You must listen to this interview with Jerry as Troy Hudson speaks with him about his hilarious compilation of good ‘ole Southern stories in “Cornbread Chronicles”.
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It began when I received a letter from Alabama School of Law. I flashed back fifty years. Oh, Lordy! “Bad Sam” Beaty has flunked me in judicial remedies! Just thinking of Professor Samuel Beaty made me nearly wet my pants.
The letter announced that the graduating class of 1967 was having its 50th reunion. By virtue of being Student Government President, I was asked to drum up support. Apparently, they didn’t know that I beat John DeBuys by only one vote, which hardly gave me a mandate.
My winning campaign was time tested – I employed whiskey and women. My beautiful wife, Carol, turned on her charm, and I offered cocktails from a pint hidden inside a hollowed-out law book. “Would you like a sip of Jack Daniels Gold?” I asked fellow students. I called it Gold. Actually, it was from a gallon jug of rot gut purchased for $2.75 in Juarez.
My campaign team compiled a list of students who pledged to vote for me and marked off their name when they voted. Foster Musgrove, Tuscumbia, hadn’t showed up to vote. Volunteers went to his rat-nest apartment and found Foster sound asleep on top of his fallen front door. Apparently, he had had returned home from an “animal house” party, pushed open the unhinged door and fell on the floor where he remained. They fetched him and I won by one vote. I credit my first political victory to Foster. Next would come the Legislature, then Governor and finally prison and a lucrative book deal. I was on my way to success.
I persuaded the Executive Counsel to pass a resolution requiring all law students to wear white shirt and tie to class. The following morning a petition was circulated to impeach me. I back pedaled. Fast!
“Bad Sam” scared the ignorance out of me and made my life miserable. After going to bed and saying my nightly prayer, I thought of ways I could make him miserable. My favorite was to throttle him with a rusty piano wire. Ah, yes! Serenity, then peaceful sleep.
One Monday morning, “Bad Sam” announced to our class that we were lucky since he was in a jolly mood. His daughter had married over the weekend. “Who held the shotgun?” asked a voice. “Bad Sam” went wacko. He paced the aisles, asking, “Did you say that?” Everyone denied it. I heard that it was Ed Gosa, who later became a learned judge in Lamar County. My hero for 50 years.
I also thought about my constitutional law professor, Jay Murphy, a kind old, gentleman, who leaned left in his politics. He paid me the ultimate compliment in class. After giving my interpretation of a Supreme Court decision, Professor Murphy said, “Well we all know that if Mr. Barksdale had his way we’d still be getting around on stone wheels.” My finest moment.
There was Professor Philip Mahan, often absent-minded, who hauled a bale of hay around in his MG Convertible that he parked in front of Farah Hall. Was he powering the MG on hay? Strange. He taught contracts and real estate. One day he began lecturing on real estate. Several minutes later, a student interrupted him. “This ain’t real estate, this is contracts class.”
My good friend (and sometimes red head) Pat and I drove to Tuscaloosa on Friday afternoon, checked in the Jack Warner and hooked up with former classmate, John Baker and wife, Regina, Collinsville, Alabama. Norman Cummins of Clermont, Florida also joined us. John was my best friend and study buddy in law school. Following graduation, both of us began practice in DeKalb County. I was earning $250.00 a month working for Bob French. Carol was pregnant and we didn’t have furniture, not even a kitchen table. John found one in his mother’s barn and brought it over. Carol antiqued it and we used it for years. I think she got it in our divorce. John is a Democrat and I’m a Republican. That never came between us. He served in the Alabama House and Senate for 8 years, ran for the U.S. Senate and later was Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Norman Cummins served in the Army before law school. One night, Carol and I were called. “Come over to Norm’s house, he’s getting married.” Classmates, Billy Church married them and O’Neal Browder gave the bride away. I may have been flower boy, don’t remember. It was a crazy night. I hope it was legal.
Dean of the Law School, Mark Brandon, a former Vanderbilt Professor, threw a picnic for our class on Saturday. He is a tall fellow with stylish glasses and close-cropped graying whiskers and handsome as a Hanes underwear model. He doesn’t fit the image of a sourpuss dean. I offered advice to improve his image. “Dean, I suggest you part your hair down the middle and wear wire-rimmed glasses like Dean Harrison did fifty years ago.” “They didn’t have wire,” he replied.
Huh, I won’t offer to help him again. He’s on his own.
Afterwards, we piled into Baker’s Chevy pick-up and, while running over every curb, toured campus. Cummins kept score. “Back up John, you missed one.” Bouncing off curbs doesn’t make for happy hemorrhoids. We tried to locate where we lived 50 years ago. Everything had changed. The old two-story house on Caplewood Drive where Carol and I had once lived, and where she walked to work in heels, was unrecognizable. Her job was our salvation. One evening she came home crying. Her male supervisor had hit on her. I handled it the old- fashioned way. I called him. “If Carol comes home crying again, I’m gonna kill your ass.” Problem solved. Coeds were sashaying to the coliseum for the A-Day game wearing summer’s newest fashion. “Would you just look at her!” exclaimed Pat. We did. “Look out John!” Regina yelled. Baker slammed on the brakes, nearly pitching us out. Advice to Mamas: Don’t send your boys to Bama the first year. Too many beautiful women to distract them. Send them to Auburn.
That evening we attended a reception at the law school where we nibbled cheese and sipped wine. That’s when Ronald Strawbridge, Vernon, Alabama, informed me that it wasn’t Ed Gosa who asked “Bad Sam,” “Who held the shotgun?” It was like being told that my Mama ran a “cat house.” Talk about disappointment. “Who was it?” I asked.
“John DeBuys.” No way! I figured DeBuys for a milquetoast frat dude, with a Vanderbilt degree, who couldn’t parallel park an MG. Wrong. Never judge a man by his brown penny loafers, Khaki pants and buttoned down collar. DeBuys had bumped Gosa off my hero list. I looked up and there he stood, bald as myself. We shook hands and talked. Before retiring, in Birmingham, he was selected one of the “Best Lawyers in America.”
I looked around for Mac Dunaway, hoping he would be present with his beautiful actress sister, Faye. Several former Judges were present. Two of the only four women in our class of ninety-nine were there – Susan William Reeves, Birmingham and Jane Smelley Grubbs, SugarLand, Texas. Also present was George Barnett, former mayor of Guntersville and Ted Little who served 32 years in the Alabama Senate.
Years later “Bad Sam” became one of my heroes. I learned that immediately following Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. While I was sucking my pacifier, he was saving democracy, flying a B-25 bomber on 62 missions against the Japanese. In 1976, he was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and served for 13 years. I ended up seated next to him at a Trial Lawyers Conference in Birmingham several years ago. “Barksdale,” he said, “I saw your potential and squeezed you hard.” I nodded. “You darn sure did.” He was a great patriot, a great professor, and a great man. I’m honored that he taught me at a great law school – Alabama, ranked one of the “best in the Nation.”
I can’t wait for our next 50th reunion.
By: Jerry Barksdale
Motorists speeding down I-65 and seeing the “Welcome to Athens” sign pay it no attention. Just another wide place in the road. If they knew what happened here they would slam on their brakes, tour the town, and take selfies where world history was made.
I’m not talking about visiting Founders Hall where the first all-female college in America – maybe the world – was established in 1821; nor the Courthouse Square where General John Turchin’s Yankee soldiers sacked and pillaged the town in 1862; nor the former site of an opera house, law school and Niphonia Fairground, the latter said to be the “most costly and commodious in the South” before the Yankees burned it; nor Fort Henderson where 900 Yankee troops were tricked into surrendering to the “Wizard of the Saddle,” General Nathan Bedford Forrest. And I’m not referring to touring the historical homes of two former Alabama Governors and two U.S. Senators. Nor, the gravesite of former Alabama Chief Justice Thomas N. McClellan, whose successor, after a long train trip from Montgomery to attend his funeral, allegedly became slightly inebriated and, while delivering the eulogy, fell into the grave. Certainly I’m not suggesting they drive and photograph a portion of North Marion, the shortest one way street in America.
And no, I’m not talking about taking selfies in front of 407 E. Washington Street where a local author, while under the influence of pork ‘n beans, floating in Louisiana hot sauce and cheap wine penned Cornbread Chronicles. None of that.
There is a French term that describes Athens – Savoir faire. It means polished, cultured, refined. We are, to paraphrase former Gov. George Wallace, just as cultured as any four-eyed, briefcase toting, Harvard professor who can’t park his bicycle straight. More so, I’d say.
Our greatest cultural achievement occurred in 1987 when Julia, a pig, was crowned Christmas Queen of Athens. And for two years in a row! Why? Well, Julia was a beautiful pig. Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, she had magnolia white skin – “that skin so prized by Southern women,” beady black eyes, perky ears, a lovely snout and a good looking tail, a curly one that resembled an Arby’s French fry. Only cultured and refined Southerners elect a hog Christmas Queen. While others talked about diversity and inclusion Athenians were bringing it about.
And how did a lowly porker who spent her youth rooting for acorns and wallowing in mud holes rise from obscurity to become Athens Christmas Queen? In America anything can happen. In Athens it probably will. She was homeless, wandering the streets near Pilgrims Poultry plant, rooting for acorns, when Athens Vet, Dr. Bruce Young gave her a luxurious home in the servant quarters behind his grandparent’s stately old mansion at 310 North Jefferson Street. He named her Julia, after a pretty young lady he knew.
In 1987, I was honored to meet Julia after Dr. Young placed his grandparent’s mansion on the market. I was interested in purchasing it for use as a combination residence and law office. While inspecting the outside, I opened the door of the servant quarters. “OINK – OINK!” A large Chestershire hog lunged at me. I slammed the door and ran. It was Julia. I was so rattled I forgot to ask for her autograph. Her fame spread across the globe. Athens resident Kay McFarlen was living in Madrid, Spain the winter of 1988 and well remembers the Christmas parade. She was entertaining Spanish friends in her home, playing cards and watching tv when CNN International flashed the news that Julia was Christmas Queen. Julia was riding in the Grand Marshall’s convertible as it slowly made its way through throngs of cheering Athenians, Dr. Young seated at her side. Julia oinked her approval.
Kaye’s Spanish friends were impressed. “Say, isn’t that your home town?” Kaye puffed out her chest, burning with Southern pride. “Why, yes, it is.”
When Julia became pregnant, it was announced to Athenians on a large billboard. Associated Press and CNN International flashed the happy news around the world. And for a moment the world forgot about war and was happy. Athens was famous. Our Citizens were proud.
But no-good lurked in the shadows. City Officials grew jealous and fearful she might run for office – even Mayor. And be elected! They conspired against her. They said it was a violation of ordinance for a pig to live in the city, even though pet dogs, rabbits, cats, ducks, birds, turtles, snakes, guinea pigs and lizards lived in town. Blatant discrimination! Where was the ACLU? The people rose up and wore t-shirts proclaiming “LET JULIA STAY.” Democracy in action. Our Founding Fathers would have been proud.
News of Julia’s success and Dr. Young’s good works reached Supreme Headquarters in hell. Ol’ Satan connived to destroy them. Some folks believe that Ol’ Satan always tempts men with booze, wacky-backy, dancing, rock ‘n roll and good looking women wearing tight skirts and high heels. Send a man good whiskey and a good-looking woman and he’ll snare ‘im every time, it’s said. That use to be true. But Ol’ Satan has grown more subtle. His weapon against Dr. Young was a color copier. How subtle is that? “Hmmm, I wonder if it will copy a twenty-dollar bill?” Dr. Young asked himself. It did. Ol’ Satan egged him on. Dr. Young copied more – a whole stack, in fact. Some folks said if he hadn’t started putting Julia’s face on twenties he wouldn’t have been caught. Dr. Young went to prison – all because he wanted to honor Julia. A real Southern Gentleman.
Julia was our most famous and beloved personality for a time. Her five minutes of fame extended over two years and brought smiles to many faces and worldwide attention to our town.
Athens motto is “Classic, Southern, Character.” Julia embodied all three. The fate of Julia and her piglets is unknown. I’m sure she is wallowing in a celestial mud hole in hog heaven. Julia’s portrait, shot by Athens Ace Photographer, Roger Bedingfield, wearing her Christmas Queen Crown and enjoying “Swine dining” and eating her favorite food – corn on the cob – in her favorite restaurant, can be seen at Luvici’s Restaurant on Jefferson Street. Go by, eat a delicious meal, and take a selfie with Julia.
By: Jerry Barksdale
Jerry will be guest speaker at the annual Boys and Girls State banquet, May 8,2017, sponsored by the American Legion.
Jerry will share with our younger generation about the privilege we have been given to live in a Republic and what a great nation we live in.
“Every time you need someone with a weak mind and strong back you call me, and I end up in a chiropractor or doctor’s office.” That’s what my good friend, Dan Williams would say when I recruited him for another “exciting adventure.” He blamed me for his bad back. And I suppose he was mostly right.
Dan was my best buddy. We met in the 11th grade at Athens High, sacked groceries at A & P, graduated in the same class, ran around together, double dated and, when I married in 1961, he was my best man. He paid my bride a high compliment “She’s so skinny she don’t cast a shadow,” he said. How sweet. He painted my ‘55 Chevy with “JUST MARRIED” and tied tin cans to the bumper. How could I not include a friend like that on an exciting adventure? Anyway he was an easy recruit.
Our big adventures began after I purchased a run down, hilly 80-acre farm in Leggtown back in 1974. It was grown over with bushes, brambles and cedar trees and needed to be cleaned up, pastured, and fenced. As luck would have it, a friend called me and said he had a “bunch of cross ties” I could have. That’s just what I needed to build a fence. I called Dan on a Saturday morning to help me pick them up. “There won’t be anything to it and besides it’ll be exciting,” I said. Dan reluctantly agreed.
When we arrived, the cross ties were piled helter-skelter in a ditch. Dan’s back went down like a punctured tire. He walked sideways for awhile but recovered. Afterwards, I recruited him to tear down a dilapidated barn on the farm. Most of the tin had blown off, bushes had grown through the rotted walls and it leaned sideways. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we began tearing up planks and sledge-hammering support columns. My neighbor, Louie heard the commotion and drove over to inspect.
Louie was different. He lived with his dog in a Ford pickup in the woods. I heard that he was once a “spit and shine” MP in the Army. The shine part had long since vanished. Long black hair fell past his shoulders and his beard dropped to his chest. His appearance reminded me of an Old Testament prophet. His patched Army pants were stuffed inside tall rubber boots.
Louie was standing in the hallway of the barn when I sledge-hammered a main support beam. The old barn creaked, first quietly, then louder before erupting into an ear-splitting roar. “RUN!” I yelled, as I threw down the sledge-hammer and ran for my life. Dan and Louie were on my heels as the barn collapsed with a roar, sending up a cloud of dust. Whew! It was a close call. I almost got my neighbor and best friend squashed. Dan broke the tension. “Louie left so fast he ran outta his boots.” Afterwards, Dan and I went down to Mr. Charlie Christopher’s store in Leggtown where we lunched on bologna and crackers drizzled with Louisiana hot sauce and washed down with a Pepsi, all the while reliving our big adventure. Later that year, Dan helped me nail down tin and patch the roof of a tenant shack on the farm. Not very exciting. Neither of us fell off the roof.
Winter came and the sap fell in the many cedar trees that grew on the farm. Daddy said it was time to cut some of them to use as fence posts. I called Dan. “It’s supposed to be real pretty Saturday,” I said. “We can cut trees and enjoy the outdoors. It’ll be exciting.” Dan wasn’t so sure, but reluctantly agreed. I chain-sawed several cedars, trimmed the limbs, then cut them into 6-foot sections to use as corner posts. We paid no attention to the dead-looking fuzzy vines attached to the trees. We carried the cedar posts through the woods, down the holler and uphill the old fashioned way – balanced on the shoulder snug against the neck. It was a hard work, but exhilarating and built our appetites. We lunched at Leggtown store on bologna and crackers and generous dollops of hot sauce. The right side of Dan’s neck was red from carrying cedar posts.
Late afternoon, Dan complained that the redness was stinging. The following day, the redness on his neck had turned into a large red mass of itching misery. Poison ivy! Dan was miserable and went to see Doctor Pennington first thing Monday morning.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.
“Does Doctor Pennington practice euthanasia?”
“Huh, what’s that?” she asked.
History was made in Athens that day. It was the first time known that anyone had ever requested assisted suicide to put him out of his misery after a poison ivy outbreak. It was also the last time Dan volunteered to join me on another exciting adventure.
He may have had a weak back but his mind was strong. After serving one term on the Athens School Board, he was elected to the City Council and, later served 18 years as mayor. He was in his second term in Alabama House of Representatives when he lost his battle with leukemia on July 1, 2015. I sure miss Dan and often think of our exciting adventures.
By: Jerry Barksdale
I’m looking forward to speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution, Thursday at the Decatur Country Club.
I will be discussing my historical novel, “Revolutionaries and Rebels”
Jerry will be a guest of the Athens, Alabama Three Arts Club, Tuesday, March 27.
He will discuss his latest historical novel, Revolutionaries and Rebels.
Jerry will be story telling — “Saving Mama’s Religion” — on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the luncheon meeting of Retired Teachers Assoc., meeting at the Holiday Inn, I-24, Manchester, Tn.
He will be signing books and talking about the audio version of Cornbread Chronicles produced by Amazon.
The “Runt” (Mitsubishi Mirage) was straining all three cylinders as it putt-putt-putted up the steep mountain road and out of the Rio Grande Canyon. “Do you want me to get out and push?” asked my good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat. Finally, we crested the mountain and the view that lay before us was breathtaking. Taos (elev. 7000), nestled against the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, sparkled in the afternoon sun. Across the valley, the Rio Grande River sliced 565 feet deep into the earth. Below us pearl gray smoke curled from squat, brown adobe houses. We followed a dirt road lined with ancient cottonwood trees and past a Hindu Ashram to our destination – a one bedroom casita. Our landlords, Tara and Jean (French for John) – greeted us. Like most everyone in Taos, Jean has an interesting story. Later, while tending his winter garden, he told me he was from Paris; that his father fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930’s and afterwards, was a member of the French Resistance and fought Germans.
Shortly, my daughter, Shannon, arrived rubbing her ear and complaining that she couldn’t hear. She had come to Taos 17 years earlier driving a pick-up with a dog and no job. She has prospered. Now she has two dogs, a cat and a dusty Subaru, a good job at the Bavarian in the Ski Valley and many fans of her band, Shannon and the Southern Souls. She was nearly deaf. “We’re going to a doc-in-a-box,” I said. She made excuses and promised she would stop by on the way home. Pat, who raised a daughter, has a nose for deceit. “I’m going with you, NOW!” she said. Shannon turned pale. She hasn’t changed one bit since childhood when I had to hold her down while her mother gave her medicine. A glob of wax was removed and amoxicillin prescribed. Problem solved.
Next morning, I rose at daybreak and looked out the window. Snow was accumulating on mountain peaks. I made strong coffee, sat near the stove and worked on a Christmas story set in Athens during the Civil War. It was very cold outside and the wind howled, and in my story it was cold and snowy and the wind howled between the chinks of the log house. I sipped coffee and was warm and well into the story, but getting tired when Pat got up and prepared a big country breakfast of eggs, biscuits, jam, gravy, bacon and brewed more coffee. Shannon joined us. In my story, the family had squirrel dumplings and cornbread for Christmas. Pat cooked chicken and dumplings for lunch and made johnny cakes. I was greatly restored.
The Taos News carried sad tidings for many locals. Trump won! He received only 17.92% of the vote in Taos County. “It’s a nightmare made real,” said a Democrat. “The sun still came up. My dogs were still glad to see me.” I figure her dogs were Trump supporters. It reminded me of my reaction to Goldwater’s landslide loss for the presidency in 1964, when I was an idealistic 23 year old university student. I wept that night. The world was doomed. But it never occurred to me to seek counseling, throw a temper tantrum and block a highway. I moved forward and made a noble contribution to mankind. I became a lawyer. Youthful idealism has long since vanished. The way I see it we have two gangs of thugs in Washington called Democrats and Republicans. They remind me of Al Capone and Bugs Moran’s Northside gang, each vying to control the rackets. They swap power, scratch each other’s back, and feed out of the same trough. Their major goal is to remain in power and live country club lives on the taxpayer’s largesse.
We drove the Runt down into the Rio Grande gorge to hike. Getting there proved to be dangerous on a narrow gravel road with no guard rails. A large Rocky Mountain ram stared at the Runt and shook his head. Uh oh! In a head butting contest, the Runt would lose. Finally, he wandered off to join his harem.
On the hike down, we kept a watchful eye for rattlers, saw numerous sheep clinging to the rocky walls, and inspected an ancient Indian Petroglyph – perhaps their version of men writing on a bathroom wall today. I was gasping for air and my tooth ached as we hiked out. I needed a slab of fat back bacon to tie to my jaw. The three cylinders of the Runt strained mightily as we climbed up the gravel road. Near the summit it choked down. I pressed the accelerator. “Come on little feller.” I remembered the Thrifty rental clerk telling me it wasn’t designed for mountain driving. Finally, we putt – putt – putted out.
Shannon and the Southern Souls were playing at the Tap Room of Taos Mesa Brewing and invited us to attend. We were running late. I missed the turn off, but being sharp of mind, saw a solution. I turned in at a nearby McDonalds with the intention of circling back. “I wouldn’t do that,” Pat said. I fell behind a long line of cars going through the drive-thru and was blocked. “I told you,” she said. Grrr. One of these days Alice. POW! Right in the kisser. Many of Shannon’s friends were present and greeted us with hugs. I was especially glad to see Brendan, who is a long-haired, head slinging, guitar playing rocker. He made a special visit to greet us. I won’t relate his history, but his life is now exemplary. Cleaner than a hound’s tooth, as we say down South. He was recently married, has a new baby, and doesn’t touch alcohol. “I’m proud of you Brendan,” I said.
The band is all acoustic. Dave Kinney, originally from Chicago plays anything that makes a sound. Willie Hunton plays Dobro and mandolin. Shannon sings mostly soul and blues with a little Hank and Patsy Cline thrown in to make it real music. Jamie, who Shannon calls “my sister,” arrived. She is Northern Cheyenne born and raised on the Lame Deer reservation 42 miles east of Custer Battlefield where her ancestors defeated Custer in 1776. When Shannon is down, Jamie is always there to lift her up. One evening while enjoying wine, Shannon decided to seal their friendship. They would become blood sisters. Jamie watched in amazement as Shannon sliced their palms with a butcher knife and then pressed them together to mix their blood. Jamie was puzzled. “I saw it in the movie,” Shannon said. Jamie had never heard of such a practice.
Next day, Pat and I went to Walmart and purchased diapers, baby clothes, and a Huggy Bear for Brendan’s new baby. Pat and Shannon delivered them, along with left over chicken and dumplings. Now, the kid is prepared to face life head on.
By: Jerry Barksdale