years later when I was Athens City Prosecutor. I didn’t recognize him. He was charged with public drunkenness. “I’ll plead guilty,” he said, “but I don’t want to attend ‘drunk school.’”

“It’s mandatory,” I said. “The city makes a fat fee, and the defendant must attend classes.”

We approached the bench. “Your honor, Hobey admits he was drunk, but says he ‘don’t want to attend drunk school’ and pay a fee.”

“Why is that?” asked the judge.

“Your honor, I’m a drunk. Always have been and will be till the day I die. Attending drunk school and paying a fee won’t change that.”

“He’s telling the truth Judge,” I said. “I know Hobey.”

Hobey didn’t attend drunk school and I never saw him again. I heard that he died several years ago. No streets are names after Hobey, and he was never voted Man of the Year; but he had an honesty about him that not all of us are blessed with.
By: Jerry Barksdale
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By: Jerry Barksdale

Ever since I retired five years ago, Lilly Belle has asked me to take her on a fall tour of New England. “I want to see the leaves,” she said. Being a sensitive husband, I always try to accommodate her. “Darling, look out the back door. A leaf is a leaf no matter where it’s located.”

After she burned my cornbread three days in a row, I decided that I, too, wanted to tour New England. It was just before Halloween when I went online looking for a cheap tour and found Forever Tours in Birmingham. It was a new company offering reduced prices. I had lucked out. Lilly Belle was painting her toenails and watching QVC. “Sweetheart,” I said. “I’ve found a great deal on a fall tour. And I love their motto – Tours worth dying for.” “That’s clever,” she said and chuckled. “Let’s go – please.”

The tour bus picked us up at Cracker Barrel in Athens and we headed north on I-65, picking up other travelers as we went. Everyone was happy and excited, taking pictures out the window with their cell phone.

Bruno, our tour guide wore dark glasses and a three-day stubble and wasn’t very friendly, but he kept us occupied with rest stops where pastries, ice cream, and deserts were plentiful. The driver, hidden behind dark glasses, never said a word to us. He and Bruno often whispered while outside the bus. We overnighted in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Amish country; visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and saw the Liberty Bell. I ate a Philly cheese steak which is my opinion, wasn’t as tasty as a Dub’s burger. In Boston, I stood in front of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s expensive home on Beacon Hill and saw the fire plug that he paid $125,000 to move a few yards so he could park his car. On Harvard Campus, I saw “Snowflakes” hurrying to their “safe space,” or maybe it was to Starbucks for a $5.00 cup of Joe. I’ve never figured out why a sane person would pay 79¢ for a senior coffee at McDonalds when he can get a cup of Starbucks for $5.00.

We finally crossed into Vermont where maple trees had exploded in red, yellow, and orange. “Look left!” someone exclaimed. Everyone rushed over to the left side of the bus nearly turning it over. We laughed. Oh, what fun! Everyone was as excited as school children. Lilly Belle squeezed my hand and smiled at me. I loved her happiness. She purchased a pint of maple syrup which was more expensive than a good single malt scotch whiskey. What the heck, it was vacation. She snapped pictures of covered bridges and colorful foliage and posted them on Facebook.

I was beginning to think that Bruno had no sense of humor when he cracked a real funny. “Three men were in a pick-up truck, one driving and two riding in back,” he said. “They ran off the road into a river. The driver rolled down the window and got out.” He paused. “The two men in back drowned. They couldn’t get the tail gate open.”

Everyone laughed. Oh, what a fun trip. I was glad Lilly Belle and I came along. I did notice something unusual. Each time we stopped for a break, a black Cadillac with tinted windows appeared behind us. I didn’t mention it to Lilly Belle. A mere coincidence, I told myself.

On Halloween morning, we crossed into New Hampshire and drove through the White Mountain National Forest. It was so beautiful that I won’t attempt to describe it. I can’t. It was also very isolated. A two-lane asphalt road snaked through dense forest. Fog enveloped us. We didn’t meet the first car. However, when we went around a hairpin curve, I did see the black Cadillac trailing behind us. The bus began a steep climb up a long hill, slowed to a crawl then stopped. Dense forest of hemlock, spruce, beech, and maple trees surrounded us. The driver exited, went to the back of the bus, and I heard him raise the door where the diesel engine was located.

“What’s wrong?” Lilly Belle asked.

“Must be engine trouble,” I replied.

She returned to her cell phone. No service. Bruno said the engine had thrown a belt and assured us that a replacement was on the way. “Everyone remain on the bus,” he said.

The black Cadillac pulled around to the front of the bus and stopped. My instinct kicked in. I didn’t like what I saw and what I felt. Several men wearing dark glasses exited the Cadillac and set up orange traffic cones to stop any traffic that might appear. Several hundred feet in front of us, I saw an oncoming car stop and turn around. Then, a refrigerator truck with “Ice Cream” painted on the side drove up. It looked like an average ice cream truck, but yet it didn’t. Strange. Something was wrong. Fear kicked in. My instinct was telling me to flee. Lilly Belle sensed it also. She squeezed my hand. “What’s happening?” she whispered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

No sooner had I spoke when an ambulance with a Red Cross emblem on the side pulled up and stopped. Two men, wearing clown masks exited, snapping on surgical gloves. One was carrying a bundle of black plastic garbage bags. Bruno came on board and said sternly, “Everyone out of the bus. Now!”

Passengers were getting nervous and began asking questions. “Out,” said Bruno. He marched all 50 of us into the edge of a stand of hemlock trees and lined us up. Women began sobbing and praying aloud. My eyes darted in every direction. Behind us was a thicket of pines. I heard a chainsaw crank. I knew what was coming. And it was then I understood the corporate motto – “Trips worth dying for.” The ice cream truck wasn’t carrying ice cream. It was for preserving human organs. We were about to be slaughtered and our organs harvested.

I grabbed Lilly Belle’s hand and whispered, “Run and don’t look back!” We bolted and fled into the thick forest. I heard the chainsaw doing its evil work, ripping through flesh and bone, but the screams nearly drowned out its awful sound. We ran, never looking back, until we emerged on a paved road and flagged down an old Plymouth. I was frothing at the mouth, trying to tell the driver what happened, but I don’t think he believed a word I said.

I never heard about the terrible slaughter on the news. And I never reported it. I did hear that 50 tourists had mysteriously disappeared, but no trace could be found of them. Lilly Belle and I were the only living witnesses. We have since moved to another state and changed our names. Every knock on our door freezes me with fear. Every stranger I meet could be an assassin coming for us. The sound of chainsaw and screams fills my nightmares.

Halloween will never be the same. I lock my doors and turn off the lights and cower in my safe room. My advice to would-be travelers is stay home and watch the Travel Channel. Don’t trade your liver for maple syrup and seeing New England foliage.
By: Jerry Barksdale
JerryBarksdale.Com

By: Jerry Barksdale

Ever since I retired five years ago, Lilly Belle has asked me to take her on a fall tour of New England. “I want to see the leaves,” she said. Being a sensitive husband, I always try to accommodate her. “Darling, look out the back door. A leaf is a leaf no matter where it’s located.”

After she burned my cornbread three days in a row, I decided that I, too, wanted to tour New England. It was just before Halloween when I went online looking for a cheap tour and found Forever Tours in Birmingham. It was a new company offering reduced prices. I had lucked out. Lilly Belle was painting her toenails and watching QVC. “Sweetheart,” I said. “I’ve found a great deal on a fall tour. And I love their motto – Tours worth dying for.” “That’s clever,” she said and chuckled. “Let’s go – please.”

The tour bus picked us up at Cracker Barrel in Athens and we headed north on I-65, picking up other travelers as we went. Everyone was happy and excited, taking pictures out the window with their cell phone.

Bruno, our tour guide wore dark glasses and a three-day stubble and wasn’t very friendly, but he kept us occupied with rest stops where pastries, ice cream, and deserts were plentiful. The driver, hidden behind dark glasses, never said a word to us. He and Bruno often whispered while outside the bus. We overnighted in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Amish country; visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and saw the Liberty Bell. I ate a Philly cheese steak which is my opinion, wasn’t as tasty as a Dub’s burger. In Boston, I stood in front of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s expensive home on Beacon Hill and saw the fire plug that he paid $125,000 to move a few yards so he could park his car. On Harvard Campus, I saw “Snowflakes” hurrying to their “safe space,” or maybe it was to Starbucks for a $5.00 cup of Joe. I’ve never figured out why a sane person would pay 79¢ for a senior coffee at McDonalds when he can get a cup of Starbucks for $5.00.

We finally crossed into Vermont where maple trees had exploded in red, yellow, and orange. “Look left!” someone exclaimed. Everyone rushed over to the left side of the bus nearly turning it over. We laughed. Oh, what fun! Everyone was as excited as school children. Lilly Belle squeezed my hand and smiled at me. I loved her happiness. She purchased a pint of maple syrup which was more expensive than a good single malt scotch whiskey. What the heck, it was vacation. She snapped pictures of covered bridges and colorful foliage and posted them on Facebook.

I was beginning to think that Bruno had no sense of humor when he cracked a real funny. “Three men were in a pick-up truck, one driving and two riding in back,” he said. “They ran off the road into a river. The driver rolled down the window and got out.” He paused. “The two men in back drowned. They couldn’t get the tail gate open.”

Everyone laughed. Oh, what a fun trip. I was glad Lilly Belle and I came along. I did notice something unusual. Each time we stopped for a break, a black Cadillac with tinted windows appeared behind us. I didn’t mention it to Lilly Belle. A mere coincidence, I told myself.

On Halloween morning, we crossed into New Hampshire and drove through the White Mountain National Forest. It was so beautiful that I won’t attempt to describe it. I can’t. It was also very isolated. A two-lane asphalt road snaked through dense forest. Fog enveloped us. We didn’t meet the first car. However, when we went around a hairpin curve, I did see the black Cadillac trailing behind us. The bus began a steep climb up a long hill, slowed to a crawl then stopped. Dense forest of hemlock, spruce, beech, and maple trees surrounded us. The driver exited, went to the back of the bus, and I heard him raise the door where the diesel engine was located.

“What’s wrong?” Lilly Belle asked.

“Must be engine trouble,” I replied.

She returned to her cell phone. No service. Bruno said the engine had thrown a belt and assured us that a replacement was on the way. “Everyone remain on the bus,” he said.

The black Cadillac pulled around to the front of the bus and stopped. My instinct kicked in. I didn’t like what I saw and what I felt. Several men wearing dark glasses exited the Cadillac and set up orange traffic cones to stop any traffic that might appear. Several hundred feet in front of us, I saw an oncoming car stop and turn around. Then, a refrigerator truck with “Ice Cream” painted on the side drove up. It looked like an average ice cream truck, but yet it didn’t. Strange. Something was wrong. Fear kicked in. My instinct was telling me to flee. Lilly Belle sensed it also. She squeezed my hand. “What’s happening?” she whispered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

No sooner had I spoke when an ambulance with a Red Cross emblem on the side pulled up and stopped. Two men, wearing clown masks exited, snapping on surgical gloves. One was carrying a bundle of black plastic garbage bags. Bruno came on board and said sternly, “Everyone out of the bus. Now!”

Passengers were getting nervous and began asking questions. “Out,” said Bruno. He marched all 50 of us into the edge of a stand of hemlock trees and lined us up. Women began sobbing and praying aloud. My eyes darted in every direction. Behind us was a thicket of pines. I heard a chainsaw crank. I knew what was coming. And it was then I understood the corporate motto – “Trips worth dying for.” The ice cream truck wasn’t carrying ice cream. It was for preserving human organs. We were about to be slaughtered and our organs harvested.

I grabbed Lilly Belle’s hand and whispered, “Run and don’t look back!” We bolted and fled into the thick forest. I heard the chainsaw doing its evil work, ripping through flesh and bone, but the screams nearly drowned out its awful sound. We ran, never looking back, until we emerged on a paved road and flagged down an old Plymouth. I was frothing at the mouth, trying to tell the driver what happened, but I don’t think he believed a word I said.

I never heard about the terrible slaughter on the news. And I never reported it. I did hear that 50 tourists had mysteriously disappeared, but no trace could be found of them. Lilly Belle and I were the only living witnesses. We have since moved to another state and changed our names. Every knock on our door freezes me with fear. Every stranger I meet could be an assassin coming for us. The sound of chainsaw and screams fills my nightmares.

Halloween will never be the same. I lock my doors and turn off the lights and cower in my safe room. My advice to would-be travelers is stay home and watch the Travel Channel. Don’t trade your liver for maple syrup and seeing New England foliage.
By: Jerry Barksdale
JerryBarksdale.Com

By: Jerry Barksdale

I’m a dog and doggone proud of it. I was held in captivity by humans and against my will until I escaped. This is my story told to Jerry Barksdale, a real journalist.

I was born out of wedlock beneath a farmhouse near Elkmont, Alabama. I don’t know the date since dogs don’t have calendars – and don’t need them. Nor do I know my Daddy. I suspect that he was the basset hound that often chased rabbits through the neighborhood. Mama was the prettiest, ugly, bulldog I ever saw. She was quite a looker. I have long ears and droopy eyes which I inherited from Daddy and very short legs which I got from Mama. I was a happy, well-adjusted pup. I have six siblings. All of us look the same, except for me. I’m the runt of the litter. I didn’t have a name at the time. Dogs aren’t required to have a name. Nor do I have a birth certificate – don’t need one since I know who I am.

One day, Mama took us from the beneath the old house, and we ran and romped in the yard, played in the cow pasture and woodland, and lived a life of freedom. I was happy doing what a dog is born to do. I especially loved to chase cats, and Mama taught us later how to chase rabbits and squirrels and the mailman. But my favorite sport was chasing cyclists, joggers, and cars. Now that was fun! I didn’t go to school, attend church, pay taxes, or work. I lay in the shade most of the time and took long, restful naps. Later, I developed an interest in girl dogs and copulated regularly with them, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Boy! That was fun.

Big Daddy – he was our master – lived in the big house and wore overalls. He called me “hey dog,” which made me feel special. Later, he started calling me Shorty, I suppose because of my short legs. He let our little family live in the barn, which was warm in the winter time. When he whistled and hollered, “Heah, heah, heah!” fun was about to begin. We’d jump into the back of his old Chevy pick-up and he’d take us rabbit hunting. There is nothing tastier than fresh caught raw rabbit, except for seasoned road kills. Occasionally, I ate pig poop, which is a delicacy. When we got fleas and ticks, Big Daddy knew exactly what to do. He poured a mixture of used motor oil and tractor fuel down our spine. You should’ve seen fleas and ticks jumping off and running for their lives! I loved Big Daddy, especially when he tugged my long ears.
Big Mama wore an apron and was always whistling and singing. She threw out table scraps for us to eat and even cooked cornbread for us and soaked it in water. Now, that was delicious but not as satisfying as road kill and pig poop. I loved Big Mama, too.

Like I said, I was a happy, well- adjusted dog living a dog’s life. Then one day my life changed. A huge black SUV came down the gravel road, kicking up a cloud of dust. We ran out and gave chase. Lil’ Sis who could catch a rabbit and bite a jogger, had no experience catching cars. She was crushed to death. Mama went over and sniffed her body and walked away, her tail drooped. I knew she was sad. The monster car stopped and a small woman got out and ran over to where Sis lay. “Poor pitiful little doggie,” she said and began crying. Big Daddy walked over to see what the commotion was about. He told her not to worry, that we had it coming to us. The woman saw me standing there with my little tail drooping. She stroked my head. That’s when I should have bit her hand off. She picked me up and began speaking baby babble. “Ohhh, he’s so precious, isn’t he darling?” She nuzzled me, then kissed me on the mouth. “Peew whew!” She jerked back. I guess she smelled pig poop on my breath.

The woman — I called her Bad Woman – lived in a brickhouse in Athens that looked exactly like the dozens of houses that surrounded her. There was no pasture, no woodland, and no rabbits and squirrels to chase. I couldn’t run and play. She gave me a bath in a big white tub instead of letting me lick myself clean like Mama had taught me. She even brushed my teeth. Yuck! I had to pee on a pad and poop on command. When I didn’t conform, she made me wear a diaper. Humiliating! She even made me sleep with her. Disgusting! How would she feel if she had to sleep in the barn with my siblings? She dressed me in a sweater and sometimes pushed me down the sidewalk in a dog stroller. She locked me inside her house all day and made me watch “Animal Planet” and gave me a rubber bone to gnaw on. How crazy is that? Instead of feeding me road kill and an occasional helping of pig poop, she fed me horrible tasting stuff out of a sack. I couldn’t go outside and run and fornicate like a dog is supposed to do. She led me around on a leash like I was a slave. When I rode in her monster car, she strapped me in a dog seat. How demeaning! She tried to make me into something that I wasn’t. She even entered me in a 5K foot race and made me chase after nothing — no mailman, no jogger, no nothing. Now that is crazy.

Then one day I overhead her say she was going to clip my tail and ears. “No, doggoneit, no!” That’s when I rebelled. She enrolled me in obedience school where a bad man made me walk on a treadmill and tried to squeeze all the dog out of me and make me into a human. I didn’t want to be a human. They argue and fight about skin color, which politician lies less, and constantly stoke discord between men and women, and even argue and fight about who is the true God. They work themselves into a lather and make war and kill each other. Dogs don’t do these things. We aren’t filled with guilt, greed, hate, jealously, and malice and, we don’t hold grudges.

I began acting out! I pooped on the neighbor’s lawnmower seat and peed on his geraniums. Whoa, doggie! Talk about upset. He shook his fist at Bad Woman and told her to keep me out of his yard. He-he-he. I loved it. Then he yelled at me. “Get outta here! You ugly mongrel.” That really hurt my feelings. I chewed the leg of Bad Woman’s expensive antique table. She sobbed and took pills and poured tall glasses of wine and began mumbling and babbling. “Why don’t he love me?”

I hatched a plan to escape this hellish life. One day, while tethered outside, I chewed through the rope and ran like the wind. “Free! Free at last!” I was so happy — and so free. I hummed,” Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…” Oh yeah, baby. I chased the neighbor’s cat, patrolled for girl dogs, but didnt’ see any. They were all in captivity, too.

Two men dressed in blue jumped out of a pick-up. “There’s the little varmint. Catch ‘im!” one yelled. My short legs were no match for the net. I was locked inside a cage and hauled to dog jail. No reading my rights, no lawyer, no nothing. Bad Woman never came to bail me out. I was scared. My cellmates kept disappearing. A Doberman said it was part of the “final solution.” “What’s that?” I asked. “The needle dude — the needle.” He said it was a crime for dogs to be free. That really scared me. My only crime was wanting to act like a dog and not a human.

One day, I looked up and there stood Big Daddy in his overalls. He pointed at me and the jailer let me out. Oh, how happy I was! I rode in the back of his old pick-up to Elkmont where he turned me loose to run free. Mama and my siblings were overjoyed to see me. Before long I was chasing squirrels, rabbits, joggers, and cyclists, but not cars. I had learned my lesson. Big Mama cooked me cornbread. That night I scrunched up against Mama in the barn and slept like a rock, dreaming of cats, rabbits, and squirrels — and, yes, girl dogs. “Free, free at last.”
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry Barksdale

We were off on another “man trip,” this time to the Hall of Heroes Museum in Talladega, Alabama. As usual, women weren’t allowed. No ma’am! This was a serious trip. They would have hampered important discussions about—well, women – juicy gossip about women and male health problems. Anyway, we didn’t have time to stop for pedicures, shoe shopping, and other such foolishness.

Mike Criscillas, a/k/a “Big Mike,” Army Command Sergeant Major, Ret., was at the wheel of his wife Shirley’s luxurious Infiniti SUV. It’s loaded with high-tech gadgets ranging from butt warmer to navigation apps. It could use a simple Boy Scout compass mounted on the dash since Mike tends to get lost. On a previous man trip, he got lost before we left the Veterans Museum parking lot.

Ewell Smith, retired ASU Business Manager, served as our official reporter on Alabama politicians that have recently been indicted. Bill Ward, retired mathematician and college professor, was self-appointed “joke cracker.” Retired Athens cop and president of the Alabama Veterans Museum, Jerry Crabtree, was back seat driver and color commentator. I rode shotgun. All of us are volunteers at the Alabama Veterans Museum.

Earlier, Jimmy Williams and Joe Powers with the recently organized Hall of Heroes visited us in Athens seeking advice. We accommodated them. They reciprocated and invited us to visit them. It was an entertaining 2 ½-hour trip on back roads through historic Somerville, along low mountains, past green pastures, corn fields and lovely chicken houses. We drove to Attala, then south on Alabama 77 to Talladega.

Crabtree, a retired National Guard Sergeant, who made many convoy trips from Athens to Ft. McClellan, almost grew misty eyed with nostalgia when he pointed and said, “This is where our convoy always stopped, and we got out and peed.” Very touching. “In somebody’s yard?” asked Ward. Phew wee! They must have contaminated every well within a half mile. A historical marker – or warning sign – might be appropriate.

Someone mentioned that Madonna had finally carried out her threat and departed America. She moved to Portugal. How much more bad news can we endure? We are already in a trade war, opioids are killing our citizens, and Russians are telling us how to vote. I still have hope. We’re a resilient people. We survived Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and I pray we will survive Madonna leaving our fruited plains.

Finally, good news. “Talladega is just ahead,” someone said.

Talladega (pop. 15, 451) sits on the edge of 392,000 acres of Talladega National Forest. Looming in the distance was Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama. The city is known today for Talladega Superspeedway and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB). Athens history buffs may be interested to know that Rep. Thomas H. Hobbs introduced the first legislation in 1858 to establish a school for the blind. Hobbs’ Co. F, 9th Ala., was the first to depart Athens to fight in the Civil War. He died following the Battle of Gaines Mill, June, 1862. His parents who lived on N. Marion Street (it still stands in front of present City Hall) fled to Talladega for safety when Yankees occupied Athens in 1862.

We arrived at Hall of Heroes on the east side of the courthouse square. Jimmy Williams, wearing short pants and a wide smile, greeted us. The museum is housed in the Wood-Weaver Building (c. 1870, listed on the National Registry of Historical Places) where shoes were sold for nearly 150 years. Uniforms of local servicemen are displayed in the windows, along with a Red Goose shoe sign. Admission is free. The museum is neat and clean.

Ms. Aimee Gable, friendly Museum Manager, along with Ms. Keela Brown, Museum President, greeted us; they treated us like we were somebody. I love Southern hospitality. Photos of local heroes line both walls and mannequins displayed a variety of uniforms. My attention was drawn to a display of U.S.S. Talladega, a naval transport named for Talladega County. It landed Marines on Iwo Jima during WWII, included four of the Mt. Suribachi flag raisers.

The Weaver family donated the building to the museum; a city councilman did the plumbing and the Mayor did the flooring — all for free. The backroom, dedicated to policeman, firemen, first responders, and scouting, is filled with artifacts and uniforms.

Following lunch at Tina’s Home Cookin’, a block off the square, we toured the “Silk Stocking” historical district, 113 acres of stately old homes listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Located nearby is the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. I was told they manufacture all of the neck ties for our military.

On the return trip home, while Crabtree was yacking on the phone doing a car trade and not performing his backseat driving duties, Big Mike shot past the turnoff. “Hey Mike, you lost again?” asked Ward.

I began feeling warm, then perspiring for no apparent reason. Heart attack! Oh, no! Worse still, I may have contracted a case of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrone) from association with my liberal friends. Big Mike was smiling. He had dialed up my seat warmer to broil. Scared me half to death!

It was a fun trip, and I heard a lot of half-truths and gossip which I can’t report. I can say that there is no sin in Athens — until after the sun goes down. Seriously, it was a great man trip. There is a lot to see in Talladega. Drive down, visit the Hall of Heroes, hike the endless trails in the Talladega National Forest, and visit the nearby International Motor Sport Hall of Fame. Take your camera and stop at the historic intersection of U.S. 431 and Ala. 278 and see where the Athens National Guardsmen peed. One day you can tell your children that you saw it — and have a photo to prove it. And be sure to tell the folks at the Hall of Heroes that you are from Athens. Remind them about our man trip. They may tell you to get out of town. But, I bet they’ll treat you like you’re somebody.
By: Jerry Barksdale