By: Jerry Barksdale
South Vietnam, 1968. No one had to tell Major Clarence R. Little that Vietnam was a dangerous place. He had survived two thunderous mortar attacks and been shot by a Viet Cong sniper. Would his luck hold? Would he live to see his wife Diane and their two young sons again back in Sunnyvale, California? They never missed watching the nightly news, hoping to see him.

He was riding shotgun in a Jeep through “Mine Alley,” a stretch of road heavily mined by Viet Cong. Unknown to Little, they had buried explosives in the road with wires running to a tree line. A VC waited to set it off electrically by touching two wires together when an American vehicle passed over it. Standard policy, when seeing a mine hole, was to go fast and stop short or go slow, then speed up.

The driver spotted a mine hole and slammed on his brakes. The VC touched the wires together, but his timing was off. The blast occurred in front of the Jeep. Little’s luck was holding. “I got hit in the right hand with shrapnel.” No big sweat.

While on patrol, a booby trap with trip wires connected to a hand grenade was discovered. They marked the spot by laying two palm leaves over the trip wire, about a foot off the ground, so that his soldiers could see it. One man didn’t see the leaves and trip wire. A sergeant ran up to Little and yelled, “Mine!” Little turned around and looked at him just as it went off. “His back protected me. He had eleven holes in his back.”

Little, with shrapnel in his left leg, picked up his sergeant and carried him to a chopper. Both were evacuated to a hospital in Saigon.

After his leg was sutured, Little limped over to the officers club and ordered two drinks, drank one and carried the other back to his wounded sergeant. “You’d better down it now,” he said and went outside and sat down.

“I’m mad at you,” a woman’s voice said. He turned and saw his nurse. “Why are you mad at me?”

“You brought one of your men a drink, but didn’t bring one to me.”

The next morning Little awoke in the hospital and saw a medic outside cutting up sand bags and putting them on the grass to make it grow. The combat veteran nearly lost his cool. “I’d been begging for sand bags for months to protect lives and here they were using them to make grass grow in Saigon.” Little had enough of the hospital. He asked his nurse for permission to go purchase a new uniform. “You can’t leave the hospital,” she said. “You have another six days before you heal.” Finally she relented. Little purchased a new uniform, dressed and hightailed it to the airport where a Caribou aircraft was revving up. “Where you guys going?” he asked the Australian crew. “To the Mekong Delta, Yank.”

“Can I hop a ride?”

“Climb aboard Yank.”

Little landed in Vinh Long Province, spent the night in a fancy four story military building and was having chow in the mess hall when his old friend, Col. Rausch walked up. He invited Little up to the fourth floor for a drink. “When I walked in, it was a dance floor with orchestra pit and a bar,” says Little. “Very unwarlike.”

He sat down at the bar and ordered a Coke. “Have you had many of these?” he asked Rausch, referring to the dance. “Oh yeah, this is about the 5th or 6th dance we’ve had, every Friday night about 9 p.m. till midnight!” Little’s alarm bell went off. Pattern! Never, never establish a pattern. He excused himself, went downstairs, grabbed his .45 pistol, shoved it in his back waist band and returned to the bar. Little’s instinct was correct. “Sure as hell at midnight I heard a machine gun.” He ran over to a windowed door that lead to a balcony, looked down and saw the muzzle blast of a machine gun near the front gate. Knowing that a .45 pistol was no match for a machine gun, he ran back inside looking for a rifle; Little went down to the first floor and saw a soldier holding a carbine with a banana clip. “Give it to me!” Then he asked, “Are there any “friendlies” across the street?” The solder was hesitant. “My God man, I’m going to kill them! Do you have any friendlies across the street?”

“No sir! I’m not that drunk,” replied the soldier.

Little hurried back to the fourth floor, jumped over a man lying on the floor, and went to the balcony. He chambered a round and opened fire at the muzzle blast. Machine gun bullets stitched the wall within a foot of where Little stood. He emptied the carbine at the muzzle blast. “I ran back inside and had to jump over this same guy again. He was the colonel in charge of the whole damn thing.” Little ran downstairs looking for ammo. The soldier didn’t have any more, so he returned the carbine, pulled out his .45 pistol and went out the back door and over to the corner of the building. He saw the duty officer standing by the gate pillar. The duty NCO was behind the other one. Little ran over to the duty officer who asked him, “What do we do?” Little asked if a guard was inside the outpost by the gate. “Yessir, I heard him moan.” Little told him to open the gate, that he would draw enemy fire while they rescued the wounded man. “He opened the gate and I ran out and knelt down next to a dead VC and waited for the VC to fire again so I knew where the hell they were.”

The wounded guard was taken for treatment. Little and the duty officer ran down the street between the buildings and saw two mines the VC had set. They sandbagged both so that no one would activate them, then went down to the canal where the VC had come from. They were gone. When they returned to the entrance gate, Little stopped. He sensed danger. “Wait a minute!” That’s when he got scared. The buildings were full of Americans with weapons. “They don’t know us. They liable to shoot us,” he said. The duty officer yelled, “Hold your fire!”

They walked across the street and saw Col. Rausch and several soldiers. Rausch had two drinks in his hands. “I thought you could use one of these,” he said. “I sure can,” replied Little and downed one. The colonel in charge – the one lying on the floor rushed up. “Now, he was combat ready,” says Little. “He said the airfield was under attack and headed off in that direction. “Stop him!” said Little. “The VC have a machine gun set up to cover the road. They‘ll cut him to pieces. “

The colonel reconsidered and, instead, sent another officer and four men in a jeep. Says Little, “I later heard the VC cut them down.”

Little went to bed. The next morning the colonel in charge and his staff came marching into the mess hall where Little was having breakfast. “Now they are combat ready; got on flak jackets, helmets and have weapons,” says Little. “He asked if I was Major Little from Cang Long. Little stood. “Yes sir.”

“Don’t you ever come back. The VC followed you here.”

“Sir, I’m from the hospital in Saigon,” replied Little.

“Don’t ever come back.”

“I sat back down and away he went,” says Little, who soon departed Saigon and returned to Cang Long.

Two weeks later Col. Rausch flew in and dropped off a case of beer. “The colonel has put the duty officer and NCO in for a Silver Star,” he told Little. “He’s not putting you in because he says the VC followed you up there.”

“I killed a lot of VC that night,” replied Little, who knew the VC lived among them and could exact revenge anytime they wanted to. “I’d just as soon go home alive,” said Little. “Forget the Silver Star. Don’t tell anyone I did all those killings.”

The VC moved among the population and American soldiers were always at risk. “Sometimes you could tell who they were by the way they looked at you – hate in their eyes,” says Little. “They would put Agent Orange in water pistols and spray Americans. Once I was sprayed across the mouth when I passed a bunch of people.”

Shortly before departing Vietnam, Little picked up a piece of cheese on Sgt. Custer’s radio operations desk and ate it on the way to the team house. A rat awoke him gnawing on his finger. “It must have smelled the cheese. I had to go to Saigon and get a rabies shot.” Meanwhile, President Johnson visited Saigon. “I was supposed to get an award from him, but my team didn’t know where I was. I didn’t learn about it until after the President left.” Little never inquired about the proposed award. His mind was on more important things – going home.

January, 1969, Major Little boarded a plane at Tan Son Knut Airbase and flew home. Thank God he wasn’t in a body bag, but neither was he whole. He carried scars and shrapnel to prove it. In California, he picked up Diane and his two sons and they drove across country to New York. “We rode on a 4-lane free as a bird. When we got to a toll booth at the New York State line, they had their hand out – gimme.” Little didn’t like that.

Later, Little volunteered for the Green Beret, an elite Army group of select volunteers. This unique band of soldiers is summed up by a verse from S/Sgt. Barry Sadler’s song, “Ballad of the Green Berets”: “One hundred men will test today but only three will wear the Green Beret.” After a tour of duty with the 1st Special Forces in Indonesia and Okinawa, Little was eventually stationed at Redstone in Huntsville.

“When I came to Alabama, they put out their hands, but unlike New York, it was to welcome us.” He retired as a Lt. Col. in January, 1981, and he and Diane have lived in Limestone County on the Tennessee River since then. Both sons are Auburn ROTC graduates and served in the military. Douglas spent 10 years in the Army Corps of Engineers and lives in South Carolina. Jeffery, a rocket scientist who lives in Madison, Alabama, spent 20 years in the Air Force. Colonel and Mrs. Little have 5 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. Col. Little, age 85, still has a clear mind, but his body doesn’t respond as quickly as it did when he was an Army skydiver with 150 jumps that earned him a broken leg.

A shadow box on Little’s wall filled with medals and ribbons tells the story of a brave American who did his duty and did it well. He holds 3 Purple Hearts, Bronze Star for valor, Parachutist Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, National Defense Services Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and Palm awarded for valor and heroic conduct while fighting the enemy. He is a Mason and a Shriner.

Having been challenged by bullets, booby traps, land mines, and mortar attacks in the past, this old warrior has taken up a new challenge – learning to play the organ. “That’s my passion now,” Little said and nodded toward an organ across the room. “Would you like to hear Guy Lombardo?” he asked me, and struck up “Auld Lang Syne.” Good job. “Here is my favorite,” he said, and played “Your Cheating Heart.”
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale
February, 1968. Somewhere over the South China Sea, Major Clarence R. Little, age 36, closed his eyes, listened to the drone of the engines and thought about what lay ahead of him. He was headed to harm’s way, that much he knew. Politicians in Washington called it “Vietnam Conflict.” The 58,318 whose names would eventually be chiseled in black granite would have told them it was a war – and a hellish one at that! It was in its 9th year. Little would soon experience it firsthand.

The flight was long and tiring, giving Major Little much time to think – maybe too much. And his head was full of thoughts. A soldier returned from Nam one of three ways: happy and whole after a year of service, wounded, or inside a body bag. Over 16,000 Americans had been killed to date. By year’s end 30,000 would be dead. In January, the TET Offensive had been launched and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon attacked. And, yes, he thought about his sweet wife, Diane, and their two boys, Douglas, age 10, and Jeffery, age 8, back in Sunnyvale, California. He had met pretty blue-eyed, Diane Elizabeth Kilsey the first day of school in the 8th grade at Corfu, a small village in upstate New York. “Someday, I’m going to marry you,” he told her. She wasn’t so sure. Both graduated from Pembroke during the Korean War. Little couldn’t get a job so he joined the Army. His father, a tool and die maker, was asleep on the couch when he walked in and proudly announced his enlistment. His father jumped up. “Good God Almighty! They are using live bullets over there!”

After serving two years, Little went to work for Chevrolet, earned an engineering degree, and re-enlisted in the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. In 1954, he fulfilled his promise – he married Diane. He had recently spent 6 months at Ft. Bliss, Texas, learning to speak Vietnamese. His orders were specific. He would be a military advisor to South Vietnam forces fighting Viet Cong – called VC for short. The blue South China Sea eventually gave way to land, rice paddies, and deep green – Vietnam. His plane bumped down the runway at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside Saigon. Little had arrived.

Little reported for duty and was ordered to the Mekong Delta, a vast wetland no more than 10 feet above sea level, and longtime base for Viet Cong. A buddy had previously told him not to take Cang Long district.

“Why not?”
His buddy explained, “It’s well known that no advisor has ever lived to rotate off that team.”

Little reported at Cang Long and asked the Colonel, “Is this the place I heard that no Americans ever rotated alive?” It was. “It seems to me you need an infantry man instead of an engineer,” said Little.

“No, your background is mines and booby traps. That’s why I want you here.”

Little’s team consisted of 8 Americans, living in a rural village, also named Cang Long, working alongside South Vietnamese soldiers. One mile south of Cang Long, the team was constructing a school for children. Winning the hearts and minds of locals was America’s best weapon against the Communist. The South Vietnamese captain didn’t want to send out combat patrols and engage the VC.

Little thought otherwise. “We need to go on operations and chase the VC, so they won’t have time to attack us,” he advised. And he laid down a firm rule: Never-never establish a pattern. Do something three times, then change. The deputy commander was former VC. After the VC had entered his village, killed his wife and children and was about to kill him, he joined them. Later, he switched allegiance to the South Vietnamese. “He was a good man,” says Little. “And wanted to go on combat operations. We caught two VC in the tree line and got a lot of information from them.” Thereafter, the captain took the patrol out. “Shotgun” was an Air Force pilot assigned to Little’s higher headquarters and coordinated when they needed support on the ground. “I’d ask for a flyover and he would always tell me, ‘I can’t do that.’ About 10 minutes later, a jet would come over at rooftop level, turn, and go straight up and blow the roof off a couple of buildings. It put the scare on the VC.”

It was a midnight when Little heard “thunk-thunk-thunk.” Incoming mortar rounds! Little guessed the VC was hitting nearby headquarters. He radioed. “You getting hit?” he asked. Negative. It was the hamlet between them, Little concluded. He hurried over to the aid station and told the men to put on helmets and flak jackets. “I think we’re going to get hit,” he told them. Little scouted near the head of a nearby canal, walking between a Jeep and statue of Mary and baby Jesus. A mortar round hit, demolishing the statue and Jeep. He ran to the team house and got his flak jacket. A medic ran in and exclaimed, “I just saw the major get blown up!” Sgt. Custer, the radio operator replied, “He couldn’t, he just dove in the bunker.” Little was lucky. “God was with me,” he says. “I didn’t get a scratch.”

Little radioed headquarters and requested an L-19 spotter plane to locate the mortar fire. Negative. The General wanted to keep the plane for himself in case they got hit. Five minutes later, the radio crackled. “Three-five-six, this is Spooky.” Spooky was a C-130 aircraft armed with multiple guns on the side that looked like a hose of fire when it fired.

“This is three-five-six. Come in,” replied Little. “We’re in your area,” said Spooky. “Understand you need a little help down there.”

“Roger that,” said Little.

“Got a friend of yours on board. Can’t tell you his name,” said Spooky. “But he owes you a case of beer.”

“Yep, I know who he is,” said Little. “The VC are on the other side of the canal. Hose’em down.” And Spooky did, belching out a stream of deadly fire.

Little knew the man that owed him a case of beer. It was Col. Rausch. Earlier, Raush’s personnel carrier team came through Cang Long Village. “They had been out in the boonies three weeks and were tired, dirty, and thirsty,” says Little. We gave them all the beer we had, fed them, gave them showers. We took care of them.”

The attack ended – everything was calm for a while.

Little lay down on his bunk. “Thunk-thunk-thunk. Mortar fire! The team jumped into the bunker. The first three rounds hit the team house and shredded the room where the NCOs slept. “This was the VC’s way of telling us we didn’t get them,” says Little. They often left their calling card. “Once a sniper shot a hole in our roof. Sgt. Custer spent 3 days repairing it with new tile – did a beautiful job. As soon as he climbed down the ladder and was admiring it, the sniper took it out.” Little is convinced it was the same sniper that shot him in the side while he was inspecting a mortar emplacement. “It was during the TET Offensive, and the VC said they were going to kill an American,” says Little. “I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want the sniper to know he got me.” Headquarters was buzzing about it. Little decided he should file a report. His boss concluded it was a violation of regulation for not reporting and asked the general what to do. “Give him a medal,” the General replied.

The school in the nearby village was finally completed. The Vietnamese captain told Little to take a couple of his team members to the opening. Little headed down the road in a Jeep. An old man ran out of his hooch and into the middle of the road waving his arms. “No go! You no go.” Four women appeared with hoes and dug up a 40 pound land mine and set it aside. “Now, you go,” said the old man. “That’s why we needed the support of the people,” says Little. Building the school probably saved Little’s life.

…to be continued

By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale
The girls were excited. We were going to the 1989 Cotton Bowl in Dallas where the Arkansas Razorbacks would rub the noses of the UCLA Bruins in a mud hole. I’d never attended an out-of-state football game. And I’d never been trapped in a car for 667 miles with three women who were rabid Razorback fans. The bloom of my 15-month marriage to “Arkansas Pat” (not to be confused with my good friend and sometime redhead, “Tanner Pat”) was still on the rose. Pat’s two daughters, Audra, 21 and Leesa, 17, were two of the finest and prettiest little hellions I ever met. Both had been born in Auburn to parents from Marked Tree, Arkansas, the center of the universe and the largest and most cultured wide speck in the road. In other words, the Paris of Arkansas. They loved Auburn and they loved Arkansas. My point in this: Crossing a rabid Auburn fan with a rabid Arkansas fan is like mating a wild hog with a feral tomcat. Nature never meant it to be.

My experience with girls was limited to my sweet little Shannon who use to climb onto my lap and says things like: “My Daddy is my hero.” I didn’t know that little girls grew up, drank beer, smoked cigarettes and wrecked cars. Audra and Leesa are the reason Pat developed her immutable law, “Never give a teenager an equal break.” They are always up to something, you bet.

It was decided that we would travel to Dallas in my modest little Ford Escort, a runt of a car I drove from Huntsville to my law office in Athens. “It’s gas efficient,” I said.

The plan was to drive from Huntsville to Memphis, spend the night with “Nana Sue,” the girls’ grandmother, then proceed to Dallas. We hadn’t gone a block before Audra began slandering my car. “I don’t want to ride in a ‘box on wheels.’” That’s what she called my little car!

The girls hatched a plan to borrow Nana Sue’s big land yacht Lincoln Town Car so we could ride to Dallas in style. I smelled trouble. Nana Sue wasn’t the grandmotherly type who wore her hair in a bun and baked cookies for neighborhood kids. In earlier years she had partied at Elvis’ mansion, operated a liquor store, and had firm opinions about every subject and wasn’t hesitant to express them. I was afraid of Nana Sue and answered yes’um and no’mam. She was very particular about her Town Car. When a kitten crawled beneath the hood and took a nap on the fan blade, Nana Sue complained loudly about the blood and cat hair slung on her car.

We departed for Dallas in Nana Sue’s 18-foot, two-ton, 8-cylinder behemoth, blowing out gas, the stereo surround sound blasting, and the girls calling their hogs.

“Wooooeee pig! Soooey!
Wooooeee pig! Soooey!
Razorbacks – Razorbacks

In Dallas, we stayed at Loews Anatole, the same hotel where the Razorback team and fans were lodged. An atrium ran from the ground floor to the top. When someone tooted in the lobby, we could hear it on the 15th floor. We all piled into one room. Our single bathroom quickly looked like a Bed, Bath & Beyond. It was crammed with oils, lotions, ointments, sprays, cosmetics, powders, perfume, emollients, rubs, combs, brushes, dryer, tweezers, curlers – a veritable nightmarish hell for a man. I couldn’t find space for a toothbrush! And another thing, I discovered women don’t use three towels when six are available. They use every one of them and right away.

Leesa saw a candy bar inside a drawer that was fastened with a plastic tie. She threaded her hand inside and pulled out a chocolate bar. “Look what I found,” she said and reached for another one.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Audra said.

“It’s complimentary,” Leesa said. Then she pulled out cheese. We ate all of the candy and cheese. It sure was delicious. The hotel even provided complimentary wine. We helped ourselves to that, too. Nothing like staying in a classy hotel.

The girls wanted to attend a big New Year’s Eve party at the hotel. Leesa was underage, but determined to attend. Pat hatched a plan. I would pretend to be an old, oil-rich Texan escorting his young wife. “Rich Texans have young wives,”

Pat said. “They won’t even notice.” Leesa wore a black velvet dress and Pat’s mink, and we were ushered in like celebrities. No I.D. check. Even though it has been 28 years, I hope that information never becomes public. A 48-year-old man with a 17-year-old on his arm! Gloria Allred will sue my socks off. I’ll be kicked out of the Senior Center.

It was past midnight when we finally got to bed. Then the Razorback fans in the lobby began calling the hogs. “Wooooeee pig! Soooey!” It sounded like they were in bed with us. I finally dozed off around 5 a.m. The Razorbacks got their noses rubbed in a mud hole, a 17-3 loss. I figured they didn’t sleep any better than I did. We checked out and that’s when I learned the candy, cheese, and wine weren’t complimentary. About $175, as I remember. I learned that you pay to stay in a classy hotel.

We departed for Memphis in Nana Sue’s land yacht; a quiet bunch we were, no blasting stereo and no calling the hogs. I pulled in for gas. “Look! We get a free car wash,” Pat said.
“Something tells me we shouldn’t do that,” Audra said.

“Why not? It’s free,” Pat said.

“I wouldn’t do it, Mama.”

The car came out of the wash tunnel, and we tore out for Memphis. “Oh my God!” Audra exclaimed.

The antenna had been pulled out by the roots and it was dragging behind the car and sparking on the pavement.

“Nana Sue isn’t going to like this,” Leesa said.

And she didn’t, she really didn’t. I bought a new antenna and had it installed. All in all, including “free” chocolate bars, cheese, wine, and a new antenna, the 1989 Cotton Bowl trip was expensive. We should have gone in my box on wheels. I never borrowed Nana Sue’s land yacht again. Years later, when they invited me to accompany them to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, I declined.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call me redneck – it’s a mark of honor – make fun of my pickup or tractor, but don’t cuss my dog or tell me that my female cousin is ugly. And don’t tell me that cornbread crumbled in sweet milk isn’t good. That’s where the humor ends. Doggone it, get your cotton-picking hands off my culture.
By: Jerry Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale
I became aware of my unusual interest in having a beautiful lawn shortly after my marriage ended and I moved from Huntsville back to Athens in 1999. At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms. Little did I suspect that I would soon become afflicted with “Lawn Warrior Syndrome/Compulsive Disorder Overlay.” It’s a malady that targets mostly middle-age men, but can affect women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s me folks – lawn warrior.
By: Jerry R Barksdale

By: Jerry R. Barksdale
The morning broke cool and clear in the high desert country of Taos, New Mexico. The day held promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued

Saturday, August 12, 2017 from 10am to 2pm:

Jerry will be leading a 4 hour Civil War tour of the Athens area. This will be a very informative tour and Jerry will make you laugh while you’re learning.




Jerry Barksdale

Jerry Barksdale



Saturday, August 19, 2017 from 4pm to 8pm:

Jerry will portray his great-great grandfather, Daniel Barksdale at the Huntsville Bicentennial Celebration.  Later that evening Jerry will switch roles and costumes and tell a humorous story set at Madison Cross Roads in 1954 when he was age 13.

STORY:  “Saving Mama’s Religion”. Too many dogs will drive the best Christian women over the edge.

LOCATION: Huntsville Roundhouse



Make sure to check out Jerry’s AUDIO BOOK version of “Cornbread Chronicles”.  He will have you laughing before you know it!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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