Several years ago, my two grandchildren, Joshua, 8, a third grader and Faith Ellen, 6, a first grader were enrolled in a private school in Cullman, Alabama. They spoke proper English, played complicated computer games and can find Africa on a map. Poor kids. When I was their age I knew real important stuff, at least I thought so at the time. Learning to roll a smoke, cuss and knowing about girls were the three most important. This southern humorous story and scores of others can be found in my book “Cornbread Chronicles”. And by the way, it’s going to be available in audio book form from Amazon soon.
Yesterday was a real winner. I got up at 6am, worked on a forthcoming column about my good friend and former Athens Mayor, Dan Williams, then prepared to emcee an event at High Cotton Art Center to take place on Feb.16. Jim Nesbitt and his latest novel, “Right Wrong Number” will be featured. More about that later. Afterwards, I drove over to my good friend (and sometimes red-head) Pat’s place on Elk River for a cholesterol feast of ham, bacon, fried potatoes, gravy, biscuits, eggs, juice, honey and fruit. My former Marine son, Matt and his good friend, Kris were present. Then it was off to build wooden steps down to the river. I was assigned to dig the holes on a 30% grade. Began raining. Quick shower and we headed to Lynchburg, Tn., home of Jack Daniel sipping whiskey to meet Betty Jones West who is helping me market my books. By the way, I sued Jack Daniel years ago after they were accused of “stealing” my clients Lynchburg Lemonade drink. Betty has been successful in getting Cornbread Chronicles marketed on audio by Amazon. Should be available in a week or so. Ate more food at BBQ Caboose Café in tiny Lynchburg and hopefully opened the door to appear on a live Saturday morning broadcast in the near future to tell a story. Went to wine tasting across the street at Lynchburg Winery . Highly recommend you visit there. Hope they will sell my books, Cornbread Chronicles, Duty, When Duty Called, Fuhrer Document and Revolutionaries and Rebels. More later. Until then–soo long until tomorrow.
I often think about the good old days back in 1968 when I returned to Athens to practice law. It was a time of parking meters, weeds growing out of the sidewalks and businessmen wearing white socks.
And when decent folks didn’t drink in Athens, they’d sneaked off to Huntsville. Coffee was 10 cents a cup and downtown businesses closed on Wednesday afternoon. Only few years earlier, men had gathered around the square with shotguns and blasted away at pigeons roosting on the courthouse dome. It provided citizens an opportunity to improve their shooting skills, have fun and rid the city of pesky pigeons. And more important, it was a time when criminals were honest and respected the law.
My former law school classmate, Henry Blizzard and I set up practice late November 1968 in two small $30-a-month rooms in what had once been Booth’s Pool Hall on North Marion Street. At the front entrance was Donna Mae’s, home of strong coffee and delicious burgers dripping with grease.
Oh yeah! Henry and I needed a typewriter, office furniture and a part-time secretary. My share of the capital was $1,800, which I didn’t have. I went across the street to Limestone Bank (present location of Limestone Drug) and asked John Huber for a loan. Mr. Huber wore white socks and had never made a bad loan, and he wasn’t about to start. His test was simple: if you needed to borrow money you were a bad risk. Anyway, I was a lawyer and lawyers weren’t to be trusted.
“Hmm, that’s a lot of money,” he said.
After hemming and hawing awhile, he finally lent me the money, provided Mama co-signed the note. Mama was a sales clerk at Ben Jaffee’s Department store and earning about $30 a week. I was her only child who she still called “Punk’n,” and was happy to oblige.
Everyday, Athens policeman, Kenny Cooper rode a three-wheel motorcycle around town, checking for expired parking meters. The roar of the motorcycle sent people scurrying to feed pennies, nickels and dimes to the meter. No one wanted a parking ticket which cost more.
Most mid -mornings I walked across the street to the spudnut shop and joined several businessmen for coffee and donuts. Alex Markowitz, a Jewish businessman, was usually present. All wore white socks, and all had money. At first, I figured they had a bad case of athlete’s feet, but later discovered it was a mark of wealth, sort of like wearing monogrammed shirts and a diamond pinky ring.
One morning, Alex said to me, “You and Henry need your office down on Jefferson Street so you can be seen.”
We agreed. He showed us a vacant lot he owned and made us a deal we couldn’t refuse. The price was below market, and he agreed to finance it. I offered to draw up a sales contract. He looked stunned. And that’s when he taught me an important lesson.
“Young man, you can hire the best law firm on Wall Street to draft a contract, but if the parties don’t want to honor it, all you’ve done is bought yourself a lawsuit,” he said. “If you decide you don’t want the lot, tell me and I’ll sell it to someone else.”
As I was to learn over the years, he was correct. And he taught me something else about business: “Make a little bit on the deal, and leave a little for the other guy.” That’s why he wore white socks and I didn’t.
We constructed a law office on South Jefferson street and hung out our shingle. Parking meters were located up and down the street. Every hour Kenny Cooper rode by on his three-wheeler, checking for expired meters.
During this time, Henry was appointed by the court to represent a man accused of killing his wife.
He “allegedly” (a weasley lawyer word meaning guilty as sin) murdered her, then neatly and respectfully rolled her body in a rug and stuffed her under the bed. I can’t say why he killed her. He may have been tired of hearing her mouth but didn’t want her to leave home. The cops found her body putrifying beneath the bed.
While out on bond he came by our office to prepare for trial. He and Henry were deep in conference when Kenny Cooper’s motorcycle pulled up front and stopped. The defendant, without explaining, jumped up and ran out the front door. Shortly, he returned.
“Where did you go?” Henry asked.
“To feed the meter,” he said.
Now there was an honest, law-abiding criminal who respected the law.
I sure do miss the good old days.
Henry went on to serve as circuit judge and earned the right to wear white socks. As for me, I’m still paying alimony and wearing Walmart socks. But I do have good news to look forward to – when I die the alimony will end. Thank the Lord!
Next Tuesday, January 10, I will participate at the Huntsville DAR program and portray the leading character in my historical novel, Revolutionaries and Rebels. Most the story is set in Lincoln county, Tenn. and Limestone county, Alabama. If you are a history buff you might enjoy reading the novel. The characters are real as are the events.
In 1987, I traded a pork’n bean and banana sandwich diet (along with my independence) for Pat, a firecracker gal from Arkansas who stood 5’1” and smoked Virginia Slims.
It was a good swap. I got a beautiful and intelligent wife, and also two step daughters, Harley and Lucy (names changed). Unfortunately, they were afflicted with a dreaded curse. They were teenagers!
I quickly learned that Pat’s stress level could be measured by the number of Virginia Slims she smoked in our house, and how fast she nervously twisted a tendril of her long black hair. It was a dead giveaway that “Little Mama,” as the girls called her, was about to take to the war path.
We made a pact. “I’ll discipline my girls and you won’t have to be involved,” she said. Great news! I’m an only child and my experience with young girls was limited to my daughter; precious little Shannon who was age 7 when her mom and I divorced. She was blonde and blue-eyed with a cute pony tail and would climb on my lap and say sweet things to me. “I love my Daddy” and “my Daddy can do anything.”I didn’t know honey from bee droppings when it came to girls. I didn’t know that sweet little girls grew up and became hellions. I was ignorant of teenager hell.
Harley was three years older than Lucy and didn’t want her in her room and, especially didn’t want her wearing her clothes. “Don’t touch my stuff!”
Otherwise, they appeared to be well mannered, sweet and courteous young girls; that is until one evening at dinner. I was enjoying a platter of pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy when Harley accused Lucy of entering her room. Lucy denied it. “LIAR!” Faster than Ali could throw a right hook, Harley struck Lucy with a pork chop. POW – BAM – BANG Pork Chops were flying. Little Mama sent them to their room and fired up a Virginia Slim. “I’m soo embarrassed,” she said. “I don’t know what got in the girls. They are usually sweet girls.”Hmmm, I was beginning to doubt that.
Later, Pat and I arrived home to see the only tree in our front yard decorated in white. “Somebody’s rolled our yard!” she exclaimed and fired up a cigarette. A cursing investigation revealed that Lucy had been in Harley’s room again and borrowed a sweater. Harley retaliated by throwing all of Lucy’s underwear out a second story window where it landed in the tree.
Pat was proud of her blue LTD Ford that she got in the divorce settlement. It was the apple of her eye. She kept it washed, shined, and serviced and planned to drive it for many years to come. Harley asked to drive it to the beach during spring break and carry her high school buddies. Pat reluctantly agreed. “I don’t want one scratch on it,” she warned.
Several days later, Harley returned and the blue Ford looked like a speckled guinea, white spots dotted the lower half. Little Mama fired up a Virginia Slim, twisted her hair and interrogated Harley. “Uh-uh, I parked near a construction site where there was some sand blasting,” Harley said. “If that’s true, why aren’t white specks on the top?” asked Little Mama. It wasn’t until years later we learned the truth: they were driving in the salty surf. “YEE HAW! GIMME ANOTHER BEER.”
Not long afterwards, Pat slammed into a rock wall and buckled the hood where rain water collected and birds bathed. The Ford was tough, but not tough enough. Lucy was learning to drive. She begged to drive one block to visit her friend, Julie. Minutes later we were called. “Come quickly! There’s been an accident.” We arrived at a war zone scene.Lucy had taken out a basketball goal, plowed into the back of Julie’s car, and pushed it through the garage wall. The old Ford had finally come to a violent end.
It was during this period that Little Mama developed her immutable rule regarding teenagers – never give a kid an equal break.
Her teenage daughters sent Little Mama reaching for a Virginia Slim on many occasions, but it was nothing compared to what an upcoming Auburn Tigers game did to her psyche. By 6 p.m. on Friday evening, she was hot boxing cigarettes. By 9 p.m., she was racing to the bathroom with diarrhea.
But it was Lucy skipping classes that sorely tested Little Mama’s resolve. We had no idea until the school counselor called and informed us. Little Mama developed a plan. She decided to go atomic. Each morning, she drove Lucy to the front door of Grissom High, marched her down the hallway and into the classroom. “This is my daughter, Lucy,” she announced to snickering class. “She isn’t responsible enough to attend class.” Talk about embarrassing her! She picked up Lucy in the afternoon, using the same method. Lucy begged her mother to stop and promised to never miss class again. And she didn’t.
When a young high school thug drove up in front of our house with his thug buddies after being warned to stay away, Little Mama took action. She grabbed her grandpa’s old .32 revolver and charged out the front door, waving the pistol and swearing loudly. “GET OUTTA HERE, YOU LITTLE S.O.B.S!” They peeled rubber fleeing the scene.
I’m happy to report that both daughters graduated from college, Harley with a medical degree and Lucy with a Masters’. They are both married and have teenage girls, who are no doubt afflicted with the same dreaded curse their mothers had – teenage hell.
The law of Karma is also an immutable law – what goes around comes around. Good luck ladies.
By: Jerry Barksdale
Elk River–Last Sunday night I went to bed with a tickle in my throat. I gargled with Mama”s magical potion-peroxide. Mama swore by it. Get a cut, rub it on. Need to become a blonde, rub it on. Bad breath, mouth canker sores and sore throat, rub it on. I woke Monday morning with a cold, the first I’ve had in two years. I was diagnosed with “something else” a couple of years ago which just about killed me. I thought it was flu, but my personal physician said, “No, it’s something else”. Pray you don’t ever catch it. Anyway, I dressed in my “beer drinking” stretch pants, stoked a fire, levered back in my Lazy Boy knock-off and read all day. I finished a bio on Gen. Jimmy Doolittle of WW11 fame, then started Between Black and White, a legal thriller. It was written by my friend and fellow Huntsville lawyer, Robert Bailey. Great read and set in Pulaski, Tn. Feeling much better this morning. A cup of Seattle Best, dark roast # 5 is almost as good as a swiggle of peroxide.
S-o-o long until tomorrow.
Author’s Note. The following story was inspired by Barksdale’s recent historical novel, Revolutionaries & Rebels.
Athens, December 1864. That terrible war is in its fourth year. It’s cold, snowing and folks are hungry. Barns lay in ashes, and where fine homes once stood, there are blackened chimneys. Cotton and cornfields are overgrown with brambles, bushes and briers. Yankee soldiers occupy Athens.
To add further insult, they torched the courthouse a few days ago. Hardly a bird can be heard chirping. Just last week Yankees showed up at our place and stole my mare, most of our corn, all the chickens they could catch and took the meat from our smokehouse. What an awful time it is. I wake up at night and wonder how we survive. And Christmas is just around the corner.
In spite of all, Ma has declared we’re going to have Christmas, just like always, Yankees or no Yankees. Ma is a determined woman.
“They can whip us, but they’ll never conquer us,” she says.
Pa sits in front of the fireplace and worries – and for good cause. My brother, James Greer Barksdale, and brother-in-law, James Martin Newby, were captured at Missionary Ridge last November and are prisoners at Rock Island where Confederate are starving, freezing, and dying of disease and trigger-happy guards.
Two other brothers, William Coleman and Dudley Richard, are fighting with General Hood’s Army in Tennessee. We just heard they suffered over 6,200 casualties at Franklin. And they are retreating back toward Florence. Oh, how I hate to think of their misery.
Another brother, Robert Beasley, is riding with old Preacher Johnston’s Partisan Rangers over in Madison and Jackson County. The Yankees call him “Bushwhacker” and have put a price on his head.
I’m Thomas Barksdale and I live with Ma and Pa, along with two sisters and a passel of nieces and nephews about three miles east of town on the Athens-Fayetteville Pike. We’ve been living in the same log house since moving from Fayetteville in 1833. Oh, I forgot to mention, older brother George and his family live down the road. George drives the stagecoach from Athens to Fayetteville.
I’d be off fighting like my brothers, but I can’t hear thunder. Ma said I got an ear infection when I was a baby, and it left me nearly deaf.
Last night, after going to bed in the loft, I heard Ma tell Pa, “I can’t stand the thought of our boys not being here for Christmas. We don’t have decent food to eat, nor presents, not even a tree.”
“I’ll think of something,” said Pa. “Now go to sleep.”
Next morning, Pa took charge. “Ma has declared we’re having Christmas, and by crackies, we are,” he said.
I was dispatched to Swan Creek to snare rabbits and squirrels. My nieces were told to search the barn and woods for eggs, and the boys ordered to dig dirt from beneath the smokehouse and boil it down for salt.
“I’m gonna walk to Athens and ask Aunt Sallie if she can spare a dab of flour,” he added.
Sally is Ma’s older sister and married to postmaster, Robert D. David. They have more than most folks.
Ma brightened. “We’re gonna have squirrel dumplings for Christmas?” she asked.
“Yep, and a Christmas tree too,” Pa boasted.
That afternoon Pa returned from Athens with enough flour to make dumplings. After the children went to bed he sat in front of the fireplace and made corncob and shuck dolls for the girls and carved whistles for the boys.
“I heard in town that Hood’s Army is starving and freezing,” Pa said. “They’re leaving a trail of blood in the snow.”
Ma walked in and overheard the comment.
“Ohh Lordy! I can’t stand the thought of our boys suffering. We don’t even know if they’re dead or alive.”
Christmas Eve morning, Pa and I went with the children, looking for a Christmas tree. Ol’ Luther wobbled in front of us, sniffing the ground and dragging a bad hind leg. Last year a Yankee shot him for no good reason. The children were excited.
“Pa, cut a tall one.”
Finally, after a couple of hours of wading through the woods, Pa was give out and chopped own the first cedar tree he saw. The day had been fruitful. Two rabbits and six squirrels were snared; a handful of salt had been retrieved, and the children found two dozen eggs.
Ma spent the afternoon rolling out dumplings and cooking meat in a black pot hanging in the fireplace. It sure did smell good. When Pa lifted the lid Ma ran him off with a ladle and warning, “Stay outta that! It’s for Christmas!” My mouth watered thinking about dumplings and cornbread.
I erected the tree and the children trimmed it and decorated it with popcorn rope and pine cones. It smelled wonderful.
“Uncle Thomas, it don’t have a star,” my nephew, Luke Newby, complained. I carved a star and attached it to the top. “But it is isn’t silver,” he said.
Christmas Eve Night, with snow falling, Brother George and his family came over and we gathered in front of the fireplace and Pa read from the Bible about the birth of Jesus and told the children about the three wise men bringing gifts.
“That’s how Christmas came about,” he said “and why we exchange gifts.”
Pa shushed us. Then he prayed long and hard that all the boys were safe and would soon return home. Afterward, he shouldered his fiddle and played a mournful tune, one we all knew. George’s baritone voice sang, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” We joined hands and sang along with tears streaming down our cheeks.
“Y’all sing louder so I can hear all of it,” I said.
Then we sang it again.
It was just past midnight – Christmas morning – and bitter cold. A north wind whistled between the chinked logs, sending shivers up my back. Pity any poor soul outside tonight. I pulled the quilt to my chin and was almost asleep when I heard Ol’ Luther barking and snarling.
Those devils were back again. I cupped my good ear and listened. Someone was in the yard. More barking and snarling. Then I heard a thin, plaintive cry.
“MA! PA!” The voice was familiar. It couldn’t be!
Pa got up and lit a candle. I scrambled from bed. Outside, Pa held the candle high, and it its soft glow, stood a bedraggled man with a scraggly beard.
“Who is it?” Pa demanded.
“Pa, it’s me, Dudley Richard. I’m home.”
Ma came out the door and stared at the man. “Dudley Richard?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yeah Ma, I’m home.”
Ma rushed toward him, arms outstretched. “My son, my son!”
Pa was trembling, tears running down his grizzled face as he hugged his son. I hardly recognized my brother – even ol’ Luther didn’t. Dudley was ill, half frozen and starving. He hadn’t eaten since leaving Hood’s Army two days earlier near Lexington, Alabama
“The Lord has given me a wonderful present this Christmas.” Ma said. “My son is home.”
Soon the household was awake and hugging Dudley. Everyone was too excited to go back to bed. Pa stoked a big fire in the fireplace. Ma declared it was dinner time, no matter that it was only 2 a.m. We gathered around the table, and after Pa thanked the Lord long and hard, we ate squirrel dumplings and cornbread until we were full. Then we ate some more.
Ma declared it was the best Christmas ever. And it was.
By: Jerry Barksdale
Misspelled Chronicles. Sorry about that. As soon as I learn to edit, I will do so. Thanks to Teddy Wolcott, I just learned to make a paragraph. I’m making progress, considering I planned to shotgun my new Dell only last week.
Elk River. I look out my window and see sleet falling. Whatever is customary. Over the years I’ve written hundreds of stories and columns for our local newspaper. Several years ago a woman reader wrote the Editor about a column and said, “It’s the sickest thing I ever read”. I’de love to meet that lady. She may be the only woman who understands my condition..
Journalist and friend, Karen Middleton suggested that we select the “best” columns and put them in a book. Okay with me. My daughter, Shannon suggested a name–“Cornbread Chronicles”. We have sold many since then.
Recently, Betty Jones West, retired teacher at Tullahoma, Tn. suggested that I put Cornbread Chronicles on audio. Another great idea. Betty went to work on the project and Amazon will have the audio out early 2017. I hope you like it.
For my closet writer friends, remember that every story must have drama. No drama-no reader interest. You must create conflict. Problems-problems and more problems. Things just get “worser n worser”.
It’s cold outside. I plan to build a warm fire in my fireplace , sit in front of it and read. Stay warm–and happy. More later. S-o-o long until tomorrow.
From the banks of Elk River—.Last evening my good friend(and sometimes redhead) Pat and I attended the Limestone County Bar party. It was held in what was once Ben Jaffe Dept. Store on the eastside of the square. I thought about Mama. In the 50s she had sold shoes there for $30 a week. At the time I was at Athens High and working 70 hours a week at McConnell Funeral Home. I earned $30 a week. Mama said, “I’ll put food on the table if you will take care of your needs”. And that’s what we did. That was also when my dream to become a lawyer first appeared. Thanks Mom.
It was mostly a young crowd that gathered around the bar sipping wine. What a bunch of wimps! Back in the 70s, we gathered at the Athens Country Club and drank real alcohol, stuff that would kill you liver in record time. This young crowd of lawyers are not keeping up our reputation of “drinking out of the same bottle”. Our noble profession is suffering. Also, back “in the day”, when Limestone County was “dry”, Mr. Bruce Sherrill would agree to drive across the county line and purchase booze for our party, provided the DA wouldn’t prosecute. It was a great arrangement. I’m sure the common folks would’ve love to had such a deal.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about my new audio book, Cornbread Chronicles, which will be on the market soon. Until then, s-o-o long until tomorrow. And make yourself happy.