Saturday, February 20, 2010

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

BBQ and the Fourth of July-Happy Father's Day

One day in May or June during the sixties my dad brought home a 50 gallon drum that had been cut in half. The next Saturday we sat on the front porch just outside the carport with a host of screws, washers, nuts, and two hinges. That day I learned how to screw –how to hold the screw steady with a screw driver and turn the nut with a wrench or vice versa, whichever was easier, failure to work the two in tandem resulted in a lot of twisting and no tightening.

We hinged one part of that cut drum to the other in such a way that it opened liked a BBQ pit. We cut a little door on one end and fashioned a latch. This would serve as a damper. We then took some metal duct work and formed a stove pipe that we bolted to the top half. We found a can left over from supper and used as a damper. We fashioned a handle out of something I don’t remember. Perhaps it was wood or a piece of metal pipe or Ila Jane’s old baton. Either one would serve to lift the lid. We used the grates from and old frig for the grill. We fashioned a metal support to the bottom half in the front and the backside of the barrel to support the grill.

We attached the whole barrel to some sort of support that my dad had saved from the garbage man. I do not recall the support, but the BBQ barrel I recall quite well. I have seen similar BBQ contraptions all through the south and even in Gary.

On the Fourth of July that summer we invited the whole neighborhood over for a party. That homemade BBQ was filled with Royal Oak –the only kind of charcoal the old man would use. (I’m a Kingsford man myself unless I find Royal Oak then I’m tempted to switch).

My dad would use the door on the side opposite the stove pipe and the tin can on top to control the temperature of coals. On the grill he placed halves of chicken. As the chickens cooked he would baste them with his on special sauce. A sauce made with ketchup, mustard, tarragon vinegar and a quarter cup of whiskey added after the sauce boiled.

The chickens took some time so in the interim the kids were able to shoot off firecrackers. Mostly red fingers –not very powerful- but a few black cats if you were good. My dad kept the firecrackers in a coffee can and us kids had to go to him to get our supply. We had strict instructions to place the fire crackers on a brick or something else. Light them and run away. It was permissible to twist several firecrackers together and place them under a Maxwell House coffee can and see how high it would go. I put one in my mom’s gourd bird house and guess what…. It blew the bird house up.

We lived in the city limits of Little Rock and it was against the law to shoot off fireworks. So before the chickens were done we had a little visit from the Little Rock Police. They instructed us that we could not shoot off fireworks. All of us kids felt like we were in trouble and we better eat and go home quick. The policeman eventually wished us a happy fourth and left the backyard. He got in his car and turned around in the cul-de-sac then headed up the hill. As he headed up the hill my dad dropped his cigarette in the coffee can and all hell broke loose. The adults were jumping up and knocking over their lawn chairs and running for cover! The kids were scattering and swearing that the cops would be back. I am certain that was accident rather than an act of defiance. One thing’s for sure that chicken sure was good and my mom was more irritated at my dad than at me for blowing up her gourd.

Happy Father’s Day, Joe.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Johnny Cash; Dyess, Arkansas and Grandma's Guest Room

Recently our paper ran an article on a Sunday about the Legacy of Johnny Cash and a town's future. That town would be Dyess, Arkansas. I read the article and immediately turned to my book, Cash by the editors of Rolling Stone to compare the stories. Then I tried to reconcile the facts with tales of my grandma and my dad about how Johnny Cash grew up in Kingsland, Arkansas and slept in the guest room of the house in Rison.

The Rolling Stone book says, Johnny Cash remembered the first house he lived in which was near Kingsland, Arkansas. He was just a boy back then.

I have been to Kingsland and I was just boy then too. It was a little town at the end of gravel road we took south out of the bottoms near Bob and Neely's. That would be the Saline River bottoms. There were a few houses or shacks might be a better word. I think I even saw something that looked like a high school. Okay, it was the sixties and it was Arkansas so anything out of brick with more than one story, a patch of grass and goal posts would pass for a high school!

I pictured that was where Johnny Cash went to school and he probably came to Rison on Friday night for football. Afterwards he and the boys from Kingsland probably got in a fight with my dad and the Rison Tigers. Afterwards, Johnny Cash stayed the night in Grandma's guest room lickin his wounds from the lickin he took.

Well I don't think it happened that way and then again it may not have happened at all.

The paper said Dyess was a town developed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration which farmers like the Cashes who were ruined by the Depression could resettle on land the government had bought. You could buy twenty acres of land with no money down, and a house, a barn and they would give you a mule and a cow. They would even furnish groceries through the first year. When your crop came in you could pay it back. The paper referred to it as a socialistic experiment.

Johnny Cash's brother died there after an accident in the community saw mill. Johnny went fishing on that day and his daddy never forgot it. Johnny Cash graduated from high school there in Dyess. (Guess that blows that childhood fantasy.) Johnny left Dyess to join the air force and eventually fell in love with June Carter, greatest love story told 'cept me and gawilli!

In the Rolling Stone book it says that Cash remembers it took them two days to travel the gravel roads from Kingsland to Dyess. That would be from southeast Arkansas to northeast Arkansas. They had to stop overnight by the roadside in the truck the government had sent for them. I bet that was when Johnny Cash slept in my grandma's guest room. I bet she and JW seen 'em on the side of the road and said, "Why don't ya'll come to our house over here to Rison where you'll be more comfortable."

Oh well, may be not. Knowing my family they probably just made that story up because they knew that had a gullible grandson. But if that ain't a great spin on the story you can always settle for the greatness of the tale of socialism in America. You know that dirty little thang that saved us from the Depression and the Dust Bowl that latter came to be something that would keep you from teaching school in Indiana, but that's another story!


Thursday, May 21, 2009


It’s been eight years since 911 and more since Columbine. I hear that the security folks want to check around and make sure we ain’t forgot. I remember how we all rallied and set up procedures, locked the front door to the school house and buzzed everyone in. Recently I was in an urban area in another state where they had assessed the risk differently –their school house front doors were open ALL DAY! And this location was not far from one of our foreign borders, the liberal one to be exact.

Dick Cheney was on the news today testifying to the merits of water boarding, and what not, about how it kept us safe. Because you know every purported threat was deterred. And there is no compromise to terrorism.

Now Dick and Homeland may be correct, but three years ago was the last time I flew. I did not feel any safer then than I did in 1978 when I could smoke in the cabin and no one checked my backpack for the Coleman fuel I was transporting for my hiking stove.

I don’t fly any more. Mostly because I don’t have the patience to ride an hour in the traffic only to wait an hour for the plane –sitting on the runway, then only to wait another hour on the runway upon landing and an hour to get the luggage. All for a two hour flight to a location that I could have driven to in ten. Not to mention all the scenery I would see and the possible stay over night in a motel with a “cement pond”, damn!

The other reason I don’t fly is I can’t seem to get my cowboy boots off and on without missing the flight.

My point is not to take a side on the issue because I like being safe, but it is to recall a conversation many years before, one that occurred in 1977 and feuded by PBR and prediction. Yep, my engineering buddy, that would civil engineering buddy. They called me the construction paper engineering buddy since I was an elementary education major. He stated that Americans would gladly elect the first dictator if that dictator kept them safe.

The first test of this premise that I recall was the seat belt law. Mind you I have never driven a vehicle without wearing a seat belt. It always made since to me, especially when I was riding in Mr. Tenney’s open air jeep. I mean one fast turn and your were rolling out that baby.!

They said that not wearing a seat belt would cause our insurance claims to go up. So we passed this law cuz it made sense. My car insurance rate has not gone down, has yours? Instead the police have this click or ticket program that seems to be a good reason to pull people over and see what else is going on.

As stated before, I really don’t want to take a side on this, but it does sometimes to go too far. I mean it is out of control when you take a boot jack away from an 80 year old man trying to go through security at the airport.! For gawd sakes he knew he would have to take his cowboy boots off. He was just trying to do so with a little ease and comfort.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fishin Dawg

Friday night we were invited to a friend's house on a lake just outside of town. Beautiful setting and a wonderful evening. Their were three dogs there, two black labs and a short legged, barreled belly "little dog". One of the labs was in the water and when the other lab tried to get in the water the "little dog" would run at him and bark. I think he was the life guard, "one dog in the water at a time!"

One of the labs, I'll just call him the black lab, kept running parallel to the shore. He was looking down in the water as he ran. He was running and looking with real intent. Apparently he was fishing. Imagine that! A fishing dog. He would run over to one dock, then turn and run past his dock to the next dock. All the while looking down for fish.

I think his strategy was to spot the fish and run at them. Of course I'm sure the fish could hear him coming and scattered like school letting out. Maybe this dog should spend a weekend on the shore watching the Herons. He might learn to walk the water quietly and wait for the fish to come to him. He might even learn to pick up a feather or piece of cloth and drop it on the water to attract the fish. But then he is just a dog and I am sure it is not his nature to go after what he wants without running for it. Besides, anything a dog picks up with his mouth usually ends up coming out the back end. He was a cool dog all the same and a real hoot to watch!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Derby Day

It is the day of the oldest sporting event, the greatest few minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby!

I love this day! I was up at 7:00 putting ribs on the smoker and reading the Briefing Book on the Courier Journal, one of the remaining fine newspapers in the USofA. I must add a disclaimer. I have never been to the horse races, nor have I bet on a horse race. I have ridden horses before (see Where's Willi at Back in the Day) and I have done chores on an Arabian horse farm. As for wagering I've shot craps with my dad on the living room floor and worked a week of chores paying my debts -saved by my mom and I've done my citizenship duty of pulling the one arm bandit to support the kids in school. But horse racing is in my blood from when I was a kid.

Picture this: An eight year old boy sitting on the front porch playing with betting cards -win, place, and show and pretending to call a horse race. All of this while waiting for his dad to pull into the driveway returning from Oaklawn Racetrack.

So I follow the Triple Crown races on the television because I inherited the sport -so to speak. The Kentucky Derby is the king of them all. I plan my day around it and match my meal to it. So today it is smoked, dry rubbed ribs. I pick out a big classy cigar and fire that baby up before the race. I sit anxiously by waiting for the trumpet call. Then just before the bell I raise a shot glass of whiskey and salute my dear old dad and cheer for my horse.

My picks are: Dunkirk - he is a gray, he's a Todd Pletcher horse. Friesan Fire - won the Arkansas Derby, a Larry Jones from Hopkinsville Kentucky horse. And my long shot is General Quarters -a horse that may be good on mud, a one man show by a former Louisville biology teacher and high school principal. Wished I could retire like that!

What are your picks?

I'll meet you at the sound of the bell, Dad.....


Am I back??? Who knows? This blog thang got to be big combined with work so I blew it off. Now I have discovered this Facebook deal -got in to it so I could see pictures of family and friends. You can link to your blog (gawilli will show me this later). So I gonna give this a go again. No committments, I have too many of those.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Boyhood stories

Over at Back in the Day gawilli is posting about childhood stories. It set me to thinking about some of my own childhood stories. They might be described as legends but, most likely they are just lies told by old men in front of impressionable boys.

I grew up hunting in the Saline River bottoms of south central Arkansas. Bob and Nelly lived some ten miles off the nearest gravel road smack in the center of the bottoms. Their house sat on stumps that were at least five feet tall. It was a two room shack with screend porches stretching the length of both sides. Bob raised hogs sort of free range style -the hogs wandered through the bottoms and Bob had "corrals" in various spot that he would use to butcher them. Nelly raised turkeys. I would crawl under the house in play in the sandy dirt -watching for snake and being careful that not turkey scratched just as Miss Nelly warned me.

The land was owned by Paul Finkbiner of the Capital Pride meat packing company. Bob and Nelly lived there in exchange for hosting Paul's deer hunting club of which my dad was a member. We went to Bob and Nelly's most weekends. Sometimes we had to hike in because the road was too muddy to pass without four wheel drive.

Of the childhood stories to tell many of them blend together. There was the "legend" of injun joe who wander off into the bottoms and never came back. Most likely he died in the bottoms from too many mosquito bites and exposure. But as a kid hunting in those bottoms alone I always wondered if I would come across him.

There was also a tale my dad and the hunters loved to tell about 'coon huntin. Bob and Paul and Auto, his brother along with Ed Salter and my dad were out 'coon huntin one night. They hunted with a dog that had run off and left them in the dark. They wondered around aimlessly trying to find their way. Finally, Paul or at least I think it was him, claimed they wuz walkin in circles.....

He took his bandana off and laid at a the base of tree. They all proceeded in the direction thay had chosen only to come across Paul's bandana at the base of that tree! Sure enough they had been walking in circles.

Those times were fun. We would always end our hunts at the pipeline which was where the gravel road ended. The pipeline was a cut through the woods where a natural gas line was laid from Louisana (I think). The pipleline was a major benchmark for wondering the bottoms as was the whiteline. The whiteline was were the Union Pacific Paper company had gone through the bottoms painting the trees with white paint. They used that to delineate where they were going to cut trees that would be trucked to the Pinebluff paper mill.

Our hunts end with a ritual. We would all gather in a circle men and boys. We would throw a dollar each in the middle. My dad would take out his dice and we would shoot craps for the pot. The men would pass a bottle of whiskey -Old Taylor to be exact. Each would take a snort and then we would head for home.