Jerry Pierce

Reading Materials

Teachers back in my school days must have taken into account the fact that most families in our little town couldn’t afford new encyclopedias very often. We had a set of maroon-colored encyclopedias in a bookcase in the living room all the years I was growing up.  My brother and I used the books for homework and school research papers. My dad flipped through the pages of the 15-volume set of encyclopedias for information on chemistry and other things related to his work in the bleach plant at the paper mill. He looked up things about botany and horticulture that might help him grow bigger and better tomatoes in his back yard garden.  He read up on aquatics and meteorology to help him catch more bream and white perch at the mill ponds. Mostly, though, he and my uncle used the encyclopedias to help settle their continual arguments about wars, politics, sports, movies and nearly everything else. I got the encyclopedias out several times a week when school was going on to help with homework projects in history, geography, science, civics and other subjects. They were especially valuable when our English teachers, Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Branch, assigned us a bunch of themes on a variety of topics for the whole school year. The teachers obviously collaborated on a plan for students to do writing and research.  They gave us a hundred or so titles for essays that had to be turned in by the end of school. Most of the information for those papers came from our well-worn set of encyclopedias.  If we had to write about the invention of automobiles or airplanes, the continents, famous writers or scientists, we went to the encyclopedias. Teachers apparently overlooked it if some of our information was outdated, because they knew our encyclopedias were outdated. But book companies were always trying to sell my folks new ones. There were men in suits and ties and shiny cars in our neighborhood all the time selling insurance, vacuum cleaners, pots and pans, house siding, magazine subscriptions and encyclopedias. I liked the look and smell of the new encyclopedias that the salesmen said were available for small monthly payments.  Our encyclopedias were some off-brand, but these sales people had fancy volumes like World Book and Britannica. We never got any new encyclopedias, but my dad did sign up for a single volume every year that was supposed to be an update to older encyclopedias. My parents liked to read, so there were always plenty of reading materials around.  They got two daily newspapers and a local weekly.  They read them cover to cover, and I concentrated on the sports and comic pages. Magazines came in the mail nearly every day.  We all found things we liked in Reader’s Digest, Life, Look, Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post with the great Norman Rockwell illustrations on the covers. My dad got popular magazines for men like Argosy, True and some of those detective and crime publications.  They were off limits to my brother and me, but we managed to read them anyway. There were never any fancy fashion magazines for women at our house, because my mother was not into the ritzy things featured in those publications.  If she wore jewelry, it was the gawdy plastic stuff my brother and I got her for birthdays and Christmases. She did get magazines like Good Housekeeping, mostly for the recipes.  That surprised me since she rarely used a recipe when she cooked. A boy on a bicycle delivered the Grit newspaper to the house, and my folks bought subscriptions to other magazines from us and other kids who sold them for school projects. I sold my dad a subscription to Mad Magazine, but he canceled it after the first issue. That offbeat publication died last month. My parents belonged to some book clubs that were popular then   and got books for all of us year-round. Most of our important reading, though, was in those tattered encyclopedias.  They didn’t have a fraction of the information that we get now on the internet, but the books smelled and felt good, and it was always exciting to discover what was on the next page.


Dragging Again

Riding up and down Main Street on Friday nights honking horns and flashing lights was almost mandatory for teenagers in Springhill in the 1950s and 1960s.  We called it Dragging Main.

Now some of those kids who have been grown for a long time are thinking about doing it again.  Invitations have gone out for a reenactment and photo shoot of those Main Street cruises.

Folks who can find the kinds of cars and trucks that were dragging Main back in those days are being encouraged to drive them for the picture-taking event.

It would be great to see some of those classic cars from the fifties and sixties again like the Chevy Bel Airs with the tail fins and the Ford Fairlanes and Mercury Montclairs.

The car I drove most of those Friday nights was not cool then and wouldn’t be considered voguish now even if I could find one.  It was a 1946 Army green Ford.

It was nearly 10 years old and worn out when I bought it for $250.  Not many pretty girls were eager to ride in it when we were dragging Main.

But for that matter, they were not all that excited about the green Plymouth I borrowed from my parents a few times or the stodgy family station wagons and sedans other guys used.  We had to disconnect the odometers to hold down the mileage we put on them.

Classmates with the Bel Airs and Thunderbird convertible like my best friend drove attracted plenty of passengers.  They will probably be at the reenactment with flashy classic cars.

One of my concerns about going back for the photo shoot is that I would have to drive the boring white SUV that I use to haul our four granddaughters to dance lessons and softball games.

The invitation to the event indicated there will be drones buzzing overhead and videoing all these aging people dragging Main Street.  I hate to be filmed in a lackluster SUV.

Drones scare me too.   We bought one for work.  The first time we tested it, the thing soared off and didn’t come back.  It had landed far away at our office where we took it out of the box, which had a homing device in it.

And those of us who grew up in that little town were not accustomed to seeing things flying.  There was one single engine plane at our airport, and spotting it was like seeing a spaceship.

Reenacting those Friday nights for a photo shoot is a good idea, but we have to remember that a lot of things that made dragging Main so enjoyable have changed.

The Dothl House, where we had juicy cheeseburgers and thick milkshakes before and after the drives, has long been closed.  We will miss that good food and the jukebox music.

I’m not sure the little radio station in Springhill that blared from most of our AM radios is still on the air.   The sock hops most of us went to before dragging Main are a thing of the past.

We might not be able to climb the water tower and paint the school letters on it like we did then or drag race later in the night on the flat,  straight road to Taylor, Ark.

Parking at the oil fields and gravel pits after cruising Main was an exciting part of those Friday nights.  Regina has told me that we will not be parking this time if we make it to the photo shoot.

Most of the landmarks and places we loved along Main Street as teenagers are gone now.  Tennyson’s Drugs, where we had cherry Cokes and root beer floats at the soda fountain, has faded away.

So have the pool hall, the mercantile store, the old Webster movie theater that had Saturday morning double feature westerns and the barber shop where Mr. Corley trimmed my hair, doused me with lotion and dusted me with talcum powder for a quarter.

Even with those things in the distant past, though, a reenactment of dragging Main will still be fun.  It will rekindle some of the fondest memories in the lives of those kids who experienced them so long ago and then grew older faster than any of us ever imagined.

I am polishing my SUV, getting the booster seats and empty Gatorade bottles out of it and trying to talk Regina into parking with me in the oilfields when we finish dragging Main.


Bird Attacks

Alfred Hitchcock movies and television shows use to scare the daylights out of me.  Some of the fears I felt watching The Birds, a movie he directed in the 1960s, still linger today.

Called the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock directed more than 50 motion pictures that were usually tagged as horror, suspense or thriller films.

He also had a weekly television series back then of short stories with surprise, spine-tingling endings that made it hard to sleep after watching the shows.

What brought this to mind was a recent news story in a national publication about the growing number of attacks on people by red-winged blackbirds.

A man who jogs every day in Minnesota posted on Facebook that he has been repeatedly ambushed by blackbirds during those exercise sessions.

There were immediate responses on social media from a dozen other folks in that area who said red-winged blackbirds had also divebombed them lately.

An official with the Illinois Audubon Society says blackbirds have started harassing her when she is cycling, and people in other states are reporting blackbird assaults.

Environmental experts say the birds are reacting to the increasing encroachment by humans on their habitats.

Maybe Alfred Hitchcock had some kind of premonition about all this when he did the movie about violent bird rampages.

Hitchcock had shocked moviegoers a few years earlier with the film Psycho.  The scene where Anthony Perkins slashes Janet Leigh to death in the shower was horrifying.  Folks all over the country quit taking showers.

But Birds was even scarier to me than Psycho.  Gulls, sparrows and other birds attack and kill people for no reason in the movie.
Those images pop into my mind when birds come a little too close.

Years back, a woodpecker started waking me up every morning hammering at metal gutters on the house.  When I would try to run him off, he soared at my head.   His wings hit me a couple of times.

After a while, he started swooping at me even when I was not trying to scare him away.  When I went to the car in the mornings to go to work, he would zoom around my head.

I borrowed a football helmet from a coach at the university and started wearing it going back and forth to the car.  Neighbors started looking at me funny.

My journalist friend Bill Carter didn’t understand my fear of birds.  He had a pet parrot that he said could talk.  It made screeching sounds and Carter would tell me what it said.

Carter knew the bird made me nervous. The bird sat on his shoulder, and he fed it bread.  He wanted me to feed the bird to get it to warm up to me.  It bit my finger and wouldn’t let go for a while.

I had a big boxer dog for years who chased raccoons, possums and other varmints but was afraid of birds.  When mockingbirds dived at him, he would roll over on his back and play dead.

Regina loves birds.  She inherited that trait from her mother.  We have a big birdhouse in the back yard for purple martins and other birds that use it when the martins leave for the winter.

A smaller birdhouse attracts bluebirds, and there are feeders around the yard for doves, redbirds, sparrows and assorted other birds that fight off squirrels for the food.

She spends a fortune on birdseed.  Doves that seem to get bigger every year hang out under the feeders and scoop up food other birds knock out of the containers.

Regina told me the other day we had the biggest doves she had ever seen under the feeders.  It turned out to be a bunch of ducks that came across the back yard from Cane River.

We see them in the river all the time, but they had never raided the bird feeders. The birdseed bill will be going up.

Regina loves to sit on the patio and watch the birds.  I do too as long as it’s from a distance.  They make a lot of noise,  but I have not been able to make out what they are saying like Bill Carter did.

The purple martins swoop down at me when I mow beneath their house.  It makes me think of the Birds movie.  I still have the football helmet in case I need it.


Summer Camps

Folks my age might have been born too early.  We missed out on all the fun and benefits of these numerous and varied summer camps that our kids and grandkids are enjoying these days.

There are dozens of different kinds of camps this summer  just at the university here alone.  Sports camps, art camps, cheerleading camps,  music camps, theater camps and even writing camps.

Numerous other camps at nearby and far flung venues are also attracting local youngsters.    Some are church sponsored, but more goes on at those camps than hymn singing and Bible reading.

We have pictures of our granddaughters at some religion-based camps swimming, biking, shooting bows and arrows and BB guns, rock climbing and canoeing.

Three of the four granddaughters are tuned in to summer camps.  They have been participating in camps since school ended and have more camps lined up before classes start back.

They have been honing their skills at such things as dribbling, bunting, fielding grounders, setting screens, mixing watercolors, hiking, setting up tents and doing backstrokes without sinking.

Charlee Ann, five-years-old and the youngest of the bunch, is carrying out kind of a one little person camp boycott.  She has not been to a single one this summer so far and is not signed up for any future camps.

The Fun and Fitness Camp at Northwestern has been going on for years and is extremely popular because participants take part in a wide range of games, crafts and other activities.

Charlee, who attended some camps last summer but remembers that she was often uncomfortably hot, was asked if she wanted to go to Fun and Fitness which is indoors in the air conditioning.

She listened to the sales pitch from her parents and sisters and asked if it is called a Fun and Fitness Camp.  When informed that it is, she said, “I’m not going to anything named camp.”

The only thing named camp that I ever heard of growing up was Camp Yatasi.  I spent several days there one summer and was left with the same impression about camps that Charlee Ann has.

Camp Yatasi was a Boy Scout encampment in some thick woods on the shores of Caney Lake.  That was near Minden an hour or so from my home in Springhill.

The little information sheet they handed out to our scout troop about Camp Yatasi before we went didn’t have any pictures.  It described spacious residential facilities and a modern bathhouse.

That sounded to me like one of those luxurious hotels along the lines of the Alamo Plaza in Shreveport or some of those magnificent tourist courts my family and I passed on summer vacations when we visited kinfolks in Florida or South Louisiana.

Not that I had ever been in any of those places, but I was pretty sure they were lush and palatial based on their neon signs and the billboards that advertised them.

Before I went to Camp Yatasi, I envisioned nice private rooms with luxuries like a black and white television set and an attic fan to keep things cool like we had at home.

In my mind, the modern bathhouse mentioned in the flyer would have nice individual showers, steam rooms and a whirlpool sauna like I had seen on TV.

The residential facilities turned out to be barracks with cots for campers to sleep in one big room.  The wooden green bathhouse had community showers and a row of toilets and was 50 yards or so down a trail through the woods from the barracks.

Counselors showed us where snakebite kits were located in the barracks and bathhouse and how to use them.  Those little coils that served as mosquito repellents in those days were smoking and smoldering in both buildings.

Kids who had been to camp there before told about seeing bobcats and cougars along the trail to the bathhouse.  It took a lot of milk of magnesia to get me regular again after I went nearly a week without going to the bathroom.

Camps have come a long way since those primitive times in the 1950s, and countless kids are enriched by the skills and lessons they offer.  But I can still identify with Charlee when she insists that she is not going to anything named camp.


Peter Drucker

Northwestern was floundering some back in the 1980s when Bobby Alost became president of the university.  He wanted advice on how to run the place from the best expert he could find.

After some research, Bobby determined that was Dr. Peter Drucker, who had an international reputation as the “founder of modern management.”

Drucker, who wrote 39 books on corporate management, was a professor at the prestigious Claremont College in California. Bobby planned for a bunch of us at Northwestern to go see him.

A native of Austria, Drucker presented some formal lectures to the group.  His heavy accent was hard to understand, and there was little time for questions and other interaction with him.

Bobby made arrangements for just a few of us to go back for a longer, more relaxed visit with Drucker. The conversations would be recorded for everybody back at the university.

He decided that Ron McBride and I should accompany him to California for the more casual sessions.  An audiovisual expert, Ron would film everything.  As a journalist, my job was to ask questions and get the management guru to talk.

Getting Drucker to talk was not a problem.  We had dinner at a restaurant near his home the first night there.  The waiter served him a glass of red wine when we sat down before he even asked for it.

Drucker started talking and didn’t quit until we left two days later.

He changed the next day’s meetings from his office to his house.  His lovely wife Doris made us a great lunch of fruits, sandwiches and salads, and Dr. Drucker talked about management.

Drucker wanted to show us around the following day.  We rode to the Venice Beach boardwalk 50 miles away, saw bikers, surfers, sunbathers, skateboarders, mimes and musicians and listened to more theories on management and organization.

Quotes from Drucker are displayed on office walls at companies around the world, and we heard a lot of them the few days we were there.  Things like,  “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said,” and, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

One point that stuck with me after spending all those hours with Drucker was that every organization needs a go-to person who knows everything about the place and how to get things done.

He said facetiously that it’s usually a tough lady, probably with a name like Rosie, and maybe with a big tattoo on her forearm.

I had run into some folks like that and knew Drucker was right. We were all intimidated by our great editor George Healy when I worked at The Times Picayune, but we learned that it was more important to please his secretary than Mr. Healy.

She was an older lady, and I talked to her every chance I got.  She called one morning to tell me that I had messed up a story the day before and the editor wanted me to come in an hour early to “browbeat” me as she said.  He was good at that.

Her plan was to tell him she couldn’t reach me and for me to come in at the usual time to give her time to talk to Mr. Healy.    When I got there, she said he had “calmed down.”  He pointed out my error, but it was a pleasant visit.

Mrs. Carroll worked in the dean’s office when I was in college.  I was summoned to see the dean several times for missing classes, not turning in papers, registering late and other violations but never met the dean.  Mrs. Carroll always took care of it.

Loneta Graves was chief financial officer at Northwestern for years, and she could be a terror if any of us ever failed to pinch a penny.  We were scared of her.

When I turned in my expenses for a trip to Chicago, she questioned my receipts for cab fare.  I had requested $8.  She said it should not have been over $6.

I filled out another form and lowered the cab fare, but I added 20 cents for two trips to a pay toilet at the airport.  Loneta approved the expenses, and  It was the first time I saw her laugh.  We became long-time friends.

None of those ladies were named Rosie or had tattoos, but they were the kind of people Peter Drucker said every organization needs.


Jell-O Salad

When we were growing up, my mother and other ladies in our neighborhood were big on Jell-O,  big on salads and really big on Jell-O salads.

If I didn’t learn anything else as a kid, I discovered that there is no limit to the number of things that can be added to Jell-O to make it into what my mother thought was a healthy salad.

She mixed all the different colors and flavors of Jell-O up with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other things to make assorted salads to go with her great down home meals.

Jell-O salad was never my favorite thing, but I could usually hide most of it under the remnants of other stuff  on my plate like fried chicken, pork chops and pot roast.

If my mother had a favorite, go-to Jell-O salad, it would have been her concoction of green lime Jell-O with a can of that strange fruit cocktail in it.

She would serve the salad on lettuce leaves.  Probably figuring that there was no way to make a mixture of lime-flavored Jell-O, canned fruit cocktail and lettuce any worse, she usually topped it with a dollop of Miracle Whip and some shredded cheese.

Jell-O was not always a part of her salads.  She liked to do what she called a Waldorf salad.  It had apples, celery, walnuts and raisins in it and probably some of that mayonnaise-like salad dressing.

Her Coleslaw with shredded cabbage and a little onion was always good, especially with fried fish.  She made some kind of salad out of grated carrots and raisins that I always avoided.

I think about my mother’s salads this time of year when fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are in season.  Those were the main ingredients in what is still my favorite salad.

She would cut up cucumbers and tomatoes that my dad grew in his back yard garden, slice an onion and let all that marinate a while in vinegar, oil, sugar and other stuff.

Regina and I try to get to the green market here early on Saturday mornings before they run out of tomatoes and cucumbers.  We have them with oil and vinegar dressing like my mother use to make.

But in all the years we have been married, I don’t remember us ever having one of those salads with Jell-O in it like my mother whipped up so often.

Some of the most distasteful to me had celery, mandarin orange slices, pineapple or raspberries in them and were topped with cottage cheese.  I have never eaten cottage cheese again since I got old enough to tell my mother that I just couldn’t face it.

My mother’s admiration for Jell-O based salads was perhaps best emphasized by the fact that she took them to the dinners on the grounds that were so popular at Calvary Baptist Church.

Her most requested contribution to those events was the Coke salad made with cherry flavored Jell-O, cherry juice and a Coca-Cola back in the days when Cokes came in green, six-ounce bottles.

Brother Peyden, the preacher, even praised the salad from the pulpit a time or two and mentioned how it seemed to fizz when you ate it like a carbonated beverage.

Jell-O was not just for salads.  Norman Rockwell, the artist who created the distinctive covers for Saturday Evening Post magazine, deigned an advertisement for the Jell-O company calling it America’s most famous dessert.

Apparently inspired by that message, my mother quit cooking her fantastic apple pies, pineapple upside down cakes, chocolate chip cookies, divinity candy and things like that and started making Jell-O desserts that were quicker and easier.

She would put whipped cream on plain Jell-O or fix some Jell-O with marshmallows or strawberries in it and call it dessert.  We protested, but she said Jell-O was better for us than pies and cakes and things like that.

Maybe she was right, because hospitals have been serving Jell-O to patients for years when they are recovering from illnesses.

Regina knows that if I’m ever in the hospital she should take me some cucumber and tomato salad with pecan pie for dessert.  My mother made me eat enough Jell-O to last a lifetime.


Phone Bags

New cell phones are getting bigger.  That makes it harder for men to carry them in our pocket or clipped to our belt, so we might have to get one of the special bags they are making to hold phones.

The technology folks are circling back to the old days when it comes to the dimensions of cell phones.  The earliest ones were the size of a cinder block.

Those so-called bag phones were hauled around in satchels that had a hand strap like a toiletry bag.  They were usually plugged into the car lighter and took up space on the passenger side floor.

My first portable phone in the 1980s fit that description.  It had a short antennae that could to be hooked to the top of the car to get decent reception.

I left the phone in the trunk most of the time,  because I couldn’t afford to make calls.  The per-minute charge for cell phone calls back then was about the price of new tennis shoes.

Phones got smaller over the years, and even those skinny guys with skin tight jeans could get a phone in their pants pocket.  The flip phones they came out with later would fit in your shirt pocket.

But cell phones have been growing lately, apparently to hold all that data and gigabytes and the other stuff needed to operate phone calls, photos, videos, apps and all the other things new phones do.

The phones still fit in most ladies’ purses but are too bulky for guys’ pockets.  The high tech industry’s solution to the problem,   of course, is to create phone carrying cases for men.

Fashion and technology experts say the trendiest new carrying cases for the phones will be on lanyards that men will wear around their necks like Mardi Gras beads.

Some are already on the market.  There are some orange nylon bags for $18 each, but designer bags are priced up to $900.  I think I’ll just look for some pants with bigger pockets.

The main reason for this crisis about how to haul our cell phones is that we all have too much stuff to keep up with.  They are even making tiny carrying bags now for those  wireless earpods that folks use to listen to music on their phones.

I used a fanny pack for a while to holds things like phones, keys, sunglasses and other necessities, but Regina determined that it was out of style and got rid of it.

This problem with excessive personal gear and equipment is relatively new, and even kids are having a hard time keeping up with all the things they need to have with them these days.

Our granddaughters are not out of elementary school yet, and they require as much paraphernalia for their softball games as the New York Yankees use.

When I played baseball, I put my glove on the handlebars of my bike and rode to practice.  Most bikes in those days had cargo racks on the back, but we never had any cargo to put on them.

Kids now have special backpacks to hold gloves, their own personal bats, helmets, facemasks, shoes with cleats, caps with a team logo, sunglasses, water bottles, batting gloves, shin guards, sun screen and a bunch of other stuff.

Even something like fishing that should be simple has become a major production because of all the gear that’s needed.  Boats, motors, GPS systems, rods, reels, huge tackleboxes full of baits, tackle, tools and all that.

When my dad and I went fishing, we had cane poles, a paper bag of hooks, corks and sinkers, a fish stringer and some ice water in an old pickle jar.  We got everything from the car to the fishing spot in one easy load.

We didn’t take much gear even on those nighttime frog hunting trips to the mill ponds.  Just a couple of headlights, some frog grabs and a burlap tow sack to hold the frogs.  My mother sewed a strap to the top of the bags so we could wear them over our shoulder.

Come to think of it, those tow sacks would be perfect to hold the  big new phones, reading glasses, wallets, keys, chargers, sunshades, caps, ballpoint pens, note pads, earpods and other things most of us try to keep up with these days.


Things of Value

The Rolex watch folks gave golf legend Jack Nicklaus one of their glitzy timepieces more than a half-century ago, and he’s about to put it up for auction.  Experts say it will fetch millions of dollars.

Nicklaus, who has won the most major tournaments in golf history, has not fallen on hard times.  He will put every penny he makes on the watch into his foundation for children’s health.

Rolex presented Nicklaus the watch back in 1966 when he was starting to dominate professional golf.  Nicklaus says it is the first watch he ever owned, and he has been pictured with it on his arm hundreds of times over the years.

A similar Rolex owned by the late actor Paul Newman was sold at an auction for $17.8 million two years ago, so the Nicklaus watch is expected to be the most expensive sports artifact ever auctioned.

That honor is now assigned to a New York Yankees baseball jersey that Babe Ruth wore in 1920.  It was sold at auction for $4.4 million in 2017.

It’s a good thing Nicklaus has never had anybody like my mother keeping things in order at his house.  That Rolex watch would have been ditched a long time ago.

Nicklaus says he wore the Rolex a lot, but he didn’t wear it all those countless times he was practicing his golf or playing in big tournaments or when he was on fishing and scuba diving trips around the world.

That means the watch was probably sitting in the drawer of a nightstand at his house for weeks at a time.  It would never have survived the kind of decluttering my mother did on a regular basis.

I was a fervent baseball fan growing up and started collecting those trading cards with Major League players’ pictures on them the first time I saw one in a package of bubble gum.

The cards became more important than the gum to boys in our neighborhood during the 1940s and 1950s.  Bubble gum companies started selling packs of baseball cards without the gum.

We could buy packages of five or six cards for a nickel.  We got together every few days and traded cards with friends, swapping our duplicates for cards of players we didn’t have.

I had shoeboxes stuffed with baseball cards by the time I went off to college.  When I went home for the Christmas holidays that year and looked for the card collection, I discovered that my mother had “cleaned out that closet.”

The cards were gone, including some Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial cards that are selling for thousands of dollars these days to card collectors.

The comic books that I bought, traded, collected and cataloged for years had also been discarded as part of my mother’s continual decluttering of her little wood frame house that was propped on short brick pillars.

Those Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Archie, Roy Rogers, Tarzan and other comics from the 1940s and 1950s are collectors’ items now that are worth a lot of money.

The electric trains, View-Masters with all the films and reels that went with them and other boyhood possessions that I stockpiled were lost in decluttering crusades.  They would be valuable today.

When Regina and I were clearing out my mother’s house after she died, we discovered that she was not nearly as diligent about getting rid of stuff that belonged to her and my dad, who had died 20 years earlier.

I’m glad.  We got boxes of her old recipes, a lot of faded black and white family pictures, Christmas decorations that she made by hand, black iron skillets, my dad’s razor sharp pocket knives and J.C.  Higgins shotgun and the round “corner table” they bought for $3 as their first piece of furniture when they married in the 1930s.

Nobody ever had a Rolex watch in our family, but the news about Jack Nicklaus planning to auction his watch to raise millions of dollars for charity reminded me that my folks gave me a Bulova watch for high school graduation in the 1950s.

They got it from Sears for $29.95 and paid it off in monthly installments.  It would be worth a couple hundred dollars on eBay now, but it disappeared long ago when my mother was decluttering her house.


Youth Sports

One of the laws our state legislature passed this year makes it a crime to harass or threaten referees and umpires at T-ball games and things like that.  That sounds like a joke, but it’s true.

Scores of T-ball games can be 32 to 27 or some such thing since everybody gets to hit balls that are sitting perfectly still, and these pre-school players have not yet perfected their defensive skills.

They spend a lot of time chasing grounders that crawl past them and then trying to decide what to do with the ball after they retrieve it.   Coaches work on those things, but kids that age seem to forget fielding techniques from game to game.

Our youngest granddaughter Charlee just turned five, and she hit the ball well this T-ball season and did a good job running the bases when her batting helmet didn’t slip down over her eyes.

Her fielding left something to be desired.  A few balls got by her when she was drawing things in the red infield dirt with her cleats or waving at friends walking by on their way to other games.

Charlee’s team was easy to spot. They wore lime green shirts  with black shorts and lime green socks.  Charlee was the only one who wore black socks most of the year after she stained her lime green stockings with a post-game blue snowcone early in the season.

Regina and I spent a good bit of time at local ballparks this spring with Charlee playing T-ball and her eight-year-old sister Allie on a softball team.

We saw a couple of parents and grandparents get frustrated with umpires when their kids got called out at home, but most of us were well behaved and won’t be affected by the new law that can lead to fines, community service and even jail time for ugly fans.

Allie went through a little hitting slump late in the season, so we coached some from the bleachers reminding her as she was batting to keep her right arm up, watch the ball into the bat and things like that.

One day after we delivered all those instructions, Charlee might have offered the best advice of all when she yelled, “Cross your fingers, Allie.”  It never hurts for hitters to have a little luck.

The new state law that establishes legal charges and penalties for fans who go too far in tormenting officials at school and recreation sports events is long overdue.

When I was in college, several of us who were interested in sports took a class that prepared us for the test to become certified as basketball referees to make some spending money.

Bad weather kept a couple of South Louisiana officials from getting to a game in Sabine Parish one night, so a friend and I in the class were sent to officiate the game even though we had not completed the class or become certified.

It was the first time either of us had ever refereed a game, and the officiating could not have been any worse.  Sheriff’s deputies had to escort us out of the gym, and we both dropped the class when we got back to school.

When my older son was playing in a church league basketball game, the father of one of his teammates became irate  at a volunteer referee and went on the floor to scold him during a timeout.

The referee took off his striped shirt and whistle, handed them to the guy and walked off.  The critic didn’t have much choice but to start officiating.

Then the ousted official joined us in the bleachers, and we all gave the new referee, one of our fellow church members, a hard time the rest of the game.

A recent survey of 17,000 members of the National Association of Sports Officials concluded that sportsmanship is diminishing and is worse in youth sports than at high school and college games.

What a shame that the behavior of some parents and other fans at kids’ sports events has become so hostile that new laws are needed to address the problem.

We should support officials who work for little or no pay and encourage kids even when they spill snowcones on their uniforms and draw in the dirt with their cleats as grounders roll by them.

If nothing else, we can try to help them have good luck at bat by shouting reminders for them to cross their fingers.


Merle Kilgore

Merle Kilgore was just a disc jockey at the little radio station in Springhill where I grew up, but he was about the biggest star any of us had ever been around back in the 1950s.

He had played the guitar and sung a few times on the Louisiana Hayride.  That country music show at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport was nationally prominent.  Elvis Presley and Hank Williams performed there.

Mr. Hill, who ran the radio station, liked to give local kids some good experience and a little spending money by hiring them to spin records and do other jobs at the station.

My interest at the time was sports writing, and he let me have a Saturday morning show to talk about the Springhill Lumberjacks and other high school teams in the area.

Bob Wainwright, a veteran radio engineer who knew how to hold the fragile equipment together enough to keep the station on the air, would call me if a disc jockey didn’t show up for work.  I would go in and chat between records that he put on the turntable.

It was big news for that little town when Mr. Hill announced  that Merle Kilgore would be coming to work for the station.  He had, after all, been a DJ at a big station in Shreveport and at Ruston when he was going to Louisiana Tech.

I’m not sure Merle was famous at that time, but a lot of us who kept up with country music had heard of him.  Stories about him carrying Hank Williams’ guitar when Hank played at the Hayride and Merle was a student at Byrd High School spread pretty fast.

All of us country music fans back then knew of Webb Pierce, a singer from West Monroe who performed at the Hayride and had some hit records.  We knew Merle Kilgore wrote a song for Pierce called More and More that went to the top of the charts.

We were impressed with Merle’s appearance when he walked in the station the first morning on the job.  He was tall with wavy black hair and sideburns, jeans without a single wrinkle in them, a crisp western shirt, shiny cowboy boots, a big belt buckle and a white hat.

It didn’t seem like it at the time with all of his impressive credentials and experience, but Merle was just five years or so older than me and my classmates.  He graduated from Byrd in 1952, and most of us guys at the station would graduate in 1957.

He had written More and More before he was 20-years-old.  Royalties for big hits like that must not have been as good then as they are now.  I don’t think he would have been working for the kind of money the Springhill station paid if he had been rich.

In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that Merle, who was still in his twenties at the time, was just trying to make a few bucks and get a foothold in the music and entertainment business.

When he was not disc jockeying and promoting records, he was selling advertising for the station to businesses like Tennyson’s Drugs and Springhill Feed and Seed.

Merle had some kind of connection with Dave Bartholomew, a songwriter and musician who played the trumpet on most of Fats Domino’s recordings.

Bartholomew also had some records of his own.  Merle paid some of us to take Dave’s records to disc jockeys at little radio stations in Louisiana and Arkansas and try to talk DJs into playing them.  We made enough for gas and hamburgers.

So Merle must have been a promoter for Bartholomew, who wrote songs like Ain’t That a Shame with Domino and I Hear You Knocking on his own and ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Merle went on to much bigger things from Springhill.  He wrote a hit called Wolverton Mountain about his Arkansas uncle named Clifton Clowers.  He also wrote Ring of Fire, and there was controversy over whether Johnny Cash’s wife was the co-author.

Mike Haynes, a high school disc jockey at the station who later gained fame as The Winchester Man, told me about Kilgore returning to Springhill once to show friends the house on Butler Street where he wrote Ring of Fire.

Joe Stampley, another Springhill boy who made it big in country music, told me when he was here for a Christmas Festival that Merle was one of the top promoters in the music industry and that they crossed paths often.

When Kilgore died in 2005, he was the manager for Hank Williams, Jr.  He wrote many more songs, performed at the Grand Ole Opry and was a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.