Jerry Pierce

Being Afraid

I was nearing school age the first time I remember being afraid.  World War II was raging, and I had picked up bits and pieces about the havoc it was causing. There was news on our console radio every day from the war, and my parents and neighbors discussed it when they had coffee in the kitchen or on the front porch. The nearby paper mill where my dad worked started doing air raid drills.  The screaming sirens and horns from the mill would warn people if enemy planes ever became a threat. The drills were to prepare for real attacks. Those blaring mill signals were commonplace.  The mammoth machinery across the acres of mill property created such a roar that whistles and horns had to be used for communication. There were different signals for breaks on paper machines, fire threats, injuries and even phone calls for supervisors in separate parts of the plant. As kids, we heard the alerts continually during baseball and marble games, gatherings to swap comic books and at bedtime when windows were open to let the attic fan pull in fresh air. Then they started the nighttime air raid drills.   Lights were turned off in the mill village where we lived and other surrounding homes and neighborhoods. Even the dim streetlights along our roads went off.  It was pitch black and scary.  My mother saw how alarmed I was, so she came up with a plan for us to cope with the darkness and howling signals. There was a little hallway in our frame house that had doors to other rooms.  We would gather there as the sirens screeched.  She closed the hall doors and put towels along openings at the bottom to keep light from escaping. The light was from candles and dim flashlights she kept in the hall closet.  My folks were calm because they knew these were just training exercises, but my young mind saw bombers coming. As we waited for an all-clear signal, my mother would pray and read in a soft voice from her Bible with the black leather cover.  These were real scriptures and not the ones she made up over the years to frighten my brother and me into behaving. When we got too boisterous, she quoted us some bogus verses like, “Children who putteth their mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown by not minding and creating a commotion will suffer the wrath of the good lord upon them.” Some other things created anxiety when I was growing up.  There was a polio epidemic in the 1950s, and we were warned not to swim or mingle with other kids.  Recreation and entertainment areas closed to slow the spread of polio.  I remember the fear. Those same mill signals that scared me during the air raid drills also warned communities around the mill of tornadoes and other threatening weather. I recall those sounds from a dark day when I was 10-years-old.  They were followed by the incessant squeal of sirens as police cars and ambulances raced to a catastrophe in Cotton Valley 12 miles away.  A tornado demolished the town and killed 24 people. During wartime air raids, polio epidemics  and deadly tornadoes, my mother and other neighborhood ladies found comfort in church services on Sundays and home prayer meetings in between. They ran us kids out of our houses where they prayed, read the Bible, sang old hymns and had coffee and cookies, but we could hear them through the screen doors and open windows. There were prayers to deal with storms, wars, epidemics and other things that exceeded our understanding and more prayers for people and things we knew about. Like Mr. Barber’s wife when he moved a wire fishing after a storm at the mill pond and was electrocuted, and Mrs. Haynes whose sister died young in some place far away,  and Mrs. Pool who had a son that was in trouble with the law. There have not been any mill whistles or sirens alerting us to the coronavirus pandemic, but the ceaseless warnings on social media, radio and television are as grim and alarming as war news. It is sad that churches are closed now when we need to hear  reassuring sermons and good gospel music. And it bothers me that my mother and her Calvary Baptist friends are not here for those living room prayer meetings that got us through so many hard times.


Recreation Center

Working at the Springhill Recreation Center in high school was an education in itself.  We should have gotten diplomas in chemical engineering, economics, health and safety, modern dance and ping pong.

The major attraction at the complex was a huge swimming pool.

Coach Buddy Bonnette, who ran the place, taught us how to keep the water clear with the right levels of chlorine and other chemicals.

He stressed that the job required perfection, and he was right.  If the pool didn’t have enough chlorine, algae turned the water green.  If it had too much, it burned kids’ skin and eyes.

That was just one of our duties.  We had to keep all the vending machines filled.  If we gave a Snickers to a pretty girl, the change box was a nickel short and we had to make up the difference.

We also took up the dime admission charge for three hours of swimming.  Coach Bonnette counted people in the pool, and our admission revenues had better match the number of swimmers.

All of us had to pass Coach Bonnette’s grueling water safety instruction course for our lifeguarding duties.  We had to keep kids from drowning and protect them from Babe Sears’ home run balls.

There were fast pitch softball games every night in the fields by the pool.  Babe was the only player who could hit the ball into the pool from home plate a mile away.

We got signals when he came to bat and had to clear the pool until he finished.  Then we usually had to dip the ball out of the water and return it to the outfielder.

Part of our job was assisting with swimming lessons.  We were hit, bitten and clawed by kids who panicked when they got water in their face and chastised by ladies who messed up their hairdos.

We sat on lifeguard stands and baked in the sun for hours with no sunscreen or hat.  My dermatologist still benefits from that lunacy.

He reminds me while he’s cutting and scraping sun-damaged skin that most of the harm was done in my younger years.

When he comes back from vacations to the beach that I helped finance, he shows me photos of his strolls along the ocean.  He is dressed like a beekeeper, but his skin is smooth.

There was a ping pong table in the big recreation room.  It was probably the only one in town, and I spent a lot of hours between various duties perfecting my shots.

Big athletes who could mop the floor up with me in basketball, football and baseball games couldn’t return my spin serves.  It felt good to beat them at something.

We had to work all those nights when grown-ups, college kids and other folks had their dances at the Recreation Center.  That let us learn the latest Bop, Bunny Hop and Jitterbug moves and impress the girls at our high school Friday night sock hops.

In all these years of working at full time and part time jobs, the only time I was fired was from the Recreation Center.

One of my friend’s parents got a new ski boat with some gigantic motor like a 40 horsepower.  They invited me to go skiing at Caney Lake.  I arranged for a guy to work for me that day, but he didn’t show up.

Coach Bonnette fired me the next day, but it turned out to be just a suspension.  He hired me back the next week and even paid me for the time I missed.

I remember thinking during the time I was laid off how dumb  I was to lose such a great job just to go on a little water skiing trip.

My checks from the city Recreation Center were coming in every Friday like clockwork.  I was getting $22 a week and was probably not working much over 100 hours for that salary.

We had to be there every day seven days a week from 7 in the morning until about 10 at night.  But there were some breaks during the day when we could swim all we wanted, play ping pong and shuffleboard and just soak up some sun by the pool.

During my suspension, I realized that I was being way overpaid at $22 a week and would have paid the city to let me work there.


Burrow Hands

Singer and television personality Andy Williams unintentionally startled me one night.  It was the size of his head that was alarming.

Late in his career, Williams started performing in Branson.  I was sitting on the end of an aisle at one of his shows.  He came in a back door after intermission and was visiting with folks on his way back to the stage.

I didn’t realize he was in the aisle.  When he tapped me on the shoulder to speak, I turned to see his face just a few inches from mine.  I flinched because I had never seen a human head that big.

It seemed out of place on such a small body.  He was not much over five feet tall and had a tiny frame.  His head looked like a big pumpkin propped on a broomstick neck.

Watching him on stage from several rows back earlier in the show and seeing him on television countless times, I never noticed the disproportionate size of his head.  But it was obvious up close.

This is not intended as criticism.  In fact, friends in the television business had told me for years that having a large head was beneficial in the visual entertainment industry.  They said it made people come across better on movie and television screens.

There are stories of stars like Harrison Ford, Jay Leno, Dustin Hoffman, Kelsey Grammar and John Travolta having oversized heads.  A Hollywood writer said Kevin Costner has a head “the size of a bison’s.”

These thoughts on the dimensions of certain body parts arose from the recent hubbub about the size of Joe Burrow’s hands. It has been determined that the LSU quarterback who is projected to be the top pick in the NFL draft next month has small hands.

This hand size thing must be some new twist to the selection of players by pro football teams.  There has always been a lot of attention to players’ height and weight and how fast they run a 40-yard dash, but I don’t remember hand size ever being discussed.

It turns out that the size of Burrow’s hands is nine inches, and that is considered little.  Hand size is calculated by spreading your hand out and measuring from the tip of the thumb to the end of the little finger.

These NFL hand size experts remind us that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a size 10.25 inch hand, so Burrow will be going into pro football short-handed so to speak.

He led LSU to a national championship and an undefeated season this year, won the Heisman Trophy and threw 60 touchdown passes.  I wonder what he could have done with big hands.

Burrow has accepted this physical shortcoming with good humor.  He recently tweeted, “Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands.  Please keep me in your thoughts.”

Foot size was important to one guy in my college days.  Coach Jack Clayton had ordered new low quarter shoes for all of his Northwestern football players who had worn high tops for years.

A walk-on from New Orleans wore size five and a half, and there were no new low quarters that small.   Coach Clayton told him he would have to wear some old high tops.

The kid said, “Coach, being as I have never played football, being as I’m only 5-foot-5 and being as I’m just 130 pounds, don’t you think I have enough disadvantages without having to wear high top shoes?”  Clayton ordered him some low quarters.

I realized when I went out for baseball in high school that my head was small.  My cap size was six and three quarters, and the smallest one available was seven and a quarter.  That was before all these adjustable caps.

It was hard to hit the ball or snag line drives with a cap over my eyes.  When I tried to field grounders, the hat would fall off around my feet and cause me to make errors.

Looking back, I had always dreamed of playing for the Yankees, and the small head and big cap probably killed my chances at a Major League career.  And I might have been a movie or television star if I had a head like Andy Williams.

It’s hard for me to muster up much sympathy for Joe Burrow and his little hands.


Steve Wiggins

Johnny Aaron has been sipping some fine Scotch lately thanks to his long-time friend Steve Wiggins.

Wiggins, the free-wheeling, flamboyant local beer distributor who died last month, went in with old buddy George Ethridge to purchase the aged whiskey 35 years ago.

They agreed that whichever one outlived the other would get the big-ticket bottle of Scotch.

Ethridge became Wiggins’ little brother in Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Northwestern in the late 1960s and came as close as anybody to keeping up with him in their prime partying days.

But Ethridge gave up alcohol a good while back and had no need for the premium Scotch he and Wiggins bought all those years ago.   It made sense to give it to Aaron.

Johnny has a well-stocked bar at his home on Cane River, and Wiggins, his wife Kim and other friends have dropped by on Friday afternoons for years to celebrate the end of the week…or whatever.

There is talk about LSU football at those get-togethers, and the Tigers gave them plenty to chat about this year.  Aaron was captain of the LSU team that won the 1966 Cotton Bowl.

Wiggins loved football all his life and lettered as a defensive back at Jesuit in Shreveport when he was just a sophomore.  But his football career ended when his family moved to Spain the next year.

He liked LSU too and went to school there for a while before moving to Northwestern and getting involved in the fraternity, electronic engineering classes and military training programs.

Earning his pilot’s wings in the U.S. Air Force after college and flying transport planes across the nation and world expanded Steve’s lifelong spirit of patriotism.

With his charisma, confidence and competitiveness, it didn’t take Wiggins long to land a good job in sales after completing his military service.

He went to work for Miller Brewing Company in Shreveport, where he had attended St. Theresa’s grade school and church as a kid.  That led to a partnership at Natchitoches Beverage in a town he treasured among folks who were captivated by him.

Steve, Layne Miller and a couple of other guys who liked sports decided Northwestern needed tailgating at football games like the big schools were doing.

They fired up barbeque pits, pumped loud music into the areas by the stadium and got folks to come out early for games.  Those parking lots and practice fields are packed with tailgaters now,  continuing the tradition Steve helped start.

Wiggins, Miller and others decided in 1990 to lead boatloads of friends to the south end of Cane River 34 miles away to celebrate the July 4 holiday.

Boats and barges draped in the U.S. flags that Steve displayed every chance he got still make the festive trip down river every year.  Wiggins, always in his muscle shirt and shorts holding a Miller Lite,  will forever be the honorary captain of the Dam Run.

Steve was a good friend.  We rode barges on Cane River,  took our kids waterskiing, played terrible golf, and splashed in lakes and pools with friends while jambalaya simmered and sausage smoked.

We were members of a Mardi Gras Krewe and enjoyed all that mirth and madness.   In the midst of a physical fitness craze, we  joined a women’s aerobics class but quit it in pain the next day.  I saw Wiggins’ walk away intact from ultra-light plane wrecks.

There was fishing on Toledo Bend with basketball coach James Smith.  We filled the boat with striped bass and blackened them in iron skillets for people who liked to hang around with Wiggins.

And trips to Hawaii and Reno to watch Smith’s teams play and go deep sea fishing and snow skiing between games.  Somehow, Wiggins got me on stage in Honolulu to sing with Don Ho.

Steve, Smith, Alexandria sports editor Bill Carter and I stayed up all night with Aaron roasting pigs for his football team reunions.  Those evenings we all spent by the fire talking convinced us that if we ever needed anything our first call would be to Steve.

Mostly we just laughed out loud a lot like the big crowd did at the funeral home when they were running all those pictures of Steve that reminded folks of happy times they spent with him.

I’m sad Steve Wiggins is gone, but I smile every time I think of him.


Mail and Newspapers

When our youngest granddaughter went with us to pick up the newspapers in the front yard not long ago, she asked why the mailman left the papers on the driveway.

It was a thought-provoking question that accented vast changes in both the newspaper industry and mail service in my lifetime.

Those newspapers were thrown by a carrier, of course, and not dropped in the yard by a mailman.  Regina and I are old-fashioned, and we still like to read printed newspapers.

We get online editions of those papers and others, and I read them on my laptop most days before picking them up in the yard.  But it still feels good to turn the pages of an oldfangled newspaper.

My parents had morning and afternoon papers thrown in their front yard when I lived there.  I couldn’t wait to read the baseball box scores and the comics.

I subscribed to area newspapers here for decades, and the local man who delivered them had the papers in the front yard when I woke up every day rain or shine.

Since newspapers started offering combinations or options of online and home delivery, I have tried to keep getting printed papers tossed in the yard.

Delivery is erratic at times, and calling to deal with the problem results in incessant recorded messages and maybe eventually a conversation with someone far away who could not care less if I get a paper.

Our granddaughter’s assumption that the mailman left papers in the yard reflects her understanding of our modern system of home deliveries.  Letters, publications, packages and anything else related to mail is hand-carried to our residences.

All those things arrive in little U.S. Postal Service vehicles with the steering wheel on the wrong side, brown UPS trucks with open doors for quick exits and entrances or the  Fed Ex trucks that suggest your package started out somewhere on an airplane.

Mail was not delivered to our house when I was growing up.  We had a post office box in Cullen.  My folks had been using the box for so long and the post office was so small that our address was just two numbers.  It was something like P.O. Box 28, Cullen, La.

There was no such thing as zip codes then so our address should have been easy to remember.

But my dad’s eccentric great uncle Willie from Bogalusa must have had trouble recalling the official address when he sent one of his long, rambling hand-written letters.

He just addressed them to G.L. Pierce, Boss Man of the Paper Mill, Cullen, La.  My dad always got the letters but worried that some the real boss men of the mill might see them.

Dad was a foreman, which his uncle must have thought was a pretty top level position.  But there were a lot of folks at the mill who were higher up in the pecking order than he was.

Our mail box was in Cullen since that’s where the mill was located.  We could walk the mile or so from the mill village where we lived to Cullen to pick up the mail and get things at Barrett’s Grocery and Burnham’s Drug Store.

The mill was right across the street from that shopping mecca, so my dad could walk to work when his old car wouldn’t start.

All of us went to school in Springhill then because there were no schools in Cullen.  It caused confusion to tell people you were in school in Springhill but your address was in Cullen.

Dad decided we needed a Springhill address, so he got a box at the post office there.  But he worried that it was such a big building with so many boxes that our mail would get lost.

I had the combination and went by once in a while during high school to check the box, but there was never anything there.  We always had mail, including all the things my folks ordered from Sears, at the Cullen post office.

After I left home for college and work, my dad told me he had gotten a home delivery address at 229 Third Street.  But he told me to keep mailing things to the Cullen post office and not to the house.

He must have been worried that the mailman would do like our granddaughter thought and just throw his mail in the front yard.


Rodeos and Flowers

My memories of spending time with an aunt and uncle in Grand Saline, Tex., are of boutonnieres and bull riders.  I recall the scents of white carnations and the brown stuff flailing horses left behind on the rodeo grounds.

There are recollections from that summer of my first time in a storm shelter, a terrifying tour of a salt mine, of Henrietta and Old Spice after shave.

Everybody was surprised when Uncle Buddy quit his job at the paper mill and moved to Grand Saline to run a flower shop.  It seemed out of character.

He was my mother’s only brother and one of her favorite people, but even she referred to him once in a while as a “hell-raiser.”  That was harsh language for her.

But Buddy had gotten rough around the edges fighting Germans in Europe and strangers in saloons.  He was unscathed in the war but had a mis-shaped nose from the bar brawls.

It was the 1950s and I was a teenager when I visited him.  He had swapped his khakis and steel toed boots for brown and white, two-toned shoes, slacks, sport coats and floral ties.

There was a white bottle of Old Spice in his car, and he splashed some on every morning on the way to work.  I tried it one day, and it burned my face a little but smelled good.

Buddy liked making wreaths, bouquets and funeral sprays.  He had a big smile, and people stayed around the shop to talk with him even after getting their flowers or placing their orders.

A widow named Henrietta came by every Saturday to get a corsage for church.  Buddy asked what color dress she would be wearing and made corsages to match.  He always told her there was no charge, but she brought him homemade brownies.

When there were big funerals or weddings coming up, Buddy drove to Dallas an hour or so away  to stock up on flowers. One of his employees rode up front with him in the panel truck.  I rode in the back with the gladiolas and roses.

One morning when I was sweeping the shop, a beautiful girl about my age came in with her mother.  Her name was Cherry, and she had dark hair and brown eyes.

I had not started dating, but girls were beginning to interest me.   Her mother learned that I was a visitor and invited me over to their house that afternoon for lemonade and tuna fish sandwiches.

There was an underground storm shelter in their back yard.  I had never seen one, and Cherry gave me a tour.  There were jugs of water and cases of pork and beans for survival.  I remember thinking that I might just take my chances with the storms.


Chinaberry Trees

I wonder what ever happened to chinaberry trees that were so rampant where I was raised.  They grew in nearly every yard with limbs crawling onto housetops and one car garages.

My dad cooled off after mowing and gardening in the shade of our big chinaberry.  He mopped his face with a red bandana and fanned with an old straw hat that had a green visor.

Neighborhood ladies sat under the trees to shell purple hull peas and snap their string beans.  Even our old collie Rip had the good sense to lie under the chinaberry out of the sun on hot days.

But nobody enjoyed chinaberry trees more than the boys in that little mill village.  We climbed in them to hide from each other and see houses on the next street and filled buckets with the berries that spilled from the trees into our back yards.

The marble-size berries were hard as granite and perfect ammunition for our slingshots.  We put some bumps and bruises on one another with the berries and broke a few windows, but I don’t think anybody ever ended up in a hospital.

Our parents told us the chinaberries were poisonous and not to eat them, which seemed unnecessary. We had a few kids who tasted acorns, but none of them ever bit into a chinaberry that I know of.

Chinaberries were for slingshots, and we all had one of those homemade weapons.  Mr. Polk sat on his porch and whittled most of the time after he retired from the paper mill, and he kept us supplied with wooden slingshot handles.

Car tires had innertubes in those days, and the rubber from those discarded tubes provided bands to attach to the y-shaped handles. Pouches for the rocks and berries usually came from the leather tongues of worn out shoes.

Slingshots are mass produced now and sold in stores.  I found some in a shop in Branson last summer and picked up four of them  for the granddaughters.  Regina made me put them back.

That’s probably a good thing because ammunition is getting hard to find.  There was gravel along the roads where I grew up, and we used the rocks for slingshots when we were not shooting chinaberries.

There is not much gravel on roads now, and I don’t remember the last time I saw a chinaberry tree.  All those chinaberries that used to be in yards and along roadways seem to have disappeared like a berry fired into the night sky with a slingshot.

Other trees from my youth have grown scarce too.  Persimmon trees grew wild where we lived.  We picked persimmons when they were just starting to ripen, put them on the window sill in the sun and ate them whole like apples when they were orange and soft.

Fig trees were plentiful then.  Some folks who had them let the figs just fall to the ground for the birds to eat.  We gathered all of them we could get for my mother’s fig preserves and to put in homemade ice cream.

There were trees full of green pears at the edge of the woods by the ballpark.  It was public property, we thought, so we helped ourselves to them, ate them straight from the trees and endured the bellyaches.

Black walnut and hickory nut trees were harder to find.  We called them hicker nuts.  They grew deeper in the woods where my dad and his friends hunted squirrels.

We gathered them off the ground, smashed the hard shells with hammers and picked out the meat with metal hooks for my mother’s Christmas candy and cookies.

In the springtime, the whole family went to the sloughs and creek bottoms past the millponds where mayhaw trees were loaded with berries. We shook the trees and scooped the berries off the water.

My folks cooked the berries down and used the juice to make jars of sweet red mayhaw jelly that lasted us all year even after they gave a lot of it away to neighbors.

I have not spotted mayhaw, persimmon, black walnut or hickory nut trees in all these years since interstate highways took us away from back roads.

There are rare sightings of fig and green pear trees, but I have not seen a chinaberry in a long time.  Regina was right.  The grandkids didn’t need those slingshots.


Halftime Shows

Football is mostly like it was back when guys in my generation were playing in high school and college, but halftime shows have changed a lot.

Offside penalties are still five yards, and it takes 10 yards to get a first down.  There are 11 players on a team like there have been for years, and the length of the field is the same as ever.

All of that was evident in the Super Bowl last week.  It was also obvious that halftime shows at that event and in most other games are drastically different from “the old days.”

Back when John David Crow was playing in my hometown of Springhill, the marching band would go on the field at halftime and play some John Philip Sousa songs.

Sousa is not as well known as Jennifer Lopez and the other lady who did the Super Bowl halftime performance.  But he wrote more than a hundred famous marching tunes that have been played thousands of times at football halftimes.

Among them were The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes Forever and Semper Fidelis, the official march of the U.S. Marine Corps and its band which Sousa conducted for years.

The whole Springhill band would fit in a school bus with room to spare.  They would play the Sousa music, march in straight lines up and down the field and end their shows with the school fight song, “Give ‘em the Axe, You Lumberjacks.”

All of this seems like ancient history, because there’s not even a Springhill High School anymore.  It was replaced with a nice consolidated school called North Webster.

The Lumberjacks nickname, which seemed appropriate for that paper mill and forestry town, has been retired.   The teams are called the Knights now.  I don’t remember ever seeing a knight around there.

My old black and gold letter jackets are antiques.  The new school’s colors are purple and silver, and the band’s obviously not playing the Give ‘em the Axe tune anymore.

John David Crow died a few years ago, but I hope folks still remember him.  He played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and won the Heisman Trophy.

Bryant was in New Orleans a few years later after he had moved to Alabama.  I worked at The Times-Picayune and interviewed him at the Monteleone Hotel.  He smoked Chesterfields, sipped Jack Daniels and talked about Crow.

When Joe Burrow at LSU won the Heisman Trophy this year, there were recollections of Billy Cannon getting the award 60 years ago.  I never saw Crow’s name mentioned.

As I was watching Jennifer Lopez and Shakira during this year’s halftime show, I pictured Mr. Marshall, who was the band director at Springhill, flipping over in his grave.

Jennifer and Shakira were certainly flipping, gyrating, spinning and shaking vigorously for people their age and putting a lot of stress and strain on their skimpy costumes.

My eight-year-old granddaughter’s parents sent her out of the room during the halftime spectacle with all of its whirling flesh.   That is a sad commentary on the state of Super Bowl halftime shows.

The short skirts the twirlers wore when the Springhill band performed were sort of exciting for us teenage boys, but they looked like waders and mackinaws compared to the Super Bowl outfits.

To be honest, I like most of the dazzling halftime band shows these days much more than the old-fashioned performances with the Sousa songs and the rhythmic, military-type marching.

Northwestern’s band has well over 300 members.  They move in multiple, flowing, flawless formations, covering the field with flag lines, dancers and musicians and shaking the stadium with powerful, electrifying sounds.

When the Northwestern and LSU bands performed together at halftime of the game between the two schools at Tiger Stadium this fall, it was a breathtaking show that left more than 100,000 fans in awe of the experience.

The show featuring Shakira, Jennifer Lopez with her Versace mirrored bodysuit and guest stars called J Balvin and Bad Bunny left me wishing the Northwestern and LSU bands were there.

Or even the Springhill band from back in the day.  Some tubas and trombones, Sousa songs and majorettes flinging batons would have been a welcome relief from a show that parents wouldn’t let their kids watch on TV.


Census Matters

When the media reported last week that the governor had named a Northwestern professor to the state’s census committee,  I got to thinking about this process of counting everybody in the country.

It brought to mind the story I heard years ago about the census worker in Florida who wanted to reach residents of even the most remote parts of that state to be sure they were counted in the census.

She heard there was a little house on stilts at the edge of the Everglades that nobody had ever visited because it was so isolated. Her plan was to interview inhabitants of the dwelling.

After two days of travel, she stood in hip boots knocking on the door of the shanty.  The old man who answered was surprised to see her or anyone else at his home and asked what she wanted.

The lady said she had flown by jet from Tallahassee to Tampa, chartered a seaplane to a nearby encampment in the Everglades, hired some alligator hunters to take her by airboat to the thick marshes where he lived and then walked the last mile through the swamp to his house.

She said she was there “because I want to find out the exact number of people who live in Florida and the United States.”  The man said, “Lady, you have wasted a lot of time and money because I don’t have any idea.”

Census figures have always been sort of a mystery to me.  On the internet right now are Louisiana’s 2020 census results.  They show that the state has 4.65 million residents and the size of the average family in Louisiana is 3.29 people.

The census count reveals that 51.1 percent of Louisiana residents are women and 48.9 percent are men and that the median age of all those folks is 36.2 years.  They could have left out that last statistic which just makes me feel even older.

There is even a breakdown in the census noting that 91.9 percent of people in Louisiana speak English and 3.71 percent speak Spanish.  That made me wonder how I was classified.

As a journalism major, I was required to take four semesters of Spanish in college.  The professor held a yellow pencil the first day of class.  He said Spanish for yellow pencil is lapiz amarillo.  That’s the only Spanish that stuck with me.

What’s baffling about this is that these census numbers for 2020 seem to be complete and we are just one month into this new census year.

Census people say their data is collected in large part by talking with people and sending them documents to fill out and return to the Census Bureau.

I am up in years, and I have never talked to any census takers or filled out forms for them.  But that’s not surprising.  I never deal with bills, insurance, taxes or any of that either.  Regina does it.

Much of the information for the census apparently comes from things like tax forms and Social Security offices.

I am impressed with the fastidiousness of Social Security.  When I signed up for those payments a while back, they had a record of my job at the swimming pool in Springhill in the 1950s.  They knew I made $22 a week but didn’t show that I worked 84 hours for it.

When the census started in 1790, census workers went door-to-door to every house in America for information.  It was sort of like those people who came to our house when I was growing up selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners.

Door-to-door business operations were common then.  A yellow truck delivered Standard Coffee to our house, the Dutch Cleaners picked up and dropped off laundry, and Mr. Stewart collected insurance payments and kept the records in a black book.

If things still worked that way, people selling encyclopedias, pots and pans, vacuum cleaners, coffee and insurance house-to-house could probably help gather census information.

But the census folks rely on tax and Social Security records,  questionnaires to people and things like that.  Some citizens are probably falling through the cracks and not being counted.

If this local census committee member is open to suggestions, I recommend that the Census Bureau work with these robo call sales people who phone everybody in the country several times a day about their vehicle warranties. They know where all of us are.


Expiration Dates

When I was growing up, parents and teachers thought it was more important for kids to learn respect for authority than how to diagram sentences and work algebra problems.

That’s one reason I throw things in the refrigerator away if the expiration date on them has passed.  Anything with yesterday’s date is tossed based on my fears that it could be toxic.

Even if it has today’s date, I discard it because it probably went bad right at midnight when the day started.  I respect the authority of these people who stamp expiration dates on food products.

Regina and I don’t see eye to eye on this.  Expiration dates are edicts to me but just suggestions to her.  A report in a national publication indicates she might be right.

Some experts on food safety who were quoted in that story said sniffing food that is close to an expiration date is probably just as effective in maintaining safety as complying with the date marked on the product.

So she smells things that are outdated or about to be and decides whether to keep them, and I still dispose of any food in the pantry or refrigerator that some authority said went bad on a certain date.

None of this was a problem in my younger days before expiration dates on bottles, cans, boxes and cartons of food became part of our culture.

Mr. Sims, who had a big dairy farm in nearby Shongaloo, left eggs, milk and butter on our front steps twice a week.  We usually had stuff left over from his previous deliveries and never worried about whether any of it had spoiled.

In fact, I don’t remember ever thinking that something I was eating or about to eat might be tainted even though food safety standards were probably a little lax at the time.

Nearly all of us took a lunch to school in those days.  My mother was a great cook but not very creative at packing lunches.  I usually had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Some days, she sent bologna or potted meat on white bread with mayonnaise.

Those sandwiches and the cold pork chops and leftover fried chicken that other kids took stayed on the bus a good while with no refrigeration and were stacked in a storage closet until lunch time.

We would get whiffs of the intermingled scents of all those different foods all morning, especially on warm days, but I don’t recall anybody ever getting sick after having a sack lunch.

The lunches my mother sent with me to school could have been classified as fine dining compared to the meals she put together for me and my dad when we went fishing.

He liked sardines right out of the can with saltine crackers, and I always got a can of Vienna sausage and some light bread.  The sardines would never have passed the smell test that Regina uses to identify food that has gone bad.

If we ran out of the ice water that my mother sent with us in old pickle jars, my dad would cup his hands and drink out of the mill pond.  I did it too, and we both survived.

We also survived big Sunday meals at my grandmother’s house when everything we had at noon was left on the cabinet or stove and served again for supper.  In those days, the noon meal was dinner and the evening meal was supper.

She usually served platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, white gravy, biscuits, purple hull peas, fried okra, fresh tomatoes and other vegetables.

It was never put in the refrigerator—or the icebox as she called it—and was just as good when it was warmed up for supper as it had been at dinner.

So maybe I should pay less attention to these expiration dates that concern me so much.  Most of them are blurred, dim, too tiny to read or printed over some darker things, and you can’t make out what the dates are anyway.

Still, somebody in a federal government office or some other position of authority decided to put expiration dates on food, and it’s hard to ignore that kind of officialdom.

I just can’t take the risk of bad food doing me in now since I used up all my luck on potted meat and Vienna sausage.