Jerry Pierce

Packers, etc.

The Green Bay Packers were my first favorite pro football team back in high school and college.  I remained a fan even though most of my interest in the NFL shifted to the Saints and Cowboys. After all these years of pulling for the Packers except when they played Dallas or New Orleans, I’m disenchanted with them. Their prima donna quarterback Aaron Rodgers has turned fans off with contract disputes, threats to leave the team, demands for more authority, deceit about vaccines and other issues. The old Packers won five league championships in the 1960s with legendary coach Vince Lombardi and great players like Bart Starr, Jimmy Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Jerry Kramer, and Max McGee. Lombardi was the epitome of the old-time, Bear Bryant type football coaches and was one of the most quoted men in the history of the game. It’s a little hokey, but his old saying, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” has been splashed on signs in high school and college locker rooms for decades. Besides dominating the league in my younger years, the Packers had a strong Louisiana flavor.  Fullback Jimmy Taylor played at LSU, and receiver Max McGee starred at Tulane. The Packers were not just good, they were colorful. If there had been awards for flamboyant characters, McGee would have been the MVP. Lombardi liked to go over fundamentals of the game in his first meeting with new players.  He held up a ball and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”  McGee said, “Coach, slow down, you’re going too fast for us.” McGee earned a reputation for partying with pretty ladies and missing curfews.  Lombardi caught him a few times and imposed small fines. In those ancient times before multi-million-dollar salaries for players, McGee was making $35,000 a year. Lombardi told him one night before a big game, “McGee, if you miss curfew tonight, the fine will be $5,000.  If you see a lady worth that kind of fine, let me know.  I want to go with you.” I talked to McGee several times when we were about to induct him into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame here in 1987 and asked if he needed assistance with travel arrangements.  He said he didn’t. At the pre-banquet reception, two trucks pulled in front of the coliseum.  McGee, his wife and three other couples in their finest cocktail attire piled out of the cabs and beds of the pickups. They flew in on a private jet and asked the airport manager to call them a taxi.  There were no cabs here back then, so the manager and a friend delivered them to the festivities in their dusty trucks. Aaron Rodgers needs a lesson in such lack of pretension… The Grand Ole Opry was broadcast for the 5,000th time a couple of week ago.  WSM Radio in Nashville carried the first show just two months after the station went on the air in 1925.  It was called the WSM Barn Dance at the time. My parents, brother and I used to gather around a big console radio in the living room and listen to the Grand Ole Opry, Louisiana Hayride, the Gillette Friday Night Fights and old-time radio shows like Fibber McGee and Molly. My mother danced by herself in her stocking feet to Opry music. I thought of that when I saw Porter Wagoner and Connie Smith at the Grand Ole Opry House years later and visited the historic Ryman Auditorium, long-time home of the Opry. It’s good to know the music I grew up with and still love is going strong after 5,000 radio shows. NOTE:  Reflections is taking a few weeks off for the holidays and will be back next year if the Good Lord’s willing and all…  

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Flight Problems

All these flight delays and cancellations across the country that are disrupting air travel reminded me of a few bad airline trips.

Northwestern’s athletic conference offices are in the Dallas area, and its meetings are sometimes held at airport hotels.

It is usually easy to fly into Dallas and take a tram to an on-site hotel for business gatherings.

But there was a time in the 1980s when TWA had Louisiana’s state contract for air travel. That turned a scheduled trip from Shreveport to Dallas into an adventure.

Bobby Alost was president of Northwestern and planned to fly to a Southland Conference meeting.

He had an emergency and asked me to go in his place.  Neither of us had flown to a league meeting since TWA took over our air travel.

It was a shock to discover at the airport that I had to fly to TWA’s St. Louis hub to get a connecting flight to Dallas.

Sleet and snow swept into St. Louis after I got there.  All flights were canceled for the day.

Taxis and buses were sidetracked, and I spent the night stretched across three metal chairs in the airport before flying back to Shreveport the next day without ever getting to the meeting…

When Randy Webb was president, we were flying to Nashville for an NCAA convention.  There was bad weather, and we missed our connecting flight to Nashville from Atlanta.

We were on American Airlines, which canceled all its flights to Nashville.

Delta still had a couple, but our state-rate tickets could not be changed to another airline.  The Delta clerk I begged to help us made that clear.

A guy with “Supervisor” stamped on his badge heard the discussion and asked to see our tickets.  He noticed that we were from Louisiana.

The supervisor asked if I knew University of New Orleans basketball coach Tim Floyd.  I told him about a couple of times that I visited with Tim and also his dad Lee Floyd, who coached at Southern Mississippi.

Tim was the guy’s neighbor before Delta transferred him from New Orleans to Atlanta, and he really liked the coach.

The supervisor went to the clerk’s computer, typed some stuff in and handed us tickets on Delta’s next flight to Nashville.  He said he upgraded them to First Class at no charge.

I sent Tim Floyd a thank you note for being a nice neighbor…

Regina and I flew to South Florida for our honeymoon at Marco Island 20 years ago.

On the trip back, we got stranded in Houston.  The airport was closing in a storm, and travelers were being shuttled to area hotels.

We stayed around trying to get to Shreveport and were the only two people on the last shuttle to a hotel.

It was 30 miles away.  There were three cars in the dark parking lot, and the front desk clerk could have been in Mafia movies.

The dim marquee advertised a motel restaurant.  We had not eaten anything since snacks on the plane 12 hours earlier.

I asked about the restaurant, and the clerk said all he had was sandwiches.  He gave us dry bread and some cheese and greenish ham from an old refrigerator.

Our room was musty, and the lock on the door didn’t work. We stacked luggage in front of it and napped on the suitcases.

We escaped into an airline minivan early the next morning and finally got home.

The oceanfront resort where we spent the first several days of our honeymoon was luxurious, and we might still be making monthly payments on it.

The last day that ended with us sprawled on luggage stacked by a motel door that would not lock reminded us how nightmarish airline travel can be.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Turkey Shortage

Turkey has never been one of my favorite foods, but I appreciate traditions and understand the importance of having a big roasted bird on the table at Thanksgiving.

That might be easier said than done this year.  There seems to be a shortage of good turkeys across the country right about the time we are gearing up for the holidays.

Turkeys are apparently part of our “supply chain” problem. It’s hard to find workers for turkey farms and poultry processing plants.

Even if somebody manages to raise a turkey and get it plucked, cleaned, frozen and all that, there are not enough truck drivers to get the birds delivered to supermarkets.

This latest supply chain dilemma had escaped my attention until Regina had me drive her around to stores in Shreveport last week in search of a perfect holiday turkey.  We came home empty handed.

That bothers her more than it does me.  My mother always fixed a plump turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she would roast a chicken, or a hen as she called it, for my dad and me.

Regina has followed that pattern for years.  There is always a turkey at our house for show and for people who might like it, but I get chicken with giblet gravy.

Show turkeys have to be so enormous that they barely fit in the oven.  Stores where we shopped for them had a few scrawny birds but none that would be very impressive on the table at Thanksgiving.

We do cornbread dressing for holidays and some other side dishes like mashed potatoes, ambrosia, candied sweet potatoes and broccoli and rice casserole.

That stuff alone is a good meal even if there continues to be a shortage of fat turkeys or even chickens.

We might miss the giblet gravy made with pan drippings from the chicken, but mashed potatoes are good with plain butter, and we can put cranberry sauce on the dressing.

I still like the old fashioned congealed cranberry sauce that comes in a can. You open both ends of the can, shake the sauce out onto a plate, and it shimmies all through the meal.

But Regina’s cranberry salad has been growing on me, so I have my dressing with both the canned sauce and the salad.

She makes it with fresh cranberries, whipped cream, pecans and marshmallows, and our granddaughters and others in the family love it with dressing or just by itself.

The first Thanksgiving after Regina and I married 20 years ago, her ex-husband contacted her to ask for the cranberry salad recipe.

She sent it to him, but he said it was too complicated for him and asked if she could just make him some.  She sent cranberry salad with her daughter to share with him on holidays for years after that.

One of the problems with my mother and later Regina doing a big turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas just to impress folks is that the turkey keeps hanging around after the holiday meal.

Nobody likes to waste food, so they tried to camouflage leftover turkey by putting it in soup, chili, pasta, casseroles, pot pies, salads, and other things.

Even when every scrap of meat had been stripped from the carcass of a holiday turkey, there were times when they boiled the bird’s picked over bones to make broth for gumbo.

My hope every holiday was that we would not run out of giblet gravy and cornbread dressing before we finished off all the leftover turkey.

And that there would still be some sweet potato pie for dessert after choking down a creative new turkey dish.

The shortage in supermarkets this year of big turkeys is causing some stress, but I was delighted when we had to settle for one that looked like a frozen pigeon. It won’t hang around so long.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

More S’mores

Trick or treating with our granddaughters last week had sort of a Mardi Gras flavor to it.

There were even a few things about the experience that reminded me of trick or treating as a kid.  Except I didn’t see any S’mores or popcorn balls.

They live in a sprawling neighborhood where kids pile up on golf carts or flat bed trailers and go house-to-house for goodies.

It is not necessary to go door-to-door, because adults are sitting along the road waiting for them with heaps of treats.  So the kids just go driveway-to-driveway.

I had some flashbacks to Mardi Gras celebrations when I was working in New Orleans and had to weave through blocks of chaos and commotion to get to the newspaper office.

The trick or treating parade was on a much smaller scale, but there were masks, painted faces, golf carts decorated with flashing lights and trailers loaded with revelers like Mardi Gras floats.

There were no beads or doubloons flying around the best I could tell, but I did see some Twizzlers and Peanut Butter Cups in flight as they were traded from one plastic pumpkin container to another.

Kids that I know and see all the time at my granddaughters’ schools and ball games were unrecognizable in mummy, witch, and ghost outfits.

My own granddaughters, who would normally be grounded for putting on a smidge of lipstick, were covered with face paint, glitter, mascara, and eye shadow and looked like walking makeup kits.

They were Dracula, Jasmine, and Cinderella. I never saw a Superman cape, Batman mask or rubber Frankenstein head cover like boys wore when I was growing up.

And nobody was handing out the kind of treats that we lined up for on neighbors’ front porches in those days.  We even went home and changed costumes so we could go back for seconds.

We could count every year on getting some homemade popcorn balls at the Honeycutts’ house, hot chocolate with marshmallows floating in it from the Cains and caramel apples from Mrs. Adams.

But our favorite stop was always the Rogers’ house.  She was a troop leader for the local Girl Scouts and introduced us to those S’mores treats made with graham crackers, marshmallows, and melted chocolate.

Girls in our classes who were involved in Girl Scouts used to tell us about S’mores.  I asked my mother once to make us some, and she said, “That’s a Girl Scout thing.”

It might have violated Girl Scout rules for Mrs. Rogers to make them for us every Halloween, but she did.  We sat on her porch to enjoy them, because marshmallow and chocolate dripped down our arms if we tried to eat them while we were walking.

There were plenty of other old-fashioned treats that folks handed out for Halloween back then like Mars, O’Henry and Zagnut candy bars, those three-color coconut bars that were strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla flavored and Dubble Bubble chewing gum.

When my kids were little, we built a fire in the empty lot next door on Halloween night and toasted marshmallows and roasted wieners for hot dogs for trick or treaters.

After we ran out, as we always did, they got Tootsie Rolls and those little Chunky candy bars with peanuts and raisins.  I handed out the Tootsie Rolls first hoping to have some Chunky bars left over for myself.

I was impressed with the treats that my granddaughters and other kids got in their neighborhood.  There was good candy like Twix, Snickers, Butterfinger, and Baby Ruth.   At one house, they even handed out those Capri Sun fruit drinks.  I liked the wild cherry.

Nobody was roasting hot dogs last week, but there was a big pot of gumbo back home when we finished and a couple of Milky Ways from a plastic pumpkin container for dessert.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Greatest Songs

Rolling Stone magazine’s new list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time leaves little doubt that not many of the experts who voted in that poll ever went to a sock hop in the 1950s.

There is not enough space here for a complete analysis of the latest ranking of great songs, but a lot of fifties classics dropped far down the list and others were left off altogether.

Even Elvis was not spared in this updated assessment of songs that should be considered the most enduring of all the countless musical numbers ever written and recorded.

When Rolling Stone’s first Top 500 Songs list was published in 2004, the Elvis hit Heartbreak Hotel was No. 45.  It plummeted in the new rankings to 347.

Jailhouse Rock has some wacky lyrics, but it was the title song for an Elvis movie my senior year of high school in 1957 and was No. 1 on all the music charts.  It fell from 67 to 216.

Mystery Train, one of the first Elvis songs I remember hearing on KWKH Radio in Shreveport, was No. 26 on the original list of Rolling Stone top songs but did not make the new rankings.

My appraisal of all this is admittedly biased since I was a huge Elvis fan and passed that passion for his music along to my sons.

I saw Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride a couple of times early in his career.  He did songs at those shows like Don’t Be Cruel, Blue Moon of Kentucky, and Chuck Berry’s Maybelline.

After one of the Hayride performances, I waited in a long line to get his autograph just before the announcer proclaimed, “Elvis has left the building.”

He signed the front cover of my Louisiana Hayride program.  I wish I still had it, but a pretty girl asked me for it before I got back to my seat, and I gave it to her.

When my sons were teenagers, we went to Elvis concerts in Monroe and Alexandria and heard some of his great songs like Can’t Help Falling in Love and It’s Now or Never.

He was overweight and short of breath and forgot words to songs he had done for years.  His career and life were nearly over, but he had reigned in pop music for a quarter-century.

In my mind, there has never been better music than in the 1950s when we jitterbugged in our socks at the Springhill Recreation Center to Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis records on an old Victrola.

Or learned from suave, big city girls from places like Shreveport the right way to close dance while the Northwestern Demonaires Band played The Platters and Sam Cooke songs at Wednesday night college dances.

Elvis songs are not the only ones from the 1950s that dropped or fell off the Top 500 list.

Chuck Berry’s Maybelline went from 18 to 101.  Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be the Day dropped from 39 to 124.  Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally was No. 57 in 2004 but didn’t even make the new list.

Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis sank from 96 to 242 and his Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On hit that ranked No. 60 on the original list is off completely.

So is Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes that was No. 94.  Also off the list is Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, which was No. 96 in the old rankings.

In the Still of the Night by a group called The Five Satins might have been the best slow dancing song of the fifties, and it dropped from No. 90 to 170.

With appreciation for 1950s music declining like this, it is not surprising that we don’t hear much anymore about jitterbugging, sock hops and close dancing.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Supply Chain

My bicycle was beginning to show its age. The brakes were making strange noises, and I had to start dragging my feet a little to help stop it.

The chains were loose and came off every now and then at inconvenient times.  The back tire wobbled, and some of the 21 gears on the machine quit working.

There is a number 21 painted in silver with a circle around it on the frame to let observers know I suppose that this is not just an ordinary one-gear bike.

But lately I have been able to switch to only about a third of the gears.  I should have painted over the silver 21 and replaced it with a 7.

I finally took the bike in for an overhaul. Regina got it for me 14 years ago, and I have been riding it almost every day rain or shine with little maintenance except for some new tires.

The head mechanic at the bicycle shop walked around the bike a few times, shook his head slowly from side to side and typed things into one of those little computer tablets.

Then he gave me the estimate to repair it.  I’m pretty sure he had alerted some emergency medical personnel to be on standby before he hit me with the number.

When the estimate for repairs was nearly as much as the bike cost when we got it, I told the folks at the bicycle shop that I would just buy a new one.

They said they could probably get one just like I had and that it should be here by mid-2024 and asked if I wanted to get it on order.

My first thought was about that old line, “At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas.”  At my age, I don’t think I can wait three years for a new bike to come in.

There were a few new bikes scattered around the big store, and they asked if I wanted to look at something different from the one I had been riding all these years.

My bike, they explained, was designed for more “mature” riders.  It is a cruiser, and you can sit straight up on it like you do in a rocking chair and just pedal instead of rock.

The others they showed me required acrobatic skills.  The placement of the seats makes it mandatory for riders to pedal and hold on to the handlebars for dear life while their rear end is up above their shoulders.

There were some of those electric bikes there that appeared to be much more comfortable than the racer-type machines I sat on.  But the price tag on them was about what I paid for my first house.

I had not noticed when I rolled my bike into the shop that there were just a few new bicycles scattered around the showroom floor.  The last time I was there, it was crowded with them.

When I asked about it, I got all that narrative about the global shortage of bicycles because of the pandemic and the familiar rhetoric about problems with the “supply chain.”

It was the same kind of stuff we are hearing all the time at grocery stores and other places.  There is a problem with the “supply chain,” so there is no toilet paper or Blue Bell ice cream sandwiches.

There is a shortage of pickles because glass to make the containers is hard to come by.

I have been riding bikes all my life and always had a no-frills one speed from Western Auto or one of the big discount stores.

When I needed parts like pedals, seats, or handlebar grips or even a whole new bicycle, I went to those places and got them that day.  Nobody ever said anything about the supply chain.

 REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Getting Started

A lady who lived down the street from us when I was growing up was a famous artist.

Well, she was famous in our Pinehill subdivision and pretty well known in other parts of town.

She mass produced pictures that I think were watercolors of robins, redbirds, roses, sweetgum trees, dogs, deer, storm clouds and assorted other things across our landscape.

Her neighbors and church friends bought the pictures, put them in dime store frames and had them on the walls of their little homes in the paper mill village.

They must not have been very expensive, because my mother had one hanging in her living room.

It was a picture of a blue hydrangea with a plain white background. I wondered why my mother chose that painting.  She could look out the window and see blue and pink hydrangeas that she had planted all around the house.

This was the only original painting we had.  Other pictures on the walls were black and white photos of grandparents, aunts, and uncles and of me and my brother in the snow.

My main recollection of this neighborhood artist was that she was extremely prolific.  Her paintings were hanging in homes, stores, churches, and just about everywhere else we went.

She brought a pile of them to our house one Saturday to sell at a Tupperware party, and it took several of us kids to haul them all in from her car.

One day when some ladies were having coffee on our screened-in front porch and we were within earshot outside, somebody asked her the hardest thing about turning out all those paintings.

She said deciding what to paint was the hard part and that once she had a picture in her mind, the rest was easy.

It took a while to get to it, but that is the point of this narrative.  In talking with other folks who have done writing like this for a long time, most agree that settling on a subject is half the battle.

When I stare at a blank computer screen trying to get started on another column, I often wish I could call Mrs. Branch, my high school English teacher.

The first day we walked into her class, the blackboards were filled with a wide-ranging list of topics for what she called themes or compositions.

We had to pick 25 of the subjects and turn in 500-word themes on them in a lined composition book by some specified date.

There were things on the list like “There but for the Grace of God Go I,” which made us realize how well off we were compared to many other folks and “My Favorite Teacher.”  Most of us had the good sense to write that one about Mrs. Branch.

It seemed easy then to produce compositions about the kind of simple things Mrs. Branch put on the blackboard about special memories, best friends, biggest regrets, most interesting relatives, plans for the future, a most admired celebrity and such.

You could think about those things while you were listening to
Elvis, bream fishing, having a soda fountain milkshake or getting a crewcut.

Then the themes would just about write themselves when you sat down with a ballpoint pen and the composition book.

But some days, she walked into the classroom, told us to write a 300-word theme that hour and didn’t give us a subject. We usually stared stymied at blank paper trying to think of something to say.

That happens now sometimes.  If there is a column in my mind about grandkids, old friends, good dogs, my mother’s cooking or country music, I think about it walking or riding a bike, and it is written before I get to a computer.

Other days, I need a list of suggestions from Mrs. Branch to get me stated.

      REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Bragg On Doggs

If you love dogs or just good southern writing, read Rick Bragg’s new book, The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People.

Like many of the things Bragg has written over his long career, this story will evoke both elation and anguish.

That’s because Bragg’s writing comes more from his heart than his head.  He has deep passion for his family, dogs, the South, and good food.  That fervor is reflected in this book and his others.

Bragg and this “terrible dog” Speck adopted each other a few years back. They were both struggling and suffering and needed the affection and comfort the other provided.

Speck generated a lot of chaos and havoc in the Appalachian foothills of Alabama where Bragg, his mother and brother lived before he captured their hearts.

This book is a love story.  Not just about an imperfect dog but of a family, its roots, its way of life and the powerful bonds that hold them all together in good and awful times alike.

Books about dogs usually leave me broken hearted.  The lifespan of dogs is too short.  Losing dogs of my own and even stories of other people losing dogs cause me sorrow.

I put off starting this book for a few days until discovering that Bragg and Speck are still together.  I’m sorry to let that cat out of the bag and apologize also for this reference to cats.

Bragg speaks often in this book and other writing about how much he dislikes cats.

My son Randy loves dogs and plans to read the book now that he knows Speck didn’t die.

Randy lost his old, gray-faced dachshund a few years ago and had not recovered when he watched the tear-jerker movie Hachi.

It is, they say, the true story of a dog in Japan that met his owner at the train station every evening for years when the man returned from work.  After the owner died, the dog still waited at the station each day for nine years until his own death.

After losing his beloved dog and watching the movie, Randy said he stayed home from work for two days and grieved.

But, as Rick Bragg often says, I digress.  Bragg, who has won more than 50 writing awards including the Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper columns and books like All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man, hit a rough patch a while ago.

He was diagnosed with cancer and suffered from heart and kidney failure, depression, and other health problems.  As he was emerging from those difficulties, he met up in 2017 with Speck, who had big problems of his own.

Speck had been “thrown away” as Bragg described it.  He was apparently someone’s pet as a pup but was dumped out and left to fight for his life in the tangled thickets and brambles of the foothills surrounding the Bragg place.

The dog started showing up to attack Bragg’s truck, terrorize farm animals, spread the stench he picked up rolling in the remains of dead creatures and sink his teeth into everything around, including Bragg several times.

Despite advice from his 83-year-old mother and older brother Sam to get rid of the dog, Bragg kept it and spent a fortune for a veterinarian to deal with Speck’s lifetime of damages.

Speck’s transition from a destructive stray to a far gentler dog that sprawls on the porch with his head resting on Bragg’s feet and plays Peek-a-Boo with Bragg’s mother is heartwarming.

Even Sam, whose battle with pancreatic cancer is an important part of the book, takes comfort toward the end in softly stroking the head of this dog that he thought was a lost cause.

The book lifted my spirits and made me laugh out loud when I was not crying.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Car Show

We were on one of those rising, dipping rollercoaster roads in the Ozarks last week when this gleaming, flawless machine from another time appeared in front of us.

It was a 1960s era Chevy truck that had been meticulously rebuilt from the ground up.  Sunshine bouncing from glass, chrome and fresh paint created a daytime light show in the mountains.

Hills and curves in the highway gave us panoramic views of the spectacular vehicle for a good while until we were finally able to get around it.

The driver had the window down with his arm out enjoying the cool weather. There was a tattoo on his forearm and a cigarette in his hand.

I pointed at his truck as we passed it and gave him the thumps up sign.  He smiled, nodded, and returned the gesture.  Then one of the most far-fetched things I have ever said escaped from my lips.

“You will never know how much I would like to get a broken-down old car or truck and fix it up to look like that,” I told Regina.

She seemed shocked for a minute and finally asked, “Don’t you remember that I have to put the windshield wiper fluid in your car because you never know where to pour it?”

Her response was a little harsh, I thought, but true.  So I will not have an entry in the Natchitoches car show this weekend but will be there to admire the hundreds of vehicles as I am every year.

These folks from hither and yon who will be showing off prized vehicles on the downtown riverbank are sort of a mixture of artists, mechanics, historians, preservationists, and pure geniuses.

Most of them took old junk heaps and molded them with torches, welding machines, hammers, hacksaws, grinders, sanders, chisels, drills, wrenches, and paint sprayers into classics.

Or bought them from somebody else that did the rebuilding but still have the skills to keep the engines and transmissions purring and the rest of the vehicles sleek and pretty.

They share their masterpieces at car shows with me and other old folks who get caught up in the nostalgia of such events and young people like my granddaughters who always love the exhibit even though they never heard of a Studebaker or Plymouth.

I will be on the lookout for a 1946 Ford, because that’s the first car I ever owned.  It was almost a classic when I got it during high school in 1956 for $250.

All the upholstery was gone, even from the sun visors that were bare wood.  It smoked a lot.  I carried a case of cheap Rose Oil in the truck and added a quart every day or two.

Regina is right that I would not know how to start rebuilding a vehicle.  But it’s something I have always wanted to do even though I could never get my bicycle chain back on when it came off.

Mr. Pope down the road was a millwright at International Paper. He worked on paper machines that were a hundred yards long and had a million moving parts.

He would light a Chesterfield, put the chain back on, tighten it and oil it before he finished the cigarette.

I still ride a bike nearly every day, and I am having some brake problems.  This is not like a plain bicycle that stops when you push the pedal backways.  The brakes work with cables and hand grips.

The brakes barely catch before the grip reaches the handlebar.  I am wearing out my shoes helping the bike stop.

When these mechanical wizards are in town for the car show, I intend to ask them how to fix my bike brakes and which hole to pour wiper fluid in.

Then I will dream some more about rebuilding an old car or truck.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Feels Like Home

When they started digging the new swimming pool at our house, one of my granddaughters asked how much it costs to build a pool.

I told her with all honesty that I had no idea.  Any conversation about math or money makes me nervous, so my wife does not discuss things like that with me.

Back in the old days like the 1970s or so, most businesses kept what they called “counterchecks” for customers who wanted to pay with a check but didn’t have one with them.

My barber Terry Scott had just given me a haircut.  I owed him $7 but realized I didn’t have any cash or a checkbook. I had never owned a checkbook.

When I requested a countercheck, he asked which bank I used.  There were checks from three different banks, so I just took a guess at the one where I might have an account.

It was the wrong guess.  When I went back to the barber shop, there was a framed copy of the check I wrote with “No Account” stamped on it in glaring red letters.

I tried to give Terry the $7 to get the framed check off the wall.  He said he would rather have the framed check than the money.

That incident illustrates my lack of understanding of financial matters, which explains why I could not give my granddaughter even a ballpark estimate of how much swimming pools cost.

Costs for nearly everything shock me these days.  It was the 1940s when my folks bought the house where I grew up.  I found the deed on brittle yellow paper in their things.  It cost $3,500.

There was no pool in the yard, but we could swim and dive from willow trees at a waterhole not far from the house.  We called it the minnow ditch.

The house had a tiny kitchen, three little bedrooms, a living room and one bathroom with an open flame heater in the wall.  The one-car garage had a dirt floor.

Uncle Buddy, my mother’s brother, lived with us for a good while after serving overseas in World War II.  He was trying to decompress and find a job.

He worked in Texas and then Florida but came back for holidays and vacations.  Every time he went in the house, he would walk around and say, “This just feels like home.”

Regina and I were in North Carolina a while back and saw the Biltmore Mansion.  I remember thinking that my whole boyhood house could have fit in its kitchen.

My granddaughter would never believe that we lived there all those years, had big family celebrations, a large enough yard for a garden and baseball games, and it cost $3,500.

We didn’t have a pool, and neither did any of our neighbors.  But my passion for the water and swimming helped me make big money working summers at the city pool.

I helped with swimming lessons and lifeguarding, cleaned the pool, added chlorine and chemicals, filled vending machines, and mopped the locker rooms.

It was early morning until late night seven days a week.  I would have done it for free, but they paid me $22 every Friday.

They tell me the pool we are putting in will have some frills like deck jets, lighting, mini fountains, and a tanning ledge.

There was no tanning ledge at the waterhole where I first fell in love with swimming, but we could bask in the sun floating on an old car tire innertube with our feet dangling in the water.

If my granddaughter asks again about the cost of a swimming pool, I will just tell her that it will probably be more expensive than the entire house was where I grew up.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES